How Can We Include Non-Binary People in Gendered Spaces?

nbmeme

This meme is basically my life.

I think it’s interesting to be writing about my gender transition so publicly. I am not always given the luxury of uncertainty or ambiguity.

But truthfully, I am still getting to know who I am and, by extension, how my gender manifests in the world.

I’ve used a lot of words to describe myself: Genderqueer, non-binary, transmasculine, genderfluid, genderweird, androgynous, agender, even bigender to name a handful. I’ve used ze/hir pronouns, e/em pronouns, they/them pronouns, he/him pronouns.

I think of these labels as hats that I’ve tried on at different points in my life, searching for what fits, what suits me.

I’ve made no effort to hide the fact that I’m a gender explorer. I haven’t settled anywhere just yet – and I am comfortable in that fluid space. I dabble in femininity, masculinity, androgyny, and agender expressions and I’ve found happiness in liberating myself from prescribed boxes and letting myself roam.

I’m still figuring it out. This is why I most often refer to myself as “non-binary” – I am holding that space as I learn more and more about myself.

Recently, though, I realized that not everyone is willing to hold that space for non-binary people.

Last week, I was banned from an online group of femme and non-binary writers. A cisgender moderator determined that because I’d used the word “transmasculine” in the past and used he/him pronouns, I was not, in fact, “non-binary.”

I was booted without discussion or question, labelled a “misogynist” for taking up space as a “trans man,” and slandered in writing circles that I had previously held in high respect.

I debated if I would talk publicly about what happened. But I think this is a prime example of the many fundamental misunderstandings of non-binary people and their experiences, and raises two really important questions:

What is the place of non-binary and genderfluid people in explicitly gendered spaces? And how can we be inclusive of non-binary people in spaces like these?

So I’m going to talk about this.

First, I think we should pinpoint what it means to be non-binary. Non-binary refers to experiences of gender that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. It’s an umbrella of experiences.

I have identified as non-binary for five years. This is because my experience of gender is fluid – I have a fluid expression that I am still exploring, and I don’t identify as a man or a woman.

I use he/him pronouns not because I am a trans man or because I’m exclusively masculine. I actually respond to both “they” AND “him” (and if you’ll notice, many interviews and talks I’ve given have used these interchangeably).

However, “he” is easiest and my preference is not particularly strong, so I have defaulted to “he” overtime.

It’s also worth noting here that pronouns are also not necessarily linked to one’s gender. Pronouns are words first and foremost, and they can have deeply personal meanings to each individual.

Some of us use binary pronouns to keep us safe, to adapt in the face of trauma, or because the pronouns we desire are simply not accepted in a binary world.

This is why it’s really best not to assume someone’s identity on the basis of pronouns – it could be much more complicated than you realize.

This particular group, though, consisting almost exclusively of cisgender people made the assumption that “he” meant I could not be non-binary and consequently misgendered me as a “trans man.”

No questions asked, I was banned because I did not use the language that cisgender people wanted me to.

But here’s the thing: At the end of the day, it’s not up to cisgender people to decide the language non-binary people should use to describe themselves. It is not your experience nor your place.

It’s arrogant to assume that, as a binary person, you could possibly advise or understand. And if you are trying to build a space that is inclusive of non-binary people, it is your place to listen – not to assume, impose, or erase.

This kind of smug, violent assumption – that cisgender people somehow know what it means to be non-binary better than we do – is why many non-binary people do not feel welcome in these spaces in the first place.

It’s this bullshit that makes non-binary people feel silenced and excluded. Even when we try to articulate our experiences, so many cisgender people reject them and instead, take their binary framework of the world and impose it onto us.

I’ve said I am not a man. I’ve never called myself a man. So why call me one? Because you don’t believe me or because you are unwilling to hear me out on my experiences?

Transphobia. This is transphobia, plain and simple.

And this is erasure: Being so unwilling to tune in when we are talking about our experiences that you simply deny our identities altogether.

I think another fundamental misunderstanding of gender that came up during this situation was the idea that gender is somehow static.

When we create gendered spaces – spaces that are exclusively for folks of a certain expression or experience – it immediately assumes that all people have a fixed understanding of their gender.

This is patently untrue.

As non-binary, I fluidly move between expressions. There are countless bi/trigender and genderfluid people who do not occupy a fixed point on the spectrum.

And if we do not hold space for folks who are more fluid, how can we claim to be inclusive?

This group could not imagine a scenario in which a non-binary person might dabble in masculinity and still call themselves non-binary. They couldn’t imagine a scenario in which a non-binary person’s identity was not fixed like theirs.

Not only that, but they didn’t feel it was relevant or important to actually ask me how I experience my gender or believe me when I said I didn’t identify as a man or woman.

If you are looking to hold space for “non-binary people” without qualification, that means all non-binary people – even those who are questioning, even those who are fluid, even those who occupy multiple spaces simultaneously.

I think this comes back to the idea that many spaces that claim to be inclusive of non-binary people are actually just offering lip service.

They don’t bother to educate themselves, they don’t consult NB people when creating these spaces, and they don’t care to know about our lived experiences.

As a non-binary person who writes for femme-centric magazines and holds space in communities that are femme-centric, my rule of thumb is to always ask who the spaces are intended for, and only enter into these spaces when I am invited.

It’s something that I hope all non-binary people do when weighing whether or not to be part of a particular community.

But I take serious issue with spaces that applaud themselves for being inclusive of non-binary people, but make no intentional effort to ensure that we are not erased.

NB folks often feel so grateful to be included and do not want to derail the focus of these groups that we feel helpless to advocate for ourselves. These spaces receive no pushback or accountability because NB people feel disempowered in spaces that are not designed with them in mind.

