Coming Out About My Mental Illness

Coming out of the closet is a right of passage for any LGBT individual. But coming doesn't necessarily have to be limited to sexuality. Sure, the term is often linked to being LGBT. But the act itself -- the opening of the door to let people see in, the acceptance and subsequent confession, and the embracing of something that once caused shame and guilt -- can also be applied to other things. I should know because I'm coming out again... as someone who has a mental illness.

Even now, as I write these words, I feel a sharp tightness in my chest and a twinge of embarrassment. Mental illness still has such a negative connotation. People associate the term with "crazy" and "unstable" and "weird." I know because I associated it the same way. I often thought, what's wrong with me? Why can't I just be normal?

The funny thing is, those are the same thoughts I used to have when I first discovered I was gay. The difference? I knew being gay wasn't something I couldn't change. But I thought maybe I could change my mental illness. I was diagnosed with severe depression at 17. I went on and off medication for years -- many different kinds. I'd get to a point where I'd feel "normal" again and tell myself, I don't need this stuff. I'm fine.

Months would pass, even years. Then something would happen, usually a life event of some kind that I was unprepared for or unable to cope with. I'd fall into a deep hole that I couldn't get out of on my own. I tried many different forms of therapy so that I wouldn't have to rely on medication. I did reiki, took herbs, read books, watched videos, took classes, signed up for online retreats, and more. While I think that all of these things are helpful, I know now that I them for the wrong reasons. Instead of helping me cope with my mental illness, I did them to get rid of it. But it took me two decades to understand that the only thing I could do was to accept it.

I suffered my last bout of depression/anxiety in 2011. I found out I was going to be a parent for the first time and that gave me the wake-up call I needed. I asked myself, is taking a pill really that big of a deal if it helps?

My parents used to tell me that taking medication for my mental illness was like a diabetic taking insulin. I never believed them until I became a parent myself. I take my meds now without a second thought. I talk more openly about my depression and anxiety than I ever have before because it's important to keep an open dialogue in order to help break down stereotypes, stigmas and negative connotations. Chamique Holdsclaw, a former WNBA player and out lesbian, suffered in silence for years. Now she's talking about it on college campuses and other open forums. She even released a documentary called MIND/GAME about living with a mental illness on LOGO in late April. She's proud to share her story.

I, too, have since realized that I shouldn't be afraid or ashamed of something that is genetically a part of who I am. I own it. But, like my sexuality, it doesn't define me.

It never will.

This column appeared as part of Lyndsey's Lez Be Honest series for Loop Magazine.