Depression & Parenting: Getting Help For You & Your Child

posted by Joseph Scialabba -

Joseph Scialabba is a single father from the Chicago area who   unexpectedly lost the mother of his child. This blog  post chronicles his experience with raising a female child alone in the   21st century.

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Anthony Bourdain, a man whose literary work I’ve followed for years, is also someone who struggled with addiction and depression issues.  I can relate. His life has served as an inspiration for all of us other screw ups out there.  There are some people whose hardest demons to beat are their own. But Anthony succumbed to his illness and took his own life last week. It hit home on a deep level for me, especially when I heard that he left behind a young daughter.

There are people who will call it cowardice for a man to admit he’s suffering from depression.  They might call a man “mentally weak” for confessing to having this problem. But depression afflicts a lot of men (and fathers in particular) who live in the shadows with their issues.  Maybe they’re just afraid to seek help, or even tell people they’re hurting on the inside. Eventually this form of self abuse leads people to self medicate with alcohol and drugs in an effort to numb themselves enough to function from day-to-day. In a way, alcohol and drug use are almost more socially accepted then depression itself.

Depression is the invisible killer, the haunted memories, the stigma you can’t shake. It isolates you and belittles your own hopes and thoughts. It’s a darkness from which it seems there is no escape and no light at the end of the tunnel. This leads people to make permanent choices based on temporary problems. Depression often goes hand in hand with addiction, both feeding off each other until there's nothing left but absolute misery.

The act of parenting while battling mental illness can be a complex and deep struggle. Depression came roaring back into my life after my daughter’s mother passed away. It came home to roost during the holidays last year.  I received some videos in the mail that had her voice in them while she played with our daughter and I lost whatever mental block had been holding my emotions back  since her death about a year ago. I spent the next couple weeks of the holidays in a complete emotional stupor, barely able to look my own child in the face because I couldn’t unsee the resemblance to her mother. That feeling still comes back from time to time.

My daughter’s mother is gone, but I can’t just write her out of my life.  After all, I have a walking, talking reminder of her roaming around my home.  It was a pain that I couldn’t ignore so I finally had to deal with these emotions. I chose anger management as a therapy outlet because, like a lot of men, I tend to bottle up everything until it explodes in a big ball of rage. I decided about two years ago, that I didn’t want my daughter to grow up thinking this was normal behavior.  It’s not ok. So I got treatment, which was a hard decision to make.  I had to admit I couldn’t deal with my problems on my own.  It wasn’t easy to reach this conclusion just like it’s not easy write these words that you’re currently reading.

There are lots of fathers out there, many of them single parents, who suffer like I do. They try to hide their caged emotions and defer anyone who questions them about their emotional state. They may put their children first, as I did, and their own emotional well being comes second in line to a grocery list of other problems. But the truth of it is, if you suffer from depression your children know.  You can’t hide it.  They can sense that you aren’t doing well, and it does affect them and their own well being. If you don’t want to get well for yourself, go seek help for your children. They deserve a well adjusted parent, don’t they? I saw firsthand how episodes of mental health issues from both her mother and me had affected my daughter in a negative way.  I feel guilty to this day for putting her through that experience.

We all have breaking points.  Considering reaching you friends and family if you believe you may be struggling. They may not be likely to reach out to you first because most of us can't or won't ask for help  That’s a symptom of the illness.

Don’t give up on life.  Don't let more children grow up without parents because you were too proud to seek help. There are lots of great organizations out there that specialize in assisting those afflicted with depression. www.twloha.com is one resource I’ve recommended to many over the years.

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