Beyond the highlight reel of social media and the brief encounters with family and friends is a repetitive, dull and sometimes dark truth about my journey as a stay-at-home Dad with my 8-month-old daughter, Kyra.
I’ve always valued solitude highly in my life but it wasn’t until quite recently when I fully understood how much I actually needed solitude in order to function optimally. Time alone is when I allow my mind to recover. I would immerse myself in reading, show/movie-watching, games, and exercise. Even my time on social media is quite an introverted activity where I selectively choose whom, when and where I wish to engage people. Only when my mind is replenished from solitude is when I can find the energy and urge to engage people and loved ones in real life.
Spending as much as 20–22 hours practically alone on a typical day with my newborn is really tough for my introverted mind. I can’t seem to switch my mind away even when she is taking a nap.
It’s the juggle between work deadlines and giving her the attention she deserves. It’s the calculating and calibration of her needs throughout the day. It’s the battle of balance between her learning-through-exploration versus her safety when she is awake. It’s the worry of her overall health and the doubts about my actions as a primary caregiver. It’s having to play and smile to please the little one even when I am having a difficult day. It’s the guilt-trips I give myself when somebody else is looking after the baby.
Before I fully understood what was causing a decline in my mental health, I fell into depression. I recognised it but I was helpless as I saw it devouring my mind. The only thing that kept me going were constant reminders of the responsibility I have towards my flesh and blood. Those reminders kept me alive but it made my depression worse.
The turning point only came when my wife badgered me about my moods and I finally told her what is happening. She acknowledged my troubles and asked me to seek professional help but I refused for the fear of monetary burden and medicinal reliance. She then took the trouble to take the baby physically away from me on some of her off days so that I was able to find time for myself. That and telling her about my troubles helped me climb out of misery and I got better. Hearing someone I’d trust with Kyra say, “I’ll take care of her, you go rest,” is such a relief for my mind.
As my daughter grows, it doesn’t get any easier. On the contrary, it gets more demanding and often, the only way is to become stronger or be more forgiving of my shortfalls. I still often struggle daily but I try to find small pockets of time to recuperate – a longer shower, sleeping a little less to watch a movie in the dark. It’s never going to be enough for my introverted mind in the short-term but I learn to live with what I have until she is old enough for childcare enrolment.
If most of what you see on social media is polished gold, this is the polished darkness that I present. It’s a reminder for myself and anyone else who is struggling to look beyond the shining gold and embrace the darkness. Recognise it and seek help from loved ones before it breaks the brittle walls that we put up for show. While we often put our children above our needs, it is important to also love ourselves and find contentment in our capacity to give.
I salute everyone who was or is on the same journey as I am.