Tag Archives: LGBT

Self Identity & Mental Health – Pride Edition

Pride weekend is a pretty big deal in Seattle and while I tend to avoid events like parades (too much standing still with too many people for me to feel comfortable) I found myself on Capitol Hill twice during the celebration. I enjoyed having the opportunity to see all kinds of different people milling around smiling and laughing, and the attitudes of the multitude allowed me the briefest window where my self-consciousness could melt away.

Pride was, in a roundabout way, what led to a conversation where I was asked how important I think it is for us as human beings to be able to categorize ourselves in different ways. Even though I’ve only just started becoming familiar with the particulars of gender when it comes to self identity I couldn’t help but point out that this is a topic of conversation that comes up in regard to mental illness pretty frequently too.

In those instances the question is usually about diagnosing mental illness and if trying to fit our symptoms -which can vary widely even within an illness- into one category or another is more helpful or harmful in the long run. Even though opinions vary greatly on this topic I’ve found that the majority tend to see reaching a diagnosis as something helpful and can appreciate it as a tool to better understand their symptoms and how to live with them. For me being diagnosed with bipolar disorder felt more like a relief than anything else, even despite finding my symptoms don’t line up with the majority of those with the disorder.

In terms of self-identity I’ve always been curious as to how other people live their lives and what we have in common, but for as long as I can remember I have struggled with the idea of who I am. Trying to find commonalities has felt exhausting at times because I’ve had a hard time locking down what my values are, what I want my life to be, and who I am.

Issues of gender and sexuality have definitely played into that. Discovering that I might not be attracted to the same people my friends were was both alienating and isolating. Not being able to really understand why I feel uncomfortable when people address me differently than I imagine myself has been frustrating because being unable to explain this strange off-putting feeling to myself has meant being unable to explain it to anyone else too.

Self identity in that sense has had a huge impact on how I act, how I interact with other people, but also on my mental health. Feeling estranged from people I can relate to has often meant feeling depressed and isolated. Being unable to pinpoint and communicate where a lot of those thoughts and feelings are coming from and, even more, feeling the need to constantly explain myself has fueled a lot of the anger I have toward myself and other people.

While issues with gender and my sexuality have fueled issues like depression and low self-esteem I have found that living with mental illness itself, in my case treatment resistant bipolar disorder and anxiety, has played a huge role in keeping me from being able to pinpoint who I am and what I want out of life. Mood swings make a habit of constantly changing my motives and desires, so getting a grasp on what is underneath has often felt like digging a hole in the sand at the beach that is constantly being refilled by each wave that rolls in.

After six months of DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) I’ve got a new-found appreciation for the fact that having a real understanding of ourselves and what we want in life is how we are able to find ways to make ourselves happy and move toward our goals. What can we expect if we don’t know how to make ourselves happy? Where do we go if we’re not moving toward the lives we want?

Without categorizing our needs in other ways, like the diagnosis of mental illness, how can we expect to move toward improving our symptoms? Without understanding our needs and being able to communicate those needs in a way other people and healthcare providers can understand, how can we address them?

I can understand how categorizing the elements in our lives can seem limiting to some people, but throughout history mass communication has been based on shared common knowledge. That might come from our language, or our understanding of science and theories at the time, or things we’ve learned from our friends and family (among others). Being able to communicate what we need in a way that other people can understand is a huge part of being able to be successful in both feeling acceptance from other people and moving toward what we want, and while sometimes that communication comes at the price of having to simplify things to help people understand, the understanding and acceptance is the ultimate goal.

Granted, there are big differences between something like identifying gender identity or sexual preference, and identifying a mental illness. I think it is important to remind people that our sexual preference and gender identity are inherent to who we are and to express those things comes from a lot of personal reflection and understanding of ourselves.

Conversely, most people in the mental health camp consider mental illness to be just that, an illness. I would be remiss if I didn’t say there aren’t people that disagree, but to most the symptoms of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, among others, are things that are keeping us from being happy and living the lives we want to.

If you consider it though, identifying mental illness is one way we are all able to be true to ourselves and to act in a way that will bring us a better understanding of ourselves and how to move toward living the lives we want. We seek treatment to try to get back to the sense of self we understand and feel that we have lost.

What is the expression and self discovery that comes with coming out, or expressing a change in gender identity but an act in the same direction? Taking steps to understand and communicate our identity is another way in which people can reaffirm their sense of self and actively move toward finding happiness and living the lives they want to live.

In both situations we fight to protect our sense of self and our identities, and though it might initially feel like an act of self-preservation both the LGBTQ and mental health communities know the value of protecting our inner-self and see that being true to ourselves, whatever that means for us, will make us happier in the long run.

I know that I’ve felt the effects of ignoring my most inner sense of self, and that whether that came from hiding who I truly felt I was or denying myself help from the constant attack on it that came with my mental illness I like to think that each day I know myself a little better. I understand myself a little better. I can keep moving in the direction of supporting who I am and what I want because I know that I am the only person who can do that for myself –and I deserve it.

Crisis Text Line Charts Outline When & Where Teen Crises Strike

Most of you already know that I am a huge fan of charts and graphs that can provide a visual representation of the things many of us go through, from anything like stress or anxiety to those situations involving having thoughts of suicide or self harm. Mood charting has been has had a huge impact on the way I view my own mental health, and on the way I can convey what I experience to others.

