Sad Dad #MHAW16 – Guest Post

My name is Luke. I am married to Kelly and we have 2 sons, Reuben (3.5 years old) and Judah (6 months old).

I have depression.

I don’t remember not having depression or something resembling it. One of my earliest memories is being very small (maybe 4 or 5) and hitting my head against a wall because I was frustrated with myself. When I was around 9 or 10  I wrote a letter explaining why the world would be a better place without me in it.

My school handed the letter to my mum, it was devastating for her.

The rhythm of depression, low self-esteem and struggle carried on for years. The worse I felt about myself the deeper my depression became. The deeper the depression the more I felt I needed to earn the right to be me, to be loved, to live my life.

There were occasional highs, but largely there were devastating lows.

In January 2012 I learnt that I was going to become a dad. I was so excited; being a father was all I had ever wanted. I was also terrified; what if my son was like me? What if he had the maddening frustration, the sense of despair, the dark thoughts and shadowy corners in his mind? What if he one day decides that the world is a better place without him in it?

I had 2 options, either to continue in my current pattern, or to attempt to break free of it. Option 1 wasn’t really an option so I explored option 2.

I returned to frequent exercise, I took on a more disciplined sleep routine, and I started taking vitamin D supplements. All of these things were useful and beneficial but there was something more fundamental missing.

I started meeting with a lecturer at my university. We talked and explored a lot of issues. He highlighted things to me that either I had known but not addressed or that I had simply never thought through. We prayed together and he gave me homework to challenge myself.

In the midst of this I was also working toward a research masters, writing about fatherhood in Matthew’s gospel. The image of fatherhood I found in Matthew was one whose child had walked away from him and who was desperately calling him to come back. The more I read and prayed and listened, the more I realised that God was calling me too. He was calling me because I did not yet see myself how he saw me.

I had been labouring under the impression that I needed to do things to be worthy of love. I had rejected works of righteousness, I knew I was saved by grace, but I had a sense of needing to earn God’s love or pay back what I owed after I was saved. Obviously it was a debt I could never repay and so I was working hard to fill a cup that was already full, frustrated that it was not getting filled. He already loved me. I simply needed to open my eyes and realise. That became a catalyst for recovery that has extended beyond my relationship with God into my other relationships and my self-esteem in other parts of my life.

All of that is easier said than done. One cannot simply choose not to be depressed, nor does the struggle with any mental illness illegitimate one’s faith. Rather, knowing God’s paternal love for me, armed with God’s armour, it is a battle I fight every single day.

Knowing God’s love has steadied me as a father myself.

I love my boys. Not because of anything they do, nor because of what they are like. I love them because they are. In everything I do with them I seek to be a reflection of God’s love, taking hold of the knowledge I have and feeding into their lives. Knowing the love of a perfect father I can be vulnerable with them, not hiding my depression from them but sharing with them the realities of life.

I have depression in the same way that a person who suffers with alcoholism might still call themselves an alcoholic, even if they have been sober for years. I know the dark that lurks inside my mind; I know what it is capable of. So I fill the spaces with all the light I can, knowing that if I am filled with light then the darkness must scurry to the corners. In doing so I hope too that Reuben and Judah will be filled with light and learn to pursue light themselves, no matter what darkness they encounter throughout their lives.

Luke Maxted is a Husband. Dad. Children and Families’ Worker at Chalfont St Peter Parish. Still figuring myself out. Twitter @LukeMaxted

 

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