Treading water and learning how to keep my head above water

A Runningdad makes a mental health toolkit

In life you can think you are doing okay until you are not. You think you understand mental health until it seems to slip through your fingers.

When my daughter was born in 2015 I no longer was able to keep my head above the waves of life. The transition and life changes brought about from becoming a dad for the first time that was tied to a job I did not like and weighed down even more with difficulties in my relationship pulled me under. My mental health deteriorated under the weight of everything and I started falling into an abyss.

Being a very active person and competitive runner for almost my entire life – I thought I could hurdle most life problems and assumed my mental health was okay. I ran, tried occasionally some meditation and thought I could handle most things. Heck I had been in the military, handled stressful air traffic control training and run ultramarathons. I was tough, or so I thought. I was sinking beneath the waves and did not know how to get back to the surface.

Everything fell apart at once and I did not know how to handle it. Stress, anxiety, guilt and depression dragged me down further. Being a guy, I felt guilty for complaining about anything about fatherhood. I had not other guy friends to really connect with and felt ashamed that I was not the ideal guy and father who could handle work, dad duties and keep up running – which had always acted as a stress relief.

I sank to the bottom. The world was dark, and I was as low in life as I had ever been. I no longer cared about much of anything and feebly made swimming motions in life but it was only for appearance. One day I decided to end it.

It was like I awoke from a nightmare. I had been at the bottom about to slip into the even darker abyss. I realized I needed help. Not everyone can snap the viscous cycle of depression that tells you that you are worthless, and nothing is worth doing. I snapped it long enough.

I tackled depression and my problem like a project. The approach suited my personality and I had a goal. I wanted to find a reason to live, a way to be happy and a way to get through the choppy waters of life. I wanted to be unsinkable, or at least find a way to bail when things got stormy.

I reached out to family and friends, I found a counsellor, I talked to my manager at work and took time off, I meditated, I wrote a journal, I kept running, I wrote and shared my story. I healed and slowly swam up where I had been lodged at the bottom. I began to build a toolkit that I could use to maintain my mental health and to pull out when things got really tough. The tools are things that I found worked for me and that I knew I could remember to do and call upon when needed.

It was a journey that lasted longer than I had hoped but I made it. I learned to swim again.

I have no intention of sinking. Life above the water for me is where I want to be and explore. Having my mental health toolkit handy can now help me fix any hole in my boat.