Saturday, November 22, 2014


I always hated that Sticks and Stones saying. Names hurt. I’ve shaken off many as illogical: Carrot, Peepee Head, Fartface (What does that actually look like?!). I’ve shrugged off others with the merciful passage of time: Loser, Useless, Sissy. Others I’ve come to embrace: Brain, Faggot, Geek. For the most part, name-calling loses its sting as we weather the dents and dings of life.

But some names can still be jarring.

This week, I had two medical appointments on consecutive days. The first was my annual checkup with a skin cancer specialist. She went through my file and reminded me that my first melanoma was identified fifteen years ago. I remember how crushed I was to first hear my family doctor say that dreaded word on the phone: “cancer”. He sounded grave. I’d questioned the marking on my back two years prior and he’d dismissed any concern. It was only at my partner’s insistence that I went back and demanded another look. I had a series of surgeries and lesser cuttings over the next five years and I’ve kept Cancer at a healthy distance for the last decade. Most of the scars are on my back, out of sight. Fortunately, the streak is extended for the next year. No worries, no biopsies. Glad to keep Cancer at bay.

Yesterday, I had my first appointment with a gay psychiatrist, a referral that took six months to become something. Back in April, I spent nine days in psychiatric wards at St. Paul’s Hospital and, in some pathetic game of Patient Hot Potato, got passed along to five psychiatrists. After my release, I met with Number Six for a few utterly unhelpful twenty-minute sessions.

With the passage of time, I questioned whether I needed to even go through with this session. I’d reached out a little more. I’d stopped losing weight. I’d successfully avoided the darkest moments by keeping myself distracted. Mostly, I’d kept myself in a state of constant motion.

I practiced an adult form of running away—summer in L.A., trips to Ontario and San Francisco and repeated weekends in Seattle, Victoria and Whistler. In the past five months, I’ve stayed home three weekends. Even then, I could not spend much time at home; instead, I took off on a long hike, I biked 50K and I ran a half marathon—not as part of an organized event; just because.

As the appointment neared, I figured I’d just let Dr. Seven know I’m fine. Rough patch, that’s all. I’m active. I’m having fun. He’d give me a clean bill of health just like the skin cancer doctor. I’d celebrate with a double scoop waffle cone. And yet I started to get anxious. I didn’t handle the typical Sky Is Falling dramas at work with my characteristic calmness. While my sleep wasn’t any worse than usual, I was physically exhausted. I knew I wouldn’t be able Put on a Happy Face and fake him out.

The session proved to be brutal. For months, friends and family have marvelled at how well I am doing. At first, I continued to be open about my struggles, but they could not understand. It became all about them or it evolved into surface level attempts to get me to cheer up. I learned to tell them what they wanted to hear; it was easier than getting into an argument, going through another futile attempt to offer some education or experiencing another bizarre episode in which someone would “catch” me laughing, proof that I was fixed and I should snap out of it.

On the run, I’d managed to cover up my wounds. Out of sight, sometimes even out of mind. But it’s a dirty process in coming clean. Dr. Seven savagely poked and probed. I had to articulate what I felt—or, more accurately, didn’t feel. I had to explain myself. My carefully built wall shattered. He asked me if I received a diagnosis while in hospital. It sounds silly, but I didn’t recall anything. He stared quizzically with an air of impatience. By the end of our session, he declared I had all signs of MDD. He repeated MDD a half dozen times. Just so I wouldn’t forget. Couldn’t forget.

Major Depressive Disorder.

I tried to make light of things. “Is there such a thing as Minor Depressive Disorder?”


“I guess that’s something to shoot for.”

Another quizzical stare.

And so I left with all the wounds scratched open and a fancy new label from the DSM-5 catalogue. It’s a condition, but it feels harsher than any name from my past. Those sticks and stones, those physical wounds, they have clear treatment protocols. The names, the mental situations, well, I’m not so sure. Apparently repression and distraction don’t solve much.

Sensing the appointment might not go so well, I frantically booked this weekend in Whistler. It’s still a lovely place, but I’m not feeling as soothed by the environment. Major Depressive Disorder. It’s a clunky name that weighs heavy.

It’s taken me aback. For the moment, I’ve become the label. Just like I shamefully identified as the loser, the farthead, the faggot so many years ago. Only this time the term doesn’t come from a bully or an agitated sibling. It comes from a professional. It’s not intended to taunt and yet I still feel just as defeated.

Major Depressive Disorder. I’m the same person I was twenty-four hours ago, but now I’ve been seared with a red-hot branding iron. Major Depressive Disorder. A new wound to go with the others. A new name to process.

Next week, I’m back with Dr. Seven. It’s a midday appointment, the only one available. I have to miss the whole day of work. But he was insistent. No delays. This name thing is serious business.


Rick Modien said...

RG, I so understand this.
Before Chris and I moved back to the Lower Mainland, five and a half years ago, I saw a counselor over five sessions. I bawled through every one of them. I knew I had some issues that I'd tried to bury, and she sure figured out how to get them out of me. Did me a world of good.
It may not be my place to say this, but I've wondered if your chipperness (is there such a word?) was real, or if your keeping as active as you have been only allowed you to mask it. Your turnaround seemed a little too quick and easy. But I hoped, for your sake, it was genuine.
So here's the deal. It looks like you've finally found a professional who is capable and willing to help you deal with the stuff. Forget about the name of what he says you have. That's far less important than digging in, getting the help you need, and working through it, so you don't have to run away from yourself any more. (Three weekends at home in the past five months? Something's up there, for sure.)
I know you're sore about what happened during your first session, and the name he called you (or your medical condition) seems a little too convenient. But don't get hung up on that. Don't avoid the stuff anymore. Go into each session willing to open yourself up on all levels–to spill your guts, to understand yourself better, and to accept help. It can only benefit you.

Rural Gay said...

Thanks for the comment, Rick.

The cheery nature of posts related to my outings has indeed been real, but that's just me keeping things at a comfy surface level. Many people live their lives going no deeper. (I might say the entire state of Texas does this!) I've enjoyed myself and collected wonderful memories. I cling to the photos and the next weekend's plans to keep me going. None of it takes the place of the work to be done. I've known that all along but I needed to stay distracted until a chance for real help became available.

John Gray said...

I had psychotherapy for a while
Cleaned my mental shit up for sure
Good luck and take care

Rural Gay said...

Thanks, John. Lots of work to do, I suppose. I'm willing to put in the time.