It almost feels trite to be in your 30's and to proclaim “it’s amazing how time flies”, but this unfortunately becomes all too true when you become a father.
In quiet reflection yesterday morning over my morning coffee (and a few minutes of rare solitude sitting in the trusty minivan outside the school drop off zone) I took a second to notice the date and realize that it had been exactly one year since a pretty momentous turning point in my life.
This blog post could be 60 pages, but you will likely be long gone into your favourite Instagram stories if I let verbosity take over, so I will do my best to tell this story as succinctly and directly as possible.
Admitting weakness or otherwise feeling vulnerable is incredibly, incredibly hard.
Telling yourself (or anyone who listens) that you are anything other than a physically and mentally strong, diaper changing, cheese noodle making, home maintaining, earning, family raising machine is the fatherhood equivalent to admitting to the prettiest girl in your 7th grade class that they made your Spiderman Underoos feel all tingly.
I personally was faced with this reality on February 27th of 2017, and I for the first time ever did not have a choice.
We are all inundated with PSAs and other reminders to be on top of our physical health. Put down the cigarette. Get off the couch. Wrap up your salami. Call your doctor if your erection doesn’t subsist for more than five hours. Check your sack for lumps. It’s so easy to get lost in the things you should be doing because of all of the things that you are already doing.
On this fateful evening, my kids were asleep and I was fortunate to engage in some recreation of ancient Olympic Greco roman wrestling with my wife. Afterwards, I was absent mindedly getting my Al Bundy on when I noticed something immediately terrifying. I had a bump on my testicle.
I FREAKED out! 9PM on a Monday night is not the time to discover this, when you’re two months removed from losing your father unexpectedly, 2 months post 3rd child under 4, juggling a full time job, and a 60% university course load on the side. The wheels fell off.
I’ve always been a fairly high strung person who is involved in as many things as possible and helping as many people as possible, but I managed it well because I work well under pressure and it is the right thing to do.
But reeling from the loss of my father I was feeling overwhelmed with life. I lost my ability to feel in control for the first time ever, and had my first full blown panic attack. Chest tightness, sweating, restlessness, clammy skin, dizzy, nauseous, can’t breathe properly, the works. Luckily I knew I was healthy enough and had enough awareness of the presenting circumstances to know I wasn’t having a heart attack or stroke, and didn’t need to call an ambulance.
I had three more attacks the next day, and began making phone calls. I couldn’t get through to my family doctor. When, I finally got through I found out that he had no openings for three days. I eventually got through to his Nurse Practitioner, and she agreed to see me that afternoon.
For the first time in many, many years, a woman other than my wife handled my junk. Thankfully I was so wrapped up in my own overwhelming state of anxiety that nothing embarrassing happened. She confirmed the bump, and referred me for an ultrasound. She assured me that it was likely nothing, and that they should be able to get a firm answer pretty quickly. She also noticed that I looked grey as a ghost, was having trouble focusing, was fidgeting, pacing, clawing at my skin, and a multitude of other signs of a pretty poor emotional state. She wrote me a referral to see a social worker, and encouraged me to come back in 2 days and see my family doctor for some more evaluation.
I went home and immediately called the ultrasound place. Phone system down. Called another one. Phone system down. And another. Phone system down. Is this the movie Final Destination, or what?
After debating between driving to Buffalo or Detroit and paying cash, or trying the hospital first, I tried the hospital. I was able to convince the nurse on the phone to let me self-refer, but she still had nothing other than cancellations available for three weeks. I then went to the downtown HQ for the chain of ultrasound clinics, and walked in off the street to beg for some help. The nurse at the front desk confirmed that their phones and booking system were down for a multiple day outage, but took one look at my referral (and current emotional state) and felt compelled to help. She got me set up an hour later at another clinic.
I made my way down there, to discover that I needed to let another woman (that was not my wife) be all near my business. I’m proud to say I went 2-2 on not doing or saying anything embarrassing. The test was done quickly, and the waiting game began.
