When I was about twelve I heard the term manic depression for the first time. I did not understand the definition I was given but I knew it had something to do with me. It was then that I began the process of hiding my sadness and negative emotions because the message from those around me was that being sad and afraid was unacceptable. More than once in grade school teachers called me aside to ask about what might be going on in my life that could cause me to isolate on the playground. I did not know what to tell them as I did not understand myself, but it was the beginning of habitual self-abandonment.
Throughout my teens, I had continued periods of isolation and social hyper-activity. I became an introvert but disguised myself as an extrovert. To hide my social anxiety and fear I got involved in school plays, clubs and leadership. I began to split my personality between the boy who made his family and friends laugh and the boy who cloistered himself in his bedroom. Escapism began to be a big part of my thinking and desires. In college I became even more depressed and felt more isolated. I habitually cut class and spent the days dissociating by “philosophizing.” I was clearly searching for personal significance and a connection to a God of my understanding. I felt alone like never before with the increasing awareness of the great disparity between the world I came from and the world I was faced with in college
In graduate school I maintained a high degree of involvement in the department and in the school leadership. I cultivated a robust social life finally being accepted and stimulated socially, culturally and intellectually. For the first time in my life I felt accepted among an understanding group of professors and colleagues that nurtured me just as I was. I learned a great deal in a safe environment, one that I never knew existed, and I excelled intellectually in a manner I never thought possible. I proved to myself that I was worthy and able to perform in academia. Still, I often cried myself to sleep wishing I was dead and not understanding why. I developed PTSD after 9/11 and as the depression became unmanageable I spiraled into near homelessness.
After discovering DA I came to know that I was not alone but that other people had gone through the same things I had or worse. I found a group of people that understood what it is to be depressed and accepted my story without judgment or added stigma. DA relieved me of the stigma of being damaged beyond repair that had plagued me my entire life. Coming to DA made me realize I was not the only one carrying the burden of depression. I was not chronically alone. I was not isolated in the despair of depression.
Through DA and hearing other people’s shares I realized my experiences were a valid source of the disappointment, dismay and depression I had been feeling all my life. I learned also that surviving those experiences could be a source of strength that testified to my perseverance over them. This self-awareness has also given me new found hope that had been missing from my outlook on my life and future. Hearing others’ experiences as well as working the steps has given me hope: the hope that, yes, I can manage depression and live a fuller life. Most importantly learning the concept of saddening myself has done more to liberate me from sadness. I know now that my mind and emotions have been conditioned to recreate my past sadness which was instilled in me by others and society. Now I can recognize the manner in which I sadden myself and take the steps to stop it and reverse it.
January 2024, Luis, NYC