Don`t let people water down depression. Don`t let people demote it to sadness based on your own lack of effort to make things happen for yourself. As I prepare to venture off into a new chapter of my life, I think I`m ready to tell a story.
When I was 16, I was miserably depressed, often times suicidal. It was a very dark time. I was living in Cairo, Egypt. I went to an international school, had a great group of friends, but I definitely did not fit in. I was unattractive and effeminate. I did not like sports as much as the other guys. I knew I was gay, but I desperately wanted to change it. Eventually. I came out with my struggle and it spread like wild fire. I was bullied nearly every day to the point where I`d avoid areas of the school where most the guys would be and go to the restroom to change for physical education. Life was dark and miserable and honestly I saw no way out.
One day I decided I wanted to die and I told a close friend of mine what my plan was. She did the right thing and informed the school. Thankfully, before I could go through with it, the school confronted me and talked to me. At the time, I was very unresponsive. I felt attacked but also, it felt weird to be noticed at all.
Eventually I dropped out of school and went to numerous therapists, even started taking medication. But I wasn`t commited because I really believed my depression was situational and that I could help myself if I could only get out of that environment.
After 6 months of beautiful but sterile existence, living on the shores of the red sea at a beautiful resort with my parents, my family in America called me and said there was an opportunity for me to go live with them. I was delighted, but slightly disapointed when I heard that the school I had to attend was a private Christian school which was far more strict and conservative than the school I just left. I decided to suck it up and just go for it.
I expected my life would be better, and it was for a time. I knew I could not be completely happy because I still felt restricted. Some days were brutal, because mentally I battled with guilt and unhappiness about not fitting in. But I rationalized and said that all these feelings were a result of being in such a conservative school on the weekdays and then going out to West Hollywood to delight in the fruits of hedonism on the weekends. Eventually, I embraced the Christian school and decided to be more involved spiritually. I was happier, but I felt a deep and agonizing sense of unhappiness knowing that if I were to be truly real with them, I would be outcast or taken to some form of outdated therapy.
I convinced myself that I was unhappy because I wasn`t performing my best in school and that if I got good grades, my parents would be happy and ultimately I would be happy. I also thought that maybe living on my own would give me more freedom and thus happiness. So I worked really hard to maintain my 4.0 GPA when I graduated and started college. I commonly got the highest grades in class and was usually the one ruining the grade curve for everyone else. My parents were delighted and I was for a while too. Living on my own did give me some sense of joy as well. But ultimately when I tucked myself to bed at night I still felt that horrible, dark feeling that can`t be explained but only painted.
I was living in West Hollywood, the pulsing gay center of Los Angeles. I had a roommate who I was distant with but life seemed great. I had a sprinkle of friends and handfuls of acquaintances. But the pressures of gay life were starting to wear on me. I felt ashamed of my twink body. I wanted to be muscular because that`s what the popular guys look like. I felt all those feelings of unattractiveness in my teens come back to haunt me. I began to go to the gym obsessively. My goals were to find a boyfriend and to start gogo dancing. At the time, those were the things that I thought would make me happy.
Well, unexpectedly a new friendship blossomed. I was overwhelmed. I never knew what it was like to be so close to someone and to have someone understand you so well. I knew it wasn`t romance, but it was a form of love. He gave me knowledge, safety, and trickles at a time—happiness. He also got me to start gogo dancing. In the beginning I doubted myself. I was very unsure. But the money doesn`t lie, I was definitely popular at least with a portion of the crowd. But instead of making me feel great, it made me feel even more insecure. Once again, I found myself grasping for something only to find out that it`s maybe not what I expected.
During this time, that loving friendship that existed for about a year began to degrade. He had other goals and dreams and of course he had every right to pursue them. And I was left a bit alone again until someone else walked into my life. Someone I never liked and kind of despised, who came over and showed a different more tender side. Somebody needed my help again and I immediately responded.
This new friendship seemed to grow just as everything about my life wilted. During this time, my depressive episodes were getting worse. I could feel my grip on school loosening. I knew I had to do something and I dropped out before my GPA could be really badly affected. I left my studio apartment and began to live on my friend`s couch and my cousin`s guest bed. I decided that I was unhappy with the pressures of taking 16 units a semester. I didn`t want to feel like a machine anymore. I looked at my friend and I wanted his life. I wanted the freedom to just eat and sleep, play videos games and laugh. I decided I want to live and enjoy life. I did. Last year I went to 11 different countries. I did absolutely nothing except travel and enjoy life. But it still didn`t make me happy.
I could continue to rant about all the things that I`ve done but it would serve no further purpose. I`m only saying all this because I want to make it clear that I am not a lazy person. Every goal that I have ever set for myself, I have achieved and more. Everything that I thought would make me happy, I ran full speed for.
I thought my depression was always caused by something. That if I just fixed this, then it would go away. Maybe that works with people who have sadness or depression that is based on a particular situation. But that`s not the case with me.
Friends and family always say things to try to support you and to get you on your feet when you`re down. But I think when it comes to depression, sometimes its best to take the words of a stranger. A friend`s mom doesn`t know me very well. She`s probably only seen me a few dozen times, and we don`t speak the same language. She`s a doctor. Her husband is a business man, we don`t speak the same language either. But both of them on different occassions have set me aside and tried to reach out to me in some way because they can tell I am depressed.
It really struck a cord in me this time. I looked back on my life and realized that I have not been a stagnant person who just locks myself up in a room all day. I have been doing things, wonderful things. I have the best opportunities. I get to travel where ever I want to. I have amazing friends and family. I am not disfigured and I am physically healthy. I`m smart and get good grades. I have many ingredients for a successful life.
But something still is not adding up. Anyways, I`m writing all this because I need love and support. At this time of transition, I`m going to be moving to a new city, new school, new life. But I`ve decided, I`m also going to go in for some tests, because after talking to various people, I realize that I really need to know if I have bipolar disorder. Reading about it terrifies me. Thinking about taking lithium and blood tests, terrifies me. But I need help and I`m ready to find out what exactly is going on. And if I really have bipolar disorder, to take action to get better for myself and the people around me.
I`m also writing this because I want everyone that takes the time to read this to take a more serious tone with depression. Depressed people are not lazy. Depressed people are not that way because of any actions of their own. It`s an illness. You wouldn`t walk into your friends hospital room after he`s suspected of having cancer, and exclaim its because you`ve been eating all that greasy food, girl! So don`t water down mental illness. If someone you know is experiencing any symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, or you know someone who is struggling with mental illness, be there for them in whatever way you can.
It may not be the cure, but love can go a long way. It can point them in the right direction. It can take away feelings of worthlessness. And ultimately it can save someone`s life.
Thank you for reading and I love all of you who have been there for me.
(provoked by the recent national discussion on mental illness)