Mark Williams led a content life; from a working-class background, he worked his way up into a promising career and then met the love of his life. When his wife Michelle fell pregnant, it seemed as though everything had fallen into place for them.
But when Michelle’s labour didn’t go well, she fell into a deep, dark depression.Mark too felt as though he had lost something, succumbing to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. He had never heard of fathers going through postnatal depression, but with a baby that wouldn’t stop crying, and a wife he could no longer connect with, he felt like he was losing himself more and more each day. So he found solace in old habits, and found his escape at the bottom of a bottle.
A touching story from a rarely explored perspective, Daddy Blues tells the tale of a man learning to deal with a problem he never knew he could have.
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I was born in August 1974, and raised in a beautiful village in the South Wales Valleys called Ogmore Vale (Cwm Ogwr in Welsh), about nine miles from the town of Bridgend.
It was a time of social unrest in the UK: inflation was rising, the miners' strike was dragging on, and the government was in a mess. The world my parents had known – with all its old certainties – was changing fast.
The coal mines in South Wales were beginning to close. By the eighties, they'd all be gone. That had (and still has) a huge impact on our community. Families started moving away from the valley to work. My generation became the first generation that didn't have to work underground for a living.
My dad was one of the last miners in South Wales. He left school at 15, and went straight down the mines, where he worked as a fitter and kept the machinery running, right down there at the pit bottom. He toiled away in that hidden world for the next 29 years, until he finished at the Nantgarw pit in 1987, one of the last mines in Wales to be closed. Dad couldn't afford to just idle the rest of his days away, and his pride wouldn't have let him, so he carried on working as a postman until he retired at 65. Before I was born, my mam worked as a mental health nurse, and later got a job working in a local garage.
Both of my parents were very hard-working and between them hardly ever had any time off. I can't remember them ever moaning about their jobs, but I always felt like neither of them were appreciated for their hard work, especially Mam during her 25 years at the garage.
I was an only child, but I don't ever remember being lonely. I was never inside long enough to watch television or mope around being bored like some children did. I played with my grandparents, who I loved very much, and they loved me right back. In a time where there was very little money, they provided me with enough so that I was never bored.
It may not sound like the best place to grow up, and times were hard for the whole community, but I'm proud of my heritage. I am a Valley boy born and bred. In fine weather, which I admit can be a rarity down here, I often sit and relax on the Bwlch Mountain. You can see for miles along the stunning South Wales coastline and across the Bristol Channel. Sometimes, when I'm feeling down, I go there, to drink in all that natural beauty, and remind myself of the life that I am so grateful for.
I was loved by my family, and I made friends at school, but life wasn't always easy. Whenever I spoke, I would mumble. Or the words would come out too fast, and I'd trip over my tongue. People could barely understand me. And it would just get worse if they asked me to repeat myself. Even to this day, when I get excited, I have a tendency to run through my words, sentences crashing into one another inside my mouth. I can see the looks of confusion in people's faces when they try to understand what I'm saying, and it takes me right back to my childhood, right back to when it was really bad.
By age eight, I was going to a private clinic each week, and it was all paid for by the school. If it hadn't been for them, I doubt I would have ever had the help I needed. I had to learn how to get past it. I wanted to be able to speak so that people could understand what I was saying. The speech and language therapists encouraged me to sit still, slow down and really think about what I was saying. But it didn't come easily to me. I was young and full of restless energy, and sometimes, I'd get fed up with it all. It wasn't enough for me to just sit down and think about what I was saying; I wanted something to do. But they just carried on telling me to try to slow down.
I can't remember how many lessons I ended up having, but I do remember it wasn't a quick fix. It felt like I carried on suffering with it for a long time. So, in the end, I found my own ways of dealing with it by treating it like it was all a bit of a joke. That Valleys boy who tried to make people laugh as a way of hiding from his fears is still a big part of me.
So I smiled and I laughed and "kept on carrying on". But inside, I knew there was something deeply wrong with me. I often felt upset. It felt like there was nothing I could do to change who I was or what I was. There was no hiding from it in class and I started avoiding certain words because I didn't want people to laugh at me. When the jokes dried up, I started to get quieter.
The other kids at school all seemed so happy, so carefree, so normal, but I couldn't get past my worries. As my anxiety about school grew, I started to wet the bed. Or I would lie there, unable to sleep, thinking about how much I didn't want to go to school the next day. I hated the smell of the classroom, the feel of the wooden desk with the ink pot, the way the teachers treated us. I remember them shouting at us, their faces screwed up in anger. Sometimes they'd throw blackboard dusters; sometimes they'd actually slap us. To be hit, and shouted at, and told to keep still by people that were so scary, that were so mean, that were so callous ... I thought it was normal. I suppose, back then, it was normal. But looking back, it was terrifying that things like that were allowed to happen.
