8 years ago I began writing this blog as a perspective on becoming a parent through the eyes of the adult. I wanted So Long Freedom to be a place where I honestly said what we all were thinking (or thought) as we became adults, “Oh shit.” At times it was hard to not let it slip into posts about how cute my kids are because…well…let’s be honest, they’re adorable. But there are plenty of blogs out there about the cute things kids do in this age where we all overshare on the internet (guilty as charged). This is the end of this journey and the beginning of another.
In the early days I found myself struggling with identity. I had recently married, moved across country, gone from freelance to corporate and was an expecting father. I grappled with identifying as a father early instead of at the birth as most men do, though I learned at the birth that the connection to mother is innately different and my first interaction with my son in the delivery room changed the way I would think forever. I made jokes about saying so long to sleeping in, tennis shoes and my freedom. A friend and fellow parent told me how much I would regret naming my blog “So Long Freedom,” and he couldn’t be more wrong. It is a marker in time, and that I now think differently is the indicator this journey has come to an end.
When I was 17 years old I decided I wanted to get my first tattoo. I came up with something that represented the core of who I was, something that would live on my skin forever and say, “This is me!” It was the Japanese symbol for “art” inside of an Omega. The general gist (to me) was about my art not belonging to me, that my role was simply pass-through. I observed the world, created in response and then gave something back to the world. I loved this concept and I waited a full year year till I was 18 to get it, ensuring I wanted this permanent design on my body for life. Everywhere I went I told people about my philosophy and this tattoo.
It makes me cringe with laughter now!
When people ask me now what my tattoo says, I tell them quite honestly, “It says I’m 18.” It is a marker in time and I love it for that. Are there other names I would give my journey over the past 8 years of adulthood and fatherhood? You bet, but “So Long Freedom” is a marker in time and I love it for that as well.
I will never forget the day my first son (Max) was born. I can remember the literal shift in my brain and the “click” sound that came from deep within my skull when I realized the crying baby in the delivery room was my son. I’ll never forget our first meeting and the way he looked at me when I sang to him. I’ll always cherish those first moments as I embarked on the greatest journey of my life…it is indescribable now, but it is the closest to clairvoyance and nirvana I have ever felt.
When my second son (Dodge) was born 2 years later I was already in “Dad-mode” and ready to roll. He benefited from a much easier-going me and will for life as Max paves the way. This is the classic older/younger child scenario. Max will always be tested more as he blazes new trails while Dodge will be forgiven more as he reaps the benefits of more relaxed parents. I was the latter growing up, which gives me very special relationships with both my boys; a first-born and someone like me. My love for them is incomparable yet equally vast. I love them both equally but different.
As Dodge joined our family, something happened to me that sidetracked my life for a while. I had a panic attack that rocked me to the core. Suddenly, I found myself coping with anxiety daily and writing from my new fear-based perspective on the world. It dominated many decisions and was an influencing partner in the rest. Like a nervous devil on my left shoulder, it instructed me to always consider the “what-ifs” and worst case scenarios. It affected me as a father, a husband, a co-worker and a friend. It consumed me.
Thanks to a great support team, cognitive behavioral therapy and modern medicine I was able to get back to a really great place mentally. I began finding my power again and having flashes of normalcy that eventually tipped the scale till I was more okay than not okay. Then, anxiety’s best friend depression came to stay for the holidays and I fell down another hole of mental despair. That this was a mere 2 years ago is fascinating to me. I am not the same person.
As we rang in the New Year in 2017 my thoughts were in dark places and I began contemplating exit strategies for life to stop the pain. My job was no longer a happy part of my life, anxiety was driving me insane, my father had cancer and everything felt like it was ramping up towards an epicenter of hopelessness. My wife and my family to the rescue. I openly talked about how I felt with my wife and she did not judge me. I openly cried in front of my boys and they did not judge me. I went to my doctor and told her I was feeling mentally dangerous and she did not judge me. Instead, we learned about the chemical imbalance in my brain and the depression that came with my anxiety. We came up with a plan for both medical and support…and it worked. It took roughly 3 months for things to kick in to a point where I could stabilize my thoughts again. Then, little by little, I started feeling like myself again. The depression ebbed and the anxiety got back to manageable.
