Depression's Deeper Purpose

Why the Long Face?  - Drawing from December, 2015

Why the Long Face? - Drawing from December, 2015

I felt the tiles of the bathroom floor underneath me, but that's about all I could feel. My body was a hollow cocoon void of any life form that had been housed there. Exhaustion set in and all I could hear was a singular buzz of silence. Filled with deaf tones and no more thoughts at all, I sort of assumed I was partially dead. My fingers now lay on the cool tiles, knuckles down and free of the knife that they previously held. That knife was of the sharpest caliber and given to me one Christmas as a present to pursue all my paring dreams while I explored my new love of cooking. Years after that Christmas it would be the same knife to go across the top of my wrist in long singular lines drawing blood after losing myself in a bottle of wine and working on a painting similar to the drawing above. This night, that knife would yield all it's same cutting abilities but would be placed back in it's holder on the counter because there were just too many reasons not to die.

Pretty emo, huh? Yeah well it was a really bad night. Earlier in the evening I had been bogged down by hard deadlines with work and I was struggling to keep myself afloat amidst all the tasks. My chest was clutched with anxiety and my eyes felt crossed. I had been in a deep depression for almost 2 months at this point. The kind that left me exhausted every morning when I woke up, made it hard to focus, and had me listening to the most negative and punitive thoughts all day long. On top of that, my physical health was a mess. I was battling undiagnosed symptoms of heart race, dizziness, faint feeling, exhaustion, body aches, nausea, shortness of breath, headaches, and overall feeling like shit. I would wake up every morning thinking that maybe that would be the day that the depression would lift and go on it's way, but I would open my eyes and feel the cinder block on my chest which told me it was here to stay.

To put it lightly, I was at a breaking point and this night was just one night of many that proved to be a really dark night of the soul. These types of breaks in sanity seem to always start with something that, when feeling normal, wouldn't be that big of a deal. I was trying to meet all of my deadlines and my internet kept cutting out. The internet was a necessary tool at this point as I was trying to send print files for an advertising magazine. My connection kept cutting out and I didn't have control over it because the box was located in my landlord's place below. I felt my patience slipping very fast, hot waves of frustration poured over me and my ears were ringing. Before I knew it, I was in a full on rage.

Rage is blind. It doesn't care if it's causation is petty. It is a fever hot state where nothing matters anymore expect emptying the feeling from the body. My body was shaking and I began to scream words that made no sense. I knew I wanted to destroy everything in sight and my eyes were darting all over the room to objects that could be projectiles. My hands grabbed my desk chair, ready to pick it up and hurl it at the wall when my phone dinged. It was a text message, one that pissed me off. I don't even remember what it was now, but it lit me up. I threw my phone and shattered it. Once that happened all that rage came sweeping out of me in waves of sobs. I cried irrationally, with aggression and abandon. 

After I emptied all that out, I stood up like a robot. I picked up my broken phone and grabbed my keys. Getting in the car was a horrible idea, but everything was horrible right now so what was the difference. The whole time I was driving to the Sprint store, I thought about cranking the wheel into the oncoming lane. I was so numb, this seemed like a good time to be in a car crash. I got to the store and found out that I had to send in my phone for repair. This was not an instant fix, so it felt like the worst possible outcome. Now I had to look at my phone for days and be reminded of my failure, of my mental state. I couldn't fix this, and not being able to tidy it up meant that it really happened. Throwing things and going into a rage was supposed to be a thing of my past, but here I was again.

When I got home, I kenneled up the dogs and grabbed the knife. I went into the bathroom and sunk to the floor. What happened next was a conversation with myself similar to a laundry list of why this was not a good idea. Most of the reasons had nothing to do with me, most of them had to do with my wife and my family. The theme of clean up and causing torment ran thick. After weighing this as a potential end to my life story, it didn't seem interesting enough. I put the knife back and felt stupid for ever grabbing it. Feeling stupid and worthless was how I'd felt almost 24/7 for the past 2 months. My pathetic glimpse at suicide only seemed like another bout of self induced humiliation. I went back in the bathroom, I locked the door and I laid dead.

