2741ATHERhood, PART 7: Postpartum

by Jonathan Lyons on September 5, 2014

I haven’t written about 2741ATHERhood in a while. And I must admit, I’ve been hesitant to write what I am about to write. But now — in the wake of the tragic suicide of Robin Williams, who was suffering from debilitating depression, and as friends from all walks of my life express their own depression — now finally strikes me as a good time to write about 2741ATHERhood. I’ve been busy being a papa, a professor, a husband, and a writer. But here goes: I am coming out as someone who’s suffered mental illness. I can see no reason to treat mental illness any differently than physical illness or injury.

I was finally diagnosed with postpartum depression a year ago and, seriously, I would not wish that on anyone. (My primary-care physician informed me, upon diagnosis, that postpartum depression is actually prevalent among men. I really would have appreciated learning that before it struck.)

Our wee one is two and a half years old now. Life with a toddler  is a time commitment that leaves so-called full-time employment in the dust. But it’s also a blast.

He is an enthusiastic learner, already knows his alphabet, and has a prolific imagination. As a result of that last quality, we shared our home for a time with an imaginary turtle named Tomane, whose water and food we refreshed once a day. For a while, we also consumed prodigious amounts of imaginary chocolate cake and tossed invisible food across rooms to each other to catch in our mouths. We’re good at it. We never miss.

The kid is also crazy about sports.

Anyone who knows me must be wondering how I, of all people, ever arrived at the idea of giving my boy a football. I mean, it’s not like I have any idea how the game of football works.

Or how to throw one.

Or how to catch one.

But he has played with footballs as school, and very much wanted one, and so here we are. I, of all people, spend some afternoons tossing a football around with my boy. Who’d-a thunkit?

He’s crazy about Bollywood music and videos. When we put him to bed at night, he always asks us to play two Bollywood songs.

And we’ve realized that now, on some level, he’s always listening. He often repeats what one of us has just said, which has me making an effort to reduce how much I yell and swear at stupid, dangerous drivers when he’s in the car with me.

But on the whole? It’s magical. His love for the snow reopened our eyes to its beauty. And putting up the Christmas tree and decorations this year, with him involved, let us see the whole process with renewed wonder.

But back to my main thread: I never, ever thought I would experience mental illness. I made it through my undergraduate degree, paying my own way along the way, and thought I could overcome any hurdle through force of will. My mama raised three stoic, self-reliant boys.

But I have come to understand that sometimes people just need help. My depression — abated for a year now, thank the gods — was crippling. I didn’t identify it as depression, either. I just thought my life was taking a long, inexplicable nosedive. Depression didn’t happen to me; it struck other, weaker people.

And for a while, I contemplated ending it. I did not want to admit that I was suffering from mental illness, because that was ultimately an admission that I could not fix my problems through force of will. But some small shard of rationality that remained was able to grasp that considering suicide was not normal under my circumstances, and that, therefore, something must be broken. So I admitted what I was experiencing to my wife, and she took me to an emergency room for evaluation and admittance. I spent a few days as an inpatient, a few weeks after that in group outpatient meetings, got my brain chemistry back into balance, and — with my partner’s understanding and help — made my way out of the dismal abyss of debilitating depression.

And I’m never going back. I hope. I can’t afford to: I have an amazing wife, who suffered through all of this with me, and a genuinely amazing son.

Fall semester is upon us, and I love teaching. When I picked up my toddler from day care yesterday, he stopped at a stop sign, told me that the letters were S-T-O-P, and when I asked him what that spelled, he held up a hand in a Halt! gesture and said, “Stop!”

At two and a half. He amazes me. He’s certainly further along, educationally, than I was at that age.

Anyway, my reason for coming out as someone who has suffered mental illness is to say to friends, family, strangers, whoever: Recognize the problem. Get the help you need. Get through it and survive. You won’t regret it.

* * * *

Jonathan Lyons is a new 2741ATHER. He lives and teaches and writes strange things in Central Pennsylvania. His latest novel, Signal to Noise: A Novel Infused With Music, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and cool indie bookstores everywhere.

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