We are invited in word only, but never engaged with on a meaningful level. We’re not asked if we feel included; we are there as tokens and tokens only.

So as a non-binary person who is ridiculously fed up with spaces exploiting my community – by using us as props to hold up as proof of their “inclusiveness” – I want to offer some advice to communities, online and off, who are genuinely committed to holding space for non-binary people:

  1. Realize that not all non-binary people are cut from the same cloth. Some of us are mostly masculine with a femme edge; some of us are utterly androgynous or void of gender; some of us are demiboys or demigirls; some of us are genderfluid or gender-questioning or gender nonconforming. We are not a monolith. Don’t treat us like one.
  2. Be specific about who your space is for. If you want a group for feminine-of-center people, say so. If you want a group for masculine-of-center people, say so. NB people have varied experiences of power and privilege, so it’s important to qualify where needed. Don’t lump us all together and expect us to understand who your space is for.
  3. Believe us. Do not call into question what our gender is. Do not assume what our gender is. It is transphobic to disregard someone’s stated identity because they do not express themselves or articulate their experiences the way that you would prefer. Non-binary people don’t exist for your comfort and our genders are for us, and us alone, to declare.
  4. Let us speak for ourselves. Do not impose your narratives onto us. Do not try to place us within a binary framework to make it “easier” for you. We can discuss our experiences for ourselves. We are not men unless we say so. We are not women unless we say so. We are only what we say we are – so ask us if you’re unclear on what that means.
  5. Hold space for non-binary people to be uncertain. Recognize that because there are so few visible narratives or scripts for us to follow, we may still be in the process of questioning or trying to articulate our experiences. We may still be sorting this out. Keep this in mind if you are inviting us into your space.
  6. Do not make judgments on whether or not we belong based on our appearance. Non-binary people can express themselves in varied ways and may be expressing themselves a particular way for our own safety. This does not mean we are “faking” being non-binary.
  7. Do not use gendered language to refer to everyone in the space. This is a no-brainer – don’t invite non-binary people into your space and then refer to everyone as women or men.
  8. Don’t include us if you don’t plan on doing the work. If you aren’t committed to listening, educating yourself, and creating policies that ensure we are safe in your space, don’t bother. We do not want to be props in your social justice credibility game.

 

The conversation around non-binary inclusion is an important one. What happened to me is not uncommon – NB people are routinely erased or even banned from spaces by cis and trans folks alike who do not understand their experiences.

I write this not because being banned from this group was the end of the world (there are plenty of spaces that are designed with me in mind, spaces that I am infinitely grateful for), but because there are bigger questions at play here.

I write this because what happened to me exposes a serious systemic issue that exists in many social justice spaces – how non-binary people are “invited” to the table, but are driven away through erasure and transphobia the second they arrive.

If you are more interested in applauding yourself for inviting us instead of doing the work to include us, you are not socially just – you are simply the oppressors under another name.

If you claim to be a space that is inclusive of non-binary people, deliver on what you promise. Because we are done being your footnotes or afterthoughts.

Nicole Arbour’s Video Didn’t Motivate Me to Be Healthy – But Body Positivity Did

CW: Fatphobia, disordered eating, mental illness, self-harm


The image features Nicole Arbour, making an

Arbour’s video “Dear Fat People” is symptomatic of a fatphobic culture.

When I watched Nicole Arbour’s video to fat people, I couldn’t help but be struck by her complete conviction that shaming fat folks would motivate them to be healthy.

The research does not back this claim – in fact, it consistently refutes it – and fat folks have asserted time and time again that shaming them does real psychological harm.

So I’m confused on how making people feel like shit is supposed to be encouraging, but okay.

Throughout the video, Arbour takes jabs at the body positivity movement, stating, like many trolls have before, that it promotes unhealthiness (while her very original insults and hatred of fat folks, comments that they certainly haven’t heard before, will definitely promote health).

Yes, against my better judgment, I watched the video. And Nicole Arbour’s fat-shaming did nothing to motivate me as a person who is “overweight.” Body positivity, on the other hand, has motivated me – it has made me a healthier, happier, and stronger person.

I spent most of my life as a very thin person. But secretly, I was also terrified of being fat. Most of my family was, which made me feel like I was constantly trying to outrun my so-called genetic fate, and being constantly praised for being thin made me feel like I had to work hard to maintain it, to make sure I didn’t lose it.

So when I was a teenager, I started skipping meals. And worse, I felt accomplished when I did. I felt like I did something good, something I should be proud of. In fact, if Nicole Arbour had seen me a few years ago – underweight and depressed – she would have assumed I was healthy and applauded me for my efforts.

No one ever told me to diet, but I started restricting my intake anyway. At one point, I wasn’t eating much more than an apple at lunch time and a protein bar at dinner. Because we live in a society that teaches us that there’s nothing worse than being fat. Controlling my food intake gave me a certain kind of pride, a sense of moral superiority to my fat relatives who just needed to “get their act together.”

You see, I wasn’t much different from Nicole Arbour when I was thin. I was an asshole that had a lot of problematic ideas about fat people. And I think that’s why I take it so personally – because it hits close to home, because I know deep down that the problem isn’t with Arbour so much as it is the society that teaches us to fear fatness, to shame fat people, and to reject them as fully-formed human beings.

When we place this morality around fat bodies and food, we create a very toxic culture that lends itself so easily to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and yes, discrimination against and hatred towards fat bodies.

My disordered eating was rooted directly in the ideas perpetuated by Nicole Arbour’s video – a panic and a fear around fatness, a call for self-control even if it means self-harm, and a disgust with fat people – and those same ideas were what led to me being underweight, unhappy, and destructive.

