I’m a man. As a man, society tells me that I should behave a certain way. Society tells me that I must be strong. Society tells me that I must never show the cracks and crevices that creep in to one’s personality over time. Society and family tell me that I must be an upstanding, successful, driven and high achieving individual. Society also tells me that as a man, I should be athletic and slim and confident and a perfect role model for everyone all the time. The perfect friend, the perfect lover, the perfect boss, the perfect employee, the perfect son or brother. Society frowns on a man who shows weakness or has bad days or treats people poorly. A man who shows the cracks and rough edges and fragility is looked upon as less of a man.
We see it all the time. We see it in politicians, professional athletes, movie stars, rock icons and in people in our daily lives. A man in this society is expected to be a certain way. Period.
Worst of all, given all these things that a man is expected to do and be and exemplify, sometimes, a man treats himself worst of all. He tells himself, surprisingly constantly, how much of a failure he is. He criticizes himself so much internally that he never gives himself a break. He strives for goals that are just plain impossible and tells himself that he’s a poor excuse for a man for not achieving the goal. Over time, this becomes such a constant inner monologue that it just seems like part of the normal day to day noise inside his head.
And he wonders why he can’t sleep. Why he’s irritable all the time. Why he snaps at people and behaves like a complete dick a good deal of the time. He (and others) wonder why he seems angry all the time and why he’s just plain mean sometimes. He wonders, he worries, and he piles even more stuff on to the bonfire of unattainable perfection.
Then one day, something clicks. Addicts and alcoholics call it hitting rock bottom. Substance counselors talk about the first step being to admit that you have a problem. All of that has to come along with a real desire to change, or nothing that’s about to come will work.
So why do I write this now, here in public, for the world (or at least the 4 or 5 reliable readers I’ve learned about) to see? I write this now because it’s time for me to admit something that I couldn’t even admit to myself for years. Something that until recently I thought of as so wrong, so embarrassing, so unlike something that a true man should be that I hid it from everyone including myself. I was perfectly comfortable talking to people about the fact that I’m a gay man, but not this. Not this one deep, dark horrible secret. I could admit anything but this.
So here it is. And now, now that I’m feeling better and have been getting help, it seems so simple and plain. For the last several years, I’ve been suffering from depression. Yes. That’s the deep, dark secret. I’ve been depressed. Depressed and angry. It’s been affecting everything about my life over roughly the last decade. It’s affected friendships and caused me to make rash career and financial decisions and push people far, far away. It’s caused me to shut down, pull back and hide. It’s caused me to eat like a pig, to never want to do anything much, to largely stop taking care of myself and to, as was mentioned in one article I’ve read recently, make me wonder if I was attempting very slow motion suicide.
But I am getting help. I’ve been seeing a psychologist once a week for the last couple of months and working on basic cognitive / behavioral therapy. Staying away from anti-depressants. The result? Well, a couple of months in isn’t “done” for sure, but I feel better. I’ve joined the gym again and have been going regularly. I’m actually sleeping every night, all through the night (well, except when that “being over 50″ symptom of having to get up and pee at 3 am kicks in …) I’m much more careful about what I eat, and most importantly, I’ve learned how to quiet that nasty, ever present internal critic that has the capability to harangue me damn near to the point of tears.
Now that I’m past the admitting part and can legitimately say that I’m in therapy (oh how trendy I feel!!) I’m starting to look back and realize how unfounded all of my fears were. I never wanted to admit that I was depressed because I viewed it as an embarrassing thing. I viewed people who were depressed as somehow damaged or “wrong” or whatever. I fell right in to all the societal landmines that a lot of folks fall in to – thinking that mental or emotional problems make a person less of a person, less of a man.
What I’ve been learning as I learn about my situation is that being depressed is no different than having any other illness. It’s truly not something that a person can “just snap out of.” It’s truly not something that can just be covered up by smiling. It’s not “just the blues” and it’s not often something that someone can fix by themselves or by reading a self-help book.
I admit that when I first started therapy, I initially looked at it like the old Al Franken character from Saturday Night Live, Stuart Smalley. I initially figured all it would amount to is me putting on a comfy sweater, standing in front of a mirror and intoning that famous line of his, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” And sure, while there is some self-affirmation work that takes place in this process, it’s no joke. It’s real, it works, and it’s valuable.
So there we are. I’ve taken a step. In case you’re wondering, this posting isn’t part of my therapy. There’s nothing about my process that requires any kind of public disclosure. I write this, honestly, because I know that there are others out there – many, many others – that are like I was back a few months ago. Feeling like dirt, not able to cope and not able to admit that there might actually be something wrong inside.
I now know that my worth as a human being is not governed by the house that I own or the car that I drive or the job that I hold or the people I know. Depression or any other mental or emotional illness does not make you less of a man, less of a person or anything of the sort. But if it remains untreated, the consequences to yourself and others can be very bad indeed. Help IS out there and it’s easy to obtain. Don’t let it go. Get help.