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It Never Truly Goes Away

No matter how often you open up about something such as mental illness, there is always that voice in your head that screams at you to keep your emotions bottled up inside. Why are you telling these people all of this stuff? They are just going to judge you and think that you are weak! Well, the truth is that I can be weak at times. In fact, I’m willing to bet that we all have weak moments in our lives. I also believe that it’s how we deal with those moments that determines our true strength.

This is especially true when talking about topics like anxiety and depression. Last year, I wrote about my struggle with anxiety and the effects it had on my family life. At the time, things were great and I felt like I had been cured of the disease that had plagued my brain for so long, but I have since come to realize that it never completely goes away.

These past few months, I have found myself growing increasingly restless. No matter how well things are going at my job, with my websites and my family life, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I am not good enough, and for whatever reason, that makes me want to shut out the things that are most important in my life. That would be the main reason that both my websites went largely ignored throughout the month of December and why one of them continues to collect dust. You would think advocating and reading about kindness would have fixed my brain, but it did not.

It’s a very strange thing for me because I am generally a happy person and when you meet me in the street, at a party or a conference, you are not getting an act. It’s just one of those things that I work through on a daily basis and have to believe that the persistence will eventually pay off. I definitely find that since I have started opening up about it, there is a sense of relief that I don’t have to hide it anymore. Being perceived as weak was a good portion of the stress in the first place, but I’ve realized that I’m far too old and much too dad-ly to worry about that at this point. The important thing is that I continue working on myself and if I can help someone else in the process, it’ll be all the better.

I share these stories because I find it therapeutic and I also think it’s important that we all stop treating these symptoms as weaknesses and start letting others know that it’s okay to open up about it. The best thing I ever did was to seek help for my condition because even without the pills, it gave me a ton of ideas and exercises to try when I start getting those anxious feelings. Don’t wait until you are too far gone; if you are feeling symptoms of depression or anxiety, talk to someone about them. Whether it’s a doctor, a friend or family member, just saying the words for the first time is an empowering experience that can start you down the path to recovery.

The Measure of a Man

We have a lot of definitions and ideas about manliness and what it means to be a “real” man, but the truth is that there is no one characteristic that defines “manliness”. Some think you need tattoos and a pickup truck to be a true man, while others prefer courage or humour as shining examples. We all look at life through a different lens and none of us are right or wrong in our feelings about it.

This past weekend, at the Dad 2.0 Summit in New Orleans, I had the incredible fortune of meeting over 200 other fathers who are each doing their part to redefine what it means to be a dad and also proving that every man is different but also equal. This conference is a place where egos are checked at the door and real emotion is not only allowed to be shared but very much encouraged.

Up until my father passed away a few years ago, I didn’t deal with my emotions very well. Even after his passing, I had trouble showing my emotions visibly and a lot of that had to do with the perception of weakness and the threat of being labeled as someone who was less of a man for it. Those days have since passed and the Dad 2.0 Summit has been a major influence on my ability to express myself without the fear of judgement. Last year, in Houston, I read one of my stories about the anxiety I went through after my father passed away. I can remember all the emotion that was rushing through my veins as I stood up in front of the 250 attendees and poured my soul out onto the stage for everyone to see. They were incredibly supportive and that single event has helped my confidence level more than I can describe.

This year, I was privileged to be in the audience when spotlight reader and brilliant writer, Lorne Jaffe, took to the stage to read his post, “Do I Really Like What I Like?“. While watching Lorne deliver his emotional story about his struggles with mental illness, I witnessed exactly what it means to be a man. Public speaking is uncomfortable enough and when you add in the topic he was discussing, I have never been more proud or inspired by someone that I had just met hours before. I’ve watched it back a few times now and well up each and every time. Lorne, if you are reading this, every single one of those people who stood for you after your reading were mesmerized by what you did and I hope someday you will be able to take pride in that personal achievement.

I have included the video of Lorne’s presentation below. From now on, any time I feel guilty for having emotions or like I can’t do something, I will look at this video and remember that sometimes the best things in life come from stepping outside of my comfort zone.