As an adult, after spending years on a rollercoaster of suicidal lows and manic highs, I was diagnosed with disordered eating, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. And after my worst episode of depression, I was finally prescribed a life-saving medication that tamed my depression in a way that I had never been able to on my own.

I finally felt a sense of peace and stability that I needed to get my life back.

But the universe, in some kind of act of karmic retribution, gave me weight gain as a side effect of that medication. I went from being thin to gaining sixty pounds, and hearing a doctor tell me I was “overweight” for the first time.

And despite being in the healthiest place I had ever been – finally mentally sound and capable – people who had never been concerned about my health before suddenly started asking if I was okay, if I wanted dieting tips, and encouraging me to “take control.”

Ah, yes, taking control. You mean when I was restricting, underweight, and depressed as hell.

Internalizing all of that negativity around my weight gain, I started to feel self-loathing and I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I debated going off of the medication that had saved my life – because to me, it was better to have unmanaged bipolar disorder with all of its dangerous lows than to be fat.

I think the real sickness in our society is that someone who finally achieved mental health would risk everything just to be thin.

And to the rest of the world that saw my round belly and my big thighs, they, too, would rather me be back in that dark place and be thin than be mentally healthy, happy, and “overweight.”

Attitudes like those present in Nicole Arbour’s video are the same attitudes that I started wrestling with when I looked in the mirror and no longer saw someone who was lovable, desirable, and worthy. Somehow having fat on my body made me “less than,” and made other people treat me as such.

When I finally lost the privilege of being thin, I had to come face-to-face with the fatphobia that I had clung to for my entire life – and I had to acknowledge that I had been perpetuating really awful ideas about fat and fat people, and doing harm to the people in my life that I claimed to love.

I can understand why Nicole Arbour would resist that kind of criticism from viewers, because she, too, would have to acknowledge that she is actively doing harm. It’s not fun to admit that you’re hurting people, that these beliefs that you’ve bought into are actually causing real suffering to people of all sizes.

I, at first, felt helpless when I realized how fatphobic I really was. I didn’t know how to unpack those ideas, and I didn’t know if I could ever feel okay about myself and be “overweight.”

The hashtags that Nicole Arbour mocked in her video are the hashtags that ultimately turned my life around. I discovered the body positivity movement through social media, and realized that my self-worth did not need to rely on an impossible ideal that most of us will never attain.

I realized that being thin is not a requirement for being happy or healthy or fulfilled, and when we break away from diet culture and fatphobia, it can be transformative in the best way.

When I gained weight, I was convinced that it was the end of my self-esteem – I had no idea that it was actually the beginning of an unconditional love for myself.

It’s a kind of love that we all deserve to have, a self-love that is not a privilege reserved for a select few that fit into our norms, but rather, a relationship that we are all entitled to by virtue of our humanity. Outsiders do not get to dictate the kind of relationship I have to my body and myself.

Body positivity taught me that health cannot be measured by a number on the scale, cannot be observed by a stranger, and is something that we, ourselves, get to navigate and define on our own terms. I learned that we all get to exist in our bodies, whatever they may be, and that we set the rules.

Body positivity taught me that love, and confidence, and happiness are possible and do not need to be determined by our size.

Body positivity taught me that I do not need to resort to restricting and starving just to be worthy, and that the real problem was never my weight, but rather, the poisonous conflation of thinness and happiness that I was convinced held the secrets to self-esteem.

Body positivity taught me that hatred disguising itself as “health advice” is still hatred.

Here’s the thing: What people like Arbour don’t seem to understand is that loving myself was the healthiest decision I’ve ever made. Living without shame enabled me to make good choices for myself, because no choice that is rooted in self-hatred is ever sustainable and no choice rooted in self-hatred can ever be healthy.

Being thin never made me feel confident. Being thin never made me a better person. Being thin never made me healthy. But now, with a body that most would consider undesirable, I finally feel happy and I live a meaningful life, one in which I contribute positively to the world, one in which I do everything I can to reduce harm towards myself and others.

And for naysayers who insist that I’m unhealthy because of my size, I can only laugh. Because if it weren’t for the medication that caused this weight gain in the first place, my bipolar disorder would have ravaged what remained of my life until I could no longer bear to live it.

But when you look at me, you can’t see that. Because health is not a size.

Toxic ideas about fat are feeding into an epidemic of self-hatred, disordered eating, and self-harm – an epidemic that Nicole Arbour perpetuates under the guise of “health” – that leaves kids as young as six dieting while they’re still in kindergarten.

If that’s the kind of world you want to live in, you need to own the fact that you are making it that way. You need to understand that these attitudes about fat people are actually harmful and discriminatory – stop hiding behind this so-called “health” crusade – because you aren’t motivating, you aren’t helpful, and you aren’t saying anything novel or new that the diet industry isn’t already profiting off of.

You do harm. And if you can live with that, so be it. But realize that you aren’t helping fat people – you’re hurting them, along with anyone who has ever struggled with their body, because at the root of that struggle is a fear of fat.

Honestly, sure, if I had watched this video when I was younger, I definitely would have felt motivated. Motivated to keep skipping meals. Motivated to celebrate my disordered eating. Motivated to scrape my dinner into the trash again. Motivated to starve myself into oblivion. Motivated to keep being cruel to fat people and making assumptions about strangers.

And if I hadn’t found body positivity, I would have been motivated to reject the medication that ultimately saved my life, because I thought it was better to be thin than to be sane.

And if that’s what health looks like to you… then I don’t want to be fucking healthy.


