I could hear my boss walk in to drop off some mail while I sat hyperventilating under the desk in my office; I'm not sure if he knew I was under there as I tried (and failed) to stop the flow of emotions and tears.
I worked hard to balance my responsibilities as an editor at a local alternative weekly and a parent of two young boys, one less than a year old, and I felt like I was failing to maintain it.
And, as the only employee with young children
, I was always concerned that my coworkers thought my children were distracting me from finding good stories to tell.
Whenever I thought I had my job figured out, another email would arrive with a completely new problem to solve, and I would always blame myself for allowing it to happen. It seemed like every day since I began parenthood, I was drowning. If I was with my kids, I was looking for that moment when I would know that being a dad was worth it, and if I couldn't find it, I would go to bed feeling like I had let them down.
Every few days, I'd have another panic attack
that would leave me so depressed that I couldn't get out
of bed; I felt worthless, and I wasn't sure how long I could live if I couldn't be there for my wife
After my first son was born, I expressed my hopelessness to a friend, who referred me to a therapist friend of hers and said, "You know, they always talk about how women
are depressed after the birth of their child, but men go through the same thing."
I honestly thought she was joking, and I didn't even tell my wife about it for fear of diminishing all the physical
and emotional changes she was experiencing before and after our oldest was born.
I had read that celebrity
mothers such as Brooke Shields and Chrissy Teigen
had suffered from postpartum depression
(PPD) and had spoken openly about their experiences to raise awareness of the symptoms, but the Cleveland
Clinic reports that fathers can also suffer from mood swings caused by hormonal changes before or just after their children are born, a condition known as paternal PPD.
The symptoms seemed to match what I was feeling: anger and hopelessness, feelings of estrangement from family
, anxiety about my career, and guilt about being uninvolved at home.
My wife was not only concerned, but she could see that how I was feeling was straining our relationship as well as influencing how I spoke to and disciplined our boys.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, men are less likely than women to seek treatment for depression because of the stigmas associated with mental health
care. I was one of the reluctant, but I wasn't the father I wanted to be, so I reluctantly took my friend's advice and scheduled an appointment with someone who could help.
But, looking back on those therapy
sessions, I put up a wall around myself because I had read all these horror stories about people
being misdiagnosed or put on medication with strange side effects, and I didn't want that to happen to me, so I would give the doctor a little something about my life to analyze for a few minutes and then put up my guard again.
My therapist let me go after six sessions, but I was still mourning the life I had lost before I had children, a time
before babysitters when my wife and I could go wherever we wanted and I was fit and active. Now I was overweight, exhausted, resentful, and pessimistic.
Then my second child was born, and last year I was having a panic attack under my desk. A few months later, my boss called to tell me I had lost my dream job due to pandemic
cutbacks, and when he hung up, I felt miserable and bitter, but also relieved that I had time to reevaluate my priorities.
But my anxiety never went away. I was still angry and resentful, and I would spend days in bed paralyzed by emotion. Finally, determined to come out of quarantine better than I had gone in, I sought help from a counselor and a psychiatrist. I didn't hold back. I finally understood that what my friend had told me about paternal PPD was true, and it was treatable.
I learned in therapy to be more open about how I'm feeling with my wife, which was a source of relief for her; by keeping my anxiety to myself, I was actually causing her more undue stress instead of shielding her from it. Now we're able to work more as a team in raising our boys, and because I was more honest with my psychiatrist and how I felt about medication, he put me on a low-dose prescription medication.
As any parent will tell you, the frustration that children can cause will never go away, but my children no longer see me as someone who is always angry or unapproachable, and I enjoy spending time with them, whether it's showing them how to swing a baseball
bat or watching a movie together. I feel myself slowly becoming the father I aspire to be.
I try to make time for myself and go for a run every now and then, and I've begun to realize that those movies
with the selfish protagonist aren't entirely nonsense; sometimes it just takes a long time and a global pandemic to get to the happy ending
I've never been one to open up about my personal life, but as I've written and spoken more about my experiences, I've discovered that I'm far from the only father who's gone through this. Paternal PPD isn't on many fathers' radars yet, but if others open up and talk about what they're feeling, not only will more people be aware of its symptoms, but it'll be possible to find joy on the other side.
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