Big Strong Man: Phil Campbell's Story
Keeping a stiff upper lip, keeping calm and carrying on, big boys don’t cry etc. These are all things I believed for most of my life.
To be honest, up until my late 20’s, this was mostly an easy process, as no insurmountable difficulties arose for me up to that time. The only properly unpleasant thoughts I had were related to my parent’s divorce when I was 8, as my enduring memory of the time leading up to that was me locking myself in the kitchen while they argued in the living room.
Other than that though, I had a pleasant upbringing. Both my parents loved me and looked after me, I had fantastic friends, and most of all, my Maternal Grandmother who I doted on and who doted on me. Indeed, my happiest memories of my childhood all revolve around my Nan, one of the most genuine and loving people I have ever had the fortune to be around.
As I grew up and entered the job market, no matter what happened, I fell on my feet. Things happened, sure. Throughout my early 20s, I was never out of work, if I left a job I always had one to go to, I earnt ok money, enough that I didn’t go short.
2010 was when it started to go wrong.
At the beginning of that year, my Nan died. This was the biggest gut punch I had ever had, and it was a big one. I had never felt so helpless as I did sitting by her bed in the hospital, not being able to take away the pain she was feeling.
It had been completely unexpected, we always thought my Grandad would be the first to go out of the two of them, but he’s still going almost 10 years later.
She had to lay in a ward, with no sufficient pain relief, for almost 5 hours, until the doctors found the key(!) to unlock the correct cupboard where the syringe drivers were kept, and they could administer larger amounts of pain relief. I will never forget her face before the pain relief kicked in, it haunts me to this day.
But big boys don’t cry, and Men don’t talk about their feelings, so I carried on as normal.
Later that year, I met my girlfriend. We started dating that summer, and all was good.
Then I got made redundant.
I had never had to sign on for benefits in my life, but all of a sudden I had no income, and very little savings to tide me over. I felt worthless, as no matter where I tried, I could not find work. I struggled for months to get meaningful employment, felt really down, started drinking too much.
But Men don’t talk about their feelings, so I kept it to myself.
I finally found work, back to earning a good wage. My girlfriend and her daughter moved in with me. I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. I had always been dead set against marriage, due to my parents example and being an atheist, so this was a huge change for me, but I thought we had a great thing together. We wanted to have more children, and wanted that stability of marriage. We married in 2013 and started trying for children straight away. It took a while for us to conceive, but finally we got there.
Then we miscarried. Both my wife and I were distraught, but thought the odds of that happening again were low, especially since my wife already had a child, so we kept trying.
Then we had a second miscarriage.
Then a third.
Then a fourth.
And a fifth.
We got all the tests, and there was no obvious reason why we weren’t able to conceive very easily, or for my wife’s body to miscarry, but that knowledge doesn’t help when I am carrying my sobbing wife out of the hospital yet again, helpless to do anything apart from offer soothing comments and support.
All throughout the immense emotional turmoil I was going through myself with this, I didn’t speak to anybody about it, because that isn’t what Men do. I carried on in silence, and got on with things.
Since my nan had died, I had taken on the power of attorney for my grandfather, allowing me to deal with things on his behalf. He had become frail, but my mother and myself wanted to help him stay in the house he had lived in for 70 years for as long as possible. To this end I organised carers, meals on wheels, cleaners, cooked him lunch every Sunday, everything I could do to make his life easier. My Sunday became sacrosanct, no matter what I would be going to see my Grandad. This caused friction between myself and my wife, as she thought I was putting him above her. I could see her point, but she couldn’t see how important looking after everyone is to me.
This ended when I went to my Grandad’s one Sunday, and found him on the floor at the foot of his stairs, defecating and crying. We moved him into a home, where he is to this day.
And still I didn’t talk to anyone.
I started drinking to help cope, became very withdrawn, didn’t want to go out, didn’t want to see anybody, even my wife and step-daughter. Still I didn’t talk to anyone about my issues, because I am a Man, and Men don’t talk about emotions.
I had started my own business, and as anyone who is self employed will know, this is stressful at the best of times. I spent a lot of time getting things set up, and I didn’t feel like I was getting any support from my wife in this venture. I felt very alone in everything I was doing.
Then a miracle happened. My wife fell pregnant, and this time it stuck. I went back to salaried employment, and helped my wife prepare the house for the new arrival. My son was born in August 2018. After all the pain and anguish we had gone through, we finally had the child we craved.
And I still felt alone. And didn’t talk to anybody.
My wife resented the fact I worked long hours. Nothing I did was good enough. And no matter how much she berated me, how many licks I took, I desperately wanted to keep it together for my son.
In November 2018, All the pain that I had absorbed, all these years where I had not processed things properly, all those times where I had been mentally punched, kicked, tormented and beaten, and crucially not talked about, finally came crashing down on me like a wave. It was like I was afloat, looking down on myself, and thinking how worthless things were. I had a nervous breakdown and massive panic attack, blaming the world, and especially my wife for all the pain I was experiencing. The upshot of was my wife leaving, and taking my new son with her. After she left, I spent two days in bed, not speaking to anyone, barely keeping myself together.
Luckily, by this time I had met some people who I will thank forevermore. These people, and they know who they are, encouraged me to open up, talk about my issues, seek professional help. They set me on a path to healthy thoughts, and guide me to this day with ongoing support.
I went to see my doctors, asked for their help. I talk to my friends properly about these things. I am fortunate enough to have people within circle of friends who are experts in coaching and mental well-being, and through their help I have learned techniques to channel the pain I feel in a more healthy way. It has been almost a year since my breakdown, and in every way, I feel better.
Talking to people about my emotions and the issues I have has made me a better person, and most importantly, a better father to my son.
I still have a long way to go, but the key is talking. Please remember…
Big boys do cry, and there is nothing wrong with that.