A letter to my newborn, Anderson
A letter to my 2-month-old, Anderson. This is my personal story about struggle, asking for help, and the power of support.
Trigger warning: mention of depression and suicidal ideation
You’re such a beautiful little boy. You’re innocent and sweet. Although I plan to cherish every minute with you now, I know you will be growing up fast and, before too long, you’ll be your own independent person.
As your dad, I’m determined to help you experience all that you can out of life. I want to see you play, grow, learn, and experiment. I want to see you develop meaning, find your passions, and find love. These are some of the beautiful gifts that exist in life, and I am hopeful you’ll get to experience them all.
However, I am writing you this letter to let you know that life isn’t always easy and happy and filled with joy. You and I are both human beings. We are very complex and unique. Our brains have evolved and developed over hundreds of thousands of years. Part of being human, and living a life on this earth, is feeling not only the highs of life—love, laughter, and pleasure—but also experiencing the lows—sadness, grief, pain, and loneliness.
As you grow up, you will be encouraged to take risks. You will try new things, make new friends, travel to new places. When we take these risks, we are vulnerable to being hurt. As we face challenges, we learn to overcome them. But now and again we can stumble, and the pain can last a long time—sometimes permanently. We often experience hurt that is out of our own control. It can creep up on us over the years, and leave us stripped of the experience of joy, or perhaps hyper-anxious, unable to find peace.
Not long ago, people were labeled as weak, inadequate, or unstable when they showed their struggles (much of this stigma still remains). Or worse, they were removed from society, put into institutions, and stripped of their dignity for what we know now are normal human challenges.
Anderson, I want you to know that, in our family, we are open about our struggles.
You have a long history of mental health challenges in your family. Your Great Grandfather (Papa), who fought for our freedom in World War II, lived his post-war life in a lot of emotional pain. Before he died in 1998, Papa wrote about an attempt to take his life. It was hidden away in his memoirs, right at the end of a few hundred pages. In it, he wrote: “Somewhere in 1967 I was having a major Depression and attempted to take my life. Not a proud moment, and not one to dwell on.”
You see Anderson, Papa was ashamed of this time in his life. He struggled alone and kept the trauma and pain inside of him, hidden away. Your Papa fought in the war, and it is my hope that you will never need to do something like that. However, you do not need to be a war veteran to suffer mentally.
When I was 18, I too started feeling depressed. It was a horrible, sinking feeling that persisted for a few years. I never fought in a war. I was a young man like you’ll soon be, and I had a lot of good things going for me. Some may say I had limitless opportunities ahead of me.
After a few years of this prolonged depression, I was finally able to start feeling myself again, but it took the support of my family and close friends to get through it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to suffer alone.
After the worst parts of my depression were over, I lived in fear of falling back into this darkness for several years. I tried so hard to control my state of mind; I limited myself from going too “deep” for fear my thoughts would return to darkness, permanently. This seemed to work for some time, but it created anxiety. I was living in fear of future depression. It wasn’t until I came to terms with the fact that I cannot fully control my state of mind that I finally felt free to be myself again—or perhaps for the first time ever.
I am now grateful that I’m free from that fear. I am not afraid to experience that state of sadness again. Living in fear of depression is exhausting. Instead, I’ve learned that it’s mostly out of my control. I’ve focused my effort on building up a support system, and the confidence to share when I’m feeling down. I have what I need to get back on my feet. So will you.
Anderson, I am sharing this with you, so you know that it’s OKAY to not be okay. Pushing through a hard time alone is not something to be proud of. There is help for you if you need it. Suffering alone is never a good option. There will always be help. I want you to know this.
You will be facing hard times in life. We all do. But just know that you are loved very much. Behind the suffering and the lows will be new experiences and new highs. I want you to get the most out of your time on this planet. Living a full life means experiencing the full range of human emotions. This is nothing to be ashamed of, and in fact, this will be celebrated in our family.
With love forever,
Rob is the founder of First Session. He has always been passionate about mental health and psychology. While completing his Bachelor of Commerce degree at McGill University, he experienced prolonged period of depression, which eventually motivated him to start a company in the mental health space. Prior to starting First Session, Rob worked for several high growth tech companies including Uber and Bench Accounting.