I really haven’t been doing well and I have no idea where or to whom to go or what to do to be anything other than the person I inevitably am. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus. I know I said I would post once every day this month for my BLOGtober OUTtober efforts but, since I posted 2-4 times some days last week, I gave myself a bit of much needed space this weekend. I have a migraine at the moment, probably a residual effect of a really bad panic attack I had Friday night. It was embarrassing and I feel like such a weak and self-indulgent person.
I go to bed and have nightmares. The night before last, I had a very graphic nightmare where my ex (who, for the record, hasn’t done this) was upset that our friends were mad at him for leaving their apartment dirty with tons of veggies on the floor (I don’t know why). I was kneeling behind a wicker chair where our friend was sitting and my ex, Michael, was waving a gun around mad and saying if they really called the cops, he was going to shoot me or himself. He hadn’t decided yet but he knew one of us was had a one-way-ticket out of that house.
When the sirens whirred into the neighborhood and arrived outside, he glared at our friend for calling the cops and got this desperate look on his face. I asked him not to shoot me but I also begged him not to shoot himself. Hating myself for being frozen and hiding behind the chair when I should have been protecting our friends or stopping him from hurting himself. But I was afraid and time seemed frozen. It didn’t seem like it would actually happen.
Then he made a sudden decision and I remember screaming, knowing my scream wouldn’t reach him in time, as he pushed a glock under his chin, pulled the trigger, and an explosion of red shot throughout the room, some of it landing in my mouth, its salt making the bitter reality poisonous, as his head, ripped off from the force of the gun, rotated while sailing high up in the room and making a wide arch where it slowly tumbled through the air down to me, hitting me. And as slowly as this all happened, it was all within an instant too. It was as if, because I didn’t just deserve to experience the instantaneous consequences or the drawn out imagery, my mind and time itself split in two so I could simultaneously experience it so quickly I didn’t have time to react and so slowly I could record every detail for every dream I would have after.
I have that nightmare in some form all the time. It has never been Michael before and, because I love and care for him, it was an agonizing, heart-wrenching, unfathomable nightmare. I woke up both grieving and knowing Michael wasn’t dead. I called him to make sure because it was so real, so many of my senses were engaged, a small part of me thought the lucidity of the memory couldn’t have been anything I imagined. Michael never did that. Somebody in my life did that, with a long knife, and it unfolded fairly similarly but he didn’t kill himself. A part of me that day, I think, is still frozen in that moment, numbed to anything that happened after, and is stuck reliving it during impulsive dreams and the random moments my heart rate accelerates to 185 beats per minute when I drop something and start to shake, my body unsure for a moment what is about to happen to me.
My body starts sprinting into that nightmare before my mind knows what it’s being dragged into. Sometimes I am trying to save myself. Sometimes the shooter. Sometimes an observer. The night I got this memory, I was just home sleeping so I could work the next morning on my spring break from college. Somebody else had been drinking and doing drunks. Another person engaged in a screaming match. Although I tried to stay away from a fight I had seen a hundred times before, I couldn’t listen to somebody get hurt so I stepped out to defuse the situation, finding myself trapped between fear, confusion, and this nightmare that won’t let go of me.
Me: Okay I think I’ve got it. No more segways. And I swear, if you bring up Paul Blart Mall
Cop. Cause I know that’s where you’re going and I don’t want to talk about King of Queens again. You need to move on.
Michael: I wasn’t going to do that…
Me: We were together too long. I could just interview you in my mind and get the same answers.
Let’s talk about the whole coming out relatively late thing, age 30. You’re a counselor. How do you think that impacted you?
Michael: I think I was afraid longer. My family is very conservative and they don’t agree with it. Fear is why I waited 2 or 3 years after I came out to you to tell them and I didn’t even tell them on purpose. My mom asked me and I said yes. And my dad found out somehow (I think my mom was worried about me and told him).
Me: What do you think made your mom ask you?
Michael: We’re close and she was wondering for a while and she wanted to know if it was true.
Me: But you know I did subtly prep her when I was worried about your well-being and called to tell her I think she needed to drive the hour to check on you.
She asked me why you were so anxious and since I couldn’t say, Oh, he is bisexual and since your family follows pundits like Rush Limbaugh, he’s afraid he won’t be accepted, I told her that you didn’t feel like you had social support for some things in your life because, as the youngest child and only one to graduate college, you felt pressure to act like you had everything together. I tried to keep it ambiguous but to impress on her the seriousness of the situation.
Michael: Yeah. I know. I don’t care about that. I am glad you did it the way you did it, knowing what I would want, because it was easier to tell her when she knew how anxious I was and how afraid I was to show them who I really am. It was like a weight off my shoulders because since our family doesn’t talk about things, I don’t know if we would have ever gotten there.
Me: Okay so tell me how your family is doing now. Who knows?
Michael: Just my mom and dad.
Me: Why not your brother, sister, and nephews?
Michael: I feel like they’re more closed-minded than my parents. I honestly do. If it’s outside of their comfort zone, they don’t get it and don’t really want to explore the idea. My parents try to get it I think.
