Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mental Father? "Sad Dad" a fleshly tomb, am Buried above ground--William Cowper

I've been a stay-at-home-dad for most of my kids lives since their births 12 years ago. My youngest is 5. Even though my own 3 kids live with their mother and my step-kids are 10 and 12 here, and in school, I still refer to myself as a SAHD. I don't have infants at home with me during the day. Unless you count the cats. They act just as needy if not spoiled. So when the kids are out of school or home I'm with them.

Because of the Parkinson's I only work a part-time job while I spend my days taking care of the home. My days are routine; monotones. Days run into each other with sleepless nights spent writing. Mornings are coffee with the gathering of laundry and the usual items left out. It's almost like an Easter egg hunt except they are hidden in plain sight. Then there's the kitchen, and anything else that needs to be done....chores and non-chores.

It makes for lonely days, especially after 8 hour long sleepless nights. Long lonely nights. Maybe I should start talking to the cats. They seem to listen the most.

If you type in the words "depressed father" in your search engine to try to find any kind of resources to help yourself cope with depression as a father good luck. What you will find is link after link to countless sites and articles with "research" on how depressed fathers are more likely to spank their kids and how detrimental they are to them. The lingo: "Sad Dads" & "Hit Learning." As if a silently struggling father isn't already grasping for answers.

I searched site after site and they were all the same...negative. Some were downright accusatory. As if it's inevitable and one will have no say in the matter. One was titled, "If dad's sad, he spanks." Non were positive in support. Then I searched postpartum depression and it was like night and day. If I was a woman I would be basking in a sea of endless resources as a mother. I wouldn't be "sad dad" who uses "hit learning." I'd have the "baby blues" and sisters and friends would come from miles to help with the kids. I would have no problem finding any book dealing specifically with women and motherhood depression.

OK! I get it. Though not non-existent, a father, a male would have to search for resources dealing with depression for our issues in a far off distant land. The stigma against men in general when it comes to depression is somewhat not as popular. However, when it comes to father's it's a different story.

Truthfully, while father's are in need and need to care for their depression, when it comes to fatherhood there's more at stake. I'm referring to any form of depression or any mental illness. Not just the theory of male post-partum depression. I'm talking about the chronic reoccurring episodes of depression that will have a lasting effect on a man's kids.

It's great that you ladies do have an abundance of resources from which to pick and choose from to glean help. Dads on the other hand, are not so lucky. Yes, there is treatment in general. There's the typical trial and error process of medication. That is if you can muster up the guts to talk to your doctor. And then there's the addition of any kind of therapy. But for the most part males tend to hide any feelings of depression. It is something we are supposed to conquer. To overcome. It is unmanly. It is fragile. It's better to growl than to whimper. When it's presence
is made known we are shameful and filled with self-loathing.

A father's depression is a double sentence. It's a death-sentence as a dad. You then become feminine, soft. You become weak and unable. Your convictions and burdens double.

The Nothing Feeling: My Depression...

Depression is nothing. I've mentioned dealing with bipolar since my childhood in a number of my blogs, but as of yet I haven't written one specifically on it. With my bipolar I have dealt with my share of depression since my childhood. It has plagued me. It follows me; freeing me for an appointed period of time.  I don't remember when I forgot what sleep was like. Sometime as a child. Insomnia has become second nature to me. I don't know what I would do without a 24hr day.

It became more fun to self medicate after high school, but more costly; both financially and legally. Alcohol nearly took my life on more than one occasion. I wouldn't have cared if it had on some of those occasions because of my depression. What others saw as reckless manners, I saw as a well done acting job. When others heard a bad attitude with a hateful tone, I heard a flawless lip sync.

I mock your emotion of sadness. It holds nothing to my depression. If I was given the choice to trade half my life for the switch of my depression for the feeling of your sadness I would do it in a heartbeat. What I have is nothing. I call it the Nothing Feeling. It's difficult for people to understand the nothing feeling, because the idea of being in a chaotic emotional whirlwind and at the same time feeling nothing sounds rather ridiculous. Better yet, try to feel nothing.

In fact, it's a relatively simple concept to explain. Imagine you're in a blizzard, blinded by sleet, tossed and thrown by the snowflakes who seem to be enjoying the thirty below temperature. Now, imagine you've forgotten your hat and mittens, and maybe even boots.  There you are, feet, in insanely cold weather.  At first, the cold startles you, sending clattering shivers throughout your body, creating an uncomfortably painful pins-and-needles sensation on your skin. You feel pain. That's all you feel pain. That's you can focus on. You can't get your mind off of that pain. Assuming you endure this for sometime - what happens?  Eventually, you become immune to the pain from the cold. The pain is there, but you've just become immune, numb, lifeless. Poke any certain spot, or try to use a limb and that pain comes alive.

The nothing feeling results from something like an internal blizzard; blinding thoughts are violent snowflakes encasing your mind and pounding off the walls of your head like chunks of ice on a windshield.  This impairs any logical concentration, making you nervous and jumpy, so that you're constantly shaking - shivering - trying to keep warm. Warm, it's a fake warm. It's just something to feel.

