Being Open About Depression Helped Me Be a Better Dad

Christian Henderson

It’s a weekday morning and we are actually on time. It’s myself, my five-year-old and my three-year-old en route across town to their school. As a talkative five-year-old would, my son is squeezing out questions left and right. When we merge from one highway to the next, he asks as he stares at the grassy median, “Dad, why don’t we have picnics on the highway?” It struck me as the right analogy for someone going through depression. What he didn’t know was at that moment, that person was me.

The noise, the distraction, the sheer danger of it all being destroyed. Only a crazy person would have a picnic on a highway but that’s sometimes how it feels like when you’re building a life, a family – the thought that an 18-wheeler of depression is going to crush it all to smithereens.

I was always an anxious kid, nervous that I would do anything wrong. I’ve been an anxious student, employee and spouse, overcome by a constant fear of saying or doing something wrong. I knew I’ve had bouts of depression previously in my life but recently, ‘the monster’ as it’s dubbed by my wife has reared its ugly head more like the unwanted neighbor on a sitcom than just the occasion guest star.

There’s often a misconception about what depression feels like. “Oh, so you’re sad all the time? Do you just stay in bed and watch sad movies?” Nope. Depression, for me, could feel like anywhere from a vacuum, the absence of all feelings to the feeling like depression is an Looney Tunes Acme anvil strapped to your back making it impossible to move, oh and you’re standing in quicksand, just counting down the inches of your body covered in the sand until you’re forever enveloped.

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My kids are young, and my hope is that I can control the monster before they develop long lasting memories but if I don’t, I know they need to know about this disease. For many of those who’ve suffered with depression, they’ve had to hold their monster in their closet, not allowing it to be publicly exposed. The sad thing is that is one of the greatest medications — putting it out in the open.

The monster is different for everyone. Mine enjoys tearing me up through tricky combination of lack of self-confidence or paranoid fears of betrayal and abandonment. It can convince me that I’m a nuisance, failure, or just flat out not worthy of my own life. Its weapons can be sharper than any knife. Since the wounds it makes leave no blood, it’s hard for others to see you’re hurting. Depression can make you shut down or lash out. I’ve done both and suffered the consequences of a monster whose main goal is make you feel as awful as you can for as long as it can. The monster can make you feel high as drug addict when you’re at your ultimate lowest. It’s like your darkest feelings get it stoned.

That’s why being out in the open helps, simple questions like, “how are you?” take on a deeper meaning. Much like an intervention, when its out in the open, you can assemble your team, trusted friends and loved ones who will help you go to battle against a force that they, themselves cannot truly see or feel.

I see a therapist and have been on anti-depressants for about a year now. Some have worked with great results, some didn’t but I did want to give up – throw my hands in the air and say I was a victim of such a disease. I kept working, trying to get to a brighter spot in my mental well-being.

One morning, my son watched me take my medication and like the inquisitive kid he is, he asked me about it, asking if I was sick. I told him I had what’s called depression. “I’m not sick,” I said, not really sure what was going to stick in a 5-year-old’s brain that early in the morning, “I have something that just makes me never feel comfortable.” The explanation was improvised in the moment, but it feels right in hindsight. I want him to know this is a normal heath concern, like asthma or diabetes. Left untreated, it can do some serious damage but with help and accepting the occasional bout, it’s not so bad.

Depression can sure seem like that 18-wheeler barreling down on you. It can feel like an immovable force set to wreck your life – tear through the fragile parts that make family life great. But with help, support and knowing that you can actually move out of the way of the vehicle, you can find a nice spot to build your picnic. Just maybe not on the highway…

Christian Henderson is a recovering emo kid living in Music City. He has two kids that he, with the help of Daniel Tiger, are helping them discover their emotions.

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