It's time to reveal the truth and I'm just going to say it: gay men and depression coexist. Dark, unfathomable, or uneasy, it's just the truth.
I realized I was depressed when I was 12 years old. My parents had divorced, I had trouble making friends at school and my mood felt as heavy as the fog that lays over the city of San Francisco where I grew up. I didn't want to get out of bed and life seemed entirely different than the happy childhood I once knew.
Life before depression was idealistic. I enjoyed creative arts and running. I also had big dreams to become an actor in New York City. My friends knew me as the outgoing, sarcastic, fun-loving kid who loved to give everyone hugs and sweet compliments.
Once depression hit, I became serious and relentless to become the best damn performer, runner and creative artist amongst my peers. I pursued these hobbies as an escape to hide my true sadness. I used the mask of perfectionism to hide what was going on beneath the surface. Under the mask, I was alone, scared and helpless. I felt isolated and I didn't think life was worth living.
When I realized my attraction to men, the shame felt heavy. I thought, "fuck, another reason to hate myself." The homophobia I felt toward myself was stronger than some of the most conservative, right-winged, gay-hating bigots we know. The shame was real, and it's shadow followed me every day, wherever I turned.
The lowest point of my depression was after a psychiatrist prescribed me a heavy dosage of zyprexa. This medication is typically used to treat bipolar and schizophrenia disorders. Within three weeks of taking this medication, I gained 35 pounds and began sleeping 18 hours a day. Life was numb. I felt absolutely nothing, and I was only 19 years old.
Here's the thing. I'm not unique. There are millions of people suffering from depression. Millions. Gay men are not unique within this statistic. But we're a significant subpopulation, and it's time we recognize that there are external factors contributing to our collective cultural depression.
Gay men are vulnerable to depression because we fall into one of three circumstances:
- We're ashamed to be gay
- We're forced to figure out our challenges without the help of others
- It's culturally unacceptable to be depressed
Why are we ashamed to be gay? It's simple. As young boys, we figured out we were different than everyone else. We enjoyed different hobbies than other boys, and we liked to talk about topics that most other boys wouldn't be caught dead talking about. The shame increased when we were teased, bashed and scrutinized by our peers, siblings, parents and the media.
Our feelings of shame led to isolation and we placed our focus on things that were culturally acceptable. This focus might have been excelling at school, working relentlessly to be the best at our jobs or maybe medicating with alcohol.
In our culture, it's shameful for men to admit their depression. It's shameful to let others know that we're unhappy. So our depression thickens and the symptoms become worse. We become vulnerable and retreat from the rest of the world. Some of us hide out in our homes and choose to avoid social interactions.
There's an upside to my personal story. Shortly after my lowest point in depression, I began to work with a therapist. Within two years of quality therapy, I weaned off of all prescription medication and lost 35 pounds. It's been 6 years since my lowest point of depression and I'm the happiest I've ever been. I teach self-care and mindfulness at Your Success Launch which is a blog I started back in 2014, I live in a city that I love, I have friends and family who love and support me no matter what, and I truly accept myself as a recovering, depressed person.
I share my story with you to provide hope and inspiration. My hope is to acknowledge that gay men are susceptible to the burdens of depression, and it's possible to transcend the disorder.
You've heard the joke about psychologists and light bulbs, right? It goes like this:
How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?
None. The light bulb has got to want to change itself.
Moving beyond depression takes courage, strength and a desire to change. The keywords are a "desire to change." For those of us that have this desire, the only thing we need to do is simple: reach out. We need to tell others when we need help and allow others to help us. This may not be an easy thing to do, but it could mean the difference between living a life that's unbearable versus living a life full of joy, love and happiness.
With all my heart, I hope you decide to make the choice that supports you and your dreams. You deserve to live truthfully and share your unique, special gifts with the world around you. If not now, when?
Max DuBowy is the author of the Ultimate Guide to Self Care for gay men who are ready to break from stress and anxiety. Are you ready to be confident, make friends and love yourself unconditionally? INSTANTLY DOWNLOAD A COPY OF HIS FREE GUIDE HERE.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.