I'm a father and I want to talk about parenting with depression

April 26 | Guest post by David Weisberg
By: kalexandersonCC BY 2.0 (Follow this project with CClones 365-2011 on Twitter | Facebook)
I am depressed. It's 2017 and mental health is not supposed to be taboo anymore, yet for some reason, I would be lying if I said I didn't still carry some shame even admitting that.

I know that scientifically it's a chemical imbalance, and I can't just snap out of it at will. I've known that since I was first diagnosed around age 14 or 15. I wish that gave me some relief, but it doesn't. I still become extremely frustrated and even angry when I don't have full control over my feelings.

Just to clarify, this doesn't mean I am always sad

It also doesn't mean I can't see all the good in my life, and that I am not appreciative of that good. Depression is like a voice whispering in your ear constantly. It tells you all the mistakes you are making, the people who are mad at you, all the ways you are useless, and all the reasons that you shouldn't even bother. After a while it just wears you down and then on the real bad days, you believe that voice.

As I said, it's not new for me, I have battled with depression for basically as long as I can remember in one form or another. I was diagnosed in my teen years, but the feelings didn't start then. I always have struggled with a feeling of worthlessness or an idea that nobody actually likes me. This tends to be how my depression manifests itself, just absolutely brutal and constant self-doubt. The incessant idea that I am a burden on everyone, and they are just putting up with me out of a sense of obligation.

Luckily in recent years, my depression has been kind enough to relegate itself to mostly the winter months. This year has been more intense than I can remember in a while. But hopefully, with the weather changing, I will be able to get back to my more functional state. If not, I will probably have to seek out other forms of help. (I actually typed and deleted the last sentence no less than 10 times, because I didn't want to admit in writing I might actually need help.)

I have been fighting this for 20 years, and it's still almost impossible for me to admit I can't always do it alone

Like suffering alone is some masculine badge of honor. I still get caught in the "I don't need any help, and it won't help me anyway" loop. Still, rather hypocritically, I implore anyone who needs help to go get it, it makes you a stronger person, not a weaker one.

One of the reasons I hate talking about depression is that it feels like I'm begging for reassurance. I'm not looking for that at all. In fact, when I'm at my worst, I just assume it's all not real anyway and people are just saying nice things to me because they have to. It's absurd, I know you don't all hate me, and I know that I'm not totally worthless. I logically know that, but unfortunately the logic isn't always enough.

So why am I discussing my depression now?

Well, there are a few reasons. Writing has always been cathartic for me, and hopefully this will help a little. That's the selfish reason. I am extremely bad at actual conversations about feelings and my own mental health, so writing is the best way for me to work through these things. But more importantly…

I'm a father now, and I want to talk about parenting with depression

I'm sure other parents have gone through this, and it's not a topic we talk about a lot. Postpartum depression has gotten a lot of press in recent years (as it should), but depression impacts dads as well. As men, we tend to avoid these kinds of topics by and large; which is foolish, but that doesn't make it any less the case.

I don't have all the answers about parenting when you are depressed. To be frank, I don't have a lot of answers at all. I just know that I want to be the best dad I can, even if I'm not at my best. I don't want my daughter to see what I am going through when I'm struggling.

So, I do what I am very accustomed to doing… When my little girl is around, I block out how I am feeling and concentrate on being Dad. I force myself to go out, play, be social, and do all the normal things that anyone who has fought depression knows can become overwhelming tasks. The nice part of this story is that in turn, I tend to feel better while I am with her. She helps me be my best just by being around and being the pure embodiment of joy that she is.

The flip side of this is when I am done with these activities, I am just exhausted. Physically and mentally drained, and I don't mean the normal way you feel after a day with your kids. I use all my energy to be my best around her, to keep up that facade. She deserves that. When I am not actively struggling with depression I have the energy to be Dad, and then also clean the house, exercise, shave, cook, and perform the other day to day tasks of adult life.

