because I liked alliteration, but also because I was genuinely despondent at being a father and husband. I was struggling, beginning to regret all of my life’s choices, I did not enjoy being a dad; I was terrible at it and I wasn’t even convinced I liked or loved my children. Then, after a period of care under a clinical psychiatric nurse, I had a change of perspective. He recommended I begin a diary in order to air those pent up feelings that I had been bottling up inside of me, and it introduced me to a world of parents in a similar position to me. My eyes were opened and I was no longer disillusioned, this is when I became Papa Tont – you’ll have to read my About Me page to have the Tont bit explained. I am dad to Olivia (9) and George (5), and have been married to Vikki for 10 years. I am a
soldier, struggling to balance the demands of military life with that of family life, and my blog gives me a focus, a release, and access to a support network of some lovely people.
I was diagnosed with depression in 2011 after recognising I was on the verge of a breakdown. I couldn’t cope with the stressful demands of my work life and those emotional needs of my wife. Over the course of our marriage, Vikki has been diagnosed with post natal depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and most recently anorexia.
My time frames and points of reference are all a blur now. I can’t quite wrap my head around which illness or event happened in which order now, but the long and short of it is this: Vikki was originally diagnosed with postnatal depression. She was becoming accustomed to military life and the complete lack of control over our lives that came with it. The uncertainty, the fear of my safety, all combined with the lack of control over our daughter’s behaviour led to her being diagnosed.
Somewhere in the mix, and I can’t remember when this happened now, but Vikki found out that her grandad had sexually abused her aunt when she was a child. The fear of bumping into the grandad, combined with the recollection of hot flush experiences during pregnancy, led to her having panic attacks.
Small at first, but the fear of a panic attack caused worse attacks, until she was at the point that she genuinely feared she would die as a result of them.
I never truly understood what this meant, until I looked into her eyes during an attack. The fear that was etched all over her face and the sheer terror that was in her eyes, made me realise that this wasn’t an exaggeration, she
honestly felt at that moment, that the attack would indeed kill her. The fear of having a panic attack somewhere isolated, seemed to escalate into agoraphobia. It got so bad that she couldn’t even go into the garden to play with the Olivia, and to make matters worse, we fell pregnant with our second child George smack bang in the middle of it.
She had to endure the pregnancy, cope with my commitment to work, and venture out to therapy sessions and doctor’s appointments, with the agoraphobia. The inability to control our lives, her emotions or mental health, combined with being trapped in the house, all led to a desire to assert control over something. The house provided a perfect opportunity for her, and it became immaculate.
The home was Vikki’s domain and she began to control every aspect of it, and although unbeknown to us at the time, so too was her eating. Some 4 years later, when Vikki was at a desperately unhealthy weight, she was diagnosed with
anorexia nervosa and ultimately admitted as an inpatient to Addenbrookes eating disorder clinic in Cambridge. This was her home for 5 months. Trying to provide support for Vikki, as well as fulfil my work commitments, all
took their toll on my own mental health and I went to the doctor fearing a breakdown.
Did she seek help?
When Vikki was first suffering the symptoms of depression, she went to the doctor and was immediately prescribed antidepressants. She felt like such a failure. She had never wanted to go onto them, and the stigma of being
on them terrified her. She tried to get referred to a therapist, but the waiting list was over 6 months long and we were due to move with work in 8 so she never went through with it. After we had moved, she went to the
doctor again and went onto different medication and joined the waiting list for a therapy referral. 6 months later, she managed to see a therapist, but I felt they only wanted to get at the root of the surface problem of anxiety and
not the deeper reasoning behind why the condition had materialised in the first place. This was clear when we moved with work again, and the symptoms had worsened into anorexia nervosa. Family members had begun to comment on her appearance, but I was blind to anorexia’s excuses. It wasn’t until we had moved a second time with work, and she had been diagnosed with osteoporosis that Vikki and I realised it was worse than we had imagined. After 8 months with an extremely effective care group and weekly personal eating disorder nurse consultations, they made the decision to admit Vikki permanently into hospital.
Did you believe that your wife having a mental illness would affect the children?
In hindsight, this terrified me. All of the anger, resentment, arguments, and obsessive behaviour was generally played out in front of the children. We thought it was just marital problems, but clearly the mental illness was just manifesting in poor communication, and I couldn’t help but fear what permanent behaviours this had stamped into our children. After the eating disorder diagnosis, we became overly sensitive to the children’s behaviour with food, and the language we were using about physical appearance in front of them. We still fear it now, but much less so.
Did you find online support?
I absolutely did. While Vikki did not want to talk publicly about her illness at all for fear of judgement, I threw myself into my blog and social media as it was my only outlet and means of support. While Vikki had the full weight of the NHS behind her providing emotional and psychological support, I had nothing until after Vikki had been admitted to hospital and even then I didn’t find what was provided for me useful. In group sessions, I
was the only husband of someone eating from an eating disorder, everyone else were parents or guardians. They had each other to lean on, and the pressures were very different. Not any less, just different, and I felt that the groups were aimed at supporting them and not me. Social media filled that gap and satisfied that support need for me.
Is there enough professional support out there?
I think this is a postcode lottery. In Devon and Kent, Vikki and me were failed terribly. Fobbed off with antidepressants and long waiting lists, clearly the budget for mental health care was not a priority in those areas.
When we moved to Colchester in Essex, the support for Vikki was phenomenal, we couldn’t fault it in the slightest and everyone genuinely cared about her wellbeing. That said, I felt like I had just handed Vikki over and was left alone to try and muddle through on my own.
During the entire time, I saw both sides of the Army’s attitude to mental health as well. At first, they were terrible. The stigma was horrid, and I was consistently made to feel like a burden, an inconvenience, and a terrible soldier. Again, when I moved to Colchester, the support was exceptional.
My working hours were changed to revolve around school drop off and pick up, and I was given a laptop so I could work from home. I found that while on the national stage the Army talks a good talk about supporting those with mental health issues, it is entirely dependant on whether your immediate line manager buys into the concept or not.
Do you wish you could change anything?
I wish I hadn’t been so easily deceived by the anorexia. It had me completely fooled and I couldn’t even see the physical damage it had cause until it was too late. That said, even if I had spotted it earlier, it wouldn’t have changed anything, because it was Vikki who needed to be convinced there was a problem, and I think me realising it sooner would have just created more tension between us and not actually benefited us at all. One thing I do wish, is that in the early stages I wanted to have been more robust with my work and not placed such a priority on pleasing them. Yes I had my career to think of, but did it come at the expense of mine and my family’s mental health?”
I have removed all links to Tony’s social media, following his recent deactivation of all accounts.
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