The Advice That Saved My Life When I Was Depressed
Following my daughter’s birth in January 2016, I was quickly diagnosed with postnatal depression, and realized I had been battling depression and anxiety most of my life.
The fight back was intense, but I remembered historic advice from my younger brothers, which turned out to be what saved my life. At one point in time both of my younger brothers were Royal Marines. I was far more “creative” growing up, and shunned the physical side of life. I went to Art College, which lead to a Degree and then a Masters.
But occasionally our worlds would collide.
My brother, Stuart, came out on a student night with me. He told people he worked in a fast food chain, as he could not be bothered with the typical conversations that arose when people found out what he did:
“Oh I better not mess with you.”
“Have you ever killed anyone?”
“Royal Marines, is that like the Army?”
At the end of the evening we had gone back to a student house. Fairly typical in terms of hygiene standards and debris. He was quiet for about 10 minutes, and was looking around with disgust. He stood up, asked where the trash bags were, and set about getting everything squared away.
In 10 minutes he had blitzed the room and cleared up the pizza boxes, stale kebabs and empty alcohol bottles. He sat down and asked with a bit of scorn, “How long did that take?” And then delivered this value bomb: “You don’t have to live like this.” I laughed, but did not realize the full impact of what he was saying.
Years later, our youngest brother, Adam, had joined the Royal Marines, and I had graduated University and had moved away from our home town. I was spending my time managing an independent cinema and teaching media at a college. Late nights at the cinema meant I ate a lot of takeaway. Somehow, it ended up in my car. The curse of the drive-through.
When Adam came to visit, he went to get in the passenger seat of my car, paused, looked at me in disgust, swiped the takeaway boxes in to the foot well and sat down. He was quiet for a few minutes as he looked around at the car with disdain. “You don’t have to live like this.”
It stayed with me. I questioned everything. Do I need this job? Do I have to live here? Could I be healthier?
I married my wonderful wife. And those words stayed with me. We get set in our ways and create obstacles that are not there. Our lives might be comfortable, but could they be better?
So we moved to a swish flat, in a nicer area. Where the neighbors did not urinate in the communal areas. We bought nicer cars and furniture. This was not about money, it was about realizing that, actually, we could live a more comfortable life if we decided to move towards it. Feeling safer and more confident we could envision a life with a child.
And so we got pregnant. My daughter Evelyn was born and I got depression. One of the hardest things to realize when you have a mental illness, is that it is not your reality. It is temporary. It’s like the weather. But you have to act when there is a break in the clouds. I was in a bubble, and could not feel the emotions in the room.
My wife, her parents and our daughter were feeling so much love, and it was not impacting me. I felt that every man who said that fatherhood was the best thing they ever experienced were spouting propaganda, so that more men would join them in the hell of parenthood. I even told my wife I did not want Evelyn to call me Daddy, she could call me Darren.
I nearly lost my family. I could not be around her for long periods, and sometimes would have to ask my wife to take her off me immediately. I threw myself in to work, and would use any excuse to be away from them.
“You do not have to live like this.”
The advice echoed through the years. Something was wrong and I needed to change it. Thankfully close friends pointed it out. So I went to war. I went to the doctors, started taking antidepressants, changed my diet, read books, listened to podcasts, did courses and I got better. Eventually. It was not easy.
Neurolinguistic programming, mindfulness, meditation and stoic philosophy all played its part. I love spending time with my daughter. I adore her. And as any father knows, the first time your child says, “I love you, Daddy,” your heart will break.
Sadly it was not enough.
My wife and I are now separated. But it was very amicable. No lawyers needed, and if anything our relationship is better and our daughter is thriving.
I nearly lost everything.
My family, business and my relationship with my daughter. I wonder how many men who abandoned their partners shortly after their child was born actually had depression. It is heartbreaking what they have thrown away.
Sure, we are separated. But we have each others backs, and we both love out daughter. It is still us vs the world.
No matter what you are going through, be it time pressures, workload, stress, health issues, please remember: “You don’t have to live like this.”
Photo by Charlie Howell on Unsplash