 Sam Dylan Finch is a transgender activist and feminist writer, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love, as well as a writer at Everyday Feminism and Ravishly. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr


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Editor’s Note: We use the word “overweight” in quotations because it is, indeed, a problematic term that suggests a normative weight. However, it is used for clarity and to make a distinction here because while Sam is not perceived as fat, he is also not perceived as thin, necessitating a term that acknowledges this “in-between” kind of space.

9 Affirmations You Deserve to Receive If You Have a Mental Illness

Originally posted at Everyday Feminism and shared here with permission.

The image features two people smiling at each other - one holding a coffee cup, the other holding a book.

“You are doing a good job.”

I remember the first time my therapist told me, “Sam, you’re doing a good job.”

I remember how overwhelmed with emotion I was. I had worked so hard to keep myself steady and had spent so much time just trying to survive, but I never got any credit for this invisible battle that I was fighting every single day.

For a moment, I couldn’t catch my breath as I repeated the phrase – you are doing a good job – in my head a few more times.

When she saw me – really looked at me and saw my pain, my struggle, my willpower – I felt like my whole soul was being nourished. I was being given something I didn’t even know that I needed until that moment: validation.

People with mental illness don’t get enough credit, enough affirmations, enough love. More often than not, the words we get can feel a little hollow.

In a world that tries to tell us that we are too crazy, too much – in a world that says we are less than in so many ways – I just wanted someone to say to me, “You are exactly enough, and yes, I see how hard you’re fighting.”

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you need someone to acknowledge you, especially when things get tough. So here are some of the affirmations that I wished I had, and that every person with a mental illness (or illnesses!) deserves.

1. You Are Worthy of Love

Yes, even on your worst days, you are absolutely worthy of love, care, and compassion.

Sometimes it can feel like the folks in our lives are doing us a favor by loving us, but this stems from a really problematic idea that we aren’t worthy of love in the first place.

Bullshit. We are. Struggling with our mental health doesn’t make us unlovable, no matter what our exes or so-called friends say.

That’s not to say that we’re perfect. No one is. But perfection is not a requirement for love. We have trauma to work through by virtue of the difficult journey that we’ve been on. But many of us, whether we have a mental illness or not, have things that we need to work on.

Just because you’ve got work to do, it doesn’t mean that you should deny yourself love, or goodness, or happiness.

Mental illness does not make you unlovable. Mental illness does not mean that anyone who loves you is doing you a favor. Mental illness is just one layer of a complicated, beautiful, and whole person.

2. You Are Enough

Struggling with your mental health can sometimes make you feel inadequate as a person, like this so-called weakness makes you less than everybody else. If you’ve ever felt that way, I’m here to tell you something: You are absolutely, positively enough – exactly as you are.

No matter where you are in your recovery, no matter what struggle you’re dealing with, and no matter how many times you’ve broken down, I need you to know that you are enough. You don’t need to do anything extra or change who you are to be worthy of good things in your life.

Mental illness doesn’t mean that you’re somehow less important, less worthy, or less remarkable than other people.

I find myself beating myself up at times, wondering why I can’t get my shit together, wondering if these disorders say something about my character. I wonder if it’s a sign that I’m defective somehow. I wonder if it says something about my shortcomings. I wonder if my mental illnesses are a shortcoming.

But you and I are not defective. We are just people, with our own unique journeys and the struggles it took to get here.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

3. You Are Strong (Even On the Days When It Doesn’t Feel Like It)

You’re fucking tough. You know how I know that? You’re still here.

Don’t believe me? It’s summed up best by this Mary Anne Radmacher quote:

“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Every day that you choose to keep fighting is a testament to your strength. Every day that you keep trying, even when everything in you is resisting, is proof of your courage.

Every small victory – getting out of bed, making that phone call, preparing a meal, doing a load of laundry – is yet another example of how strong you are, despite the relentless grip of mental illness.

Give yourself some credit. You deserve it.

4. You Are Not Damaged Goods

Back when I was dating and I wasn’t open about my anxiety or bipolar, I felt like I was carrying around an enormously shameful secret. I felt like I was defective and that, sooner or later, the people that I cared about were going to discover that I, Sam Dylan Finch, was “damaged goods.”

But here’s what I’ve learned: Every one of us, in some way, is “damaged.” And moreover, those struggles, while they may have shaped who we’ve become, are not the entirety of who we are.

And whatever those struggles might be, they certainly don’t depreciate our value. We aren’t meat sitting in a freezer, slowly expiring until we’re tossed aside. We’re people – people that, like anyone else, have had our fair share of challenges to get to where we are today.

Anyone who says we’re less valuable because we’ve struggled in the past does not deserve a place in our present.

Besides, let’s be real. Deciding that someone is less worthwhile because of their disability? That says more about their lack of compassion than it does your value as a person, no?

5. You Don’t Need to Run Away

Sometimes when I’m scared that I’m too much of a burden for the people that love me, I feel this intense urge to just run away.

To turn off my phone, catch the next train and take it up the coast, to don a red trench coat and disappear a la Carmen San Diego. (Yes, this is a fantasy that has run through my head many, many times – and yes, I own the red coat.)

Years ago, I used to disappear abruptly for a day or two, sometimes even weeks at a time, much to the distress of my loved ones. I believed that I just wasn’t good company. I thought I only deserved to have friends when I was feeling good, and if I wasn’t, I deserved to be alone.

Let me save you the time (and money): You don’t need to run away. You are not a burden.

Your friends are your friends because they care about you, not because you’re a circus performer that exists solely for their entertainment. Friends are there on your good days, your bad days, and all the days in-between.

