If you're a fan of the 'Gram, you might recognize Simon Leyshan from his very popular account @champagnedadstyle. Simon shares his life as one part of a two-dad family, stay-at-home father, and manager of a luxurious holiday home. His posts are comical, relatable and sincere. It is clear how much Simon loves his life as a dad, his daughter and his partner, Holt. But the earlier years of fatherhood were very difficult for Simon. For some time, Simon battled postnatal depression, a form of depression that is commonly mistaken as something only mothers experience. Here, he shares his coming out story, his battle with depression, and how he came out the other side.
Simon never really had any interest in dating girls. "I had girlfriends all my life but only little ones," said Simon. "For a few months – the longest six – but there was never any connection."
After high school, Simon worked three jobs in order to save for his "OE" ("Oversees Experience" - what Australians and New Zealanders call a few years traveling around the world in their late teens / early twenties), and soon as he could, he was off. Simon spent 6 years traveling and working around Europe. He met new people, had exciting adventures, and never had to deal with the expectation of having a girlfriend and fitting into the "white picket fence" hetero lifestyle.
After 6 years abroad, Simon, tired of living out of his backpack, moved back to his hometown of Brisbane. Pretty quickly, the pressure to meet someone reared its head again and Simon began to feel awkward. That was, until he met Holt.
Simon met Holt Meyers at a personal trainer course. "Sparks flew, like you see in the movie," said Simon. "When you meet someone and the sparks just fly, that exactly how it was for me."
When it came time to tell his family he was gay, Simon began by telling just one person: his mom, who was very accepting. She even said that although she hadn't known, there was always part of her that wanted to tell her son that if he ever told her he was gay, she would've said it was totally fine.
Simon continued to tell one person at a time, until eventually the news spread like wildfire. The response was mainly positive. He was 27 at the time.
Living Authentically and Talking Kids
Over a roast dinner, cooked by Holt, that Simon and Holt first discussed kids. At the time, Simon still suffered from the notion that he couldn't be both gay and have a family. "Why couldn't you have a family?" was Holt's response.
"That one conversation allowed my feelings to grow stronger – I can feel this way AND have kids!" said Simon. "For the first time, everything felt like I could have a really good life!"
A lot happened in a short time. After 4 months of dating, the two moved in together, Holt took Simon to his first gay club (which Simon didn't enjoy, at least at the time), and they travelled together. Holt is 9 years older than Simon and had always known he was gay; he'd come out when he was 17. It was hard for Holt to understand why it took Simon so long to come out.
As happy as Simon was living his authentic life, he also began to experience short bouts of depression. He attributed his dip in mood to the sudden upheaval of his old closeted life, and figured he was just learning to adjust.
One day, the couple bumped into friends of Holt's, another gay couple, who had started a family via surrogacy in the United States. Energized by the encounter, Simon and Holt met up with the dads soon after at a cafe so they could ask them more about the process. The very same day, Simon emailed the surrogacy agency they used.
As surrogacy is illegal in the Australia, they contacted a lawyer immediately to find out specifically what they could and could not do. In the United States, both Simon and Holt are recognized on the birth certificate, but when they came back to Australia, the government doesn't recognize their family. Simon is Olivia's only legal father.
Juggling Parenthood and Depression
Both Simon and Hold fell instantly in love with Olivia the moment she was born. They flew back to Australia and began their new life as parents. Simon took on the role of full-time stay-at-home parent.
When Olivia was six months old, Simon began to realize something wasn't right. Even before then, he suspected something was amiss, but after half a year of exhibiting symptoms, he was sure. Simon constantly felt exhausted, like any new parent, but he also felt very isolated. Being a gay man, on top of being a new dad, didn't help. He wasn't accepted into the "mum" groups who all met regularly for coffee, and knew few to no other gay men with kids. Simon began to feel as though he was losing himself.
To further compound those feelings, Olivia suffered from severe constipation. She was in daily pain and would scream when she was unable to make a bowel movement. The problem persisted till she was eight months old, when, after many doctor visits, they finally found something that worked. But still, Simon couldn't shake the emptiness.
"[I was] trying to juggle everything, but there was always something that stopped me from being completely happy."
Complicating matters further: Simon hid how he was feeling from everyone. As a man who hadn't actually carried a pregnancy to term, he didn't feel as though he was "allowed" to feel depressed in the same way a woman might. Though many people assume postnatal depression only affects mothers, however, it can indeed affect new dads as well. These feelings can be amplified for new gay dads, in fact, many of who work hard to become fathers. When new gay dads become depressed, we often fear the response will be: "Well isn't this what you wanted?"
For Simon, everything came to a head when Olivia turned one and they went to the doctor's for her immunization shot. The nurse touched Simon on the arm, looked him and said, "How are you doing?" Simon burst into tears.
He started to explain he was so tired and down and depressed, but he knew that this was normal. The nurse said this isn't normal, it isn't normal to feel so down. The nurse was the first person to say to Simon that he might have postnatal depression. She explained that postnatal depression is far more serious than depression because you're caring for someone else.
But it would be another year until Simon got the help he needed.
As Olivia neared her second birthday, Simon's depression was at its peak. He spent all his time and energy on Olivia and putting on a brave face. But as soon as he had a moment to himself, all he wanted to do was sleep. The symptoms became so severe, it even began to affect his taste and smell. It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to see anything positive in his life.
Simon began pushing Holt away as well. He wanted everyone to give him space and allow him to breathe.
By Olivia's second birthday, the depression had completely taken over. Finally, he worked up the courage to speak to his mother, and admitted he needed help. So on the morning of Olivia's birthday, Simon went to the family doctor and spent two hours just talking.
She said, "You have very severe depression, and I would have no doubt that it's postnatal depression."
Facing this fact, the doctor went on, would be the only way to conquer his depression. Simon was prescribed medication that the doctor explained would just lift the fogginess so that he could learn to function again and fight it. Together they made goals.
He saw a psychologist the next day, and for the first time, Simon didn't feel guilty talking about his feelings. He began to take medication and the fogginess, as promised, lifted. His friends and family noticed the difference right away, and he was able to find happiness in his day-to-day life again.
Simon is making it his goal to share his life openly and proudly on Instagram, including his battle with postnatal depression. His family posts are honest and hilarious, but he doesn't forget those darker days. He once struggled to come to terms with his diagnosis, and due to societal and cultural pressure, he chose to suppress his illness. It wasn't until he finally hit rock bottom that he sought help, but he doesn't want others to get to that point.
When describing his depression, Simon tried to explain how it felt. "It's a different feeling," he said. "It's not just feeling tired, you just know it's different. You have negative thoughts, and when you're tired you shouldn't have negative thoughts."
Simon has a message to other new gay dads: Your feelings and emotions are legitimate, and it's okay to ask for help. "Don't try and shove it down and think you're not allowed those feeling, or you're not allowed to feel bad," shares Simon. After receiving help, Simon was able to be the best dad he can possibly be, as shown by the adorable pics he posts of his family to his Instagram account. And isn't that what we all want, to be the best fathers we can be?
Thanks Simon, for sharing your story and message with us.