Me: When do you think you’ll tell them and how?
Michael: I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that. But I just feel like I would do it when it’s inevitable, like bringing a guy to Christmas and they’d figure it out. I still worry about that one though. I don’t know why. I am afraid that maybe my sister wouldn’t want me around my nephews, maybe, but I don’t know if she would though. I don’t think so but I’m afraid it could happen.
Me: What do you know of their opinions on this topic?
Michael: Nothing. They just don’t talk about it. Like at all. It’s just not a topic of conversation.
Me: How does it impact you that they don’t know?
Michael: It’s still hanging over my head. And I try to act like it isn’t because I don’t want to tell them but it’s hard to ignore. I feel like I’m still living that double life, like that secret life. And yeah with my parents, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders–
Me: Are you talking to me through your Apple watch while showering?!
Me: Technology is weird. I’m just going to leave that one alone.
Michael: But I just don’t feel like I will be relieved after telling them.
Me: But you didn’t think you’d be relieved after telling your mom and dad before they knew.
Michael: True. I think it kind of helped that they had an idea. Kind of like you hinting at it to my mom so it wasn’t such a shock. I don’t think my brother and sister have any clue.
Me: Yeah, I don’t know if that is a good way to do it or not. I just made a judgment call and was trying to put your well-being first without taking away your right to privacy and make that big decision on your own. I took a lot of tums when your mom and I were texting because I was just fraught with guilt and anxiety about what I should and shouldn’t say. I just kind of tried to not deny anything or go out of my way to convince her you aren’t because I didn’t want to make it worse when you did tell her.
So I know this is really different for your family. How is your dad responding to it now versus how he did initially?
Michael: When he came down to see me that day you were worried about me and I was going through that stuff, my mom told me he knew while he was standing right there. And I thought she meant about my anxiety and she said he knows everything. And I just thought, oh shit, this is awkward. We were in my apartment and we just had a discussion. She told me before that huge talk, in my room while he was in the living room, that when he found out he told her he’d suspected it for a while.
He didn’t talk about my sexuality directly but he said he knows what’s going on and it doesn’t change anything. He still loves me and supports me. I think my parents try really hard to be supportive now and sensitive, like not accidentally saying something that could offend me. I really appreciate that. I think it says a lot that he is being really mindful.
Me: Yeah, I’m really proud of your parents. I know they have had less exposure to LGBT+ topics or experiences but they handled it how I expected they would handle it. I know not all people are this fortunate but I had a good feeling your parents would love you more than it might scare them initially. They love you pretty unconditionally. When your mom told me she knew, I just tried to kind of be supportive and acknowledge that line that probably isn’t as politically correct because in our ideal world, people are immediately accepting and it is no different than heterosexuality. And as much as I hope we get there one day, I think we have to be realistic where we’re at now.
I’m comfortable with LGBT+ topics and it was still an adjustment for me because it was so personal. So I tried to make sure she knew that I had had to process it and it was okay to feel conflicted as she got used to the idea. For me it wasn’t so much about who you were going to be sleeping with. It was about the sudden sense of change and just reforming my relationship with you around this new and really important information…
…did she say why he suspected it or if they talked to each other about it before they knew?
Michael: No, she didn’t. I don’t know if they would have talked about it.
Me: I don’t know how you didn’t ask. I mean to each his own but I’d want every detail so I could analyze.
Michael: Ok, I will so you can analyze for me [laughing].
Me: You don’t have to but… I will do it.
Maybe you should just show up to a family function with a shirt that says, I’m gonna make American gay again. MAGA, bitches. Did I tell you I bought you a magnet that says Make American Gay Again? I’ll give it to you when I see you next.
[As he is getting ready and singing] Why don’t we talk later?
Michael: Okay, I’ll ask my mom those questions and get back to you.
Me: K. Send me a picture of your co-worker’s planner. So I can go have planner envy. Just take pictures of all of it. The outside. Everything. Just go up to her and be like, I know this is random but Imma need a picture for my ex-girlfriend who–
Michael: Who turned me?
Me: I hate you. Byyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeee.
Michael: Love you. Kiss my puppies. Byeeeee.
Michael’s piece–if he stops procrastinating, Michael–should be up tomorrow morning. If you’re curious to hear what he has to say about what it’s like to come out at 30 in Trump’s corner of the world, with friends and family who love him and support Trump, check it out.
If you’re reading this on your phone, I suggest turning it on its side and reading it that way because it looks better and is much more palatable.
I know I already posted the interview today but I saw this article and had to link to it because I have been seeing a lot of people echo this in regards to their personal experiences and I think we don’t discuss it enough as a society. It seems as if we always have enough energy and time to make simplistic statements about how suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem” and those struggling with suicidal ideation simply need to “get help” as if there is some infallible checklist and, if they just complete it, they won’t commit suicide.
I think about suicide, a lot, and I think the reason people are eager to write it off with a simple fix-all suggestion but don’t have the same attention and interest in taking an honest look at the state of mental health in our society, is the same thing I have realized in a dragged-out, exhaustive few years of trying to help myself and get help for suicidal ideation: suicide is such a complicated thing and trying to understand it requires going down the rabbit hole. There you find yourself caught in an overwhelming, chaotic Wonderland that unsews the fabric of your mind and resews it asymmetrically.