And it’s their responsibility to make sure they’re taking care of themselves, and that they communicate when they need space. It’s your responsibility to trust that, if they need space, they’ll take it.

Instead of running away, just be open about how you’ve been feeling. Give your friends the chance to prove you wrong or to take a step back if they need it. You don’t need to run away just to see who’s going to follow – all you need to do is tell them what’s really going on.

You’re not a burden. You’re a human being who has struggles from time to time. That doesn’t make you undeserving of friendship – if anything that means you need your friends now more than ever.

If your friend was going through a difficult time, I imagine you’d do your best to stand by them. Why is it so hard to believe that someone would do the same for you?

6. You Didn’t Do Anything to Deserve This

Sometimes my twisted bipolar brain would convince me that I somehow brought these illnesses onto myself, or did something to make them happen.

Gentle reminder: It’s not your fault.

And again, for emphasis: It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.

If you had caused this, wouldn’t you have done everything in your power to undo it? Wouldn’t you change this if you could? And wouldn’t you have done that already?

I don’t know why mental illness likes to tell so many lies (what a jerk, right?), but take it from someone who knows: Mental illness doesn’t happen because an individual magically makes it so. It’s a complex combination of psychological, social, and biological factors.

Nothing you did on its own created this monster, I promise. Your first diet or binge didn’t “cause” your eating disorder. Your first cut didn’t “cause” your depression. Your disorganization didn’t “cause” your anxiety.

A dysfunctional response to stress is evidence that the problem existed long before you responded to it. Okay?

So don’t dwell on what you could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done. Instead, focus on your recovery. Be kind to yourself and be gentle.

7. Do Something Nice for Yourself

Self-care is vital. And if you aren’t making time for yourself, it’s time to make time.

Setting aside an intentional moment or two to nourish and take care of yourself isn’t just a luxury – it’s necessary for our mental health.

I wrote an article specifically about self-care for folks with anxiety, talking about how self-care is one tool that I use to help manage the distress that accompanies generalized anxiety, and what steps I take to practice self-care as a person with mental illness.

For many folks with mental illness, self-care is an invaluable coping tool to keep ourselves afloat.

You deserve nice things. You deserve to treat yourself and nurture yourself. The everyday wear and tear that comes with mental illness means that we have to invest in ourselves and our wellbeing. We need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves to mitigate the impact that mental illness can have on our health.

And yes, even when we’re feeling great, we have to keep investing in our self-care to keep it that way.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s necessary. And if you haven’t been putting in the time, now is as good a time as any.

If you aren’t sure where to start, check out this amazing video and take a look at this list of articles here at Everyday Feminism!

8. You Don’t Have to Pretend to Be Okay

I spent so much time trying to hide what I was going through. I locked myself away and I kept people at an arm’s distance for so many years; I thought that I was protecting the people I loved, but in reality, I was hurting us both.

I was hurting them because, in truth, they wanted to help me. They were more hurt that I didn’t trust them or ask them for help when I needed it. And I was hurting myself because it meant that I was battling these illnesses alone – something that I just couldn’t do by myself, no matter how hard I tried.

I’m going to issue a challenge to you: Stop pretending to be okay when you aren’t. You don’t need to be “okay” all the time or even most of the time.

I’m giving you permission to struggle. I’m giving you permission to be sad. I’m giving you permission to be angry. Feel whatever it is you’re feeling, and let the people in your life who want to be there for you actually be there.

Let people in. It’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to do this alone.

9. You’re Doing a Good Job

You knew I was going to say it, and here it is: Yes, you’re doing a good job.

Living with mental illness(es) can be hard work. And we seldom get any credit for the work that goes into keeping ourselves alive.

On the outside, it seems like what we’re doing is very simple – getting out of bed, cooking ourselves a meal, and maybe dragging ourselves to work. But with disabilities like ours, simple tasks can require a monumental effort.

I see that effort. I know that it’s hard work. And I want to tell you that you’re doing a good job. You’re doing an amazing job. Despite every obstacle that is standing in your way, you’re still doing the best that you can.

I am so, so proud of you for the work that you do, day in and day out, to keep going.

If I could, I’d teleport over to you right now and give you a trophy. I’d also bake you a cake. And then we’d watch Netflix together – because who has the energy for anything else?

I know that it might not always seem like you’re making much progress, especially on the days when you can’t do much other than sleep (I’ve been there, trust me). But even on those days, knowing what you’re up against, it’s a miracle that you’re still around and I’m so happy that you’re here.

Keep taking it one day at a time. And every step of the way, don’t forget to pause and acknowledge the hard work that you’ve done to get where you are.

If you can’t, just tweet me and I’ll do it for you (seriously).

 Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

Join our (rad, amazing) community at LQTU’s official Facebook page!

5 Things I Learned When I Blogged Every Week For An Entire Year

My blog turned one year old and I have SO MANY FEELINGS.

When I reflect back on this last year, my heart swells ten sizes and I feel the urge to hug every single one of my readers.

I can still remember being that twentysomething who had just graduated from undergrad with those degrees (you know the ones – the ones that everyone says will not result in any kind of job… haha, joke’s on you). At the time, I had no idea what to do with myself and felt completely unprepared to enter into the world as a college grad.

Not yet ready to be a grownup working 9-5, I did what plenty of people in my situation do – I went to graduate school.

I left everything behind and took a flight from Detroit, MI, all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area to go to my dream school. And realizing I still had a few months to go before classes actually started, I decided to take up blogging as my hobby.

This surprises most people. For some reason, people think that in creating this blog, I had a master plan to become a lucrative, famous blogger. But in reality, I was just anxious to be living in a new place, and had a lot of time on my hands.

