Depression is common in society and pervasively effects how we feel about ourselves.

homosexuality and self esteem

How We Learned to Love Me

Self esteem story about a boy coming out of the closet and fighting for his parents acceptance

My first attempt at coming out of the closet was traumatic. My mother overheard me talking on the phone with a guy and told my dad about it. That night, my parents made one of my biggest life decisions: I was not going to be gay. I wrote my dad a letter to help him understand. He ripped it up and said, “Let’s forget about this and pretend it never happened”. From that moment on, I fought the most important battle of my life; my fight for self-acceptance; my war against depression.

In retrospect, I am sure my parents always knew about my orientation from a young age. I remember they took me to therapy when I was about 8 years old. However, the psychologist looked obviously gay, so that only lasted a couple of sessions. Also, I recall having blood tests every now and then for apparently no reason. I’ve since learned these were hormone tests, which my parents and doctor ordered in an attempt to figure out what was going on with me even before I had any clue I was ‘different’.

And me? Well, by the time it hit me, I was already a very awkward and very sad 12-year-old boy. My years in middle school were surrounded by constant bullying because of, well … a lot of things. My skin, my weight, my awkwardness, and, starting in tenth grade, my sexual orientation.

In response, I ate. I could spend a whole day eating because food was comforting and made me feel better. I was judged for being fat. So I felt worse and ate more. I hated being fat, but I didn’t see an alternative way to protect myself. Food gave me comfort, a form of love and acceptance; I found shelter in it.

My parents tried everything they could to help me with my ‘problem’. They tried to change the way I dressed, the music I liked and the people I hung out with. They transferred me to a private school just to be away from a couple of gay kids at my old school.

During this time, I developed my first boyhood crush. I fell for an older guy, who lived a few doors down. I don’t know if he noticed, but I think it’s hard for a boy to hide his infatuation when you’re just entering puberty. I never told anyone about my feelings. As it happened, as fast as I fell in, I fell out of love with him. Even though I realized I was attracted to a man, the thought of being gay never crossed my mind. Maybe it was because I didn’t know any gay people to that point, or at least I didn’t pay that much attention to them.

Growing up in the 90’s in rural Mexico, a gay man was pretty much a stereotype and I didn’t really identify with that—I still don’t. My parents, on the other hand, saw these flamboyant men and thought that was what was in store for me, a life of ridiculous behavior, sexual depravation and probably AIDS. That is what they knew of gay people and they were scared of having a son like this.

Unfortunately for them, I always preferred arts over sports. My dad had this saying: “A man has to be ugly, strong and formal”, and even though I didn’t know what he meant by ‘formal’, I certainly qualified as ugly, as those around me would reminded me. My dad insisted on me doing manly stuff (which I did, and some of it I actually enjoyed), while my mom’s heart was slowly crushed by fear. Seeing my mother cry, I compartmentalized the pain and tried to change. I tried to be attracted to girls but it didn’t work. I just hated myself more. I hated myself for being fat, for being lonely, for making my mom cry, for not standing up to my dad, and for not having a single redeeming quality. I was a bag of flaws, a pile of nothing. Sadly, no one appeared to notice how miserable I was. I was the little, chubby, ugly, gay boy who would not talk to people. I had arrived at a truly dark, depressed place in life.

With all these things going on at home, I managed to finish middle school (barely, I must say), and when I entered high school, I knew something had to change. In the beginning, it was just introducing myself by my middle name instead of my first. I don’t know if this triggered everything else, but high school was definitely a big transition for me. I was being liked by my schoolmates and even by the teachers for the first time.

Not everything was perfect: one of the bullies from middle school was in my class again, but I developed a way to keep her at bay. First, I discovered that I could fight back. But that didn’t feel right; why would I want to say something hurtful when I very well knew how it felt to be bullied? So I found a new strategy: compliments. I realized that when you say nice things to others, they are more likely to like and trust you; so I learned how to be a good friend. I founded my school’s theater company, I was part of the band and I represented the school in regional science contests. My life was turning around and a lot of it happened because I decided the challenging things I had endured before wouldn’t define me. I could be happy, I could be proactive and I could create beauty. I discovered I wasn’t dumb as I had previously been led to believe. And while I am still clumsy when compared to a jock, I like to think this is just part of my charm. In my dark days of middle school, I couldn’t conceive of any of this.

