With Men's Mental Health month now been and gone you might think this blog is a little late!
But in a month where we celebrated International Father’s Mental Health Day and raised awareness of the challenges facing men generally, I wanted to pause and reflect on a story that resonated with me as I continued to dive deeper into my own fatherhood journey.
Before I kick off I want you to take a moment to consider the obstacles that present themselves daily. Is there something getting on top of you that you're ignoring or pushing to the side? What’s stopping you performing to the best of your ability and what’s stopping you from seeking support?
If there was support available, would you take up the help you need or would you shy away from seeking out someone to talk to for fear of looking weak? We all experience it differently and we all choose to deal with the challenges in our own world in our own way and, often our chosen path, whilst not immediately obvious, can impact everyone who matters in our lives.
A Father’s struggle was brought to life in the book by the inspirational Mark Williams, Daddy Blues! A simple story that lays bare the realities of the early days of Fatherhood and the delicate balance that can be thrown into chaos in the aftermath of what should be the best day of a new parent’s life.
The work done in the Fatherhood space is just beginning. We’re 12+ years in and still we are yet to truly scratch the surface. We raise awareness of so many other challenges facing us but are we any closer to finding a solution to a global issue?
Mark tells his story beautifully! It’s raw and he willingly shares the details of his struggle without complicating the message. There is no bullshit and that’s what drew me to his story. He communicates at a level that translates to any new dad and frankly, it should be made available to every new parent. Not only does he touch on the complex emotional free fall that both mothers and fathers experience, but he openly talks about the behaviours that are symptomatic of Postnatal Depression (PND) in Fathers.
He tells a story of a Father desperate to protect his family. A Father willing to sacrifice his own health and self-worth to ensure his partner and young son were put first. There is an unfiltered desperation, and the shame felt leaps off the page as he wrestles with the guilt attached to wanting to escape, hide away and seemingly destroy everything he and his beautiful partner had built before baby arrived.
In my experience that deep rooted shame destroys your confidence, happiness and hampers your decision making and Mark’s story paints a vivid picture. The inner turmoil clouds your thinking ……. Leads you to question your value and question whether your young family are better off without you.
Imagine the world you love is thrown into chaos; outwardly you seem fine, you continue to function but, as the darkness descends your every thought is seemingly designed to destroy any self-belief you had. I liken the feeling to walking through the billowing smoke spewed from an industrial tower. It’s blackness blinding and the ashen cloud restricts you to short sharp breaths! You’re desperately clawing your way through the shadows but every step is heavy and unnatural. Your thoughts are internalised as you search for answers and play over scenarios that see you finally put an end to your misery. Even with the world at your feet and a beautiful family to motivate you, the solution seems to point to the darkest action.
The desire to get back on track is what resonates most! Through his struggle Mark discovered his purpose. On his journey he stumbled across his calling and connected with his identity. It's clear to me that every new father adapts differently but what's apparent is that the training beyond 'learning to change baby or feed baby' isn't available. We're taught all the skills to keep the baby alive (rightly so) but we're not educated in the 'How' behind taking care of ourselves.
In Mark's story, it wasn’t an overnight fix and that’s the overarching message. Getting back on track is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do! It will consume you but I guarantee you that it will be the most rewarding step you'll ever take. Mark's willingness to try new strategies demonstrated his commitment to his new family. If one thing didn’t work he tried something new and repeated it over and over until he discovered a series of actions that started to make a difference.
The difference between Mark and others is that he took it a step further. Many accept their struggle whilst not understanding it, deep down they know there is something amiss. Mark’s story points to the most important step: Admission.
It’s the biggest step in your recovery. Like a lot of men faced with a difficult decision regarding their own health, Mark had already accepted that he needed the help! His loneliness led to a feeling of helplessness and so the cycle began. He knew he needed help and on more than one occasion was on the verge of finding some semblance of freedom in the support of others but the shame held him back. His shame fed his fear, fear of the unknown, of the judgment on his position as a man, husband and father. His fear of failure kept him from admitting that he needed help.
It’s clear from my own experience and my experiences of managing men in my job that it’s only when the shame gets too much that you’re left with two choices: to live or to die. The decision is dictated by what you have left to fight for! For Mark he had his beautiful family, his son (Ethan) and his wife (Michelle). For some the destruction caused by their failure to admit they needed help may have left them with little to fight for. Their relationships, career and bond with their children may already be in tatters and it leaves them with little option but to opt for the latter. Some are weighed down by the thousands of thoughts corrupting their internal dialogue and with their decision making left unchecked and fuelled by a reliance on unhealthy behaviours they may have already started to push those they love the most away! Whilst not fully committed to the notion that an exit is their only option they’re getting closer to the edge and choosing to drive a wedge between them and their closest friends and family.
In Mark’s story he’s candid about his relationship with alcohol and his use of it to treat the gaping wounds left after the birth of his son. He openly admits to suppressing his emotion and the impact it had on him, his family and his career.
Something shifts the moment you become a Father! Against the unrelenting pressure of modern society you can, like Mark, return to habits designed to help you blow off steam and against the backdrop of your own expectations you can over indulge! Your willingness to sacrifice everything to protect and provide stability leads to taking shortcuts. Your health (exercise, eating, alcohol consumption, vitamin D intake) becomes a chore and as the excuses mount what may have been a 'must' becomes a 'should' and with no perceived consequence or accountability you ignore the signs and your world begins to spiral.
Mark’s story clearly points to a need to embrace the transformation before baby arrives. Just as your partner starts on her journey, you have to begin too. Yes, it’s a little uncomfortable at first….. your mates and family might say you’re being sensitive and taking too many precautions. Just remember, you and your partner start this incredible journey together so why should she be more mentally ready for the change? Yes it's natural for the mother to begin to prepare for baby's arrival but you too have to start thinking how the world around you will change. It will be a seismic upheaval and Mark's story clearly points to a need to change the way we prepare.
In reality what’s available? We’re not talking the practicalities of parenting, the basics are covered. Fatherhood overhauls your life, your emotional responses are heightened and in the early days the sensory overload can knock you off track. You might in the early stages choose to ignore the change but when the pressure hits you head on where are you going to turn? Like Mark I tried many strategies in my fight back from the brink. I stumbled on a formula that worked for me and it started simply with a series of reflection techniques. I'm not asking you to overhaul your lifestyle….. That's on you!
If you're comfortable in your skin as a father I acknowledge your strength to see your role clearly. For some it's more difficult to adjust. I want to remind you that it's possible and that it starts with getting clear and pausing to reflect on just how far you've come. We tend not to celebrate our role and instead choose to push our own progress to the side.
As a father to two boys under 5 I can honestly say that the last 5 years have flown by and before my own crash in 2020 I wasn't performing at the level I expected, but by choosing to build confidence in my role I understand the impact and influence I have and I work to improve on it every day.
If you are looking for support or want to learn more about the strategies I used to help me stay on track, then subscribe below. If you want to know more about the work I’m doing to support Fathers who are looking to get back on track check out my special offer on my course 'The New Dad Recharge'.
If you want to engage more, reach out and subscribe and if you're going through something and you're not quite ready to start a dialogue read 'Daddy Blues', if nothing else it'll point you to the amazing work of people like Mark and the importance of managing your own health after baby arrives. Mark's amazing book is like gold dust! It's available on Amazon but sadly only a few copies are left.
Aidan, Founder of TMFC
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