Black dog days

I love dogs, but this is not one that I like. Nonetheless here it is.

It is small and black, and usually doesn’t get in the way. But last week, it did, and I knew that I would have to put down this puppy before it grew into a massive dog that would get in the way a lot more.

Yes, I am talking about depression. And I am dealing with a small touch of it.

I noticed in the last couple of weeks that my overall mood was a bit lower than usual. I put it down to stresses and such, and figured that, given a bit of time, I’d be feeling a bit better.

But then one day last week, I fell into a pretty dark funk. After a pretty poor night’s sleep where I over-dwelled on some things, I spent a day and a half pretty angry, despondent and completely out of character. I didn’t want to interact with my wife and child, and, probably most telling, I didn’t even want to listen to music.

I like to think that most of the time I am pretty good at processing my emotions, but in the middle of that vortex, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to pull myself out of it. I didn’t want people to try and cheer me up – in fact, I didn’t want to be around people at all.

At one point, I seriously started thinking: “I could just catch a flight to Bali, and then to another to Makassar, and then jump on a boat to a deserted island and leave life behind…”

It wasn’t rational, and I knew that, but I couldn’t shake it.

And it was then that I knew my head wasn’t right

I did some reading up on the websites of beyondblue and The Black Dog Institute, and it soon became clear that what I was feeling was on the scale of depression. I did a self-test and came out with moderate depression and/or anxiety.

By that time, I was feeling better than the funk I had been in, and it would have been easy to dismiss it and just keep going. But as I reflected on some other things that had happened in recent weeks, and my overall mood, I figured that I at least needed to talk with my doctor.

I should mention that my doctor is fantastic, and has known me pretty much all my life, so it wasn’t too hard to talk about this with him. He seemed to agree that I had a mild case of depression, and the best course of action was to nip it in the bud now, so that it didn’t escalate.

So, I’ve just started on a very small dose of antidepressants to sort out my brain chemistry. And that’s really what it is – just repairing a physiological issue that has come out in my psychology.

It doesn’t change who I am. It doesn’t change my core beliefs. Depression is not my identity, it’s just like having a virus, and it can be treated, and I will be better for doing that.

I realise too that there are other changes that I need to make to my life for my own mental wellbeing. This includes making more of an effort to get out of home and work from other places during the week, and making sure that I catch up with friends and family. I also need to get into a bit of an exercise regime, as I’m not doing as much walking or bicycle riding as I did in Singapore.

What brought it on? Well, I have just been through the biggest change in my life, so that is a part of it.

While postnatal depression is usually seen as a mother’s thing, PANDA says that just over 5% dads can also suffer from it. I suspect that is grossly under-reported, as most blokes will not admit they are struggling, leaving them to suffer in silence or self-medicate with drink and drugs. That just makes things worse, and turns them into a ticking timebomb, especially for their families.

I don’t want to be that guy.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m loving being an Amateur Dad, and I love our little girl to bits. And we have really won the lottery, because she sleeps well, has a really pleasant disposition, and in so many ways is just a perfect little kid.

But at the same time there have been a number of new challenges, some of which I’ve been able to handle, and others that have caught me off-guard.

Being a new dad aside, it has been a pretty intense few months since we moved back to Perth. The last month of the pregnancy saw us walking a tightrope and preparing for an emergency cesarean at any time (I’ll talk more about that in a future post). I’ve also got a different working arrangement, and so there are other adjustments there. It has been a lot to process, and as any parent will admit, it can be hard to do that with the responsibilities of keeping a newborn alive.

Am I worried about having this illness?

Not really. I know that it has been caught early and shouldn’t get worse now that I am getting treatment. Adding in those lifestyle changes will also make things better, and I expect that I’ll be back to my normal self soon.

I should point out too that, at this point, it is very mild, and therefore very treatable. I’m not having any harmful thoughts, and I’m not a danger to anyone. I’ve just had some trouble with mood, and that is what is getting fixed.

So why would I write about this?

My hope and prayer is that by speaking up, it might prompt others to do so if they aren’t feeling right and can’t shake it.

If you are struggling, even when it seems that you shouldn’t be, please reach out and tell someone. Go see your doctor and get their assessment, and go with it. Trust me, it does take guts to do that, but you will feel much better for it.

