The Challenges of Being a Dad With Depression
I am depressed.
It’s 2017, and mental health is not supposed to be taboo anymore, yet for some reason, I would be lying if I said I didn’t still carry some shame even admitting that. I know I can’t just snap out of it at will. I’ve known that since I was first diagnosed around age 14 or 15. I wish that gave me some relief, but it doesn’t. I still become extremely frustrated and even angry when I don’t have full control over my feelings.
Just to clarify, this doesn’t mean I am always sad. It also doesn’t mean I can’t see all the good in my life and that I am not appreciative of that good. Depression is like a voice whispering in your ear constantly. It tells you all the mistakes you are making, the people who are mad at you, all the ways you are useless, and all the reasons you shouldn’t even bother. After a while it just wears you down, and then on the real bad days, you believe that voice.
As I said, it’s not new for me. I have battled with depression for basically as long as I can remember in one form or another. I was diagnosed in my teen years, but the feelings didn’t start then. I always have struggled with a feeling of worthlessness or an idea that nobody actually likes me. This tends to be how my depression manifests itself, just absolutely brutal and constant self-doubt, the incessant idea that I am a burden on everyone, and they are just putting up with me out of a sense of obligation.
Luckily in recent years, my depression has been kind enough to regulate itself to mostly the winter months. This year has been more intense than I can remember in a while, but hopefully with the weather changing I will be able to get back to my more functional state. If not, I will probably have to seek out other forms of help. I actually typed and deleted the last sentence no less than 10 times because I didn’t want to admit in writing I might actually need help.
I have been fighting this for 20 years, and it’s still almost impossible for me to admit I can’t always do it alone — like suffering alone is some masculine badge of honor. Yet, I still get caught in the, “I don’t need any help, and it won’t help me anyway…” loop. Still, rather hypocritically, I implore anyone who needs help to go get it. It makes you a stronger person, not a weaker one.
One of the reasons I hate talking about depression is that it feels like I’m begging for reassurance. I’m not looking for that at all. In fact, when I’m at my worst, I just assume it’s all not real anyway and people are just saying nice things to me because they have to. It’s absurd — I know you don’t all hate me, and I know I’m not totally worthless. I logically know that, but unfortunately the logic isn’t always enough.
So why am I discussing my depression now?
Well, there are a few reasons. Writing has always been cathartic for me, and hopefully this will help a little. That’s the selfish reason. I am extremely bad at actual conversations about feelings and my own mental health, so writing is the best way for me to work through these things.
More importantly, I’m a father now, and I want to talk about parenting with depression. I’m sure other fathers have gone through this, and it’s not a topic we talk about a lot. As men, we tend to avoid these kinds of topics by and large, which is foolish, but that doesn’t make it any less the case.
I don’t have all the answers about parenting when you are depressed. To be frank, I don’t have a lot of answers at all. I just know I want to be the best dad I can, even if I’m not at my best. I don’t want my daughter to see what I am going through when I’m struggling.
So, I do what I am very accustomed to doing. When my little girl is around, I block out how I am feeling and concentrate on being Dad. I force myself to go out, play, be social, and do all the normal things anyone who has fought depression knows can become overwhelming tasks. The nice part of this story is that in turn, I tend to feel better while I am with her. She helps me be my best just by being around and being the pure embodiment of joy that she is.
The flip side of this is when I am done with these activities, I am just exhausted –physically and mentally drained, and I don’t mean the normal way you feel after a day with your kids. I use all my energy to be my best around her, to keep up that facade. She deserves that. When I am not actively struggling with depression I have the energy to be Dad, and then also clean the house, exercise, shave, cook, and perform the other day-to-day tasks of adult life.
Now, I know there is another side to this. She needs to see that mental health is important, and it’s not always pleasant. As she gets older, and if she starts asking questions about depression or other mental health issues, I intend on being honest with her. I also am terrified she will one day have to deal with this, and I hope my experiences (and my wife’s expertise as a therapist) will allow us to spot things early and get her any help she needs.
I can’t do it this way forever. I know that. It’s too draining, and it’s not healthy. I owe my daughter, my wife, and even myself more than just getting by on a day-to-day basis. So I will do what I need to do if this doesn’t fade with the season, as it tends to, and in the meantime I will do my best to be the best father I can be.
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Photo by Steven Van Loy, via Unsplash