What sort of guy are you? I’m not asking what sort of Dad are you, because this goes way back before you became a Dad.
What sort of guy are you?
The strong, silent type?
Heart on your sleeve?
Keep people, even your friends, at a distance?
Make friends easily and let people close?
If you were to think back over your life, can you identify a change from how you were to how you are now? Why might that have happened?
The reason I am asking these questions of you is because I have asked these questions of myself recently. Raised on the West coast of Scotland, I was brought up believing that boys don’t cry, that they don’t show emotions, that they get on with it.
Then you grow older and other emotions develop, desires and attractions to people, which can be tricky if you don’t know how to respond to your emotions and how to express them.
Then you grow older, things happen in life. That relationship breaks up, you move on and another develops. You go through disappointments and successes. You may go through bereavement, the loss of friendships, the challenges of moving out, moving home, possibly marriage, possibly not, possibly divorce.
You learn that you’re going to be a father. Depending on your circumstances that could be exciting, it could be terrifying. Then there is the strain of being a father. Supporting the mother of your child, taking on more domestic duties, suffering from lack of sleep, the stresses of your child’s illnesses, possible stays overnight in hospital.
Then there is the joy of seeing your child. The excitement as your child grows, learns, develops skills and abilities. Learns to roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, run, climb, play, dance, jump, draw (possibly on the walls), talk, read. It’s endless…
The emotions of the big firsts: nursery, schools, birthdays and Christmases, but then the strains of those on you to provide for them. Through all of which you have emotions to deal with. Love, joy, pain, anger, pride, doubt, excitement and many more. You may have mental health issues that affect you, even those you don’t recognise. I suffer from depression, others may suffer from anxiety, bipolar syndrome, phobias, postnatal depression. Yes, guys can get postnatal depression as well.
If you are anything like me, you’ll bottle them up. You’ll suppress them, you’ll hold them inside. You will put on a mask that everything is fine. You’ll build a shell around you to protect you from the emotional effects of the world.
That will work.
For a while.
But eventually, the emotions will come out. They have a knack of doing that. Just like some weeds, some plants; that keep coming back and back. No matter how hard a shell you’ve built.
In my work, I’ve heard to learn about certain plants, certain “invasive species”. Let me tell you about one of the really bad ones, Japanese Knotweed. This can grow up through concrete. The only sure way to get rid of it is to get rid of ALL of it. It can grow from just a few centimetres of root. Just as your emotions can.
How do I know?
Several years ago, I went through a very difficult period that lasted a few months. In order to get through it, I had to put on a mask and keep going. I had to build a shell around me, to protect me from what was being said to me and about me. I got through it okay, or so I thought.
A few years on, I then found myself going through another very difficult period. This time the mask was already in place, as was the shell. I got through it, but realised that I needed to open up a bit.
That was scary, talking about emotions and emotional things. Scary, but necessary. In time, however, I clamped them down again but the emotions knew that there were weaknesses in the shell now.
It’s odd how the first ones to come out are the negative ones. Anger. Fear. Doubt. For me, it was mainly anger. So off I went to a Stress Management course to help me stay away from the anger. That was god. That helped, for a time. Again, I began to clamp down, because I didn’t know how to deal with the emotions. Around the time of the course, I was also diagnosed with depression. As the saying goes, I had been too strong, for too long. I needed help.
I went to counselling, which was good and helpful. I felt the benefit of it, but unfortunately, due to a change in my work I had to stop it suddenly. Things were left open-ended, unworked through. So I clamped down again and things were ok for another while. The antidepressants that I was on were helping. My wife encouraged me to go back to counselling, or to find another Counsellor that I could see around my work. I would take steps to do so and then stop. In time I came off my antidepressants, with the agreement of my GP.
Life continued to have challenges, but things were… OK. And then things weren’t. So I took more definite steps and arranged to see a Counsellor, but there was a wait until I could have my initial assessment. I muddled onwards.
Then things REALLY weren’t OK.
And then I realised the effect of the stress that I had been under and the stress that I had been putting my wife and children under. I went back on to my antidepressants and then after Christmas I had my initial assessment for counselling. I was moved to the top of the queue, due to where I was at, and for that I am so thankful and so grateful.
I don’t have a friend that I can talk to about all the emotional stuff that I’ve gone through. Partly through embarrassment, partly through not wanting to be a burden, partly through bad experiences in the past when I’ve sought help, instead of support, from friends. I do have friends that I can talk to know about where I am at day-to-day, but I don’t want to drag them in to my life history.
Instead, I am seeing a counsellor on a weekly basis. It isn’t easy for me to talk, to open up, to speak of where I have been and of what I’ve been through. But it is necessary, vital, that I do so. Not just for me, but also for my wife and my kids.
I am opening up. I am now experiencing emotions that I need to learn how to deal with appropriately. I am on a journey and you may read more about it in future.
A final few questions for you. Is there anything in what I’ve written that you can really relate to? Do you know how to deal with your emotions appropriately? Do you need to make that step to seek help for yourself?
Please know that you don’t need to fight alone. If you seek help, then you can find someone to help you work through what you are fighting. Below are some links that may be of interest. I’ve either used these services, seen people from these places in a private capacity, or I’ve got friends that have used these services.
Bluebell Perinatal Depression Service (covers Post Natal Depression)
Institute of Counselling (primarily educational, but do take on counselling)
LifeLink (a course provider which accepts self-referrals, or NHS referrals)