The ER Doctor That Saved My Family and My Life

I don’t even remember his name, only the conversation we had in the white walled emergency room.

Dr: “You’ve been to the emerg a lot lately. What is it you think you have?”
Me: “I’ve been researching my latest symptoms and they closely resemble MS.”
Dr: “You don’t have MS. In fact, you don’t have anything that we can see and you’ve had almost every test we can give you.”
Me: “Well, something’s wrong with me!”
Dr: “Have you ever talked to a psychiatrist?”

This moment was my weakest point as a man. I sat in that emergency room, head in my hands, crying, reflecting on everything I had been through and the strain I had put on my family and every aspect of my life. The doctor was extremely respectful of my breakdown and referred me to the hospital’s psychiatry ward. This conversation and subsequent breakdown are the things that changed my life forever, in the best possible way.

I had been to the emergency room about 8 times that year and I had managed to keep the visits a secret from almost everyone. The routine was usually the same, I’d arrive at work, feel a small pain which I would turn into the absolute worst case scenario, panic my way to the emergency room, then wait 6 hours at the hospital only to be told I was fine and be home in time for dinner with nobody suspecting a thing. I kept it from everyone, including my wife, because I was embarrassed of how I was feeling and didn’t want to portray weakness in front of her or my newborn son.

I can only guess the strain I was putting on my wife during this time. I say ‘guess’ because when you are anxious and depressed, the only thing you think about is yourself and how lonely it is to be you. I barely got out of bed and was the opposite of a good father for most of the first year of my son’s life. The fact that my wife even stayed with me is a testament to her sense of love and forgiveness, and I’m grateful to have a second chance.

I had been to about 10 doctors in that year and while I received excellent treatment at every stop, none of them had suggested that it may be a mental issue until this one. As I sat in the waiting room for my first appointment with the psychiatrist, I remember telling myself over and over again, “You are not crazy, you are not crazy”, and as I looked around the room, I realized that the people there were just like me. I didn’t see any of the characters from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and neither were Annie Wilkes, Tyler Durden or Hannibal Lecter. Everyone there was living a regular, every day life just like I was and that instantly put me at ease.

Over the next few months, I happily attended all of my sessions and even started to make friends with my waiting room mates. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had dreamt it out to be and getting the help I needed at that moment is exactly what I needed to get my life back on track. This is sort of the Coles Notes version of my battle with anxiety but I thought it was important to share, especially for those who are suffering and don’t think there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am just one story and I know there are cases far worse than mine, but I faced it head on and came out the other side a better person.

I will probably never see that doctor again but the conversation he initiated that day saved my family and quite possibly my life. If any of what I am writing sounds familiar, please feel free to message me to ask questions and I would be happy to be an ear for you.

Today Is Mental Health Awareness Day; And So Is Tomorrow; And The Next Day

Baby Hands

I decided to take part in Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk day, yesterday. As part of my contribution, I shared something about myself that not very many people know about and had a very hard time hitting the “Publish” button. The response to that post has been overwhelming to say the least and I appreciated all the kind messages I received, both publicly and privately.

I went into the day not knowing how I felt about the corporate tag being attached to the concept of speaking out about mental health and I wasn’t alone. I saw a lot of discussion surrounding the issue, some reasonable and some just bashing for the sake of bashing, but I wanted to add my thoughts to the discussion. The reason I decided to share my story on this particular day was because I knew that I would be able to generate more discussion than if I posted it on any other day. It wasn’t about the page views; it was about starting a dialogue. And it worked.

For me, the day changed from a corporate marketing event to the real deal when I received this comment from a complete stranger, “After reading your story I now feel that there may be light at the end of this and it’s as easy as talking to your family doctor. Thank you again”. It may not be as easy as going to a family doctor but it’s a better start than doing nothing. Either way, the thought of someone reacting to something I had written in that way, was eye opening.