In 2018, everything changed. After 8 years with one company, the business sold and I watched all of my work family disperse to other businesses and states. A top anxiety was always what I would do if I left the support of my work family, whom I loved very much and trusted implicitly. Now, here I was…faced with one of my greatest fears. I decided the best thing to do was take some time off, which I did. I went full pajamas for the month of January this year. Okay…a bit of February as well. I took on odd jobs and helped out with friends on stuff to keep from going stir crazy. I started to write this post numerous times…then decided it wasn’t ready yet (and it wasn’t). I took March to follow my beloved Shockers and watch as much NCAA Basketball as possible. April, it was time to get back after it.
I began looking at MBA programs and setting up meetings with people to see what opportunities were out there for my career. I found that getting out and about was good for the soul and my anxiety was something I was better at overcoming. Instead of saying to myself, “What if I have anxiety at this meeting?” I started saying, “If I have anxiety at this meeting I know how to handle it.” It may sound simple but it is the beginning of reclaiming my power. Until then, I had give the power to others. I had focused on surviving till I got home, or being with my wife, or being with someone I truly trusted who knew all my anxiety stuff. I was giving them the power. I used to always say, “Kate (my wife) is my safety blanket. I know I can get through these feelings if I’m with her.” Then it happened. I realized I was my own safety blanket.
I heard the same “click” in my head from when Max was born. Things were about to change.
In May I accepted a position at an outsourced marketing agency with more growth potential than I had in my previous life and embarked on an adventure to get my EMBA. I took on more responsibility and potential stress than ever before…and it felt good. I felt like I was back! I still had anxiety, but instead of it being a restraint, it was a fuel instead. It was like working harder to prove the nay-sayers of my mind wrong. I was back! I was stronger than ever mentally! I was my own source of power.
If you have been a constant reader of SLF you know that Lake George, NY is my happy place. It was the place I went directly after my panic attack to clear my head, it is the place I visualize when doing guided meditation, and it is the place I go to every summer to recharge my batteries. I swim 10 feet off our dock to a flat rock I call “Ryan’s Rock” where I stand in tree-pose and clear my mind. Its like the clarity you achieve in the shower with all that water stimulation across your body. The cool waters of Lake George allow me to hear myself loud and clear. It allows me to hear what is really going on. I often sit on my rock underwater, depriving my senses of distractions, as I pick through my brain to find true peace and relaxation. It is my ultimate happy place.
This June, I swam to my rock alone in the middle of the night. I was there on a business trip I had flown to without my wife or support team, something that seemed unthinkable 5 years ago. I was feeling good, which has become a common things these days. As I stood there alone in the night, the water as calm as glass, the Milky Way reflected in perfect duplicate above and below, I quieted my thoughts and probed for my thoughts and emotions. What came back to me was what I was already feeling…peace and contentment. My anxiety was not gone, but it was my own that I know how to handle with power. My job had changed, and I had emerged happier and ready to tackle challenges instead of reacting from need. I had love coursing through me for my life, my family, and my friends.
This was when I knew “So Long Freedom” had come to an end.
Thank you for reading, listening, watching and participating. This has at times felt like a public diary with my soul on display for all to see and judge. Thank you for all the support, mentoring, confiding, and love. Thank you for the awards, reviews, and criticality. Thank you to all my sponsors, guest writers, and contributors. Thank you to everyone who ever came up to me or wrote me to tell me how much something I wrote meant to them. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for hating something I wrote, disapproving of things I did, or expressing your dislike of something. Thank you to my family for encouraging me to keep writing when I didn’t feel I could and supporting me when I needed it most. Max, you were the spark that lit the fire on this project and you have unlimited sparks to give anything and everything in your life. Dodge, you reminded me how to not take things so seriously and that we all need to say “I love you” more often. I’ve never met anyone as sweet as you, and your compassion and support for others is humbling. Kate, what can I say? You’re my best friend, cuddle partner, co-parent, business partner, co-pilot in all things and most favorite person on the planet. Thank you for supporting me in this project and in everything I do. We do. Thank you for being the unsung hero in many of these stories which tell the tale from my point of view. Thank you for love and support without question. Thank you for kicking my ass when needed. Thank you for always letting me be me, I love spending my life with you and this has been a hell of a journey so far with much more to come.
Thank you to you constant reader. This journey would not have happened the way it did without you to share it with. You will forever be part of my life. As I prepare to turn 40 and say “so long” to my 30’s, I am preparing my next journey in storytelling which I hope you will join me on as well. More details to come. So, until then…