I was feeling sick, losing my mind
Heard about these treatments by a good friend of mine
He was always happy, smile on his face
He said he had a great time at the place
Peace and love is here to stay and now I can wake up and face the day
Happy-happy-happy all the time, shock treatment, I’m doing fine
Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment
– The Ramones
I had my first depression episode when I was 21. It devastated me. There was pain, both physical and emotional. Pain and the confusion of not really understanding what was happening to me, and there was shame. Shame that I was defective, broken, and inadequate, and therefore not worthy. The shame that I was different in a very significant way, and the fear that if people found out, I would be rejected and ostracized. By the way, the last part is, and continues to be true. In spite of all the talk of removing the stigma of depression, most people still view depression as a weakness. But, for more than half of my life there has been a huge difference: Instead of fearing rejection, I have encouraged people to reject me and ostracize me, if they are ignorant about mental health, addiction, or anything else really I just don’t see the point of dealing with ignorant people at all. I don’t want people that reject and ostracize other people in my life. So, when they reveal themselves as such, I reject and ostracize them.
But, it was different at 21. I had spent many years trying to fit in. As an immigrant kid in a new country I had felt lost, and very, very, lonely. Being accepted was salvation from the despair I lived in. I had tried. I had dressed like the people that I wanted to be accepted by. I adopted their tastes in food and music. I made myself participate in the activities that they considered cool. I dressed like them. I learned to talk like them. I even taught myself to think like them. I adopted what they believed in: their views on life, politics, right behavior, morality. All for the sake of acceptance and companionship. And, I succeeded. I was accepted.
I found love. I was social and well-liked and had a loving family. I had everything that I thought would make me accepted, and happy. Inside I was still lonely, but no one knew. I still felt separate and alone. But I hid it masterfully. And, lived in fear of being found out. I was sure that if they did, they would abandon me.
Then the depression hit. It hit and it threatened to destroy the veneer that had taken me years to build and had brought me out of my outer loneliness. The fear, the dread, and the depression of that first major depression episode are indescribable. I was laid bare in front of the world. The secret was out. I was a person with depression.
I wish I could tell you that I was wrong in my suspicion that people would reject me, and abandon me if they found out. But, I was not wrong, many did. The saying that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that people are not after you is true. I wish that I could tell you that it has been different since then, that it’s different now, but it is not different, and it never will. What changed completely was my worldview. And that has made all the difference.
The new worldview was shaped by philosophy, psychotherapy, art, and punk. Philosophy and psychotherapy brought me clarity and strength. Punk brought me companionship, belonging, and attitude. An attitude of facing life raw, as I am, unapologetically. Displaying my wounds instead of hiding them. Actually flaunting them to people that spend their lives hiding theirs, and recognizing their cowardice at doing so, and, letting them know it whenever they become insolent in their judgments and a false sense of superiority.
The punk attitude and orientation in life are: Yes, I am depressed, anxious, shy, anti-social, weird, different, so what? I will show you how much. I will tell you, paint it, wear it, write it in a song, in a poem, and sing it, recite it, and shove it up the worlds ass.
This attitude was expressed, in many forms, by many artists, but never more masterfully, or clearly, than by the Ramones. Especially when it came to mental illness. Not only did they not hide it, they turned it into art. They made it cool. They personified it in their lives, and openly showed it to the world in their music. Showed us that we were not alone. And, those of us that had been confined to shame, and victimhood, became emboldened and forced the world to look at marginality, and unconformity, in a new way not to mention paving the way for other forms of revolutionary art, like rap.
The punk ethos and approach to life set me free. Free to actually live. Saved my life. I don’t know how long I would have made it living in the prison of self-loathing and fear that I lived in. The punk worldview set me free to live with my depression, embrace it, and manage it, without shame, without self-deprecation. To live without apologizing for living with a condition that I didn’t create, and I didn’t choose. To live without asking permission to belong. Punk gave me the power of courageous abandonment. To live with the dignity of a wounded hero and survivor that doesn’t beg people to understand, nor begs for the privilege of not being rejected or abandoned. For that, I owe a great debt of gratitude to punk, and the Ramones. Not like they would give a shit anyway.