Restarting Counselling: 9 February 2023

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I have had high functioning depression since I was 15 years old. The memories around that time are hazy other than I felt really off, really flat, and really scared. It got so bad that one day, I crawled under my drafting table and pulled my legs towards my body and bawled. Not normal crying but totally and completely lost it.

My Mom seemed to be both confused and perturbed when she came to see what was going on. She prodded me to find out what was wrong, but I couldn’t put a name to what I was feeling other than it was overwhelmingly suffocating, choking any joy in my life out of me.

While the crying stopped, the dark mood didn’t, and finally we went to our doctor. I don’t know if it was in combination with a visit for a more specific reason, but I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and him mentioning the words, “high functioning depression.”

High functioning depression is like the tinnitus I have: constantly there, sometimes strongly, sometimes in the background, but always there. Unlike the tinnitus, which weirdly can be measured and seems more consistent than my depression, my depression ebbs and flows like the tides. Somedays I have good days. Other days, not so much. And even other days, a mixture of both.

I had been experiencing some moderate depressive episodes after I came out of depersonalisation (mostly?) back in 2021. Over the 2022-2023 summer break, with spending Christmas alone, missing out on talking to my family, and our cat Sissy slowly failing due to old age, this became more apparent. I love Christmas, but I wanted to tear the tree and all the decorations down the moment the clock struck 12 AM on 26 December 2022.

I made a promise to myself that I was going to relax over the summer break, and I did. Barely any work, barely any writing — and I haven’t filled you all in on my writing journey in 2022 — so I played PlayStation, read a few books I’d been meaning to read (or finish!), and spent time with my hubby and our cats. It was a nice way to unwind, especially after such a busy year.

One of the books I read was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which is a massive, but excellent book. Without hopefully being too spoilery, it follows four men who met in university (they shared a dorm suite) who are starting their lives in New York City. Eventually, one of the characters, who has a very troubled and disturbing past, comes to the fore as the main character. One of the friends, who the others say sticks up for the main character, ends up becoming famous but finding himself falling in love with the troubled character, despite never having a relationship with another man before. But the way the famous character cares so deeply for the main character, sticks by him, helps him through the roughest patches, is beautiful. Imperfect, sure, but the way the relationship is told is beautiful.

I think what affected me so deeply by this is I don’t have that type of relationship with anyone in my life, I don’t think. Or rather, I don’t allow myself to have that type of relationship, because I have been hurt or disappointed so many times that I push people away, whether that’s a millimeter or 14,000 kilometers. This has been a recurring issue in my life, and realizing this actually depressed me a great deal, not connecting with anyone, really, because of this fear of being hurt.

There isn’t something wrong with the world; there’s something wrong with me. And I need to work on that.

I reached out to OutLine, a New Zealand support service for people in the rainbow communities. They offer a short counselling service that can lead on to further referrals to counselors who are LGBT+ affirming or supportive. I did this around early January because I felt I needed help and I needed it from a person who understood some of where I am coming from.

The support I have received has been absolutely amazing. The kindness of the team members I have dealt with on the counseling team has really made me feel at ease, so anxiety and stress, and even hiding those parts of who I am because I don’t always feel comfortable discussing them with someone who isn’t gay, melted away.

I was expecting a bit of a wait — 8 to 10 weeks — to start talking to a counselor, but late yesterday afternoon, I got a call to say a space had opened up today (which worked perfectly). And at 11 AM today, I had a Zoom meeting with my counselor, a nice person named Tommy. We started talking like we’d known each other for a long time, and what was really super amazing was he had lived in Chicago for a while, so he knew where I was from and the cultural and social experiences I had had there. This made it all the better for me as I didn’t feel like I was a Klingon or something. While I love New Zealand immensely, it can be, and continues to be, hard to fit in as someone not born and raised here. (We spoke about that a lot.)

Our session went well over time, but I feel a lot more sure of making the right decision. I think we nailed three of the issues we need to focus on that might help me feel less isolated and depressed.

One is what I want out of my life. Today literally is the 27th anniversary of starting at The Place Where I Work and arriving in New Zealand and starting a relationship with my husband. When I started writing again back in 2021, surrounded by wonderful, encouraging, energetic people, something shifted inside me, and I felt included and passionate and inspired. It’s been a long while since I have felt that. And I’ve taken that feeling and run with it throughout the last year. Heck, I decided to apply for a Masters in Creative Writing, which I was accepted for and start in a few weeks. There’s anxiety around making any money around writing, but is that all there is? Is this a transition to something else, something better for me? These are burning questions I have. 27 years in one job is a long time. Massive changes and reductions in funding with a massive increase in compliance, all by the Government (who doesn’t listen), has made me loathe the job some days. Last year, my anxiety around it was so bad that I was dry-retching. And while we’ve put things into place to help alleviate that, I’m still not 100% happy any more.

Another is changing family dynamics. I’m not saying people aren’t allowed to change and grow, because that’s not the issue. The issue is around how I am dealing with that. For example, my nephews and nieces all are growing up. My oldest nephew Gavin is 17. I’ve not been back home for 4 years due to the pandemic. I feel like we’ve missed out on so much, and I have a good deal of guilt not being the good son / brother / uncle / grandson / cousin / friend and being there, in the good times and the bad. But I can’t live my life for others all the time. I have to live my own life. And I guess this is another bunch of issues I need to discuss in counselling.

The third is complicated grief. There’s always been this question around do I have that or don’t I, but I think it needs to be explored. I don’t handle loss well. I don’t handle leaving well, or saying good-bye. There are probably still issues around The Man I Once Loved, my grandparents and cousins and pets dying, and all sorts of other things. I don’t know, and I’ve been too afraid to explore them. So maybe now is the time. Make peace with whatever grief there is, acknowledge it, take its hand but not let it lead me on its own merry little way but let me lead it on my own path in my own journey. Who knows where it will end up, but I hope it’s in a better place.

So, I’m (weirdly) looking forward to where this all is headed. I feel like I am in safe hands with someone who understands, even at a foundational level, who I am and where I am coming from. As Tommy said, we’ve experience, and we continue to experience, “minority stress”; that is stresses that heteronormative people and the dominant culture / ethnicity don’t always face or understand. This phrase spoke to me, and I have to admit that it makes a lot of sense. I’ve said previously that, as a gay man, I feel the pressure to need to overcompensate and seem to justify myself: minority stress in action. This sometimes bubbles to the surface, but most times, those still waters run deep.

I am changing. I am in flux. I am not who I was 10 years ago, and I’m not yet who I’ll be in another 10 years.

I need to learn. I need to grow. I need to shed the skin of the burdens and societal pressures and expectations of the past.

I need to continue my journey to become a better me.