Niamh Fitzpatrick has some advice for a dad-to-be

This morning, psychologist and our resident agony aunt, Niamh Fitzpatrick was live in studio to chat through an issue sent into problem@todayfm.com from a soon to be dad who is struggling with feeling overwhelmed. 

Dear Neil, Niamh and Team,

I have been dating an amazing girl since 2016. I had been in a very turbulent 5-year relationship, I took 2 years out from the dating scene and was blown away when I met her. It has felt so good, we just enjoy the simple things in life.

We had discussed our long-term plans before Christmas, including buying a house, settling down, me possibly setting up a new business and down the line having one or two children. Early this year we discovered my girlfriend was expecting a little "surprise" and from then till now it has been a roller coaster. We are a very close couple but it was a little less than a year into our relationship when we found this out.

My girlfriend has Type 1 diabetes, which has meant a lot of hospital appointments and admissions to stabilise the blood sugars. Also in the last 12 weeks we have gotten engaged, been planning a wedding, closing on a house, me preparing to set up my own business, and trying to process the fact that in the next 5 months we will be new parents. A lot to deal with.

I have been waking very early over the last 3 months, at around 3-5 am most nights, which is not helping my mental health either, at a time when my fiancée needs my full support.

I am also dealing with the fact that we have cut short our care-free times together doing all the things we really enjoy.

I suppose I'm feeling that I have met the perfect partner and now it's all change already in a very short period of time. I have been talking with a counsellor and may have to start on a very mild course of anti-depressants for a 4-6-month period via my GP, which is a shame as it is something I never wanted to have to do in my life. I suppose I worry a little about the finances also.

I would like to see if there is anything I can do to ease the mental burden I feel and to ensure we both stay strong during all this change we are experiencing.

I do too much ruminating especially early in the morning and can get into a negative thought cycle.  Would be grateful for any advice or guidance.

Niamh has this advice to our listener, or any other listener struggling with a burden...

Congratulations! Being a parent is daunting, but it is so at any time and it is also a great privilege. Having a baby with a girl who you have these feelings for is brilliant for the three of you. This has taken you by surprise, but the news is good so congratulations on that.

Given that your life has completely changed in 12 weeks, it is entirely normal to feel the way you feel. This is not what you planned, it isn’t the way that it was ‘supposed to be’. You have also come into this not long after coming out of a turbulent relationship, so you understandably wanted some time to have some fun and now it is all business.  How things are happening is not ok with you and it feels like there isn’t anything that you can do about it – hence you are experiencing situational depression, a dip in mood as a response to life’s events. This is temporary, but it still needs to be managed to ensure that you come through it well.

Firstly, make that appointment with the GP and see what they have to say. Sometimes people can come through depression without medication but in other cases “it can help someone feel better so that they can get better” (Dr Harry Barry). Sliding down a slippery slope is not something that you want to do in your life either, so if medication would be useful in your case then tell yourself that you are doing this to balance yourself out and to be able to be there for your fiancée and your baby.

 Secondly, work with the counsellor to tease out those fears around finances. How much money will you need? How much are you earning and what is the gap? What options are there for bridging this gap? Get an action plan together for the finances, even if it means talking to a financial planner to help get a plan in place. Those worries are valid ones and they need to be answered. Also break the other tasks down into manageable chunks and have a plan for when to deal with each. Often a practical plan will ease an emotional worry.

Thirdly, work with the counsellor on strategies for handling the feelings that you currently feel.

  • Name the feelings & feel them, don’t run away from them.
  • Understand the link between thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
  • Identify the thoughts that you hold that are keeping you feeling this way (“I am never going to be able to make this work financially” or “we are stuck now in a life without fun”).
  • Challenge those thoughts
  • Can I prove that this thought is 100% true?
  • What are the flaws in my reasoning?
  • What is the consequence of continuing to think this way?
  • What would be a more useful way to approach this?
  • What can I do to help myself in this situation?
  • Develop a plan in terms of useful thoughts & actions (stop engaging in ‘all or nothing’ thinking etc).
  • Action that plan.

Next, be excellent at engaging in self-care. Whether you feel like it or not, make sure to eat good food, stay hydrated, exercise daily for 30 minutes (outside if possible), connect with friends even for a short while, do something that you enjoy (even if you don’t enjoy it as much now as you used to).

Talk to your fiancée and find out how she is feeling about everything, it is likely that she is as overwhelmed by this as you are as the pace of all this has been frantic. Listen to what she has to say and really hear her. Then tell her how you have been feeling and tell her of your new plans mentally, financially etc. Rather than carry this load on your own, share it and turn towards your fiancée rather than away from her. See what she needs from you and let her know what you need from her.

Agree a plan to spend time together that is not functional time. It could be sitting together on the sofa reading the papers curled up together, it might be a walk by the sea, a film, a visit to friends. But you need to allow space to do things that are not related to the practical aspects of what is going on right now. You two need reminders of why there is a baby, a wedding, a new home, a new business etc – because you love each other. Get back in touch with that. It may not be going out to the pub like you used to, but getting back to those simple things in life that you both enjoy will get a balance back in your lives.

General tips for easing the mental burden that you currently feel:

  • Identify your fears

  • Develop a plan to deal with each

  • Challenge un-useful thinking so that you stop generating distress

  • Gather support around you (family, friends)

  • Stay in the present moment

  • Deal only with what is directly in front of you

  • Break tasks down into manageable chunks

  • Bank your wins – acknowledge the small achievements

  • Focus on what you do have, not what you don’t.

For an appointment with Niamh Fitzpatrick go to her website or send an issue into problem@todayfm.com.