It can take many forms. It can creep up on you when you least expect it. It’s insidious and quietly builds up when you don’t realise it.

It’s stress.

It’s the exasperated huff from a loved one when you haven’t washed the dishes, the accusing look when you forgot to put the bins out. What used to be nothing suddenly becomes an extra little weight on top of everything else. It’s the feeling of seeing a friend’s name pop up in a message, letting you know what videogame they’re currently playing – when did you last play a videogame? Seriously, when? Will you ever have time again in future? Certainly not, with babies about. If you ever have kids. Will I be a good parent? Am I tidy enough? Why can’t we keep this place clean? A million worries. A million problems, crushing you like a pile of sand. Each grain isn’t a problem, but with a million friends…

How can I be a good father when I can’t even take care of myself?

It’s the feeling of having a brain stuffed full of cotton wool when your mind used to feel razor sharp. It’s tiredness. It’s worry. It’s the fact that life doesn’t stop even when you do have major concerns – So, you’re a bit busy? Let’s throw in a broken shower, a heavy workload and a trying boss. Oh, and on top of all that, have some coursework, exams, and a mortgage. When did you last see your friends? The stress of leaving the armed forces and finding out that civvie street is really not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Now, try for kids. Not working? Still not stressed enough? Sex isn’t stress busting anymore? Okay, let’s go for IVF. Throw in a hormonal wife who you love dearly, but by god it’s difficult to support her when you need propping up too. Throw in arguments about money – which you can’t solve, because no one wants to employ you for more than you’re currently on, which is a pittance. Throw in the guilt you feel whenever you want to spend time alone, throw in the guilt you feel whenever you feel closed in. Throw in obligatory social engagements with family members when you would really rather be alone, by yourself, staring at the deep, dark night sky.

Fortunately, my younger sister (let’s call her The Lost Nurse, shall we?) is a mental health nurse, and a damn good one too. She’s jolly useful! Fitness, exercise, and making time to do what you want to do, that’s her advice – don’t let the things that stress you out define who you are. Stress has a terrible toll on short term memory; apparently I told the same anecdote to my uncle three times in one night a few weeks back. Don’t be surprised if you forget appointments, bills, your spouse’s name, etc. These things happen.

Yes, you are undergoing IVF. Yes, it’s hard, and places a strain on you both. But you are not IVF. You are not infertility. It’s just something that’s happening to you. You are stronger than all of these things combined. There’s no shame in needing help and there’s certainly never any shame in failure. It is possible to do everything right in life and still fail; not through your mistakes, or through being a bad person, but just through sheer bad luck. It’s called life. You are defined not by your failings or misfortunes, but by how you pick yourself up afterwards.

That said, I do now see why British men have garden sheds. The overwhelming desire to slink off by yourself, find a quiet corner, and ignore the stresses of the world. An innate, almost primal desire present in every British male over the age of thirty to undergo a metamorphosis: to quit clubbing, grow an allotment and construct a shed in the back garden, hiding away from family members, tinkering with machinery and putting nuts, bolts and screws into jam jars, sorted by size and thread.

It’s sadly inevitable.

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