After Addiction and Binging; a Man Becomes Human Again
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
Pain lanced through me as my one-year-old cried out yet again, and dragged at my legs with desperate, clumsy hands. No longer able to ignore him, I threw my phone away, uncaring as it hit the floor with a sharp crack. It felt like I could barely breathe, and a chill swept through my body as tears welled in my eyes. Looking down, I stared into the distraught face of my son. I had no idea how long he had been crying and pulling at me, because I wasn’t there.
Sweeping him up into my arms I hugged him close, his tiny body pressed against mine, and cried. I felt sick. Ashamed. Horrified by myself, and so desperately alone. And yet I was not alone. Holding my son to me, I cried. And cried. And cried.
My journey into the depths of depression and binge eating began long before that son was born. Honestly, it began so long ago I’m not even sure what it feels like to not have it there in the background. Daily antidepressants provided a daily reminder of what was termed dysthymia: a persistent depression disorder. And for many years that was all it was; a spectre. A gloom that would spread over my mind from time to time, that I learned to stave off with exercise, activity, and medication. There were even times I didn’t need the antidepressants. Always though, it would return.
When my first son was born, my wife, also suffering from what was diagnosed as mild depression and anxiety, developed postnatal psychosis. She attempted suicide and spent time in a psychiatric ward. There are things she did, things she said, that she has no memory of, and I am very grateful for that. I have those memories and she will never hear about them from me. But this traumatic episode marked a beginning for me. I began to give more of myself to ensure my family was cared for. I persevered. With an infant son, and a very unwell wife, my own emotions and troubles had to be put aside. So, that’s what I did.
My wife recovered, and even came out of the experience with better mental health than she had previously. It took quite some time though, before I was able to stop seeing her as she had been, before I stopped simply looking after her and viewed her as my wife and a capable and independent person again. I didn’t stop putting my own problems and emotions aside.
For several years I managed. We had a second child, in part to give my wife a chance at experiencing the early years of a child without significant mental health issues. She struggled to believe herself capable of looking after them though, and I would frequently need to come home early from work when she was no longer able to manage them both.
And then we had a third child.
Faced with the reality that my wife wasn’t as capable of caring for two children as I was, let alone three, we made the decision that I would become the primary caregiver for the children. She continued to struggle with the memories of the time following the birth of our first child, and thought herself unable to care for them properly. Around this time though, she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), commenced medication therapy, and became a much different person—suddenly her other mental health concerns were lessened, because their origin had, at least in part, stemmed from ADHD. She worked full time, finding it easier to focus and function there, especially since the medication.
I, on the other hand, began a downward spiral into a major depressive episode. I can remember beginning 2020 with so many plans…and then the pandemic began. My wife and I both worked in healthcare at the time, and the fear sparked by scenes in Europe, images of exhausted workers, mounting death tolls, and healthcare systems buckling was a constant companion. Lockdowns, home-schooling, and enforced social distancing and isolation began…and I injured my back at work.
Constant pain entered my life, I couldn’t sit down, couldn’t stand for more than a couple of minutes, couldn’t exercise, and couldn’t pick up my children. For months. And during those months I was stuck at home, with children who all needed attention and care. And home-schooling. My wife continued to go to work every day. And we knew every time she came home it could be with the virus in tow.
Unable to exercise, in constant pain, and faced with an endlessly repetitive cycle of days filled with children competing for attention, needing help with schoolwork, and unable to even go to the park to play, I turned to food for comfort.
Thankfully, I have an allergy to sulphur, which is in most alcoholic drinks, and have never taken to drinking as a result. Similarly, I did not have access to recreational drugs of any kind. If I had, I would probably have become an addict. As it was, I became addicted to food instead.
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Even as my pain subsided, and my back healed, as vaccines were developed and distributed, schools reopened and lockdowns lifted, I had fallen into maladaptive coping habits that would stay with me. My mind became my own prison.
I would binge eat every day. And every day I would tell myself that was the end of it, and I would try to start the next day with good intentions. Knowing I needed to eat less I would restrict my intake in the morning and afternoon…and then succumb in the evening and binge. Anything and everything that was around to eat. And then I weighed 20kg more than I used to. Exercise was harder because I fell out of the habit, but also simply because I weighed more. I found my knees hurting. I began snoring. I developed reflux. I hated myself. I was failing as a father, my children deserved more—more time given to them, more patience, more care. I became an absent husband. Physically I was still there…mentally and emotionally I did so much to be somewhere else.
My phone provided a huge escape—in the form of a game. I still believe the game is amazing, and has so many reasons for people to play it. But it consumed my days. And then some of my nights. I spent money on it. A lot of money. And then I was eaten up by guilt and shame- I tried to hide it from my wife. She found out and I managed to stop spending money…but I did not manage to stop playing the game. If anything, I played it more. I would typically be using my phone for 10-12 hours every day. Quite often that meant I was playing it while ‘doing’ things with my children. The reality was that I was so desperate to not be present in my own life I was using it to escape.
There were many days I didn’t recognise myself anymore. Times I stared at myself in the mirror and wondered what I was doing, what I was going to do, and how I would get out of the endless downward spiral I had found myself in. I felt helpless and powerless to change anything and I would hide behind my phone, and comfort myself with food. I couldn’t always hide though, and contemplated ending my life—it seemed the only way to make a change, to have a choice, to have some control over something, anything. The distress caused by that line of thinking was horrifying, and I fled from it, burying myself further into comfort eating and gaming addiction.
Until one day, I snapped. My youngest son broke through all the walls I had built around myself. As only a one-year-old can, he was expressing his needs the only way he knew how- crying and pulling at me. His desperation, and sheer anguish, ripped through my soul.
I spent a lot of that day crying.
But I also deleted the game.
I put away the phone.
For the first time in a very long time, I looked my family in the eye and was present.
It hurt. It still hurts. The guilt, shame, and self-disgust that I had been harbouring inside of me was finally released. If only it were that easy to get rid of it…
Acceptance and commitment therapy is allowing me to move forward though. I still mentally torment myself, struggling with the reality of being overweight, unfit, and ashamed of my own behaviour. Every day is hard. Food has been used as a comfort for so long I still want to reach for it rather than feel my own anguish. I want to run, hide, throw up, cry, scream, and desperately rewind time.
I cannot change the past though. And I can accept myself as I am today, knowing that every moment of every day I have the chance to do better, be better, and become more. Every moment is still a struggle. Every day I am afraid I will stumble, and fall back into old habits.
I go for runs now—my eldest son comes with me, and he loves it. He’s going to compete at district level cross country next month. It helps get me out the front door and moving, even if the reflections of myself I sometimes see in windows are embarrassing. My son is seven though, he doesn’t care, or even notice…yet.
Because every day I know I have less time to deal with my issues. Children are influenced so much by their parents and I desperately want them to avoid suffering from the same mental health illnesses I and my wife have. I still don’t know how to do that. I just know that every day I need to keep trying to do better if there’s going to be a chance.
My phone says I’ve used it for 2 hours and 13 minutes today. On one hand I’ve gained roughly 10 extra hours in every day to suffer from self-inflicted pain and anguish.
On the other hand…I’ve gained so much time to live. To become human again.
If you or someone you know may be in crisis or considering suicide, please call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.