It wasn't the entire school that I hated; I had some great friends in primary school, and I was never bullied in the playground. But as soon as I was in class, I wanted to escape. I was so terrified of being shouted at that I just couldn't take anything in. So, if the teachers asked me anything, I would freeze, and then they would shout at me again. It was like being trapped in a vicious cycle with no way out.
Whenever I got bored in class, which was a lot of the time, I couldn't stop my mind from wandering, especially when I was doing something hard, like writing. I used to drift off and end up doing a really rushed job so that I could do something else that made me feel better. To this day, I still do that. I run away from my difficulties. People call it procrastination, but I just call it coping.
I guess it was because of these school anxieties that I was described as a 'slow learner' on all of my reports. Then I had to go and have "special lessons" for reading with a teacher called Mrs Goode. I hated being placed in that class. It was for stupid people, and I wasn't one of them. I resisted Mrs Goode at first, but slowly, she turned me around. Hearing her slow and melodic voice would calm me, and as I sat with her, my reading began to progress so much faster than it had before.
There are some teachers who we will remember from school for all the hatred they threw our way, and there are some teachers who we remember because they helped us more than they will ever know ... teachers like Mrs Goode. I'll never forget her for as long as I live.
Now, because I lived in Wales, it rained. It rained a lot. When I think back to primary school, it seemed like the rain came lashing down at us every day. Maybe once I would have thought that God was punishing us again for the sins we had committed.
I hated the rain so much, because when it rained it meant we had to stay in the classroom, and I would get more and more fidgety and anxious. Like a wound-up toy, I needed to be let loose. I felt like I had to escape the classroom I was stuck in. But the teachers never let us out, not even for a second. And that's when things started to change ... I started playing games with the other kids, and quite soon they were looking to me for ideas for more games. It turns out I was the one who had the best ideas. Maybe all of that time feeling trapped in class had made my imagination soar.
I was proud of my creativity. As well as the games that I would think up whenever me and my friends were in need of fun, I started to use my creativity in class. Any time the teacher gave us a problem, I would begin to look at it in a different way from other people. Instead of hitting it head on, I would try to see it from different angles, to try to understand the problem from every single perspective possible. I never wanted to do things the way the teacher wanted; I needed to do things my own way. But the problem was that I got so wrapped up in thinking about the problem that if a teacher asked me another question, I couldn't say anything. And then I would get in trouble all over again, for not listening.
But despite all the trouble I was in, I was never particularly naughty in class. A bit of a daydreamer yes, but never cheeky. I was raised to treat my elders with respect. I can't ever imagine saying something bad to my parents or my grandparents! I was raised to be a good boy, and that's what I was in school ... well, a good boy with a tendency not to pay attention ...
But it's only now, all these years later, that I understand where all my behaviours came from. The way I was easily distracted, the lack of attention and focus, the daydreaming. It all made so much sense to me once I began to learn more about what I had. I didn't know it then, but I had Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Looking back, I wish that there had been more education for my teachers regarding mental health, especially ADHD. I don't feel any anger, or hatred, or bitterness towards my teachers; I know it wasn't their fault – they were simply brought up in a different world. I can't expect them to know that which was not taught to them. But even now, things aren't as good as they should be, and that is something that makes me really angry.
Outside of school, there was one thing that really helped me: The Wyndham Boys and Girls Club. It was only open for boys back in the eighties, but I'm glad it's open for everyone now. Back then, Stan 'The Man' Norris volunteered for children in the valley – a complete and utter valley legend!
It was Stan who gave me the push to better myself. He often pushed me to go to tournaments and inspired me in ways my teachers never did. Thanks to his encouragement, I entered an under-sixteens' pool tournament and won. I was the British Champion, and my photograph was put on display at the club and in the school.
I hadn't ever imagined that I'd have won anything, or excelled at anything. The anxious boy was still there, but was slowly getting more confident. I was so proud when we collected our awards in a full house at the local club. And it gave me the confidence to think that I could do more things with my life, if I tried hard enough.
Looking back now, it was the Boys Club that gave me the confidence I needed, the confidence that I had lost with my mumbling, and my terror of the teachers. Without being too arrogant, I was pretty good at most sports, and so it was nice to have someone see that in me and tell me I was doing well. It sounds like such a small thing, but as a child, it was everything that I needed.
Time passed quickly for me after primary school. I made new friends at secondary school. I wasn't mumbling any more, but I was still going through the motions in class, and I never really thought about pursuing an education beyond that. I never felt I was good enough in school. No one ever made me feel like I could amount to anything.
The only thing I wanted to do when I left school was to get a job and earn my own money so that I could do all the things I wanted. I had seen my parents work hard, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps.
