Dealing with the big “D”: I’ve been battling my depression for two years. Here’s what you can learn from my struggle
A few weeks ago I bought a home yoga kit complete with instructional CD and flash cards. My first session was going smashingly until the Warrior II position: twisting the body back with arms up to the sky. This is why husky men over 6 feet tall should avoid yoga. I lost my balance, fell into my open closet, and took down a rack of clothes.
Fabulous. I retraced to the closet.
My motivation to start a yoga regimen was not about being trendy. I wanted another way to relieve stress and to deal with my depression, which was diagnosed two years ago. Since then I’ve been engaged in a constant battle to manage it.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.6% of men and 12% of women in the United States suffer some form of depression in any given year. There is no solid data regarding the prevalence of depression specifically among gay men and lesbians but in a health study of 2,881 gay and bisexual men released in February, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that 17.2% suffered symptoms of “major” life-altering depression–five times the rate among all men (3.3%).
Depression goes well beyond a simple case of the blues. No one can just “snap out” of it. It can be completely absent and then wash over you in a sudden wave. It can mentally and physically crush you, leaving you barely able to function at times–too exhausted to walk the dog or meet friends or even get out of bed. In severe bouts you may think about death constantly or even plan suicide. In some cases (including mine) depression may be accompanied by panic attacks in store aisles and sleepless nights of worry.
It’s tough to determine what even causes depression among gay people or anyone else. It could be biological or situational. My doctor thinks my depression has been with me since childhood, but it didn’t make a dramatic appearance until much later. It’s like an uninvited house-guest who suddenly shows up and camps out for weeks. There is no cure.
If this sounds familiar, get help now–especially if depression runs in your family. For gay men and lesbians with health insurance, find a doctor through your plan’s 800-number or Internet Web site. Some plans even let you visit a counselor for free to get a depression screening. For those without insurance, look in the phone book for a mental health line or call a local gay advocacy clinic.
It’s amazing to me that with all o the famous people who have spoken up about dealing with depression–Tipper Gore comes to mind–a good number of gay men and lesbians are still petrified to get help. They are scared of being seen as weak or crazy. Instead, through drinking or drugs, they try to numb themselves to the disease and end up compounding its effects.
Medication may well help, but it’s a good idea also to see a therapist. Pay special attention to the medicine: Some forms increase appetite, while others produce sexual side effects or sleepiness. If one medicine isn’t working, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or switching to another. Shop around when choosing a therapist. It’s like car shopping: If one doesn’t fit your needs, find a new one. They have different kinds of backgrounds and approaches, and you need to learn what is right for you. Exercise seems to help, and when the next wave washes over, so does taking it easy.
And always remember. Be careful if you decide to attempt yoga.
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