Baby Blues

I got the baby blues, woo-oo, the baby blues, oh-oh.

Just imagine that sung by an itinerant black Southerner in the 1920s, Delta-style, and you’ve got how I’m feeling at the moment. Although in this context, my baby is an actual baby, and I’m not really in the mood for singing.

It started Monday when Lizzie’s mum looked after the little one for the day. I’ve been putting off accepting help from babysitters because I was afraid that if I got out of daddyship I’d struggle to get back in. Like when you make a New Year’s Resolution to go to the gym three days a week – you do it for months, and it’s easy because you get into a rhythm, but then you miss one day, through no fault of your own, and one day becomes two, becomes four, and wham! You’ve not set foot in a gym since 2010. That sort of thing.

Anyway, so Granny looked after Izzie all day Monday, then Lizzie took her out most of the day Tuesday, and suddenly every sleepless night, missed meal, repressed emotion and unfulfilled desire have caught up with me. I’m struggling to stay awake, can’t stop eating, bounce between wanting to cry and feeling completely numb, and can’t seem to motivate myself to do anything that I ought to be doing.

Before you know it, I’ll start menstruating.

And infinitely worse is how good it felt on Monday to have a day off. What kind of a dad spends a whole day thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s sooooooo nice not having the baby here’? I mean, it was great getting to reconnect with Lizzie, just the two of us, even though it was just watching crap TV on the sofa. But it was bliss just to sit without keeping one ear tuned to the baby monitor, to know I wouldn’t have to suddenly jump up, that I wasn’t responsible for once, and I feel very guilty about that. If I enjoy getting away from the baby, then I can’t love her, right?

Realistically, it’s probably normal after the hardest six months of my life, but I’m not being realistic right now. I just feel a little lost, and very, very blue.

Basically, I’m wallowing in self-pity. I’m sure it’ll pass. Izzie’s currently using her dummy-lead and dummy as a pair of nunchucks and smacking the crap out of my head. She keeps it up much longer she’ll have knocked me senseless. But maybe then I’d wake up in a better mood.

Early Empty Nest Crisis

I’m pretty sure I’ve lost myself somewhere along the way. I forget where I read it, but the Roman approach to parenting was to fit your life into the baby’s for the first year, and fit the baby’s life into yours thereafter. Actually, I might have made that up. The Romans don’t strike me as the most enlightened of parents: they didn’t even give girls first names.

Wherever it comes from, the idea sounds rather good in principle. However, I’m starting to realise that it’s neither practical nor particularly healthy.

Before the arrival of Izzie, Lizzie went to her dad’s farm every Monday and Friday evening for a meal. This is a routine she’s done for years and one that suits us all – she gets to return to her childhood home for a nice roast, her and her dad get special family time, and I get a few hours to myself to unwind. And having Asperger’s Syndrome, downtime to unwind is very important.

Using your intellect to compensate for your social deficits is, frankly, exhausting. What neurotypical people pick up intuitively as they grow up we have to consciously process and learn. Like a lot of people with AS, my behaviour is not natural but the result of careful study of books, imitation of the people around me, and endless practice conversations I carry out in my head every night when I go to bed. So whenever I meet up with people, I’m also thinking about how much eye contact I’m making, the volume and tone of my voice, the possible alternate interpretations of the words I’m using, and trying to decipher their body language and paralanguage and verbal language to make sure I’m understanding correctly, as well as whatever we happen to be doing, from eating a meal to playing crazy golf. One-on-one is okay, but the bigger the group, the more I have to work to keep functioning.

Trouble is, people rarely act in ways I’ve prepared for, so social situations can be incredibly stressful, before, during and after. For people with Asperger’s Syndrome, doing something that requires a close attention to detail enables us to relax, switch off the social part of our brain, and recharge our cognitive batteries for the next encounter. So after spending a couple of hours socialising, I need five or six hours to mentally recover. Otherwise I start to get a little irritable and I’m unable to effectively process all the information I’m picking up on.

Living with Lizzie, and now Izzie, I am constantly ‘on’. While for neurotypical people, sitting chatting with a guest over a cup of coffee might be relaxing, for me it is hard work, and there have been more guests to the house of late than in the past three years. So when Lizzie took Izzie to her dad’s this past Friday and Monday night, I should have seen it as a welcome chance to recover.

‘What a gift,’ people have said. ‘A night off: how lucky are you?’

Except, I don’t feel lucky. Normally I would do a jigsaw puzzle, build a model, make a list of all the bands I can think of starting with each letter of the alphabet, from Alice In Chains, Bush and Cold through to X-ecutioners, Yellowcard and Zwan (it gets harder down towards the tail end).

I stared at the wall for three hours.

My identity has become so bound up with being a dad that when I do get time to myself I have no idea what to do with it. I’m having an empty nest crisis after four weeks!

If, as the Romans (might have) said, you need to fit the baby into your life after a year, you need to have a life to fit it into. So I need to find myself again, and fast, because who knows how much harder it’ll be to remember who I am after twelve months of this?