Open the Closet Door

Five years ago, my brother killed himself. He suffered from depression, but hid it from the many people who loved him. He sought treatment sporadically, and wouldn’t stay with it for more than a session or two of therapy. For him, alcohol was his primary treatment.

I believe my brother acted the way he did because he accepted the still powerful view that depression equals weakness, a character flaw that can be overcome by the strong. This fit my brother’s world view that painted those who suffered as weak losers who deserved their fate. This world view is deeply embedded in our national myth of rugged individualism. It has been nurtured by “conservatives” as a powerful tool to win support for their dream of dismantling all vestiges of the social safety net built beginning with Roosevelt. My brother was a proud member of that political movement.

My brother was profoundly wrong about depression, and had I known more about his health–we lived on opposite sides of the planet–I would have fought with him to change his mind. As it was, I knew enough to tell him during our brief times together about my success with therapy, but I could tell it didn’t resonate for him. I knew too well he saw therapy as something for wimps. His death, however, cemented my commitment to let no one I meet with this illness go without help. That has made me a pain in the ass to a number of people, but I don’t care.

In the broader sense, however, a greater good can be done if we can beat back the stigma that is still out there. I know it’s out there because I see it in the reluctance to treat mental health care on an equal footing with other care by insurance companies. I see it in people in positions of great authority who still feel comfortable blithely describing depression as a deficiency that justifies their suffering. If you are depressed, you still have to wonder how seeking treatment could hurt your career, despite disclaimers from employers that promise otherwise.

I’m beginning to think that the only way to combat the stigma is to take a page from gay activists like Harvey Milk, who understood that knowing someone makes it much harder to preserve the distance that prejudice needs to survive. Harvey and others urged gays to “out” themselves to their family, friends, and employers to fight discrimination, and I believe those of us who suffer from mental illness need to do the same. I suffer from depression and anxiety; have for most of my life. I treat it with the help of fine physicians, just as others would treat their hypertension or diabetes. I’m grateful for the treatment, for my friends and family, and for the blessing of wealth that allows me to afford my treatment. I hope to see a day where all of us receive the medical care we need.

If you are suffering from depression, you are not alone. Let somebody know. Let’s shatter the closet door together.

    • Rodney F
    • January 20th, 2009

    Lounge – thank you for writing this deeply personal and very important entry. I hope others are reading. RF

      • loungecreature
      • January 20th, 2009

      Thanks, my brother.

    • Photogurrl
    • January 20th, 2009

    As a sufferer of low grade depression, I can’t agree with your comments more.

    I’ve seen plenty of brilliant minds and souls go to waste because of the incapacity to escape their depression. I often wonder how their lives could have changed, rather than ended, if they had received the help they need.

    We *can* choose to be happy. But it’s also very helpful to have guidance in that process.

    Rest In Peace Brother J.
    Cheers to you Loungecreature.

      • loungecreature
      • January 21st, 2009

      Thanks, Photogurrl. You know the deal and you have my support. You’re right that too many great minds have been lost to this disease. M

    • Jeff W.
    • January 20th, 2009

    Beautifully written, sir — and thank you.

    In the spirit of your post, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and ADHD in the Summer of 2006. I was spiraling rapidly downward and on the precipice. I almost certainly was undiagnosed with both diseases well prior, perhaps even most of my life. They effected my relationships, job, and decision making. Psychological therapy helped me understand and accept them as medical conditions — akin to diabetes but of the brain — and psychiatric help and medicines have truly turned my life around. I now spend as much energy on being healthy as I used to hiding and covering up the mental health issues that I did not understand. I was blessed by great friends who guided me to help, supported me, and stuck by me. None were a “pain in the ass” and you will never be one, either — well, not on this issue, at least! 🙂

      • loungecreature
      • January 21st, 2009

      Thanks, Jeff, for your bravery. You’re not alone, and I’m glad you’re getting help and can see the benefit in your life. I’ve got your back.

    • Lisa
    • January 20th, 2009

    Well said. I come from a family that views mental illnesses the same way your brother did. Having married someone who suffers from social anxiety and received life-changing help from therapy and medication, I feel “reformed” in my views on this. Maybe these problems existed in previous generations, maybe they developed along with our more complex and stressful modern lives. Either way, I’m glad I live in a more enlightened age!

      • loungecreature
      • January 21st, 2009

      Thanks, Lisa. Your love helps both your husband and me. M

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