I was already looking far ahead, counting the days until I could leave.CHAPTER 2
Our memories make us, don't they? There will always be things that we look back on with joy and happiness, but for me, it's the things I remember with a sense of shame or embarrassment that have left the deepest impression. My childhood is filled with these moments, from the embarrassment of being caught in a lie, to being in trouble with my teachers ... but there is one thing that I will never forget, and always regret.
When I was ten, I had my first experience of alcohol. Stupidly young, I know, but it was just the way of the world back then. It was New Year's Eve and it seemed like everyone was drinking. I was allowed to go out with my older friends, and then we ended up walking the streets. And someone passed me a bottle – I had no idea what was in it, but that didn't even matter. I just knew I had to drink it because if I didn't, everyone would think I was a wimp. Even at age ten, I knew I couldn't lose face like that. In a world where men were men, I had a reputation to build. So I put it to my lips and took a gulp, and then another, and another ...
... And then all I remember after that is lying on the sofa at home, feeling a whole new kind of sick. It was like my body was punishing me for drinking. I felt like death. For days after that, I thought I'd never, ever drink again.
And I didn't. Well, not for a few years anyway. I waited until I was 13 years old before I really started drinking regularly. My drinking buddies were all older than me, so there was no way they were going to allow me to drink a few cokes. It was pints all the way. But the more I drank, the calmer I felt. It was as if all that tension I'd had at school just drained away.
At weekends, big groups of us would head out to parties, or, in desperation, hang around bus stops. I quickly became the person known in the group for taking things too far and getting totally off my head. I was the one people talked about: 'Oh did you hear what Mark did last night?' And I liked that. So I'd go even further the next time. I wanted people to go on talking about me.
I left school at 15 without a single qualification to my name. But they couldn't have made me stay a day longer than I had to. By now, I was drinking to professional standards! I was hiding away from responsibilities; relying on the drink. I didn't want to let go of it. And it didn't want to let go of me.
I did a few jobs here and there, small things that didn't pay very much, until I started to work on a government youth training scheme as a bricklayer.
The local kids didn't have the same job security generations of young men had had in the Valleys. We didn't have a working identity. The mines were closed. We had to find something else. I thought being a bricklayer would give me a tribe – a gang of mates who would be there for each other, through thick and thin. I even thought that could be my entire working life all mapped out. But all we ever seemed to do was talk about laying bricks, and never seemed to actually do any bricklaying, so I began to look for other work. There were still jobs out there then, despite the closure of the mines, and I soon found a job working at a local factory.
It wasn't perfect. I didn't expect perfect, but I did expect to get some respect. My manager seemed to have a problem with everyone who worked there, including me. He would ask me to do overtime, but only on his terms. He'd call me into his office, just so he could order me around. I never understood why he did this. We already knew that he had the power over us – he was our manager – but he clearly never wanted to let us forget it.
Life was starting to move in a different direction. For the first time in my life, I had money – and I wasn't afraid to spend it! I was 16 years old, and life outside of work was easy. I stopped going to the Boys Club, stopped playing football, and started partying. Monday to Thursday at the factory was followed by a long weekend of drinking to excess. I sobered up for Monday morning, and then did it all over again.
The rave scene was really taking off and I jumped in, feet first. It was all about the music, the parties and the excess. I had a completely different set of friends, and they were all into it. They'd invite me out to parties and nightclubs, and I never said no. It was through them that I enjoyed so much new music, and so many new experiences. I felt so alive whenever I was with them.
I started smoking too. I'd always hated being around smokers as a kid, and I never, ever thought I'd be a smoker, but it was getting harder to say no to all those new experiences. So there I was, buying packet after packet of cigarettes, along with everyone else. I even moved on to smoking pot; what would my 10-year-old self have thought of older Mark? Would he even have recognised the man I was turning into?
I carried on working in the factory, and I carried on drinking. I was earning more money than I ever had, and I loved going clubbing and getting completely wasted. I was having the time of my life. Or at least, I thought I was. As the drinking got worse, I started having blackouts. I'd wake up after another skin-full, not remembering a single thing I'd done the night before. I used to tell myself it was fine: after all, if I didn't remember, then I couldn't regret whatever I'd done. I would sometimes wake up in gutters, or just lying in the street, without any knowledge of how I had gotten there in the first place.
Sometimes I'd wake up in a police cell. I never knew how I'd got there. At least once, I nearly died after choking on my own vomit. The memories were hazy then; they're even more blurred with time now, but there are little flashes of the things that I did, still there, in the back of my mind. So why did I do it? Why did I carry on drinking?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Daddy Blues"
Copyright © 2018 Mark Williams.
Excerpted by permission of Trigger Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"Mark's excellent book will help encourage more dads to talk openly about their mental health." - Dr Andrew Mayers