Wellbeing / Mental Health

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“I’m bipolar, take medication, and live a pretty regular life. But whenever I’m sad about something, everyone attributes it to my being bipolar instead of legitimizing my very real and very authentic emotions that don’t have anything to do with my diagnosis. The result is that whenever I’m going through a tough time, I feel like I can’t tell anyone. How can I seek emotional support independent of my diagnosis?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Jo Michelle as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Jo Michelle Says:

A diagnosis can sometimes be a lot like one of those jackets with the zippers that get stuck at the bottom. It’s really hard to take it off (the wiggling-it-over-your-head method is plausible but also causes stares), and even when you can wiggle out of it enough to wrap it around your waist, finally looking totally cool and in control… the jacket is still there.

Once people realize you and this jacket are stuck together, every problem becomes related to the jacket. Overheated? Sure the weather service issued a heat advisory and the pavement’s melting to your shoes, but it’s probably the jacket. Miss your bus stop? It was vacuum-packed with people, you couldn’t see out the windows, and someone put their suitcase on your lap, but…I bet your jacket got stuck, too.

I don’t have to tell you how much it stinks to pour your heart out to someone and get a symptom list or questions about your medication instead of a shoulder to cry on. But someone might have to tell the folks you’re opening up to. They might think they have this all figured out because they looked up “bipolar” to be helpful, and now they’re the opposite of helpful.

If the people you usually talk to are important to you, and you really want them to understand, you might need to let them know they’re doing it wrong. Maybe next time you spill your guts and Friend McFriendly says, “oh Budster, that’s just the bipolar talking,” you can say, “Actually Friend, I was saying I’m sad because my goldfish died. You’d be sad if your goldfish died too, right? And I’m also kind of sad that instead of hearing that I’m sad, you hear bipolar. We can’t bring Fishers back from the dead but can we fix that other thing? It would really help.”

Maybe it’ll go really well. Maybe they’ll ask you how else they can help and you can tell them how much you wish other people could understand and boy it would be great if they spread the word.

Maybe they still won’t get it. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck feeling misunderstood forever! Even if talking it out with Friend McFriendly doesn’t work, you can find people who understand that your feelings are valid. It might mean finding new friends. It might mean being really honest about your experiences so far and asking for understanding.

But you might also want to consider checking out what opportunities are out there to meet people who know just what you’re going through because they’re going through it, too. I know you said independent of your diagnosis, and I’m not saying you should put out an ad that says, “Cool Bipolar Person Seeks Bipolar Buddy For Buddy-tude.” That’s the opposite of what you want. But drop-in centers, support groups, local community organizations… Sometimes they can help you find people who know what it’s like to have their feelings mislabeled, but would much rather go hiking or marathon a few seasons of Game of Thrones.

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Jo Michelle is a trauma-oriented therapist working with children and their families, schools, and wherever else they need her in Western Massachusetts.

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“I’m trans and pansexual, and I’ve wanted to be a therapist for a long time. However, last year I outted a loved one to my therapist–just because it was a big part of my life and what brought me and that person closer–and my therapist told my parents. I know that he didn’t have to and that he was breaking rules, because I came out to the therapist I had before him and she was fine. Now, my view on therapy has changed, and I’m afraid to go back, but I know I need it. What do I do?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

To answer this question, we reached out to our friend Kati Morton, who is an awesome mental health YouTuber, as well as a Licensed Marriage & Family therapist, to say a few words before you get your standard Everyone Is Gay advisement from the lovely Dannielle.

Kati Morton Says:

This is obviously a case of someone not being good at their job, and that definitely sucks, but know that this is the exception not the rule. That is why it is so important to know that you can always switch therapists! If you don’t click with one, or you don’t feel that they “get” you in one way or another, it is perfectly fine to find someone else. In fact it takes most people a few different therapists to find the “right” one. So please get back out there. Don’t let this one bad therapist take away your chance at an invaluable resource.

Dannielle Says:

Unfortunately for all of us, there are really wonderful people and really terrible people in nearly every field. There are straight up MONSTERS that run non-profit companies. There are doctors that mis-diagnose patients with cancer on purpose, so they can make money. There are lawyers that make up stories and evidence to get their undeniably-guilty-clients off the hook. There are cops that use their position of power to commit disgusting acts of racism. There are therapists that out their clients and prescribe sending them off to pray-the-gay-away camps.

Fortunately for all of us, those aren’t the only people in the world. There are people who work tirelessly to make the world a better place. There are doctors who put everything they have into making sure their offices don’t experience even a hint of malpractice. There are lawyers who fight the lawyers who fuck it up for everyone. There are cops who truly do believe in protecting all people and are disgusted by men-in-uniform whom do not comply. There are therapists that would never, in one million years, under any circumstance, share your confidential information.

I think you should find one of those therapists, and if you’re still considering it, I think you should be one of those therapists.