While I do enjoy the concept of Wonderland, I can appreciate why people prefer the simple reasoning of “if a person feels suicidal, then he just has to do this and he won’t be suicidal anymore” to a world that turns all of that reasoning upside down and inside out to the point you can’t form any definitive opinions on it–because there are no set logical rules that govern suicidal ideation. You have to be really comfortable with ambiguity and willing to accept the dissatisfaction of not being able to write out a solution and file it away as a job well done–or you just have to experience suicidal thoughts and what it is like to try to do anything about them.
This article is important and I think you should read it so I won’t go further than my personal experience because I could ramble and turn this over in my mind a hundred times today, which I probably will. But what I will say is that my experience corroborates the questions and argument Sarah Schuster is making. All aspects of my life–in terms of getting an advanced education, being an athlete all through college, exercising, taking medication regularly–fit the description of things people say you can do to ward off mental illness. I did them and enjoyed it–and they didn’t work. They don’t magically ward off depression like some silver bullet because suicide is so much bigger than what my extracurriculars were in high school and college, what is on my resume now, or what I do on the weekends. We sell these easier narrative that mental illness is the fault of the individual–they aren’t self-disciplined enough, they are snowflakes, dramatic, all of things that give society a pass from seeing this really pervasive and severe thing that drastically affects people’s lives. But time and time again we see depression doesn’t discriminate and you can try to avoid it, and some people succeed, but you choose it no more than you’d choose to be born into a violent home. It’s just there and it’s all you’ve ever seen and it gets a bracingly strong grip on you before you get the chance to choose.
I have an extensive history of trauma. I started showing mental health symptoms in college when it just felt like my legs were cut out from under me. Suddenly the way I had metaphorically walked in my life had to be entirely different. The way I experienced the world and my vantage point was entirely different. And the problem was, like most people who experience mental illness, I didn’t have any background in that and had no idea how to fix myself. I kept trying to will myself to be able to do everything like I always had, to be this well-rounded and just very capable and whole person, all while being certain I had never actually been that person. So I would promise people things and take on responsibilities I believed I could manage–because I had been able to do it my entire life and because I so passionately wanted to. And I still haven’t found an answer to that.
I have a really, really strong passion for life and certain things. When I get glimpses of my actual self between episodes of mental illness, I burn with and emit heat, passion, and enthusiasm for the things that are important to me. But it doesn’t matter how much you love the water and how much experience you have boating or how much you want to embrace the blessing of wind and sail–if there is a substantial hole in your schooner, you’re not going to get very far. Depression is my hole. It is the hole in which I hide and this spiritual, mental, and emotional puncture from which all of the effort, energy, will, belief, and passion I want to channel towards things sometimes leaks and other times pours. And I have tried a lot of ways to fix that hole. And sometimes, if I am lucky, I can repair it just long enough to believe the sinking is behind me and to get a taste of what it feels like to sail on a gorgeous, windy day. But my mental illness is acid; give it time and it will erode or eat or find some way to destroy any repair.
So in spite of the fact that I was about to complete my second master’s degree and third degree in the eight years since I had graduated high school, one day when I was on my way to my graduate assistantship, I needed to abruptly find somewhere to pull over on a side street like you do when somebody is about to vomit in your car. I put my head against the steering wheel and felt as if somebody kicked me in the gut and was squeezing my heart so hard I thought I’d burst, ear drums and all. All along, the part of me that doesn’t fit the stereotype of depression was sitting on my shoulder telling me to calm down (because of course it would be so easy from her worldview). I tried to make reason outweigh the physical sensations telling me I was standing in a pit as all of the pillars I had tried to build in my life crashed deafeningly down into a heap of ruin.
I tried to call my ex and he was at work so he didn’t answer. So I called my mom who was with my cousin, five hours away in my hometown. They were having lunch and she answered the phone with a laugh in her voice and said, “hey baby!” which is what she calls me when she’s feeling good because I’m the second and youngest child. Because I feel so much pressure to carry out this facade that I don’t need anything and have it together in a family where it has been common for my brother and cousins to drop out of high school, I wasn’t and still do not tell my family how much I struggle because I don’t want to burden them or wallow in the privilege I have accrued since I went to college, making my problems seem laughable and weak in comparison to their own.
Needless to say, she was not expecting that call. I put my head against the cracked steering wheel of my car and I sobbed and hyperventilated, not being able to determine what my next step should be so I could get back to work and be functional like everybody else. It felt as if there was some bacteria rapidly eating away at my brain. If you asked me to tell you where the epicenter of that bacteria is, I could without hesitation point to the part of my head where I swear I can physically feel it at times. Somehow–and I can’t remember how–I managed to call the campus psychiatrist I had been seeing for months and make an emergency appointment. Surprised to see me in that raw of a state, he told me I needed to skip my evening class, in spite of the fact that I had a group presentation, and go to the emergency room immediately. I agreed to go but said I didn’t want to abandon my group so first I was able to give them my materials for the presentation’s activity and what they needed to be able to do the presentation without me, all with a suffocating heap of regret, guilt, and shame.
