I was sitting on the toilet when I first realized that something was very wrong.
The moment had a sense of inevitability to it, like a festering resentment that finally erupts into pure rage. This was the point of no return. There'd be no more lying to myself after this.
I sat there, 14 years old, shaking back and forth in perhaps the most undignified position of the day, sobbing. I realized I hadn't been happy for a very long time. And I knew that was a problem.
Fortunately for me, my parents also recognized this and immediately helped me find treatment.
Not everyone will be so lucky. Not everyone will have a support system filled with people who not only understand depression, but encourage you to take whatever steps necessary to fight it.
And, according to studies, this may be especially dangerous for men, who are statistically less likely than women to report their depression and seek help.
Now, I want to be clear: Depression doesn't care who you are. It doesn't care about your gender, your age, your race, your social status or your favorite sports team. I'm certain that far too many women also feel unable to admit that they are suffering from this illness.
But, as a guy, I feel the need to address other men who may be suffering in silence. After all, I needed my family to help me find treatment options. I didn't do it on my own and may not have done anything if no one offered to help.
So, while you may be reluctant to bring the issue up, rest assured, this is a medical condition, and it won't resolve itself on its own. You need to see a doctor. And if you're feeling ashamed of your depression and don't want to draw any attention to it, you need to understand, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
It's a physical condition.
Our brains carry quite the burden. They're home to our thoughts, our moods, our overall personalities. We may think of our heart, lungs and liver as major parts of us, but the brain is who we are. It's our identity.
As such, some people don't want to accept the fact that, just like any other organ, your brain can function improperly.
Yes, there are, quite sadly, still plenty of misinformed people out there who claim that those of us suffering from depression need to simply “snap out of it.” They honestly believe that we have complete control over our behavior, disposition and mood.
Because, let's face it, admitting that a large portion of who you simply boils down to chemical processes in your brain isn't something a lot of people want to hear. We take too much ownership over our identities to be comfortable with that idea.
But it's the truth. The brain is the main force shaping our souls. And the brain is like any other part of your body: It can stop working properly. Sometimes this is due to genetics, sometimes this is due to life circumstances, sometimes it's due to lifestyle. Usually, it's a combination of the three.
Same can be said for heart disease. And yet, most people wouldn't be embarrassed to talk to a doctor if they were worried about the health of their hearts.
So, you should treat your brain the same way. Yes, some will assume that depression is a cop-out excuse for people too weak to handle life. They'll deny the possibility that it is at all a physical condition.
Honestly, at this point in history, there's nothing more to say about these people aside from simply stating they are objectively wrong.
I could throw some expletives in there to hammer the point home, but I'll try to keep this classy.
It's not a sign of weakness.
Accepting that your brain is sick, and that you're not a “bad” person, doesn't suddenly make it easier to accept that depression isn't a sign of weakness. Understanding a concept intellectually isn't the same as understanding it emotionally.
But, unfortunately, there's simply no logic to support the idea that people with depression are somehow not as strong as the rest of us. Quite clearly, the opposite is true.
For most people, life involves some form of stress and unhappiness. Generally, though, our brains have adapted to make us resilient to life's challenges. Thousands of years of evolution have gifted you with the ability to handle most of your struggles.
In people with depression, the neurological functions behind that resilience aren't working right. Sure, maybe the mentally healthy people in your life face the same stressors as you, but they've got brains that protect them from the true pain that such stressors can lead to.
So, as a result of your mental health, you're actually experiencing more pain than those people, a pain they can't understand. And yet, you're still managing to exist. Hey, you probably go to work, just like they do. You maintain important relationships, just like they do. You operate as a functioning member of society, just like they do.
How could anyone possibly think you're weak? You're the one pushing through a pain most people will never fully experience, and you're doing it on a daily basis. And usually, you're not praised for your strength, since depression can be so easily hidden.
Your co-workers don't know that, for you, simply getting out of bed that morning took more effort than they'll exert all day.
Listen, I know guys are still hesitant to give anyone an opportunity to see them as less-than-badass, but at the risk of sounding like a motivational pamphlet in a psychiatrist's office, I have to tell you that facing an average day with depression is more badass than most people can ever hope to be.
Treatment does not involve coddling you.
Along with not wanting to appear weak, too many men worry about appearing immature. They need the world to know that they are independent adults and can take care of themselves.
They imagine that treatment for depression involves a removal of that independence. An admission that they aren't man enough to handle this problem on their own.
Well, once again, it's a medical condition. So, no, you're not man enough to handle it on your own. Nor can you successfully be your own dentist or perform surgery on yourself. I mean, you can try, but, you know… you'll fail. So, there's that.
More importantly, though, people who haven't been treated for mental health issues seem to seriously misunderstand the process. They assume that medication numbs you, and that therapy involves spending an hour or two a week with someone who has committed themselves to treating you like a little kid with low self-esteem.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
True, certain people respond to certain medications poorly, experiencing a general apathy as a result. This may be part of the process, but it's simply another sign that someone is willing to be strong, to go through the uncomfortable experience of trying new medicines and to go through withdrawal if they don't work, dealing with side effects and spending money on pills that may not be right for them.
It's a little tiring.
Therapy, on the other hand, is exhausting. I don't know how some people have arrived at the conclusion that therapists baby their clients, but that is not the case.
One of the general assumptions in therapy is that your life is not going to magically change. You're not there to complain about what is going wrong so that a doctor can be a shoulder to cry on. You're there to identify what you're doing wrong to exacerbate your problems.
It's about taking more responsibility for your own life than most people are comfortable with. And it's about taking the kind of real action that can be tremendously difficult to even consider.
If another man tells you that therapy is for guys who can't handle their own sh*t, he's simply not man enough to handle what therapy really involves.
Anyone who has struggled with depression knows that it can be a truly all-consuming force that robs you of your joy, your hope and yourself.
Maybe it doesn't feel like a true medical condition. Maybe it feels too profound to be simply lumped in with the rest of the entries on WebMD. Maybe depression feels like there is something inherently wrong with the world. Maybe it feels like there is something inherently wrong with you.
But, in truth, it's nothing more than an illness. Which means it can be treated. So go get help.