I have lived with depression and anxiety for nearly as long as I can remember. For years I would not fully acknowledge that simple fact. During my teenage years I turned to drugs and alcohol to help me cope with the pain and shame I felt. In my twenties and thirties I was on and off antidepressants, I went to therapy, and yet I still didn’t really consider myself as someone who had depression and anxiety until fairly recently. I never attempted suicide. I have never been hospitalized. This line of thinking was a way to separate myself from people who were really messed up. I would always go off my medication once I started to feel better with the assumption that everything was better now and I didn’t need the medication anymore. I wanted to be “normal”. Who doesn’t?
I lead a pretty regular existence in my external life. The medication and therapy helped me cope better. I am married and have two sons who are now in their teens. I also teach elementary school. However, I continued to battle depression and anxiety. I did this primarily on my own. I felt I had to keep my two lives separate. A few people in my life knew about my struggles, but because of the stigma (mostly my own) I felt like I needed to keep this a secret from the rest of the world.
About three years ago, at the age of 41, I had one of my worst episodes of depression that once again pushed me back onto medication and into therapy. It was different this time. I had always managed to push my way through my episodes before. I mean I was miserable, but I still managed to function. I did get through this episode, but I felt more out of control than I had ever felt before. It scared me. A LOT!!! I didn’t feel safe. I thought I would have to be hospitalized. I would make it through work somehow (those close to me noticed something wasn’t right) and then just come home and cry. I would often cry in the car on my way to and from work. I remember very clearly thinking my family would be better off without me. I didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t know if I was going to make it out of this episode, but it did begin to get better. After a couple of months the medication began to kick in and I began to stabilize.
I started taking it a bit more seriously. Instead of just letting my general doctor take care of prescribing me medication I went to a psychiatrist. He questioned me for about an hour about my history and then told me I have episodic major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I hadn’t noticed it really before he pointed it out, but over the years my episodes would come more quickly each time after going off of meds and the severity of the episodes began increasing. I made a choice at that point that my goal was no longer to go off of medication. I’m still on it more than 3 years later and am not sure I’ll ever go off. I’m open, but at this point I see no reason to.
As I was coming out of my depression and working on some things in therapy it became clear to me how difficult it was for me emotionally to keep my depression from people. It takes so much energy to pretend like everything is okay when I’m falling apart inside. Not only that, but it was like I was living a lie. Because… I was. I decided I was finished with that. So I started telling people who were close to me. My wife already knew, but my parents did not. Many of my friends didn’t know either. I also had a conversation with each of my sons about it, who were then 9 and 12. The conversations were really good and each of them asked me questions and tried to understand.
Through that process an amazing thing happened. Pretty much everyone I told responded sympathetically. Some would tell me about their struggles, or those of a family member or close friend. I realized in those instances that my talking about it gave them permission to share their own experiences. I didn’t have to pretend anymore. Even though not everyone knew, there were multiple people in all parts of my life who knew about it. I still had the same issues, except now I didn’t feel so alone with them or like I had to work so hard to put up a false front.
Over the last several years I have come out in the open and become an advocate for people with mental illness. I have participated in two Out of the Darkness Overnight walks sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This summer I started a blog about my life with depression, I have also created a private support page on Facebook for people who have been affected by mental illness. It has become a supportive community and has created a space for people to talk freely about things they can’t discuss in other areas of their lives. I will take another terrifying step next weekend when I will speak for 10 to 15 minutes at my church about my story and ending the stigma. There are typically about 150 to 200 people at church and some of my friends will be coming also.
I’m both excited and terrified about sharing my story in public. Despite being a teacher, I do not like public speaking. But I have made a decision that I am going to share my story and use my experiences to let others know they are not alone in their suffering. I’m anxious, but I’m also happy for the opportunity to share that message with so many people! I will continue to talk about it and create opportunities for people to talk openly about mental illness. I’m proud to be a mental health advocate and am grateful to not be living in the darkness anymore with my mental illness.
Bio: My name is Danny Price. I live in northern California with my wife and two sons. I am a husband, father, teacher, youth leader, and now also a mental health advocate. I have a blog at depressioninthelight.blogspot.