As I write this, I watch a six day old life discover the world around her with eyes wide, darting around the room. Too young to understand the amount of love that exists for her or the limitless paths to her own fulfilment and happiness. But also too young to have experienced any disappointments, to have made any mistakes, to have any worries in the world.
I'm excited to get to know her as we grow together. I wonder what her favorite color will be or if she'll be scared of spiders just like her mom. The possibilities fill me with a sublime joy that didn't exist even a week ago.
At the same time, I know that she will experience disappointments. She will make mistakes. She will have worries. Her heart will break. Life will, at times, be hard. And maybe for the first time in my own life, I understand that those rough patches are ok.
As a man, and her father, I have a duty to her and to her mother. I will do the best I can to protect her from all of the bad things, but realistically I understand that life is tough and those bad things will happen regardless. She will stumble at times and she may even fall.
My job won't be to stop those things from happening. None of us can do that. My job will be to let her know that during those times, even though it may not seem like it, there will be light again. It is possible to come out on the other side. My job will be to let her know that sometimes, it's ok to not be ok.
My job will be to be proud of her as long as she's proud of herself, and to help her find the courage to start again if she's not.
Mostly though, my job will be to take care of myself so that I can effectively care for her and her mother. That sounds easy enough, but not too long ago, my own disappointments, mistakes, worries and broken heart sent me spiralling into a dark place and I attempted suicide.
It wasn't an act of selfishness, or an easy way out, or a way to avoid dealing with the problems that an undiagnosed mental illness had caused. I heard all of those things from people I thought were my friends, but it was more complicated than that.
It was the mental illness itself that was causing my brain to send messages that I would be better off dead. It's not something I'm proud of, but like any symptom of any illness, it's a fact of life.
Thankfully, my attempt failed. And I got the help I so desperately needed.
I look at this little girl, and tears begin to well up as I think of how I was seconds away from not being here for any of this. To love her. To love her mother. To finally love myself.
A baby makes you reflect on your life and makes you think about what it actually takes to be a man and a father. This little girl and her mother are reason enough to live, but unfortunately it's not that black and white when you're contending with a mental illness. And so, I proactively continue to seek help. Therapy, medication, support groups, whatever it takes.
My suicide attempt wasn't a choice, it was the result of a symptom of mental illness known as suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation causes you to have constant and involuntary thoughts of ending your life. And it kills men every single day who are too ashamed to get help because of the stigma surrounding getting help.
I am keenly aware that if I stop taking my meds or stop being honest with my partner, or my therapist, or myself, that there's a good possibility those thoughts can come back. And if they do, I might not be as lucky the next time That realization outweighs the stigma in my own life, but it took me a long time to get here.
Will power doesn't override mental illness, no matter what people who haven't experienced it think. My own experience has been tough, but it has taught me what being a man truly means.
Being a man isn't about being macho or talking yourself into believing that you'll get better without intervention. Being a man means being strong enough to ask for help when you need it. Being a man means understanding that vulnerability is actually easier than silently suffering. Being a man means doing the things you need to do to be there for the people who need you in their lives.
As a society, we need to do a better job of applauding men when they seek help. We need to celebrate them when they take steps to lead better and more productive lives rather than living in fear and their own personal hell. When we don't, we lose lives that could've have been saved.
I know - my life was almost one of them.
What a inspiringly brilliant story from Chris. Does it ring any bells with you? How has your experience as a Dad affected your mental state? Do you have tips you can share with our community. Let us know in the comments below.