Like, so much time on my hands, because I couldn’t figure out how the train system worked (which train will take me downtown? UGH I GIVE UP), so I stayed in my apartment and ate ice cream and watched Netflix.

With an abundance of time and nervous energy, I figured I might as well be writing. After all, my Facebook statuses were turning into novels, and I think my friends will agree that I was in desperate need of a soap box so I could stop preaching to them all the time.

I honestly believed back then that my blog was going to be a space where a couple of dedicated friends (and their creepy mutual friends) decided to read my weird opinions about politics and pop culture.

Almost 6 million views later, all I can really say is, “Whoops.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve learned a lot in this last year of blogging and it seems fitting, on the birthday of Let’s Queer Things Up!, to share some of those magical lessons with the readers who made this platform possible.

Then afterward, we’re going to hug it out, okay?

Please?

  1. Maybe, just maybe, one person can change the world – or at least shift the conversation.

The image features a student standing on a desk saying,  When I started blogging, I had no idea that writers like myself had the ability to make things happen. I always figured blogging was primarily shouting into the void, especially for newbies who haven’t built an audience yet. But I can tell you, without a doubt, that just one voice is enough to make an impact.

In October of 2014, I wrote an article, “Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness.” I was fed up with the way people with mental illnesses were treated, and it frightened me that this kind of ableism was on display for the whole world to see.

I had seen headline after headline about celebrity breakdowns, and I was tired of the complete and utter lack of compassion for folks who were struggling.

Up until that point, my blog was averaging, at most, 1000 views per week. But I woke up one morning to find that my blog had amassed half a million views before breakfast. I didn’t think it was possible but, lo and behold, a virtually unknown blogger had gone viral.

After that, the headlines did a complete 180. Suddenly every major news outlet was singing a different tune – one of compassion and understanding for Amanda Bynes. The conversation had shifted. Not long after that, Bynes came out and told the world via Twitter that she was grappling with bipolar disorder.

Boom.

I didn’t single-handedly cause this, to be sure. But I was a part of the shift in this international conversation that challenged people to be more compassionate. I was part of a movement to humanize people with mental illness. My voice alone reached millions of people and, yes, it made a difference.

I know now that sometimes all it takes is one courageous person, just one, standing up for what’s right. That person can be me, that person can be you. So why not us?

 

  1. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

I’ve had to deal with my fair share of jerks on the internet. I could be saying something so sincere, so earnest… and still get that ugly tweet telling me how I’m apparently the worst human that ever lived. And as a sensitive people-pleaser who writes from a really vulnerable place, it can be difficult to cope with the negativity.

I never want to suggest that we should just roll over and accept online harassment. I also don’t take it as a sign that I’m “doing something right,” as if this is an expected and even desirable outcome of speaking my mind.

But I will say that it’s helped me to keep in mind that some folks on the internet will always have something shitty to say, no matter how brilliant or witty you are (I like to think I’m a little bit of both, but I could be wrong).

I mean, go to any of your favorite public figure’s Twitter mentions. How can someone talk shit to Margaret Cho, for example? How can you tell Lorde or Betty White that they suck? But people do this! Because haters gonna hate.

So I just shake it off, I shake it off.

 

  1. Your struggles can be your strengths.

When people talk about my work, the first thing they usually mention is how open I’ve been about a lot of difficult struggles that I’ve had in my life. Folks wonder why anyone would choose to be so vulnerable on the internet. And I’ll admit, it is a really scary thing. But it’s also been the most empowering decision I’ve ever made.

Taking my scars and using them to teach and empower others has been an amazing way to reclaim my struggles. I took what used to haunt me and I made it into something that can set me free. It feels amazing.

I stood up and said, “Yes, I am trans. Yes, I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. I am not ashamed. And you don’t need to be ashamed, either.”

If you had told me years ago that I would be sharing this journey with millions of people, I’m not sure that I would’ve believed you. But now, in being honest and embracing myself, I’ve found so much strength in being unapologetic about who I am.

And to think – my journey could be affirming for someone else! My words could be a teachable moment to make someone else’s road a little easier to travel! That’s a privilege and an unexpected gift.

Writing a really good article that helps people basically feels like Christmas every damn week. I’m able to give something to the community that has given so much to me.

So no, I don’t regret wearing my heart on my sleeve. It’s scary as hell but it’s so worth it.

 

  1. You are not alone.

The image features Ariana Grande saying,

The thousands of emails I received in this last year have convinced me that we – trans folks, neuroatypical folks, marginalized folks of every sort – are not alone. We often feel alone, because we find ourselves isolated and disconnected from the larger community.

But actually, there are a lot of us. Like, millions of us, waiting to connect with each other.

On the days when I’m feeling particularly despondent, I remind myself that there are countless activists and organizations that are working, day in and day out, to make this world a better place. And if I’m feeling isolated, many of these folks are just a click away.

On a bad day, I’ll let myself fall into this rabbit hole of affirmation, inspiration, and support. I read Jes Baker’s blog and suddenly my body is more marvelous to me than ever before; I read an article by Melissa Fabello and suddenly the gospel of Feminism is as electric as ever; I explore Genderfork and am reminded of the diverse beauty in my own community; I read something at Everyday Feminism and I realize just how many people are fighting for good in this world.

Isn’t the internet a magical fucking place?

Nowadays, I go to bed at night feeling comforted, knowing that these folks exist and that I’m not alone in all this.

There are a lot of jokes about “Tumblr feminism” and “social justice warriors” but, y’all, I’ve seen the life-changing stuff that happens when people use their voice for good in this world. I’m completely sold on internet activism. Changing the world from behind a computer screen is not only possible, but it’s also one of the most accessible ways to reach people when they need us most.

