Daddykind Corner: Being a Dad with PTSD

After we did a trial run of the Daddykind Corner with my lovely husband putting up with me interviewing him for the sake of the blog and for all of Daddykind, we present to you….

VOLUME 2!

I am very pleased to introduce our good friend Darren, who has had his fair share of mental illness and has some good techniques and tips for bringing your children up aware of mental health and how to take care of it.

Darren uses his own experience to coach other men through mental health problems and other mental blocks, so he’s pretty qualified to share his thoughts on how you can move on from mental illness and be the best parent you can be.

I’m so thrilled to feature this post from Darren because we all know how dire mental health provision is and how badly it affects men in particular. Please if any mums or dads are reading this and think they need help, contact your GP, the Samaritans or your local out of hours team if you feel you are in crisis.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

Yes, of course. My name is Darren, I am friends with Sarah through her husband, Jamie. I served in the military with Jamie for 15 years and was posted overseas on many operations.
I am a father to two beautiful children aged 4 and 2, a boy and girl and separated from their mother whom I still have a fantastic relationship with….for the most part lol…
I was born and raised in the East End of London and I currently coach other men on mastering their emotions.

If you had to describe being a father in one word, what would it be and why?

If I had to choose 1 word it’d be “uncertainty” because I find I’m alway asking myself if I’m doing the right thing for them… whether that be by way of teaching and helping shape their little minds or disciplining them and training them to be good, honest, hardworking people. All that with making sure that they truly love themselves and KNOW from their core that they are worthy to achieve anything they want in life… No one said this parenting game is easy, aye?

How was your mental health after becoming a father?

I thought my mental health was fine… I was they happiest man in the world after my little girl, Evie was born…. However my wife at the time was suffering with and subsequently diagnosed with PND, which wasn’t easy at all, as I couldn’t understand why she was so unhappy all the time.

Were things different the second time around?

Oh massively… I’ll be honest and say that I never wanted a second child because I was so in love with my little girl that I couldn’t fathom having to share my love with another baby and I didn’t think it would be fair… I honestly didn’t think that I was capable of loving Mathew in the same way as Evie and subsequently it took me about 3 months to truly bond with him. Looking back it make me sad because I saw him as a burden. But now I understand that you don’t have to love them in the same way as your first and my heart literally melts every time I see him now.

Did you feel prepared for fatherhood and what could have helped you to be more prepared?

You can read all the books in the world, go to all the classes but I don’t think that anything will ever really prepare you for fatherhood. I think that as a dad having a positive male role model in your life can definitely put you in good stead to being a dad, and I never had this, which is why I do my absolute best to be the best man I can be for them because I know the importance of having both parents that want their babies to have the best start in life.

When were you diagnosed with PTSD and BPD?

I was diagnosed with PTSD from m

y military service in 2017 and subsequently discharged as a result and after using the techniques and procedures to keep on top of it I still knew that something was up with me and since have been diagnosed with BPD earlier this year after a friend opened up about her struggles it was like shinning a light on what I was going through.
Whilst growing up, I was a bit of a wild child to say the least and was in and out of care, excluded from school, engaged in dangerous or outright illicit activities at times and had a tough upbringing in East London, so I’ve always known that I’ve struggled with my emotions… something that I’ve got a grip of nowadays (for the most part). But as I grow, evolve and become more self aware over time it’s got to the point where I can’t ignore my problems and my advice to any other men reading this is: do not bury your head in the sand, just be honest with yourself… if you need help then go and seek it because drinking, fighting, drugs, being promiscuous etc etc will only lead to further problems and is just masking the true underlying issues.

What techniques do you use to manage your mental health?

There are many that you can use but finding what works for you is paramount. As a man, one of the biggest things that has helped me has been simply talking to a professional within the specific mental health niche. Because I bottled it up for so long there is only a certain amount you can take before something has to give. 
As I said, knowing yourself is also key… knowing what your triggers are and how they make you feel is also very important so you can counteract them…eg: being a massive introvert (most wouldn’t believe it lol) if I can feel myself slipping back into a rough patch…spending time alone in nature, on my motorbike, by the water really helps me to connect with myself again… it also helps to have a purpose and a goal in life and something to work on that requires discipline and focus. I find that whatever I focus on tends to expand so it’s about knowing how and where to shift your focus.

