Saturday, April 30, 2011

Depression. . . A Gay Perspective


I know.  There ARE a lot of great things in the great Lone Star State.  I just hate to admit it.

One of the best, in my opinion, is the Turtle Creek Chorale, a mostly–gay male chorus in Dallas.  The Chorale’s music is first–rate.  It does a lot of difficult classical choral music as well as modern serious music and fun music (e.g., music of the 60's).  The Chorale was the subject of a PBS documentary, After Goodbye: An AIDS Story, about the devastation AIDS wrought on the group in the 1980's and beyond.  If you want to see it, and you live to far away to borrow my copy, then you’ll have to order it at the Chorale’s web site, http://www.turtlecreek.org/index.php?/store/dvd/.

Timothy Seelig was the Director of the Chorale for a period of about twenty years.  He recently became the Music Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, the granddaddy of all Gay Men’s Choruses world–wide.  In the documentary, Mr. Seelig is kidding around with the singers and says he knows that all gay men consider themselves depressed.  All the guys laugh.  But it was a laugh of recognition, not of denial.

Fundamentalists believe and preach that we gay people are depressed because we are out of synch with “the Lord’s plan” for us.  If we only were to deny our true gay nature, and pretend to be straight and avoid gay sex, then our depression would be lifted and we would join the ranks of the beatifically happy.

That is total bullshit.

I spent 40 years trying to be straight and avoiding not only gay sex but anything that might in any way be identified as gay.  When I came out, I did so as a person so depressed that I had attempted suicide as the only viable alternative to admitting to myself or anyone else who I really was.  Coming out for me was not an option.  I simply had run out of the energy it took to continue to lie to myself and everybody else.  Coming out was the only way to stop the pain, and there was a lot of pain.  The pain continued after I came out.  My depression improved, but did not go away.  I was prescribed Prozac.  It didn’t really help.  I stopped taking it after two years, and I didn’t see any difference in myself, nor did anyone close to me.

I continued to be depressed overall, with some periods more difficult than others, and with one other serious consideration of suicide (but not an attempt at suicide).  My psychotherapy helped, as did getting to know other gay men and women.  Still, though, the depression continued.  My shrink said once that the damage I had done to my personality by 40 years of total denial of my real self probably would never be healed completely.

I’m happy to report that my shrink was wrong.  My young physician, during an annual checkup, asked me why I was so “listless.”  We talked for a while about my general psychological state.  I certainly didn’t feel depressed at the time, but she told me that everything I told her about myself and my life shouted “depression” to her.  She prescribed a new anti–depressant, Pristiq, which works not only on serotonin levels in the brain but also on the levels of norepinephrine.  Within five months of starting Pristiq, I was a new person.  I haven’t experienced depression of any consequence since I started taking it.  For the first time since I was 16 or 17 years old, I have been depression–free now for several years.

I wanted to write about this because somebody recently told me about their young gay son.  He is in his mid–teens and suffers from mood disorder, even though he is an out gay teenager.  I wanted this person to know that coming out, while a step in the right direction, doesn’t in itself heal the depression closeted people experience.  Once out, gay men and women have to learn how to deal with the bullying, the name–calling, the general societal disapproval, and, most of all, in America, the Christians.  We have to learn to accept as good in us that thing which many other people consider bad.  It takes strength, support, and endurance to do that.  The young gay man about whom I learned from his very loving and accepting parent is just at the beginning stage of this process.  It will take him a while to deal with all the bullshit that society piles on the concept of “gay.”

Life isn’t easy for any of us.  It’s a challenge to grow up, live well, and learn to love.  It’s harder, though, for people—gay people and others not in the “norm”—who have to overcome a lot of useless external obstacles before we can get down to the real business of growing up.

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