A year ago, I felt so isolated in my struggles; now, I feel connected to an entire web of amazing people doing amazing things, including you, readers, who remind me of why this work is so important and are doing AMAZING work of your own.

We’re in this together!

If you’re ever finding yourself crushed by the weight of the world, poke around the net. Your people are out there. And they’re waiting for you, I promise.

 

  1. You can’t count yourself out just yet.

The image features Amy Poehler exclaiming,

I find it hard to believe that just a few years ago, I had hit rock-bottom with my depression, and was convinced that my life would never be meaningful or worthwhile.

To say I had “had it” is an understatement. I was on my way out.

Sometimes when we’re bogged down by depression and it’s all we’ve ever known, we count ourselves out – we think that we’re destined for a life of failure, desperation, hurt.

I’m not here to tell you that “things get better,” because I really can’t say for sure. But I will tell you that for many folks, we count ourselves out before we ever truly had the chance to shine or even live. We convince ourselves that we already know what the future looks like and that the future is set in stone.

It may be. But it isn’t always.

If I had let that despondent voice dictate what I did with my life, I wouldn’t be here today. And I definitely wouldn’t be doing the work that I’m doing now – writing for magazines, connecting with folks who need support, and educating people on the issues that really matter.

I never saw it coming – not in a million years – but I’m grateful every single day that I survived, that I hung in there, that I gave my future self the chance to experience all of this. I never thought I would make a difference. But against all odds, I have.

You never know what life has in store. I hate to be a bucket of exhausting, useless clichés, but seriously, none of us can see the future and sometimes, that future will surprise us.

So don’t count yourself out just yet.

* * *

This past year has been, far and away, one of the most unexpectedly awesome years of my life. While I entered into this project completely unsure of myself, I stand before you (well, sit before you I guess, behind this computer) a much happier and more self-assured person.

Being able to share my thoughts, however weird and ranty they were, with such a caring and curious audience has been an absolute honor. I have no idea what the future holds for LQTU, but this is a journey that I’m so grateful to have undertaken and thrilled to continue.

So I want to wrap up this entry by saying “thank you.” Thank you to the readers who supported the site, either through donations or with your encouraging comments and critically important feedback. Though most of us have not (yet) met in person, I am glad that I can call so many of you my friends.

The lessons I’ve learned have been invaluable and are lessons I will carry with me for a lifetime. And I’m excited – so, so excited – for everything I have yet to learn as we continue queering things up here on the site and beyond (see what I did there?).

I hope this entry could give you a little inspiration and a little more insight into the story behind the blog. If for nothing else, I hope it’s a reminder of how powerful we are when we work together. Look at this brilliant thing we’ve built together! I’m so proud of us.

The image features two people hugging.

Phew. Now that I’ve gotten all that off of my chest… group hug?

 Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

Join our (rad, amazing) community at LQTU’s official Facebook page!

Mental Health Recovery Isn’t Always Daisies, Puppies, and Rainbows (And that’s OK)

marypoppinsA lot of folks are surprised when I tell them that, despite having a great combination of meds and coping skills, bipolar recovery, for me, does not look like complete and total stability.

I still have ups and downs, and sometimes those mood swings are more intense than you’d expect for someone who calls this phase of their disorder “remission.” I wallow, and I cry, and sometimes it takes a minute before I’m back on my feet.

I say this because I want people to understand something: There’s this idea that mental health recovery is supposed to be some kind of fantastic, magical place where we never experience a negative emotion ever again. But it’s a myth, and a lousy myth at that.

I will probably always feel more intensely than neurotypical folks do. I will have some inexplicable sadness from time to time. I might find myself anxious about a worst case scenario that I know isn’t going to happen. I may even have to take a day or two off of work to get my shit together again.

My recovery has not been daisies and puppies and rainbows. And to my surprise, I’ve found that most recovering folks that I’ve talked to have not experienced the puppies or rainbows, either. We’re all just doing our best to cope — we are, by no means, “cured.”

One question I get asked often is, “How do I know when I’m on the right track?” We try out so many different coping skills and therapies and medications that we start to get a little lost; our baseline can change so drastically that it becomes difficult to understand at what point we should seek out help, and at what point we can call ourselves “normal.”

What is normal for mental health recovery and what isn’t? It’s a question I think about a lot.

My recovery goals have changed significantly overtime. I used to crave a kind of recovery that meant I would never have to think about bipolar disorder or anxiety ever again. But I am not the poster child for “normalcy” as I’d once hoped I would be, and having had years now to reflect on this, I’ve learned to be okay with that.

What does recovery look like for me? It’s a series of questions:

  1. Do I have enough stability and energy to meet my needs and pursue my desires (within reason)?
  2. Do I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat of my life? Do I feel like I am in charge?
  3. When my mental state shifts, am I riding the wave or do I feel like I’m drowning?
  4. Am I able to cope effectively when confronted with a stressor? What do I do when I’m stressed?
  5. Am I in survival mode, or do I feel like I’m truly living my life?

Ideally, I’d bring these questions to someone who is involved in my recovery to talk it out – whether it’s a partner, a best friend, a therapist, a doctor, a healer. I need to bounce my answers off of someone who can help me think through them, and let me know if they’ve seen red flags that I haven’t.

What does my mental health recovery look like right now? Here are my answers:

Lately, I’ve had enough stability and energy to meet my basic needs. I’m able to perform at my job, make myself food if I need to, get myself to appointments, and I’ve been showering regularly (for those of y’all who have lived through it, you know how big of a deal that is).

