I can’t remember when I started feeling depression and anxiety. It seems to have been as much a part of my life as walking. And my mother, I don’t know if she can remember when she started to struggle with it, either. Nor her mother. My father, he had the same problem. He drank and took painkillers to deal with it. He died at 49. His mother took Xanax. I come from a long line of depressed and anxious people. People who don’t sleep well because they lay awake at night with butterflies in their stomachs, thinking about this or that.
I’m an over thinker and an over analyzer and I spend a good amount of time feeling like I’m failing at some grand thing, but if you were to ask me what that thing was, I doubt I could name it. I wake up in the night scared for reasons I can’t define, so I try to associate the feelings with something, anything, which causes me to become irrational and fearful of elements of my life that are actually meaningless (a conversation at work, a nasty look in traffic, some small mistake I may have made).
As someone that knows how difficult anxiety and depression can be, I don’t think it should surprise anyone that I worry that my children might have inherited my mental issues. When I think about my children struggling with my depression, it feels like I didn’t wash my hands and ended up passing on some horrible disease. It feels like I should do something to prevent my three kids from becoming anxious and depressed adults.
My wife doesn’t have any problems with depression. At least not from what I can tell. It’s my hope that her genetics will water things down some. Perhaps her happiness will overshadow my depression and help our kids to turn out normal. But when I say that… “Normal”… I’m not really sure what it means. All I do know is that I’ve never really felt normal. I’ve always felt to the side of myself. Oftentimes I feel like an actor playing a happy version of myself. But I suppose if I were going to try and define how I want my kids to feel in adulthood, it would be this: I want their default state to be happy and not fearful. Because that is what I struggle the most with. I feel like happiness is at the top of an icy mountain, and if I don’t concentrate on my steps, I will easily slide down.
I read a lot about how to avoid having anxious and depressed children. Every author seems to say the same thing. For example:
Don’t act anxious around your children because they look to parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous information: Basically authors always tell me to model stress tolerance. Right. Sure. I’m really good at that. Should be easy. Considering I worry the most about them, I don’t fully understand how to pull this one off, so I worry about it. I wonder if I can’t help but show it to my kids, and if I do, they will catch it like a cold.
Learn stress management techniques: I’ve been working on that for a long time. Never have really got it down.
Explain your anxiety and depression to your children: This one always boggles my mind. I have a difficult time explaining my depression and anxiety to myself, let alone my children. I’m not sure how to tell a child that I get really nervous for no good reason. That I feel like I’m failing most of the time. Would they get it? Or would they think I was crazy?
If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with anxiety in the presence of your children, take a break: Whenever I read this, it feels like the authors of these articles don’t have children. Because the thing is, kids don’t take breaks. They don’t ever stop wanting, or needing, or asking… I’m not saying that I can’t find a moment to take a walk, leave my kids with my wife. But it’s difficult, and it isn’t always convenient.
What I hate the most about the above advice is it makes me feel like I have control over something that has always felt uncontrollable, and it deepens my already strong fear that if my children do become depressed and anxious that it will be my fault because I didn’t do something to stop it.
My oldest, Tristan, is eight. I watch him the closest because he’s becoming more complicated every day. But the problem is, he doesn’t give away much about his feelings. Sometimes I will catch him in his room, looking down at a book, his eyes a little glossy, and I will wonder what he’s thinking. I will worry that he’s struggling with feelings of worthlessness. “How are things going, big guy,” I say.
He looks up at me, and smiles, or laughs, or wants to tell me about something exciting from his day. And it is in moments like this I wonder if I’m getting worked up over nothing. But honestly, living with depression and anxiety means taking little things and blowing them up and over analyzing them until you feel hopeless.
“Good,” I say. “I thought you might be feeling sad.”
He things for a moment, looks up, smiles, and says, “Nope.”
And when he says nope, I always get this feeling like he doesn’t really know what feeling sad means. If that’s the case, then, perhaps I really do have nothing to worry about.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.