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DEPRESSION

Depression is the feeling that no one in the whole world understands or cares for you. It occurs when you have no one around to praise you, or when you are unable to accept or to believe in the praise you receive. Often it follows a sudden and radical loss of status (either real or perceived) conflict with one's family, say, or the loss of a job and it is a particularly common consequence of hopeless love affairs or the death of a loved one.

Depression is different from sadness, what some people call "feeling blue." Sadness is always a response to a real tragedy, and the feeling of loss is appropriate. People who are sad grieve for the loss of a friend, a family member, or even a job, but then, after grieving, move on. It is when a person cannot let go of the sadness that he transforms himself from feeling blue to being depressed, or moves, as some depressed people say, into blackness. Psychoanalysts commonly say that depression is a repressed form of anger, a deflection of hostility away from its external object onto oneself. Whether this theory is accurate or not, venting of anger is often the best way to overcome depression, since expressing anger reverses and banishes the sense of powerlessness. Then you assert yourself, you once again feel effective and worthwhile.

The psychoanalytic theory is probably too unidimensional to explain the pervasiveness of depression in gay men. Clearly one cause of depression is the effect of homophobia, and we call the result learned depression. Gay men are often taught from childhood that they disappointed their parents by not being butch or conforming enough; are taught by their faith that they are sinners; are taught by the law that they are lawbreakers. One readily understands why many gay men have grown up feeling depressed about their homosexuality. A young man feeling rejected and unloved by parents, siblings, peers, and the community at large could hardly feel otherwise.

There are two other causes of depression, though both are still speculative at this time. Some men may have a biological predisposition to depression, possibly inherited from the father. Other men adopt a depressed attitude from a parent by a process called identification. This means that the young boy internalizes his mother's or father's own low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.

Biological depression can be physically as well as psychologically painful, and medication is almost always helpful. Any form of depression can be so damaging to one's self-esteem that suicidal ideas become common, and in some cases are acted upon.

The depressed gay man often turns to sex for comfort and relief, but in sex he does not find the solace he is seeking. What a depressed person really needs is affection and closeness. As a sexual partner, someone who is depressed isn't much good. He's so compliant that he's inactive during sex, and this excessive passivity just isn't very sexy. The depressed person sends out signals that baffle his partner. Disappointed after sex because he had not received the simple affection and affirmation he needs, a depressed person emits signs of his disappointment that confuse and wound his partner.

Yet touching is precisely what the depressed person needs most, thought the form the contact takes may be holding instead of fucking, stoking instead of sucking. If you're depressed, ask someone to hold you. The person you ask will probably be a friend or lover, but, surprisingly, even strangers can be moved and flattered when requested. Animal comfort, however is not enough. If you are depressed you need to be with people who like you, who value your opinion, who see things from your point of view. Being a loner may seem a romantic pose, but when you're depressed you should abandon it and be with friends.

Many gay men become depressed when they are rejected sexually. If someone is already depressed, he can interpret the least sign of indifference as a rejection. A depressed or insecure man trying to make out in a bar, say, ensures his failure by going, with an unerring instinct for defeat, straight to the coldest stranger in the room. By contrast, someone in a buoyant frame of mind is relaxed, a bit choosy, and ready to admit that his appeal is not universal. He knows that this guy may go only for minimutive blonds, that one for overweight lawyers, and that one over there only for money. But a depressed person is frantic and quite forgets the bewildering range of sexual preferences. He never stops to say to himself, "But I may not be this fellow's type," or "That guy may not want to go home with anyone if he has to get up early tomorrow for work." Rather, he makes nervous overtures in every direction and translates the first no into a total dismissal of his entire value as a human being.

A few gay men are depressed after sex, especially after sex with a trick. Sometimes the partner is a warm, affectionate person, but this very warmth can be threatening to a person afraid of intimacy. He gets rid of the trick as quickly as possible and then vaguely senses he has lost yet another opportunity to connect with another person and develop a rewarding relationship.

There are a number of good treatments for depression. New medications are very helpful, especially in combination with psychotherapy.

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