Mental Health & Coming Out
It’s been a very long couple of months for me. Somewhere along the way I’ve began to unravel parts of myself I have subconsciously been suppressing for the last 10 years. So it should come as no surprise that my mental health has taken a severe hit. Imagine a small child whose been saving up all of his allowance money and finally has enough to buy a new bike! He runs over to his piggy bank, holds it upside down and vigorously dumps out all of his precious pennies. His piggy bank remains despite emptying all of the money he’s worked so incredibly hard to save. The piggy bank is me. Empty, worthless, and alone. Everything I had worked so hard for up until this point disappeared in the blink of an eye and it felt as though my entire life had been flipped completely upside down.
Let’s Catch you Up
No matter who you choose to involve yourself with, relationships are never easy. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is only human nature that we place value on things we’ve had to work for, and at the end of the day nothing worth having comes easily. I’m sure if you were to walk up to any person you know and ask them about their past relationships they would respond with, “where do I even start?”. We’ve all got baggage, some more pronounced than others but it’s all relative at the end of the day. So here’s a bit of background information on my past relationships up until this point.
I started dating pretty young. I had my first serious boyfriend at the age of 13 and continued to date different people on and off for a couple of years. It was around this time that I started experimenting with my girlfriends and realized that I was very much attracted to them on a more intimate level than friendship. At the time I didn’t see anything wrong with this concept. I liked spending time with them and they made my heart happy. What was the big deal? I knew the difference between a heterosexual and homosexual relationship and passed zero judgement on the choices of others and who they chose to love. After all, it really wasn’t any of my business. Little did I know that expressing these feelings to my family would create such intense feelings of isolation and guilt.
When I was growing up the dynamic in my household was quite hostile. There was a very large age gap between myself and my siblings which I know was difficult for my mom to cope with. The focus had shifted primarily towards my behavioural problems and I spent a lot of time in and out of therapy. When that didn’t seem to do the trick, I began taking several different medications in hopes to provide my parents with some sort of relief from my outbursts. I can’t say I’m entirely shocked at my mom’s response when I tried coming out at 14, however it was not at all what I was expecting. I thought maybe she would be upset for a few days, take some time to think things over and approach me with open arms and unconditional love. After all, I was her daughter right? Unfortunately this was not the case. Our conversation was completely dismissed and it was as if it had never even happened at all. All I could think to myself was, “did I do something wrong?”.
Being raised in a Christian household meant attending church with my family on a regular basis. My mom had instilled religious values in us from the time I was little and I remember being excited to see my friends at prayer on Sunday’s. It wasn’t until my early teens that I decided I no longer wanted to participate in a religion that so openly judged people for their sexual preferences and referred to their actions as “sinful”. I refused to partake and stopped going all together. I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with the lifestyle of your average Calgarian but it’s pretty typical to live in an oversized house in the suburbs, go to church (if your family is religious), and attend the annual rodeo otherwise known as the Stampede. This blue-collar lifestyle was never appealing to me and I struggled to understand the societal norm of those working horrendous hours in the oil fields to support their families and conform to such a monotonous and conventional way of life. It just wasn’t for me.
Eventually I ended up moving to Edmonton to live with my grandfather at 14 which was a blessing and a curse. This move allowed me the freedom I had so desperately been seeking back home while simultaneously lacking in some very serious and necessary boundaries. I did what I wanted when I wanted and ultimately suffered zero consequences. I was involved with several people in the span of 10 years, most of which were long-term relationships. I made an entirely new group of friends which was a huge deal for an introvert such as myself! We worked together, partied together, and grew up together. These were my people. My weekends were spent getting messy at the gay bars with my best friends and if I’m being frank, my memories are quite blurry. It wasn’t until my most recent breakup with my ex-boyfriend that my attraction towards women began to resurface.To say my past experiences with ex girlfriends were extremely toxic and unhealthy would be the understatement of the year! But this my friends was only the beginning.
From one abusive relationship to the next I began to lose sight of who I was as an individual and how I deserved to be treated. I allowed myself to be emotionally, mentally, and physically abused repeatedly and I was pouring out of an empty cup for far too long. Self love was so foreign to me that I gained a sense of self-worth by expending what little energy I had left on the people I truly cared about. This love was very rarely reciprocated and when it was I would do everything in my power to destroy it out of fear that I would ultimately end up broken and alone anyways. I was lost, traumatized, and honestly barely scraping by. If you were to ask me now if I actually understood the concept of true love at the time my answer would most definitely be no. How can you really love someone when you’re so incapable of loving yourself?
