Having suffered with mental health issues for most of my life, I had so often been told about the power of sport and exercise. Attending a gym was OK to begin with but I find it does become a lonely place, plus you have to have that self-discipline to go during those times you just want to hide away. Going to the gym you are only accountable to yourself, and as everyone who has experienced mental health issues will tell you, you use all your strength and energy to get out of bed and function. Let alone spend an hour in a building full of sweaty strangers.
Personally I hadn’t played a team sport since my early 20’s now being in my early 40’s I thought I would join a football club. Now this is no ordinary football team, this is a team made up of bereaved fathers who have lost a baby being stillborn or neo natal death. My son was stillborn in September 2007. With my daughter and my other son being diagnosed with autism and having severe learning disabilities this lead to my wife and I not being able to grieve fully. With so many years of suppressed emotions grieving for my son and to a degree my 2 autistic children, knowing they will never live the life we envisaged for them. All this and my own mental health issues that I felt I had to keep from employers, friends and family, even my wife.
When I am really struggling with my mental health my default actions are to hide away and avoid conversation and any socialising, really isolating myself. You become very people intolerant and as an effect you realise that you have no social circles to call upon when in need. You struggle being a husband, I give thanks every day that my wife is with me through thick and thin, my crutch when I need her. Being a father is also a struggle, when my little boy is asking to go on a bike ride. Your first instinct is to search for that excuse not to go, then sometimes you somehow find the strength to go and fully enjoy it. Or on the other hand you procrastinate enough not to go, then it is dealing with the guilt afterwards.
Being a person who was petrified of talking in public, I have now spoken on breakfast radio, I have given interviews to journalists and now I have told my story to other Time to Change Wales Champions and I feel so empowered
However, since joining Sands United Cardiff things have been so much different. It wasn’t an instant change. My first training session and a few days of WhatsApp chat I thought this really isn’t for me. Maybe too much of a lad culture. However, I thought I would give it another week to make a decision. Our first game walking into the changing rooms that smell of deep heat hit me and I felt so excited, I had so missed this experience. I managed to play for an hour, afterwards I was buzzing, I found myself going back for a drink afterwards, this is so alien to me.
I found the WhatsApp group to be beneficial I found confidence in myself to share stories of grief and my mental health experiences. These new found friends were not just grieving dads, most if not all had experienced mental health issues. I found my voice they wanted to listen about techniques I had learned over the years. Talking openly about my experiences gave people the courage to share their stories. When a team member posted something about their mental well-being and was overlooked. I found myself pointing this out and explained how this makes people feel. By doing this the rest of the team gave me the respect that I deserved and felt I had not been given by colleagues or friends.
By taking a step to reply to an email asking for bereaved fathers to get in touch has completely changed my life. I have found my purpose, being in a position where I can use my experience to help people is a privilege. Being a person who was petrified of talking in public, I have now spoken on breakfast radio, I have given interviews to journalists and now I have told my story to other Time to Change Wales Champions and I feel so empowered to the extent that my Parents, Wife, children friends and family have noticed a huge change in my personality. No matter what your skillset or your fitness is, give it a chance, try something new. You never know it may change your life too.