Archive for ‘Mental Health’

October 9, 2014

Coming Out: A Personal Journey, Not a Stance

National Coming Out Day is October 11th this year, which is two days away. So, I think it’s only right that I share some of my thoughts on what it means to “come out.”

For me, “coming out of the closet” is a conscious decision to live and present yourself authentically within a social group that perceives you in a way which contradicts with your true and authentic self. Until one’s decision to come out, one is consciously choosing to repress or hide a part of their identity from a social group, be it sexual orientation, gender identity or both. One is assuming the identity that has been built by others’ perceptions of them rather than the one they perceive for themselves. This is important to note. This is the reason that heterosexual, cisgender individuals don’t need to “come out”; because nothing is being repressed or hidden. They are already living authentically. Granted, that has a lot to do with cultural norms, privilege, and the distribution of power within our society. Hetero-, cisgender individuals are perceived by society to be the majority, to be “the default” state of being. Because of this, they have the privilege of being perceived in the same way that they identify. A hetero-, cisgender person can live true to their identity without having to actively try and change others’ perceptions of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

That was the lecture part. The next part is a little more intimate.

The act of “coming out” holds a lot of personal significance for me. I have had several “coming out” experiences in my life. And as is true for many others in the LGBTQ community, I will continue to have them throughout my life. When I was in middle school, I came out to my two best friends (despite not really having the language or the terminology to describe my sexual orientation). One welcomed me with open arms and congratulated me for having the courage to tell her. The other never spoke to me again. When I was in high school, I came out to a particular group of friends as well as my partner. My partner (who I am still with today) accepted me and said that this new knowledge about my sexuality would do nothing to negatively affect how much he loved me. My friends were for the most part accepting, with a small handful who decided to alienate, bully, and out me to others.

When I was in college, I came out publicly on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and my blogs. I also came out to my parents. This was the hardest coming out experience for me. In the 2+ years following my decision to live “out,” I struggled to maintain family relationships, was threatened with being cut off financially, was threatened with homelessness, received online death threats, was physically assaulted, and tolerated an almost constant stream of cyber-bullying from individuals I once called friends. I was also urged by professional colleagues and advisors to retract my coming out statement and to stop “perpetuating the idea that your sexuality is acceptable.” The social aspect of my life became so toxic to my mental health that I began to have daily thoughts of suicide and engaged in a number of self-harm activities including taking improper doses of prescribed medications, excessive drinking, cutting, and ingesting toxic chemicals.

I consider myself lucky; despite more than one suicide attempt during this turbulent period in my life, I am still here.  I have since had one more coming out experience – coming out as a professional in a workplace setting. This was by far the most positive experience I have had. The organization that I work for is very pro-diversity and prides itself on encouraging employees to live in the healthiest, most authentic way possible. It even includes the language “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in its official Non-Discrimination Policy, putting it miles ahead of most Utah-based firms.

I am proud to say that I have lived “out” in all aspects of my life for the past 3+ years.

Coming out requires personal courage, resilience, and a great amount of positivity. There are easy, positive coming out experiences and there are difficult, negative coming out experiences. Each experience is different and there really isn’t a proven, faultless, fool-proof way to come out. There’s no way to determine if your coming out experience will be positive or negative, though you can make an educated guess based on a million diverse factors. No one can tell you when or where or to whom you should come out; that is a decision you can only make yourself. I would never encourage someone to come out if they are uncomfortable or scared of the idea of living authentically. It’s my experience that you need to be comfortable with the idea of everyone knowing – and potentially making critical judgments of your character based on the idea – that your sexual orientation and/or gender identity do not conform with their perceptions and preferences of who you are.

[NOTE: I also do not advocate coming out if you think doing so would add more danger to your life than it would happiness and fulfillment. Yes, coming out despite the threat of harm does take courage. Yes, it is very commendable. Yes, many great people have put themselves in harm’s way in order to further a cause or bring attention to a social problem. But, in my opinion, your life and happiness are far too important to reduce yourself to being someone else’s martyr.]

