Why I Hated My Little Girl: A Father’s Depression
I held my daughter’s fragile, four-week-old body at arm’s length, as she writhed uncontrollably and screamed in pain. I looked at her and said, "I hate you. Why don't you just die?"
It’s a vivid memory of this ‘un-love’ that I was feeling, but it’s just one of many and it wasn’t the worst. These feelings persisted for a long time.
A Difficult Early Life
Annie was quite unwell for the first few months of her life. She was so unwell that she wasn't feeding. She was classified as having a 'Failure to Thrive', which seemed to us quite a serious judgement to be cast on one so young. Apparently, this classification wasn't uncommon, and with feeding routines and regular medical reviews it could easily be reversed. But whilst it never got worse, it didn't get any better either.
Following minor surgery on her frenulum, further tests indicated she also had reflux and a dairy intolerance. She needed to have three different medicines several times a day just to keep the bottles of lactose-free milk down. Her weight slowly improved, but it was, and still is, hard work.
Suffering in Silence
My wife and I were both struggling, but she had no idea how much it was affecting me. I was telling everybody that I was fine, but the people closest to me knew I wasn't. They suggested I get help, but I thought that would be admitting defeat; surely, I could handle this by myself.
When I did tentatively raise the subject of my ‘not coping’ with close friends, it would often result in a nonchalant disregard from them and from me. The tangible effects of my mental state were easy to dismiss, to laugh off, or to put down to ‘needing more sleep’. So, I chose to keep my feelings to myself.
I was scared of how I felt, but also incredibly guilty. My wife had a terrible pregnancy suffering from both gestational diabetes and hyperemesis, as well as the usual physical and mental pressures a new mother goes through. How did I have any right to feel angry about this? Nina had far more right than me to vent her feelings. All I had to do was to be there, right?
At the time, I knew I was suffering, but I didn’t realise how unhappy I really was. It was our first child, so I had no benchmark to measure my wellbeing against. Like a British winter, the depression drifted in gradually without me really knowing it had arrived. This new reality of unhappiness became the ‘new normal’ and I continued to suffer it alone and unobserved. Only with hindsight can I see just how miserable I had become and how miserable my family must have been.
Anger seemed to be the only release my misery would allow. I was angry that this little being had changed my life. I blamed it for taking away my sleep, my social life and all the other ‘good things’ I had before parenthood. She made my life harder than it needed to be, by relying on me. How dare she?
She wanted more from me than I was able to give. I did the mechanical things of being a parent – does she need changing? No. Milk? No. Need winding? No. Needs a nap? No. What more does she want?! Through the depression I just couldn’t see that all she wanted was love, and it was the one thing I couldn’t muster. Fury was far easier to manifest.
Thankfully, it wasn’t directed at my family. I seethed with hate and loathing at the world – at everyone and no one. A girl in a Volkswagen incurred my road-rage. A work colleague succumbed to my misspelling stresses. And two men on the underground reeled from my rush hour rant. So my wrath was out there in public, but these were strangers, so my secret fury was still a clandestine thing. I was like Jekyll and Hyde, except that Hyde was the reality and the meek Jekyll was the masquerade. But the charade wouldn’t last, and my true nature was soon exposed.
I was up early one morning. Annie was crying as usual and wouldn’t calm down. I tried all that I could think of, and the frustration and desperation soon bubbled over into burning anger. I unceremoniously dropped Annie onto the sofa and stood staring at her, seething. I couldn’t bear to look at her screaming, pained expression. It spoke of failure and my inability to parent. So, I covered her with a muslin, and turned my back on her. I couldn’t face how I was feeling, so I couldn’t face her. I stood there in the centre of the room, staring at the television, as she wailed unheeded behind me.
The anger welled inside me with every anguished cry that sliced through me. I was about to lose it. I whirled round and saw my wife in the doorway. Her look of horror no doubt reflected the monstrous look on my face. My mask had slipped and now my wife could really see the man she lived with. The rage turned to ice in my veins and I burst into tears.
The sorrow and guilt continued to pour out of me, and the next day I was still crying. Thank God my wife came to check on us when she did
The Road to Bettersville
My wife and I put a plan in to place. She would focus on the baby, while I would concentrate on getting better. It started with a visit to the doctor and answering some intimate questions: Yes, I was miserable. Yes, I had thought about hurting my baby. Yes, I had thought about hurting myself. I was prescribed anti-depressants.
I wasn't convinced the medication would work and I was concerned about the implications of taking antidepressants. I tend to avoid medication when I’m ill unless it’s really necessary, and I couldn’t shake the stigma attached to taking ‘psycho-drugs’. But I had to do something, to change, and this was the first step.
I was sceptical at first but could see my mood would decline if I missed a dose or two. The drugs were undeniably helping. I started to feel as though things might begin to get better. I continued with the plan and sought out some professional help. My employer offered a counselling service, and through that I found a counsellor and online hypnotherapist. I signed up to both, one after the other.
The talking really helped. Being honest as you explore your feelings is incredibly cathartic. You say things out loud you never have before and it has the power to heal. My relationships at home improved dramatically and in areas that were unrelated, seemingly, to the initial problem.
But my problems weren’t solved, and the old anger would return on occasion and threaten to wreck everything. I lost it over Annie making a mess at the breakfast table, and my wife said she wanted to leave. That stopped me in my tracks. This was real, and I had caused it. I cried there at the table, and then we spoke about all that had gone on before. I mostly listened and started to understand her perspective. Thankfully, she didn’t leave.
My journey through recovery continues. It’s been nearly a year now and I’m off the meds and (for the most part) in control. I started a diary of my feelings. Looking at it now I can see that on bad days I was losing my temper five times an hour. It’s much better now. I feel strong enough to write this stuff down for you, but that doesn’t mean I’m not terrified of what this may do.
I'm scared that the people I care about will read this and judge me. I'm scared my relationships with them will somehow be permanently altered. I'm scared that my daughter will one day read this and ask me 'how could you have done that to me Daddy?'. But I'm most of all scared that I've done irrevocable, physiological damage to a little girl that will always be dependent on me.
But I know that by saying it out loud, just as my past-self understood, I can convert my easily-dismissed, internal monologuing into concrete statements about my feelings. Statements that are real and have real consequences, and in this instance, hopefully ones that lead to healing for all of us.
How's that for a sense of honesty? And they say men don't open up! All our respect for Simon being so open about his feelings. Do you recognise the feelings Simon talks about? How did you manage them? Let us know in the comments below.
You can keep up-to-date with Simon on Twitter, where he's @themeeko