What A Dad Conference Taught Me About Joy & Anxiety

So I did this thing last weekend where I went to a blog conference all about dads. It’s called Dad 2.0, and I’ve been fortunate enough to make it 2 years now, each year of it’s existence. I don’t know why I never go into it with the expectations I do for other conferences that are “mom blog” centered, but I think that’s what makes it one of my favorites. Right down to not stressing about what to wear while I hang with a bunch of dads versus the grief I give myself over which toenail polish color to choose for Blogher every year.

There was also Karaoke, which I had the pleasure of experiencing (twice!) completely sober, but the crowd made it worth it. (Andy, David, Amy and Amy pictured above… and Kevin’s back, and Jim on stage.)

I was prepared to catch up with old friends, make new ones, learn a little, get a little inspired, but I wasn’t at all prepared for how this conference impacted me emotionally.

 I’m aware a large part of that *may* have to do with being pregnant and getting about 5 hours of sleep a night. 

I think I cried more at Dad 2.0 this year than I did at any other conference I’ve been to. Mostly, I was moved to tears because the speakers (mainly men) were so honest about their struggles, and so inspiring at the same time.

If you’re ever questioning if good men and involved fathers exist in this world, I assure you they do, and there are many. Don’t let advertising, media and gender stereotypes fool you. The real world is bubbling over with them, my husband included.

But then there was a moment that completely caught me off guard and left me crying in the bathroom in a near panic. A moment that had nothing to do with blogging or dads. A moment of total recall of my struggles with postpartum anxiety.

How many of you have looked at your sleeping child, and your breath is taken away by how much you love them…. and then the next moment you find yourself thinking about something bad happening to them?

- Paraphrased from a keynote Brené Brown gave the 2nd day. Her message was about vulnerability, and she was speaking at that point about how important gratitude is in our lives… how you have to be vulnerable to experience joy.

Yes, yes, that was me. For nearly a year. Every moment of my life. It was paralyzing. I thought as I sat there. Suddenly a wave of what it felt like to be in that place hit me. I remembered it fully. It was an odd, full circle moment for me, as I sunk into my seat, willing myself not to crumple into a ball of emotions.

Never in my life have I felt more vulnerable and powerless than since becoming a mom. My nature is always to be in control, to be strong. It’s a tough thing to experience… that feeling of knowing you have no control over most of what will happen to your child. For me it was, at least.

And so I found myself practicing this “foreboding joy” that Brené talked about a lot. Anytime I started to feel happiness and joy about my children, my blessings, my life, that place of vulnerability scared the shit out of me.

So I’d try to beat it at it’s game, my mind coming up with the worst scenarios possible that could rip that joy right out of my heart. They played out over and over in my mind until I couldn’t do things like look at a flight of stairs without visualizing my newborn falling over the railing, or cut tomatoes with a sharp knife and not visualize it somehow flying from my hands and into my son’s head.

I knew all this before I heard Brené speak, but I never made the connection between vulnerability, joy and the importance of gratitude.

Let me just stop here and state that I’m not saying the medical treatment I received for my anxiety was not a big part of what helped me because YES, it was. And YES I think if you’re struggling postpartum with depression or anxiety, you absolutely owe it to yourself to see a medical professional. And if that professional thinks you should take medication to bring you to a better place where you CAN make life changes, I think that’s something worth considering.

I wouldn’t have got to the place where I could make lifestyle changes without the medication to drag me out of the hole I couldn’t claw my way out of. It was my life preserver that brought me to the surface, and then it helped as I did more work on my own, swimming to the shore.

But some of that work I did to swim back to the shore included taking stock of my life, of really allowing myself to be grateful in that moment for all things big and small. And to stop myself from thinking about where those things would be and what could happen to them tomorrow.

At the time, I just thought it was part of slowing life down and putting things in perspective. I never realized it was an exercise in vulnerability, in really letting myself experience joy.

So when Brené put all these things together, it was a profound moment for me. So that’s what goes on in my head. So that’s why I’m terrified of life going “too well.” So that’s why it’s so hard to be grateful for what I have and not fear losing it in the same breath. All of that.

It’s not a cure, but an explanation that finally made a lot of my life since becoming a mother make sense. And I think it’s a very powerful message for all of us, not just moms or parents, not just those of us dealing with anxiety or depression. We can all learn from the power of vulnerability and the importance of not numbing away joy.

This is Brene’s TEDx talk on the price of invulnerability. It’s 15 minutes long. If you have a chance to carve out some time to watch it today or this week or some point soon, I hope you take away as much from it as I did.

After hearing her, I had to buy her book Daring Greatly, and while she signed it, I tried to express my gratitude for her helping me connect some random lose wires in my life, but I just wound up crying some more at her table, and then some more in the bathroom. I may know how all these things come to pass, the games they play in my head, how to logically overcome them, but there is no guarantee that I’ll never fall down that hole again. The emotions she brought back to me in her keynote made that very clear.

What is working for me this time, though, is knowledge. Knowledge of the signs and symptoms, knowledge that I’ve overcome it before, knowledge that I’m not alone in this.

Knowledge that joy is worth fighting for.

I wish I could somehow deliver all the important takeaways I had from Dad 2.0 to you like this, but much of it can’t be summed up in words, pictures or videos. Thanks to all the guys (and gals) who made the weekend a fabulous experience for the hormonal, exhausted, totally sober pregnant girl.