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When Being a Father Pulled Me Out of Depression

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Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

It crept up on me over time during the collapse of my first marriage to my high school sweetheart, which eventually led to separation and divorce. Bit by bit my happiness and ability to cope with day-to-day life started to wane. Things that used to make me happy no longer did. I found it hard to focus and concentrate, almost like I was trying to think through fog.

I tried doing things to make myself happy, hoping these actions would bring me out of my funk: buying a new motorcycle, getting my first tattoo (at the age of 30), trying to stay busy rollerblading (it was the late 90s, OK?). But none of them worked. I was still miserable. And of course it was because of the depression. But I didn’t know it. I couldn’t talk to friends because, no surprise, guys seem to think they can’t talk about their emotions. Yes, I reached out to my friends, but it made them uncomfortable. Men from my generation were raised to “not complain, suck it up, walk it off, be a man, grow a pair.” So I was alone.

My depression started to affect me physically as well. The joints of my shoulders and elbows hurt all the time. I sought medical advice about the pain and the doctors couldn’t figure out the source. I was sent to physical therapy sessions to see if that would help, and even got tested for allergies. Not once was I asked about my mental state. To this day, despite it not being officially explained, I have no doubt my depression affected me physically.

I finally decided to seek professional help after two events made me realize I wasn’t myself. The first was when I bought a new car. I wasn’t the least bit excited the day I got it. Not even the “Yes!” feeling you get when you know you have a brand new ride. The second was the arrival of Christmas and my total lack of enjoyment. Normally, I love Christmas. Being with family, the sense of joy and happiness the season seems to hold. But that year, nothing. That’s when I knew I had to get answers.

There was no shame in getting help. I hated how I felt. I knew I wasn’t myself. I didn’t like who I had become, and I knew I was the only one who could do something about it. And so I was officially diagnosed with clinical depression and put on a prescription of Paxil. Side effects included weight gain (I quickly gained 40 pounds and ballooned to over 200 pounds), cold sweats (at times I felt like I had just gone swimming in my own clothes), loss of sex drive (pffft, my marriage was on the rocks so it didn’t make a difference anyways). My doctor switched me to Celexa, which thankfully didn’t have as many side effects. I stayed on the medication for the better part of two years.

Over that time period I met my current wife. She helped me during that time, making me feel wanted and loved. Bit by bit I came out of my depression, and eventually I no longer required medication. I’m not arrogant enough to say I was “cured” because I know you’re never really free from depression. You just learn, with help, how to cope and deal with it. Rainy days always put me in a funk. I know it’s still a part of me, always lurking in the background.

When my son was diagnosed with autism, specifically Asperger’s syndrome, I honestly didn’t know what my role would be in my son’s life. I relapsed, but this time the depression was different, manifesting itself in a sense of loss and anger as I questioned my worth to my family. I engaged in a lot of self-destructive behavior, almost resulting in the end of my marriage. Thankfully it didn’t end, even though a lot of damage was done. 

It took time, but I got past the self-pity and anger, and I was able to be there for my son. As a first-time father, I was hung up on the concept of what a father should be. But I came to understand that in order to help him, and by extension myself, I had to stop thinking of myself and start thinking about him. To put his needs first, not mine as a father. I’m glad I was able to grasp that because it helped me break out of my depression and become the father he needed. That’s the difference. It became all about him, not me.

Depression isn’t a weakness or an excuse. It’s a reality that takes hold and takes control. I’m fortunate I was able to get past it both times, even though both times my life changed irreversibly. As a man, I really do wish I could have spoken to my friends about it, but I don’t fault them for being incapable of helping me. I’m thankful I had the insight to seek help before things got beyond the point of helping.

Please, if you’re living with depression — even if you don’t know it, but suspect it — there’s no shame in seeking help. Talk to someone. Talk to your family, clergy or your doctor. You’re not helping anyone by staying “strong” and ignoring it. I’m not an expert. This is just my story. But I want you to know you are worth helping, a lot more than you realize.

Follow this journey on Ink4Autism.

Jack and his son, Lincoln.

Originally published: January 7, 2015
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