As an “out” member of the LGBTQ community and what I consider to be a generally good person, I feel that it’s my responsibility and privilege to be an ally to those who still struggle with coming out in their lives, as well as those who decide not to come out. But, allies don’t identify themselves; allies are identified by those they support. You can’t just call yourself an ally and make it so. Your actions and the perception of those actions determine whether or not you are an ally. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think it’s appropriate to “come out as an ally.” Announcing your support is wonderful and helps a lot of people. But I don’t know that we should be equating it to the act of coming out.

Now, I’ve recently been criticized for saying that allies should choose a phrase other than “coming out” when announcing their support of LGBTQ individuals this Saturday for National Coming Out Day. People have gone so far as to say that I must not want allies and that I am rejecting their support. That’s not what I’m trying to do at all, and I’m truly sorry if I have made people feel this way. My intention is not to alienate allies. I don’t want to diminish their efforts and actions; allies are and have been valuable support systems for LGBTQ individuals and powerful voices in the fight for social equality.

But – and there’s no polite or sugar-coated way for me to say this – it’s not about them. And allies shouldn’t try to make it about them. Selflessness is a very important part of being an ally. You shouldn’t support people simply to gain praise or be commended; that’s just an added bonus to doing the right thing. As an ally, it’s important to acknowledge that you are supportive of the movement, but you are not the movement itself. In order for true social equality to be accomplished, the LGBTQ community needs to be the most active, most involved, most visible members of the LGBTQ equality movement. Allies should not act as if they are the spearhead of the movement; that gives the opposition the chance to say that it was the majority – the heterosexual, cisgender community – who gained rights for the LGBTQ community, downplaying and invalidating all the work that the LGBTQ community put in to ensure that equality is achieved. We need allies, not saviors.

I know that’s blunt. I know that’s not what some people want to hear. But I believe it needs to be said and understood. Many people aren’t going to agree with me and that’s okay. As always, these are my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. They may not be true for some; I understand that. But, I think it’s important to bring these kinds of perspectives to the table.


Please, feel free to leave questions, comments, concerns, thoughts, hopes, dreams in the comment section below. As this is a somewhat touchy subject and a virtually anonymous forum, please try to be kind if you do decide to strike up a dialogue. I do field all comments on my blog, so if I feel that your comment is hurtful or inappropriate, I may decide not to publish it. On the same token, that also gives you the opportunity to ask that I respond to your comments privately; all you need to do is leave me some way of getting in touch with you and let me know that you wouldn’t like your comment to be published.

I love you all.

June 22, 2013

The letter I wish I could give to my mother.

Dear Mom,

First of all, I want you to know that I love you so very much. You’re such a good mom and such a good person. I wish I could be half the person you are.

Remember when you asked me the other day if I’m suicidal? You were fighting with my baby sister and in a fit of anger, she blurted something out about how I want to kill myself. When you asked, I said of course not.

I’m really sorry I lied to you.

I know you don’t want to hear this. I don’t think this is something that parenting handbooks and years of being an excellent parent really prepare you for. But this is the reality of the matter, and I don’t know how much longer I can put off talking about it.

I think about killing myself every single day. Admittedly, some days are better than others. Some days, the thought doesn’t come up until the very end of the day, right before bed. But it’s there, all the time. It scratches at my skull like an awful tick. Sometimes, the thought is so nagging that I can’t sleep. I just sit in bed and cry. And I think about how much better off everyone else would be without me.

I can’t explain why I feel this way. I know that’s probably one of your biggest questions. I’m going to be honest here, even though it’s probably going to sound like a terrible thing to say. But here it is: it’s not entirely your fault. I say this because as my parent, you’ve taught me what to value, what determines worth, what is good and bad, etc. And for whatever reason, I’ve learned from you (along with the environment I grew up in: society, the media, friends, teachers, all that jazz) that I’m not valuable, that I’m not worth much, that I’m not good. I couldn’t pinpoint for you exactly when and where these statements became facts in my mind. But they’re there. I’ve developed a strong hatred and disgust for myself that is almost unbearable.

