Confronting My Mental Health Meant Also Confronting My Sexuality
Harmony takes on Mental Health Awareness Month in this Raw + Unfiltered Op-Ed.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a time for people to take what so many of us try to keep hidden from others, and if we want to, share it with the world.
There were easier and possibly more digestible topics I could have written about for this post. “Five things to keep in mind during MHAM,” “ten things I’ve done to heal,” etc. But I was asked to write an opinion piece. So these are the thoughts I’ve been thinking most recently about what it means to share and hear experiences with mental health. Spoiler alert: be kind to those who trust you enough to share.
Coming to terms with my mental health is similar in many ways to my coming to terms with my sexuality. I had recognized the “symptoms” of being queer long before I adopted the label. I was attracted to women, used to admire those who are strong enough to come out, and wanted to be the best ally I could be. I wished I was gay. I told myself, ‘it’s too bad that you like women, because you were born straight.’
"After leaving my abuser, I started to have moments of panic where my chest would tighten and all it felt like all of the happiness was leaving my body."
I would be on the verge of tears without reason. It felt like there was an invisible sadness timer that went off every few hours or days. I looked around at friends who had been diagnosed with anxiety or depression and felt jealous. Jealous that they had a reason they were feeling the same way I was feeling.
It’s taken me years to understand that I have PTSD due to the abuse I experienced.
I’m still trying to understand whether my anxiety is tied to that PTSD or whether it’s separate. It’s taken even longer to tell people in my life that I experience this. I fear telling others about my PTSD because I don’t have a diagnosis. I see a therapist, but she doesn’t give me diagnoses. I don’t see a psychiatrist. I fear it because when I have tried to tell people about how anxious I feel, they clam up. They ask me how I know. They look for the science behind my words. They look for the prescription bottle. I don’t have one.
I used to think that Mental Health Awareness Month didn’t apply to me. ‘I’ve never been diagnosed (read: no one has validated these struggles), therefore I do not have this thing, therefore I am mentally healthy, therefore this month does not apply to me.’ I just read a book by Glennon Doyle that changed this perspective. In it, Doyle speaks about looking inside yourself for the answers you are looking for instead of looking to others. As a person assigned female at birth, I have been conditioned to look to others to make my decisions, including about how I experience my own emotions.
Doyle learned to ask herself what she needed as part of her healing journey. When she did this, she sat deep inside herself, below where societal pressures and ideology floated, to a quiet place inside. That place held her answers to what she needed and how she was feeling.
When I was ready to come out as queer, it’s because I had looked inside myself for my truth. I didn’t, of course, have Doyle’s language to describe where I was going to find this truth, but looking back I recognize this is what I was doing. When people asked me what caused my queerness, if I hadn’t found the right cis man yet, if my trauma had caused me to turn gay, I went to that place inside myself and listened. I told them no, my queerness is not because of an experience or a choice, it’s because this is who I am.
When I look inside myself now, I know that it doesn’t matter what label I use to define how I feel, as long as I work to heal the part of me that is hurting. I have decided to stop putting value in other people’s (non-medical) opinions about my mental health. Friends, family, and other people in my life are not my therapist. I don’t need to take their advice on how to experience my feelings or how to label them.
As I write this I am having a hard time staying inside my truth. I anticipate comments saying that I don’t get to decide whether or not my brain’s chemicals are imbalanced, that’s a doctor’s job.
I see the frustration people have with folks who say “oh I feel so OCD today” and fear this is how I will be interpreted. I worry that I am invalidating those who know. It is not my intention to invalidate. It is my intention to validate those who, for whatever reason, don’t have that doctor’s diagnosis. So I’m not going to rewrite this on an easier, less nuanced topic. Because there must be someone like me out there who might read this. Who might stop beating themselves up about how they feel because they don’t have any piece of paper or pill bottle to explain to others why they are the way they are.
Because Mental Health Awareness Month is about bringing awareness to all types of thoughts and feelings. It’s about being the one (if you are able and willing) to talk about how you feel in hopes you can help validate someone else’s experience.
My hope is that people who read this will see themselves in it. Either from my perspective or the perspective of those who have searched for proof. My hope is that next time you decide to share, this person will trust that you looked deep inside yourself to find your true answer. That if someone shares their experience with you, trust that they looked inside, instead of looking for proof that is easier to understand.
Happy Mental Health Awareness Month. Be kind and be true.
For more mental health musings, check Harmony's Instagram.
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