Even though men are half as likely as women to be diagnosed with depression, that number is still in the millions.
Men are half as likely as women to be diagnosed with depression, but that's still an overwhelmingly large number of men struggling with depression, and that number doesn't include the number of men who never come forward to take help for their mental health issues. I was one of those men not too long ago, but I foolishly waited until I was desperate for relief from the thoughts and emotions that flooded my mind before I finally spoke up and sought help. My depression took a toll not only on me, but also on the people around me, because I was so afraid to own up to the fact that I had no idea what to do. I lashed out against my loved ones and isolated myself from them, and it only made things worse. Opening up has brought me relief in ways I cannot even begin to describe to you, and I want everyone to know what stopped me from opening up all those years.
I learned the hard way that men aren't allowed to struggle with their emotions. I felt isolated and alone, and I struggled with feeling worthless and inadequate, a far cry from the machismo that I was expected to exhibit. But when I let my feelings show just a little bit, I felt an overwhelmingly negative response from the other men, and even some of the women in my life. People called me all kinds of names, and they made me feel even worse. I was opening up to the wrong people, and the pain they gave me taught me that it wasn't safe to be myself.
Indifference was a popular response that many people seemed to meet my emotions with. It wasn't like I never attempted to express myself. I talked about what I was going through to some of my closest pals, but they didn't seem to understand how to deal with my mental health issues. They told me to do what I'd tried to do all my life: "Man up and deal with it." But I couldn't. It wasn't something I could muster up the strength to deal with because I had no strength to begin with. I was low on motivation, low on energy, and low on options.
I felt increasingly frustrated by the fact that nobody seemed to be able to understand what I was going through, let alone help me overcome it. The only way my emotions surfaced was when I expressed my anger. I lashed out at the people I loved, and I hurt them with my words and actions. They had no idea that my rage came from the incredible sadness that I had stuffed into the recesses of my soul until it festered and spewed out as vile emotions. I was trapped in a cycle of pushing away the ones I loved and feeling more and more isolated and alone, until I felt like I could never escape from this mess.
Perhaps the most painful rejection of all came from within. I was ashamed of myself, afraid of the thoughts and emotions that seemed to pervade my mind. I couldn't understand why the tears came or where they came from, and it just made me feel even more pathetic and helpless. I saw my tears as a sign that I was a failure as a man. If I couldn't be in control of my emotions, I didn't deserve respect or love. Others too failed to acknowledge that I am a human being with feelings or emotions. Soon I, too, lost respect for myself and things only ended up getting worse.
Perhaps the biggest mistake I made was trying to suppress my emotions. I lived in denial of my thoughts and found ways to block out the sadness. I overcommitted to people, threw myself into work, tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol, and ended up partying a little too hard in an attempt to shake off the emptiness. But the emptiness kept growing until I could ignore it no longer. I realized I had to do the healthy thing and turn to someone who truly knew how to help me.
I finally saw a therapist after years of trying to deal with my depression on my own, and I've never felt lighter. I acknowledge all the mistakes of my past and am glad to have learned from them, but I write this to let the other men going through depression know that you're never alone. You don't have to be ashamed of yourself. Own up to what you're going through and make sure you work on it, if you really want to become the brother, the husband, the father, and the son you've always wanted to be.