Mental Health and the Modern Dad

My name is Paul. I am in my thirties, I’m a father and I suffer from mental health issues.

When I was younger, I never thought about my mental health and how it could change. Due to my own insecurities and bullying from school peers, I didn’t have the most enjoyable teens, but who does? Despite this though, I moved forward and made some incredible friends, who are now an important part of my life.

Moving on to university and meeting the girl that would be my current wife, my confidence bloomed and I was able to grow and become the person that had been hiding away for so many years.

Thinking about it, I have had a lucky life; a family that loves me, friends, a roof over my head and then getting married and successfully completing IVF, were the final additions to my happiness.

So, if I’m that lucky, why would my mental health decline? The answer is, I don’t know.

I have documented this gradual progression over previous blog posts; A Comment on Compulsion, Where’s Webster?, ‘No Flaws, Only Human’ Campaign, The Black Chihuahua and Taming The Black Chihuahua.

This wasn’t my intention, I simply wrote about what was on my mind at the time. But it highlighted the journey that my mind has taken; from a compulsive and insecure youth as its foundation, it developed into something more serious.

I have begun to experience worsening symptoms, some of which are more difficult than others, but all contribute to the same problem.

The feeling that I’m running on autopilot has become a more regular occurrence. When I’m hounded by the Black Chihuahua, it’s an out-of-body experience, observing my life, but not involved with it. The sense of being unfulfilled has increased dramatically, despite applying myself and committing more time to writing work.

My self confidence during these periods wanes and this then gives rise to my anxieties on a large, almost debilitating scale. I worry about the smallest things, over-thinking them until I can’t think about anything else, or focus on any other task. Any low point affects me; a lower performance at work, a stressful toddler day, and most conversations when I’m ‘hounded’. It eventually makes that day exhausting and my brain and body feel tense and overworked.

On good days, I am reminded of who I should be and the man I have worked hard to become; but on the bad, the crushing weight of the hound on my back is overwhelming. I’m not ashamed to say that the pain of that weight has at times brought me to tears, due to the intense mixture of sadness, whilst feeling equally numb.

However, I don’t tend to share my feelings with anyone else but my wife and tend to put on a brave face so that no one else would notice. “I’m not bad thanks”, has become my recurring and convincing catchphrase.

So, what has this got to do with being a modern dad?

My symptoms changed from compulsion and gave birth to the Chihuahua, following the birth of my son. My previously laid back viewpoint was knocked askew by late night cries and a terrifyingly steep learning curve. From this moment onwards, that viewpoint never really recovered.

It wasn’t until I learned of the ‘No Flaws, Only Human‘ campaign and its aim to raise awareness of post natal mood disorders, that I realised men can suffer too. So, it was from there that I realised my early parenting difficulties were attributed to more than just ‘finding my feet’.

The key to overcoming this initial hound showdown, was to find confidence in my abilities as a father. I found that I struggled to find a time to connect with my son outside of the nappy changes and feeds, that seemed relentless.

After 6 months, I eventually found that connection through baby-wearing. By carrying Isaac in a sling, we began to communicate more. In the early days this was simply me chatting about what we were doing and where we were going; but as he grew, he began to chat back and our relationship blossomed. Now, at nearly 3 years old, I still carry him to this day.

And that fixed the problem, right?

No. Well, yes, it fixed a problem, but it wasn’t a long term solution to the problem.

After the initial crazy haze of the first couple of years of Isaac’s life and I had chance to catch my breath, things changed further and my inner hound awoke on a bigger scale.

It began by feeding on my low self confidence in my looks. I have never had much love for my physical features and always seen myself as less than average, but just got on with it and made the most of what I’ve got. This changed and started making me much more self conscious. From there, my anxieties increased more gradually, until the moment, the event.

That event was my first major hound attack. It was early September 2014, a month of no particular importance and certainly nothing that would contribute to what happened. That point was the first time I had felt that level of sadness and disconnection, without it being for a specific reason. It wasn’t like anyone had died.

These attacks became more frequent and more intense, hitting me around once every couple of weeks. When it got to the stage that I took out my stress on my wife and son, by losing patience and being more snappy, it was time to seek help.

I initially thought, what could I do and where do I go for help? Do dads suffer from this kind of thing? I was completely in the dark, because mental health issues aren’t really discussed. I know only one or two other men that have told me they suffer from depression, but not many openly talk about it.

My irrational anxieties made me worried that if I admitted my problem to my GP, it might put my ability to parent into question. I eventually bit the bullet and sought help in the form of counselling, which I will be starting this month.

My biggest fear is that Isaac will see my hounded moods and it will detrimentally affect him. Could he see my anxiety and think it is in some way his fault? He doesn’t need a father that gets stressed and is sometimes no fun, because he is so anxious. I won’t be that father, I am determined to cope with my hound and keep it at bay.

I truly hope that through counselling I will begin to understand where my Chihuahua comes from.

Because if I understand it, then I can tame it and eventually, be the dad that my son deserves.