First of all, let’s get something on the record: depression doesn’t discriminate.
It treats everyone the same. If you have a brain, you are a prime target. This is true for postpartum depression: it’s not only women who suffer; men are targets too.
Simply put, postpartum depression is depression that starts during a pregnancy or up to one year after child birth, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Of course, moms are most likely the most affected by this type of mental illness. That notion is purely based on the fact that it is the women who go through a gruelling emotional and hormonal journey from conception to birth, and that – right or wrong – women tend to be the primary caregivers for children, continuing that roller-coaster of a journey post-partum.
Men don’t go through that. Certainly not the physical and hormonal changes. And if they aren’t the primary caregivers, they don’t experience situational changes to nearly the same extent as women. But despite this, men, by virtue of having a brain and being exposed to many of the same emotional and situational triggers as women, can also be affected.
This proclamation is not scientific. As you can tell, it is based partly on logic. But it is also anecdotal. In fact, this whole article is anecdotal. So, before you read any further, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please contact a doctor right away.
The rest serves as example and warning that yes, men can suffer from postpartum depression.
And I do.
Being a prime candidate for postpartum depression
The first time I experienced feelings of depression, they were new feelings to me and they were completely overwhelming and all-consuming. So much so that figuring out the cause of the feelings was not a priority. Stopping or at least tempering them was.
Over the years, I got a handle on my mental illness mainly because I became more and more aware of its roots.
And while the feelings didn’t necessarily become less overwhelming and less consuming once I had a better understanding of the condition, they were less frequent. Mainly because I knew how to avoid the onset, and if it did rear its ugly head, then I knew how to deal with it better.
After my initial major depressive spell in 2011-2012, I had several relapses while I was trying to get a handle on the situation and my new life living with a form of mental illness. But I was slowly getting better.
Knowledge was power, and having the knowledge of the causes and triggers of my compromised mental state and being equipped with tools to deal had enabled me to make decisions in my life that were conducive and compatible with my mental wellness. If there were setbacks – and there are because nobody is perfect, and life is hard – they were minor and I could cope with them better.
But when I became a dad, all that changed. And that should not have been and was not a surprise to me. I knew I was a prime candidate for postpartum depression, because – as sad as it sounds – being once depressed means there is always a chance that you will be depressed again.
That’s why I was actually terrified before entering fatherhood.
First off, I felt that I would not be in a good enough mental state to be a functioning human and parent, and secondly, I thought as a result I would be a bad influence on my children and pass on my affliction. And finally, that that affliction would be passed on genetically, even if I ended up being unaffected again.
But I had kids anyways, because it was something I have always wanted, and at the time of trying, I believed that I was more in control of my mental illness than it was in control of me. And I wasn’t going to let it take away my family, before I even had it.
Living out my worst nightmare
After the euphoria of having newborn twins wore off and there was no adrenaline left to deal with the toughness of new-parent life, things started to take a turn.
That is, of course, in hindsight. In reality, I woke up one more morning and said to myself “shit, not this again.”
Because I knew, the way I felt, the thoughts I was having, the way I reacted to things and people, and the length of time the “mood” lasted, I had felt it all before.
WATCH: Instead of recounting it all, check out the video in which I talked about what it was like dealing with depression the first time around
This recent situation was almost a carbon copy of my first major episode with depression. Except this time, I knew what was going on from that very moment I was able to remove myself from myself and assess it right away.
(That is a small win in itself, because the first time around, it took me months to figure out what was going on, let alone start the process of recovery.)
I think the best way to relate how I was feeling is by sharing some thoughts I was and am having:
- I should have never done this
- This isn’t at all what I hoped
- This is exactly what I had feared when thinking about having kids
- I’m a terrible dad
- My kids are going to turn out rotten
- I’m not a good enough husband
- What is the point of all this
- This is no way to live life
- This is not life at all
These are common types of thoughts for people dealing with depression. They are called “cognitive distortions,” and are most times overblown and untrue.
