44, Fort Lauderdale
I first sought help for clinical depression in 1992. I had just moved in with my first boyfriend after testing positive. He was negative—and I felt like damaged goods. It became an emotionally abusive relationship, but I thought it was all I deserved. I began to feel worthless and like I had lost control over every aspect of my life. I even considered suicide. To me, HIV and depression go hand in hand, but I realized that mine was clinical and that I had probably been suffering from depression since I was 13. HIV made it worse. Prior to the early ’90s, depression wasn’t really talked about. There is still a stigma, like with HIV. Some people think depression is a myth and see talk therapy and medication as a cop-out. I couldn’t disagree more. If you break your arm, no one tells you to buck up and not get a cast. There is something organically wrong with you—but it can be fixed.
5 Steps Toward Bliss
1. Watch for signs
I couldn’t sleep. I gained weight. Even though I’m a perfectionist, I started making mistakes at work. I thought I was just on a downward spiral. Suicidal thoughts put the fear of God into me, and I talked to my doctor.
Check out the National Institute of Mental Health to learn more about signs of depression, www.nimh.nih.org.
2. See a pro
Many HIV doctors can recognize the signs of depression. I pretty much just turned into a puddle in my HIV doc’s office, and he diagnosed me. It was an incredible relief. I started taking antidepressants and went to therapy, but only once. I thought I could do things on my own but learned that dealing with depression is an ongoing process. I went back.
Find a listing of depression support groups around the country from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, www.dbsalliance.org.
3. Seek positive reinforcement
A few years later, I got addicted to tincture of opium prescribed to treat my chronic diarrhea and experienced deep depression. I actually had the suicide planned. But I started seeing an incredible therapist who recommended some books that taught me to stop trying to live up to other people’s expectations and start trying to live up to my own. I got out of my relationship and started taking care of myself. I had never felt or looked better and finally felt like the real me.
Try The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns for info on dealing with chronic depression.
4. Learn from setbacks
But then I started feeling intensely depressed again. My therapist called my physician. I had just started Sustiva, which is known to cause depression. They took me off, and I improved rapidly. Then lipo hit. It was not easy for a 40-year-old single man to know everyone could tell I had AIDS. I felt like damaged goods again. Then I looked within and stopped swallowing the bitter youth pill that society prizes.
Go to AIDSMeds.com for more info on depression, HIV and treatment, www.aids meds.com.
5. Keep hope alive
I moved from Minneapolis to Florida about a year ago to be with my current partner. If I hadn’t been through it all, I wouldn’t have been willing to put myself out there, much less leave my home and move without a job. I’m still on meds and working with depression. I’ve started Sculptra injections for lipo. I thought I’d die in the snow a single man. Instead, we recently bought a dog and a house with a tropical front yard.
For more general information on dealing with depression, go to the American Psychological Association, www.apa.org.