I saw my family doctor the next day, and we had a really good chat. We did a measurement scale for an anxiety disorder, and I scored 19 on a scale of 21. Wow. This was an eye opener. I told him I ultimately had no desire to be on any long term medication, and would be amenable to trying to take a break from work/life as much as possible to reset, and immediately beginning therapy.
The idea of therapy seemed absolutely awful and terrifying to me, but knowing the state I was in, I was game to throw myself to the wolves and to see what happened. I began both a group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program, and 1 on 1 sessions with a therapist. I also had an order to stay away from my high stress job for 6 weeks, at the absolute busiest time of the year for us.
The test results came back in 48 hours and were a godsend: it was a cyst. Nothing to worry about at all, and totally normal for dudes in my age group. Wow. But now a bigger issue has finally emerged. One that seems to make a lot of sense.
In the course of the 2-hour-long, 8-weeks of group therapy sessions at my family health team led by the two social workers, along with my 1 on 1 weekly sessions with a psychotherapist, I made some incredible discoveries and gained a ton of insight.
I was told immediately by my therapist that in his 30 years of doing his job, I officially had the worst childhood he had ever heard. He said it was a testament to my will and character that I was sitting in front of him, being open and honest and wanting to be better rather than in jail, dead, or in a gutter with a needle in my arm like others he had given counsel to from similar backgrounds.
Over the next few weeks, I learned a ton about myself and about my condition. I learned all about what anxiety was, its causes and symptoms, and tons of strategies to best manage it. I also learned that I had been dealing with symptoms of anxiety for essentially my entire life. I remember being as young as 7 and experiencing these symptoms and not knowing what or why they were happening, but feeling too alone and isolated and not cared for to do or say anything about it.
I finished the group therapy program and 12 weeks of counselling, and returned to meet with my doctor to assess next steps. I was proud and relieved to discover that my score on the anxiety scale had dropped from a 19 to a 3.
I am by no means cured. The experiences I lived through shaped who I am today, both in good and bad ways. I did gain a toolkit of insights, experiences, wisdom, and techniques to help better manage my symptoms, and the ability to be frank and honest with both myself and those who care about me.
For the first time in my life, I can be honest with myself that I am trying my best, and understanding that it is okay to not be perfect, and to be human. Mentally I feel stronger than I ever did when I tried to repress and mash these feelings and symptoms deep down inside of me in my youth, by either getting too drunk and getting in a fight, or simply just yelling at someone who didn’t deserve it but got me over my threshold of swallowing it all.
A year passed from reaching what conceivably was the lowest point of my adult life, and above all else, I am grateful. I’m grateful that I have the life that is the envy of most, and a wife and three amazing children who love and support me for who I am. I am grateful that I have a network of dad friends who have my back. I’m grateful I have the autonomy to take the drastic move of leaving a stable job to finally put myself first and pursue goals I always had but never felt I was good enough to pursue. I’m grateful for my freedom and safety, and those who provide it for me. I’m grateful for having a voice and a platform to hopefully inspire others to live the best life possible.
I’ve really fell in love with being better as well. I’ve rekindled a love of reading, I am doing my best to journal and be on top of, aware of, and open with my thoughts and feelings (much like I am sharing with you all today). I’m trying to make my own health and wellness – both physical and emotional – more of a priority and to put myself first sometimes.
I’ve got to the point where I have accepted that I’m me. I am a good person, people generally like me the way I am. I can always be learning and doing better, and hopefully be inspiring others along the way who might be as lost and confused and overwhelmed as I once was. I’m still far from perfect, and have my share of moods, bad days, and poor reactions at times to conflict, but I’m always striving to do well and be better. I appreciate every single person who has been involved in my life and allowed me to get to this point and keep moving forward.
If you can relate to my words, and maybe you’re struggling too, I am here to listen. I can encourage and suggest, and hopefully inspire and direct you to a place of more relative wellness than your current state. But above all else you need to find the hope and encouragement and confidence to be the best you. I’m not a professional, I’m not an expert, but I do care.
Cheers to all of you for being you and allowing me to be me. Much eternal love to my beautiful wife Joy for always letting me know that I am good enough for her just the way I am, and encouraging me every single step of the way.
Jeremy, DCL President