More Than A Label: LGBT+ Mental Health

Everyone is made differently- looks, personality, likes, dislikes and even sexuality.

Some of us are attracted to men and women, some are attracted to those of the same sex. Some don’t have romantic attraction towards anyone. There are even people that are attracted to men, women, non-binary people and others.

This is okay. We can’t help who we fall in love with.

I haven’t written a lot about sexuality, but it’s Pride Month. It’s somewhat out of my scope but I’m willing to discuss it.

I previously wrote a post about this topic –Talking About Pride

However, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community can lead to some issues that aren’t always given a lot of attention.

This is My Scope of Knowledge

Mental health issues are common in today’s world, and being seen as “different” can add to an existing condition or even lead to symptoms of a new diagnosis.

Anxiety

Those that identify as non-heterosexual are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety than others – this is the same for adults and teens. This can be a result of issues in home life, school/career and other areas of life. Anxiety is hard enough to handle without questioning your sexuality. Anxiety, of course can lead to other issues, as in depression, drug use and even suicidal ideations.

Coming out to friends and family can be a cause of stress alone. A person might be fully ready to live their life but the idea of telling those they are close to can be difficult. This isn’t to say coming out makes these issues disappear, but it helps.

Depression

Depression is very common in the community. Having to keep your sexuality a secret can be devasting, and so can having to pretend to be someone else. It eats away at your soul and can lead to some very dark thoughts. Not being able to share the person you love is also painful.

Sometimes people become depressed or it worsens after coming out. This can be a result of a negative response to the announcement. There are still many people who don’t agree with the “lifestyle” and can be very judgemental towards people who aren’t heterosexual, even if it is their own child. These thoughts of not being loved/accepted can spiral into actions that endanger lives- substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, etc.

For the record, I do not care if my kids are gay, bisexual, or anything else on the spectrum. As long as they find someone who they are happy with and they’re treated well, then I am good.

For some reason, those who identify as bisexual are diagnosed with depression more than those who identify as a different sexuality. One in four bisexual people in a study have been diagnosed with depression at some point. Other sexualities have lower rates. Some of this has to do with support, or lack thereof, especially at school and/or at home.

This is why it’s so importatnt to support the LGBT+ people in your life, no matter how old they are. It’s hard to reach out for the help you need when you feel as if a therapist will judge you or even not see you because of your sexuality.

Teens go through a lot of changes as it is, and figuring this out can be difficult. Teens struggle more if their school is not a supportive place for them, because they may feel they have nowhere to turn.

Bullying is already a topic that many are familiar with. This can be excruciating for teens that identify as LGBTQ+. It just adds to the feelings of not being good enough, or shame at being “different”. It also makes a teen feel unsafe in a place that they should feel safe. Having to defend yourself 5 days a week can be physically and emotionally draining.

The Importance of Community

I can’t stress this enough- if you are reading this and you need LGBTQ+ support, in any way, please reach out. There will be resources at the end of this post.

It’s not healthy to feel like or even try to go through life alone. Everyone needs someone they can tell about really good or even really bad dates. People need to belong. It’s a basic need.

The feeling you get when you are around others that understand you is wonderful. It’s nice to know you are not the only one.

Resources:

LGBTQ Information on Addiction and Suicide

HRC

LGBTQ Youth Hopkins Medicine

MHA

LGBT Community Mental Health

Pictures courtesy of Unsplash

Another Big D-Word

I’m still in therapy and working on myself. It’s hard sometimes but it’s necessary and worth it.

There’s one issue that I thought I had faced and deal with pretty well, but maybe not.

It’s a well known fact that I have rheumatoid arthritis. You can read these posts if you need a refresher:

Facts on Facts About RA

Lessons from My Joints

Going into the Big Leagues

I know that the RA will progress and that isn’t pretty. I’ve seen how bad it can get- my grandfather struggled to do simple tasks in his later years. I plan to live my best life until I can’t. Matthew and I have even talked about moving into a smaller one floor home once the kids move out.

However, I haven’t fully accepted RA as a disability. I’ll tell people I have it but I’m quick to deny that I have a disability- it is classified as one. This is a rough one.