My wife came home sometime later. She knocked at the door and it sounded like I was underwater. My eyebrow raised but my mouth felt sewn shut. She went to open the door but the lock stopped her. She went to open it again and the handle turned with ease. That occurrence felt dreamlike and as she approached me I wondered if any of this was really happening. She helped me to the bed and gave me a Xanax. Gently, she spoke to me and got me to eventually talk. My mouth felt heavy and damp, my jaw unhinged. I slowly came back to a conscious state and the next day I would pack up my work gear to head to my family's farm and regain some sanity, it was my best chance at getting grounded and regaining some hope.

Me at 20 years old, at the start of my partying days, 2008

Me at 20 years old, at the start of my partying days, 2008

My History of Depression

Being depressed was nothing new to me. I can remember being depressed as early as 9 years old.  That summer I recall sinking into some sort of quiet and numbed state. It lasted well into the beginning of the school year and after that became a normal part of my life. My depression would come in waves and pass just as quickly. Sometimes I'd have a low week and other times I'd have a bad 8 months. These phases were completely unpredictable and I never knew when I would wake up in a vibrant world or when I'd wake up in a dull one. One thing was certain though, I would take my depression out on myself. To me, this was something that I thought I should be able to control. "Get it together", "other people deal with this", "what do you have to cry about", "you are so weak", and phrases like this would constantly play in my head and it was my voice saying them. 

The ritual of up and down moods was engrained in me. It was part of my life and something that I eventually began to accept as absolute. I believed with my entire being that this was forever for me. My life was going to continue with a constant flux of ok to low and sometimes really low. Since I was caught up on being tough and wanting to control my emotions, I masked my feelings pretty well. People would get glimpses of my anger or see me lose it over seemingly little things, but I didn't talk about how I was feeling so the full picture was never painted. Talking about what I was going through seemed ridiculous and induced so many feelings of shame in me. So, I carried on with the "get over it" mentality.

Depression was with me in grade school, it was there during high school, and it really grabbed the reins in my early 20's during college and my love affair with partying. Booze and social excess helped me gain freedom from my negative thoughts... for awhile. When I drank and partied, I felt free. My anxiety around new people faded and the confident charismatic character that I became seemed to be the solution to my dark thoughts. Slowly and then quickly, things started slipping fast. I went through back to back heartbreaks and after that I started struggling with keeping my school life a priority. My afternoon classes started to lose their interest to me and instead I would come home and start drinking. At that point, I needed to be drunk in order to feel still in control over my thoughts. Raising a glass to my lips was all I had left as an escape from all the awful self hatred swimming in my mind.

A Brief Respite

I eventually left school, not being able to handle taking classes or being successful in them. Without doing well, college is sort of a waste of money. I knew I wasn't doing the right thing scraping my way through art school, so I left. After that I took courses at community college for awhile but ended up leaving that too. Soon after these two blows, I got fired from the job I'd had for almost 8 years. I knew I had it coming, my body was at work (sometimes) but my mind was elsewhere. Everything was crumbling down that I had built, including the party house that I had put my soul into to. My friend group that had become my family was separating and during this time I lost my best friend in the shuffle. Towards the end of all this, I left Downtown, Milwaukee and moved into a house with my wife (then girlfriend) and our mutual friend.

This house served as a new home and a new start, but I was in a deep low during the first year there. I had gained quite a bit of weight and was at a loss with who I was seeing in the mirror. My reflection was so lifeless and sluggish, I had no forward momentum. I took a job at a dog daycare soon after we moved in. Working with the dogs got me on my feet and out of my head for a part of the day. The pay wasn't anything great, but it kept me afloat while I was figuring everything out.  It also gave me a new outlet, fostering puppies. Having little balls of energy in the house was a good distraction from my own mind.

Me during the first year at our new house, Summer 2010

Me during the first year at our new house, Summer 2010

I still needed more income during that summer, so I called in a favor from my uncle and he talked to one of his farmer friends about getting me a job. I was hired as a farmhand and market worker for a farm about 30min away. On days that I didn't work at the dog daycare, I was at that farm. I'll never forget the first day that I started that job. It was 90+ degrees outside and humid. My body was really out of shape, I wasn't used to the heat at all, and I was a smoker. Within an hour of picking pickles, I started to get dizzy and nauseous. My vision swirled and I needed to sit down, so embarrassed that I might puke within earshot of my coworkers. This moment was a wake up call for me. My lifestyle was catching up to me and I realized just how unhealthy I had become. I went home that day earning $7/hr for fieldwork, but I had won something else... motivation. 

