Ah, the hindsight. Always 20/20. If only I had known the princess was in another castle, I would have skipped past those pipes and fake castles and hightailed it straight to level 8-4.
Becoming a single dad was definitely a ‘learn as you go’ experience for me, having no previous experience to draw upon or any decent resources that could have prepared me for what lay ahead. To be honest, there probably wasn’t anything that could have prepared me for every challenge that was to come, so a certain amount of walking through that valley unassisted was inevitable.
However, as I reflect on my journey from a much more secure place than I was at the beginning of 2013, there are a few things I could have done that would have made a significant impact on the quality of my life had I made those changes sooner than later. So here’s my top five things I wished I did when I became a single dad, in the hope that this list may help someone who is about to enter 1 Player mode.
1. Take time off to set up my new living arrangements
Once I moved back to Wellington and finally found a place to live with my daughter, I pretty much went from moving in to my new apartment (after crashing at my mate’s place for a week) to starting my new work/childcare routine straight away. I had annual leave which I could have used to finish setting up the apartment, but I didn’t know if I would need to use that leave for some unforeseen future emergency/reason in my new circumstances, so I decided to press on and hold on to that leave until I ‘really needed it’.
Little did I know that i’d be living in a half-assembled apartment for the next 3 months while full-time work (including commuting regularly to Auckland for work), looking after Esme, running a household on my own and learning how to parent by myself took all of my time. Trying to living in a space where boxes were still waiting to be emptied and moved, storage was still to be finalised and rooms were still left unfinished (living out of a suitcase in your own home is a weird experience) only added to the stress of this period of change.
So if I could go back to give myself a little strategic prep talk for those initial stages of 1 Player mode, the first thing i’d tell myself to do would be to take a day or two off work to get my living environment sorted out as quickly as possible – the peace of mind is worth it.
2. Getting out of the house is a key priority!
Next up on the list of things that I should have prioritised to improve my quality of life is getting out of the house. Working full-time, travelling for work, and looking after my daughter four nights a week meant I spent a lot of time at home. On the nights I didn’t have her, I was either in commuting mode, tidying up after the tornado that was my little monkey toddler, or just so exhausted I couldn’t be bothered going out.
However, this is one of those times that the extra effort pays off even when you’re low on energy and motivation. As the old saying goes, no man is an island, so one of the most important things that anyone who spends a lot of time in 1 Player mode can do is spend time with others, or just simply get out of the house. Not only for the obvious social benefits that you can’t quite get sitting in front of the TV or computer screen, but it also increases the chances of you stumbling upon something random, something new, or running into someone you know.
After a few months of becoming a single dad I came to this realisation, so I started putting this one into practice and my general wellbeing improved noticeably. My motto soon became ‘When in doubt, get out’ – that is, when considering options for what to do during the day, choose the option that gets you out of the house and interacting with people as much as possible.
3. Make those hard decisions on what you spend your time on for your overall wellbeing
Some of the decisions you’ll need to make as you flick the switch to 1 Player mode will be what activities you’re able to continue to do in your new role, such as sports, social events, and which ones you’ll need to change or sacrifice. As i’ve mentioned elsewhere, i’m a semi-to-almost retired bboy, and i’ve been dancing since 2007 and a fan of hip hop culture since my teens. One of the things that I was looking forward to, despite the huge upheaval of moving my life back to Wellington, was reconnecting with my breaking crew and training with them regularly. However, my new single dad schedule didn’t quite match up with my crews, who had their own lives keeping them busy with jobs, relationships, kids etc. More often than not I found myself training by myself, which I didn’t mind so much due to the love of the dance, but when I was spending so much time away from other people when looking after Esme during the week, it was getting harder to find a reason to spend my free time isolating myself even more.
So at the beginning of 2014, I decided to take a break from breaking <see what I did there.jpg> and join the gym to get me out of the house more. It was a tough decision to make, as breaking was a huge part of who I was, but after looking at the pros and cons it was a decision I made for my overall wellbeing.
However, I wasn’t giving breaking up completely – my initial routines at the gym were based around TRx workouts that my brother, a personal trainer, introduced me to. These workouts involve bodyweight resistance exercises using suspension straps, which had similarities to the bodyweight manipulation art of breaking. And a few months after I started at the gym, one of my mates from my breaking crew started going to the same gym. He introduced me to bodyweight calisthenics exercises which, again, share similarities with breaking, so it’s been a great opportunity to learn new skills while keeping myself fit in a way helps me keep in touch with my breaking. All while getting myself out of the house and interacting with people I know, rather than isolating myself in the name of my art. And I still catch up with my crew from time to time and have a bit of a jam with them when I can make a training session with them, even if it’s just to say what’s up on my way home from the gym (which always ends up in me throwing out a few moves anyway, just to make sure my skills don’t totally rust out).
So if you’re about to enter 1 Player mode, you may need to make some hard decisions about the things you do – it could be a physical activity, a hobby, or even your job. And while you may find that you need to make significant changes to maintain your overall wellbeing, it’s also an opportunity for new learnings and potential reinvention.
