By now you may be familiar with the term depression. That does not mean that you understand that it is a mental illness or that anyone can get it. But you have, at least have heard the word depressed.
No one knows if, or when, they will be struck by depression, but it can happen to anyone at any time. It's like catching a cold in that anyone can catch a cold at anytime. One can't, however stop it or predict it. The only thing one can try to do is avoid catching it.
Even though many people have heard of the term depression, and may even know, at least conceptually, that it is a mental illness they still can not, for some reason, separate being sad from being depressed. While it is true that everyone gets sad after losing a loved one, it is not true that everyone gets depressed after losing a loved one. Sadness and depression are not mutually interchangeable. You can be sad and not depressed however you can not be depressed without being sad.
But sadness is not the only manifestation of depression. Depression can manifest itself in anger or in ways that make one appear to be anti social or isolationist. Sometimes depression can even manifest itself in physical pain, or worse, it can manifest itself in all of the above.
Some people think that you just have to "man up", "shake it off", "snap out of it" or just "stop whining". If only it were that simple.
Many people suffer with depression and do not even know they are depressed, they have never been properly diagnosed. And when I say suffer I truly mean suffer. While in a state of depression one truely has no control over their emotions. As stated above, these emotions can run the gamut from simply sad and withdrawn, to weeping uncontrollably, to sheer anger. Often people confuse a depressed person with an arrogant person.
Living with with someone that is depressed is no easy task. It takes a special person to put up with a depressed person. Just as it takes a special person to keep living with someone loved that suddenly becomes blind, or has lost the ability to walk. It is not easy and the love one needs to continue with the person is one that is so profound that it defies logic.
Some people struggle with depression for many years before getting help, others never know they are depressed so never get treatment. Its often been called the silent killer precisely because of this. Depression is not obvious to the naked eye. It's not detectable like a broken arm or even a heart attack is.
Some people can even quasi function while being in the throes of depression. They get up and go to work every day and just function. They may be the person on the job that every secretly says "man that dude or chick is really weird" or they may be the loners. Or they may the one that is always angry, cranky, moody. To you they may appear to be weird but to them they are in utter pain. Since depression is a mental illness, it has to do with the wiring within the brain. Sometimes they call it a chemical imbalance.
In his blog post Are Mental Illnesses Caused by “Chemical Imbalances?" Peter Earley quotes the book SHRINK RAP: Three Psychiatrist Explain Their Work written by Dinah Miller, Annette Hanson, and Steven Roy Daviss explain the term chemical imbalance as it relates to mental illness.
“Chemical imbalance is a term with imprecise meaning…Saying that a psychiatric disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance, although an imperfect explanation, sometimes makes psychiatric disorders more palatable to patients and less stigmatizing. The term gives some credence to the practice of treating these disorders with medication. But there is no psychiatric disorder for which we know for certain which chemicals are “imbalanced” if any.
I was depressed for decades. I never knew I was depressed probably because I self medicated. I was a heroin addict and had never allowed myself to feel anything, I was always high or in search of the next high. I did the things that drug addicts do and paid the price to. When I finally got clean I was an angry miserable person. I was charismatic and was always able to draw friends. I was an activist and always on the go. But as fast as I made friends just as fast I lost them. People thought I was an arrogant SOB. Then my depression was not manifested in sadness, it was manifested in anger and perhaps I did have a streak of arrogance. Not that I had anything to be arrogant about.
