I am a 35-year-old man, and last week I came out of the closet.
No, I didn't reveal my homosexuality -- that's old news, as I disclosed that fact to my friends and family a full 20 years ago. This new revelation felt far more shameful, since it had contributed to a lifelong obliteration of my self-worth and had prompted me to numb my pain through various, sometimes illicit means. As a singer who has appeared in lead roles on Broadway and at Carnegie Hall, my dark secret debilitated my career through increasingly powerful stage fright and social anxiety, since I was terrified people would see past my well-crafted facade and peer into my aching soul.
Once I finally disclosed this realization to my loved ones, I felt at once liberated and empowered. Also, I effortlessly became an advocate for those people who contacted me with their own personal cries for help. I suddenly regained a sense of purpose and forward motion. So, I'll challenge myself again by kicking the closet door wide open -- nay, by ripping the metaphoric hinges right off of the frame:
Read my coming out essay here.
For those of you who don't have time to read 1,600 words, here's a 135-word excerpt:
Depression has been a daily struggle for me for as long as I can remember. The feeling is with me every day to varying degrees, without regard to circumstance. When it hits hardest, it is a heavy, physical, draining ache that stretches the length of my body, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. Most notably, my stomach presents a hollow, churning, sinking feeling, and I feel inexplicably exhausted. The simplest tasks feel impossible, like eating or showering or standing upright. Depression falls over my brain like a warm blanket, a deceitfully soothing feeling which insists that my only option is a full retreat from human interaction, while the alternative elicits major physical and mental anxiety. What's more, my depression deviously convinces me that my self-destructive thoughts are real.
Well that's a relief.
The response from my friends and family has, not surprisingly, mimicked my first coming out experience almost identically: Most have been supportive, many have confessed their own personal struggles, and very few who know me well were surprised. My parents have once again been loving and supportive. My mom has many lingering questions, which have resulted in a few lengthy existential discussions by phone and some spiritual soapboxing on my part. My dad has been relatively tight-lipped but unequivocally eager to help in any way he can.
Meanwhile, I am still navigating my way through this continually-unfolding landscape of self-awareness while struggling to fully identify with this discovery and to further understand its effect on my past and current behavior. Coming out of any closet can be terrifying and intimidating, and both times I have been very lucky with the response, though sadly even in this day and age, not everyone can say the same.
Every human being has an emotional closet that they keep away from prying eyes, often tightly locked with fiercely-built walls of unconscious defense. Into the darkness of these closets go the pieces of your life that bring you shame, no matter how relatively innocuous or deeply contemptible you may judge the details. In fact, the details don't matter, but their intrinsic association with shame does.
In fact, a few responses to my essay fell into the following category: "I accept you, no matter what" or "We love you, anyway." Although the intention behind these words may be sympathetic, I wish there was a greater mindfulness paid to the language, since this resonates with me as: "I love you, even though the 'thing' you revealed is shameful." This is a harmfully-conflicting message. Words have meaning and intent, and denial of this fact is ignorant. I believe that in the great cage match of life, enlightenment destroys ignorance, and enlightenment is my truth, my whole truth, and nothing but my truth, in whatever way I choose to illuminate the darkness of my own tightly-locked closet.
I choose enlightenment over ignorance.
To that end, I am honored to blog on The Huffington Post about my experience with finally coming to terms with my truth. I'll talk about the physical effects of depression and anxiety, my healing process through therapy, and my eventual return to the stage. I haven't been this excited about a writing project since ninth grade English class, when I was assigned to pen a musical version of The Grapes of Wrath. See Miss Johnson, you did make an impact.
I hope you'll join me on my journey.
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.