The one word that saved my life

Life can be hard, especially when you suffer from depression. Gregor Stronach finds that being a dad gives him strength to keep going.


Depression f*cking sucks.

It’s kind of an obvious statement, but it’s absolutely true. And I can say that with a great deal of confidence, because I’ve spent the past few months lying in bed, binge-watching cartoons and wondering how I managed to let my life collapse into such an unruly mess.

My life has become a bare-bones existence, dominated by emails and phone calls from various people that have forced me to change out of my pyjamas and do “normal people stuff” — all the while trying to still be a good dad a few days a week.

Sadly, I’ve not been kicking the kinds of goals I want to be kicking right around now — despite watching my youngest kicking goals because somehow I got railroaded into being a soccer coach this season.

I’ve been failing on a number of different levels.

Depression slowly creeps up on you

The weird thing about getting depressed is that, for most men, it’s like slowly getting fat.

When our kids were born, we were (mostly) slim and in reasonable shape, but there was a creeping bulk doing its best to sneak up on us and add an extra 10 kilos to our midsection.

And so we end up in that weird situation where we’ve ‘suddenly’ acquired the dreaded dad-bod … a bit pudgy round the middle, the beginnings of a second chin, and a strange desire to acquire trousers that disguise the fact our legs are too slim to sustain the gut we’re growing.

But with depression, it’s not a visible thing at the start, because most of the time there’s no outward change.

No one looks at you and sees “he’s looking a bit sadder than he did last week”. And so no one says anything — until it’s obvious that something’s gone horribly wrong.

And so we suffer in silence.

It’s even worse when you get to the point where you barely leave the house, and the only people you’re spending regular time with are your kids — because (at the start) when they’re barely out of their toddler years, they have no idea what depression is.

All my kids saw was daddy’s house getting messier and messier — and the frequency of trips to the park, or even watching a movie with them, reduced to the point where even kicking the footy around was a miracle rather than a milestone every second weekend.

At various stages, both of my boys (now a little older) told me they didn’t want to stay with me, because my house was a “dump”. Their word, not mine.

And they were right. My house was a horrifying, catastrophic mess. The kitchen was so bad that I couldn’t cook in it — so we ate takeaway food every night they were here.

And while I was drowning in misery, I lost my major source of income, because I was only vaguely functioning as a human being, let alone being an employee — and let alone being a dad.

What little, tiny shred of feeling like a provider for my kids, was gone.

I ran out of money, to the initial delight of the two banks that I have a credit card with. Four weeks later, that delight became a series of insistent phone calls from some call centre asking me when I would make my regular monthly payment.

“You’ll get paid when I get paid. And you’ll know I’ve been paid because you will have been paid. Stop calling me every day. It’s not helping anyone…”

It sounds like a cliché, but I was pretty much done.

I made a list of what needed to be taken care of, figured out how to make sure that when I ended it that it would create the least amount of mess (physically, psychologically and financially) for everyone else, and started to prepare.

But while I was sorting through a few things, I found a card from my sons … and one single word on that card turned me around.

It comes down to one word: ‘Daddy’

I’m a deeply unhappy man — and if I didn’t have kids, I would have ended things a long, long time ago.

But I’ll be honest here … there’s one single word that’s kept me from ending it all for the past few months — and that word is Daddy.

That word usually appears at the end of a really lovely sentence — like, “I love you, Daddy”, or “You’re the best, Daddy”.

And it’s that word that has kept me alive, despite all of the ideas rattling around inside my head, which have been telling me that there’s a simple (and selfish) way out.

So I got my boys to make me some drawings.

My youngest drew a picture of him scoring a goal while playing soccer on a Saturday morning — with “Daddy” on the sideline, cheering him on.

My eldest drew a picture of himself climbing a ladder to the stars, with a speech bubble that says “Thank you and I love you, Daddy”.

Both of those drawings are on the wall, directly above the screen of my laptop, where I sit and work every day.

My little men are keeping me alive … and I’ve got a hard slog ahead me.

But I made a decision a few weeks back, which I really, really recommend to any dad who’s in a bad place.

It’s time to get help

I decided to do something that a lot of men don’t like to do … I made an appointment to see my GP, and went in for a complete check-up.

The nurses took more blood than a vampire attack, I was measured and weighed — and it turns out that my reluctance to subject myself to a proper physical (because I was scared of what the results may be) was a profoundly stupid idea.

I was worried about my pancreas (it’s fine), liver (it’s okay), and prostate (which is where it needs to be, and the right size — and finding that out is, hopefully, the last time someone shoves their finger up my arse without buying me a drink first …).

I’ve got a few other things that need to be sorted out — but the main thing I need to deal with is that I’m going blind. I’m 45 years old, and it’s getting to the point where I’m struggling to see which one of the kids at the far end of the soccer field is my son.

Secondly, I need to figure out where my head’s at.

I’m a recently divorced father of two amazing kids. But the truth is, that’s not why I’m all bent out of shape at the moment.

I can’t pin it on that. In fact, I can’t pin it on anything in particular. I don’t have an explanation — but what I do have now is a team of people who are going to help me work it out.

Most of it’s covered by Medicare — and the bits that aren’t … well … the angry call centre people at the bank are going to get even more alarmed about the fact that the bills are piling up.

But f*ck ’em. They’ll get paid eventually. There’s something vastly more important than money at stake.

I need to keep being a dad, because my kids need their Daddy.

But having said all that, the best advice I can give you — from one dad to another — is this: If something doesn’t feel right, go and get help.

If you think you or someone you know is suffering from depression and you would like to seek support, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14), Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), Dads in Distress (1300 853 437), or the Ngala Helpline (9368 9368/country access: 1800 111 546).