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.