Let us start where this all began. It was a Saturday morning in 2016 when my wife was anxiously waiting for me to wake up from a deep slumber. In my typical pre-dad life, I would wake up around 9:30 am and slowly make my way to the kitchen to make breakfast and then over to the couch to start my day of watching sports. But, this morning would be different. I woke up to Melanie throwing a FedEx package on my lap to open… and… inside was a cute little onesie announcing that I WAS GONNA BE A DAD!! I could hardly believe it!! The emotions of joy and happiness could barely be contained…
Now. Fast forward through lots of stress and drama with Eli and his heart procedures and we arrive back at home. Just Melanie, Eli, and me.
The first few weeks were OK as we got accustomed to, you know, NOT SLEEPING. This wasn’t a surprise to us as we’ve been told the stories of sleepless nights from others. However, there was one thing that we, especially myself, wasn’t expecting.
It was a cold December night about 3 weeks before Christmas. Eli was in my arms crying as I tried to rock him to sleep. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get him to calm down. I tried a bottle, sitting, snuggling, burping, rocking in a chair, and rocking standing up. Nothing. I became so frustrated that Melanie had to get up to take Eli from me… and I snapped.
I fell to my knees crying, defeated, and broken. I pounded the floor in frustration till I couldn’t feel my hands and rushed outside onto the balcony to cool down. I rocked in the fetal position while passing thoughts like “I’m not good enough,” “I can’t do this,” and “I’m not a good father” ran through my head. After what felt like an hour, Melanie came and helped me inside. She rubbed my back as I let her know what I was feeling and apologized for my outburst. Melanie listened and offered words of encouragement and we headed off to bed.
I had a panic attack. Months of stress about work, paying medical bills, and becoming a new father had taken its toll on my mental health and I was lost. I was suffering from postnatal depression. Studies from 2010 and 2011 have found that 7-10% of new dads may be suffering from postnatal depression. Throughout this whole process, our social worker and doctors continued to follow up on how Melanie was handling her mental health during postpartum. Yet, it had not occurred to them nor myself how much the situation had affected my own mental health.
As a dad, I thought I was tough and that I was handling the stress well despite the circumstances. From the outside, I had it all together. From the inside, I felt hopeless, lost, and wondered if I had what it takes to be a good father.
If you feel that you may be struggling with depression being a father, here a few tips and resources to help:
There are many apps you can download (paid or free) that will help you better control your mind and stress. Meditation was a practice that I started soon after my panic attack that dramatically improved my mental strength (and still does today!).
We all know the positive effects of exercise on the body. However, exercise has also been proven to help reduce depression, anxiety, and improve self-esteem. I started exercising 4 mornings a week shortly after my mental health episode and it dramatically improved my physical and mental well-being.
3. Visit with a professional Counselor
I want to end the stigma that it’s “bad” or “weird” to get help from a professional counselor and/or psychiatrist. I find it odd that it’s easy for us to reach out to a doctor when we are physically sick, but find it hard to reach out to a counselor when we are mentally sick. Around February of 2017 I began routine visits with a counselor to help manage the anxiety and stress I was feeling. My counselor helped remind me that I’m normal and that life is good. He provided me with mental techniques to use for my anxiety and “brought me back to earth” by helping me understand myself and why I had become anxious. His help has given me more peace than I could have ever achieved on my own.
4. Continue to Learn
Realize you aren’t perfect, it’s ok to mess up, and know that you WILL get better at parenting over time. If you work at it. Listen to podcasts about fatherhood, parenthood, or personal development. Read books. Read blog posts to build mental strength. Talk with professionals. Communicate with your spouse. Be patient with yourself. And grow.
Fatherhood isn’t easy. It has its low points that bring you down to your knees. But, I urge you to work hard at it because it’s worth finding the joy in being a father.
However, if things ever get urgent and you are suffering with a mental health crisis or you think about injuring yourself, please contact someone trustworthy immediately:
For Emergency Services Call 911
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-799-4889