Keeping a monster caged can cause it to become something more terrible than it was in the first place. Refusing to admit its existence, or neglecting cognizance can cause it to seek more attention, and to take over completely. I carry a monster inside me that I didn’t want to admit that I had at first, but I’ve come to accept it and tame it. Depression is a part of me, but it is not me.
I wasn’t aware that I specifically suffered from depression until my freshman year in college. My doctor started asking questions about my mental health during a physical, and I finally broke down and confessed to him all my emotional instability and troubles with having a normal, happy life. I had always wanted to tell someone, but I didn’t know how to bring it up. As soon as he asked me, I saw the opportunity and decided to finally get help.
It’s one of the most bittersweet moments in my life. On one hand, I had finally shared my troubles to someone who could help me, but on the other hand, I had felt so weak. I thought I could carry the weight by myself, and my stubbornness convinced me that I could do so.
When I was younger, I would get in these “lows” that I couldn’t quite understand. I didn’t want to be sad or angry, it just happened and I couldn’t control it. Friends would comment that I could be a downer when we all hung out, and that sometimes I took things too hard, but I couldn’t help it. When my friends and I would joke around and poke fun at each other, when the aim was at me, I took it too seriously. I could “dish it,” but I couldn’t take it.
I found some hobbies that subdued my depression, like writing and acting in plays. My mind would destroy some happiness, but what I built creatively helped give me some feeling of success that was often hard to find. When I put on outfits, wigs, and created characters, I found not only happiness, but an escape.
For two hours every day, I was someone else. I wasn’t my depressed self; I was an explorer, a gangster, a jock, and an iconic Shakespearean character over my tenure as an actor at my high school. The important realization I had was that while escaping helped, I would always come back to reality. Escaping was nice, but it didn’t fix my default self, something I had to eventually open up to outsiders about to get help and be happy with who I was – not happy with someone I pretended to be.
Explaining depression to others can be difficult. Depression can be different for many people, but for me, it was thoughts of emptiness. Sometimes I felt like I was locked in an empty room with no key, and I couldn’t get out if I tried. Some people would ask me if something was wrong, but I’d lie and tell them everything was fine, even though my mind was shouting for help.
One of the hardest aspects of depression for people to understand is that everything can be fine externally. Sometimes you can live a life others would deem “happy,” but inside, it’s not registering.
For me, I’ve led an incredibly enriched life. I have a family of Irish-Italians that love me dearly, and would pretty much do anything short of murder to ensure my well-being, and I have an amazing girlfriend that is always there to help me, but it’s not as simple as “oh, you have a great life, you shouldn’t be sad.”
Realizing that I suffered from this mental illness and treating it accordingly has improved my life immensely. While I can still experience days of feeling depressed, their frequency and levels have diminished to a much more controllable level.
The worst thing I did to myself was letting my emotions bottle inside, and I kept those emotions from those who cared about me. I thought that people would distance themselves away from me, but in truth, they became closer to me. Sharing something this personal builds a powerful trust that is hard to come by.
I had so many fears of sharing the truth about my depression with my girlfriend, and my mind began to create doubt.
“What if she doesn’t want to deal with a depressed guy for the rest of her life?”
But I sold her short – something I should have never done. She told me that she would always be available to talk, and that I shouldn’t have hid anything from her. I told her I was scared of people not wanting to be associated with my depression, and she quickly denied my thoughts. I ultimately feared our relationship deteriorating because of this, but it did the exact opposite.
What I thought was a potential relationship “killer” turned out to be a base for building stronger relationships. Having people know about my condition has opened up more avenues for me to talk about my troubles, which has been a miracle in itself. While I thought I was being a burden, my friends told me that I would always have someone to talk to.
So why would I share my personal story? I wanted to speak to those who are afraid of speaking. To those that are having any trouble, know that someone is willing to listen and care. The fear of exile and judgment is mostly false. Getting help is easy; asking for it is the hard part. Taking that one step forward in the light is all it takes, and I can guarantee it will help.
For so long, I had hidden myself in the dark along with this monster that tried to control me. While I don’t know if I’ll ever truly be able to tame my depression, I have accepted its existence and not let it become me. I feel like I finally have found the key outside of the room I had been locked in, and that I have exited the dark.