My summer at that farm gave me a lot of gifts. Time out in the field was meditative and my mind slowed. I was able to suddenly grasp my life a little and see a clearer path to the future. I lost most of the weight that I'd gained and my interest in healthier food was renewed. I started to get some confidence back and I was able to set a plan of returning to school to pursue a career. Things were getting better and I felt some control over my life again. I didn't stop drinking during this time though, instead I powered through my night life and grinding through my hungover work days. Out in the field, I'd sweat out all that excess and find the quiet to stay sane.

The Reckless Era

I finished up that fall on the farm and then started college (again). This time I went back in the creative arts and entered a different art school. My goal was to push through, get a degree, and hopefully pursue fashion editorial. I had always had an interest in it and decided to give it another go. Eventually I switched back to graphic design and that's when my success in school really took off. I worked hard and took chances. My confidence boomed and I felt very strong backed by my work. During this time I had a mentor and she was pivotal in helping me succeed. I ended up having 2 solo exhibitions of my work and becoming the first ever graduate of that school. My career as a designer was off to a solid start and I felt secure in that arena.

All the while I was charging through school, a storm was brewing in me. Mastering the art of distraction, I was able to just keep moving forward. I was unaware that moving forward without acknowledging what's under the surface can be mighty damaging. During these years, my partying and alcohol use became more intense. I would binge to catch up on lost hours of not socializing. When I would go out, it was an all day/night affair. Bar hopping would last hours and would eventually lead to someone's random house. The night would only ever end when everyone seemed to reach a total wall of "done".

Self portrait for a solo exhibition that I worked on during my last year in school at The Art Institute of Wisconsin, 2012

Self portrait for a solo exhibition that I worked on during my last year in school at The Art Institute of Wisconsin, 2012

During this time my body could no longer process alcohol quickly. If I drank, I was for sure going to be hungover the next day. It was a grueling cycle. On days that I worked or had school, I would push through the heavy headaches, weakness, anxiety, and exhaustion. On my days off, I would rot on the couch and binge eat. It was those days that were often worse because my self loathing would be at full volume. On days that I wasn't hungover, I was most likely out drinking. I also started to lose energy more quickly while I was out drinking. That was not going to fly with me. If I was out, I wanted to be out for hours on end and I needed the stamina to do so. This is when I started using uppers simultaneously with drinking. If I knew I was going to be out for awhile, I'd have to get something in my system to charge me up and to take the anxiety away of "being tired". I didn't want to miss anything, I needed to be there. 

Once I started using uppers to help me drink more, it became a ritual. If I had my hands on Adderral, I would crush a pill and snort the lines. Then, I'd take 5-6 B vitamins and down an energy shot. At that point, I'd be good to go. I'd set off to my destination and when I lit the first cigarette after doing those precursors, I felt so good. A wave would wash over me and I would become alert but calm. I was set. My upper and alcohol combos would leave me in a state of alert relaxation. The combo was my armor and I needed it in order to feel ready to take on my night. Without it, I was a nervous wreck. If I started to actually feel the effects of alcohol or start to slip to the drunk end of things, my anxiety would take over. I always wanted to be drinking, but I never wanted to be drunk. My combo aimed to avoid this, it cut out the drunk effects of alcohol and left me with the ability to comfort my self through endless sipping.

During this time I was aware that I was losing the ability to have fun. Going out or drinking with friends seemed so mandatory, it was my life. There was no other outlet of enjoying myself. I had a few brief stints with trying to get healthy. I'd eat great for long periods of time but never stopped drinking. I would walk on a daily basis for awhile but never stopped the late nights. These attempts at trying to help myself would set me back into dark corners of my mind. I felt to blame for all of my constant needs to escape. I thought I should be able to control myself, get a grip. I couldn't get a grip though, and I didn't admit to myself how scary my state of mind was becoming. Instead of stopping the upper/booze approach, I just ran for it every time my mind started to feel too vulnerable to the onslaught of negative thoughts.

When a line would go into my nose, I felt in control. I loved crushing pills and dividing them into lines. I'd smoke my post snort cigarette and feel like royalty. I was creating my own little power sphere of control. The Adderral did the trick but it also wasn't the easiest to obtain. I had a friend at the time that always had coke and one night I decided that would be a great time to wander over to his place and give it a whirl. It was a week night, but I was on the prowl. A group of us hung out there for a few hours, doing lines and drinking High Life. Eventually, we wandered out to a strip club and then back to his place to do more. It was nothing special and the coke was pretty shitty, but it was a tunnel. I liked it in that tunnel, nothing going on but the back and forth of conversation, the interludes of lines, and the tipping of gold cans.

