Hello all. My name is Lorne Jaffe. I’m a 38-year-old stay-at-home dad living in Queens, with my beautiful daughter, Sienna Giselle born on earlier this year, my incredible wife, Elaine, and our two cats. I’ve battled depression and anxiety most of life (including a severe 2010 nervous breakdown that left me out of work and on Social Security disability), both of which have raised their ugly heads all too often during my 5+ months of fatherhood.
My dream has always been to be a writer. For the longest time, my brain would get in the way, but upon becoming a dad, I started posting Facebook (FB) updates about my life. Out of desperate feelings of isolation and at the urging of friends, I joined the NYC Dads Meetup Group a few months ago. To date, I’ve only been to one Meetup. While traumatic, it also proved very helpful in that I met and spoke deeply and received advice from a few other dads. Lance suggested I become a guest blogger on the site to share my unique experiences and add my voice to those of the active, caring, and involved father.
Before I start writing fresh blog posts, we decided to share some of my past FB updates so you can see the ups and downs I’ve experienced since Sienna’s birth, and I felt what better way to start than to truly strip myself bare. In May, I posted an update after I, totally sleep-deprived, passed out on the couch with Sienna only to be awaken by her screams when she rolled off the couch. I wrote about my failures as a stay-at-home dad, my guilt and terror, and my words drew the following response from someone I’d once considered a friend:
“I’m not one to give advice on how to be a good father since I have no kids of my own, but you need to man up. Your wife depends upon you looking after your daughter, there is no need to have a breakdown. Is it challenging, yes! But a challenge you should be capable of doing. So she cries, all babies do, you need to be the one with the level head to cope with this. And reading how your daughter slipped off you was a classic Simpson’s moment. Lol.”
As you can imagine, I was extremely angry. For once in my life I took power into my own hands, told the jerk to f**k off (and I rarely, rarely curse) and immediately unfriended him. I then headed to what would be one of the worst therapy sessions I’d ever experienced (and my therapist is usually terrific and has helped me enormously). A few days later, on May 23, I posted the following (abridged) update in which I wrote about living with depression and anxiety and which I think is the perfect way to really introduce myself to you:
“From my interactions w/ many of you, I’ve learned that some of you have suffered from depression and/or anxiety at some point in your lives. Some are in therapy; some have been in therapy. Like raising a child, some of you might not understand what depression is like if you haven’t been through it. It’s a very serious disease and its cause can be sociological, environmental, chemical, and/or genetic. Some people are prone to it. Some people develop it because of experiences.Sometimes it causes anxiety (which is a totally separate disease). Sometimes anxiety leads to depression. Sometimes anxiety doesn’t even come into play. It knows no class, no race, no religion. And it is POWERFUL and DANGEROUS and SELFISH. I liken it to alcoholism in that you often wind up hurting the ones you love often w/out knowing you’re doing it. In my case, I was probably prone to it and have brain chemistry issues I know it runs in my family. But I also had a boatload of terrible experiences.
“I probably started developing it when I was around 4 when my sister was born and my father stopped showing me affection in favor of her. Before I go further, I’ve made adult peace w/ my dad and my mom and my sister, etc., but that wounded child still exists, unfortunately. The key is to not let it run me. When you suffer depression it’s ALWAYS there and it’s a constant battle not to give in. You can catch yourself having irrational thoughts, but your emotions can overwhelm you like a tidal wave causing self-destruction. It’s thoroughly exhausting. I often think of a quote from the old ‘G.I. Joe’ cartoon on which I grew up: ‘Destroy the foundation, and the rest comes tumbling down.’ That’s true in physics, business, relationships, and mental health. But what if there’s no foundation to destroy? What if it was never there?