That comment made me realize that there are so many people suffering in silence and that inspired me to reach out even further. So, I put out an offer for people to email me if they needed to talk, not thinking anyone would actually do it, and to my surprise I received two emails during the day. I read the emails, without judgment, and welcomed them to write me anytime they wanted. I don’t know if it helped them to send me their story but it certainly couldn’t have hurt. I also made sure to point out that I am not even close to “professional” help.

I want to stop here for a minute because as I write this, I can’t help but feel like this is sounding a lot like a “Look at me!” post, and I want to assure you that it is not. A lot of things have changed about me since I have been blogging and the biggest one is the realization that this voice I have created is useless if it is not used to do some good. It also means that if there needs to be a corporate tag attached to an event to get people talking, then so be it. If we’re being completely honest, fear of failure and crickets is why I wouldn’t have started a movement like this by myself, so I’m glad a corporation took the initiative. Maybe I’ll get there someday.

All that said; my offer still stands. If you are having a rough go and need to just share your story with anybody, please feel free to email me at chris@canadiandad.com and I will gladly lend an ear. I am no counselor, so I can’t offer anything but an ear but maybe it’s a start. You don’t have to suffer alone, please remember that.

I guess the main thing I learned by participating yesterday is that we need to be supportive of each other. Everybody has a story to tell and it’s not always easy for them to share it. Yesterday was a great start. I saw so many posts on blogs, Facebook and Twitter, of people sharing their struggles with anxiety and depression, and I hope we can keep the conversation going outside of just that one day. It’s an important discussion and one that deserves a high amount of attention.

Until we meet again, thanks for listening!

The Day the Darkness Crept In

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Edited May 15th: The Dad blogging community recently learned that one of our compatriots, Marc Block from Divided Dad, had succumbed to depression and taken his own life. Now, a number of Dad bloggers have decided to work together to share our stories and hopefully raise awareness about the effects of mental illness and to let others know that it’s okay to ask for help. My story is below and I have linked the other bloggers stories at the end. Thanks.

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It’s hard to pinpoint the exact day it began. The trigger was easy to decipher. It wasn’t long after my father had passed away that I started experiencing the symptoms. Nagging pains, fatigue and a lot of tears quickly became a part of my daily regimen. I was excellent at hiding it, rarely breaking down in front of even my wife, if at all.

When my father passed suddenly after an ATV accident, I felt like my entire world had been stripped from me. Instead of dealing with the grief and pain in the way I imagine most people do, I decided to take on the role of super strong male provider guy, so I wouldn’t have time to stop and think about what had happened. The strategy worked for a while, and then things started to go horribly wrong.

I remember the first trip to the emergency room like it was yesterday. I had shot out of bed with a pain in my chest and shortness of breath and decided not to take any chances. You can imagine my surprise when the doctor’s said everything was fine. The events that followed this visit are something that I will never forget. I must have visited the emergency room about 12 more times that year, along with 10 more trips to my family doctor, 4 specialists and 3 CT scans. Every trip was more discouraging than the next as I was getting no answers and was quickly becoming the poster child for hypochondria.

My lowest point was while we were living at my in-law’s house, with our new baby, while waiting for our new house to be built. I can distinctly remember the feeling of emptiness that was sweeping its way throughout my body. I would try to put on a face for everyone but there came a point where I just didn’t care anymore. There were many sleepless nights, hours wasted just lying on the couch and more trips to the emergency room. I wasn’t exactly an absentee father but I definitely left my wife high and dry, and I certainly wasn’t feeling whatever it was I was supposed to be feeling about fatherhood. I’ve never felt so emasculated and useless in my entire life. These were the hardest days and the ones I regret most when looking back on my son’s first year.

My last trip to the emergency room provided the awakening I had been searching for. I had been thinking a lot about how much better off my family would be without me and my problems in the picture. That’s not to say I ever thought about harming myself, because I didn’t. I just knew how hard I was making things for my family and wondered if things would be better without me, if that makes any sense. The doctor in the ER was sympathetic and asked what I thought was wrong with me. This week, for no valid reason, I believed I had Multiple Sclerosis. He ran some tests and quickly dismissed my fear; and then he saved my life.

