When I was diagnosed as infertile, there was a delayed reaction before I fell headfirst into a breakdown that disabled me for about 5 months. The emotional impact of childlessness and infertility has enormous potential for mental illness, and for me, this was the most acutely painful part of our story.

I’d never experienced anxiety or depression before, and stress was only something I’d felt when taking my GCSEs, a panic that was quickly over once the exams had finished.

We’ve written before about how the grief associated with childlessness is akin to PTSD, and the tumble into breakdown was dark, anxious and frightening. This was all some years ago now, but for some reason I started thinking about it this morning while eating my peanut butter on toast. During the early part of 2012 I was signed off work for weeks at a time, and recovery became my full time occupation. Mostly, it was sitting at home, watching hours of TV, drumming up the strength to make myself a cup of tea or put clothes on. But one morning, I actually took the advice of the doctors and the HR manager at work, and did something to positively impact my mental health.

I had owned the landscape. I had found my own way. I had breathed the air and seen something new.

In North East London, visible from the North Circular Road and M11, there’s a Victorian water tower, peeking out over the houses in the distance. I’d often looked for it when driving, I liked it, and I’d always wondered about going there to see it close up. One morning, instead of channel hopping, I dusted off my bicycle and went off in search of it. It was a purely selfish, capricious adventure. I didn’t really know where I was going (a brief google search set me off in the general direction) nor how many miles I would have to cover. Hopes were raised at various points on the journey, when I spied it in the distance, before it would be obscured by the houses and streets in between us. But, hours after setting off, there I was, at the barrier of the private estate in which the water tower sat. I got there. I made something that had always been a curious spot on the horizon, somehow, familiar. I don’t want to overplay the significance of that moment, but there was an inkling of grace that day, a moment of clarity in the middle of a season of despair.

I had owned the landscape. I had found my own way. I had breathed the air and seen something new.

Later I discovered that the water tower, which was now a feature of a luxurious private development, originally formed part of the Claybury mental asylum. The chapel had been converted into a health club and swimming pool. The water tower no longer held water. Things had moved on.

And that reflects my own journey. Over time, the anxiety subsided and I regained a sense of myself. I returned to work, and followed my vocation to vicardom. Sheila and I set our sights on parenthood, not in the way we’d dreamed, but through assisted conception. Things moved on, as we owned the landscape, opened up about our story and determined to seek God in the mess and not just in the happy ending.

The water tower no longer held water. Things had moved on.

Not sure why I’ve decided to think about this today, let alone put it on the blog. But maybe you’re reading this after a diagnosis, or while experiencing the turbulence of poor mental health. Maybe you’re dizzy, and the landscape is all a blur. If so, I want you to know that you’re not alone. And the grief that you’re feeling is a valid and important part of the process. In time, you will find it within yourself to own the landscape, tell your story (it matters) and see your story in a new way. Know this. And know that I’m praying for you today.


If you’re worried about your mental health, I recommend talking to your GP, the mental health charity Mind, or the support of a community such as Fertility Network UK