Crisis Text Line, a New York based non-profit, is geared toward teens in crisis. The service allows users to text the crisis line about their crisis instead of having to call, making the subsequent conversation less intimidating and less likely to be overheard in public places (like schools or parks) where teens often spend much of their time.

This new format creates interesting opportunities, as text messages do leave behind a certain amount of data. This data has been combined and sorted allowing anyone to visit their website and select different types of crises and see the  time of day, day of the week, change over time, and crises per state based on the volume of text messages received about each type of crisis at any given time.

I realize that is a lengthy description, so here’s an example:

If you combine “time of day” and “anxiety” you will see that crisis texts involving anxiety peak between 7-8 am and at lunchtime.

If you combine “time of day” and “depression” you will see that crisis texts involving depression tend to peak around 8-9 pm.

Really, no description could do justice to how comprehensive and great these graphs are, giving us a unique opportunity to consider how we can help teens -or potentially anyone who is experiencing a crisis situation.

I would highly recommend checking this out, crisis topics range from eating disorders to bullying to sexual abuse and beyond, so there is a multitude of information here, not just that pertaining to depression or suicide.

You can find the Crisis Text Line website here, and their page specifically for the charts and graphs here.

There is also an article over at The Atlantic that contains a few more details I have not provided here if you are looking for more.

National Coming Out Day

October 11th is National Coming Out Day, a civil awareness observance day for coming out and discussion about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals.

Having lived in Seattle the last 5+ years I am used to being around a thriving and very open LGBT community. It makes me excited to see not only people feeling comfortable enough to live openly in regards to their sexuality, but also that our good ol’ USA is finally beginning to make some strides when it comes to LGBT rights (albeit slowly).

I can’t speak for everyone, but I know a lot of folks from my generation have found themselves baffled as to why this community doesn’t have the same rights as others. Many of us who were born in the 80’s were brought up with openly homosexual parents, neighbors, friends, & relatives and it doesn’t surprise me at all that many of us grew up without the limitations of specific gender roles being forced upon us. Those of us in our 20’s have a plethora of different values and our sexual identities are not always so straightforward.

I feel as if my own sexuality is of very little consequence, my own heart doesn’t seem to make a distinction before it falls in love with either a man or a woman. Being in a committed relationship with my current amazing boyfriend makes me feel less inclined to “come out of the closet” to those who aren’t aware of my sexual preferences, why bring up something that isn’t immediately relevant?

Perhaps that makes me a coward, or one might argue that by putting that information on the back burner I am somehow denying my true self to others… I suppose it is a matter of opinion. I don’t have trouble talking to others about it when it is relevant, but I guess that is what coming out of the closet is all about.

A statement that says,

This is part of who I am, you can take it or leave it.

With the progress we’ve made with gay rights, I feel that is something I could do.

However, my heart has been heavy lately in regard to another secret that is shared by 57.7 million Americans living in silent fear of discrimination. Though we face a common struggle, our experiences have often left us severed from our jobs, school, church, romantic relationships, friends, and sometimes even family. We live in fear every day that we might lose the things we cherish if others found out what we’ve been hiding.

It has taken years and the struggle of many individuals to begin to clear the stigma around homosexuality. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness is a very real and terrifying thing that effects the lives of millions of Americans each day.

Just imagine being diagnosed with an illness that you are not only expected to have for the rest of your life, but that society also frowned upon talking about it.

So when I think of National Coming Out Day, my mind moves beyond the LGBT community. What you may not know is that this last week also included National Bipolar Awareness Day. This day isn’t widely known, and the bipolar community doesn’t seem to have forums about it, nor a large supportive community, heck -they don’t even have a flag! What would it mean for myself and others with bipolar disorder to come out of the mental illness “closet”?

Again, telling people about this part of me isn’t something I have trouble with when it is relevant, and people within my general age group tend to be supportive and curious about this issue. But what about that looming, “this is part of who I am” coming out statement we talked about earlier? Sure, we’ve had celebrities such as:

  • Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Britney Spears
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Carrie Fisher (my personal favorite)

and many, many more come out of the “bipolar closet,” but the average American would argue that as a typical citizen (a non-celebrity) we would have a lot more to lose.

Personally, I have lost a job within the last year while hospitalized and receiving treatment for bipolar disorder -which, yes, is illegal and considered discrimination. I have been declined jobs for checking the “I have a disability” box on an application. I’ve lost relationships, and I’ve put a strain on my family.

BUT, on the other side of the coin, I told my boyfriend before we started dating that I have bipolar disorder and we’ve been together over three years now. I’ve also had at least one job that went above and beyond making the workplace somewhere I could thrive after I told them what I’d been dealing with. I have two really close friends that I can be open with about anything because we all have bipolar disorder, which is a great support. My family is supportive of me, and my dog Luna couldn’t care less what labels I’ve been stuck with.

Bipolar disorder is not who I am, but it is part of who I am.

I don’t think of it as being sick. Sometimes I can perform tasks above and beyond what others can do, other times I need a little extra help. Some of the traits that people with bipolar disorder often display to a degree higher than those in perfect mental health are spirituality, empathy, creativity, realism, and and resilience. It is also often argued that we feel a spectrum of emotion far larger than what most people can feel, which can be both a blessing and a little bit of a curse!

I was planning on making this post (and now blog) available to people who know me (but may not have known about this part of my life) beginning today. National Coming Out Day felt like a good day to do it, despite my feelings of fear and hesitation.

Regardless, thanks for allowing me to be open with you today.