I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2010. I had recently been promoted and found myself in the middle of many challenging situations at work. At the time, I had a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old child and two newborns at home. Although it was my first time ever experiencing depression, it made sense to me because of my circumstances. My doctor started me on medication, and I began to see a therapist for the first time. I felt as though I was able to get a handle on this bout of depression fairly quickly.
Three years later, however, a second episode came out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks. It was so severe that it made my last episode feel like a case of the Sunday blues. This was incredibly scary for me and brought me back to the psychiatrist’s office, with my sister and my wife there to support me.
I made the very difficult decision to take time off from work in order to check myself into a partial hospitalization program. At first, this felt incredibly surreal to me. I never imagined that I would be checking myself into a program for depression. I had always been a fairly outgoing person, known for my constant smile.
As odd as this entire situation was for me, I knew that I needed to accept where I was and focus on recovery. I had to come to terms with the fact that I really did need to be there. I quickly decided that I needed to work hard and engage in the activities in the program in order to work toward my recovery. I had a job and a family to get back to.
It’s important that you, too, accept your diagnosis so that you can address it head on. It’s not always easy to accept, particularly as a man. Men may think that they shouldn’t talk about their feelings. They think they’re supposed to be tough, to be able to handle adversity. Because of this, many men resort to self-medicating and masking their depression rather than reaching out for the support they need. But once you accept that you have an illness, you can start to take the necessary steps toward recovery.
Make sure that you also have a system of support. This may include seeing a therapist, talking to a spouse or close friend, exercising, journaling, forcing yourself to go on social outings, attending support groups, revisiting a past hobby or creating a new one, or practicing mindfulness and meditation. Try out different forms of support in order to figure out which ones work best for you. While I was at the partial hospitalization program, I picked up on illustrating with pastels. I had never done it prior to that time and continue to share the activity with my kids. I also started to learn how to play the guitar during my recovery.
Hopefully, the support system that you put into place will become a part of your regular life. Please remember that recovery takes time and effort. Know that you are not alone and that you will get better.
Al Levin has worked in education for nearly 20 years and is currently an assistant principal. He’s married with four children between the ages of 6 and 11. Al has recovered from two bouts of major depressive disorder, and from his experience, has become passionate about supporting others with a mental illness, particularly men with depression. He blogs, speaks publicly for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and is on Twitter. His latest project is a podcast called The Depression Files.