Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dads and Depression

I would like to preface this post with: It has taken me a long time to finally write this post. It has been stirring in my mind for many years, and I feel like it is time to get it out there. 

Men are different from women.

Duh. You don't need to read Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, a book from a wholly unqualified pundit, in order to know the obvious.

When you're married, though, you really learn how different you are. Even if you grew up with brothers (that just gave you an advantage), you will learn that men are definitely on a different plane.

My husband and I are soul mates and often think the same. It's a lot of fun to hold your thoughts, but then share them and find out the other person had the exact same thought- even word for word. We generally feel the same thing or get the same vibe, have the same reaction, and like and dislike the same things- usually. But still, he is glaringly different than I am sometimes, and I can see the "man" in him. (Or "boy", you know, sometimes.)

I can list out things, but you totally already know what I mean. They process differently. They have different emotions, usually. They think their own way...which can also just describe the differences from person to person, sans gender, but it's just glaringly apparent in marriage.

So, why, then, do we, as women, expect them to do the same things when confronted with divorce, the loss of their children through court or parental alienation, or parenting?

Really think about that, please.

Think of the things a mom/woman does when confronted with the same situations. Is it different? Does she respond differently?

Yes. And there's plenty of court data to prove it, if you want to dig (as most courts and states don't keep fantastic data, but when a grad student chooses to hunt it down, they succeed in proving the same things over and over).

Let's explore some findings from various courts around the country:

  • Women file for divorce. The man may have asked for it, the man could have caused it, but the woman takes the legal action and first steps.
  • Women file restraining orders. Men rarely do. (Although domestic violence perpetuation is 50/50 by gender.)
  • Women file for full custody. Men rarely do (but not because they don't want it. They are often quoted and documented as stating, "I didn't think I could get it." or "The kids deserve to see their mother.")
  • Women get a lawyer. Men often don't and ask to negotiate out of court. Men are often unrepresented, choosing to represent themselves (mistake, but usually for financial reasons). Women's lawyers, as I have learned from first hand experience as well, often tell them that "he will pay" for all the court and legal fees. (Not always true...Depends on the court or judge...)
  • Women file first, whether for custody or other legal action. The parties may agree to go to court, but for some reason, the woman is the primary litigant in over 90% of most courts (who have data they can report). 
Ok, so there's some known legal, court, child custody, divorce related facts. I can send you some reports if you're interested. 

What about in terms of handling the split parenting dynamic? Parental Alienation and manipulation? Shared custody difficulties? 

Women, moms, seem to see it all as a fight. That they WILL WIN their children, "their babies," at ALL COSTS. There is a pure determination there, and that determination may have no consideration of the destructive toll it may take on anyone in its path.

Men may express this as well, but frankly, not usually. They usually don't realize until it's a bit too late that war was just waged against them. They may not realize until it's too late that they literally just lost their kids- physically and/or mentally. Hindsight always being clearer, they realize that they didn't have what it took to battle the unforeseen, and they really, really didn't see any of that comin'.

As a depressive, I can tell you that men go through stages, addressed in a number of books for men dealing with divorce, that mirror a depressive's. Yes, women go through depression after a divorce as well, but men go through it differently. Men experience depression differently than you do. Done. End. It's just true. Men are under-diagnosed as depressives or experiencing depression because they: 1) Don't recognize it, 2) Don't seek help, and 3) WE don't recognize male depression EITHER.

The men in our lives also don't just go through depression around the period of the divorce. They likely go through it prior to, during, and following court battles or realization of PAS. And the depression continues as they realize more and more that they are losing their children ways beyond physical time.

Do you really know what depression is? Most people don't. As a depressive, I know that it's likely that you don't actually understand it unless you're diagnosed yourself. And even if you are close to someone who is a depressive, it doesn't mean that you "get it." Many people have tried to help me with depression, and did not succeed. Part of their problem was "trying to help" me. Usually their beliefs, and approach, were wrong.

So, let's move forward with assuming you don't know everything about severe depression.

Real depression, or severe depression, is not just sadness over loss. There's temporary depression, something one would experience after a bad life event, like job loss, marriage loss, or the loss of a loved one. Most people come out of it. And then there's serious depression, where you don't come out of it. Real depression involves pure hopelessness.

Pure hoplessness? Consider this for a second. What does it mean? That is the key to understanding depression.

The best way to describe it for a contemporary audience is through the Harry Potter Dementors. Yes, I just did that. Yes, the Dementors. They describe and embody pure loss, hopelessness. Described in the book as such, they were physical embodiments of depression. It overcomes you. You cannot think normally. You cannot see the possible hope of the future, the possible positive outcomes, or understand what someone means by, "It will work out!" (The worst? "Cheer up!" Omg. Top of the Worst-Things-To-Say-To-A-Depressive list!)

