There's always been a stigma attached to a man going through depression. The machismo attribute of never showing tears or displaying weakness is unashamedly still the definition of a 'real' man in today's society. However, in 1998 my strength of character and being 'manly' was completely devastated when specialists told me that I would never see the same way again due to a detached retina.
I had always been an artist and also very shortsighted. In my 20's I was a cartoonist designing characters in national tabloids and as freelance designer, created a name for myself. I also had a new girlfriend who months before thought I was 'The One'. I was the hallmark of stability until on a winter Monday morning while working in a department store for extra cash, the vision in my left eye suddenly became very blurred and deteriorated. By the Friday of that week I went to Moorefield's eye hospital for what I thought would be a routine check up.
Numerous eye examinations were performed on me but I was anxious and feeling trepidation with each passing hour. Around 4 pm one of the specialists told me that they had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that I had a detached retina in my left eye, but the bad news was that it happened in the better eye of the two. The doctors told me that had I not come in that day I would have had permanent damage in that eye. They informed me that they needed to operate as soon as possible and that I either stay in overnight or return early the next morning as a matter of urgency.
My head was pounding as I tried to make sense of it all. It was surreal. I was worried that I might become blind, however I returned the next day to have surgery where my retina was reattached. Doctors informed me there was little to no hope of me seeing the same way in that eye, and only time would tell of its status.
I was advised to posture for at least 6 months, which meant lying down so that my eye would return to its normal position. When I got home I was filled with emotion. My once strong personality was reduced to depending on my mother and girlfriend to help me, as I had to wear a patch over my left eye and had very little vision in my right.
For the next 6 months to a year I didn't want to go out or have any visitors. Every time I went to the bathroom I was greeted by the hideous image in the mirror. Even after a year the doctors were surprised that I still couldn't see. I felt like I had been robbed of my dreams and as an artist, the world that I created on paper was but a distant memory. I knew I was not in control and tears of frustration, depletion and loss of any desire echoed through my soul.
On New Years Eve of 1999 my girlfriend who was previously supportive, took me to watch the fireworks over The Embankment to welcome the new Millennium. The excitement of a new decade was short lived as she turned to me and said our relationship was over. I couldn't believe that this was happening as the pernicious state of feeling helpless was now spiritually deprecating. I became completely isolated. I had uncontrollable bouts of crying and I sank deeper into an abyss of nothingness. Just to add insult to literal injury I had taken so much time off work that they had decided to let me go.
I'm not sure if I was suicidal but I didn't want to be here anymore and not taking any action was very debilitating. During this whole time there was an inevitable backlash of guilt and self-loathing as I was feeling less of a man. Some days were better than others but I wasn't aware or ready to accept that I had a mental breakdown. Men in my culture didn't have this and especially didn't let it show. I never really accepted or acknowledged the term depression before, because I didn't know the difference between being depressed, stressed or simply feeling down.
It is important to speak up about our feelings and mental state because everything is relative. Finding someone that can relate to our internal conversations can help people, especially men, to emerge from the misconception of weakness and find strength from within. Taking action starts with knowing more about our perceptions. If it were not for the words from a Stevie wonder album that made me look at life differently, who knows where I would be today.