I never knew that I was depressed until one day my wife insisted that I see someone because my mood swings were getting worse. To humor my wife, more than to seek treatment, I finally saw a psychiatrist at Mt. Sinai Hospital. That was the first time in my life that I was told and could not deny that I had a mental illness called depression. Wait, lets back track a minute. After my teenage years and early twenties while still an addict I went in and out of jails a few times. Always for petty crimes. But When I was 21 I guess my number came up and this time I was sent to the state penitentiary. I was sentence to 2 and one third to seven years in prison. That was it my life was changed for ever. While in prison I was finally forced to take a fearless, moral inventory and decide what I wanted the rest of my life to look like. It could have remained the same, getting out of jail (well this time it was prison) getting a job I hated and eventually doing the same things with the same people in the same neighborhood. Or taking drastic action and changing my whole thought process. I have read a book while on Rikers Island called I'll Quit Tomorrow by Dr. Vern Johnson. I attribute this book to changing my life and leading me into the path of recovery. Anyway, I opted to change my life, I did not want to go back to jail or prison. I realized that I was already on the recidivist tract and did not want to be on it. I did not want to get institutionalized and get used to coming in and out of jails or prison as a normal part of life. I took a legal research class, got a certificate in legal research and went on to get my high school diploma. Those credentials made it possible for me to get a job in the prison legal library. I was a white collar worker in prison. The two highest paying jobs in prison are breaking your back working in the metal shop or working in the law library. Suffice it to say that in state prison those the qualify to work in the law library are few and far in between. Perhaps in federal prison things are different since the type of prisoners that commit federal crimes are often of a higher intelligence quotient.
I had made a plan for myself. It consisted of upon release volunteering at the Manhattan Legal Services Office on 116th Street on top of the chuchifrito store, enrolling in and graduating college and working for a lawyer either as a researcher or as an investigator. My plan was working, I managed to secure a volunteer position at Manhattan Legal Services and I enrolled in and was accepted into John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Unfortunately I was still a drug addict, my illness was just in remission until it was reactivated. I kept true to my word, I did not want to ever go back to jail/prison so I was no longer engaging in petty crimes. I managed to get a job at the East Harlem Committee on Aging as a case worker. This kept me away from crime but I was still using heroin. As a result of this heroin use I no longer felt comfortable attending John Jay College since many of my classmates worked in the various fields on law enforcement, from DEA to narcotics to under cover cops. I was afraid the eventually I would slip up and end up humiliating myself as I was escorted out of the college in hand cuffs. So I dropped out.
I then got involved with local politics by joining the block association. The president of the association was a friend and had connections with the State Assemblyman, Angelo Del Toro. Though this association I met the assemblyman's brother William whom himself had served a little time and had just gotten funding for a deterrent program called "Just Us" Comedian Richard Pryor had not long before released a comedy album called "This Nigger Is Crazy" and in one of his jokes he talked about the justice system, he said that it was just us going to jails (meaning black and Latino's). I guess that's were Bill took the name for his new program, Just Us. I enrolled as a participant in this program, it was an easy way to make bucks with out having to engage in crime. It was a very cool experience. The gist of the program was building maintenance and preparing a group of participants for another better paying job program that was about to start in weatherization. While in this program I met a guy named Juan M. he was very good in all aspects of construction. So Juan and I formed a contracting company with we called Reconstruction after a Ray Barretto Album by the same name. The goal was to strong arm some subcontracts from the white construction companies that were getting all the bids for the new housing construction going on in East and Central Harlem. Sounded good, to good to be true. Juan was also a heroin addict in remission. We started jogging everyday, the goal was a strong body and strong mind to tackle the serious job of strong arming construction sites. You have to remember that in New York City jobs like construction and sanitation belonged to the mob. We were about to embark on doing to the mob what they had done to get to where they are today. This was very dangerous shit we were about to embark on. But, addicts being addicts, are only good at one thing, being addicts. It started with Juan and I sharing a ten dollar (dime) bag of heroin to snort (inhale). That lasted all of one day because we started using needles and all hopes and dreams were dashed. I was caught in this maze again for another 5 years. I eventually stopped hanging out with Juan, and enrolled in Boricua College. But an addict is an addict and I did what addicts do. I learned that as a college student I qualified for student loans, so naturally I applied for them. I got the maximum amount I could borrow. I got myself a cheap used car and with the rest, I thought I'd invest it and double or triple my investment. So now I was a drug dealer. I was still involved with the block association which meant rubbing shoulders with the local politicians. So here I was selling cocaine to some of the political leaders of our community. The people that make policy that affect the lives of many woman and children in our community. Boricua Power!
