“Men don’t get post-natal depression”.
They do. I should know.
My name is Andy. I’m married to my wonderful wife, Sam, and I have a two-and-a-bit year-old toddler, Ben. And for the first year of Ben’s life, I suffered first post-natal depression, and then full-blown clinical depression.
It’s easy for men to be somewhat ‘forgotten’ in the whirlwind that is becoming a parent; the pre-natal classes focus on childbirth, the early weeks of parenthood - and for dads-to-be, on how to help your partner through the experience. All of that is useful information, but nowhere is there any guidance on how your life will change utterly as a new father. You are, to some extent, expected to adapt, to cope, to pull through. To ‘man up’, in other words.
At the time Ben was born, I was working a high-stress job in public relations, renting a flat in an expensive London borough, and struggling to pay the bills; all while saving for a wedding.
And then, seemingly overnight, we went from two full salaries to one. The number of mouths to feed went up to three, over two, and I went from one demanding job, to two: PR Account Manager, and father. Because, be in no doubt, in the early months, being a father is a job. It’s challenging, demanding, and requires long hours and many sleepless nights.
I didn’t feel the magical ‘connection’ to Ben that the books say you should. I got in from work to the sound of a baby screaming, and spent the next 12 hours helping my wife feed, change, and quiet my boy. Then, I got a few hours of sleep, and went back to the office. I was exhausted, stressed, stretched - and pretending like everything was okay. I had to ‘man-up’, after all.
I didn’t notice my mood becoming darker, or that I would dread going home just in time for my boy’s ‘witching hour’, when he would yell and cry for no reason. My appetite was off. I didn’t want to socialise. I laughed it all off as the ‘fun’ of being a new father. I had post-natal depression. But men don’t get that - do they?
By the sixth month, my work was suffering. My employers were calling me into meetings; feeding my anxiety. I started to feel targeted as being a low performer. And then I’d go home, and help Sam look after Ben. Then back to the office, to face more meetings, more criticism, more perceived nit-picking. Eventually, it got too much.
I took a look at my email queue; watched five more arrive within a minute, and broke down. I ran to a downstairs office, curled up in a corner, and sobbed. I had a panic attack. I clawed at my skull, until a little blood stained my fingernails. I didn’t call my wife, or my parents. I had to ‘man-up,’ after all - right?
That was my mistake - and one I’m hoping telling my story will help other men avoid. I should have told Sam sooner. I should have talked to my doctor sooner. Instead, I hid it all. And as a result, it got worse. Sometimes, I felt like running away. Eventually I was caught sobbing at work. I broke down again and again that day. I was ‘too far gone’ - I was depressed. I needed help. I felt like an utter failure.
So, I got some help. It took two months before I could access much, though. If only I had opened up sooner...I took a course in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT); I went onto anti-depressants. Things got better. I quit the poisonous atmosphere of my job in PR, and returned to a previous employer in a new, and less high-stress position. Things got better. I worked hard to be the husband and father my family deserves.
And I did it. I beat depression. I locked the monster away in my mind, and I watch for its return. But, more than anything, I wish I had acted earlier. I didn’t need to ‘man-up’, or endure. I should have asked for help.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did.
If you’re to become a father, or know someone who is, remember these facts, and act: men do get post-natal depression. Men do suffer tremendous pressure when they become fathers. Men will try to hide it, in an attempt to ‘man up’.