Tony Giordano's Story
The greatest obstacle I faced in the fight to recover from depression was actually deep within me—the destructive stigma of mental illness that I had internalized from society at large. I myself believed the widespread package of myths and misconceptions about depression, for example, that it’s all in your head, or it’s weakness of character. These were the common beliefs and biases of people around me as well as the picture emerging from the mass media, so how could I believe otherwise?
Falling victim to the prevailing but erroneous set of beliefs about depression, I naturally felt weak and crippled with guilt and shame. I assumed it was my own fault and wondered, how could I let this happen? These feelings only made my depression worse and seriously inhibited my recovery, which has taken years and continues to this day.
I was not able to even begin overcoming this powerful internalized stigma until well after I was diagnosed with major depression and was able to get past the initial denial that something like this could happen to me. At first I didn’t even want to think about it, then I didn’t want to think it was true, then I thought it might just be temporary and minor. It took quite awhile for me to digest everything and to come to grips with it.
Little by little the things I was learning in therapy, support groups, and in my own reading started to sink in. I was not at all alone in my feelings of weakness and guilt. My feelings and symptoms were very similar to those of millions of others. These mental disorders are commonly caused by traumatic events or circumstances in childhood such as growing up with an alcoholic parent.
This last bit of knowledge in particular turned out to be decisive for me. I was reading more and more about depression and the frequent causes and I eventually put the pieces of the puzzle together. I realized that my depression originated in ingrained fear and emotional hiding as a result of years of exposure to a raging alcoholic father who regularly threatened and verbally abused my mother and whole family. While exploring my childhood surfaced a lot of pain and mixed emotions—I always loved my father and knew he loved me—the realization that my depression stemmed from this early trauma as a helpless child was liberating, enabling me to rid myself of the crippling fear and guilt that had been holding me down.
So, it wasn’t my fault after all. I wasn’t weak or defective. In fact, I’ve come to see that a person has to be unusually strong, resilient, and determined to get this far despite the terrible, debilitating condition of depression.
As I read book after book about depression, I came to decide to write a book of my own to share the lessons I was learning. I saw that there was a great deal of vital information and new findings out there, but most of it wasn’t getting to the sufferers who needed it. I used my personal story that I told in the book to impart the invaluable lessons I was learning about depression, in particular the role of emotional trauma. I gave my book an apt title to refute one of the common myths about depression—It’s Not All in Your Head.
I have gone on to become a bit of a consumer advocate also, leading support groups as a peer educator and writing essays and articles to support and inform victims and to fight the stigma. I’m also becoming an activist and advocate for environmental causes and the movement to restore democracy from the hands of corporate influence over government. Though I would never wish this terrible disorder on anyone, the trying experience and the need to keep fighting back to recover have in many ways made me a better and stronger person.
—Tony Giordano, adjunct college instructor in social science, researcher, and author