This Was A Hard Post To Write
Anyone who lives with depression knows that it affects every aspect of your life. I go in and out of major depressive episodes of varying intensity that can last anywhere from a single day to a few months. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop when I had a baby.
Well, it stopped for a while…
I started a blog. I started working out. Lost about 20 pounds. I took some new writing jobs. Life was good.
Maybe it was the craze of learning how to care for a tiny helpless human. Maybe it was having my wife around every day while she was on maternity leave. Maybe it was just the bliss of loving this child with every fiber of my being. Who knows? Depression doesn’t come with a handbook, and if it did, it would be an overnight bestseller.
This post took a lot longer to get out than I meant it to, but unfortunately, the nature of revisiting your failures in depression often sends you back down the same dark path again.
Depression Always Comes Back
The point is, depression came back. I tried to ignore it. I tried to pretend I was just tired (because God knows I am tired. All the time.) But I knew what it was. The beast wiggled into my brain a little bit more each day. Making itself at home like a squatter in my brain.
By the time I accepted what was happening, I was already completely underwater.
And depression doesn’t play nice for certain parts of your life. It doesn’t care that you’re a stay-at-home dad with a kid that needs you. It doesn’t care that he’ll be crawling soon and your house is a mess. It takes over. You do your best to take care of the day-to-day. You fail a lot. And you wait for the black cloud over your life to lift.
This Was My Greatest Fear
And your newborn doesn’t care that you’ve had an hour of sleep and you don’t even want to exist, let alone be a responsible adult. He needs to be changed and fed. He needs attention. He needs playtime. He needs enthusiasm.
I had lots of long talks with my wife before we had Sam about my fears of depression making me a bad dad. He doesn’t understand much right now, but someday he’s going to see that daddy can’t handle the day. He’s going to see those days when I can barely get out of bed and I can’t eat and I don’t want to talk.
I don’t want him to think he’s done something wrong. Like it’s his fault that I’m sad and empty for days or weeks at a time.
Most of all, I worry that he’ll have the same demon on his back. There are a lot of studies to suggest that mental illness is genetic. My mom lives with a depression (and she did it as a single mom! That’s strength!) My dad has some anxiety issues (that I’m pretty sure he pretends he doesn’t have.) So my own mental illness was inevitable. And it might be the same way for my child.
The best thing I can do is to be open with my kids about mental illness and try to remove the stigma. My wife and I agree that we need to make it clear that depression is extremely common, and the best thing we can do is to be open about it.
How Depression Made Me Fail As A Dad
I always make sure my son is fed and diapered. I try to put on a smile and keep him entertained, but some days, I just don’t have it in me.
Another fun fact is that insomnia tends to jump on the mental illness bandwagon when these depressive episodes hit, so I’m groggy, grumpy, and I don’t want to get out of bed anyway. But I have a baby now. I’m the Stay-At-Home-Dad. I can’t stay in bed until noon anymore.
A couple weeks ago, the black cloud of depression was the darkest it had been in a long time. I don’t know when I fell asleep, but the last time I had checked my watch, it said 8AM.
The next time I checked my watch, it was 9AM, and my son was screaming at the top of his lungs. He’s teething again, and it’s even worse the second time around.
I jumped out of bed and ran over to his room to give him his pacifier back, but he just kept screaming at me.
“Please go back to sleep, Sam. Please, just one more hour,” I begged, as I picked him up to rock him. After a few minutes, I changed him into a dry diaper and tried rocking him again. He finally started to calm down, so I laid him in his crib, and he was instantly screaming again.
Several more cycles of rocking later, and I finally got him to lay down and stay quiet.
I crawled into my bed and willed sleep to take me again, before his high-pitched screams came through the monitor again.
I screamed into a pillow. I tossed the monitor into the corner of the room. I screamed into a pillow again.
When I got up, I grabbed the baby monitor from the floor to turn it off and saw that I’d cracked the screen. Instead of the bird’s eye view of Sam’s crib, the screen was all white with a crack down the middle.
In Moment’s Like This, Depression Digs Its Claws In
Thoughts invaded my mind like, “How stupid are you?” “You have anger issues.” “You’re a terrible father.” “You just broke a $120 monitor because you can’t care for your own child!”
I continued to scream at myself as I stomped into the kitchen to heat up a bottle for Sam. It was 2 hours earlier than he usually ate, but I was out of options. I pulled the bottle warmer out of the diaper bag and started to slam it down on the counter before I pulled back at the last second thinking, “Don’t break the bottle warmer too!”
I went back to rock Sam for the few minutes it takes to heat up a bottle, but he was already in full-on tantrum mode. When I heard the timer on the oven beep, I set the still screaming baby down in his crib and went to get the bottle.
I pulled the bottle out of the water and instantly could tell it wasn’t warm enough. It was actually cold to the touch. The water was cold too.
I had broken the freaking bottle warmer too!
I Lost It.
I turned on the stove to heat some water for his bottle, grabbed Sam from his crib and brought him over into our bed with me.
And I just sobbed into a pillow. Harder than I have in years. I got stuck in a negative thought loop that I was a terrible father and a terrible husband and completely worthless. My greatest fear in life was (and is) that I would become a bad father, and at that moment, I believed it was true. I had failed at the only thing that was important to me.
For the first time in over 20 minutes, my 7-month-old baby stopped crying and just stared over at me, confused. He’d never seen me cry, but he certainly understands what crying sounds like since it’s most of what he does. For a few moments, he was so concerned about my crying that he forgot he was upset.
I texted my wife to tell her that I broke the monitor and the bottle warmer and that I was a terrible father and I hate myself. Normally unpack my depressive episodes on my wife at work, but I was past reasonable thought at this point.
It was a bad day. Maybe the worst on record for me.
I even initially lied to my wife and said that I had just dropped the monitor, only later coming clean that I threw it across the room in a freakout attack.
One Bad Day Doesn’t Define You
After some long talks with my wife, time to think, and an acceptable amount of sleep, I was able to see that bad day more clearly.
Yes, I screwed up and let my frustration get the best of me. But I still took care of my son. I didn’t immediately lift out of the depression, but over the next few days, I did a little better. And I realized that one bad day or one bad week or even a bad month doesn’t make me a bad father.
I may have felt like I was dying, but I kept him in clean diapers, I played with him (albeit unenthusiastically), and I made sure he never went hungry.
The bare minimum won’t exactly win me father of the year, but at least I know on my worst day, I can still be a father to my child. I might have screwed up nearly every other thing around me that day, but I never stopped being a dad.