Synaptic Feedback

Prior to the fall of 2019, I was going through a sort of quarter-life crisis where I had no idea what to do with myself. We had been trying for children for over five years, living in a house we bought specifically to have children in six years prior, having been married seven years prior, and together about thirteen years prior. A lot of my QLC stemmed from asking myself “What the fuck have I done with all these years?” I was thirty-six, married, a homeowner, with a career. Most millennials are lucky to have one of those by my age, much to the dismay of our parents who seemed to have everything before twenty-two. Frankly, that might have been my fear, that I wasn’t doing it right compared to those before me. I often felt I should have done more with my twenties instead of dumb weeb shit and eating at Denny’s a lot. My lack of having any discernible social life in high school precipitated into spending those post-graduation years doing whatever the hell I wanted, especially after I moved away from my parents and began living in apartments in 2005 when I was twenty-two. I’ve always reveled in the sort of self-satisfaction I get from doing whatever I want, even being in relationships for most of the last twenty years. What I was confident enough in was that even if we were never to have kids, or choose not to adopt, we’d still be happy with ourselves, and each other.

To find out we were having a child that fall, and his birth in the summer of 2020, was truly something of a biblical blessing. Not being religiously inclined though left me somewhat in a conflicting range of emotions. Certainly, happiness and love spoke for most of those emotions holding him for the first time, but that first night home introduced fear and dread, the sort that all parents communicate to you when you say you’re having a child. The crying, the sleepless nights, the gripping anxiety watching him breath. I had spent much of the last seven months since we found out building myself up to the task, and sort of being nonchalantly dismissive of others’ musings. Not because they were wrong or didn’t know, but because I didn’t want the full weight of that anxiety to crush me before he was born. I didn’t want to be one of those parents that freaked out, or worse, a father that bails. I convinced myself that I could handle this and still be able to live my life the same as I always have, especially counter to those who say I should live my life a certain way.

The World of Warcraft quip “You are not prepared!” was probably a good summarization of those first few months. The depression and anxiety that accelerated under the stress of caring for an infant was visible on my face and audible in my voice. Adjusting to less sleep than I was accustom to, especially on the weekends, made me irritable and off-putting. That created issued with my wife, who was already battling her own post-childbirth hormonal issues and emotions. We were also in the middle of the COVID pandemic, which no one really understood at the beginning and the anxiety of trying to keep it from affecting our child as well as ourselves made us isolated and fearful. Early on, I remember being happy about working from home all of the time. It integrated with my more introverted nature, but honestly not having to drive and sit in traffic for a job that was done largely online and over the internet sold it for me. But as time went on I began to slowly understand why people cling to that separation of work and home. Having to constantly divide my attention between what I was doing for work and the needs of everything else around me, something I don’t really need to do at the office because those people know what they’re doing, began to slowly erode my patience over time. It got to a point where I found myself wanting to return to the office. I hated feeling like that, because it implies that I don’t want to be around my family, and that is furthest from the truth. But my train of thought and ability to execute tasks can only withstand so much before it crumbles.

What eventually tipped the scales for me emotionally and drove me to seek out a psychiatrist and therapist for the first time in my life is that my inability to articulate or describe my emotions or feelings during this critical time began to affect my job and my relationship. Because both of us were locked in cycles of varied emotional states, prone to defensiveness and accusing the other, serious conversations or discussions were virtually impossible. Added to that the fact that our child could only reliably sleep when he was in our room, we rarely had moments alone, physically, emotionally, or intimately. But where she had family and friends she could talk to and vent, I had no one of such I was reasonably close to for such. Part of that is my problem, I am not able or willing to engage in that sort of relationship or mutual understanding with many people, and it’s because I am afraid to open up like that to people. I have a long history of being manipulated and emotionally abused by people who were not interested in what I had to say or feel, or whom had clear narcissistic tendencies where anything I was uncomfortable with was an attack on their values or character. I never thought my wife was ever trying to be manipulative or abuse me in any way, but being the type of strong-willed person she is, she does display narcissistic tendencies occasionally. I would accuse her of deliberately gaslighting me, especially early on in his life where any emotional breakdown on my part, or my inability to always anticipate needs or situations, would be met with the implication that I don’t support her, or that I don’t want our child. The very notion that my struggling to adapt to something I previously thought would never happen, much less understanding the full gravity of having a newborn and what to do would somehow translate into such a thing astonished me. It made me feel physically ill, and seeking professional help was the only thing I knew to do because there was no one else I could trust, and I didn’t even trust them. I still don’t.

But even describing the things I just did, I don’t blame her at all, or even think she did any of those things out of deliberate malice. I know all of this is just as hard for her and even harder. I fully understand the lesser role I have in the creation of life, that has been reinforced throughout decades of education, and frankly, social propaganda. I take all of that in stride and with the appropriate level of concern that I am able to dedicate. For all it’s worth, I feel that I have done well enough this past year in caring for a newbotn-to-infant given zero experience with such before. I was never around my cousins when they were little, and I didn’t really have any friends having kids. I had my niece and nephew, but we only watched them a handful of times as toddlers and my wife did most of the work. I should have done more to be involved, but that was part of the previous depression and QLC. I didn’t think we were having kids, so I emotionally distanced myself from them, and it’s something I very much regret and intend to try and make up for in the future. I had a pretty close relationship with my cousins, and I want my kid(s) to as well. I want a lot for my kid(s) that I had or didn’t have, but I especially want them not to have the emotional deficits I have. I especially want them to be able to talk to me about things without prejudice, bias, or implications. I want to be able to always free myself of the role as a parent, because I am not always right, I am not the authority, and I am not the be-all-to-end-all. It’s difficult. We’re creatures who insist highly upon our own valueset and moral compass, and we’re willing to defend it vigorously. Children are smart, but they’re also na├»ve. They haven’t experienced what we have, and others don’t know how to fully articulate or explain what they’re trying to understand, and that requires a level of patience I’ve been trying to develop my whole life. I’ve wanted children not for the grandeur of genetic superiority, or social obligation, but to experience the world through their eyes, through their thoughts, and through their questions and curiosity. It’s the closest to a second life anyone gets in this world, but you have to be careful not to live vicariously through them. And death terrifies me. I’ve had legitimate anxiety attacks sitting in my son’s room in the dark trying to put him back to sleep knowing that some day, he or I will be gone before the other, preferably me, and that’s it. But this is something I cannot communicate with others, because others have different perceptions or thoughts about these sorts of things, and can be dismissive of mine. So I don’t. I hold a lot in, and there is really only one person I’ve ever trusted to be myself with, and that is my wife. Not having that support structure, for both valid and invalid reasons, this past year, has had a negative impact on me, and probably our relationship.

Can this be repaired? Will things get better? As much of a realist I am, I always skewer more optimistic than people credit me for. I do think we’ll figure out how to mend these wounds and move on. We have to. I love our family and I don’t want to lose any of this. I just need help, and it’s difficult to find that help. I’ve made a few improvements, but it’s difficult to fix over thirty years of self-inflicted bullshit. I know it sounds like I am being too hard on myself, but I am not a full-on narcissist, the sort who truly believe they are never at fault, that it’s someone or something else obstructing them from greatness, and that they can never be wrong. I always believe myself to be wrong first, but it also means I don’t stick up for myself when I need to the most. I have to do better because now I do have a child, and hopefully another, to do it for. I have to be there for them. Not as an idol or a hero, but as someone they trust. It’s always about trust.

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