September 17, 2020

Not wanting to live when you have everything to live for

I have learned a lot since becoming a father, but one of the things that has been most painful to learn is that men can get postpartum depression too.

I’m going to come clean: I haven’t been well over the past six weeks. I can’t find seem to find joy in anything—including in my newborn daughter—and I erupt in tears multiple times a day. I find it hard to find the energy to do the most basic of tasks, and I feel like I am losing my temper and have much less patience than I did before. Perhaps most troubling, I have had incessant suicidal ideation—an increase in my medication seems to have quieted some of that thinking, but not completely—and have a reduced, if not completely gone, will to live.

I know I will be okay. I have a supportive family and a good therapist, good psychiatrist, and great family doctor. I have supportive people at work who understand my need to take time off to get well. I have a wonderful wife who is doing all she can to support my wellness while we also care for our daughter. I am one of the lucky ones.

I also know that I am not well now, and that it’s okay for me to admit that. Until recently, I didn’t know that men could experience postpartum depression, assuming that it was reserved for mothers. I was acutely aware of the condition, and was avidly working to create an environment where my wife would either not be affected by it, or at least be very well supported if she were to experience it. I had no idea that it would be me, not her, that would be beset by the condition upon the birth of our daughter.

In hindsight, it was clear that—had I known postpartum depression was able to manifest in fathers as well—the conditions were conducive to my falling prey: I have a history of mental illness and am on medication to manage it, and one of my triggers for the deterioration of my mental health is a lack of sleep. Newborns always come with a lack of sleep, but we have been battling major feeding complications with our little one, so sleep was even more elusive than it normally would be.

(The battles with those complications continue. I will be taking even more time off work and offline as we grapple with them and try to find some sense of normalcy in our daughter’s feeding cycles.)

It’s strange, not wanting to live when you’ve just welcomed a daughter into the world. You ostensibly have everything to live for—a new life to support and shape and help thrive, a new source of joy and adventure, a new person to love—but can’t seem to find the energy or willpower to actually continue living.

These days, I’m trying to find small wins that remind me that there’s still stuff to live for: finally sending out our thank you cards, finishing the paperwork to get baby Zoya on our medical insurance, getting someone to take down the dead tree in our front yard, seeing a small semblance of a smile on the face of my daughter. These wins alone aren’t enough to keep me buoyed, but they help in small ways to remind me that not everything is going wrong, even when my brain tells me that nothing is going right.

The small wins, coupled with a change in medication, good therapy, and constantly reminding myself that the complications will subside and things will get better—these are all things that are keeping me alive. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, one day I will sleep better again. One day Zoya will eat effectively and we won’t spend a third of our day feeding her. One day I won’t feel so overwhelmed with things to do. One day I won’t feel like I’ve failed at everything I’ve done, including being a father.

One day the postpartum depression will subside and I will feel better—one day I will find joy in knowing that my family has grown and I have new love in my life. I just need to continue to remind myself of these things and keep going, one day at a time.