Invisible chronic illnesses are difficult to deal with physically but just as hard, if not harder, emotionally. When people can’t see that someone has a disability, they tend to not understand the issue. For example, my mother has a limp and uses a walker. Does that stop her? No.

People have asked me if I have considered going on disability so that I can stay home and still contribute to the household. No. I can still work part-time, which is what I’m currently doing. I’m almost certain that my rheumatologist would sign off on the paperwork, but I’m not ready to take that step.

There’s a stigma attached to all of this. People think those of us with chronic illnesses make it up- my current manager actually thought I was making up being immunocompromised. Or ifs not as bad as we say it is.

I’ve used the electric chairs in stores and get weird looks. I don’t really care. Luckily, the important people in my life understand bad pain days and flares. I do what I can when I can.

As I’m writing this, I’m awake at 6 am because my pain woke me up. I’m in a flare and am debating steroids. I know my physical limits but sometimes flares creep up on me and I don’t realize what’s going on until it’s too late.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I don’t want my kids to worry about or feel like they have to take care of me. Matthew, luckily, helps and understands what I’m dealing with. It’s frustrating as hell to have a chronic illness. It also gives me a different view on my life.

I know I will accept at some point that I have a disability but today is definitely not that day.

Four Years of Sobriety

My date is 1/1/17. I am a couple days late on this, since I am writing this post on 1/3/21.

How did I get to four years of sobriety?

  • Lots of hard work. I’ve been stressed and sad, and even had some thoughts of drinking, but I know what would happen if I did. My life would completely fall apart. I’ve come pretty far in the last four years and one drink would lead to more. That’s where things would go bad, and do so quickly. In the beginning of 2020, I almost relapsed. I was in a bad spot- I hated my job, which worsened the depression I was in. I didn’t want to get out of bed most days. I went back to therapy and got on meds. It took a couple of tries to get things right, but my meds work and I actually like getting out of bed. I know what my triggers are, and suprisingly, being around someone who is drinking isn’t one. It was for a couple of years, but give me a Cherry Coke and I am fine. I have plenty of friends who still drink, but they respect my choice not to. In fact, one of of my best friends decided to stop drinking not long ago and I am so proud of him.
  • Taking care of myself: I don’t have the option NOT to do this. I have two chronic illnesses- Rheumatoid Arthritis and Migraines (see Facts on Facts About RA: How it Affects My Life Chronic Conditions and Mommimg) so to be able to function, I have to take medications and see my specialists when I need to. At the moment, I have rheumatology appointments every two months and blood work is always involved. This is because my rheumatologist needs to be able to see if my meds are working and to watch certain things, like my liver. Clearly it has been through a few things. She is also watching my red blood cells super closely and has sent me to a hematologist. It also includes a ton of dental work, including having a wisdom tooth pulled and a small gynacological procedure in February. I can’t wait, because it means the end of having a period. Some women may be saddened, but I am ready to never have one again.
  • Therapy. Lots of therapy. This round is obviously a lot easier on me because I am not grieving and dealing with immense anger. I try my best to be a decent person but sometimes I’m tested. Sometimes I don’t even realize I am thinking something until I talk about it in therapy. I’m not sure I could have gotten through this pandemic without therapy. It will be a while before I go back to the office- my therapist is pregnant and is now doing telehealth exclusively.
  • Support. I have great friends and family support. This is so important to have- feeing alone in any circumstance is hard, but going through recovery alone? It doesn’t work like that.
  • Writing. I didn’t really expect to get this deep into writing but over four years, I have been able to expand my writing beyond this blog. That has been fun. It’s helped me grow as a writer.

I suppose this is my formula in staying sober- what is yours?

Living With Yourself

It can be extremely difficult to live a “normal” life when you have any illness that impacts your daily life, physical and/or mental. Sometimes you have to miss things that you are really looking foward to, sometimes you forget your limits and pay for it later. I’ve done both. When these things occur, it can be hard to keep a good opinion of yourself.

In this post, I want to explore four questions that everyone can ask themselves, whether changes are needed or not. It’s good to reflect while moving forward without messing up your progress.