How has your understanding of your own mental health impacted on being a parent?

It most certainly has made be more aware and I listen more to my children… I’ll be honest I used to “Parent” my children and just try to get through the day making sure they are fed, watered and entertained. I now realise that it’s also key to flood their subconscious with positive affirming messages so that they love themselves. I just want them to be truly happy and not have to have a childhood they have to recover from. 

Who knows if I’m doing it right? One can only hope and time will tell.

Do you think it’s important to raise your children to understand mental illness and how would you do that?

I do think it’s super important that they know about mental health and more importantly that they take control of their own. I would certainly say that trying to go through life without any regrets is something I like to teach my kids… Whether that’s by always trying their hardest at something that they want to do and working hard for their goals or by simply being a good person and trying to never hurt the people around them or in any way compromise their integrity. 

Also, by always being true to themselves and NEVER letting the opinions of others define who they are…. I’ve always said that there is a date you were born and a date you die and that line in-between represents your life. 

So, I encourage them to think freely and live with passion and purpose.

———-

Thank you, Darren!

If you liked this you may enjoy reading…

Living away from your partner during pregnancy

My pregnancy was spent largely alone – the unexpected nature of my expectant motherhood meant that things had to continue as planned as far as possible. I stayed at university to complete my law degree until I could go on maternity leave, but that also meant living over 100 miles away from Jamie for virtually the entire pregnancy.

It was my housemate, Shannon, that helped me through the morning sickness. It was my housemate, Elliot, who covered for me when I had a UTI. It was Shannon, again, who would accompany me to the first doctors appointment, and the midwife appointments, especially when I absolutely hated that first midwife in Southampton! So, I suppose I wasn’t really alone alone – but it’s something quite different from doing those things with your partner.

Everyone jokes about pregnancy hormones making you over-emotional, and yes, there are times when the hormones are slightly ridiculous… but usually, the feelings underneath the exacerbated crying fits are totally genuine. Spending my pregnancy apart from Jamie was really tough, and with those hormones to make things worse I did feel like an emotional wreck 24/7… which, of course, is when I needed him the most to cheer me up (which he did, but it’s not as easy over the phone!).

I accept that my pregnancy wasn’t a normal kind of situation… I don’t know anybody else who stayed at university living a fairly long distance away from their fiancé at the same time as being pregnant! But some of the things I experienced may be similar for other mums or mums to be. Single mums to be have to go through this all the time with no reprieve, so a big shout out to you girls! You’re doing amazingly. Army wife mums to be also may have to deal with this – one of my lovely friends up here is expecting, and her husband is deployed in Iraq… Jamie’s deployment in Afghanistan has been taxing enough without the added pressure of me having another baby! I don’t know how I would cope, so a big load of respect goes to the army wife/mum community, too. Particularly with army wives, it’s highly likely that they may even have to move house while they’re pregnant, and possibly even while their husbands/wives are still deployed! Although not the same situation, I had to move during pregnancy, when my maternity leave finally started!

Moving house is stressful at the best of times, but when you’re 7 months pregnant it can be a bit of a nightmare!