Then I went to the hospital where I sat from 5pm to 4am and was seen by a doctor who, clearly, had to stop more immediate problems like actual bleeding, and emptily asked if I had a plan and all of your basic suicide checklist questions. Then a social worker who was equally professional and distant came in and talked to me about how I was doing, if I had calmed down, what was upsetting me and my plans for going home, getting a good night’s rest, accepting where I was and beginning to rebuild from there. By this time, ashamed and feeling as if I should, I gave them the lighter versions of where I was emotionally. I had tried to convey how seriously and painfully this situation was hitting me but when their concern did not seem to match the intensity of my belief that I was better off dead and just needed to actualize the inevitable, I resigned and toned it down to say what I knew needed to be said so they could feel as if they had done everything needed to avoid liability. Two women from this volunteer crisis organization came in and talked to me. They were much more genuine and made me sign a plan that they would call me at the same time every day and if I didn’t answer, they or the social worker would call the police and send them to my apartment for a wellness check. It felt as if I had broken curfew and was grounded and couldn’t be trusted; which, given the potential danger they thought I could pose on myself, was fair. But it also made me feel as worthless and an inappropriate burden as I thought. They gave me materials to think about a daily outpatient 8-5 therapy program to properly address my illness and said we could talk about it the following day.
Nobody ever called me. Ever. Thankfully I lived with my ex who was finishing up his training to be a clinical and mental health counselor. He called the hospital and the numbers we had been provided and they were all dead ends. I just slept for a few days until I could trust my hands to not give in to these strong desires and then, like a coward, I slunk back into my work and my life. I’ve been in the neighborhood of that severe a moment point a few times since. I’ve called and chatted and communicated with the emergency services numbers. A few times they talked to me long enough that I was so distracted by the conversation I relaxed and could sleep off the heightened anxiety. There have been other times I waited so long I gave up and did something like emotionally drag myself out of the house for a walk to avoid what I thought was inevitable if I was alone. Other times I walked away from reaching out feeling just as misunderstood and dismissed as I felt that day at the hospital. (It varies and although it should certainly receive more support in order to do its job, it is a wonderful resource and I encourage you to use it if you need to do so; I might not be here without it. I don’t know).
What I will say is a card or a handout or a phone number, as much as we want to feel comforted by the delusion that is all we need to fix suicidal people, is only part of the answer for most of us and it is so much more daunting than you could know if you haven’t been there (and I mean there as in more than the what-if questions we ask about our lives and worth and suicide at some point in our lives). It’s hard and the hardest part about it, is I feel as if I live in a world that thinks I am weird and broken and of less value because I am this way and as if I am stuck on my pain and not willing or able to move past it like others. In my opinion, that is why people kill themselves. It is because they are trapped on the top floor of a burning building but people walk by on their lunch hour without feeling the oppressive heat from it because, in their world which is supposed to be the grounded world, there is no fire. And when you are trapped in a burning building that is rapidly chasing you to the top and there are no fire crews or emergency services coming to get out, and everybody thinks a pail of water will do for your imaginary spark, you sit there and try to decide between the agony of burning alive or taking your chances and escaping it, even if that means you probably won’t survive.
I clearly had more on my mind than I thought today and it just kind of poured out of me as I tried to write what I anticipated would be a two paragraph plug for this article and its finer points. If you feel this way and to you the world is burning, know that I believe you and I acknowledge how scary and blisteringly, scorchingly painful this moment is for you. And I hope you find a way to delay your fire long enough to put it out. If you need to spit out your own suicidal thoughts manifesto like I just did, I’ll read it if you need to say it to somebody.
Michael: I think it changed for the better. I think we realized we were meant to be friends and were oil and water. But we also realized through everything we have a strong friendship.
Me: But how do you think it changed things when we were still a couple for that last year?
Michael: Oh yeah. I forget we were still a couple after that.
Me: Which is funny because when I was writing that intro earlier, I was trying to explain there are no cut-and-dry, black-and-white lines in our relationship, that I felt like it ended then but we just never said the words and were technically together for another year. That’s why I think I have been able to forgive myself and forgive you for some of the things that, in more typical circumstances, could have been hurtful but weren’t as important given where we were.
Michael: Right. You were stubborn about it and tried to convince yourself it could work from September 15 to August 16 and then I kind of noticed you had gotten to the point I’d been at for a while where you knew it was over but didn’t want to say it. I’d say I didn’t know for sure until early October when we broke up and you started sharing some of your thoughts with me that I knew you’d been ready to move on with your life for a while.
Me: All things considered, in spite of the fact that you determined you were bisexual or gay and wanted to experiment, how did you feel that towards the end of our relationship I was really checking out, especially since–and I think it’s fair to say–I had always been the more committed one?
Michael: I felt hurt. I started seeing it slowly happen in September. I felt a little hurt but also felt more relief because I realized I didn’t feel as guilty for our history.