The worst part of the nothing feeling is that you don't understand it, can't name the stormy thoughts, or explain them - it's just mind-jumble.  When too much of this becomes painfully loud, as it usually does, you enter a state of emotional numbness, just as your fingers become numb when they are cold.  The brain freezes over as if it has suddenly stopped, leaving you in a world of blankness - blind, deaf, and mute.  You feel absolutely nothing, not pain, nor anger, or even sadness. Nothing.  It's the most horrifically irritating, painfully frightening feeling one can experience. Sadly everyone else assumes you do feel something. And when inquired of your condition all you know to respond is, "I'm fine." Because nothing is not as bad as being about to break down.

Those are the words I penned in one of my journals with the intent for my kids to read at some point. Years ago I had already realized there would be an impact from my bipolar on their lives. The changing moods. The anxiousness.  The depressions. The seclusion. The irritability and outbursts. The unexplained years of medications. Those periods of days when I was in "the hospital" and they were for some unexplained reason not able to visit.

But there's another reason for my journaling. Educated in psychology and familiar in the mental health system both professionally and personally I know all too well of the predispositions and traits a parent is capable of passing on to a child.

Not to be pessimistic, but rather real, according to the University of Oxford, doctors have neglected the influence of a father's mental health issues on their kids. Kids, especially boys, raised by alcoholic or depressed dads, are far more influenced by troubled fathers than previously thought.

Studies show that depressed fathers interact with their kids both in negative ways and less. That's true. I can contest to that. I tend to withdrawal. I get snappy. I'm working on not losing my temper.

The significance of depression in dads has gained attention in recent years, as experts recognize a father's mental health can affect child development and well-being. Studies have found associations, but not any cause and effect relationships between depression and paternal behavior. For example, we tend to get irritable if we get depressed. Being irritable can increase the likelihood of spanking. It's not the depression that causes the spanking and that's an important thing to know.

Maybe this is why depression, or any mental illness for that matter, from a father's perspective is scarce. Experts have been blaming the mothers. Not that there should be any blaming at all. There should be intervention.

There's countless resources within the mental health field about how to and when to disclose your mental illness to your employer. It can come with its own possible ramifications. If you lose your job you typically find another. Believe me I know that too. But telling your kids is another thing. But you won't lose them. And even you did, you wouldn't find new ones. You want them to understand. There's that risk of telling them when they are too young and them not fully understanding. Will they think what they see in the movies? Will they fear what you say? Will they feel sorry for you? Or embarrassment?

Some time back with the agreement of my wife and ex-wife that our two oldest boys were mature enough to understand the nature of my bipolar. I sat them down and discussed it with them. They seemed receptive and had questions of their own. Whether they grasped what I was actually trying to convey to them I'm not sure. I think so. But in my moments I'm almost positive they have all but forgotten the part of me I disclosed during that talk; that part of my brain that takes over making me yet another puppet. My point was for them,  that dad is not a grouchy ogre who just wants to gripe at you for every little thing and that most of the time I'm doing the best I can.

When thinking about my bipolar in general, I've tried to consider this: “This may be the best gift you give your kids: an example of facing challenges and limitations with honesty and courage. I've refused to use the excuse, "I can't help it, I'm bipolar." People who persevere despite great adversity deserve our highest respect — we call these people heroes. I don't care about being called a hero. But in the end I want to be able to look back and know I lived a good life with my kids holding none of my behaviors against me. Well, I take that back. Maybe somewhat of a hero to my kids. Whether I get the recognition or not, I want to be their example. That's the reason for the journals. To immerse themselves in my pain and brokenness, my joy and happiness and for them to reflect and see my victories in spite of my Parkinson's and bipolar, all relying on God's help.

Kids may become preoccupied with worry about their parents’ wellbeing or their own future mental health in the case of heritable illness. My oldest son worries himself to death when it comes to my Parkinson's when he's here. He constantly asks me if he can do something for me or if there is anything he can help me with. I have to constantly reassure him that I'm used to doing what I do. Unfortunately bipolar, as with any mental illness, can seem so unloving. Most of the time I get too caught up in managing my health that I seem to lose sight of managing my relationships.

I don't know if this post fit together very well. Or if it made much sense. My intent was to focus on the awareness father's dealing with mental illness, particularly depression and bipolar. I see no point to spill a handful of statistics that in reality mean nothing to you and would forget by the time you finish reading this post. Heck I would. Besides, if you want numbers you can look them up on the web. They are all different anyway.

I constantly worry of the impact any of my moods may be having on any of my kids. But then I continue to get the spontaneous hugs and kiss. The "I love you dad's" that come out of the blue. The completed coloring sheet that was colored just for me. And the little art projects laying on my desk I find as I come home from work. And a child that follows me like a new puppy. One who can never ask me enough questions soaking up as much knowledge as he can take in.

It's these kinds of things that reassure me I must not be doing to bad of a job.

Do you think daughters are more affected by their mothers' mental health, while boys are more impacted by dads?

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Where my inspiration comes from

A Recycled-Dad with Bipolar & Parkinson's, reflections on fathering and family life and other stuff thrown in'll love my Soap Box Rants

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Why I call myself a Recycled Dad

I call myself a Recycled Dad because of the struggles with remarriage and being a step-parent and weekend dad. This is also about my life living with bipolar and how it affects me personally, my family and my job. It also reflects on the grace God has poured out on me throughout recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder. Recycled Dad is about my reflections on the wisdom God teaches daily on fatherhood and being a better husband in spite of being bipolar.

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