In life, we often wish we knew the end of situations right from the beginning. Knowing that things would turn out wonderfully for me would have certainly made my depression easier to bear.
A decade ago, I struggled with depression. I didn’t recognize what was happening at the time, I just knew that my life wasn’t turning out the way I wanted it to. I felt that I wasn’t living up to who I thought I should be as a husband and father and it was crushing my spirit.
Buckling Under Pressure
It all started when I became an adoptive father. I was so excited to welcome our son to our family. I thought we’d have lots of fun and bond just like fathers and sons are supposed to. I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be. The closer I tried to get to him, the more detached and unresponsive he became.
I took it personally and saw it as a sign of my failure as a father. To make matters worse, I had just started my freelance business and was laboring under the weight of balancing constant demands and deadlines from clients with my family’s needs. The variable paychecks only seemed to confirm that I wasn’t hacking it as a provider.
Finally, the constant stress and pressure got to me and I just lost the will to go on. I spent days alternating between being withdrawn and irritable and I felt that my inner demons had won. It wasn’t until my wife begged me to seek help that I took a good look at my life and decided I needed to make changes. Realizing that I needed to prioritize my mental health, I took myself to a therapist. I identified that soul-deadening feeling as depression and started the long journey to a better me.
My bout with depression gave me valuable insight on coping with fears, worries, and anxieties. I have learned things I wish someone would have told me earlier. Here’s some of the hindsight advice I’d give my past depressed self:
Depression distorts your reality
Depression weaves a web of lies and convinces us that these negative thoughts are cold, hard facts. These thoughts distort your reality and give you false self-perception. I used to have a cycle of negative thoughts like these:
“I really suck at being a dad.”
“What’s the point in trying?”
“No one really cares.”
Even worse, depression robbed me of the motivation I needed to get help or do something to change my situation.
Now I recognize that such thoughts don’t reflect reality and that just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true.
Your feelings are valid
One of the things I recall about my bout with depression is how hard I fought my feelings. I thought that if I just thought positive thoughts and tried my best to ignore them, they would go away. At some level, I knew that those negative thoughts in my head weren’t true. After all, just because my son was struggling didn’t mean that my parenting was the problem. Furthermore, my freelance business was doing well enough for me to support my family.
However, as I discovered, emotions aren’t necessarily bound to facts. Depression is about being unhappy in spite of your circumstances. In my case, knowing that I wasn’t causing my son’s issues and that my career was finally taking off wasn’t enough to make me feel good.
Finally, I stopped trying to avoid my feelings and realized that I needed to find a way to deal with them, so I sought help.
It’s okay to ask for help
Asking for help to deal with my depression was hard. I thought that it showed how weak I was. After all, I thought men were supposed to be tough and here I was buckling under a little stress.
It took a long while to admit I needed help and even longer to ask for it. In addition to the shame I felt, there was also guilt. I didn’t want to be the guy who burdens others with his problems.
Although talking to others about my depression was hard, I finally got up the courage to explore different avenues before finding one that worked for me.
This experience will make you a better person
If someone had told me that going through depression would make me a better father and husband, I would have just scoffed. Looking back now, I can see how the lessons I learned during that difficult time have shaped the person I’ve become.
For instance, practicing mindfulness has helped me learn to cope with stress. Additionally, my own suffering has made me a more empathetic person and a better listener. The experience also led me to discover my passion for helping troubled teens get their lives back on track.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned is that life sometimes sucks and that’s alright. Eventually, things do get better as long as you keep working on improving yourself and don’t give up.
Tyler Jacobson is a proud father, husband, writer and outreach specialist with experience helping parents and organizations that help troubled teen boys. Tyler has focused on helping through honest advice and humor on: modern day parenting, struggles in school, the impact of social media, addiction, mental disorders, and issues facing teenagers now. Follow Tyler on Twitter and Linkedin.