Before I was diagnosed with depression back in 2010, I always suppressed my emotions from the world.
I was “taught” to do this growing up as a young black man in an urban, impoverished neighborhood. Phrases such as, “Boys don’t cry,” “Suck it up!” or “Be a man!” would echo in my mind during moments of sadness, so I never shared my true emotions with anyone. I thought it would make me appear weak in the eyes of others.
I carried this “shield” with me everywhere I went, and used it in every relationship or situation I placed myself in.
When my only child, my son, died in 2006, I hid the pain deep within. When my friend and mentor committed suicide a few months later, I suffered in silence. My marriage had begun to fall apart shortly thereafter and, even though I was under a tremendous amount of stress, I said nothing. I had always felt alone and never trusted many people, so I hid my anguish behind a smile.
This all changed when I found out my mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. That was the moment when I realized it was all becoming too much for me to bear. I locked myself in my room for days at a time, covered in complete darkness. I rarely slept and wouldn’t eat anything at all. I felt completely miserable and honestly didn’t know what to do or where to turn.
For the first time, I felt that I had a real support system around me that didn’t judge me or make me feel weak.
A good friend of mine knew that something was really wrong and suggested I go speak to someone. I decided to listen to him, and went to the Veteran’s Hospital in the Bronx. (Being a military veteran, I’m able to receive free medical treatment and medicine if I need it.) But I honestly thought the visit would be a waste of time.
But this decision changed my life completely. To my surprise, my doctor was very understanding and caring. She treated me with respect and made me feel comfortable sharing things with her that I had never spoken about with anyone. She helped organize a team around me and my treatment to help overcome the depression, and really worked hard to aid my recovery.
For the first time, I felt that I had a real support system around me that didn’t judge me or make me feel weak. They helped me realize just how important mental health is and supported me in every way, not just giving me some pills or seeing me for one time and sending me home. They taught me cognitive behaviors, which showed me how to release stress in natural ways. They taught me about nutrition and fitness, and explained to me how these correlated with my wellbeing. They were patient, and really took their time to make sure that I not only got better, but that I stayed better. They even helped me with my business, education and personal affairs, something I didn’t expect at all.