Keeping my head straight

Dave Roberts

For those of you who don’t know me, my name's Dave Roberts and I look after all of our pensions and benefits, and most recently have also taken on responsibility for our Wellbeing strategy.

Asides from my work life, I’m also a husband and the dad to two cheeky blighters.

Becoming a dad was one of the most magical moments in my life, and whilst it’s not always easy I wouldn’t ever have it any other way. 

I’m sure many of you out there have kids, and you’ll know what I mean when I say that you hope that your children will be perfectly healthy.  It’s a constant worry during pregnancy, and a concern when they are little.  Once you get to the age my kids are at though, it sort of drifts to the back of your mind.  That’s how my life was. Both my children had been fine, until I got the call.

I was in Hammersmith that day, and I remember it vividly because it was one of the last days of the school holidays and we were having our bathroom done, so the house had been pretty chaotic.  I had just started a meeting when my mobile went, and it was my wife.  I thought I’d best answer it as it might be bathroom related – but it wasn’t.  What she told me would change things forever; my son had been taken to hospital following a seizure.  The rest of the day if I’m honest is a bit of a blur as I battled through London’s transport system to get home as soon as I could – I remember cursing under my breath at the train as it stopped at a signal though! 

Initially the hospital thought it could be a one off, but unfortunately two weeks later he had another and was booked in for an urgent MRI scan to try and work out the cause.  At this point all manner of ideas rush through your mind, but the scan confirmed that he had Epilepsy caused by some damage at the front of his brain which had probably been there since he was born. 

Now, for anyone who has come across Epilepsy before you’ll know it is a complex condition with many different types, treating it can be a bit hit and miss.  My son was put onto some anti-seizure medication, which took some time to kick in, but after a couple of months it did work.  During this period of time I found things very stressful.  I was obviously very worried about him, but found myself feeling anxious about doing anything, with or without him.  At work I couldn’t concentrate and found myself anxious about when I’d get the next call.  I found myself anxious about taking the family out for the day, worrying about whether an ambulance would be able to get to us in an emergency.  I also feared being left on my own with him in case I had to deal with a seizure alone.  It all seems a bit selfish really as I type this, but the feelings were (and still are) very real. 

I felt one day that I needed to nip this in the bud, and so I called Healthy Minds from BUPA.  I had set this up a couple of years earlier, but had never personally felt the need to use the service until that day.  It was actually a bit nerve wracking ringing the number as I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, I just needed to talk it all through to get my head straight I think.  I needn’t have worried, the lady on the phone was brilliant, and just helped me talk it through.  I was offered further counselling support if I needed it, but I didn’t really feel that I did. 

Following the call I decided that I needed to focus on something positive.  I had already started doing a bit of running before my son had started his Epilepsy journey and had managed to get up to 5k (without being sick!).  I had done a bit of running when younger, but I was never much of a long distance runner.  The Young Epilepsy charity had been a particularly good source of information and support when we were learning about Epilepsy, and I had read about the support they gave parents and children with far worse journeys than us.  I wanted to do something to support them, and to show my boy that I wanted to do something for him too.  With that in mind I decided to run 12 10k runs in a year – something I wasn’t even sure I could do – but once the charity support started rolling in there was no way out!

I actually found running very therapeutic, and still do.  It’s some time to just listen to your body working and to think.  I don’t worry about how fast or slow I am really to be honest, I just enjoy doing it.  I’m never going to be a Mo Farah that’s for sure!   

I’m proud to say that in 2017 I did run the 12 10k’s (some easier than others), and even ran the Great South Run (a 10 mile event) in Southampton in October 2017.  I have since gone on to run my first Half Marathon in Bournemouth in April of this year, and ran the Fleet Half Marathon  at the end of April.  Let’s be clear though, I am never going to run a marathon – I’m content with half of one!

I’m not saying that running will work for everyone, but it has helped me.  It’s also helped my son as he now joins me every Saturday for our local Parkrun.  I couldn’t be prouder of him as he works hard and has improved his time massively over the last year or so, and at school has joined the Sports Council even though he isn’t a traditionally sporty kid.  I know that the running helps him to get fit and fight back as his journey with Epilepsy continues.  This is true more so than ever as after a 12-month seizure free period his Epilepsy is showing signs of returning with several breakthrough seizures (a risk of growing and balancing the medication against this).

My wife and I want our son to have a normal life.  There may be things he can’t do (and some of them may be things he doesn’t want to do anyway), but there are millions of things he can and should do (like swimming which he enjoys). 

I still have anxious moments of course, I still look at my phone in meetings to make sure there hasn’t been any calls or messages, I still treat every call from home as urgent, and I still don’t like going away and leaving them overnight if I need to be away at a meeting.  I will always feel anxious, but I know the feeling and I know how to try and keep it controlled.

So, as I reach the end of this particular story I’m not really sure what the moral of the tale is, other than don’t be scared to talk about how you feel, and don’t hesitate to use the support on offer.