Me: Do you care if I ask if you were still doing the chatting thing during the last month or so of our relationship? Because I felt like you didn’t really stop after that summer in 2015 but I haven’t really been concerned enough to think about it. Also, know I don’t care if you did.
Michael: I don’t know. I might have been but I might not have been even though I did before. A lot of things just blend together now and it’s hard to remember things concretely.
Me: Were you angry with me that I was quitting? I actually don’t know this one,
Michael: Initially, yes but when I paused and realized how long you’d been trying to make it work and how much we had been through, I started realizing it was only fair that you got to move on and I was relieved you were starting to think of it considering I thought if we ended things you would have been hurt for a really long time.
Me: Is there anything you would change about how all of this happened? Things I did or said? Things you did or said?
Michael: I think the one thing I would change is telling you sooner and not be afraid that you would react in a way that I couldn’t handle. And just not do the stuff I did and be up front and honest with you.
Me: Why did you think I would react like that? Which is fair, I’m kind of a hothead.
Michael: I felt that despite your acceptance of LGBT people in general, in that situation your emotions would run high and you wouldn’t be as tolerant because it was too personal. Oh, I have my meeting soon.
Me: Okay we can wrap this up and talk later but just making sure, are you okay?
Michael: I’m just a little, I don’t know, sad.
Michael: Because I wish I had just done things differently. That I hadn’t done some of the more hurtful things.
Me: Ehh, I think the one thing this has taught me is relationships are messy and if you’re going to let yourself care about somebody that much, you have to accept that there will be some lack of congruence between your feelings and them needing to be free-willed humans who are just figuring things out. I did things too that I think I will always wish I could be different, that I will be afraid define me which is why I still always feel like I have to atone or I want to talk about it, walk through the things I might have done on my side but I think I’m taking a page from your book on this one and accepting that some things, like your identity and these questions regarding your sexuality, are bigger and eclipse the things that are maybe influenced by it.
Michael: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s why I have gotten to a point where I don’t feel guilty anymore and it makes me feel, I don’t know, more free or more relieved. I just didn’t think you would get to the same point and so now that you have and that you’re not caught up on things I did wrong or you did wrong like you were when we were still together and you were hurt, it can actually feel like it doesn’t have to be as big of a thing.
Michael had a meeting to get to so we ended the conversation but we may finish it up later this week or month and he is going to be writing his own guest-post as a follow-up. If he finishes it today (9 years of experience suggests that won’t happen), I will post it tomorrow. If not, I have my own ready to go.
Me (awkward because we’ve been on the phone for 30 minutes now): …hi.
Me: This is the most awkward conversation I think we’ve ever had and that includes when you told me you were questioning.
Michael: Want me to talk in a Trump voice so it’s great? What do you want to know about me that you don’t already know?
Me: Is there anything you think I don’t know that you would be comfortable telling me? I feel like if it is important, I know it.
Michael: I think I’ve known longer than what I probably told you… that I was just in denial of my own sexuality but also didn’t want to accept it because I knew it would hurt you. But then I realized it was hurting you from not telling you and hurting me as well.
Me: Can you explain more how it hurt you?
Michael: I think being in denial just limited my options in what I should do. I loved you during that time but like you said before, I didn’t embrace it in fear I wouldn’t have support or anybody left because I was afraid I would lose you. So I didn’t give myself the chance to do anything about it and instead had this thing I was afraid of.
Me: Did you ever try to tell me and change your mind before I knew?
Michael: Yeah. I tried to play it off like I was joking but now looking back it was just my way of slowly accepting and testing the waters to see how you would respond. Like do you remember when we were watching Will & Grace junior year and I acted like I was confessing to be gay? I don’t think I knew at that time but I was playing with it.
Me: How did you expect me to react when you imagined telling me?
Michael: I was afraid you’d throw something at me–get upset, and walk out and never talk to me ever again. Just get really pissed off and that would have devastated me because the one person I knew I could trust and who would support me leaving would make me feel like I lost everything. I thought even if my parents might not accept me when I finally told them, I’d still have you so it would be okay.
Me: Wait, you thought I would get physically aggressive?
Michael: No. I don’t mean that. I mean I do but I don’t. What I mean is I always had it built up in my head like it was going to be this big, scary thing and that’s just what I imagined. I was anxious about it so what I imagined was worse than I knew it would be.
Me: How long do you think you knew before I knew?
Michael: I think I knew maybe six months before I told you, so maybe around January to March 2015 I knew.
Me: What was the tipping point? Was it gradual or did it hit you all at once?
Michael: I think when I realized, I noticed I was checking out men too, just noticing them.
Me: Did you ever think about just living with it and marrying me and not telling me? We were getting to the point where we were starting to deal with the inevitable engagement questions.
Michael: Yes. I didn’t want to hurt you and I loved you and thought we would be together for forever so I was just going to keep it to myself. But then I realized that over the course of our relationship, there were a lot of…
Michael: Yes, murky times where I didn’t know if the conversations I was having with women were cheating or not cheating but they felt wrong. But I still kept feeling like I needed to do it. Then I started having them with men. It seemed like I just kept gravitating towards that our whole relationship.