I’m not saying that you need to give up anything at all, and there’s always ways to adapt and get creative with your time and the way you do things – I could easily still be breaking regularly today, training a couple of times a week where I can, by myself etc., but I realised that I needed to make changes that were going to benefit my overall wellbeing.
There’s also always the chance that you can come back to the things you’ve taken a break from, once your routine or circumstances change. After attending a breaking jam mid-2014, I realised I still loved breaking, so I ended up entering a jam at the start of 2015. While I was rusty as hell and our crew got knocked out in the second round, it felt good to be back on the dance floor, and more importantly back in that hip hop environment I loved so much, connecting and vibing with my friends in the breaking scene. I’m not back in regular training, but it was good to dip my toes back in the water to catch that groove again.
So be prepared to make those hard decisions about what you can spend your time on, but don’t be afraid – it doesn’t have to be permanent, and you never know where that new journey will take you.
4. Seek professional counselling support as soon as possible if you think you might need it
I’ve always been an advocate for people seeing mental health professionals such as counsellors or psychologists when they’re going through challenging periods of their lives. I’ve used counselling services at various stages of my life, and it’s always useful to talk through my issues with a professional to get an outside perspective and reassure myself that i’m not alone, and there’s not something fundamentally wrong with me (although there’s probably a few people out there who would beg to differ!).
One of the biggest reasons that i’m motivated to use the services of mental health professionals when going through tough times is to do with my impatience with certain things. Generally speaking, I love life. It’s pretty cool. But when i’m going through life stuff that’s making life not-so-awesome, I want to find the quickest, most efficient solution to that problem so I can get back to awesome. And seeing a mental health professional can play a big part in finding your way quicker than trying to struggle through on your own.
However, when I entered 1 Player Mode, it took me almost a year and a half before I got round to talking to a mental health professional about the biggest life change I had ever experienced and the challenges I faced on a daily basis that were causing me grief. My main excuse was that I was just too busy to book the appointment, and that i’d book it when I ‘really needed it’, as I became used to grinding through the days to get by despite the ch that was going on in my head some days.
I was getting through the days by being so busy that my focus was often on other things to survive the week, as well as having a number of close friends who I could talk to, some of whom were single parents themselves and had been through the journey I was just starting on. But the dark thoughts were always running in the background, like all the crap software in my laptop that constantly slows it to a crawl (I really need a clean out of my PC!), and I definitely wasn’t functioning at my best.
When I finally got around to booking an appointment with a counsellor, it was at a point when I really needed to see someone to help me get through a particularly stressful event relating to my single parenthood. The process of signing up, getting access and finding a time in my work week to see the counsellor took a lot longer than anticipated (due to administrative issues with the service I was using, which is a another post all together) so by the time I saw him the worst of it had subsided, but it was a relief to be able to walk through my journey to date with someone who could provide a more objective perspective than my friends or family (who have the best intentions, but are sometimes a bit too close to the situation to give you the perspective you need). I only ended up seeing this particular counsellor twice before I got busy again with a transition into a new job, but I had covered enough ground with him that I felt confident enough that I was ok for now.
What I really should have done is seen a counsellor much earlier in the process of becoming a single dad, to front foot or pre-empt some of the challenges I’d face down the road. So my recommendation to anyone about to enter 1 Player mode, if you think you might need to talk to someone, book that appointment sooner rather than later, as you never know what is going to happen around the corner that you’re gonna need help with. Yes, cost can be a factor as sessions can be quite expensive depending on what type of professional you see, but see if you’re eligible for any subsidised services through your workplace support systems, or local health organisations.
5. Spend money on the things you need that will make the biggest impact on your day-to-day life
This last point falls under the category of ‘death by a thousand cuts’, or the little frustrations that add up over time to increase levels of frustration and stress. One of the major aspects of becoming a single parent and being responsible for your own bills, etc. is that there’s often not a lot of money to go around, so there is a constant balancing act from payday to payday around what you can spend your money on.
I had this small chopping board that I used frequently, more than my larger chopping boards because it was easier to clean (and you’ll be doing A LOT of dishes in 1 Player mode, so I tried to minimise this as much as possible). However, because I used it so much and I only had one, I kept having to hand wash it every time I used it which was a small annoyance that added up on a regular basis. It was only after a year or so that I finally bought some more small chopping boards (which only cost me about $5 from memory). However, having spare chopping boards eliminated this small but frequent annoyance from my life.
I know it’s a bit of a ridiculous story (just buy another damn chopping board!!!) but it highlighted an important point that would have been handy for me to know back at the beginning of my journey – a lot of your life in 1 Player Mode is characterised by routine and repetition, so try to set up your environment to make your everyday routines a bit easier.
So my final suggestion is to spend money on the things that will make the most impact on your life. You may not be able to identify these things straight away, but once you’ve established your 1 Player Mode routine, see what things you can purchase that will make your life run a bit smoother each day.
So there you have it – five things that, all together, would have made a significant difference to my wellbeing from the beginning of my journey in 1 Player mode. Hopefully they can help you if you’re beginning down that path yourself, and if you’ve ‘been there and done that’, what are some of the things you wish you knew or wish you had done at the beginning of your journey?