Men may act differently than a women when depressed (not always, but often), but it is still real and still a depression. We have similar symptoms, but commonly show them differently. And most of all, women identify and express, men-do-not. They are not taught to do so like we are, and they are also not necessarily encouraged to do so through the entire course of their lives.

So now, let's examine how they're different in action regarding child custody, as well.

A man, going through a depression, is likely to succumb easily to pressures due to hopelessness. If you have no hope that anything will work out, you let go. You say "sure" and you let your ex take way more than she really should, despite the lack of honest justification. You may love your kids, but you feel so much loss and pressure and, well, hopelessness, that you just can't imagine doing anything about it or having the power or energy to fight. (A major symptom of a depressive is lack of energy, drive, motivation, etc.) You also can be easily convinced, in this state, that you are useless and unnecessary as a father, as the negative messages being served to you in court papers and other such avenues (the kids, for instance) are overwhelming and may actually seep in and circle around in your thoughts day and night.

When you're in a severe depression, you do not see your worth. You do not see how you are of any use. You convince yourself that maybe your ex does deserve the kids. Maybe you are a useless father. Maybe you are so stupid that you shouldn't have a right to see your kids. You feel like maybe you shouldn't exist. Maybe you should just leave them be. Maybe you are bad for your own kids......(even though you've never done anything to hurt them, ever, but they are convinced of's the point?)

This thought process just illustrated can effect any type of man going through this, from CEO to laborer. Depression brings down anyone to that level, and it is very hard to get it off your back. It takes time to build up from and out of. It's like drowning. 

People often judge men for their decisions regarding their children. They think it is wrong that a man didn't "fight" for his kids as horribly... uh, I mean, "strongly"... as the mom did. They judge him for losing custody. They think he deserved it, must have been terrible or abusive, was lazy, or just didn't love his children enough to fight for his kids.


That isn't what happened. You're coming from your perspective and not that of a man who has gone through what he has gone through and been convinced, often through verbal and emotional abuse, that he is useless.

When in battle against a mother, be proud of any action the dad took to try to maintain contact with his children. Until you've been in the fight from a father's side, against an abusive, raging, or just plain super angry mom, you won't know how freaking lovely it would be to simply give up- and how that often seems to be the only option. It takes an INSANE amount of willpower for a man to go up against the insanely jealous, evil, hateful, and possessive woman- no matter how much integrity and love he has. (Think about it. A woman's wrath...Yeah. Admit it. We know how bad it is, and we know how to employ it.)

And the hardest period for a Dad who has lost most of the custody of his kids? When another man, who has shown himself to not be a "fit" (legally) parent has taken over and starts to purposefully replace his position. That- that- is the worst. That is when men definitely go through depressions, because it is true powerlessness. It is a true loss, to watch as your kids are with someone defined by court as being unfit to parent his own children. So not only has "orignal dad" lost his children, but now he is losing them in other ways, and worried constantly. Not only was he still a father before, worrying about his children when they weren't physically with him, but now he has this added level of fear and concern on top of it, while watching his kids be (usually) forced to consider "new dad" as more important and meaningful, considering the loss of pure time & presence (custody) of "original dad."

It is unfortunate that the courts, mediators, and women in general cannot understand this dynamic of a father who has lost his children. I would like to see the awareness and understanding increase, as men are not unfeeling beings, lacking emotion. Especially when it comes to their own offspring. Men are not all cold and heartless about their children. Men do not all leave their children, and that over-assumed statistic is decreasing quickly. Men are increasingly voicing their right to see their children, when they've done nothing wrong to deserve it.

And also, men may SEEM cold and unfeeling when going through all of this, when they've had to save their sanity and give up in order to not lose their jobs. (I have to honestly say that men are a little better at prioritizing...I'm much more likely to be a mess at work over something, daily, than my husband will ever be. Emotions do not overtake his workday, because other people depend on him. I, on the other hand, can fall apart...Oo, I just realized a double standard!) Men, when preserving themselves, sometimes shut off or shut down, as you've likely witnessed. It is a mental and physical reaction to the emotional turmoil and stress put on them, and they decide to maintain function on behalf of everyone (in order to keep that child support going and not endure more legal trouble).

We also have a very vast tendency to misunderstand a man's reaction. Why is it OK for a women to yell and scream hysterically, throwing crap all over the place, but it is too much for a man to hit a wall? Women and men express emotions, and both express them appropriately and inappropriately. Domestic violence disputes are 50% caused, initiated, and perpetuated by both sexes. I would like to see an actual depiction of abuse as well, but men underreport abuse from their wives and domestic partners. (They also tend to not see it as abuse, while if the same actions were taken man to woman, it would be absolutely immediately thrown into the "abuse" category.)

There's obviously a lot to say here, a lot I've realized and thought about over the years. I would like to see a societal change, and I'm assuming this blog is not enough. I don't also believe that the majority of therapists even understand this dynamic.

If you have a job for me in which I can directly attack these widespread misconceptions on behalf of men, please let me know. ;-p I'd be happy to elaborate more.

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