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“I had to mask the way that I approached life.”

“I had to mask the way that I approached life.”

“I didn’t want to be there. I found myself walking to the woods and just sitting out there, and that was the first time in my life that I’d ever actually thought to myself, ‘Well, if I’m going to feel this way, I don’t want to feel anything at all.’”

Kenny always felt different – like he didn’t really belong, even in his own family. He experienced a lot of conflict as a child, including his parents’ divorce. But his internal struggle with being gay in a conservative Catholic family and community made him constantly feel like an outsider.

“I had to mask the way that I approached life, and I think because of it, I was always having this massive weight that was on my shoulders which didn’t really allow me to be a kid while everybody else got to grow up ‘normally.’ “

He felt like he had to wear a mask, to keep himself hidden and go through the daily routine as expected. He bottled up and buried all of his emotions.

 

I’ve got this

This environment made Kenny feel like he had to depend on himself, like it was just him against the world. He couldn’t let anyone in, leaving him to try to manage his internal challenges while portraying a veneer of perfection.

Kenny found himself in an uncomfortable spotlight. As the first person in his family to attend college, he felt enormous pressure to succeed. At the same time, he wondered whether he was deserving or capable of doing it. Kenny felt an immense sense of aloneness.

But it was in college that Kenny first started to feel more empowered about his identity. He came out as gay and started dating. This flooded him with a new world of confusing and conflicted feelings. His relationships felt difficult to navigate because he had spent his entire youth burying his emotions.

With an onslaught of new feelings and experiences and a challenging course load, Kenny felt like he was constantly on the edge of failure. He could not ease his racing thoughts and fears about letting himself, his family, and his community down. After the build up of his childhood and all the pressure he put on himself, Kenny reached a breaking point.

It was the first year of college that I had attempted my first suicide. I had gotten so overwhelmed with everything. I thought that I was going to fail, and at that moment in time, failure was not an option. It was almost like this overwhelming sense of embarrassment.

He had reached for any pill he could find in the bathroom and swallowed them all. He felt letting go of life was better than staying and facing it all.

Filled with immediate regret, he made himself vomit and never told anybody about it.

About two years later, Kenny found himself continuing to struggle with the pressure. He was filled with self doubt and anxiety, topped off by a painful breakup. He stopped going to class, exercising, and taking care of himself. And one day decided again to try to end it.

He was found unconscious and was rushed to the hospital to get his stomach pumped.

 

Help is here

After a couple of days in the hospital, Kenny was told to get counseling once or twice a week for six months. After feeling alone for so long, it felt like a relief to be getting some help and to have a plan. He didn’t have to carry his burden alone anymore – he could just follow the instructions that he was given by the professionals.

But Kenny was still skeptical. He had buried his feelings for so long that he didn’t know if it was possible to recover. He thought he could just go through the motions and game the system.

I didn’t think somebody else could figure them out for me or even help me figure them out.

But despite his anxiety about getting therapy, Kenny felt relief.

Even though I didn’t think counseling was right for me, it at least opened my eyes. I can honestly say just from that first experience with my counselor to be able to sit down and just release every emotion I had in all honesty. I was angry. I was scared. I’m pretty sure I cried all 50 of the minutes. It’s almost a sense of relief to be able to just have this non-judgmental person.

As he opened up to a counselor, he finally let a close friend in on what he was feeling too. When he confided in her that he was still having challenges and feeling overwhelmed, she offered him the support he had needed all along.

“You have a problem and we need to address it, and it’s something that you clearly can’t fix by yourself. I know you don’t even want to talk about it with me, but the fact of the matter is, I love you. I don’t want to see you leave.”

Kenny agreed to get help. A psychiatrist prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. While he got some benefit, he also had side effects that made him feel flat. He didn’t feel motivated to do things he loved to do – like going to the gym. He wanted to be done with the constant overthinking, but didn’t want to lose the vibrance of life. He didn’t like feeling flat, and decided that antidepressants weren’t the right approach for him.

 

Self

Kenny felt he was getting the right structure and guidance from his therapist, who had introduced him to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). He liked that he had a regimented program that he could drive himself – fueling a sense of control and empowerment.  He could understand that his thoughts and anxieties have a reason and that there was something he could do about them.

He also came to terms with his anxiety and depression, choosing to accept them head on rather than try to bury them.

“It’s part of who you are, and that’s not going to change anytime soon or if ever. So rather than trying to suppress it and act like it’s not there, like you said, you accept it and you let it become a piece of you.”

In shining a light on his depression and accepting it – deciding to stop beating himself up about it – he took power away from it. Kenny felt less need to control, which actually made him feel more in control.

 

A semicolon

Having a reason outside of yourself to get out and serve others has been a joyful part of Kenny’s recovery. It gives him a sense of purpose. Active in the LGBT+ community, he found a way to help youth specific suicide awareness through The Trevor Project.  

Kenny also has a service dog that is trained to nudge him up to take her out of the house. She helps him stay active and have conversations with complete strangers.

He proudly dons a semicolon tattoo on his hand. It’s a symbol for people struggling with depression that this isn’t the end of the sentence, it’s just a pause. For Kenny, his ink is an open invitation to start a conversation about mental health. In being open about his own story, he encourages others to understand where they are on their path.

“Trying to make sure that anybody and everybody knows that they can feel comfortable enough to at least come to me if they want to have that conversation.”

Now, Kenny doesn’t see life as a constant emergency. He doesn’t feel he needs to scramble to solve anything alone.  He’s not focused on being perfect or getting fixed. There is no fixed, no right path, there just is what is.

“Everybody takes their own path for development, understanding, growth, whatever it may be. I just hope that everybody is able to take that path.”

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