This is where my life starts to get a bit more interesting. Summer of 2018 was coming to an end and I’d been on a whirlwind since June. After a pretty bad car accident I ended up losing my job late August. The combination of these life altering events created a serious void in my relationship at the time. If we weren’t struggling before we most certainly were now! I took a month off and spent some time “soul searching” while trying to find work closer to home. Amongst all of the chaos is when I met her.
I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Despite the fact that we may not be able to acknowledge what that reason is in the moment, I truly believe that every situation we are faced with presents itself when we require growth in a particular area of our lives. I didn’t know at the time that this individual would open the door to old wounds and suppressed emotions and I wasn’t the least bit prepared for what was to come…
After a few weeks of getting to know her, I knew I was in over my head. She had been seeing my best friend for a brief period of time and I knew that my feelings were beyond inappropriate. We would spend afternoons together going back and forth about life and the experiences we had faced up until then. I couldn’t help but be in awe of her struggles and the beautiful person they had shaped her into. We were comfortable in one another’s presence and it was almost as if we had met many years ago. How did I get so lucky? My intuition was telling me that I had to take a chance on this girl and accept the consequences that may result if I chose to go through with it. And that’s exactly what I did.
I left my partner of 4 years and decided that we both needed some time to figure out if our relationship was worth salvaging. Pursuing this woman as I tried so desperately to understand my emerging romantic feelings felt as though I was on the verge of a full blown mental breakdown! To make matters worse, I really didn’t have anyone to confide in because I had betrayed my best friend and selfishly jeopardized her happiness over my own. The complex nature of this situation resulted in intense anxiety and isolation. I was vulnerable, lost, and utterly confused. Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they did. They got much, much worse.
I quickly realized that this girl was not AT ALL who I thought she was and I began to spiral into an extremely deep state of depression. I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly and my alcohol consumption increased more than I would like to admit. I had tried yet again to reach out to my mom during this time as I was really struggling to accept myself and the direction in which my life was headed. Unfortunately her take on things hadn’t changed since 14 year old me tried expressing these same feelings years prior. “This is just your bipolar” she stated. I stood there shocked, looking at my phone in utter disbelief praying that some sort of arbitrary universal shift had caused it to malfunction (I wasn’t that fortunate). Where did I go wrong? Why am I reliving this trauma? What’s wrong with me? Am I defective? These questions and more played like a broken record inside my head, over and over…and over again.
Coming to Terms with my Sexuality
After accepting the fact that I was destined to face this chapter of my life without the support of my mother, I turned to the only other family I had left, my friends. I was done hiding. Done being dishonest and hurting the people I love most because I was too damn scared to be who I really am. I had some serious work to do!
I began opening up to my friends one by one. This wasn’t the least bit difficult considering 99% of my friends are apart of the LGBTQ community themselves (#blessed to have your love and support!). But this is a blog about my life and as I’m sure you can imagine, this hot mess express wasn’t remotely prepared for what happened next…
My best friend and I had decided to move in together after my messy breakup late November. I couldn’t stand the thought of living with my ex in such an uncomfortable and hostile environment for one more day. A part of me had known since day one that she was interested in me on a more intimate level, but on the other hand, she was my best friend and I wouldn’t dare cross that line and jeopardize our friendship. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself in hopes that my reciprocated feelings would magically disappear. It made sense in my head at the time ok? But as all great love stories begin, ours wasn’t any different.
Transforming a friendship into an intimate relationship was a bit of a struggle. We knew about the hardships of our past failed relationships and had been supporting one another through these difficult times for several years. Everything was out in the open and we were determined to create a positive and healthy life for the two of us. News flash, like doesn’t always work out the way we build it up in our heads! We are two very different people who decided to merge our lives very early on in our relationship. Two women, three dogs, living in 450sf…you do the math. These issues in and of themselves have tested our patience, limits, and overall mental health on a whole other level. Sure we have days where we mesh and our connection feels stronger than ever, but we also experience bad days where we argue, cry, and struggle to gain a higher level of understanding. It isn’t easy. But what relationship worth having ever is?
Here’s what I do know. This woman loves me unconditionally. She’s been my rock ever since moving to this city and has accepted me entirely (no matter how difficult I make it at times). She respects me and my life choices and makes an effort everyday to build me up and support me in every aspect of my life. She is kind, understanding, generous, and patient. Her intentions are genuine and she inspires me to keep on fighting to become the best possible version of myself! I love her. It’s as simple as that. We were brought into one another’s lives for a reason and I truly believe we are meant to embark on this journey together. Do we drive each other crazy? Yes. Do we always get along? No. But that’s the beauty of the unknown. Intimate connections take time. I’m just glad I get to live this crazy thing called life with my best friend by my side.