  1. What have I missed because of mental health issues?

I’ve missed out on a lot, actually. I’ve had some form of anxiety and/or depression since I was a teen. Over the years, I’ve probably missed out on more than I can list but here are a few:

-My friend Karyl Anne’s wedding. She got married not long after Jake died, and I couldn’t handle being around so many former coworkers. Mallory was one of her bridesmaids and I knew it would be a bad idea to go. Thankfully, she understood.

-Career opportunities. I don’t think I am manager material and am comfortable with the positions I have held. I have turned down things that I don’t think I can handle because my anxiety would get out of control. No job is worth all that.

-Fun times with my friends. Sometimes it’s been just because I didn’t know everyone involved in the event, sometimes it was because I didn’t want to leave the safety of my house. Scott almost dragged me out of my house in early 2016, and I’m totally grateful for that. I am going to miss him so much when he leaves for his new job out of state in a couple of weeks, but it’s going to be a great experience for him. Honestly, there were many times that I just didn’t feel like doing anything, no matter how fun it sounded.

2. What are the signs that you are struggling?

-Lack of motivation. I struggle with this anyway, thanks to anxiety. My therapist and I are working on ways to lower expectations and strain on myself. If my to-do list is too long, I just don’t want to do anything. I shut down. If it’s a day that I don’t have much to do and I still don’t want to do anything, I just take it easy on myself and cheer myself on when something is done.

-Pulling back from people. My friends know when I’m not doing well- Sara and I are great at checking in with each other. It’s probably because of how we met and built our friendship- making sure we were okay emotionally while processing grief. If one of us is quiet for a day or so, the first thing we ask is “You okay or no?” Matthew can also tell. He’s known me for almost 22 years, so it’s not hard for him to realize this even when I try to hide my feelings. I even hang out in my room more and want the kids to leave me alone. My motivation at work is even affected.

-Sleeping more or less than usual. I usually take naps when I need one, because RA is exhausting. In this case, I mean having problems going to sleep at night (not pain-related) because my brain won’t shut down. I also mean sleeping more to escape thinking about what is bothering me.

-Eating more or less than usual. If I am extremely anxious, I don’t eat a lot. My stomach usually hurts too badly to do so. If I am feeling down, there’s a chance I will eat more to drown my feelings. This is probably how I gained 50 lbs over about a year.

3. Biggest struggle with mental health?

Going back to therapy earlier this year. I didn’t have much of a choice because it was that or potentially relapse. I was in a very dark place in my mind and couldn’t see my way out of it. I didn’t want to keep going anymore and knew something had to change. I didn’t have much of an issue getting on meds, that part isn’t upsetting to me. This is probably because I knew that I needed it. I felt like I had failed by going back to therapy, but I didn’t. Sometimes you just need an extra boost. Currently, my therapist is pregnant so we just went back to telehealth. It really isn’t the same as in person, but it’s still doable.

Trying to explain how I see things can be difficult. Even in 2020, some people just don’t get it.

4. What have you achieved in spite of mental health issues?

I will have four years sobriety on 1/1/21. That’s big. I don’t count days, I count years. It’s much easier for my non math brain to work with. I’m fully aware that if my mental health goes to hell, so does my sobriety. That’s it. I have to stay emotionally okay to stay sober. If that means therapy and meds, well, it means therapy and meds. If I can stay sober through this, I think I’m doing pretty well.

Raising these kids- I am trying to get us through a global pandemic in the best way I can. It’s stressful to have teens anyway, but that has been a huge stumbling block. I think Matthew and I have done a good job raising decent kids. We have certainly tried. They’re smart, funny and caring, each in their own ways. I just hope they follow their dreams and live good lives.

Working part-time and being okay with it. I have realized my limits with RA, which was difficult and a career-changer. I have worked full time since 2007 and it was a hard decision to slow down. I can’t do the work I loved so much anymore, so I’ve had to find other work that I enjoy. I’ve been able to do so, which is great. I’ve had to accept that it’s not that I don’t want to, but that I can’t hold up to full time work right now, even if it’s a desk job. I’ve found that part-time really isn’t that bad, especially right now. Being home with the kids during NTI has been helpful.

I still have a full life- friends, family and cats that I love. That makes me lucky.

How would you answer these questions?