Things at home, however, were not going as well. My parents were still trying hard to change me and introducing me to girls. I could barely talk to either the girls or my parents before I had to escape, locking myself in my room. And when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was flaws. My skin was too dark, my body was too big and fat and my face was too ugly. On top of that, I felt really guilty for caring about such things because they were ‘girly’ worries. Why would a man care about how he looks? But how I looked was important to me. I wanted to be attractive and I thought that if I could just change my appearance, then everything in my life would find its proper place.

I started to write. I created songs, poems, stories, all to express myself and what I thought about the world. I was very political for a 15 year old. I guess, my ideas were something I could rely on and that could keep me away from feelings. Even when I liked art, I was more interested in the intellectual part of it, rather than the emotions within it. Ideas were safe, whereas feelings made me feel vulnerable.

I developed a good sense of humor and I found I could sing. I was, you may say, blooming. But all this growth was completely hidden from my parents. The moment I re-entered our home each day, I went back to being quiet and miserable. I knew my parents would not like who I was becoming, so not telling them seemed like the best choice.

High school was almost over when I first kissed another teenager. And it was a game changer. Not because of the guy, but because it made me feel powerful as opposed to powerless. I was, for the first time, in touch with my sexuality after years of watching other people trying to define it for me. I now had the first taste of really living my own life; finally I was the protagonist. From that moment on, I started to believe I could be the one who defined my life. Before that, I found comfort in being the listener, because I assumed I had nothing interesting to say. Now it was about finding someone who’d listen.

With time I found my first boyfriend. We were two sad people, desperate to be held by someone else. But it was deeply validating for me. I thought that if I could be attractive to one person, then it was not that crazy to think other people may like me also. My idea that I was unlovable was uplifting. My parents found out (I’ve never been good with lies) and stopped talking to me for a short while. I was scared to become someone they would not recognize. I feared becoming a stranger to my own parents, and that was very painful. When they finally spoke to me again, all my mom said was “be discrete”. Apparently, being gay was O.K. now as long as no one knew. Later, my dad told me we needed to talk. When I approached him he asked, “Are you still my son?” I said, “yes.” He paused and my heart raced a million miles an hour. “Then I love you,” he finally said, no big displays of affection, just the right words at the right moment. That is all we each needed to know at the end of the day, that is all that mattered.

From then on, my parents started to accept me rather than trying to change me. Looking back, I realize what they did was because they love me and they thought it was the right thing to do at the time; they just wanted me to have a normal and happy life, how could I reproach that? Today, my mom is very open and supportive of my lifestyle, while my dad tries to not talk about it yet still shows me his love and supports me. And I am conscious I have been lucky. I have a wonderful family and now, an amazing boyfriend whom they also love.

I now know I have the right to be loved and some people actually love me for who I am, despite my differences. And most important of all, I have learned how to love myself, beyond looks, ideas and abilities. I love myself because I choose to, and that power has pushed me forward ever since. I am now also capable of loving someone else, accepting them for who they are, differences and all. My dad was right, love is all that matters.

Color and fun help with anxiety and depression

Happy People Wear Color

Self esteem story of a woman’s journey out of the chaos of anxiety

I have probably had anxiety my entire life. I’ve always been an incredibly shy person who tended to avoid crowds and stuck to hanging out with a small group of friends. I didn’t really become aware of the fact I had anxiety until my senior year at university. I had packed my schedule and piled on tons of responsibility between 27 hours of school and 40 hours of work each week. I pushed myself so hard that I finally broke.

One day I woke up and just couldn’t handle things anymore. I became paranoid. I’d go to class and see people laughing across the hall or in the classroom and I’d be sure they were laughing at me. I became anxious about what people thought of me. So much so that as the days went by my anxiety grew to the point it was hard to breathe and I felt like running from class screaming. So I began skipping classes, making excuses to myself that I was sick or tired or just plain didn’t need to go unless it was a test.

Instead of relieving the anxiety, these actions seemed to make things worse. Suddenly, I also became anxious and paranoid at work. I was certain my boss hated me. It prompted me to apply for a transfer to a different office that was an hour away from my home when my current commute was only five minutes. It should have been a signal to me that something was very wrong. Instead, I juggled things like this for months. Eventually the company I worked for ended up sending me back because my original office was understaffed. By the time I came back, the office had a new boss. I was so sure that she was out to get me and/or on the verge of firing me that the feeling to run came back. I had a pain in my chest and couldn’t breathe. I pushed through to my lunch break and then walked out. I’m ashamed to say that I never went back. My anxiety didn’t let me.

