At-Home Mental Health
By Russell Clark
When I became a stay-at-home dad six years ago, my career ended just a few days after my first daughter was born, I had just moved back home to be closer to family and friends, and I ventured into this new role knowing nothing about what I was doing. When you’re at-home with a newborn who doesn’t talk and doesn’t move much but only communicates by screams and coos and dirty diapers, the loneliness sets in quickly. All my family and friends were busy with their own lives and I quickly learned this new job was up to me to figure out.
Not to mention, I was grieving the loss of my career and trying to navigate those emotions. I eventually buried those emotions for years because I was solely focused on caring for my daughter. She was my utmost joy carrying me through that time.
We enjoyed our trips to the grocery stores and the zoo. We found a “mommy and me” playtime at the recreation center where I felt really out of place as a dad with all the breastfeeding moms. I gravitated towards the grandmas so I didn’t appear to be flirting with the moms and the grandmas were the most comfortable talking to me. My daughter eventually became the social butterfly and she made it easier to break the ice with other parents.
But at first, the loneliness and depression were real. The quiet moments of the day were so quiet they were deafening. Then when the kid was active she was extremely active! Finding the National At-Home Dad Network literally saved my life. To find another group of men who were navigating staying-at-home with their child (or children) and breaking traditional roles for men, made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I discovered the power of social media and connected with guys who were doing the same thing I was.
Right now we all have become at-home persons. Some of you are at-home parents navigating distance learning during this crisis, some are single parents with no help, and some of us are really experiencing the loneliness of not being able to connect with another human being on a daily basis. Some of you are also grieving the loss of your jobs because you’ve been furloughed. The fear of the unknown during this pandemic is an added weight for all of us. I’ve had a stress headache since all this started a month ago.
Some of you may already be struggling with your mental health. I’m sure many of us are. I’m no counselor or expert in this, but what I do have is my personal experience.
Here are a few things that have helped me:
- Confidence — The best thing I did when I became a stay-at-home dad was embrace my new role. I said, “If this is my new job, then I’m going to be the best at it.” We didn’t choose to be quarantined right now but we must embrace it with confidence. We must tackle this head-on and figure out what works best for our new situation.
- Go outside. — We can’t go to the stores or the zoo right now, but we can go for walks. A little exercise and (hopefully) some sunshine will help energize you and your kids. Play in the backyard. Do more than binge-watch shows and eat and drink your sorrows.
- Connect. — If you can, arrange a socially-distant porch chat with a neighbor. We need connection with other people outside of our immediate families. Zoom and FaceTime and social media right now are lifesavers to be able to vent and rant and cry and laugh and see our friends and family. It’s important to know we’re not alone in this. Check on your family and friends because they need connection as much as you do.
- Breaks — For those of us alone inside with our immediate family 24/7, you need to take a break. Go for a drive if you can or sit on the porch or hide in the closet if you have to, but breaks are essential for your sanity. Cut yourself some slack when it comes to meeting expectations during this crisis. Your health is most important so you can keep doing what you need to do.
- Refresh your brains — Tiger King might be essential viewing for some of us right now and scrolling through Facebook can take our mind off things, but all of us need something that simulates us — not just numbs us. Listen to a podcast or read a book or find something that inspires you. I’m listening to a book right now on my walk with the kids that inspires me to keep moving, and in a way it addresses our current grief and soul-searching we’re all experiencing right now.
- Create — With more time on our hands, we need a sense of purpose. Do something for your neighbors or community or the nurses or essential workers. Do something to make the world a better place. Use your gifts and talents to share your art and your passion with the world. We all need to be creators right now.
- Counseling — Don’t be afraid to talk to a mental health professional. After 4 years of being a stay-at-home dad, I realized I never fully allowed myself to come to terms with ending my career. Don’t wait that long to process our current situation if you need to talk to someone. Counseling helped me by reminding me who I am (and who I am not). It helped me address the negative voices in my head and the situations out of my control so I could stand up and be myself again. It gave me the sense of purpose again to write my first book, Loser. Loser is about understanding how to find hope when life hasn’t gone the way we thought it would.
We’re all experiencing a dramatic curve from where we thought we would be this year. We’re all experiencing something new and we’re not sure if it’s temporary or if we’re in this for the long haul. What’s most important is we take care of ourselves and our mental health so we can find new ways to tackle this new reality and find new meaning and purpose. Don’t hesitate to do what you need to so you can remain healthy for your loved ones.
In a way, we’ve been forced into a prolonged Sabbath, a long day of rest. Use this time to evaluate what is most essential in your lives and discover who you can be for the future — our future.