The Mighty Logo

10 Ways My 1-Year-Old Daughter Is Helping Me Beat Depression

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

What if I told you that at some point in the timeline of your life you had the skills and abilities to deal with all of life’s challenges? I believe there are attributes we all had when we were babies that we’ve since forgotten and could supercharge our lives today.

In January of 2016, I became a father to a beautiful and feisty baby girl. The pregnancy was planned and life was rocking, but I spent the next nine months or so fighting off post-natal depression.

It was a very tough year for myself, but also for my family. I ended up throwing everything I could at the problem: antidepressants, a work absence, counseling, change of diet, Neuro Linguistic Programming and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

And I got better.

The last few months have been amazing, and I have bonded greatly with my daughter, who has enhanced my capacity to love past anything I thought possible. And through playing with her and watching her grow, I realized she could have told me how to fight off the depression herself.

So what is it babies know that we don’t?

In many ways I believe we unlearn the skills we need to deal with life as an adult. My daughter, Evelyn, is confident, curious, authentic, persistent and creative, and yet I believe a lot of this can get destroyed by the education system.

“Look at 3 or 4-year-oldsthey are all full of self-confidence,” Rasfeld says. “Often, children can’t wait to start school. But frustratingly, most schools then somehow manage to untrain that confidence.” — Margret Rasfeld

So what traits do we all have as babies that could help us as adults?

1. My daughter is naturally curious.

Depression can make you forget what a wondrous place the world is. We get jaded as adults. The sheer level of curiosity and excitement Evie has with life continues to amuse me. Questions fascinate her — like, is my nose detachable? What happens if I use the other end of my toothbrush? What does this book taste like? Curiosity is what fuels scientists, entrepreneurs, explorers and inventors.

And yet, as teenagers and adults, we are taught not to question or challenge authority. The question isn’t so much “Did the moon landings happen?” but instead, “Is there a moon?” As Yoda says, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Evelyn hasn’t been “educated” yet, and it’s glorious.

2. For my daughter, mistakes are allowed.

Depression wants perfection straight away, which is not sustainable. Evelyn does not mind getting it wrong or making a mistake. As adults, we are often so scared of not being right or being laughed at, that we live overly safe, cautious lives. Not so for Evie. She will play in any way she sees fit, she will eat her coat, throw her food, talk gibberish, scribble outside of the lines, read books back to front — and she cares not one jot.

3. My daughter has no shame.

Oftentimes, depression makes us ashamed, and tells us not to seek help. You should never judge another person’s coping mechanism. We get through life however we can, and I believe there is no “wrong” answer, as long as it works for you.

A life hack I sometimes use in situations when I am anxious is to imagine two massive wolves next to me. Think “Game of Thrones” awesomeness! Ghost and Greywind. Partly this is a way to occupy my mind so I don’t think about the thing that’s making me anxious, but it also makes me stand taller and be more confident.

I feel very comfortable typing that, because Evelyn gets it. Just recently she led me out of the living room in to the dark hallway and stopped still. It was dark after all. After a moment’s hesitation she ran back in to the living room, looked intently around for a specific purple ball (discarding others she came across) and once she had it, ran fearlessly into the dark.

Why? What did that ball mean to her? I can’t know, but whatever it was, it boosted her confidence. If your ball is an item of clothing, a stone, an old sweet wrapper, antidepressants, it doesn’t matter. It if it works for you, use it. It’s your ball.

4. My daughter is persistent.

Life often takes patience and persistence, but too often depression wants immediate results. It can be easy to think, Why bother?

Evie does not give up. She tried a thousand times to roll over, to crawl, then to stand and now walk. She never thought, This is too hard, I don’t think walking is for me. She is continuously trying to work out how the child gate works, and I fear the day she achieves it.

She has learned how to use the Xbox remote, how to swipe on my iPad and even how to play a tune on her piano! She is like the frickin’ Terminator, she just will not stop!

5. My daughter doesn’t have body image issues at her age.

There is a lot of money to be made in our unhappiness. No wonder mental health issues are on the rise.

Not only does she have no body issues, but she loves her reflection. She loves her hands, she loves her toes… she is currently very fascinated by her ear. I think she knows what she looks like, but she doesn’t care. As long as she feels OK, she is fine. Because of this, she dances. She loves music and will move and “sing” as she chooses, not caring who is watching.

But body image issues have already started to affect 3-year-olds. According to Dr. Jacqueline Harding, “By the age of 3 or 4, some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds (and even hold strong views) about how bodies should look.”

6. My daughter is kind to those who are kind to her.

Too many of us try to please people who are not worth our time. Evie judges you on your behavior — not on your job, weight, education level. Are you kind to her? She will be kind back. There is no racism, no homophobia, no hate. That is all learned behavior. There is no people-pleasing. She won’t smile just because you ask her to. She won’t sleep just because you want her to. She is her own person and cares not about your opinion of her.

7. My daughter seems to understand the mind and body are connected.

Sedentary lifestyles can affect mental health issues, but moving your body can have a direct impact on our mood. Evelyn understands her mind and body are connected, and as a parent, I can tell what she is feeling by what her body does. She does not feel the need to hide if she is upset or angry or happy. Her whole body expresses that emotion. Yet in life we are often taught to “conceal, don’t feel” and we bury things deep down.

Why can’t we throw ourselves dramatically on a bed if we are upset or jump up and down and spin around when happy? Of course, we need to learn to manage our emotions, but sometimes it’s wonderful to express them through mind and body.

8. My daughter has a different perspective than I do.

Sometimes our unhappiness is caused by our view of the world, so we must change the view. I have seen so many new things in the world because of Evelyn. Especially supermarket ceilings. Not that it’s particularly exciting, but I had never noticed them before. Evelyn does though. She is always looking up, or down, or turning her head sideways to see what the world looks like. Her new thing is to stand up, put her head on the ground and view the world between her legs. She changes her view and perspective all the time.

9. My daughter is mindful.

Being depressed about the past and anxious about the future are not helpful ways to live. I believe we are born mindful! Which I am very grateful for because I used to worry Evie would remember the times I made her cry. For example, when she has a cold, she hates having her nose wiped. She screams and fights. But as soon as I stop, she is calm and happy again. She forgets immediately the bad thing that happened in the past and does not worry about the future. She is in the now.

10. My daughter is aware of her “monkey mind.”

We know so little about how our own minds work, but we can learn to manage them. I did this one just today. Professor Steve Peters wrote “The Chimp Paradox” and explores how part of our mind (which he calls the chimp part) has strong drives that must be met before the human part can get on with life. These drives include food, sleep, security, water, inquisitiveness and friends.

I felt low just this morning. And feared the depression was on the rise, but I remembered this tip. When Evie is upset it’s usually because her “monkey mind” is not happy, so we cuddle her, feed her, distract her or put her to sleep. This morning I had a nap, had a big breakfast, drank a lot of water and added this section to the article. And my mood raised. Satisfy that monkey!

So there you have it. Of course, everyone’s experience of depression — and of babies — will be different, but I certainly find it inspiring watching Evie. Knowing there was a time when we were all curious, mindful, confident, shameless, accepting, in touch with mind and body and persistent is interesting to think about.

Sometimes I think, What went wrong?

This post originally appeared on Lead.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via contributor.

Originally published: July 19, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home