Earlier this week were mental health awareness day and national coming out day. I missed both, so here’s my catch up post.
Almost everyone has to deal with mental health issues every day, whether it’s ourselves, a family member or close friend.
For as long as I can remember I have suffered the kind of low level anxiety that impacts on my life but isn’t serious enough to be clinical or warrant seeking medical help. I have a collection of minor neuroses that are really only annoying. I suspect most people have something similar to some degree.
In fact, I suspect most psychological disorders exist on a spectrum. Even the most apparently well-adjusted individuals will have triggers that make their heart race and put them on the verge of panic. We all have down days when we can’t be bothered with the world and just want to stay in and not talk to anyone.
I don’t mean to belittle anxiety or depression – quite the opposite. I’m telling you that if you suffer seriously from any mental health problem, you’re not weird, just human, and a little further from the middle of the bell curve.
The best analogy might be physical ailments: sciatica perhaps, or fibromyalgia. Lots of people suffer pain of some sort, but it’s only a problem when it starts to interfere with our lives. Standing up slowly to avoid jolting a tender spine doesn’t stop us going out and getting on with life, but lying flat in bed because every movement is agony is different only in degree, not substance.
Now the coming out bit. I was closeted and married to a woman until five years ago when I came out aged forty nine.
The coming out process was stressful for a while, as I gradually told various people, never certain of what response to expect (Everybody, bar none, has been totally accepting and encouraging), but it has been brilliant for my mental health in the long run.
Being open about myself has made me realise how hard it was all those years, self editing everything I said or did. It’s exhausting. I’m much more calm these days. I’ve never felt better.
The honesty about my sexuality has had an unexpected side effect though: I’m more open now about my mental health issues.
My ocd, intrusive thoughts and social anxiety haven’t vanished, but not hiding it means I no longer need to be anxious about my anxiety.
I used to go to parties and work nights out and similar events, and pretend to enjoy myself. I felt that I had to so I wouldn’t be the weird antisocial guy. I’ve given that up. These days I just say no, and, if necessary, explain that attending would make me anxious and I’m no longer willing to put myself through that just to blend in. People understand, and even if they don’t they still accept it. It’s so easy I don’t understand why I didn’t do it years ago. That’s not right – I do understand. I was afraid if being ostracised, afraid of the stigma of having a psychological disorder. If I sometimes walk oddly or take irregular steps so that my left foot will be the first on a staircase, I no longer try to hide it or worry about people thinking I’m odd.
EVERYBOY is odd. EVERYBODY is normal. Being lgbt or having mental health issues no longer carry the stigma they once did, except in certain groups and individuals who haven’t quite caught up with the 21st century.