If you have the opportunity to be one of the great people in your field, please do it. Please be the good among the bad. Give people a reason to feel safe. If there is one thing this world needs a lot more of, it’s safe spaces. Safe spaces for all types of people, for all types of reasons. We need good therapists, we need good doctors, we need good cops. We are raised to believe these people are looking out for us. We are brought up to believe these people have our backs. We spend our entire lives seeking out these specific types of people because they have the power to do something we can’t, they are supposed to be on our side. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re so far from being ‘on our side’ that it’s sickening. Please, please, do not give up your dream – and do not give up therapy – because some people are pieces of shit. Believe that the world is better because you are in it and you will make it better.

And. Trust your intuition. Another thing we’re taught from a young age is that we are wrong. We’re taught this over and over and over, until one day you’re sitting in a room with a therapist and they say to you, “being gay isn’t actually a real feeling, a study was done to prove that it’s because of your abuse as a child, if you don’t remember the abuse, it’s because there is a block on it.” Immediately your guts go “whoa whoa whoa, this doesn’t feel right,” but because we’ve been taught to stop believing in ourselves so early on, you stop that thought process. You stop it and say, “well, my therapist is a professional, they must know what they’re talking about,” and you find yourself in a much worse position because you didn’t trust your own intuition. Your intuition is powerful as fuck. Trust yourself, and do what feels right.

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"I’ve been thinking about suicide a lot lately. I finally started telling people I need help but it feels like no one is listening to me. It’s like they don’t take me seriously. My depression destroyed my college career, my job is about to fire me, I’m losing friends, everything is a mess. I feel so far in over my head. How can I make things better?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Allyee Whaley of The Trevor Project as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Allyee Says:

I really appreciate your strength to share your story openly and whole heartedly. Feeling depressed and suicidal is very difficult, but when you also feel completely alone, life can sometimes feel like it is too much to bear. So many young people struggle with similar situations and by you being brave enough to speak up, it can help others know they too are not alone.

All of the things you described are common consequences of those who struggle with depression. When one is depressed, it can be very painful to feel, can make you isolate from your friends and family, cause one to be tired all the time and take away one’s motivation to do things, not enjoy the things they usually like to do, sleep and eat much less or more than usual, and make one see everything in their life in a negative way. Sometimes the depression can get so bad it can make a person think of ending their life. Sometimes people think about ending their life when they feel very depressed, feel like things will never get better and helpless to make things better in their life. You can learn more about depression here.

Please know that if you were no longer here, the world would be a much, much emptier place. If you ever have thoughts of killing yourself, it’s very important for your safety that you immediately tell someone you trust about your thoughts of suicide. If you ever feel you’re going to act on those thoughts, immediately call 911 or get to your nearest hospital emergency room. If there’s no one you feel comfortable talking with or would like more support, you can always call the Trevor lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, 24 hours 7 days a week. Our caring, understanding and supportive counselors are here to talk with you about everything you’re feeling and going through and want to do whatever is needed to keep you safe.

I know that so far you haven’t gotten the results you’ve wanted by reaching out for help and that is really unfair. Finding someone supportive you can talk to is really important for everyone and I think your instincts to reach out when you need help will serve you well, once you find that person you can lean on. That person can be a therapist, friend, family member, Trevor Project Counselor, or anyone you can trust. When we have direct conversations with people about what’s happening in our life, we want to be met with someone who just listens. We want someone who doesn’t try to immediately solve our problems, but someone who can just sit with us in that pain and tell us “hey, that really sucks!” Sometimes our friends or family don’t know what to say, or might even be scared when we reach out to them for help. It is important to remember that other people’s responses to your feelings aren’t a reflection of you! Your problems are worthy of empathy, validation and respect.

While there is no magical answer on how to make things better, I can tell you, depression is a treatable condition, and it is possible to build a wonderful life for yourself. When it feels like everything is falling apart, trying to take steps to feel better can be one of the most daunting tasks. It isn’t going to be easy. The struggle is REAL, especially for those who struggle with depression. A number of things can be helpful, but it really just depends on what appeals to you, or what kinds of things you like doing. Some things you can ask yourself are: What things have you enjoyed doing in the past? What makes you feel good? For example, Do you like to draw, write, sing or dance? Does a bubble bath help you relax? You might not be the bubble bath type, but more of the “let me put on super loud punk music,” type. Whatever works for you and makes YOU feel good, as long as you aren’t harming yourself or others, is enough! It can be really hard to find the motivation to take care of ourselves especially when we get really depressed. You’d be amazed what a big difference it can make to add in a little bit of self-care in your life. And you don’t have to do it all at once. Allow yourself the space to make mistakes, to try new behaviors and see how they feel. We all have to continue to grow and adjust the way we cope throughout our lives, and that’s perfectly okay! Maya Angelou, once said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Part of this struggle you are experiencing right now might be helping you grow into this wonderful butterfly that is totally and uniquely YOU!

What I can see, is that you are a strong, brave person who is able to stand up, share your story and ask for help. You’ve already made a strong first step by reaching out for support! You don’t have to go through any of this alone.

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"I’m genderqueer and have been wanting to take testosterone, but something’s been holding me back. I recently realized men make me uncomfortable and there aren’t many I like so my brain says men=bad. If I take T I will be masculine looking and people will probably think I’m a guy, so brain says me looking like a man= me being what i don’t like. I know I want that for my body, but my mind is suffering. I don’t know if that makes sense."

