November 2, 2014

From Nigel, father to Annie Annie & Nigel

Writing this through tears and so many feelings, one thing that never got away was my love for my daughter.

She needed help, from me and other people

She needed help, from me and other people. My view from day one was that she was ill, not mentally ill.

I believe I was lucky in as much that a number of high profile sportsman were talking openly about it which made me more aware of mental health problems. I had heard a number of very good radio shows on the subject, had also recently read Jonny Wilkinson’s autobiography, where he talks candidly about his struggle with it. Driving to be the best, constantly pushing for perfection, doubting your ability, my very own Jonny.

Via text and email, Annie let us know about her mental health problems. Having to read it myself and then read it aloud to her mother over the phone hurt us all.

We finally spoke about midnight, through a lot of tears! We reassured her of our support and love.

We finally got together about three days later. I left all the tears and emotions to her mum, and when she left I just held her and said that this is the first rung of the ladder -admitting the problem.

I knew she would come down, as witnessed on a family holiday to Greece a few months later. This is not a quick fix.

Now I know the signs

I feel all I did was to be a father that wanted his daughter to get better. Yes I did read up on stuff:  it helped me to understand what she was going through.

I still watch her now, but now I know the signs. When I detect a wobble I just look and say stop.

Are we closer? Yes, we make time more for each other now which is so important.

From Annie, daughter to Nigel

March 2012 was the month that everything came crashing down, but also the month that turned my life and outlook around. My dad was there throughout it all and still plays a role in keeping me on the straight and narrow.

I had been struggling with depressive/stress/anxiety issues for quite some time. Sometimes knowingly, but for the most part, not so much. Repeated trips back and forth to the GP to see if I really did have a chest infection to explain the constant tightness, sternum-stabbing-pain and general wheeziness and fatigue.  Repeated cancelling of social engagements because I couldn’t face anyone or anything, choosing instead to curl up in a ball on the sofa. Struggling through work, being told again and again that I wasn’t good enough, that my boss was extremely disappointed again, despite putting my all and endless hours into it. Mastering the art of putting a brave face on things; good ol’ resilient Annie. Putting pressure on myself to be everything for everyone and to do everything perfectly so I could feel something like enough.  

I hit such a low point that enough was enough

After another couple of days off work, wanting to shut myself away from it all then being physically ill, I hit such a low point that enough was enough. So I sat down one evening, skipping another outdoors boot camp class, and sobbed my way through writing my ‘coming out’ email. Perhaps not the most ideal way to tell people but at the time it was the easiest way for me to organise my thoughts and to finally let people in.

I know it was hard in particular for my dad and mum to hear about what had been going on and just how bad I had been feeling. I had both of them in tears on the phone that evening, wondering why I hadn’t said anything sooner, wanting to know what they could do, and explaining that I would never be a failure in their eyes.

He was always there with an open ear to listen

On my dad’s part, he was nothing short of amazing. Never judgemental or critical. He was always there with an open ear to listen, and frequently arms if I was having a bit of a dip. I knew I didn’t have to hold anything back which was hugely valuable as I started a journey of what turned into a year or so of therapy – professional and complementary, medication and all-round soul searching. I also knew that he could see straight through me if I was pretending that everything was ok.

He took the time to read up about depression, its causes and approaches to overcoming it, flagging books and articles that he thought would be of interest to me. He was there as I went through a 16-week CBT course and started regular reiki sessions (a Japanese technique of stress reduction), often waiting over a cuppa or a pint. He actually ended up learning far more about mindfulness and reiki than I still do today.

Above all, he helped to keep everything in perspective – and still does as I feel myself edging towards old habits of trying to do and be too much. His advice of ‘just be’ has stuck with me and we’re far closer friends than we probably were before.  

‘Coming out’ and talking about mental health problems shouldn’t be regarded as being brave or courageous. It should be normal, accepted

‘Coming out’ and talking about mental health problems shouldn’t be regarded as being brave or courageous. It should be normal, accepted, like having a whinge about a headache or a bad day at work, or colleagues checking up on your recovery of something purely physical like a broken bone or bout of flu.

The last two-and-a-half years have held some of the hardest times of my life, but these have really been a blessing in disguise. I’m only able to say that now, as I’m pretty much back to a regular state of mental health. I have a much more realistic outlook, am much more accepting (and proud) of myself, and set myself far more realistic expectations – and accept that that is good enough. I still have dips, but am aware enough to acknowledge them and seek help when I need it.

To my dad, for his advice, support and thoughtful words in making this happen, I will be forever grateful.  

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