Guest writer, Peter Minkoff, recounts his very personal journey with depression as part of our mental health month.
There was a time in my life when I absolutely loathed the word ‘depression’. Whenever someone is having a bad day, they nonchalantly throw around the phrase ‘I’m depressed’ – no, you’re not, you’re just having a sucky day. I felt so frustrated with people around me because they had no clue what real depression is. I, on the other hand, did. You’ve probably heard this story a thousand times, but no depression story is the same, and each and every person fighting depression is different, their experience is different. It took a lot of self-convincing for me to share my story, but I’m doing it because I truly hope that my voice will be heard and that some struggling gay person will take away something positive from it.
Let me preface this by saying that I grew up in a happy, functional home. My mom and dad adored each other, and they adored my brother and me. Once we hit puberty, everything changed. My brother was becoming increasingly interested in sports (and girls), and my father, who used to be a soccer player, was more than happy to coach him and spend time with him. They tried to include me in their bonding experience, but I wasn’t into it. While they were at practice, I would walk around with my camera trying to take a perfect photo. I should emphasize that by this time, I was aware that I was gay because even at a young age, most people know. My dad started giving me the tough love ‘why can’t you be more like your brother?’ speech, and I knew that there was no chance I could tell him the truth. If I had to pinpoint the moment my depression sneaked in, it would be that one.
My so-called life
Once you know what you are, you are first filled with shame because there’s no one to tell you it’s ok to be different. So you lock it down, bottle it up inside. In order to avoid bullying, I actually forced myself to pursue girls, which only intensified my feeling of self-loathing. Every time I kissed a girl or talked to my unsuspecting guy friends about ‘girl stuff’, I felt more disgusted with myself. It worked on the surface because no one was giving me a hard time, but the more I pretended, the worse it got. There were nights when I would wake up unable to breathe. I was exhausted, and it started to take a toll on my body and my mind, and my hair started falling out at the age of 16. I had to acknowledge the fact that I was depressed. However, there was no way I could ever seek help at that point because if I went to a therapist, I would have to tell them why I was depressed, and I was determined to carry the secret. I stuck it out, kissed my girlfriends and then vomited as soon as I got home. There was actually a ridiculous moment when I thought that if I could force myself to like girls, everything would be ok, and I would be one of the ‘normal’ people. As you probably assume, that didn’t happen.
The best of times, the worst of times
College came, and for me, it was like the Promised Land. Because I hated myself for being gay, and pretending I wasn’t on top of it, I hadn’t acted on it for the entire time I was home. Not until I went to college, and was far away, did I have my first sexual experience with a man. The moment felt like heaven, but minutes later I started sobbing and terrified my date. I thought once I came out, sexually, I would feel liberated, but all I felt was more shame and hatred towards myself. One night I decided to act on it. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I bought a bottle of sleeping pills. At the last minute, something clicked, and I realized I wasn’t ready to die – I had barely lived. Another thought stopped me – what if it didn’t work and I woke up in a hospital? They would load me up with anti-depressants and force me to say why I did it. I flushed the pills down the toilet.
The first thing I did was come out to a few female friends who I knew would be accepting. It provided a certain amount of relief to be accepted by a few others, but the main problem was that I still wasn’t able to accept myself. A friend suggested I turn to meditation. I was skeptical, but did it anyway. I even decorated my room with Tibetan prayer flags as I thought a change of décor would inspire me, and it worked. It’s like the field of dreams – if you build it, it will come. I started meditating daily, and in combination with therapy, I have come a long way from where I was. Once I came to terms with who I am, and even started to love the fact that I’m gay, I was strong enough to come out to my brother and mom. They were shocked, but their love was stronger than their prejudice. We’re still working out the details – they still feel uncomfortable asking me about my personal life, but we’re getting there.
I know this is easier said than done, but you don’t have to keep silent about your depression, not when there are wonderful people that are more than willing to help you cope. I know self-loathing, and I know it’s not easy overcoming that. Accepting yourself is more difficult than having others accept you, but don’t give in to the darkness. Fight it with all you’ve got, and be proud of the wonderful person you are.
Follow Peter on Twitter (@MinkoffPeter)