I know that everyone wants me to say that the way I feel about myself has nothing to do with what you’ve done as a parent. That’s the answer you want to hear. But as you and Dad have always said, wouldn’t you rather hear it from me than from someone else? I want to be honest with you. I hate lying to you; it burns me up inside. But you and Dad haven’t exactly created an environment that promotes talking frankly about how I feel, especially when how I feel disagrees with something you believe to be true.

You probably want to know more about why I want to kill myself. Well, a lot of it has to with the fact that I don’t feel like I’ve ever lived up to the expectations I had for my life as a kid. When I was younger, I had these grand ideas about how my life was going to go. I’d be successful, smart, rich, and beautiful. I’d be constantly surrounded by friends. I’d be loved by everyone I meet. I’d be everything my parents always said I would be.

Well, I don’t feel successful. At least not to the extent 12-year-old me would have wanted. I’m not nearly as smart as I once thought myself to be (my grades are a good indication of that). I’m definitely not rich, since I don’t have a job that pays above minimum wage. I haven’t felt beautiful since I was a kid. Beautiful and me just don’t go in the same sentence in my book. Not even on the same page. I don’t really have many friends. Not like I used to. I’ve always blamed my terrible personality and all-around unfriendliness for that. And of the people I’ve met, I think more people dislike me than like me.

I feel like I’m constantly disappointing people. You, Dad, my sister, my boyfriend, myself. I just keep letting people down. I keep getting things wrong. It feels like the proportion of things I do right is exponentially smaller than the proportion of things I do wrong. And there’s always someone mad at me. There’s always someone waiting for me to screw up. There’s always someone saying that I’m just going to keep making a mess. And so far, I keep proving them right.

It just hurts to look in the mirror and not like the person I’m seeing. I want more than anything to be happy with myself. But I’m not. And I haven’t been for a long time. There are so many great things about my life. Basically everything about my life is great, except me. And I like to think that I’m the most important part.

I’m really hurting, Mom. I really wish I could tell you that. I wish you knew how much I’m suffering, so you could help me. Because you’re my mom, and I know that you would want to help. But I’m not brave enough to tell you. I’m not brave enough to break your heart like that. I don’t know what to do, Mom. I’m so lost.

I love you. And I miss talking to you. I hope one day we can talk. I could really use it right now.

Kris

June 5, 2013

What Not to Say to Someone Who is Struggling

1. “There are people in the world who have it worse off than you.”

The last thing you want to do when you’re trying to help is invalidate someone’s pain. Sure, there are people in the world who are suffering to an unbelievable extent. But that doesn’t make my pain unimportant or imaginary.

2. “Cheer up already.”

A person who is struggling emotionally is not going through a phase. Being depressed or upset is not something you can just snap out of. By telling someone that they should just “get over it” or “cheer up already,” what you’re really saying to them is that you don’t believe that their pain has any real significance and that they’re emotionally incompetent if they can’t manage to make themselves un-upset.

3. “Are you just doing this for attention?”

Treating mental or emotional trauma like it’s an act or a game is not only offensive, but also harmful and damaging. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to stop playing around, so why would you say that to someone with an emotional injury? There’s nothing about this that’s positive or constructive. It only hurts.

4. “You have no right to be upset.”

Feelings are not things that only certain people are privileged enough to have. I don’t need to prove to you that my feelings, concerns, and struggles are real and valid. If they’re real to me, they’re real. Plain and simple.

5. “You have your whole life ahead of you.”

For many people struggling with severe emotional trauma, envisioning a future is not an easy task. The future is scary and for plenty of people, it’s not something they look forward to. Saying this can stir up a plethora of fears for a person. It’s also another way of indirectly saying that their problems are small and insignificant “in the grand scheme of things.” Just because a problem will look small in the future, that doesn’t mean it feels small now.