Me: What do you think made you do it before it involved men?
Michael: I think I knew and have always known but was in denial and thought if I talked to women online then I could prove to myself I was straight.
Me: Were you physically attracted to me then?
Michael: Yes. But I wasn’t sure if it was just you.
Me: So if you were dating a woman, why do you think you needed to do that to make sure you were interested in women?
Michael: It’s hard to explain. Maybe I was trying to make sure I wasn’t just attracted because of our emotional relationship and that I was attracted to women in general.
Me: Makes sense. That’s what I think you told me before. I’m going to change gears if you are okay with that. Let’s talk about when you came out.
Michael: You were the first person. I didn’t even tell Matt. I think he had an idea but I never said it to anybody else.
Me: Can you walk me through how it happened when I found out?
Michael: I remember when you came across some of the conversations I was having. We were searching for your car keys and you picked up my Ipod touch. When it lit up from being picked up, it had all of these message notifications on the home screen and that’s how you knew. It was really hard. I felt like my life was ending but also it felt relieving, like a weight was lifting off my shoulders, all while the world was crashing down. If that makes sense.
Me: What do you think of how I responded?
Michael: I think you responded a lot better than I thought you would.
Me: Even though I was mad about the secret conversations?
Michael: Yeah. I remember a lot of crying, mostly mine, and you were really, really angry and hurt because it was cheating to you. That’s what you were focused on. You rose your voice about the cheating and were hurt. You didn’t seem to even notice it wasn’t all women.
Me: How did I respond when you told me you might like men?
Michael: It was like an angry aha moment, like that explains everything but you were afraid and when you get afraid, you get angry. I got the death glare and I think after we talked some, you walked stormed off because you needed to process. It was like you knew but when it was actually there and it might change everything, you needed time to process. You didn’t want to say much until you had I think. On some level though, I think you were relieved.
I think before, you thought I was just doing something I don’t know shitty because this had happened a few times earlier years in our relationship and it was happening again. You were more understanding when you realized why I was maybe doing it. As much as you didn’t want to believe it, you were more understanding and you seemed more supportive and aware.
Me: Did you expect me, being mad about the sort of cheating, to tell everybody and “out” you?
Michael: That was another fear of mine when I imagined telling you but I knew you could do it but that you’d understand and wouldn’t do it to me. No matter what. You might tell somebody in confidence to talk and process but I didn’t think you’d blow it wide open.
With that being said, he is a big reason I want to do OUTtober and Blogtober together this month. It made me realize that while I can get heated about things like same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights, I have a lot to learn and still have some subconscious biases that I need to continue to address. Because of this, I want to use this project as a learning opportunity and a means of becoming a better friend, peer, and community member. Although we are from different geographic areas, we both come from backgrounds where LGBT rights and social issues are not given the recognition or respect they should receive. As social media has shown us, there are plenty of people will never behave towards the LGBT community with any decency or respect. There are also, however, a lot of people who are prejudiced (which is still wrong) because it is unfamiliar to them and they haven’t had to grapple with it.
I don’t have a ton of readers. Quite frankly, I don’t know how regularly people read my blog and I’m okay with that. This experience, I hope, will check some biases which I may still have and also help me determine how I can better handle conversations with others who may not be as accepting. I am going to have some guest posts from members of the LGBT community, a set of interviews with Michael where we talk about his experience being in a “straight” relationship and questioning, and I’ll be reading and summarizing some articles on LGBT topics for students selecting colleges, how LGBTQ is defined, and an introductory understanding to the LGBT community for individuals who may be unfamiliar with it.
My goal is to post an LGBT-related entry every day for October. If you manage to see this, wonderful and I hope it helps us both to learn. If there is something you notice that you think I could do differently, if you agree or disagree, if you have questions, please let me know! Also, if you happen to be less comfortable or familiar with LGBT topics and have something you want to talk about or learn about, chances are I could benefit from learning about it too and can ask others or research online to find the answer. If you don’t feel comfortable commenting here, please feel free to reach out to me via my contact form at the top of the blog or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you and I hope you check out my interview entry with Michael which will post tomorrow at 9am EST. Please consider commenting below. I would love to hear your thoughts (regardless of what they are; I’m always open to feedback).
Michael and I were together for seven years. He was and remains one of my best friends. He was my college sweetheart, my first sexual partner, and became a very close member of my family. After we graduated college, he moved to a new state with me where I got my first master’s degree and then completed the coursework for a second while he worked on an MA in clinical and mental health counseling. A first-generation college student, he was also the first person in his family to pursue a master’s degree and it was a challenging road we both walked together. Although we had broken up months before, when I went to his graduation, it was hard not to tear up because of not only how proud I was but how it felt to see him accomplish something which I had also poured my heart into. Needless to say, our bond runs deep and we have history.
But we also have had some challenges (as he will explain in his guest post and I will share in my own).
