Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
My mental health history is very intimately tied to the discovery and acceptance of my sexuality. In that capacity, I was a very late bloomer. Many gay men will tell you they knew from a young age that they weren’t straight, but in my case I didn’t fully come to the realization until I was about 15 years old. Looking back the signs were absolutely there before that point, but a combination of naivety and denial prevented me from fully realizing until the truth became undeniable.
It was at that point that I hit what I would refer to as my rough period. Up until that point my life had been relatively easy overall. I had a good home life, had a number of close friends and was a good student involved in a couple of sports and activities. I don’t want to act like I had some incredible fall into hard drugs or gang involvement or anything. Just the positivity in my life turned out to be a lot more fragile then I knew. Basically, when I realized I was gay, I became very scared. Scared that people finding out that I was different would lead me to being judged and ostracized. As a consequence, I systematically destroyed my own life without even realizing I was doing it.
In my head, the easiest way to proceed was to push people away and to keep myself very tightly in check to make sure no clues about what I was were ever given. At first, my behaviour probably wasn’t too different from before. But with time, consistently telling myself I wasn’t allowed to be myself lead to me becoming very uncomfortable in my own skin. From there it was just a short hop and skip to hating myself on a very deep level. I remember looking in the mirror and wishing I didn’t exist multiple times a day. My self-esteem became non-existent and at some point, I checked out from everything around me because what did it really matter at that point? My friend group dwindled and I stopped really caring if the friends who stuck with me actually liked me. I didn’t really try at anything apart from video games. I still participated in my activities and did well enough in school to avoid arousing suspicion from my parents and teachers, but there was never any real effort there. I did just well enough at everything to avoid inadvertently giving off a cry for help, but felt completely empty inside in doing so.
At my worst, I was completely and utterly apathetic. I did things to try to appear normal but I didn’t care about any of it. All I still liked was my dog, but that was about it. I spent way too much time playing video games, not because they were enjoyable at that point but because I could at least pretend I wasn’t trapped in my life however briefly the sentiment lasted. I wanted to escape. I never thought seriously about hurting myself or doing anything more drastic, but I fantasized constantly about dropping everything and disappearing, rationalizing it in the thought that not only no one would care, but that people would be better off without me.
Things went on like that for quite a while. Looking back, I wish I’d done a worse job at pretending everything was fine, but I was surprisingly good at living a lie. I ended up spending most of my time in high school depressed without much reprieve. I never got help because I never reached out and as a result I stayed in the same place. It’s hard to pin point where I did start to come out of it, but I think it coincided with being sent on a backpacking trip with Outward Bound at my Dad’s suggestion. I could talk about that extensively, but in short a lot of things about the experience made me realize that I was actually a somewhat capable person who might not be a smoldering pile of human garbage after all. Improvement happened slowly from there as the boost in self confidence and self esteem got me to the point that I started letting people in again, at least a bit. I rediscovered some things I actually cared about. For the first time in years I became passionate about certain things like my friends and biology and snowboarding and music.
The improvement was very gradual but at least got me out of my darkest place. It took me several years after that to fully accept my sexuality as my self confidence steadily improved. Slowly I realized that my inability to accept the ways in which I was “different” and move on with my life was very strongly tied to my feelings of isolation and powerlessness. While coming out wasn’t at all an enjoyable process and didn’t solve everything by any means, it at least put me in control of my life. I was finally being the person I wanted to be without letting my sexuality control my identity, happiness and concept of self worth.
Despite coming to a point where I’m very comfortable with my sexuality, I have had recurrent periods of depression every so often. Although, none have approached the severity of the first. As time goes on I’ve become better at recognizing what triggers me, which has lead to me being a lot less hard on myself when I do have down periods. I’ve also become much more comfortable talking about it, which is very effective for me personally to avoid it. I’ve tried to develop healthy coping mechanisms like working out, writing or just listening to music in a blanket burrito when I’m having a particularly bad time. They aren’t perfect and they don’t prevent it, but I can at least keep the monsters in my head at bay most of the time.
Looking back, I wish I’d had someone to talk to. It’s tough because my go to coping mechanism of pushing people away made it doubtful that anyone who tried would have been successful, but I wish I hadn’t dealt with it all alone. No one needs to carry their burden alone and there are so many people out there who are willing to help if you ask. There are lots of people, both youth and adults, going through the same struggle for the same reasons – an overwhelming fear of being judged, ostracized or hated for being the person they are which makes it easier to deny than accept. Western society has come a long way in terms of it’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, but there is still an unfortunate predisposition for people from this demographic to suffer from mental illness.
Due to the nature of the problem this is unlikely to ever be a completely solvable issue, but it is one which we can continue to improve upon. I think the best thing we can do for LGBTQ+ people who are still struggling with this is recognizing and acknowledging as a society that what you identify as in terms of sexuality, gender or whatever else is irrelevant to your value as a human being. Having a sexual or gender identity which falls outside the cultural norm doesn’t define a person, in the same way that mental illness doesn’t. I’m a strong believer that simply talking about it is the greatest way to combat stigma and as weird as it feels to talk about my experience, maybe it will be relatable to someone. So, here’s hoping someone who needs to hear it does.
10/27/2022 07:35:16 pm
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10/30/2022 04:14:20 pm
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Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.