He asked if I’d ever been to a psychiatrist, to which I responded, “No way”. You see, I wasn’t crazy and only crazy people needed to see a psychiatrist; or at least that’s what I thought. The doctor insisted by explaining that he thought I had an anxiety disorder and that it could help. To my surprise, it only took a couple visits for me to start understanding why I experiencing all of these symptoms. By the time four months had gone by, I felt like a new man and was well on my way to recovery.

My last session with the psychiatrist was about 3 years ago and I have been almost symptom free ever since. Sure, there are times when I feel the anxiety building, but I am now equipped with the tools to deal with those instances. My point in sharing this story is to let you know that suffering in silence does nothing but make things worse for you and everyone around you. Reaching out for help doesn’t make you less of a person and in fact can only make you stronger, in my opinion. Don’t let the darkness take over, ask for help, you’ll be glad you did.

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Krazy Dad Memoir – Do Not Go Into That Good Night

Dad of Divas – The Time Is Now To Ask For Help

Clark Kent’s Lunchbox- Dump Truck Full of Dead Babies

Dads Who Change Diapers – When the World Goes Numb

Dad’s a Lawyer – Words From the Wife

The Daddy Files – Come Back to Me

Dads Round Table – Strategies to Fight Depression

Be a Little Weird – Recognizing Depression in Men for What It Really Is

The Mo Slowly Grows; But The Cause Is The Key #Movember

With Movember season in full swing, this will be my first weekly update on how the Mo Grows. More importantly, it’s a chance to talk a little more about why I’ve decided to Grow my Mo for this worthy cause and to give an update on how Team Canadian Dad 2.012 is doing in their efforts.

As much fun as growing a moustache for Movember can be, it is obviously not the primary objective. We are raising funds and awareness to support men’s health issues, specifically prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives. These are issues that need to be talked about on a more consistent basis and Movember is helping to get the conversation started. It was in reading some of the stats below, that you really start to take notice of the change that is needed in our mindsets:

* On average men die five to six years younger than women.
* Suicide rates are four times higher for men than women.
* More than five men die prematurely each hour from potentially preventable illnesses.

While Movember does encourage more men to actively participate in the management of their health, studies also show that a lot of men are still ignoring their issues, rather than seeking the opinion of a doctor. Please, don’t be afraid to see your doctor if you think something is a little off. There is nothing uncool or unmanly about going to a doctor’s office to get checked out.

My Story

This initiative hits home for me on a couple of levels. Both my father and cousin are cancer survivors and without the proper funding and awareness, things could have turned out lot different. As far as me personally, after my father passed away from a vehicle accident, I went through a very dark period. For almost two years, I spent countless hours and many sleepless nights, thinking that I had every disease under the sun. I bounced from emergency rooms to specialists to my family doctor, until finally, after getting yet another negative result, one of the emergency room doctor’s referred me to a psychiatrist.

As you can imagine, the thought of needing to see a psychiatrist didn’t sit too well with me, but I went anyway. I’m not sure if it was my time with that doctor or just the realization that I was letting my family down, but I snapped out of my funk and haven’t looked back since. That’s not to say I don’t go get checked out when I feel a bit off, but I don’t let the negative thoughts creep into my head and take over my world anymore.

How You Can Help

We’re not growing these Mo’s for nothing! If you’re interested in helping out, I encourage you to visit our team page at Canadian Dad 2.012 and please make a small donation. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, just whatever you can spare for this great initiative. Our team has been working very hard and we have already raised over $3000 in 7 days, so I’m excited to see where we can take this.

Furthermore, if you have a business and would like to make a corporate donation, I am offering a sidebar ad in my Movember Supporters section (until Dec 31st), as well as mentions in my upcoming Movember posts. We already have two wonderful sponsors in Tag Along Toys and Play It Again Sports Ottawa and I couldn’t be happier to have them on board!

