Tuesday, the 10th of February, 2015. Birthday number 41. Nine days until I leave for San Francisco and my second trip to the Dad 2.0 Summit. I’m normally antsy on my birthday, focusing extra hard on the past, lost opportunities, goals unaccomplished. The slightest thing can knock me down a rabbit hole of anxiety and churning negative thoughts. It’s the same feeling I have on New Year’s Eve, an annoying and unfortunate part of depression. I open Facebook, a site I’ve had difficulty visiting for the past few weeks; I check a little each day, but feel overwhelmed by those that can spend so much time writing, reading and commenting on blogs or opining on threads. I’m envious of them. at times I feel lost in the dad blogger community. I notice a post from Aaron Gouveia. His wife is coming to San Fran and both will speak at the conference. I’m excited! Aaron and I hit it off at last year’s gathering. He visited us in New York last summer while Elaine, Sienna and I traveled to the Boston area to spend time with his family later in the season. I can’t wait to see his wife again. But then it hits me. If Aaron’s wife is going to the conference it means only 1 thing – they’re speaking on a panel about blogging and marriage and that panel is scheduled to run at the same time as mine, one about how depression doesn’t discriminate. Excitement replaced by dread. Chest fills with cement. Eyes water. Elaine wants to know what’s wrong.
What’s wrong is that Aaron is a dad blogger rock star. His page, The Daddy Files, annually ranks as one of the top dad blogs in web land with good reason. He writes with precision and passion. He captures the smallest memory or parenting moment in beautiful language. He’s unafraid to tackle the most controversial topics. And he’s fast. As soon as something happens in the world, he writes about it. I’m often too late to the table on political issues such issues as paternity leave, abortion, a celebrity or personality talking poorly about fathers, etc. He has over 4500 Facebook followers; I just broke 500. Immediately I saw everyone in the conference – all 350 people – running to his panel as if Elvis and the Beatles were throwing a concert despite some of them being ghosts or zombies while tumbleweed drifts through mine. I stutter my fears to Elaine.
“You’re being irrational! People will still go to your panel! Get out of the whirlpool and tell Aaron how you’re feeling!”
“I can’t talk to Aaron,” I said.
“Of course you can! He’s you’re friend!”
After awhile I recover long enough to have a rather good birthday until late at night when I check Facebook and find only 30-something people have wished me happy birthday and only a few are dad bloggers. Tears flow. My body shakes. What happened? What happened to all the dad bloggers I thought I’d connected with at last year’s conference? Irrationality rules as I decide they’ve abandoned me, that they consider me so unimportant that they didn’t take the few seconds to write me their best wishes.
“It’s a Tuesday,” Elaine says, rubbing my shoulders, trying to comfort me. “I know you’re hurt but maybe people were busy. Maybe they didn’t check Facebook. Maybe they meant to write it and forgot.”
But I wasn’t having it. The lack of birthday wishes from my dad blogger community reinforced the sense of abandonment I’d imagined when I pictured people scrambling to get into Aaron’s panel as mine stayed empty.
This is what depression can do. Despite your own self-loathing, you need everyone else to like you, to acknowledge you.
My mind’s gone to awful places as the conference has drawn closer. Even though it’s nonsensical, I feel like I’m going to be ignored and eclipsed. Last year I spoke in front of an audience about my battles with depression and received a standing ovation. I still struggle with that. My brain won’t let me trust it. I won’t let myself trust it. As much as I tell myself it was real and that people were proud of me, that I’m accepted as an important and perhaps influential voice in the dad blogger community, my mind nags at me like a bee bugging picnickers.
It’s all fake. They pitied you. They tolerate you. You’re NOTHING! In fact, this panel you’re on, the one you submitted, was only accepted because they felt sorry for you!
Reality check – there is no way Doug French and John Pacini, the co-founders of the summit, would have spent so much money to fly in depression experts and choose your panel submission over others unless they considered it worthy and significant.
But still I’m afraid.
And I’m frightened of being eclipsed. I got that standing ovation last year. What if a blogger spotlight reader gets one this year? What happens to me?
Reality – nothing. Irrationality – I’m forgotten entirely.
The battle persist in my head as my anxiety grows even though I see the contradiction that getting that ovation clearly meant I made an impact. My thoughts must be wrong.
A couple of days ago I gathered the courage to call Aaron
“You’re being ridiculous,” he said. “It’s not about who’s on the panel, it’s about content and your content is much more important than mine. Plus the first thing I thought when I was invited to participate on this panel was that I wouldn’t be at yours to support you. That’s killing me. You’re gonna be great! Just like last year! And yes, you’re beloved by us dad bloggers.” (I’m paraphrasing)
After talking to Aaron I felt a little better, but it’s now the week of the conference. My flight leaves in three days. My anxiety’s gnawing at my stomach. I feel the walls closing in, the pressure of 350 people crushing me. And yet, I’m excited to see my friends and to once more take part in this crucial conference about fatherhood and how its portrayed in media. I somehow won a free stay at the hotel. My parents gave me miles for the flight. I don’t have to pay for the conference because I’m on a panel. I’m crazy lucky. I can use my money for all sorts of things because I’m not paying for anything major. I get to visit LucasFilm! And I’ve written plenty of blogs about how much I loved Dad 2.0 the first time and what it means to me.
I’m anxious and frightened and eager. I need to stop putting so much pressure on my myself and stop playing the comparison game because I have a voice and that voice matters.
UPDATE: A dad blogger friend told me that my birthday didn’t show up on his calendar and to check my Facebook settings. Sure enough FB changed my birth date settings from “friends” to “just me” hence the lack of well wishes. Why they did this, I have no clue, but he made me feel tons better because now I know for sure that it wasn’t about me. Damn you FB!