I am a 41-year-old man with a perfect life: a family that is proud of the man I grew up to be, a partner of eight years (and counting) that cares for me, friends that support my aspirations, and a job that I love, but more often than not, I can’t enjoy it because I live with major depressive disorder, and it is not a roommate I would wish anyone to live with. It’s demanding and troublesome, a slacker that is adamant to control me.

For the past 25 years of my life, I have been in and out of therapy so as to learn how to live with this burden. I’ve been prescribed enough medication over the years that would make Judy Garland jealous, but despite the drugs, Depression always found a way to control me. It has convinced me to cancel plans with friends, and call in sick to work. It has stolen my motivation to where I spend entire days in bed, hiding from the rest of the world until it decides to go on vacation for a while. Unfortunately, it always comes home, and nothing has ever triggered its return. It just comes.

The worst time of my life occurred in 1996 because Depression was so overbearing that I didn’t know how to cope. As a result, I lost my job, my home, and my friends. I (along with Depression) moved back in with my parents with nothing more than my car, a few personal possessions, and a closet of clothes. It took about two years to recover, but I was able to slowly climb back onto my own two feet with the help of new friends, more therapy, and medication. Unfortunately, I think I will always need the therapy and medication because as hard as I try, Depression makes itself home wherever I go.

I used to not share my secret (that I live with depression) to certain circles because it is often considered a sign of weakness. I’ve learned the hard (and disappointing) way that people can be very flippant about someone living with depression. I’ve been told that I use it as an excuse, and I’ve been told that I can choose happiness. However, I have never wanted an excuse to stay home with Depression, nor am I able to just choose my mood (if you can choose your mood, then you are sad, not depressed). I’ve had to assure myself that living with Depression is not a sign of weakness because that is what people always told me. It is unfortunate that people who don’t understand depression fail to realize the mental strength I have to exert just to go through a regular day while depression weighs me down.

I didn’t understand the level of stigma people like me deal with until a few years ago when I overheard co-workers discussing a tragedy they watched on the news. While exchanging their opinions, one of them said to the other, “It’s because of all these depressed people with guns.” The other didn’t disagree. It was that moment when I learned why some people act the way they do around people that suffer from this unwanted illness, they’re afraid of it. I then worried about what they would think of me if they knew I often suffered from waves of debilitating sadness. Would they begin to fear me? Would my presence make them uncomfortable?

Nowadays, I am very open about my struggles with depression. It not only takes away a little of Depression’s control over me, it helps others who struggle with similar issues. If anyone responds to my openness with fear or disrespect, I tell myself that these people are only showing their ignorance. My willingness to share my story and my feelings is my right, and it’s yours, too.

Experiencing life with a very understanding partner of eight-years (and counting), a steady regime of medication, and a community of others who are not ashamed of sharing their adversity and brave the consequence of stigma so that strangers like me can build the courage within themselves to say, “this is a part of my life but not who I am” has helped me through some tough days. Unfortunately, those tough days aren’t over. I doubt they ever will be, but I’m going to hang on tight until each storm passes.

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Cary is a writer from Memphis, TN. When he’s not writing about the adventures of being gay and the frustrations of cat ownership on his blog, http://www.reluctantcatowner.com/, he occasionally performs on the Memphis stage, is out enjoys the highlights of his city, or is home caring for his handicats. You can also find him at http://www.leftypop.com/ and http://www.humoroutcasts.com/.