Soon my drug dealing was overcome by my drug using. So now instead of making money and rubbing shoulders with the policy makers, I was being shunned by them. I was still "around" them but not in the same way. No more inner circle "meetings". Believe it or not I was able to finish a 2 year degree. I remember thinking that it was a huge milestone, I finally did something. That is until I realized that in the real word, especially in the world of academia an associate degree has no bearing at all. So despite my drug addiction and everything that that madness entails I registered for the next semester. I was determined to secure my four year degree, While at Boricua College I went back to Manhattan Legal Services and worked under the tutelage of the Community Development and Community Activist Ramon Jimenez. Ramon guided me, he was my mentor, into organizing a Law Day. Back then I was toying with the idea of becoming a lawyer and in my research learned that there were less than 9000 Latino lawyers in the USA to represent the array of legal issues afflicting the entire US Latino population.
So I organized and coordinated the first of two Law Days to ever be held at Boricua College. We had representatives of all the major Law schools (note not one Ivy League Law School chose to participate). The event was a success. Yey!
I got involved in the student government and of course the resentments were there. I did a law day event without the participation of said student government. The truth is that I approached the student government but they did not want anything to do with this event. They had there own agenda, not sure what it was since the only thing they ever accomplished before I got there and since was bringing four of the five recently released Puerto Rican Nationalist to address the student body. The turn out was abysmal considering that these were the heroes of the Puerto Rican Nationalist and Independence Movement. One would have assumed that there would be mobs of people and standing room only. Instead we all sat around in a circle and listened to Irving Flores, Oscar Collazo, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, recount the events leading up to that fatal on March 1, 1954, day when they opened fire on members of congress in the Blair House in Washington, DC. The one person not present, the one person I truly wanted to meet was Lolita Lebron.
My life was a constant dichotomy, vanguard community activist, sleazy drug addict. A life of total chaos. I felt like I was going crazy. I got involved romantically with one of my professors and with her help I was able to graduate with my Bachelor of Science degree.
At this point I could not function anymore. Every free moment I has was spent at the "shooting gallery" (a shooting gallery in this context is a place where drug addicts go to shoot up or inject heroin), every penny I was able to muster was spent on heroin. It got to the point that I knew exactly how many steps it took to get me from my seat on the coach to the drug dealer and back. As I sat there with a needle in my arm I would be pontificating about "the man" and how the AIDS crisis (that's one of the terms used was back then, an HIV/AIDS crisis). Until one day I was sick and tried of being sick and tired and I checked my self into a hospital. I since was working, I had health insurance so it was rather easy for me to get into Gracie Square Hospital. Thank my lucky stars because back then those hospital stays were 30 days long. In today's environment, even if you have good health insurance substance abuse treatment is limited to 7 day stays. During those 30 days members of the various anonymous 12 step programs would come to give testimony. Before when I was in a city drug detox ward I'd actually run away from these 12 step folks. But this time I was first to be in my seat to listen to what they had to say. For 30 days I listened to the message brought to us by members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Pills Anonymous. I listened very intently because I did not want to leave this hospital like I did so many times before, just determined to get high differently so that I would not have to come back. But I always kept coming back. This time I wanted to make sure I paid attention so that when I left the hospital I did not go straight to the drug man.
At the end of those 30 days, full of both excitement and fear I left the hospital. We were a group of 10. Out of that 7 of us did exactly what they told us to do, we went straight to an AA meeting one block over from the hospital. Then 4 of us took that next step and went to an NA meeting in St. Marks Place in the East Village. They had told us that out of the group that gets released together only one, maybe two will follow the suggestions and stay clean. The rest, they said, will continue the merry go round of jails, institutions or death.
