Jon Kemp: Fatherhood and male mental health

This morning I have solved a mystery. My stepson and I have been playing what is that smell in my Vauxhall Corsa for the last two weeks.

So as with any such situation, I took great pleasure in turning on my inner Colombo and beginning my investigation.

I can only describe what happened next as a very sad piece of yoga, bending and groaning. Until bingo, reaching under my car seat I found the culprit. It turns out it wasn’t Colonel Mustard’s victim as my stepson had predicted. It was a nappy, filled with faeces that I had forgotten to remove after an Asda pit stop nappy change three weeks earlier.

My experience of becoming a dad has been challenging to say the least and I hope to use it in this article as a conduit to start talking about male mental health.

My hope is that it normalises people experiences, thoughts and emotions and perhaps get a laugh or two along the way. After all, laughter really is the best medicine.

So what have I learned in the last six months, other than Sebastian the crab can soothe a baby while raising my spirits at four in the morning. Well, I’ve learned that a reduction in sleep impacts on my emotions, physical feelings and behaviour.

Gone are the early morning runs and weight training and in are the biscuits and muffins (essentially anything sugary). This fuel has kept me moving and successfully prevented me from turning into a walking zombie. Its impact thou has been weight gain, something that I am embarrassed about.

Embarrassment is just an emotion and passes just like all emotional states but certain emotions such as anger can be scary. In fact, anger turned me from a passive people pleaser into a man who had seen red during a recent shopping trip.

I felt my baby was in danger and thus, just like many other species of animal, I went into protect mode. I turned from Bruce Banner to the Incredible Hulk in a matter of seconds.

A transformation caused by a normal emotional state that impacted my thoughts and behaviours instantaneously. This ability helped us survive and thrive when we were cavemen enabling us to fight off predators and hunt to kill. The body still has this capacity in 2018 and anger is useful in the right proportion, situation, and context.

Now back to this nappy I found under the seat. This event made me and my stepson laugh and thus I remember it when negotiating a choppy sea of fatherhood. Everyone male or female will experience change differently, one thing I’ve found useful is to talk to my partner, friends, work colleagues, family and stepson.

I am exceptionally lucky that I have this support and for those who don’t – I empathise greatly with you. Talking and learning about your mental health can make a huge difference to the quality of your life.

If you think that you need extra support with your mental health please visit www.steps2change.nhs.uk (NHS talking therapies service) or talk to your GP.

Jon Kemp is a trainee CBT therapist at steps2change, talking therapies service run by Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.