Shane’s 40-year journey to self-acceptance
Beyond Blue: Christopher Banks introduces the campaign designed to address depression and mental health issues in the LGBT community.
Shane is a handsome, articulate 41-year-old gay man who looks confident in himself and seems to have his life in order. It wasn’t until appearing in Beyond Blue’s new campaign to raise awareness about depression in LGBT communities that he actually began to believe that himself.
In the video of his personal story, he mentions that it was only twelve months ago that he truly began to like himself – that’s the corrosive effect that depression and anxiety has had on his life, beginning with bullying experiences at school that completely shaped his self-worth.
He volunteered for the campaign because he feels he’s come out of the other end of the depression tunnel, and “the chance to share that story and turn what was a really negative period of my life into something positive really appealed to me. This campaign is very personal and has a lot of meaning for me.”
It wasn’t until the camera went on that he realised just how much meaning it had.
“I cried three times,” he admits. “They stopped the cameras. I was absolutely fine going in. I thought, I’ve had 12 years of counselling, I’ve shed my tears, this is all fine. But what those tears were about was compassion for myself. To recall some of those moments and remember how it felt for the kid that went through that – because it wasn’t my fault.
“I understand that now. I internalised everything.
In the video, he talks about how his school bullying experiences turned him into a chronic people-pleaser in later life. What he doesn’t mention is the knock-on effect this had on his relationships with other men.
Unable to express his anger or true feelings in the real world, it all came out when he was at home.
“They not only copped what I was angry about at that time, which may have been totally relevant and justified, but they also copped the past week, the past month, year, whatever I had been bottling up. It would explode. It’s definitely a part of my life I’m not happy about, and I would apologise to my partners a thousand times over. Hopefully they do know I’m still a work in progress.”
He had no clue what this Jekyll and Hyde behaviour meant, particular in his twenties and thirties.
“That just made me feel even worse,” he says. “I was trying so hard to be a good person to everyone, how could I be treating my partner so bad, how could I be getting so angry at this person that I loved more than anyone? It was very confusing, and a lot more guilt was added on to what I was already feeling from those early years.”
When volunteering for the campaign, he didn’t think about any potential stigma that might result from outing himself as someone who has experienced mental illness.
He says when depression hit him really hard for the first time, he learnt that you have “to be open about it, to have no shame about letting people know what’s going on for you. It is an isolating illness, because when you’re in the midst of it you do feel like you’re stuck on some hideous island by yourself.”
However, not all of his friends understood when he did disclose.
“I had some really close friends who I didn’t hear from at all,” he says. “Then I had other really close friends who became even closer by letting me know they were there to support me. It was a mixed bag. Generally speaking, it was positive, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a couple of people I was disappointed by.”
As to why those friends moved away, Shane feels it was probably because they just didn’t understand exactly what was going on, or took his retreat from social life personally as him removing himself from their lives.
Moving forward, he says that one of the most important things that friends of someone who is depressed can do is understand what it does to the brain of the person experiencing it, and change their expectations accordingly.
“When you are feeling that way, it’s hard to socialise. You don’t want the pressure of people trying to drag you out or even to engage you in too many conversations,” he says, adding: “But just knowing that people are there to say, ‘whatever you need, whenever you need it, I’m here,’ that’s all you need. Just having friends to give you a hug and let you know that it’s going to be ok, that you are loved, and that this will pass.”
For Shane, it did pass, and seeing himself in the video was a cathartic experience. It was as if he finally saw what everyone else could see.
“When I watched myself on the video, it occurred to me that I am a 41 year old gay man. I guess none of us see ourselves how we truly are. It was a lightbulb moment. I am no longer that 12 year old. I am no longer how I used to feel on the inside, I am a adult man who appears like he’s kinda got his stuff together.”
Shane is asked in the video what he would say to his teenage self, but his own experiences show that youth is often only the beginning of the depression journey. There are more older gay men experiencing mental distress, and indeed taking their own lives.
In his part-time job working as a barman at the Laird in Melbourne, Shane says he can spot people who may be going through some of the feelings he experienced. Men who you may see sitting on their own and not talking to others, for example.
“It’s the isolation that’s the killer, feeling as though you’re the only one who feels that way. That might sound egotistical, but it’s how you feel in that moment.
“Please talk, especially to other gay guys. My story could be one of thousands. It’s not a unique story. We all grew up in a straight world that was not so welcoming of us a lot of the time.”
He advices taking advantage of the different community groups and opportunities for socialising that exist. As a presenter for Melbourne’s gay radio station Joy FM, he suggests tuning in “to hear other gay voices on the radio, hear about other organisations that get promoted, get involved with Joy as a volunteer.”
Counselling was the biggest help for Shane in his recovery, and he highly recommends it, even though men may feel stigma in reaching out to a professional. In lieu of that, talking to family and friends is essential.
But on the other end of the scale, given that depression is such an isolating illness, it’s up to us to make sure that the people in our social circle are ok. When was the last time you asked someone how they were doing, and truly listened to the answer?
“When people remove themselves entirely from your life and when you’re in a dark place, you can come to all sorts of dark conclusions as to why they’re not there, like you want them to be,” Shane says. “It might seem obvious to other people that they are there, but to a depressed person it is vitally important that you know there is a support network when and if you need it.”
This article first appeared in Christopher’s own blog bipolar bear here.