What postnatal depression feels like is different for everyone. Here's an Aussie dad's experience, and how he handled it.
On the way home from hospital, we were feeling great. I had done my prep work beforehand, and learned everything I could in order to be a parent. So with my wife and new daughter in tow, I felt confident.
The World Cup had just started, and I thought I might even catch some of the games while basking in the glow of being a new dad.
But when I got home, I found that the “glow” just wasn’t there.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter, but there wasn’t this connection I was looking for – the connection I had been fully expecting. This made me anxious.
So I waited. A few weeks passed, and this “Hollywood moment” where you instantly fall in love still hadn’t arrived.
I felt like I was going through the motions. Changing a nappy, not a problem. Smiling for a family picture, tick. But I didn’t really feel anything inside.
And every time she cried, I’d get frustrated – and then instantly angry at myself for feeling like that. At this point, anxiety had turned into intense frustration.
The moment I knew something was up was during France beating Argentina 4-2 in the second round. This was two weeks after her birth.
I was watching the game and trying to change the kiddo’s nappy, but then I burst into tears because I couldn’t fasten the nappy correctly. I felt like a failure and got angry at my daughter and my wife.
My wife was understandably shocked by this, but she slowly started to see what was happening to me. As time went on, so did I.
What postnatal depression feels like
What postnatal depression feels like is different for everyone.
In my experience, it was a combination of constant frustration, a lack of self-worth, thinking I wasn’t good enough to be a dad, not being able to articulate how I felt, and just lashing out at friends and family.
All the same, I didn’t realise I was depressed for quite a while. I thought being anxious all the time was just part of being a parent.
Interactions with my daughter were a bit numb, but I kept thinking, this is normal, you’re just adjusting to becoming a dad, you’ll get there.
Then I had a panic attack, and everything changed again.
I was on my way to a family event and had been in a dark mood all morning.
I was snappy, trying to get the baby ready and my wife asked me what was wrong.
It was the first time I had a panic attack, I couldn’t breathe, I felt dizzy and was hyperventilating.
Over time, panic attacks became quite frequent on public transport making my commute a bit of an ordeal. It seemed I couldn’t cope with packed and confined spaces.
There had been instances where I would have to get off the train and spend 10-20 mins trying to get out of the headspace I was in or ride out the attack.
For anyone who hasn’t had a panic attack, they basically feel like a combination of a heart attack, kick in the balls and exhausting as going 12 rounds with Mayweather – it’s not a pretty sight.
How I got help
I finally admitted I had a problem.
I had to do something about it, not just for my sake, but for my wife’s and daughters’ sake.
It was the first time I was having suicidal thoughts – and knowing what happened to me with my mother, I vowed not to make the same mistake for my daughter.
So, I went to my doctor, which opened my eyes to a whole range of options. It turns out I was not having a normal experience for a new father and he diagnosed me with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and post-natal depression. Quite the treble there.
So the doctor, who luckily for me was a mental health specialist as well, he put me on anti-depressants, which I am still taking now, after a bit of experimentation.
I understand it’s difficult to take this step with antidepressants as not everyone agrees with them and it can take time to find the ones which work for you.
The doctor also referred to me to a psychologist, which has helped a great deal, as it’s enabled me to resolve some lingering issues that arose before Bub’s birth and gave me the tools to be more confident as a parent and be present as a husband.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a bit of a road to get there. If you’re reading this and feeling the same, for Christ’s sake, tell someone and see your doctor. It’s not an easy step to make, but it’ll put you on the right track.
Even if you’re not ready to do that, know that you’re not alone.
If you or someone you know is suffering form depression or intense anxiety, Lifeline operates a 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention service with a live online chat option. Call 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au