Please feel free to contact me via email with any further questions and as always, Thank You so much for your time and donations! You are the driving force in the battle to change the face of men’s health!

Cheers!

My Zip Lining Adventure: Evidently Fear is Not a Factor For Me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was fortunate enough to have been asked by Ford Canada to take part in their “Escape For A Day” adventure. The day included lunch and dinner, the chance to drive on a closed, professional driving course and a zip lining adventure at Lafleche Adventure Cave and Aerial Park.

One problem. I am terrified of heights! A trait I’m sure can be traced back to my mother, who avoids flying like the plague.

Looking back on how amazing the experience was, I thought about how I must have been perceived in the moments leading up to the big moment where I stepped off the ledge and hung suspended over the vast expanse of nothingness beneath my feet.

I have never been a very adventurous person, so the thought of hurling myself off a platform while hanging by a couple of clips wasn’t really sitting in my stomach very well. Up until this moment, one of the most dangerous things I had done was riding the banana boat with my friends in the Dominican Republic. There was also the time I jumped off the roof of my house into our pool but I was much younger and dumber back then.

I spent the better part of the morning with a gut wrenching knot in my stomach, worrying about whether I’d be able to pull it off or not. When the dark clouds began to form and the rain started pouring down, I breathed a great big sigh of relief. There was no way they would allow people to zip line in the rain. It would be far too dangerous. Better yet, now I don’t have to make a tough decision in front of all my blogging peers, 99% of which were women. My manliness would remain intact on a technicality!

Wrong!

We were immediately ushered into our meeting room and asked whether we’d like to do Zip Lining or Cave Exploration. Now the spotlight was on me and I had no idea what to do. My fear was evident and hopefully the people in the room that day know that I was 100% in my fear. There was zero attention seeking going on in that moment, my family was literally flashing before my eyes as I contemplated taking the leap.

The fear had just about taken over when the “zipping instructor” ( I don’t know what they’re called…) said that if I was scared, she would tandem zip with me. For some reason this made me feel more comfortable and I started getting suited up to zip! Looking back, I have no idea how the idea of tandem zipping would have made any difference in my fear of plunging to my death.

So I gathered up all my courage, kissed the picture of my family and marched up the mountain. Once I got there, I realized that there was nothing manly about tandem zipping so I decided to go at it alone. Realizing the longer I stood there the worse my anxiety would get, I decided to volunteer to go 2nd (going first is highly overrated!).

The only other pic that proves I did it, haha! Photo by @Tricia_Duggan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a miniature anxiety attack, I spent the longest 30 seconds of my life staring at the edge of the platform before gently gliding off through the trees. In my head, I screamed like I was in a horror movie. To the crowd, I was smiling as if I’d done it a million times before. Pure exhilirating fear. That’s how I would best describe my first run.

By the time I had arrived at run 2, I was a seasoned pro and couldn’t wait to get on the line. Again, I have no idea why my brain felt safe all of a sudden, nothing had changed and the worst case scenario was still a 50 foot free fall with no parachute or water beneath me. Still, I threw out some hotdog moves and even pulled off a Shaka Brah although no one was there to see it.

I don’t know if there is a message in here for people. As an anxiety ridden person myself, I always scoff at the idea that you can do anything you put your mind to, especially when you don’t control the environment surrounding you. There’s always a downside or worst case scenario to things but I’m so happy that I chose to go with the upside of trying this experience out. I also don’t feel like a changed man. It’s just nice to know that fears can be conquered and that being scared of something doesn’t mean it is not worth trying.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go and chain myself to my desk!

Cheers!!

PS – I want to say a huge thanks to the people at Ford Canada for allowing me to take part in this experience. It was one of those once in a lifetime things for me and I’ll never forget it. I also want to thank all the incredible local bloggers I met that day. As a new blogger, I was starstruck throughout most of it and you all made me feel like one of the group from the get go. It was very much appreciated and a testament to the quality of people in our community.