6. “How can I expect you to love me if you can’t even love yourself?”

For some reason, people view love as this singular, finite pool of stuff that you give away to people in parts until there’s nothing left. And for people whose loved ones are dealing with self-esteem issues, they feel that their loved one’s “love pool” is already empty and thus cannot be used to sustain a love for anyone else. That’s simply not the case. I don’t have to love myself in order to love you. My love for you is completely separate from love for myself. Saying something like this will just make people like me feel like we’re doing a terrible job showing our affection, which will only increase the self-loathing.

7. “Want some advice? ……”

Giving advice is a double-edged sword. We all know that you try to give advice because you want to help. But to me, you’re advice-giving can sometimes sound like gloating and condescension. What it says to me is that you’re clearly much more capable of handling problems and you’re obviously superior to me and my problems are so insignificant and petty that they’re a cinch to fix. When giving advice, try to keep in mind that what you’re saying and what is being heard are sometimes two very different things.

8. “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

No, I won’t. That’s the general subconscious reply. Emotional pain is real. The cause and the triggers – for lack of better words – don’t matter. What matters is that whatever it is causes me pain that I can’t get away from. This pain is in my mind and the mind is not something you can escape from. Sure, you can ignore it for a little while. But that doesn’t make it go away. Don’t assume that sleeping it off or becoming preoccupied with something else is going to make me feel better in the long haul. That’s a very poor assumption to make.

9. “You’re being selfish.”

This has to be one of the most infuriating things anyone could possibly say to me. Trying to guilt me into feeling happy seems like a really backwards plan, don’t you think? When you say this, you’re telling me that I have to just suck it up and deal with the overwhelming emotional trauma that I experience on an almost continuous basis because I’m making the people around me uncomfortable. Do you see the irony in this?

June 3, 2013

Okay

“Rather than fighting for every woman’s right to feel beautiful, I would like to see the return of a kind of feminism that tells women and girls everywhere that maybe it’s all right not to be pretty and perfectly well behaved. That maybe women who are plain, or large, or old, or differently abled, or who simply don’t give a damn what they look like because they’re too busy saving the world or rearranging their sock drawer, have as much right to take up space as anyone else.

I think if we want to take care of the next generation of girls we should reassure them that power, strength and character are more important than beauty and always will be, and that even if they aren’t thin and pretty, they are still worthy of respect. That feeling is the birthright of men everywhere. It’s about time we claimed it for ourselves.” (via brute-reason)

When I was little, I used to wish to be rich or famous or loved by everyone or powerful or influential. I used to dream big. I used to want extravagant things for myself. It’s not really like that anymore. Really, I only want thing: I want to feel okay with myself.

More than anything else, I want to be able to look at myself – my body, my face, my accomplishments, my personality – and be okay with the picture. My big, quintessential dream for my life is to look at myself one day and have nothing to complain about. I don’t even have to be proud of it, really. I just have to not hate something about me as a person.

I’ve noticed that a lot has changed since I started to really hate my body. It’s definitely affected my relationships with my family and my boyfriend. Almost every conversation with my parents revolves around my body, so there’s very little talk about things that should matter. My sister has gotten really comfortable with using the term of endearment “fatty,” and I don’t think she realizes how much that hurts me. And I can’t have a single conversation or interaction with my boyfriend without wondering whether or not he thinks I’m fat or have gained too much weight or am no longer attractive. Because if I was in his shoes, I really doubt I’d like me anymore.

I don’t think the people in my life really know how much it hurts to go through life never liking what you see when you look in the mirror. And it’s not an easy subject to talk about.

I wish that someone had told me when I was growing up that being attractive wasn’t important. I wish someone had pulled me aside and said to me that the world has it wrong and being kind and compassionate and smart is what makes you a good person and that being attractive has nothing to do with your worth and value as a human being. I wish that someone had told that it’s okay to love myself no matter what I look like.

Because I’m not beautiful. And I wish that I was allowed to be okay with that.