So how exactly does coming out relate to mental health?
Fear of Being Accepted
Let’s get one thing straight. Coming out is terrifying. Even if you’ve been blessed with a loving and supportive family there is still an enormous amount of fear leading up to the big reveal. Everyone’s experience is drastically different and allows them to process and heal at their own pace. One thing I’ve heard repeatedly within my social circle is the overall desire to be accepted. In my opinion you should never have to fear rejection from your loved ones due to your sexual orientation but unfortunately this is extremely common. I’ve heard horror stories from close friends and I’m honestly appalled at some of the reactions they’ve experienced! The rise in mental illness amongst the lgbtq community is alarming and yet I’m not at all surprised to hear that so many of us are struggling. Here’s why.
If you were neglected or abused as a small child the likelihood of developing long term mental health issues is highly probable. And why is that? Because human beings require love and nurturing to thrive and feel safe. As we grow older we learn how to provide for ourselves and this need lessens over time. Our focus shifts primarily onto ourselves and creating a meaningful and fulfilling life. But there’s still one thing we are constantly searching for, and that is to feel loved. Being made to feel as though you are a disgrace or embarrassment is extremely damaging to your self-worth! The lack of support in many circumstances results in self medicating and destructive behaviour which in turn fuels ones mental illness and leads to worsening symptoms. If left unattended, this coping mechanism can manifest into a much larger problem than it originated. It’s a never ending vicious cycle.
I don’t know about you guys but this has been a major focal point for me over the last few months. I’m still exploring different areas of my personality and coming to terms with who I am as an individual. There are days where it can feel scary but for the most part it’s really exciting! And yet it hasn’t always been this way.
As a young woman with bipolar I feel like I’m constantly learning new things about myself. Whether it’s the company I keep or my personal style, things are forever changing. Change can be nerve wracking but it can also be a genuinely fun experience if you choose to look at it that way. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had days where I think to myself, “who the hell am I?”. There is so much pressure from society these days to look and act a certain way, especially if you live what some would refer to as a more “alternative” lifestyle.
Fitting in to this perfect mould of what a queer woman should or shouldn’t look like was extremely overwhelming! Do I chop off all my hair? What do I wear? Will I be judged for expressing myself differently now that I’m embracing who I am? What will people think? These are not uncommon questions one might ask themselves on their coming out journey. Just as the people around you are coming to terms with who you are, so are you! And I’ll let you in on a little secret. None of this shit matters.
You are who you are no matter how you choose to display yourself to the outside world. Of course you’re going to feel uneasy and vulnerable and that is completely normal given the circumstances. What was holding me back the most was valuing the opinions of others over my own. My friends, this is enough to rob you of any and all sanity you may have. YOUR mental health comes first! Whether you’re gay, straight, black, or white it really doesn’t matter. You are human. You deserve to be happy and to feel safe. You can love someone and value their opinion without allowing it to negatively impact the way you feel about yourself. It isn’t easy but it IS possible. Shut off that little voice in the back of your head that is telling you you aren’t good enough. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
Addiction vs Sobriety
I’ll be the first to admit that my initial reaction to this new chapter of my life had me slamming back G&T’s faster than I could pour them. My entire world was changing and I had no idea how to process the series of events unfolding around me. I needed a crutch. Something to take the edge off and prevent me from losing myself entirely. As I’m sure you’re aware, this temporary coping skill didn’t serve me very well AT ALL.
Addictive behaviour is common in individuals suffering from mental illness and I’ve witnessed it in the community for a really long time. It provides temporary relief to long-term pain and allows us to procrastinate dealing with our issues for just one more day. Sounds appealing doesn’t it? Unfortunately there is only so much our mind and body can take before our repressed emotions begin to sneak up on us and get in the way of maintaining healthy relationships with others. At this point we are left with a choice, hash it out or forever carry around the burden of our unresolved baggage. I’ll let you sit with that for a hot minute.
You might begin questioning your purpose and overall existence. Why is this happening? What did I do to deserve rejection from the people I love most? Am I broken? No. No you are not. It may feel that way in the moment but I can assure you that you are exactly where you need to be. You are strong, capable, and worthy beyond measure. You are enough exactly as you are! No amount of drinking or party drugs can take that away from you. By limiting your exposure to substances you create space to grieve and heal with a clear mind. Feeling these unpleasant emotions is the only way to truly deal with them. I know the mere thought of this seems incomprehensible and yet it’s the only thing that will truly set you free.