Getting Through It Together: A Father’s Perspective
For our fathers series in the lead up to Fathers Day, we heard from Harriet and how her dad Chris has supported her. Now we hear from Chris about his journey and relationship with Harriet.
It was not meant to be like this when Harri - the second of my two children - went off to Durham to study maths. I am coming to the end of 30 odd years in the Navy. I thought they were off my hands.
Harri had breezed exams, she had four A*s, she was positive, travelled, and on a path. In her 2nd year at university she had a mental breakdown - severe general anxiety disorder with panic and subsequently a side order of anorexia. She was within an inch of being sectioned.
I might have had people working for me with chronic PTSD, but I had never been in a mental health ward; I couldn't even grasp what was happening to Harri's mental health.
Challenges and determination
It would be wrong if I didn't tell you how I have cried on my own: on the tube, in coffee shops, in the loo at work. Sometimes to the point of incapacity.
This is not me - the Navy has given me mental and physical challenges that have stretched me beyond what I thought I was capable of, but they are absolutely nothing in comparison to those that Harri faces every day. I am so humbled by her determination; equally by those I have met at YoungMinds with their stories, and the Army Warrant Officer who worked for me who completed two tours in Afghanistan after diagnosis of PTSD. I cry for my helplessness and how pathetic I am, but also for their courage.
But here is the thing - I am in it for the long haul. That's what role models do for you - they inspire you. If they can do it, I can do my bit.
We did it together
I never knew what flight or fight was. Harri does flight; she is very nimble. Last Christmas we spent an hour bonding in the foyer at Tesco’s on the floor by the piles of Quality Street after an evening run round Truro. I cannot tell you how kind the staff were.
I have had phone calls in meetings at work from strangers on Harri's phone when she is in a heap in the street. And in the middle of the night when I was in the US for work after the police were called to find her. Always the kindness and patience of strangers - it renews your faith in humanity.
Harri and I do stuff together. On her path was a half marathon - she raised £1300, but the Doctor advised her not to do the run several weeks before. We did it together - me running and Harri’s photo on the front of my t-shirt. I tell you I would have crawled around if I had to. Fortunately I didn't - but actually we did it - our first half.
The postcode lottery for the standard of mental health care is something I had read about. It's just awful. And unfair. I keep getting reminder letters to claim my £100 annual carer’s allowance: it's kind but I don't need it. What I would like is to go shares (even a small share) on the £250 a month I spend on Harri's therapy which they say they can't afford.
This is nothing to do with the people who work for the NHS, who are just lovely. When Harri was in hospital to have cysts which suddenly appeared in her leg removed, I found her chatting to the porter about their respective mental health challenges. There was the anesthetist who spent the best part of 30 minutes in a conversation with Harri on general anesthetics. They were her one fear and there she was about to undergo it in her highly anxious state. But they found they had a common passion - NFL. She was out like a light!
There is brightness
So down this pitch black road we go - no headlights, no sense of time, distance or exactly how life changing this is going to be for all of us. But there is a brightness, the lamps of everyone that helps and supports at YoungMinds, the NHS and all the other organisations.
And there are beacons - all those really fab people I have met and know who are challenged by this horror, Pat, Andy, Tracey and of course Harri. If they can get out of bed in the morning and give it go - do you know what? - I can too.
I only have one daughter. I cannot start to explain how precious (even when annoying) she is.
Find Help: Parents A-Z Guide to Support
If you are looking for support and advice on your child's mental health, have a look at our Parents A-Z Guide to Support. Our A-Z gives you advice on how to help your child with specific mental health conditions, and life events which might be negatively affecting their wellbeing. We'll also show you where you can get help.