I woke up in bed feeling paralyzed. I could barely move. Tears were streaming down my face. That was my low point. It was also the day that I accepted I had a problem. I was depressed.
My story may sound familiar. But I’m here to tell you about the long haul. That day was 18 years ago. I’m amazed by the life I get to live. It’s only been possible because of the work I finally put into my mental health.
Each year, more than 17 million American adults have “at least one major depressive episode,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s more than 7% of the adult population. To everyone struggling with depression, I hope my experience offers guidance, hope and strength.
The moment of realization
I had suffered for years, but never realized it. That’s largely because I kept insisting on looking at my life from the outside in.
I was single, making a good salary, and living in a nice apartment in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights. My business card got me into bars and clubs. I worked 12-hour days and, since my work friends were my only friends, went out drinking with colleagues all the time.
So I was “work Ricky” 24/7. I avoided moments of introspection and doused myself with alcohol in order to avoid what I was thinking and feeling beneath it all.
It turned out that I had probably been going through the motions of pretending to be happy ever since my parents’ divorce when I was little.
Now, finally, at the age of 32, my body was preventing me from going through any more motions. I couldn’t fake my way through another day.
Giving up ‘independence’
When you accept that you have depression, you also need to face a fact that might be even more difficult: that you need help.
I was fiercely independent. At age 18, I didn’t even let my mom take me to college. I had set off on my own.
So in 2001, I struggled with the idea of letting anyone else in. When I called my mom to tell her I was depressed, she suggested that I come home to Savannah. My response was: “If I come home, then the city wins. I can’t let the city win.”
She encouraged me to call in sick to work, taking a “mental health day” before anyone was using that term. She said I should call my college roommate, who lived nearby. We met up. And my mom found me a therapist, whom I still see all these years later.
Accepting others’ confusion
I was terrified of telling anyone about my depression and therapy. I was convinced they’d judge me.
They didn’t. But their confusion surprised me. On some level, I had assumed that when I started to share how I felt, I’d discover that everyone secretly felt the same way.
Some people in my life couldn’t understand my constant sadness. Others tried to empathize, but their lack of real understanding came out as pity. They’re still some of my closest friends, and I’m glad they don’t have to deal with depression. Their inability to understand was no one’s fault.
Something similar happened with my father. He tried to be supportive, but asked me whether my doctor had told me “how many sessions you will need until you’re better.” His question made me feel broken. But to be fair, depression was not understood then anywhere near as well as it is now — and it was even less well understood when he was growing up.
The journey continues
There isn’t a finite period to being fixed or all better. I continue to do therapy. It’s my place of zen and peace.
My amazing wife has always been supportive, and our boys (ages 11 and 9) are as well. They see how the meditation I practice — often every day — makes me calmer. Our youngest even does it with me a few times a week. I’m proud to be setting a good example.
I think of my depression as a “superpower.” It’s a part of me, and I use it. For example, having been through this journey, I’ve developed confidence that I can do just about anything. And it takes a lot for something, or someone, to make me feel hurt.
I’ve contributed my story to Uncrushed, a “platform and community for people to share their experiences with mental health,” and I speak out about mental health. It’s especially important within my field, sales, one of the careers with high rates of depression.
It’s time to end the stigmas that keep mental health issues in the dark. We’ll only do that by bringing our stories into the light. As far as I’m concerned, being open and honest about this is part of what it takes to be the best man I can be.
It’s never too early to start talking about Father’s Day on The Good Men Project. We’re looking for sponsors and contributors for our #ModernDayDad campaign. https://t.co/WJvKqq2kTe pic.twitter.com/j66LNCY0VG
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We celebrate Gay Pride all year long. But this year, we’re doing some special programing for a large-scale campaign #LoveEqually. We’re looking for both sponsors and contributors. Check it out! https://t.co/tkraXFPxLL pic.twitter.com/X2FlBEZb8Y
— The Good Men Project (@GoodMenProject) March 11, 2019
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