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Liam Says:

To me, your question makes loads of sense. It’s a really important question, and I’m really glad you asked.

I’ll start out by telling you where I am at today: I am on testosterone, I have had gender affirming surgery, I prefer he/him pronouns, and I wear what are widely considered traditional men’s clothes. But I am not a man. What I choose to do with my body does not make me anything at all—that is solely the province of my heart and my mind.

It took years to get here, but let me try to simplify the processes that got me here as much as I can.

Before starting testosterone, I thought hormones were a thing that definitivelymade you a man or a woman. And why shouldn’t I have? All the men I knew had physical similarities to other men, and the same was true of women, and I didn’t know any trans people. More than that, after an 8th grade sex ed class focused on how the hormones men and women have determine everything from emotional intelligence to sexual desire, I was pretty sure hormones were the secret ingredient that made gender what it was.

Imagine my conflict when I longed for those “manly” physical qualities, which were attached to people whose socialization and way of being repulsed me. I felt icky, to say the least.

I thought that simply the act of starting hormone therapy would make me into something I didn’t want to be, a man (cue vomit noise—in case you couldn’t tell, I also have issues with dudes, you are not alone) and felt so trapped because I wanted the physical effects badly, but didn’t want to lose myself or be seen as a man. There was one night in particular where I laid on the floor of a powder room in my parent’s basement and cried out into the void, “Why does arm hair have to be a man thing?”

What I really meant was, “What the hell does it mean about me that I want arm hair?”

Short answer, I would come to find out, is it doesn’t mean anything. It just is. So I decided to start testosterone. I signed all the waivers at the doctor’s office about the permanent effects with informed abandon, thinking This has got to be better than how I feel now.

Holding the amber vial in my hand for the first time felt very much like holding a pipe bomb. That’s because, at best, you can only be about 82% sure you want to start hormones because you can’t calculate the effects they will have on you or not, since they effect everyone differently. But after reading the list of side-effects, you can be 100% sure that you want to try, that it will make you better off. So as I plunged the needle into my leg, I thought to myself I’ll figure out the rest of this stuff later, I guess.

It turns out what I thought was the end of my figuring out that divine question, (“Who am I?”) was only the beginning. That was three years ago and I can still ponder for hours.

I will tell you what helped me decide to start testosterone:

Imagine you are on an island. And on the island there is an unlimited supply of testosterone and needles and alcohol swabs, and no one there to lay any judgment on what it would mean for you to start T, no men there to say ”You’re like me now!” and no women to say “You are less like me now,” and no other members of the trans community to analyze your choices. There is only you. There is also food and clean water of course, so whatever decision you make you will have to live with for a while. What would you do then?

This may sound like a silly hypothetical, but the truth is no one has to live in your body but you, so in a way you really are on an island. And when you lay down your head on the pillow, you will be the only one who feels your body breathing, you will be the one who has to live in this shell, this envelope, this body for the rest of your life.  The question is less about what it will mean if you modify your body with hormones, and more about how you want your body to look and feel.

I can testify that T doesn’t make you into anything. It does, typically, make you hornier and hairier and deeper-voiced. It might make you slightly more muscular; it might make it harder for you to cry. It might also make you crave buffalo chicken when you never even liked buffalo chicken before! But no one determines whether you a man or a woman or a beautiful snowflake living in between except you. For better of for worse, you alone are the one who knows who you are. And no, I am not doing a Yoda impression.

That being said, I realize you don’t exist in a vacuum, and some things that happen after you start T and start passing or pass more can’t be changed. Now, women on the street at night walk a little faster when they see me walking behind them, men make comments about women’s bodies in my company, and I throw up in my mouth. But perhaps most painful of all is when other trans folks question my choices about hormones and surgeries, call me an assimilationist because I dress and appear a certain way.

I can tell you that these experiences feel gross, and that they make me want to change how people see me. So I come out to people as often as I can—a general rule for me is that I want to be out to anyone I will see more than once. Part of this is to help increase trans visibility, but an equally large part is that I want to correct the errant assumption that to look masculine = to be male. We all deserve better than that.

No decision around starting or not starting hormones is wrong, and it’s important to think about why and how you are making that choice. Additionally, you can decide something today, and change your mind later—many trans folks postpone hormone therapy or stop it at some point, and the world never stops turning. So take your time and let your mind explore what you’d hope to get out of hormones, and what you’d be afraid to lose.

Hormones could never change you inside, my friend. They could never turn you into a man, regardless of what people may see. The flawed assumptions people make based on your appearance about your experiences just go to illustrate how little room there is for trans people in the minds of cis people, and how many trans people pass judgment on one another’s choices. For every one person who may applaud you, there will be one hundred who think you are shirking your identity or trying to gain male privilege. So you can only be accountable to yourself in this decision, and take care of your own needs.

Inside you, there are oceans of contemplation that no one but you will sail. You are on a journey. Don’t let the way others see you or the way you may see others slow you down, just do what you must to get to a safe port. You can always sort out the problematic nature of conflating some physical qualities with gender identity later.

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