Now, I know there is another side to this. She needs to see that mental health is important, and it's not always pleasant. As she gets older, and if she starts asking questions about depression or other mental health issues, I intend on being honest with her. I also am terrified that she will one day have to deal with this, and I hope that my experiences (and my wife's expertise as a therapist) will allow us to spot things early and get her any help she needs. I just don't need her seeing me at my worst at five years old.

I can't do it this way forever

I know that. It's too draining, and it's not healthy. I owe my daughter, my wife, and even myself more than just getting by on a day-to-day basis. So I will do what I need to do, if this doesn't fade with the season as it tends to. And, in the meantime, I will do my best to be the best father I can be.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this! You just described me. Only I am a mom. Parenting with depression is so hard.

    5 agree
  2. Thank you for talking about this, this needs to be a topic that is discussed more.

    6 agree
  3. Not trying to suggest treatments, obviously discuss with your counselor/psychologist/medical professional, but a SAD light therapy box might help with the extreme winter months. I got one for post partum depression and anxiety, (I know it's not the same, and Seasonal Affective Disorder is also not the same as depression). And, it did seem to help lift my spirits a bit on the really cold and dark winter days. I use it for about 15-20 minutes in the mornings. I could tell a difference in my mood when I don't use it or get outside enough for a couple days.

    https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=light+therapy+box&tag=hydusmmsn-20&index=aps&hvadid=7019253611&hvqmt=b&hvbmt=bb&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_7a2lhr5o3j_b

    https://www.amazon.com/NatureBright-SunTouch-Light-Therapy-package/dp/B000W8Y7FY/ref=sr_1_3_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1493218418&sr=8-3&keywords=light+therapy+box

    4 agree
  4. Thank you for sharing. I am not a parent but have been depressed so I can only imagine how overwhelming that could be. I have learned that if I think I might need help soon, I actually could use it now! You don't have to wait until it is "justified" somehow. Something that has helped me is Elizabeth Gilbert saying that if you are depressed, your creative project is to feel better. So I try to get creative–meaning try random stuff and actually kind of treat it like a game instead of enduring until I "fail" and "need help." We all need help all the time!
    That reminds me–Superbetter was a good game for this; I don't know if the website/app is still working.

    1 agrees
  5. Finding a therapist with experience working with parents, specifically, was so incredibly helpful for me. She helped me build my toolbox to be a better parent to my daughter, and, more importantly, to separate out what was just parenting being hard (because it is! it's so hard!) and what is genuinely not what other people are dealing with and can be treated. Most of us depressed people have, I think, a tendency to say to ourselves, "it's not THAT bad, other people are going through worse, I just need to suck it up and try harder." My therapist helped me identify when I really did just need to push through it, and when I could maybe let go of a few things.

    Plus, fifty minutes a week that was all about me, with no one interrupting every other thought or grabbing my legs and hair? Heaven.

    4 agree
    • Right? Like, I don't think my therapist actually ever told me anything useful or insightful. But just having an hour every few weeks that was all mine was so helpful. Even if I'd spent the entire time just sitting in the lobby watching HGTV and getting to go to the bathroom by myself it probably would have been helpful.

  6. As the daughter of a dad who suffered extreme bouts of depression and anxiety with panic attacks, I really appreciate your sharing this. I think normalizing and explaining mental health is the best gift you can give your daughter, and you're absolutely right that – while you want to shield her – you can't keep this up forever: she's going to start noticing, may even be aware right now when dad is feeling "off". My folks (who really did their best and were over all excellent parents) were very reluctant to explain what was happening to my dad except in the most euphemistic of ways, and for a very long time I carried a lot of fear and guilt that I a) might be causing this and b) I couldn't fix him. Reading this, though, I have a lot of confidence that you and your wife are going to make sure your daughter knows that this is no one's fault, it's just the way dad's brain works. My heart is with you guys, it's not easy but you're doing a great job.

    4 agree

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