Menu Close

Month: October 2019

Coming Out

Every year, National Coming Out Day happens on October 11. This year, I thought I’d revisit my coming out story.

It was 1993. Picture, if you can, a world without cell phones, social media, or even the Internet. There were hardly any out celebrities to look up to. Queer characters on TV and in movies, when they existed at all, were sexless sidekicks or living with AIDS. My uncle and his partner were out, but they didn’t live nearby, and certainly, them being gay wasn’t something that was ever discussed. The rare times I heard anything about being gay, it was a punchline or a source of shame or sympathy.

Looking back, there were all the clues I needed to figure out my sexuality, but I truly believed for the longest time that any queer leanings were a phase I would outgrow. After all, I had very loud, public, and dramatic crushes on girls, and had had those my whole life. Yup, my cover was so good, I’d fooled myself; I was basically the only one fooled though. The “homo” and “fag” that everyone called everyone didn’t mean anything, right?

But then I met and became friends with a guy named Daniel, a friendship that ended as abruptly as it began. The depression that sent me into was way worse than when any of those girl-crushes went nowhere. Even if it was only in my head, I started to accept the fact that this wasn’t a phase. By the fall of 1993, I was ready to start telling my closest friends. Some took it well, some didn’t, but with every person I told, it got a bit easier. Still, I was nowhere ready to tell family, and I honestly don’t know when or how I would have, because one cold November night, a friend did it for me.

It was an accident and I never blamed her. It just spilled out one night along with a lot of other drama and chaos and tears and depression. And vodka. There was lots of vodka that night.  Right from that night, my coming out story really did become my mental health story and my addiction story. For years, I would see them as unconnected. But no, they went hand in hand.

Mom didn’t want to believe it. She wanted to know who was to blame. She was convinced someone had molested me to make me turn out that way. Meanwhile, I could barely process what she was saying because I was 100% focused on the guy I thought I loved starting to date my best friend. It was a very fucked up grade 12 year, and certainly, it didn’t seem that coming out had brought me any closer to peace or happiness. Far from it. I started to self-harm. I started to flirt with suicide. I was in so much pain and all of that pain seemed to come from coming out.

So I went back in. High school was over and I was starting University in a new city, and this was a chance for a total fresh start. Certainly, my homophobic roommate helped reinforce that decision. I decided just to focus on school and forget about everything that had happened in the last 12 months. The way to forget? Booze. I drank so much that first semester. (Spoiler: alcohol didn’t make me happy, and spoiler: it got a lot worse after I came out again. That’s a whole different blog).

I started dating a girl named Kim. I knew I wasn’t straight but I figured I could fake it. What was four years? After University, I could revisit coming out. Who would it hurt (spoiler: Kim). But then I started taking Psych, and in that Psych class, there was a guy named Troy. He was handsome and happy and seemingly out and proud. I didn’t know if I wanted to do him or be him, but I knew the closet wasn’t working for me anymore. I broke up with Kim, figured out where and when gay people in Lethbridge gathered, and called a cab to take me away from the closet for good.

Ellen came out, and that was a huge deal. Matthew Shepherd got murdered, and that was a huge deal. Delwin Vriend took the province to court and won, and that was a huge deal. Mental health got better then worse then better then worse. Mom got better and better and better. Alcohol use got worse and worse and worse and then better. But my coming out journey? That was pretty done from that point on. Aside from those times I still catch myself “straightening up” around people I don’t know; that damage might never go away wholly.

But this National Coming Out Day, and so many other days, I am so grateful that yes, it got better.

My Mental Health Journey

So apparently the day before National Coming Out Day is World Mental Health Day and that seems very fitting.

The below entry talks about how linked my coming out journey and my mental health journey were. However, that coming out journey did end (as much as it ever ends. Really, coming out happens all the time because we still live in a world where straight is the assumed default). My mental health journey is ongoing.

I was a moody teenager. Moody, dramatic, and so very angry. That was part the closet, part family, part absolute fucking loneliness, part asshole kids in school. But it was a lot more complicated than any of those things too. After years of highs and lows, I was pretty convinced that I was manic-depressive and I went to the doctor for confirmation. Yes, for confirmation. Not for dialogue, not for discussion. I listed my symptoms, the ones I had already checked online against a list of manic-depressive symptoms, and within five minutes, this doctor I’d never met had prescribed me lithium and said it would probably be for life. “Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder” was their diagnosis, and I was happy that I had a fixable answer.

The problem? They didn’t know me. They didn’t know about high school self harm. They didn’t know about my slow dance with suicidal ideation. They didn’t know how often I simply wanted to die (spoiler: the suicidal part of me wasn’t really the same as the wanting to die part of me. The suicidal part still thought suicide was just the grand romantic gesture I had to make before the hero came in and rescued me. Spoiler: I’m my own fucking hero and years later, I would rescue myself). They gave me pills, and the pills meant no booze, which was another problem that needed fixing, so I was happy: two birds, one small white stone.

I was a zombie on lithium. It was life in a permanent fog. I didn’t realize that no lows and no highs meant no anything at all. Surely I hadn’t been that bad. And I figured so I’d essentially self-diagnosed, I could change my mind. Three months. Three months, and I stopped the lithium and continued with self-medicating with booze.

Booze and then later drugs. Years passed, and I figured that it was the partying that was the problem. That’s why I had the mood swings, because my whole life swung from hungover to drunk and/or high. Once I stopped that, the mood swings would stop. The rage would stop. The sadness would stop. The happy would finally start. Spoiler: not so much.

I got sober in March of 2011, but I still had the rage and sadness, and now I had a lot of new stuff too. Like a nearly crippling social anxiety. That was a new one that had developed in the drunken interim. And there was a lot of brain stuff I didn’t know whether to blame on actual physical damage from the years of daily drunkenness and drug use or whether it was just because I was old now (I mean, 33, that’s gotta be when people’s brains get fuzzy from old age right?)

I suffered through sober sadness for a few years, still believing a boyfriend was just the missing link. But a boyfriend definitely wasn’t the answer. Maybe it was just loneliness in general then. I just needed to be friends with the cool gays (yes, late 30s and I was basically living life like it was still junior high. Go Panthers!).

Just in case, I made another attempt with doctors. This one took a bit more time, and made some referrals, and then I met with that new doctor, and they wanted to meet more regularly. Borderline personality disorder was what they were calling it now, and pills could help, but therapy would help more. But then that second doctor left and I had to start over with a third, and this was just ridiculous, and if a pill couldn’t fix me, then I’d work through it on my own. The escitalopram they had me taking wasn’t helping with the anxiety anyway, and I was already finding that the major depressive episodes were more manageable the older I got (as happens in some cases of BPD).

And that is something I will probably always be working on. I’ve had a lifetime of training myself to react certain ways. Angry ways. Dramatic ways. Negative ways. It makes sense it will take a lifetime to undo that training. But fuck, my life would have been so much easier if I had started working on these things years ago. We didn’t talk about mental health then though, not like we do now.

And so I will share my mental health journey, where I’ve been, where I am, constantly and openly. Because just like coming out reduces discrimination, so too does coming out of the poor mental health closet.

We need to talk about it because that’s how we know we’re not alone, and knowing we’re not alone can be the first step towards healing.