“So anyway, the seeds were sown when I was very little. They were exacerbated by the P.S. 221 [my elementary school] gifted program where we were in such heavy competition with each other and where Mrs. Adelson [my 3rd grade teacher] called me a failure and forced me to be retested to see if I even belonged. That’s the first mention of depression in my life … when I was 9. At the same time I was bullied in school and in camp, but I lacked the self-esteem to fight back because I was bullied at home as well. Sometimes bullies act the way they do because they lack self-esteem or because they’re passing the torch. But not all of them. Not all homophobic people are closeted homosexuals. Some are just downright hateful. I can’t tell you which was which amongst the long line of bullies I’ve encountered. My dad, for instance, is an inherently good person, but just didn’t know how to deal w/ a sensitive boy like me. He also used to be viciously sarcastic, probably as a defense mechanism. He’s admitted to me that he felt his parents favored his sister and he has no idea why he then replayed that scenario w/ his own kids. I think he was just unable to break the cycle and my mom did not adequately protect me from him.
“So I lived to find affection SOMEWHERE, ANYWHERE. It’s what made me the most loyal friend you could ever have, but also someone who was very often taken advantage of. Three years later I had Adelson again and it was a repeat, but this time was worse because now I’d developed gynecomastia … male breast enlargement. Understand that this affliction has nothing to do w/ weight. It hits 90-something percent of boys during puberty but disappears in 95 percent of cases according to studies. Mine didn’t disappear and it only added to my lack of self-worth. Now I had to hide physically … baggy clothes, stooped shoulders, no more sports, no swimming w/out a shirt, no hope for a girlfriend. My parents unfortunately ignored the problem because my pediatrician said it would disappear if I lost weight. My dad was hard on me about this, and I felt he was embarrassed by me.
“So now I’m depressed, have a physical deformity – an emasculating deformity of which I’m aware at all times – and am getting bullied. [The gifted program at] P.S. 221 and my family are teaching me that success = money/job status. My dad becomes the very definition of work. He’s a lawyer and so in my mind is successful. Nothing less than being a lawyer or a doctor is good enough, but I’m ‘creative’ and ‘sensitive’ and that’s not my future. I don’t fit into the world I’ve constructed. I also have no coping mechanisms and I’ve still yet to reach my ‘formative’ years.
“I’m not going to cite every example of bullying I’ve faced or take you step-by-step through H.S., college, and beyond. It’s not worth it. I’ll leave it for my memoir… if I ever write it. I will say anxiety probably entered my life in college. I suffered my first severe panic attack senior year and was taken to the hospital, my first nervous breakdown in 1996, and my second nervous breakdown in 2010. I’ve come close to suicide on numerous occasions. Know that it has taken me 30-something years to even start to develop an ego. My deformity was finally corrected when I was 29, but like losing a limb, that phantom pain still exists (in my case, that phantom pain is emotional). Each and every day is a challenge. I’m still trying to learn how to build on things … what most people would call successes but in my twisted mind do not measure up.
“Do I realize that I’m lucky to have a loving wife, incredible friends, a caring family, and now a beautiful daughter? Yes. But too often those realizations are swallowed up by the tidal wave of irrational thoughts and emotions that come w/ depression and anxiety. That I stood up to that jerk is a huge, huge thing. I know that, but I needed it validated. I shouldn’t have needed it, but I did. I admittedly write these updates not just for myself, but to hear your stories so I learn that I’m not alone. I’m writing this update to educate those of you who have never suffered depression and/or anxiety on what it’s like and to tell those of you that have that you’re not alone and you have nothing to feel ashamed of.
“I’m scared as hell when it comes to raising Sienna and being a stay-at-home dad. I’m constantly battling thoughts that I’ve failed when it comes to work. Your comments and support have been an ENORMOUS help. My ego is still forming. I have grown significantly since my last breakdown. I recognize that. I also recognize the guts it takes for me to do these updates and lay myself bare. But every day remains a battle and some days I lose. I consider you all my friends and I am there if you need me. I hope you feel the same. I needed to get this out of my system. It’s written down now in black and white. If you don’t accept me, like that jerk, then you’re not my friend. If you do, I love you for it. And by the way, this morning, Sienna was crying. I opened the door to the her room and w/out provocation…without me changing facial expressions or saying a word … Sienna smiled at me and it warmed my heart.”