I have thought long and hard about writing this, I don't know if it comes across in my previous blog posts but writing is not my profession nor my hobby! I started doing this as well as other things such as learning German on Duolingo to keep my mind occupied while I have been staying in the hospital with Max. Also when I am sat alone in my empty home surrounded by everything which reminds me of him - his bedroom door is closed and has remained that way since his admission in late December, apart from the one occasion I went in to strip his Christmas bedding which ultimately caused me to break down in tears.

My biggest worry walking into this when Max was diagnosed with Aplastic Anaemia was of course the risk to Max’s life. I spent many days fearing the worst and at times I just wasn’t present mentally. That thought process is what was going around in my big empty head surrounded by the dark clouds of depression, always fearing the worst case scenario.

I don’t think I’d be far from the truth if I was to say that there has always been a stigma surrounding men's mental health. Although there has been improvement in that over the years (and rightly so) there is still so much more work to be done on this subject. A recent survey conducted from the mental health charity MIND in partnership with the English Football league revealed that men are most likely to use coping methods such as alcohol and recreational drugs but also there has been a small climb to 35% (three times more than in 2009) of men suffering with their mental health who seek help from a therapist.

As a boy growing up through the 90s, we had it drilled into us from an early age through television super heroes, parental influence and friends that men don’t cry. Men are supposed to be strong and be able to deal with everything! None of this is true and could never prepare you for your son developing a super rare disease which if left untreated will end in fatal terms. It also couldn’t prepare you for having to put your life and career on hold, or the drifting apart of people you classed as your friends.

Talk to someone

I have been lucky enough to be able to realise when I am going through a dark patch in my life, and have in the past used different support networks to talk about my feelings and that’s the most important thing: TALK! In July 2019 I stopped my car on a bridge on my way into work as there was a man of a similar age of myself sat on the opposite side of the railings, I stood with him for 10 minutes in the rain just talking to him until the police arrived and we managed to persuade him to climb back over the railings, I still to this day think about him every single day and it shocked me for weeks of how low he must have been feeling to be able to come to that point where he was prepared to end it all on that rainy Monday morning.

Talk to anyone. I promise you, they will listen and it will help you to just be able to vent and express your feelings. I understand the fear of them not understanding, but who you talk to does not have to be a family member or a friend there are so many fantastic support networks out there that are available 24/7, or alternatively seek help through your GP.

This journey we are living with Max has been incredibly tough even with the global pandemic added in to spice things up and we have plenty ups and downs but the best form of medicine for me during that time was to be able to express my feelings to my partner. I would imagine there are many fathers in a similar situation who are currently just feeling totally helpless and wanting to take their child's illness away and cast it upon themselves, because trust me when I say this I would do the same in a heartbeat.

Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to anyone and find YOUR way to keep YOUR mind occupied. Mine was eating my bodyweight in Pringles from the hospital shop while binge watching something on Netflix with the occasional German lesson.

Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen.

Samaritans: 116 123 (24 hour helpline)

MIND: 0800 123 3393

Saneline: 0300 304 7000

Hi there, I'm Connor Gardner, dad to Max, sharing our family's story from a dad's perspective.

Read more from Connor    Read more AA voices

AA voices

AA voices is a collection of blogs in which people affected by aplastic anaemia share the stories they feel are important, in their own words. If you would like to tell your story here, please get in touch with Ellie, our Comms and Fundraising Manager, by emailing [email protected].