I rationalized this behavior by blaming my new boss. She became this evil and unbearable presence in my work life. My friends and family seemed to understand and accept my justification. Looking back, I wonder why they couldn’t see how badly I needed help.

I went back to an old job waiting tables for about a third of the pay I received at the office job. Now my income depended on me being able to provide excellent customer service to strangers, usually in a crowded dining room. My paranoia continued. I was so sure I was doing a bad job and yet again that my boss hated me. During one shift, in the middle of the dinner rush, I found myself unable to breathe. My heartbeat rang in my ears. I could barely move and began hyperventilating. It felt like I was going crazy. That was my first panic attack and to stop it, I walked out, again never to return.

I ended up relying on my boyfriend to support me. For the next year, I spent most of my time indoors avoiding my friends, my family, and the outside world. Anytime someone came over, I’d be thrown into panic mode and end up crying on the floor. I had no idea what was going on and neither did my boyfriend. He would yell at me to stop and tell me to get a grip, which only made me feel worse. I was free-falling into a deep depression.

I lived this way for what felt like decades. In reality, it was about two years. Somewhere in those two years I came to realize that I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I became aware of how irrational I was during those moments of panic and began to wonder what I could do about it. Then one day, while lying in bed I decided I can beat this; I can get myself back to ‘nomral’! I had to, because my existence was not really living.

I began mulling over how I would go about fixing myself. I remembered hearing somewhere that the colors we wear often reflect our mood. I looked at my closet. It was mostly black which repulsed me. I decided that if happy people wear color, I was going to fake it. I went shopping for the first time in years and was so focused on finding color that I wasn’t even nervous. It was such a freeing feeling. I bought myself (or rather my boyfriend bought me) a whole new wardrobe. The whole time focusing on the phrase, “happy people wear color.”

Did wearing color ‘fix’ me? Of course not. But it was a step in the right direction. That day shopping I discovered that I had a choice. I could live in fear and let anxiety control me, or take action to manage it.

Wearing color was my first step. I felt enlightened. I had a choice! I ordered a book on cognitive behavior therapy and read it cover to cover in a matter of days. I searched the internet and read everything I could on managing anxiety. I learned how to reprogram my thought processes and do breathing exercises to slow down or stop the physical reaction my body had in certain situations.

Slowly I started exposing myself to situations that made me feel anxious. First it was grocery shopping. Then as time went on, visiting family and later reconnecting with friends and attending events with large crowds. Over time, my anxiety subsided. Did it go away completely? Well…no, I still feel anxious more than I should. I still find myself thinking irrational thoughts. The difference though, is that I am aware of it. I can now recognize when something is irrational and bring myself back to a rational thought about the issue. I can tell when my body is starting to react and slow my breathing to prevent a full-blown attack. Sometimes, those strategies work, and other times I still have a panic attack. But I’m okay with that. I feel that my anxiety is well-managed. I’ll take one or two panic attacks a year over panicking daily.

I now sit in a place where I can look at my condition and say: this is just a part of me. It doesn’t change the core of who I am. I still have something to give to the world. It doesn’t define me or stop me from doing what I want.

I used to feel like my anxiety was something to be ashamed of, something to hide from the world because it wasn’t ‘normal.’ It made me feel unworthy, stupid, and like no one would ever want to be around me again.

With my anxiety under control, I look back and see that I always had a choice. It took me awhile to become aware of it, but the power to choose was always there. Being able to exercise that choice is a powerful thing. I made many decisions on my road to recovery. I decided I didn’t want to feel anxious anymore. I made the choice to wear color and seek out help. I made the choice to reconnect with the world. Those decisions added to my sense of self worth over time.

I eventually realized that I AM worthy. I am worthy of self-love, self-respect, and the love and respect of others. Making the decision to believe these things lead to a sense of confidence. I now proudly wear my anxiety and depression as a badge of honor. I made it through before and when it rears its ugly head I’ll push through again. I share my story as often as I can because I want to help others like me realize their own self worth. I want more than anything to help people in similar situations come to the conclusion that we don’t have to be prisoners in our own homes or in our bodies—we have a choice. There are ways to get help, to retrain our brain and come out the other side. You can become whole again. It starts with digging deep and making the choice that you deserve better. We really do!