Soon after that night, that house was my map point for escape. My best friend and I would go to there to kill hours. We would sit and do that shitty coke all night. Soon after starting this ritual, my anxiety would reach an all time high. I would come home from long nights of drunken line snorting and would try to lay down to go to bed. My mind would start to race and I would hear so many things at the same time. It was like having 20 radios on in the room, all of them playing different things. Negative self hatred would then come storming in, screaming at me for being so wasteful with my time and life. I would try to chase it away but it was hopeless. It would eventually reach a height of needing to escape my body and I would release it through panic attacks. The panic attacks would constrict my whole body, twisting me into heavy burst of sobs. My lungs would close under the pressure of fear and doubt, causing my breathing to happen in spurts. The whole time I would feel myself in my peripheral vision looking down on me, scolding me, and hating me... thinking of me as a pathetic pile of waste.

I didn't want to have those panic attacks, but I also didn't want to give up being able to drink 15 beers and still drive home. Plus, I loved the ritual. So, I would stop and then give in, stop and then give in. Each time with the same result... panic attacks and self disgust. When I wasn't around the coke, I happened to be around something else. Sometimes it was crack and other times it was molly. It didn't matter what the drug was, as long as it was a stimulant. I even remember one night being out of everything else and thinking that poppers would be a good solution. We drove to the porn store at 3:30am and it was closed... I was pissed. I needed that rush, that adrenaline shot to keep the night alive. My anxiety was all centered around my binge drinking having to stop, having to return to reality. I didn't want to be in my reality because it was a scary place.

"I didn't want to be in my reality because it was a scary place."

"I didn't want to be in my reality because it was a scary place."

The way my mind felt without the distraction of people, booze, and drugs was disconnected and crazy. I was mean to myself and often questioned my sanity. I would experience bouts of slightly dissociative episodes where I felt that I was out of my body and just in my mind. It felt as if there were two versions of me at all times, my physical self and my mental self but they were not in a joint venture. I would often have to talk myself into my body and remember that I was actually physically here. These experiences coupled with the omnipresent shame that I carried about just existing was a heavy daily burden. I had no idea just how bad my mental state had become and I didn't want to even accept it. I would blame it on my relationship, or my inability to get over my feelings for someone, or my lack of having financial success but I would never think that the answers were waiting inside me. I figured this is how I was and this was going to be my life until I died. Often this thought was with me on those long nights out and I embraced the possibility of not waking up from that night's binge. I wanted relief and dying in my sleep seemed like a possible way to find it.

Hitting Bottom

In the fall of 2014, I was going through a very deep cloud of depression. It had been going on for about 4 weeks. At this point, my whole body felt numb and lifeless. My mind was a hollow vessel that had been bore out by continual verbal self assault. I felt very detached from reality, but kept putting one foot in front of the other and dead walking through my daily life. It was Halloween night and my (then) fiancé had went to a dance party Downtown. I declined to join because I felt so gloomy and thought it better that I just stay in. Honestly, I was kind of an asshole during these deep clouds. I grew disdained and lashed out at her often. This only made me feel worse. That night she left and I lay on the couch ready to try to relax. 

My mind started to swirl, conjuring up in me the idea of going out by myself. I wanted to feel something, whether it was the cold night air on my face or the burn of whiskey down my throat. The idea felt more and more right, it started to evolve into a solution. I got in the shower and from there it was decided. There was a local bar around the corner from our house and that's where I decided to start. My boots hit the front sidewalk and I stopped to light a cigarette. The air was crisp and the sky was clear. My smoke drifted upward and I started to feel a little relief from the numbness gripping my chest.

When I got to the bar, I ordered a beer and put my feet up on the stool next to me. This bar was practically a second home and I looked around for any regulars, oddly the place was kind of empty. There were brats in a slow cooker stinking up the place. That reminded me of something my friend would find amusing, so I text her to come by. The thought of someone coming to talk with me seemed promising and my heart started to beat a little faster. I was feeling something for a moment, but when she text back that she was sick and couldn't come, that feeling dissipated and was replaced with anxiety of having to sit there alone and numbed out. I took my brick of a phone out and started to text a few of the guys that were usually at this bar. One of them responded that they were at a bar nearby. Boom, I now had a plan of action. That was all it took, just like a line into my nose, for me to feel adrenaline. 

