My wife liked my last post. Yay, me. Honestly, sometimes I feel like her and my mother are the only two people on the planet that read this thing, but that doesn’t stop me from posting.
So after reading the post, my wife made a passing comment that really stuck with me. She said “Wow, you and T have really come a long way.” That is more true than you know. I’m about to pull back the curtain of Oz a bit and, admittedly, I’m not exactly sure how this post is going to turn out or where it’s going to go. But I feel the pull to talk about the other side of life – the side that we don’t really show people outside our closest circle of support.
My wife’s comment was one that very few people on the planet would or could have made. Externally, I imagine most people see my daughter and my relationship as rock solid. And it is, but it definitely didn’t start off that way. Not even close. After the fairly seamless and joyful addition of our first-born to the family, I can fully admit that I was caught off guard by some aggressive postpartum depression when T-Bone was born.
With Tenacious, there was absolutely no connection what so ever. I can now say that. It doesn’t make me feel good to, but it’s the truth. On some level, I thought she hated me. When I type that, I’m actually shaking my head at the idiocy of that thought. But even more so, at the scariness of the situation. She was days, weeks, months old. And I was convinced she loathed me.
I really do wish I could laugh at myself for having those thoughts. But it scares me more than anything. It scared me then and it still does now. My brain lied to me. That’s the only way I’ve come to describe it. My brain lied to me. It is the medium and filter with which I view the world. It takes in all the information from my environment, processes it, and then shoots out thoughts and emotions that it deems appropriate and accurate.
And somehow, my brain decided that my 1-week-old daughter hated me. What the F? That’s even worse than when your computer flashes the “blue-screen-of-death” because then at least you know how screwed you are. (Tangent: Do computers still do the blue-screen-of-death or have we evolved passed that? I have haven’t seen one since college now that I think of it.)
My brain deceived me. And it did a good job of it. It did so for an entire summer and some of the following fall. It sucked. And still does to think of it. I’m embarrassed that my daughter and I started that way. But honestly, the depression wasn’t the most difficult part for me. The worst of it was the moment when I became aware of it. The moment when I started to turn a corner and became cognizant of the fact that my brain was feeding me untruths. It was, hands down, the greatest betrayal that I’ve ever felt. My mind, my own mind, was unfaithful to me.
It was isolating. It was humiliating. It was emasculating. It was scary as hell.
In that helplessness, I had the oddest response. I felt the urge to connect with two people that I hadn’t spoken to in almost 10 years. One was someone that overlapped with in college for a mere 9-months. She was a senior, captain when I was a first-year. And to this day, I don’t know why I felt she was the right one to talk to. We hadn’t spoken in years, almost decades. But our conversation was a catalyst that I needed.
I think I’ve always been comfortable putting my faults on display. As a coach, I don’t claim to be omniscient. I have an array of experiences, but I’m not perfect. But, this was a whole other level. This was the hardest admit that I’ve ever had to make. However, with each person I talked to, it got easier. With each conversation, its hold on me lessened. With each telling, I regained myself.
And over the past four plus years, I’ve spoken with many fathers who have experienced similar lows with their 2nd born. Not all have gone as far down the rabbit hole as I did, but it seems like a more common experience than any of us realized.
Personally, I blame expectation. When Echo was born, I knew nothing of kids. So from day 1, he and I had the best father-child connection that I ever knew. And it grew with each interaction. As he aged and was able to smile and interact more, that connection took off.
Enter Tenacious. No connection. But that wasn’t her fault. She was no different than Echo had been. It was I who was different. I had experienced what it was like to have the deeper, more interactive relationship that you get with a 5, 6, 8, 12-month-old. A connection, that is harder to have between a father and a 1, 2, 3-month old. That young of a child only has a true connection with one person. Because only one person has what they need and I don’t have the requisite equipment to give it them.
So I wrongly expected the deep connection that I’d developed with Echo. The one that exists after half a year. That was an unfair expectation to put on T-Bone. And when it wasn’t there, it rocked me. Hard. It took me to a dark place that took some time and effort to walk myself out of.
Enter Arrow. He’s no different than Echo and Tenacious were before him. But I am. I no longer have undue expectations for our relationship right now. I’m still hopeful for what it will grow into. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s still incredibly emotionally challenging when he needs something that I can’t give him. But now I’m a little wiser and able to see a fuller picture.
And like all things parenting…these experiences have made me a better coach. I now spend significantly more effort removing the stigma around mental hardship.
Not to minimize the seriousness of depression in any way, but I believe in approaching it as the flu of mental illness. I assume it is something that each of us will endure at some point. And its length and severity will depend on both our response and other individual factors. Just as we get flu shots and talk about hand washing, I now try to get out in front of this thing that is a part of all our lives. Personally, I’ve never talked to a single person who felt embarrassed or “less than” because they got the flu. Someday, I’d like to see that same approach brought to mental illness.
And again, like all things parenting…this stuff is always easier to navigate with help. I had friends and an amazing wife. Talk to people. Be open and honest. Be human. Be vulnerable. Be you.
College is hard. Training is hard. Life is hard. Surround yourself with the right people. Reading this…If you’re an athlete, surround yourself with individuals who care about you. If you’re a recruit…search out these people at the next level. They’ll make all the difference. If you’re a parent…help them do that. If you’re a coach…be that.