Just like the first time, there were a few reasons I could see as being the triggers and cause for my all-too-familiar state of mind:
- Fear and responsibility – I think it is safe to say that being a first time parent can be the most stressful thing anyone will ever experience. Being responsible for someone’s life for the first time introduces new feelings of fear and anxiety unlike any other. The uncertainty that comes along with everything you do as a parent – most of it for the first time – can be excruciating.
- Being trapped – I was warned, but being a new parent means not having an ounce of time. It’s relentless. There nights with no sleep, and full days. During those days, there is not a second to rest (especially with twins), and that’s in addition to having a full-time job.
- Unhealthy living – Eating healthy and exercising was pretty much impossible. See above re: time. That resulted in a year of less than ideal nutrition and a lack of release endorphins and serotonin through exercise. And that’s no good.
- Wanting more – Whether this was brought on by the two things listed above, a byproduct of being a new parents, or simply bad timing, but I found myself wanting more out of my life. It’s ironic, because – as I’ve said – all I really ever wanted until this point was to have a family. And I got it. But I wanted more. During the first year of parenthood
- Guilt and regret – Experience the three items above and knowing that they were less than ideal for my situation as a parent, wanting them to change, and wishing they were not there saddled me with a level of guilt that was not healthy. It made me feel like I wasn’t a good enough dad, it made me feel like I wasn’t a good enough husband, and it made me feel like I made the wrong decision in terms of the timing of having kids. I was guilty and regretful.
- Living outside the present – Experiencing all of the above in the moment was tough enough, but the feelings and thoughts produced by the factors above also dominated my thoughts when I was directly triggered. They lingered. All day. Every day. It was like warfare. It was an incessant reminder of all that was wrong. And it was taking a toll.
As explained here in an article by the Harvard Medical School, in a way that is certainly more intelligently and accurately than I could ever put it, depression can be caused by the brain not doing its job well enough. Over time, your brain is retrained to be in this depressed state. But it can be reversed.
Having gone through all of this before, I was able to see why I was feeling the way I was. It was clear to me that I was depressed again. At least more so that any of my relapses after the first time.
Being able to see that was both a blessing and a curse, because on one hand I knew how to get out of it; I was equipped with the tools to beat it again. But on the other hand, I knew what it took and I couldn’t see a way that I was going to be able to do it in the short term.
And dealing with the long-term effects of this state seemed unbearable. And more importantly, the longer it lasted, the more of a chance it had to start affecting my kids.
The light at the end of the tunnel
So, dads can be depressed after having kids. Who knew? It turns out postpartum depression for men too can simply be the state of becoming depressed after having kids. So it should be no surprise it can happen. And men should be prepared.
I would love to sit here and say that it can be avoided. In fact, despite the fears I stated above, I thought because I was more educated on the topic, I was more aware of the triggers, and I knew how to live a life that would mitigate the onset of mental illness, and could handle it more effectively when relapses occurred, that I would be spared after having kids.
Maybe that was my mistake. Thinking that I was past it and that I didn’t have to take care of myself anymore and that I could just focus on my kids.
But I was wrong.
Anytime someone forgets about taking care of themselves, especially their state of mind, they are headed for one thing and one thing only: disaster.
Admittedly, that’s taking what has been an overwhelming positive and fulfilling year and making it sound quite bleak. But if I’m being honest, that’s what it has felt like at times.
But knowing that I have beat it once has definitely been a motivating factor for me. Whereas the first time around, I lost almost all hope, this time, I am hopeful.
And that hope comes from the smiles I see and giggles I hear daily. And the partner I have by my side, who – despite going through everything I have gone through and a whole lot more (namely pregnancy and childbirth) – still proves to be the strongest and most capable person I know.
If she can do, then so can I.
But the hope also comes from my experience with depression in general, and knowing that no matter when it comes or how severe, I can get through it.