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Luke Rigby is a 26-year-old business owner and management accountant based in Launceston, Tasmania. He’s an open book about his experience with postnatal depression, a condition many men don’t realise can affect them, not just their partners. Luke speaks about seeking help after the birth of his daughter Olive in 2018, the symptoms that were red flags in hindsight and why unflinching honesty is the best policy when it comes to mental health.
I was born and raised in Launceston. My mother and father split up when I was nine and then I became one of eight kids, including step-siblings, across the two family units. A big family, but one I'm not necessarily close with now and that's something I've always struggled with.
Growing up I remember my parents being pretty conservative, as much as they try to be progressive now. My dad is old school and very much believes that if you're feeling anxious or depressed, you kick yourself up the backside and keep going. I can certainly remember instances growing up when I was super anxious, and I can recognise the stresses that were there.
I'd be lying if I said the thought of getting married having kids hadn't crossed my mind growing up because it's like a social institution, but I never had a romanticised version of fatherhood like, ‘I can't wait to be dad, it's going to be the best thing ever.’ I was more or less indifferent to whether or not I had kids.
I met my wife five years ago and she's always wanted to be a mum. Our relationship progressed quickly in terms of relationship milestones — moving in together, consolidating bank accounts and other things like that. After 16 months together we had a whoops-a-baby, I would have been 23 and she was 25.
My first reaction was a bit of disbelief. We had a week wait until we saw our GP and that week was the single longest week of my entire life. I spent that week feeling anxious. It didn't actually hit home I was becoming a dad until the day we had the baby because I was experiencing the pregnancy second-hand.
I made sure to be there for every scan and every appointment. I definitely felt some form of connection to the fetus, but I was also aware it wasn't like, ‘Holy shit, this is my child.’ It was like, ‘No, this is a ball of cells currently that's going to grow into a human being at some point.’ If something had happened to my daughter, Olive, during pregnancy, I would have been hysterical. But as it was happening, I don't remember feeling an overly fond connection with her until she was born.
Being curious and asking questions, no matter how dumb they seem at the time, gave me a lot of comfort and belonging through the pregnancy process. Whether or not you're physically going through the demands of pregnancy, you definitely are mentally, and there are secondary effects of your partner going through it.
During the pregnancy, there was a lot going on that we had to balance day-to-day. I was having family issues and my wife’s mum is pretty sick. I was trying to build a career in a job that I wasn't super happy with while doing full-time uni and trying to make sure I was as supportive as possible of my wife and trying to get to all her appointments. There was a lot of overtime, no lunch breaks, and lots of fatigue. These factors exacerbated the ongoing mental health issues I had. I've been very open about my postnatal depression, but I also had a predisposition, if not minor symptoms of depression, before and during the pregnancy.
I was sort of aware of postnatal depression, but I didn't know anyone who was open about having it. I'm someone who has a degree in psychology, but I didn’t recognise the symptoms of postnatal depression in myself straight away. It took close to a year of my wife, who has a history of social anxiety and depression, telling me I was showing symptoms of depression and doing her best to support me and our newborn baby. At least once a week she’d suggest I go chat to our GP and I'd be like, ‘No, I'm fine. I'm fine. It's all good.’ Then there might be a week or so where I make a conscious effort to pick up my game, but then there's always a relapse.
In the moment even I couldn't recognise what was going on. In hindsight, I can. There were lots of sick days where I'd rather be at home. I struggled to get out of bed, increased weight, short fuse — a lot of the classic symptoms.
Going to talk to my GP, who I’m luckily very close to, was one of the single most nerve-wracking things I've ever done in my life, and that includes childbirth itself. I booked in for a 10-minute appointment and it took close to 45 minutes because I was just sobbing. I hadn't even told my wife a lot of the stuff I said to him about how I was feeling, and he was just like, ‘It's classic postnatal depression symptoms.’ I felt like I was not only letting myself down, but my wife and my daughter as well.
I was very real with my GP, and he was like, ‘This is what we can do to get better.’ There are a lot of preconceived notions about medication and antidepressants but they’re not a bad thing. I am self-aware that I need it in order to be a better dad and a better husband, but I also know it's not a be-all and end-all cure.
I started telling friends and family about my postnatal depression. If a mate came over and asked, ‘How are you going?’ I was like, ‘I'm pretty rough today. I got diagnosed with postnatal depression the other day.’ Being brutally honest with myself and with the people around me, saying, ‘Hey, this is me now,’ leads to better conversations and helps lighten the load. So, while I might never bring it up with that person again, it's always in the back of their mind that if I'm not functioning 100%, this might be the reason why.
If you're open with yourself and listen to how you're feeling, and not fighting it, then you can pick up on the little cues that help you. It helps me to recognise when I need to go through steps in order to look after myself better, and that might be eating a bit better or going to the gym. But it could also be the fact I didn't take my meds that day or it could simply be the fact I didn't sleep well.
I might have a bad morning where I sit on the couch with my daughter running about. I'll get to lunchtime and she'll be hungry and that spurs me to get up. While I'm cooking, I might have a moment where I’m like, ‘Oh, shit. I've just wasted an entire morning,’ and then I know in the afternoon we might do something simple like some painting and that'll make her happy, makes me happy and I feel better about the day.
We live in a world now where mental health is at the forefront of people's general health. Everyone's aware you need to take care of it. My biggest bit of advice is to be unflinchingly honest, whether that's with yourself or with your partner or with your friends and family. Don't shy away from the bits that make up who you are, even if it's depression.
Want more information on postnatal depression? Head to PANDA's website or call on 1300 726 306.