"It felt as if there were two versions of me at all times, my physical self and my mental self but they were not in a joint venture."

"It felt as if there were two versions of me at all times, my physical self and my mental self but they were not in a joint venture."

As I walked to the other bar, my body starting to feel waves of anticipation. I wasn't going to do anything exciting but my mind was addicted to this routine of escape as release. I had run away from my feelings on that couch and found a distraction from them. I was now out in the wild and all that mattered was the progression of the evening. I arrived at the other bar and found the group of bar fly guys. They were already pretty sauced up and that got me in the mood to join them. I ordered a shot of whiskey and another beer. That shot of whiskey hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm still not sure why but it took me from hardly buzzed to full on hazy. I think it was my state of mind and the mental exhaustion I was facing from the long lasting depression, but after that shot I sort of got dark. I suddenly felt outside myself and I didn't really feel like anything I was doing mattered. Why would it? I thought to myself, I'm going to wake up tomorrow feeling just as shitty as when I woke up today. It will be another day chasing away all of the sadness in me, another day focusing on just staying in my body and breathing, and another day of feeling like I am a mentally ill disaster. 

We left as a group to the bar I was originally at and from there I went down a rabbit hole. I started doing more and more shots of whiskey. The booze wasn't enough though, so I started flirting with one of my bar fly friends that I was there with. It was wrong to do and I knew that, but that's why I did it. I did it to feel any sort of rush. From there my night got worse and worse. My fiancé ended up at the bar and I treated her horribly. We ended up in a fight and I ended up going home with the bar fly friend. I had never cheated on my partner. We had been together 6 years at that point and I had never doubted my ability to stay faithful. That night, I broke that streak and I broke myself. It was an act of violence against the person that I had hated for so long... me. I desperately wanted to feel like I was actually alive and at the same time I just really wanted to crash and burn. My memory of the situation is spotty but it is there and I will always hold myself accountable for the actions that took place that night. 

The next morning I came home. It was moving day for me and my fiancé. We were scheduled to move into our new apartment, the first place that we'd move into alone together as a couple. It was supposed to be a great day and a time filled with hope for the future. When I saw her, I tried to lie and failed within seconds. It was only then that I really started to even come into a consciousness about what I'd done and the aftermath of those actions. I went to shower and once out, I fell down to my knees and finally had the panic attack that had been building for weeks. So many thoughts rushed in at once but in all of them I was able to hear one clear thought. There was a statement that came to me that said, "you don't have to do this anymore". I felt dumbfounded by the simplicity of it. What if I didn't have to live like this anymore? What if I stopped how I was plowing through life and changed? I decided in that moment that I was done. I would stop drinking, I'd get psychological help, I'd get healthy, and I would remove myself from the people that I regularly used with. This was a commitment to save my relationship, but it was also a commitment to myself. 

What They Don't Tell You About Getting Sober

I entered sobriety the day that I hit my emotional bottom. This was also the point in my life that I decided to surrender. Surrendering to my vulnerability and feelings was really scary, but completely necessary in order to find out why I was the way I was in the first place. I took the next few days off work and started researching how to get help immediately. During this time, we were moving into our new place and my relationship was on the rocks. It was so heavy to see what I'd done to the person I loved and we coexisted though all that pain, doing our best to both stay "ok" through it all. 

My fears were with me at all times during those first few weeks. I was in a very fragile state of mind and felt shaken to my core. This was it, I was broken and now I was willing to do anything to rebuild myself. I found a therapist and started working with her as soon as I could. I also found a psychologist to see after I had a recommendation from the therapist. Proactive is an underwhelming term for how I was diving into self help. Right away, they both flagged me for some sort of mood disorder. The doctor leaned towards "bi-poler light" and put me on Lamictal which is a mood stabilizer. I started taking that and going to therapy once a week. It was in therapy that I started to be able to visualize all the different elements that had gotten me to this point. I learned that it wasn't just one thing or a few things, but rather a collective group of so many events throughout my life that had got me to arrive here. Most importantly, I started to gain the concept of not being to blame and that my feelings weren't my fault. It was an important shift in consciousness and enlightened me to a different way of thinking about myself.