That was 28 years ago. Of course there is a lot that is left out of this narrative. For example being selected as a delegate in 1988 to Jesse Jackson's run for president only to be voted out by the Boricua leadership. The rationale was that my "drug use" could be used to disqualify Jesse. Or the fact that I laid in a hospital bleeding to death after being stabbed in the abdomen when I was ripped off by a fellow Puerto Rican. Or the fact that I organized a bunch of illiterates, former members of the block association - people I grew up with to form an urban homesteaders association only to get voted out after all the hard work was done and the city funding game. Or the fact that I founded a not for profit agency with a so-called friend and a bunch of other locals. Spent years developing the concept, getting a small grant to run the program, negotiated a beautiful office space, had teenagers running a public access television show, where they did everything from creating the story line, to interview the guest, to operating cameras, to editing. Then once again being voted out by my Puerto Rican brethren.
Yes all those let downs and betrayals probably contributed to my mental health issues. The point is that I could be mad and I could even be sad about any of these situations, that in and of itself does not equal depression.
Depression, the mental illness is part of my DNA. I am, was depressed because of my mental illness and not because of any circumstance that I may have been confronting. The issue of being anti social, angry, mean and isolationist were the manifestation of the illness not the cause. In
In January 1993 after just five years of being drug free I got married. The following February my first daughter was born. 16 months later my second daughter was born. My wife was a young woman that had recently graduated from an Ivy League College. It was unfortunate for her but she feel in love with me. Our marriage lasted 23 years and she put up with a lot because of my mental status. She carried the full load of the family, for that I am eternally grateful. But there were underlying issues that affected the family as a whole to. It's sad to say (sad not depressing) that my wife was elitist. It's a problem with many people that have accomplished something that others in their group have not. For example she graduated from Princeton University one of the best, and renown universities in the world. A top tier college for sure that some would say is on par with, while others would say second to Harvard University. Regardless of that nuance,, graduating from an Ivy League institution for any minority is a great accomplishment. Equally remarkable, at least in my eyes, is over coming decades of intravenous heroin addiction and incarcerations, then graduating from college, in my case graduating from Boricua College. Then moving on to receive a Masters degree from Fordham University. My wife also got a Master degree, this time form a Baruch College one of ten senior colleges of The City University of New York (
So while we were married, the agreement we had, at first because perceptions and stories change, was that I'd stay home with my daughters while she got her career stated. She was, at this time, working for the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This opportunity put her in a national position. As the years went by and her career was becoming solidified, I was at home with my girls sinking into a deep depression. Part of this depression manifested itself with my obsession to building a business on the internet. Another problem with being depressed is the inability to stay focused. So over the years while I kept working "toward building an online business" I'd get sidetracked by every shiny new toy (software, app, strategy) that came along. I was never able to focus on one thing thus never able to establish any real or sustainable business. My obsession fed perfectly into my depression. I had a terrible case of insomnia, which was caused by my depression but that I interpreted as drive for my new "business".
My obsession forced me to forgo many wonderful once in a life time events that my wife would invite me to. I had declined attending so many events with her that eventually she stopped inviting me. I spent hours, days, weeks on my computer with out interacting with my family. And, any interaction I did have usually ended in a yelling match. I would get so irritated whenever I'd have to do anything that would pull me away from my computer. Mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, driving my wife or children anywhere. All these normal daily family tasks would infuriate me.
This went on for years. My daughters grew from my best friends to girls that didn't want to have any interactions with me, to young ladies that just ignored me. I had been no father to them at all. For all these years while my wife busted her rump to ensure our family had the necessities and more. Like vacations; ensuring that my daughters attended concerts and did normal teenage girls things with their friends, I contributed nothing. Wedding anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, I contributed nothing. Before our daughters were born my wife and I would sit and talk about all the things we were going to make sure they experienced and had. My big thing was a desire to give her (at the time my wife was pregnant with our first daughter) a brand new car when she graduated high school and let her experience a wonderful summer before going off to college. I guess that was just wishful thinking because the reality struck and it struck hard. My depression not only affected me, it affected my family as well as my extended family. I ruined family relationships before they even have started. In hind sight I really don't blame them for disliking or even hating me. I don't blame them at all, truth be told they were great despite my condition. But to them, I'm pretty sure, it must have seemed that I was just lazy and living off the sweat of my wife's brow.
In my mind I was one click away from a very successful and lucrative online business.
More will be revealed.