How My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis Helped Me Come Out About My Sexuality
June for some may be considered the start of summer, but for others, June is also known as a special month signifying more than just sunshine and warm weather. Pride Month has just passed, and as a member of the LGBTQI community, it means something very special to me. A part of that reason is how it is officially a year since I came out to my mother, a year since my first real girlfriend and a year after accepting my sexuality as a part of my life.
My whole life, I’ve always known a part of me was attracted to women. I even mentioned it to my mother one time, in middle school — something along the lines of, “I think girls are pretty too. Maybe I like girls too?” I was about 11-12 years old. Nothing ever came of it. We never discussed it again. But it wasn’t that I was lonely or wasn’t getting any attention from boys at school. In fact. I’ve always had boyfriends.
My high school career consisted of depression and heartbreak — always feeling unhappy, too sensitive, too unloved due to depression and toxic friendships/relationships. Of course, the people we date in high school don’t define our love lives, but it made me feel like maybe it was just my choices in partners, or I was too sensitive. Once I came to college, I pretty much had to put those feelings very far back in my mind. Life happened. I had my first bipolar episode. After being officially diagnosed in October 2014, my life changed forever. When you realize you have a mental illness, I believe you learn to be more self-aware, to be vulnerable and strong.
When I was diagnosed, I remember being terrified of telling my family. I remember thinking they would judge me and disown me — I would become the black sheep of the family. What I now realize is that I was gathering tools that would help me cope with more than just my mental health, but with life in general. It hasn’t been the easiest process, getting them to understand and listen, but over time they have opened up and been more supportive than ever.
Bipolar disorder taught me that people can dislike something about you — they can dislike certain actions and opinions — but it doesn’t mean they don’t love you and support you. Coping with my mental health helped me prepare for when I was ready to deal with my sexuality, and it gave me the blueprint for being able to accept rejection or misjudgment. It gave me the blueprint for realizing that sometimes people do not feel frustrated towards you directly, but they feel frustrated for you. They feel frustrated because they know life may be harder for you. They know people might target you or they might make comments. They know your mental health is a bit more fragile. They know suicide is a bigger risk. Having a mental health condition makes life a bit more difficult, and some would also agree that so does going against the grain in society. Realizing I still had to love and accept myself, even with my mental illness, prepared me to learn to love and accept my sexuality. It provided the tools to make that leap and be brave.
So last June, I called my mother and I told her I’d begun seeing someone. Her first response, joyfully, was “Oh wow! What’s his name?” Instead of crawling back into a well-known shell, afraid of judgment and shame, I told her the truth. I told my mother her name. Although I am no longer with my ex-girlfriend, coming out to my mom was one of the hardest yet easiest conversations — because we were prepared for this. She knew how to love me, even if she was afraid for me. She knew she could accept me through anything because of everything we have been through so far.
One of the things they often tell you in therapy is, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” Hiding your true identity, your sexuality and even your mental health condition puts you in place of fear — fear of being judged, fear of being misunderstood or even just fear of disappointing those around you any more than you may feel you have. But you are not a disappointment. You are strong and you are prepared for this. Although not everyone is able to come out for safety reasons, religious religions and whatever else they feel is stopping them, coming out to yourself is the first step. Just as you have accepted your diagnosis and the things life has put upon you, you can make it through this.
Coming out is a process and they don’t tell you that you often have to come out again and again. But just as you do with your mental illness, it’s up to you and at your discretion who you share it with.
If you’re feeling suicidal, or just need a safe place to talk, you can call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.
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Thinkstock photo via Merlas