True story - my family owned a circus. 

Oh, and I can almost juggle. 

Juggling is a skill that takes practice, patience, co-ordination and a desire to succeed. The hardest part is keeping the balls moving through the air without getting cocky and thinking you've succeeded for them to come tumbling down as your elation leads your brain to confusion.

When you have a child with special needs you juggle, let’s be honest when you have kids you juggle, but with additional needs there is just more to do. I have three kids, although one is all grown up, all three of them have additional needs. Juggling is essential to keep sane.

I gave up work to be a stay at home dad, a house husband, full time carer - call me what you like, I'm thick skinned. I wasn't as good at this juggling thing as I thought. The stress and strain of trying to hold down a job, be the man my partner fell in love with and a good dad to my kids didn't help when my brain decided to take a holiday without any notice. I had a complete breakdown, I couldn't function, I could barely communicate, it was all just too much.

It's easy for me to say now, I talk about it a lot, I think its important people talk about mental health. At the time it was all new to me, I really didn't have a clue but that didn't matter, my brain still wanted some time off. I lost my job, made a slow recovery and then lost a second job not long after.  I set up my own business but I still knew I wasn't well. Eventually we decided I was going to stay at home and my partner was going to follow her dream, it made sense, a lot of sense.

At the time I had the two boys in special schools and a little girl starting nursery. I knew I could do this stuff, it's easy, I'd watched my partner do it all many times. You get up, have a lazy morning getting the kids ready, off to school on transport, a drop off at nursery and then I can do what I like. 

Only I kind of forgot about the tidying, washing, bed making, cooking, shopping, gardening, appointments, and errands. I came pretty close to forgetting to pick up my daughter a few times.

I had to learn things quickly. In all honesty I'd always been very hands on with the kids, but I couldn't cook anything unless it was out of the freezer and it clearly stated what temperature the oven should be set to, for how long, and even then I'd burn the dinner. 

At the time our daughter had some needs above and beyond other children her age, but to be honest we'd never had a neurotypical child, we didn't really know how one worked, so we just got on with it.

I wish I could say I was the model househusband, best stay-at-home dad ever, but I really was terrible at it. I'm no better now, just more experienced. I know what stuff to avoid in which order these days, do a few big jobs so nobody notices the dozens of little ones that aren't done.

What I needed was a purpose. I felt bad about not working. This wasn't some macho thing, and I wasn't ashamed that we received some help from the government; this was about a sense of purpose. I would sit and think "is this it until they day I die?” Genuinely, humour aside, I thought I'd done all I was destined to do.

I had high hopes for our little girl. She loved animals, vets make a good living don't they, and we could help her to set up a little practice so she could look after us in our old age. Oh, she's interested in bugs - maybe a science field; she might make a big discovery and be rich!  Poor kid, there was me, her hapless father pinning all his hopes on this gorgeous little girl being a success in something she would probably not have any interest in.

I needed to stop thinking it wasn't doing me any good.  Having a lot of time to myself gave me a lot of time to think, but it also gave me a lot of time to be depressed. The two are linked; there is advice for people struggling with depression to 'keep busy' and its good advice if you can be motivated to do anything.

I was motivated, I needed to do something. So I set up a charity.

In hindsight I realise there are probably thousands of steps between 'do nothing with your life' and 'start a legally registered non-profit organisation', but then it was never in my nature to just look a couple of steps ahead. I was fortunate to find some incredible people who shared my vision of helping other carers and together we did some pretty amazing things, including setting up a large specialist play service. We didn't get loads of funding, we made the money through hard work, it was challenging but so rewarding. We were changing lives and getting a lot of attention for doing things differently.  I had a purpose, I could do this.

This carried on for a few years until I realised I was back where I started, struggling to think straight, feeling terrible all day every day, and no time with my family. I was helping others but not myself or the people I loved the most. My physical health had been declining for some time, and nobody knew why, I was in a lot of pain and fighting some pretty scary demons. When the charity hit a particularly challenging time I really did find myself struggling to know what to do next. I couldn't walk away, I'd started something and had to finish it, but could I continue for much longer or was I about to break?

After a much needed family holiday, I took control of my thoughts and decided that what I'd just experienced for seven quiet, peaceful days was what I had to choose. I needed to put my family first and look after myself. Only this wasn't about just stepping back and being a stay at home dad, this was going to be a total break, pick up the family and move two hundred miles.

We'd always dreamt of a life in Devon, Mandy is an A&E nurse, relocating was fairly easy, schools needed changing and lots of stuff needed doing, but I'm a good project manager. I took charge making key decisions and managing the entire move. I say lots of things needed doing, it was the most chaotic six weeks of our lives, but it was organised chaos with a plan and an end in sight.

We now live a quiet rural life, I miss the people I once worked with and miss the project I started, but I am well for the first time in many years, I've got a diagnosis and I am getting help.

I’m involved with a few little projects, and started something small myself, but I know the boundaries and I'm clear of what I can and can't do. I allocate a little time each day, I go out for a couple of days a week to meetings and events, so far it's working well. I love spending time with my family, we have a lot of fun and enjoy our life down here, there's no way I could go back to being too busy to care for and enjoy my children, but I also need 'something' in my life to aim for, to keep my mind busy.

The lesson here is to do what you have to do to be happy, healthy and well, even though that may not be what others want you to do or society thinks you should do. Looking after yourself is essential if you are to do a good job of looking after anyone else.

Ultimately I realised that no matter how much I enjoyed the circus and how much of a clown I can be, the truth is I was never really any good at juggling.

Marc started the Little Blue Cup Project after his #CupForBen Tweet went viral, the internet came together and strange things happened. Find him on Twitter as @GrumpyCarer - an accurate description - or on facebook.

 

His two sons (24 and 14) are Autisitc and have learning disabilities, his daughter (11) is being assessed for Autism, Marc tells us if doctors don't agree she's Autistic he'll chew off his arm and beat them with it.