Because I had been studying at university and was about to go on maternity leave, meaning I had to move my entire life back from Southampton to Dover, Kent to prepare for giving birth and becoming a mother – how daunting is that? It was for me, anyway…
The hardest part was that I had no help whatsoever in packing up all of my belongings in preparation for this big move. Jamie was already living in Dover, so I had done the majority of the pregnancy alone in Southampton (though he made trips down on the train/coach for scans and appointments when he could). I got everything ready to move and waited for Jamie to come and pick me and my belongings up a week into our Easter break. I’d finished my coursework and at that stage was preparing to do my exams in the August of the same year (though due to PND I took a whole year’s maternity leave in the end), so I’d tied up all of my loose ends and was ready to get home and start nesting.
Being home, however, didn’t mean that Jamie was around all of the time. He did shift work in London, so would stay with his mum in Essex for 4, 5, or 7 days/nights at a time to save time and money. He would have been too exhausted to drive all the way back home in between shifts. But this was slightly more manageable. I had help when he was around, and when he wasn’t I had time to do things for me – I volunteered at my local Magistrates’ Court one day a week and started preparing our home for having Olivia. It felt more relaxing being in a normal routine, so even though some days were still spent living apart, it didn’t feel that we were because I was in our home instead of my uni room.
However, the next stressful thing was moving between NHS trusts… Southampton General Hospital and Buckland Hospital have completely different sets of maternity notes. Buckland couldn’t make sense of my notes from Southampton, and so I ended up spending a whole day with the midwives so that they could redo my notes into their neat folders. Before they took time to do that, it made appointments longer, and it was frustrating having to repeat things over and over again because they couldn’t find notes in my folder due to the different layouts. Something to bear in mind if you’ll be moving back to live with your partner towards the end of your pregnancy!
All of that being said, I don’t think I would change how it all worked out. I finished my degree, and had 1 year old Olivia at my graduation ceremony. Unbeknownst to me then, I’d also had some pretty good practice for life as an army wife coping with deployment! The only difference is now I have a child to look after as well as myself and definitely no pregnant belly!!!
It can be stressful, and it can be emotionally difficult to go through pregnancy alone, but it is possible, and sometimes it can be worth it. It made me determined and motivated to do the best I could for my baby girl, and it has probably actually made me more mentally resilient in the long run.

If you liked this you may enjoy reading…

Single parents, I respect you

I don’t think people say it enough. I think there’s still a stigma around being a single parent, and that’s why I wanted to do this blog post, to tell you that for me, you guys are absolutely bossing it.

My god, do I respect you.
You see, I was primarily brought up in a single parent family, but it was incredibly dysfunctional and damaging and had a lot to do with my diagnosis of pre and postnatal depression with my own pregnancy. You’d think that would make me stereotypically biased against single parents and that I think all families end up that way. But no, I don’t tar everyone with the same brush, and maybe mine was so terrible because of how hard it was? Who knows. What I do know is that the majority of the time, single parents are heroes.

Aimee’s blog post on the new baby bubble rang true for me, yet I couldn’t help but think what I would have done if I hadn’t had the support of my partner in those crucial first two weeks. Jamie even said to me in hindsight he shouldn’t have taken the second week of paternity leave, but even with that second week I wasn’t ready to be a parent on my own. I had a vaginal birth and needed stitches but it was otherwise uncomplicated, imagine if that had been a C-section… how would I have coped? The answer is, I wouldn’t have.

For a bit of context, Jamie used to do shift work, which meant for 7, 5 and 4 days at a time he would be away, and I wouldn’t see him until the end of that shift pattern. It also meant that the days in between he was there constantly to help, but the days without him put a huge strain on me and with PND skulking over me like an angry raincloud it was terrifying being alone with a baby some days. He no longer works there, and at the moment his job means he’s home fairly often, but next year he could be away for 6 whole months.
6 months alone. Just a nearly 2 year old for company. Will it be easy? Will me and my daughter have an unbreakable bond because I was the only parent around for 6 months when she was a toddler? Will she resent her dad? All of these questions are spinning around in my head and I know I have nothing to worry about. Some mothers and fathers have to cope every day like this, not just 6 months. What am I complaining about? But it scares me. I’m in awe of how people must manage every day like this and go on to raise loving, clever and wonderful children. You don’t need two parents to bring an amazing boy or girl up to be an equally amazing man or woman, but it makes it a hell of a lot easier having that other person around to help.
I don’t think people say it enough. I think there’s still a stigma around being a single parent, and that’s why I wanted to do this blog post, to tell you that for me, you guys are absolutely bossing it.
So do me a favour… tonight, get the kids to bed, pour yourself a large glass of wine or crack open a can of lager, kick back, put your feet up and know that you are incredible. Even if you feel like you’re failing, we all have those moments, and you are most definitely not.

If you liked this you may enjoy reading…

Becoming a single mum, the baby steps I’m taking

Why I’m happy being a single mum

Learn to love yourself

Mum Muddling Through