When I entered this new chapter of my life, I assumed that I would feel great sooner than later. I thought that once I wasn't drinking or using, I would suddenly have waves of natural energy and hope. This was definitely not the case. Getting better and being in recovery is a LOT of work. I was also extremely sensitive during that first year. I had shed my armor of booze, powders, and loud friends. Going out into the world, I felt naked and ashamed. I often avoided leaving the house at all since it was new to me to face the world as myself and not a character. Plus, I didn't know who I was... the first year of recovery left me very lost but I knew it was where I needed to be. 

With my Grandmother at my wedding reception - May, 2015

With my Grandmother at my wedding reception - May, 2015

I married my now wife in May of 2015. We got through that dark time but ended up going through several more. What they don't tell you about getting sober is that it leads to all sorts of other wounds opening up. Recovery from a life bound by addiction and running from feelings is a painful process. As a couple, we went through my recovery together and it was very trying. When my wounds were opening up so that I could look at them and figure out how I even got them, I became so fragile. I became depressed... again. It just lingered and lingered as I sorted out my past and dug up old tombs of memories. Our relationship kept taking the brunt of my emotional ups and downs. I'd be good for a week or two and then down for a week or four. I felt like my meds weren't working, so I slowly went off of them. When I was off and didn't feel any different, I resigned to the fact that this was just me and I wasn't bipolar. I was a melancholy, emotional, sensitive, and deeply damaged person. This was my life... depression and the struggle to get through the clouds.

With our relationship on the rocks, we ended up entering couple's therapy. We walked into our first session with the new therapist and were immediately taken back by the hundreds of figurines strewn throughout her office. We sat down and entered a close to 2 hour session with her. Her style was different than my previous two therapists. She seemed to weave a subconscious thread through the whole session and it felt more explorative, open to unexpected moments of clarity. I left feeling like we had someone to work with that could bring us closer together. During that time I was having very vivid dreams and they would leave me completely depleted of energy when I would wake up. The therapist said that she did dream work, so I started to see her solo as well as in couple's sessions. Working with her was different and we started to dig deeper into my issues. I started practicing a lot of self care during this time and felt spiritually engaged after sessions with her. My depression was strong though and I still was lacking a real grasp of hope for the future.

When the Levee Breaks

It was March of 2016 when my depression finally cleared. Prior to the clearing, I had faced the entertaining of suicide that I started this post with. I had faced countless panic attacks, ever present anxiety, and a pure sense of hopelessness. Sobriety and recovery were supposed to be the keys to me healing and feeling better, but I had ended up in a darker place than ever. My therapist often talked about "the dark night of the soul" and how there is something on the other side of that journey. I wanted to believe her and I strained to see what could be at the end of the tunnel. 

After my very scary suicidal low in January, I decided to start "chasing" anxiety. This concept came to me after thinking about how you can often string together how you arrived at a thought. When I started to feel anxiety in my body, I stayed present and listened to all the thoughts flooding my mind. I started to pick at those thoughts and find the common themes in them. This was a new method for me and it didn't give me instant answers, but it did give me a way to stay conscious enough to ward off panic attacks. 

In February, I finally was able to chase my anxiety to a realization. I was in line at Target with my wife and we were talking about if we should stop somewhere for lunch. All of a sudden, my mood switched and I felt anxiety grip my throat and thoughts. I stayed with it and tried to listen to what was coming up. Why was the idea of getting lunch making me anxious? I started to draw a line between the thoughts... the idea of eating out meant extra calories than eating at home... was I really that hungry... how much food would I eat.... I was going to overeat... I shouldn't be eating out, it's not the healthiest option... I don't want to gain weight.... I really don't want to have a puffy waist.... fuck, if I eat this, I am going to stay soft around the waist.... I don't want to be fat, I really don't want to look even slightly pudgy. These kind of thoughts were coupled with physical feelings of tension on my waist... my face was hot and flushed... my throat felt dry and like I couldn't speak. I had a hard time expressing what I was thinking to my wife and we ended up eating out for lunch but I was almost silent. I was being shut off and kind of an ass, but I kept staying with the thoughts. It brought me back years to feeling similar anxieties over eating and food. I recalled so many times over the years of feeling so uncomfortable about my waist and overall softness of my body. 