Six years into our relationship, he began questioning his sexuality and seven years in, we ended our relationship so he could have the room to explore. Up to the sixth year, I still very much wanted to be with him and it was really hard for me to both support him in this huge, life-changing moment and process ending the most serious relationship I had ever had. I think we both believe our relationship ended that summer but we tried really hard for another year.
Although we both did things that weren’t our best moments in life and didn’t end things how we ideally would have, we both acknowledge that our former partner at some point did things or had moments–doubts, thoughts, actions–that weren’t perfect, some of which we have shared and some of which we have decided to let rest. It took some time but it became very clear we were meant to help one another through some formative moments in our lives. I like to hash things out and dishonesty grates at me. It is acidic and wears a hole in my stomach, whether or not I am the one who is being dishonest. I cannot stand to ignore elephants in the room. I need to identify them, categorize, and tag them so I can check in later. Michael is more of know what’s important and avoid confrontation sort of person.
There are things we could discuss and we both know that but our relationship has changed so radically, it doesn’t matter anymore. His identity has completely turned our relationship on its side and as much as it gave me a brutal mental whiplash in the beginning, it has helped wash away moments where we weren’t perfect and also made me realize while I was familiar with LGBTQ issues, it was never as personal and complicated for me as it was right after I found out.
Although this is a personal subject, Michael and I both put it out there knowing people may have opinions and that’s okay. If you have just general comments, feedback on the post/project, questions, etc., I would love to hear them. If you aren’t comfortable submitting them as comments, you can complete the contact form at the top of my page or you can email me at email@example.com.
I heat up. A ball in my gut, just a lumpy nothing-of-a-rock pushes on me from the inside and lights a spark. Heat, not the kind of warm heat when you step inside your well-lit home on a cold winter day, but a shallow heat that will burn faintly and exhaust quickly, crawls to the tips of my fingers and toes. It lazily floats through my blood and takes up residence in its own pit behind my eyes. I don’t know if it’s anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, hurt. That nameless feeling is the one I get in all of those situations. It just bathes my motionless body in it like warm milk.
The nerves in my skin and some part of me inside, the most vulnerable part of me, divide the unpleasantness. The outer layers of my skin resign to being unsettled with no physical reason. Confused and unable to determine the cause of the mildly agitating sensations, I can feel the entire outer layer of myself, my skin, my muscles, everything, curl up in inpatient frustration. Bracing itself.
Meanwhile an entirely different process occurs inside me as I feel my emotional self retreat, shrinking back from the points where it joins the tips of my fingers, connecting me to the world outside my body, shuttering and pulling itself in from my legs and my throat and my chest, rolling up on itself like an armadillo, absorbing whatever unnamed emotion made it past my skin. Whatever sharp object it grabbed as it sank back to its refuge, it holds, like a terrified snake that has wrapped itself around a knife but, because rolling up is what it does to protect itself, can’t release the tension that holds it there.
Like a President and a Vice President, the ball that holds me inside and the shell of my body that keeps everything unknown at a distance mutually and systematically have separated because the risk of having the two of them together is greater than the benefit. Together, they both become vulnerable. Instead, like boats in a game of Battle Ship, they spread apart because if one takes a fatal hit, at least one might avoid being punctured.
All of that happens. In seconds. That’s the beauty of routine and the remarkable nature of repetition. I do it on autopilot now, even with the slightest notion of possible hurt. At this point, it’s really my body’s decision. It’s like an overflipped switch; now it can flip itself and the defenses slam themselves into place like a veteran of bomb raids. My mouth, caught in the middle but forgotten, is still, uninformed by the inner recesses of my mind and deprived of the muscles and motor functions at the corners of its lips.
You can ask any questions you want. Blank eyes will be your answer. Because you’re speaking to an empty room that doesn’t reach the bottom of the well where I hold myself. Not that it matters. You won’t miss my voice. You likely wouldn’t even notice the silence if it wasn’t saying something about you, something which you then hold against me. My absence creates chasms of silence that your self-important words fill as is only natural.
I love you. Well, the part of me that can feel when it isn’t compacted into this claustrophobic ball really loves you. But I need not say this because you don’t miss my voice. I’m not even sure you’ve really ever fully heard it. You miss the reassurance that its presence means you aren’t accused of something. You don’t care what it has to say and it’s not personal to you. It’s just not important enough to even realize how much of me you’re missing. And I try so much to show you. I practically beg for you to glance but your screen holds your eyes a willful prisoner.
Is this all in my head? Am I too demanding? Or is it realistic to write letters you think the addressee will read? Is it too much to ask you to look at what I hold for you to consider for longer than four seconds before you return to your Facebook, trying to recuperate that missed time? Probably.
So one of my favorite quotes when I’m not feeling well (and by not feeling well I mean I’m having a really hard time with suicidal ideation. I don’t actually want to die but it’s almost as if there is something chemical that keeps triggering that switch) is, just to give you a heads up, ironic given the topic. But, for some reason, it works for me. As ironic and insensitive as it may sound (I am a firm believer in being genuine and still mindful to wording things as sensitively as I can), in that moment I get some relief from an old FDR quote. Paraphrased, it’s basically: when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. I figure if a sailor’s knot can hold a ship to a dock, it can sure as well at least keep me holding on for the time being.
