Do you ever think back to when you were young? The dreams and aspirations you had back then? What you wanted to get out of life?
For me it was straight forward, have a job, get married and have kids. Simple. Oh and be a Formula One driver!
It’s funny how the simplest of wishes can take you down a road nobody ever wants to walk.
Thing started to fall into place when I first moved out of home. I moved to Oakham, where I had a decent job running a bar, and met a young lady who later would become my wife. All was good in the world.
Thing changed for me when we went to the doctors for a couple of test results after trying for a baby for a couple of years with no luck.
The doctor dropped a bombshell that landed directly in the middle of my head. He said “it’s not impossible for you to have kids, just highly improbable.”
I didn’t take this news well, how can my simple life plan be messed up like this? Why me? What have I done to deserve this? All these questions were whirling around my head but I didn’t have an outlet. I was never good at talking about my feelings (typical man I know!) so I started going down the pub more with my friends. It was pure escapism for me, somewhere where I didn’t have to confront what was right in front of me.
At this stage, it was IVF that was right in front of me, the single most stressful thing you can go through. Forget the morning of your holiday trying to get to the airport on time, or moving house, every appointment at the hospital left more questions than answers.
We were very, very lucky in that the procedure worked first time and by December 2006, we had our very own gorgeous baby girl. I’m guessing that at this point some of you may be thinking that this would be a turning point for me, I had everything I wished for as a kid right?
Wrong. By this stage, I had been on a downward spiral for 18 months and the arrival of our bundle of joy seemed to divide us as a couple instead of galvanise our relationship.
Two years later we separated and a few months later I was back in Sheffield with my parents to start again. By now I was struggling with most things in life. Until this stage I had smiled through the mental anguish I felt, not really knowing what it was. Now however the smile left my face; it was replaced with dark thoughts, thoughts of harming myself and ending my life.
Luckily for me, I was still back with at my parents at this time. My mum dragged me to the doctors because of the big change in me. When we went in and the doctor asked why we I was there, I couldn’t do anything but cry.
When I was asked if I had thought of harming myself, the only thing I could manage was to nod my head. That head nod was the start of my long road to recovery.
My recovery was a combination of four things, love and support from family and friends, medication, counselling and exercise.
It was the latter that I focused on, it got me out of the house and gave my days purpose while I wasn’t well enough to work.
I started off walking for hours every day, all around north Sheffield. I was a bit like a big kid going on an adventure. I soon started running and swimming. I started setting myself small targets like swimming 20 lengths of front crawl, until I could do 200 lengths!
At this stage I went back to work but still kept up the exercise, it was what I looked forward to each day. To be honest, I was just happy to have something to look forward to.
It was the swimming that I really loved, and as I became stronger and fitter, I started looking for some kind of challenge to kick-start my new lease of life. Swimming up and down the pool for 2 or 3 hundred times can get a little laborious so I decided to take my swimming to the great outdoors. I joined a local open water swimming group and after finding my feet I decided to take on the river Trent.
In May 2014, I became the first person to swim 100 miles of the Trent. It was one of the toughest weeks of my life but also the most rewarding. In the build-up and during the swim, I raised money and awareness for the mental health charity MIND. I managed to raise over £2,000 and also got to speak about my experience and share my story, something that is very important to me.
I find it hard to find the words to describe what depression is like, but the best way I can is to remember a day not long after that first visit to the doctors.
My daughter who was 4 at the time had come up for a couple of days. My dad had picked her up because I couldn’t drive because of the medication I was on. The three of us had gone into Sheffield city centre for the afternoon, as there were fairground rides on during the summer holidays.
At the top of Fargate was a big helter-skelter that my daughter wanted to go on, but she wanted me to go up with her to the top because she was a little nervous to go on her own.
We queued up and I remember when we got to the top I looked down at her and she had the biggest smile on her face. I smiled back at her, then I remember looking over the edge and thinking to myself is the drop big enough to kill me?
That is what depression is for me. Depression took away my ability to see all the good in my life when it was when it right in front of me. I couldn’t process how much I loved her and my family and how much they loved me, since at that time I believed they would be better off without me as a burden.
Since my recovery, I’m in what I like to call my second chance of life. My second chance is about creating fantastic memories, pushing myself to see what I can achieve, and most importantly wearing a genuine smile, not one that hides pain.
In 2017, I’m once again putting my second chance at life to extreme use. In July, I will be attempting to swim the length of the Yorkshire and Humber coast from Tees estuary to Spurn Point in the mouth of the Humber estuary. This is again around the 100 mile mark and again has never been attempted.
This year I’m raising money on behalf of the wonderful people at Sheffield Flourish and the amazing projects they run to help people locally. My target is to raise £5,000 and lots of great PR for Flourish, and also to continue to tell my story to hopefully help others that are going through similar experiences to me.