When we got home, I went to the mirror. I lifted up my shirt and looked at my waist. The anxiety flooded in and I felt something really wrong with my reaction. I kept looking though and realized that I wasn't necessarily bothered by the fat on my waist but the curve of it. It made me uncomfortable to see the line of my side go in, to see the feminine curve of my waist. Wait... why does that bother me? I felt puzzled and paused at the word feminine which invoked the anxiety to come up again. I pulled my hands up higher to hold up my breasts, pinning them down and looking at my chest and ribs without their intrusion. It dawned on me that I did that all the time when I was looking in the mirror, held my boobs out of existence. Why do I do that? Without any warning, almost like a bolt of clarity, I answered myself. "It's because I'm a guy."

Starting to explore my gender expression and feeling better in my own skin - May 2016

Starting to explore my gender expression and feeling better in my own skin - May 2016

Out of The Cloud 

My life changed dramatically after that day. I have lived with a different state of mind since that moment and nothing will ever put me back in the dark. After I reached that realization through chasing my anxiety, I started to really pay attention to my thoughts around this issue of gender. Things started clicking left and right, past and present. I was able to finally find the thread that weaved together my life since childhood. My mind felt clearer than it had ever felt. Suddenly, I had answers to things that had only ever caused me confusion and doubt. My depression lifted that March and my gender identity arrived in clarity. The two events went together in such an instant moment, it's hard to put into words how filled with resolve I was.

I started to experiment with expressing myself how I wanted to, truly wanted to. I listened to that voice that was buried so far behind all of the mean and hateful voices that for 25 years had won first place to my ears. I told my wife what I was realizing and she was extremely supportive, encouraging me to try new things and see where they took me. So, I began to try different things and take in as much information as I could. I listened to people's stories and resonated with what they shared. I couldn't believe all the similarities that I had with their experiences. Hearing these things was so reassuring that I was on the right path. I bought myself some new clothes and picked out the items that I really wanted to wear. I bought a binder to flatten my chest. When I saw myself with that on for the first time, it was like seeing the real me for the first time. I stared at my chest and ran my hands over it. It was comforting to not want to look away. I started to workout to build muscle and connect with my body, which was such a positive push forward. That summer, I got the buzzcut that I'd wanted since I was 4 years old. 

After my first buzzcut - June 2016

After my first buzzcut - June 2016

Months prior to me arriving at the realization of being trans, my therapist had asked me if I felt that I was living in the wrong gender. I had told her that I could handle being a woman, that I didn't need to be a man. That's what I'd told myself for years... that I could handle this. It was only after my moment of clarity that I realized what a strange answer that was. I had always assumed that every girl thought about being a guy. I had assumed that people who transitioned were so sad, desperate, and suicidal that they had to do it. I had told myself that I wasn't like that because I could handle it. I thought that if I was transgender that I would 100% know. But the thing is... I had known. I was just finally able to hear that voice that was buried so far behind all of the mean and hateful voices that for 25 years had won first place to my ears. I had always known that I would prefer to be viewed as male. I had always longed for a flat chest and muscular body. I had always wanted a girl to tell me that I was her man. But, these thoughts and feelings had been stifled. I'd pushed them away because I thought what I was thinking about was impossible. 

I came out pretty quickly about these realizations to my therapist and we started working on my gender identity. I've never gone back on the clarity, it's crystal. This realization is the reason for my deep depression. I needed to go through that darkness to come to a true sense of understanding. Since then I have been able to tackle years of pain, damage, and confusion. I battle gender dysphoria, but at least now I know what it is... and I know I can do something about it. Before, it was just a cluster-fuck of anxiety, shame, doubt, fear, and confusion. Now, in place of that state of mind is a deep sense of self-knowledge. I have undergone the dark night of the soul. Maybe it was for longer than it needed to be, but that's not a choice I got to make. It has been and continues to be a deep spiritual journey. Despite all the desperation and hopelessness I've faced, I'm grateful for it. My struggle with depression and anxiety eventually brought me to a place of self love and forgiveness. It held my hand the whole way until I got where I needed to be, then it let me go.


If you are struggling with depression or any emotional issues, please seek help. Whether it's being honest with a loved one or reaching out to find a therapist, you deserve to feel better. It took me so many years to feel like I "deserved" help. Please don't make that mistake or believe that nonsense. There is help out there. I strongly recommend looking for a therapist who is trained in Jungian Therapy and takes a spiritual approach. If you have addiction issues, I greatly advise working with a therapist that has been in recovery or specializes in this arena. 

To find a therapist near you, click here.