It’s not a quick fix but it’s a reminder of what I need to do. Tying a knot is a skill you need to know before you need it and its utility is to hold something together. This is my metaphorical knot when I need something to hang on. Different things work for everybody and I’m not saying it will work for you but if you’re like me, you keep trying something new, never expecting anything to stick and then something seems to have at least a little adhesiveness. Because because mental illness is a fickle and confusing thing and I can only speak to my experience, I suggest the following. If it works for you, then it has made writing this impromptu post worth it. If it doesn’t, as hard as it is, keep trying because something could surprise you (even if you feel like that is a Hallmark thing to say and there is no way that could happen, been there).
Okay, so let me walk you through it. Chances are, if you don’t feel well, you aren’t up to doing a lot of things, so determine tasks with your depressed self in mind, meaning don’t get overly enthusiastic about solutions that sound great when you feel well but will be barriers when you don’t.
Below you’ll see that I address the note and use the word “you” instead of “I.” I write “you” because, at least for me, when I’m having suicidal ideation, the person telling me I can’t get past it might at the moment feel like the real me but it isn’t. And the real me isn’t going to be there if I’m that bad so I essentially write a note for myself for when I need it. It’s short, sweet, and in that moment I can trust it because I know the better version of myself that thinks more clearly wrote it knowing how hard that moment is.
Step 1: Address your note. Keep it short. Example:
I know you don’t feel well right now and you’re not up to a lot but just trust me on this one, do each of these things your list and it will be okay.
Step 2: Write down the following on a piece of paper (these exact words in this exact order):
Something that brings you relief:
Something that brings you comfort:
Something that makes you feel connected:
Something that makes you feel supported and loved:
Note, these should be very easy and simple to do. Mine, for example, are as follows:
Something that brings you relief: Open up your Cooking Craze app. Don’t spend any money but play this until you can at least think.
Something that brings you comfort: Put on your soft hoodie, pick up three things that you can easily put away/throw away in one minute. Put on either your I want to process and embrace the suck right now playlist or your pick-me-up playlist. [I actually have mine under the playlists tab if you are into this idea. Or you can just go here:]
Something that makes you feel connected: text somebody you miss. All you have to do is say, “Hi.” When they respond, respond back. It only has to be one sentence.
Something that makes you feel supported and loved: Open your planner, page 3 or 4. [This is a page where I have written down things that people have said to me in the past, including myself, that have made me feel loved or good about myself. It can be validating like acknowledging something I have done well or just an expression of how the person feels).
Step 3: If you took the time to read this, you clearly haven’t quit yet. Love, Atlas.
I prefer a handwritten note because I’m almost always home when I need it but it can be an email, a note in your phone, whatever works for you. For me, the note just says, Hey, you believed in this enough at one point to write it down.
If you try it and it works, or if you try it and it doesn’t, I’d love to hear about it. I haven’t ever read about this particular coping solution but I’m sure somebody else has written about it at some point and it kind of fits within the overall umbrella of making some sort of plan. Whether it is this or something else, I hope you find something that helps you.
Do you have other things that work for you? Have you tried anything that didn’t work?
I’m feeling better. This is the moment that always scares me because it is in such close proximity to when I have felt my worst and I can still taste that bitterness and feel how it makes my mouth water as if I’m going to vomit so violently I can feel my stomach spasm. I’m feeling better but I still remember vividly how it was and how it could be.
Depression takes such a strong hold of me when I’m in its throes that I get to a point where I can’t really remember the feelings I had outside of it. It is like somebody reached inside me and took out the best emotions and left only the most shallow, dark, or destructive. I don’t miss being happy in those times because I don’t really believe I was ever happy. I know I was, at some point, logically, the way you just know the sun has risen before and warmed the Earth when you step outside on a morning mid-winter and it’s cold, dark, and you can see your breath more immediately. You have to prepare yourself for the uncomfortable chill that comes from stepping out of a hot shower and even if you’re so cold you can’t physically bring the feeling to your skin, you know that at some point you rushed outside half-clothed, sprinting across the grass to leap in a cold, blue pool. While your mind has memory of it, your body has none, not even the memory of a feeling.
But exiting depression is the opposite, like stepping out of a dark movie theater directly into the mid-day sunlight. It’s almost blinding. You’re glad it’s sunny but the jolt is startling because part of you is still sitting in the dark and trying to decide if you want to leave the familiar comfort of a seat you’ve been in for several hours, only starting to stir and not eager to wake up. You begin to brim with energy at the idea that you have the rest of the Sunday afternoon to get things done, to be productive, and to be outside in your neighborhood and a part of the world but you still know at some point it will get dark again. It won’t always be like this and the night will blanket your world and the dark black of it will fill the spaces between your house and your neighbors’ and between you and anybody else. It makes you enjoy the sunlight more but you do so reservedly this time, unable to love it without abandon. As good as it feels, as much as its energy radiates your skin and your soul stretches satisfying after a long nap, at the back of your mind you’re already afraid of the dark.