I was generally happy after the birth of both my children. But deep underneath, once the initial euphoria, adrenalin and novelty had worn off there was something niggling away deep inside my subconscious.
As a father there are so many contradictory emotions. Part of the daily battle is to get the space to acknowledge those emotions.
For me, euphoria and sadness were emotional bedfellows for a long time after both births, but I am fairly confident that I was not suffering depression. I am fairly sure this was more about a reaction to change
Whether you are driving a new car, starting a new job, taking an unfamiliar bus route or doing something as simple as cooking a new recipe, change can often feel uncomfortable at first.
The unfamiliar requires us to adapt to a new reality, and adaptation requires a learning phase. And learning often pushes us out of our comfort zone and causes us to feel uncomfortable.
Becoming a father was the ultimate change for me – a head first plunge into the unfamiliar, requiring a massive learning curve and huge adaptation. I was (and arguably still am) way out of my comfort zone.
This process of personal, mental and emotional growth is bound to feel painful because change hurts.
But I wanted to know WHY it was hurting; and more importantly, why these contradictory emotions of euphoria and sadness persisted. The birth of a child is a cause for celebration. Surely it should be all about the euphoria?
I was cycling to work one day. It was one of my rare mornings without children. I was enjoying the cycle ride. I was enjoying the feeling of the wind on my face, the space, the liberty. I was enjoying the exercise.
I was enjoying taking time to look at the blossom, the lush green tide of spring and the milky warmth of the May sun on my face. I was being mindful, connected and centred; for once focussing on myself and MY needs.
Then it hit me. I had a moment of utter clarity so powerful that I actually pulled on my brakes and stopped my bike.
My subconscious had been screaming out, but I had not heard it. It had been jumping up and down, clamouring for attention but I had not heard it over the noise, confusion and chaos of fatherhood. I had not checked in, I had not interrogated my emotions.
Since becoming a father I had not realised something. And there it was.
I had lost myself.
So THIS was why when I became a father and had gained something so valuable, so precious and so priceless, that I STILL had this feeling that I had also lost something.
I had lost myself.
I had lost my old lifestyle.
I had lost the old me.
I began to come to terms with this realisation. I began to come to terms with what was effectively a death; the death of my old lifestyle and the death of the old me.
As a father I was no longer able to act on a whim and moments of spontaneity. I was no longer flexible. I could no longer fulfil many of my responsibilities at work. I was no longer able to get onto a plane at a moment’s notice.
I was no longer a responsive or proactive friend. I was no longer a supportive or present son. I was a useless brother and nephew.
I was no longer playing football. I was not keeping fit. I was no longer part of a thriving social scene. I no longer had the bandwidth to stay abreast of current affairs, music, theatre or cinema……..the list goes on.
I could no longer prioritise any of this. I could no longer pursue all of these elements that had made up my pre-fatherhood life.
I was now utterly defined by the needs of my children.
As with any moment like this, the important thing was the realisation. Because once an issue or emotion is understood, it becomes easier to deal with.
By reflecting on the death of my old self, I could begin a process of mourning.
I still dislike having lost parts of my old self;
The old me who used to stay fit and healthy playing soccer three times a week;
The old me who used to cycle everywhere;
The old me who used to go running;
The old me who always had time for people;
The old me who was in touch with current affairs.
The old me who used to be so spontaneous and carefree;
The old me who used to be an excellent friend, son, husband and brother.
But I was able to mourn the passing of my old self, and eventually set time aside to focus on more positive thoughts; to begin to celebrate everything great about my new role as a father.
In truth it has taken a lot of time for my own expectations, and those of others close to me, to adjust to this new reality – the reality of fatherhood.
I feel much happier now. The niggling sadness is still there but it is no longer such a strong voice inside of me. It has been identified for what it is.
And as a result it has become easier to rationalise, to instead look at all that is good about being a father and all the infinite variables of joy that come with the role and to be able to embrace the positive changes;
The wonder that is every new day;
The world that is viewed through the beautifully naïve eyes of a toddler;
The pure comedy that comes with listening to a child grasp a new language;
The change in my mindset to one that is more open, patient, loving and caring.
The growth of the desire to nurture that has risen like a spring sap in my soul.
To look into the beautiful eyes of my children and feel a connection so profound and so strong; to know that they are of me.
And while the old me has gone, I think there is now a new, better me. I can now embrace and positively rejoice in the fact that I AM defined by my children. This is a good place to be.
This is a place where I can both mourn the death of me, whilst celebrating the birth of us.