By David Lees
The co-founder of the mental health charity Time to Tackle, the winner of the 2020 Scottish Football Association Grassroots Merit Award, has spoken of the difficulties of being excluded from maternity appointments due to lockdown restrictions.
Aaron Connolly (29) and his wife Siobhan are expecting twin girls in March, with lockdown restrictions preventing Aaron from attending fortnightly maternity visits and scans.
It’s been tense but we got the deals finalised, 2 pre contract agreements signed on deadline day to add to the Connolly family ?
— Aaron Connolly (@aconnolly91) October 5, 2020
Aaron said: “The feeling of not being involved in it, of Siobhan having to go in there and deal with that stress herself and then try and relay the message back to me about what’s going on or what’s not going on, is tough.
“But not seeing the scans, we just had our 20-week scan, obviously I was in isolation anyway, I wouldn’t have seen it, that’s horrendous.
“It is really upsetting, it is quite difficult and I don’t want to put it all on me, Siobhan’s going through a lot as well but it’s a hard thing to deal with.”
The Connolly twins are monozygotic, generally associated with higher risk of issues for the duration of pregnancy, which has added to Aaron’s unease at being unable to be part of the regular visits and scans.
Despite this, he has been able to be philosophical about the situation that he and many others have faced this year.
He said: “Don’t get me wrong, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, at times, specifically around this because it is in relation to my children but I like to think that I’m quite an understanding person and I totally see the reasoning for it.
“While there’s people out there still dying every day then I’m happy to take whatever advice is necessary from those who know better than me.”
After losing his job in corporate finance, after ten years with the same company, during lockdown, Aaron has dedicated the majority of his time to having Time to Tackle recognised as a social enterprise, in addition to his footballing career with West of Scotland Football League side St Roch’s.
Having recently spent 18 days in self-isolation after Siobhan and their young son Ruraidh consecutively tested positive for COVID-19, Aaron also missed several games of St Roch’s long-delayed league season.
He said: “I broke down the second last game of pre-season so that was frustrating, but then I managed to get myself back up and running.
“The league started, I came off the bench four games in a row, then got put into isolation because my wife has tested positive.
“Again, I’m fully understanding of why that rule is in place, why I needed to isolate, Siobhan and Ruraidh’s health was of paramount importance at that point and football was a total irrelevance but in the same cycle, it’s tough, it’s tough to have all of that taken away from you.”
St Roch’s striker @aconnolly91 is the guest on this weeks podcast!
We discussed Aaron’s background in football, his work with @Timetotackle and he offered a close prediction on tonight’s ??????? game…?
— St Roch's FC (@StRochsJuniors) November 12, 2020
Football is also the focus of Time to Tackle, the sessions Aaron and Siobhan run every Friday consisting of a five a side game, and a session of mental health discussion.
Aaron said: “People always tell me that men don’t want to share their problems, or that men don’t want to talk about it, and I would challenge that concept by saying they do want to talk about it, and will happily share their problems, if you give them the right environment.”
“The best environment that I thought that I could give people similar to me who loved football was to give them a game of football first.”
Time to Tackle, like almost every other facet of the couple’s lives, has also been hampered by lockdown restrictions, with Paisley and Renfrewshire entering Level 4 restrictions, the sessions had to be temporarily replaced by zoom calls.
Aaron said: “(it was) tough personally because I didn’t have something to go access but then really tough to go tell the 70-odd members we have on our WhatsApp chat: ‘by the way, we need to close again’ and having to give them that bad news and give them the burden that now you don’t have the escape that you usually have.”
(Aaron takes a shot to an unfortunate place at a Time to Tackle session)
He has also recently started a podcast called Time to Talk, a culmination of talking to and connecting with people through discussions of mental health over the course of a year.
Aaron said: “It was purely selfish; a lot of people think the work we do is selfless but it was selfish.
“It was me wanting to sit down with people who had started to inspire me who I had seen going through so much and had achieved so much, and thinking that I want to speak to them and how can I speak to them, but also how can we get it out there?
“Siobhan and I always say that if we do anything that helps one person, if one person hears something in one of my podcasts and goes and gets help then I’m more than grateful for that.
“If one person comes to our Time to Tackle group and they feel a bit heard or they feel seen when they haven’t before, then we’ve done more than I could ever imagine, two years ago.”
26/04/19 – attempted suicide
26/04/20 – eating pizza, watching kids movies with my son laughing at the fun me & the wife had on zoom last night, life is worth living I promise!
Remind someone today that they aren’t alone. Times are fucking hard right now & people need to know ❤️ pic.twitter.com/55F7p7guc5
— Aaron Connolly (@aconnolly91) April 26, 2020
Time to Tackle sessions are held every Friday 7-9pm at Paisley’s St Mirren Park and are open to men and women over the age of 16.
Interest can be registered at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting Time to Tackle