In January of 2016 I became a father to a beautiful and feisty baby girl. The pregnancy was planned, and life was rocking, but I spent the next nine months or so fighting off post-natal depression.
It was a very tough year for myself, but also for my family. I ended up throwing everything I could at the problem: anti-depressants, a work absence, counselling, change of diet, Neuro Linguistic Programming and Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
And I got better.
The last few months have been amazing, and I have bonded greatly with my daughter, who has enhanced my capacity to love past anything I thought possible. And through playing with her and watching her grow, I realized she could have told me how to fight off the depression herself.
So what is it babies know that we don’t?
In many ways we unlearn the skills we need to deal with life as an adult. My daughter, Evelyn, is confident, curious, authentic, persistent and creative, and yet a lot of this is destroyed by the education system.
“Look at three or four year olds — they are all full of self-confidence,” Rasfeld says. “Often, children can’t wait to start school. But frustratingly, most schools then somehow manage to untrain that confidence.”– Margret Rasfeld
So what traits do we all have as babies, that could help us as adults?
1: Curiosity. Depression can make you forget what a wondrous place the world is.
We get jaded as adults. The sheer level of curiosity and excitement Evie has at life continues to amuse me. Questions fascinate her, such as, is my nose detachable? What happens if I use the other end of my toothbrush? What does this book taste like? Curiosity is what fuels scientists, entrepreneurs, explorers, and inventors.
And yet, as teenagers and adults, we are taught not to question or challenge authority. The question isn't so much, did the moon landings happen, but is there a moon? As Yoda says, “you must unlearn what you have learnt”. Evelyn hasn't been “educated” yet, and it’s glorious.
2: Mistakes are allowed. Depression wants perfection straight away, which is not sustainable.
Evelyn does not mind getting it wrong or making a mistake. As adults we are so scared of not being right, or being laughed at, that we live overly safe, cautious lives. Not so for Evie. She will play in anyway she sees fit, she will eat her coat, throw her food, talk gibberish, scribble outside of the lines, read books back to front… and she cares not one jot.
3: No shame. Depression makes us ashamed, and tells us not to seek help.
You should never judge another person’s coping mechanism. We get through life however we can, and there is no “wrong” answer, as long as it works for you.
A life hack I sometimes use in situations where I am anxious is to imagine two massive wolves next to me. Think Game of Thrones awesomeness! Ghost and Greywind. Partly this is a way to occupy my mind so I don’t think about the thing that’s making me anxious, but it also makes me stand taller and be more confident.
I feel very comfortable typing that, because Evelyn gets it. Just recently she led me out of the living room in to the dark hallway and stopped still. It was dark after all. After a moment’s hesitation she ran back in to the living room, looked intently around for a specific purple ball (discarding others she came across) and once she had it, ran fearlessly in to the dark.
Why? What did that ball mean to her? I can’t know, but whatever it was it boosted her confidence. If your ball is an item of clothing, a stone, an old sweet wrapper, anti-depressants, it doesn’t matter. It if it works for you, use it. It’s your ball.
4: Persistence. Life takes patience and persistence, but too often depression wants immediate results. So why bother?
Evie does not give up. She tried a thousand times to roll over, to crawl, then to stand, and now walk. She never thought “this is too hard, I don’t think walking is for me”. She is continuously trying to work out how the child gate works, and I fear the day she achieves it.
She has learnt how to use the Xbox remote, how to swipe on my iPad, even how to play a tune on her piano! She is like the frickin’ Terminator, she just will not stop!
5: No body image issues. There is a lot of money to be made in our unhappiness. No wonder mental health issues are on the rise.
Not only does she have no body issues, but she loves her reflection. She loves her hands, she loves her toes… She is currently very fascinated by her ear. I think she knows what she looks like, but she doesn’t care.
As long as she FEELS okay, she is fine. Because of this, she dances. She loves music and will move and “sing” as she chooses, not caring who is watching.
But body image issues have already started to affect three year olds.
“By the age of three or four some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds (and even hold strong views) about how bodies should look” – Dr Jacqueline Harding
6: Kind to those that are kind. Too many of us try to please people who are not worth our time.
Evie judges you on your behavior; not on your job, weight, education level. Are you kind to her? She will be kind back. There is no racism, no homophobia, no hate. That is all learnt behavior. There is no people-pleasing. She won’t smile just because you ask her to. She wont sleep just because you want her to. She is her own person and cares not about your opinion of her.
7: Mind body connect. Sedentary life styles can be a cause for mental health issues, but moving your body can have a direct impact on our mood.
She understands her mind and body are connected, and as a parent I can tell what she is feeling by what her body does. She does not feel the need to hide if she is upset, or angry, or happy. Her whole body expresses that emotion. Yet in life we are often taught to “conceal, don’t feel”, and we bury things deep down.
Why can’t we throw ourselves dramatically on a bed if we are upset, or jump up and down and spin around when happy? Of course, we need to learn to manage our emotions, but sometimes it’s wonderful to express them through mind and body.
8: Different perspective. Sometimes our unhappiness is caused by our view of the world, so change the view.
I have seen so many new things in the world because of Evelyn. Especially supermarket ceilings. Not that it’s particularly exciting, but I had never noticed them before. Evelyn does though, she is always looking up, or down, or turning her head sideways to see what the world looks like. Her new thing is to stand up, put her head on the ground and view the world between her legs. She changes her view and perspective all the time.
9: Mindfulness. Being depressed about the past and anxious about the future, are not helpful ways to live.
We are born mindful! Which I am very grateful for because I used to worry that she would remember I made her cry. For example, when she has a cold she hates having her nose wiped. She screams and fights. But as soon as I stop, she is calm and happy again. She forgets immediately the bad thing that happened in the past, and does not worry about the future. She is in the now.
10: Monkey Mind. We know so little about how our own minds work, but we can learn to manage them.
I did this one just today. Professor Steve Peters wrote The Chimp Paradox and explores how part of our mind (which he calls the chimp part) has strong drives that must be met before the human part can get on with life. These drives include food, sleep, security, water, inquisitiveness, and friends.
I felt low just this morning. And feared the depression was on the rise, but I remembered this tip. When Evie is upset it's usually because her monkey mind is not happy, so we cuddle her, feed her, distract her, or put her to sleep. This morning I had a nap, had a big breakfast, drunk a lot of water, and added this section to the article. And my mood raised. Satisfy that monkey!
So there you have it. Of course, everyone’s experience of depression, and of babies, will be different. But I certainly find it inspiring watching Evie, and to know that there was a time when we were all curious, mindful, confident, shameless, accepting, in touch with mind and body, and persistent. What went wrong?
Please like or connect on social media to let me know what you think. I read every comment. If you think you have depression please go to your GP and seek help. You do not have to live this way.