Beyondblue and The Black Dog Institute have some great resources to read through, while PANDA has a site dedicated to new dads at How is Dad Going. For me, they have helped to give me some clarity over why I have been feeling all over the place, and also shown that it doesn’t have to be that way.

So here’s to feeling a whole lot healthier soon.

The Two (and a bit) Month Update

As per above, it’s now been a bit over two (and fast hurtling towards three) months of being an Amateur Dad, and boy it has been a ride – more of a rollercoaster than a smooth one though.

So, here is a brief summary of where things are at for our little family and bubba.

Baby’s hips are looking good

A couple of weeks ago we had our six-week follow-up appointment at Princess Margaret Hospital to check on our little froggy’s hips’ progress, and the news was all positive.

Basically, from being at the very bad end of the scale, an ultrasound showed that it was now, in the words of the doctors, “perfect”. Bubba will still have to wear the brace for another six weeks to complete the treatment, and then after that will probably still have to wear it at nights and for naps.

We’re pretty happy about that. We weren’t initially told how bad the hips were, but to be told that everything is working as planned is a massive relief. Obviously getting onto it early has made a big difference. Overall the brace doesn’t get in the way too much, but we’re sure looking forward to her not having to wear it all day.

She’s growing up so much!

Cliched, but true – they grow up so quick.

Our little 2.85kg baby is now over 5kg, has transitioned from 0000 clothes to 000, and from newborn to infant nappies.

But for me, the best part is that she is starting to become a real little girl who is taking in the world. We’re getting some lovely smiles that would melt the heart of a statue, and increasingly she is starting to vocalise and make sounds other than screams and cries.

In the past week, she’s really taken to exercising her hands. Most of the time, that involves sticking them into her mouth, but she’s also reaching out to grab things. She’s able to see further, and at a basic level start to interact with us, which is very cool.

Overall, it seems that our little girl has a pretty happy disposition, and we’re looking forward to getting to see her personality begin to blossom further.

Sleep is going well

I know that I will be getting some parents cursing me about now, but I have to say that our baby has been sleeping pretty well.

Pretty much after about a month, she started to sleep through from around 9-10pm to 6-7am without waking for a night feed. She does wriggle around a bit though, and that can (and does) wake us up a little bit, but we’ve had minimal night screams and tears.

We have found recently though that she was probably not getting enough sleep in during the day, which was making the evenings a bit of a challenge. We’ve changed up her feeding routine a little, and it seems that she is more content now to go down during the day, so that is good.

As for my own sleep, it has largely been fine until recently. It seemed that during the first eight weeks or so that I was able to sleep through most of baby’s wriggles and night sounds, while those kept mum up. Now, it seems that we are switching roles a little as I tend to be kept up a bit more by those sounds, but that is OK.

Returning to a new normal

It seems that for the last couple of months that life has largely – for me, at least – been revolving around the baby and work. Things are starting to return a little to normal now, albeit a new normal.

Baby’s sleep has meant that my wife and I now get an hour or so to ourselves in the evenings. That has conveniently happened during the same time that the Olympics has been on. As a result, I’ve never watched so much show-jumping, athletics and beach volleyball – and actually enjoying them.

I knew that our own couple time would be interrupted by the baby’s routine, but not to the scale that it has. It now feels like we have some time to ourselves to be a couple, not just parents. I think that’s important, and it feels a little more like how things used to be pre-baby.

But at the same time, I have had to let go of a few things.

The big one for me has been around time management. I have this really strong ethic around being on-time especially when meeting people. My wife is not as rigid in this regard, but we’ve both had to really give up hope that our schedules will not be interrupted by a feed, nap, nappy change or something else.

Logistics overall have been more challenging, as we also now have to travel with a larger amount of gear, and have more contingency plans in place. This has been something of a learning curve, but we’re getting there. Perhaps my background in airlines is coming into play a little more.

New, and unexpected challenges

Overall, the two-and-a-bit months have been going pretty well. It feels like, in some ways, that I’m coming out of a three-month blur, and starting to find some normality, even if only for a little bit.

But, if I am completely honest, it has been tougher than I was expecting. I’ll open that up a little more in my next post, so stay tuned.