I also have enough energy to pursue my desires – I’ve been applying for better-paying jobs, going out with friends, taking on new work responsibilities, seeking out new volunteer and travel experiences, and finding a lot of satisfaction in the activism that I’m doing.

I feel, for the most part, that I’m in the driver’s seat; when a mood shift happens, I feel like I’m very much on top of that wave. When I’m stressed, I have plenty of ways that I can deal – Netflix, coloring books, talking through it with my partner, going for a walk, reading a book.

And now more than ever, it feels like I’m living a life that I’m proud of, instead of surviving within a life that I don’t want to be living.

So for me, my bad moods lately are more like bugs. I still have mood swings, but they are more like your common cold – very annoying and sometimes messy, occasionally so much so that I need a few days off – but not all-consuming, very infrequent, and nothing that I’m worried about.

Do your episodes feel like an ongoing disease that you’re battling, or like a bug you pick up from time to time? There’s a big difference between a disease and a bug. Namely, the impact, the frequency, and the severity.

Who knew that figuring out if we’re healthy could be so complicated? Physical health might be less complicated for most of us, because we have a baseline that we’re familiar with. But when it comes to navigating mental illness, sometimes we aren’t sure what an acceptable baseline is if we’ve never actually experienced one before.

I spent the longest time unsure of when I could call myself “recovered” because I couldn’t remember the last time I was mentally healthy, if I ever was. Not to mention, there weren’t many resources that could confirm what “recovery” feels like.

When you have no sense of an acceptable baseline, it results in creating unrealistic expectations – that we’ll never feel intensely about anything, that anxiety is a thing of the past, that we’ll be able to get out of bed every day with a spring in our step.

You’re not Mary fucking Poppins, okay?

Are you setting up some of those expectations? Because it’s time to let them go.

I can accept my sensitivity, my moods, and my intensity, as long as it still feels manageable. This is subjective to some extent, and scary, too, because mental illness often teaches us not to trust our instincts. But here’s the bottom-line: If it isn’t disruptive, dysfunctional, or distressing, it’s likely just part of the process.

It was a relief when I realized that mental health recovery does not always look like complete and total reformation. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, sometimes there are hiccups – it doesn’t mean you’re back at square one.

After all, a mental health crisis can be traumatic – and even after we’ve leveled out, there’s still trauma to unpack and deal with.

The fun never ends, right?

Let go of the expectation that you should be aspiring to some kind of “normalcy.” Because, hey, there are plenty of repressed folks that would swear up and down that they feel “normal” until you get them to start talking. There are lots of “normal” people who wait until the divorce to fall apart. Appearances aren’t everything.

I promise you, “normal” is really deceiving.

Give yourself permission to have ups and downs; give yourself permission to still have “issues.” Give yourself permission to be a flawed, confused, and feeling person. As long as you’re in a space where you can deal with it in a way that doesn’t consume or harm you, I’d say you’re doing just fine.

The reality is – pardon the cliché – that recovery is a journey and it’s not a destination.

It’s especially not a destination that resembles a tropical island or a luxurious resort.

It’s okay to be unsteady. You’re not doing a “bad job” at recovery and it’s not a “setback.” It’s all part of the process and it’s totally, 100% fine. Every journey that’s worth being on is a little messy. Take it from somebody who knows.

 Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

Join LQTU in conversation and community on Facebook!

A Psychiatrist Endangered My Life and I Was Afraid to Speak Out

A sad stock photo until Jessica's illustration is finished.

A very sad stock photo until Jessica’s illustration is finished.

Folks who have never struggled with their mental health seem to think of psychiatry as a quick and easy fix. Pop some happy pills and ta-daaaa! Your struggles will magically dissolve.

What these folks fail to understand (other than, like, how psychiatric medications actually work) is that, for many of us who are in the midst of mental illness or crisis, sometimes a psychiatrist’s office can be the most dangerous place for us to be.

When I was 18 years old, my therapist told me it was time to start thinking about medication to manage my bipolar disorder. I was suicidal, experiencing severe dissociation, and was dangerously depressed. I had experienced bipolar symptoms for most of my life, and we knew that medication to help regulate moods could be a game changer.

I went to a clinic that my insurance covered, and saw the first psychiatrist that I could. I knew the situation was urgent, and I was fortunate enough to find an opening sooner rather than later. I filled out the necessary forms, came in for my appointment, and waited for what I assumed was going to be the first miraculous step in my recovery and healing.

When we think about mental health professionals, we hope and even assume that they will be compassionate, encouraging, and at the very least, competent. But the woman that I met at this clinic was none of these things.

Her first question for me was to ask why I was depressed. When I told her I didn’t know, and that I had been depressed on and off for a long time, she didn’t believe me. She accused me of exaggerating my symptoms, telling me that I was “just a teenager” and that I couldn’t possibly be as depressed as I claimed to be.

She tried to shame me for seeing a psychiatrist. She said to me, “You know, I have children, and they’re around your age. I’d be pretty skeptical if they decided to seek out pills to solve their problems.”

Not once in our appointment did she ask if I was suicidal (I was). She didn’t ask about my history with self-harm (long and complicated). She seemed completely uninterested in my past, and instead, spent a lot of time asking about where my parents were, and why I would see a psychiatrist if I was “getting good grades in school.”

When I handed her a list of symptoms that my therapist had helped me to write, she looked at me and said, “Did you just read a psychology book recently and decide you were sick?”

I wish I could say that this was the worst thing that she did. But it only went downhill from there.

After she could see that I wasn’t leaving without some kind of help, she sighed, rolled her eyes, and asked me, “What pills do you want?”

I was completely baffled. What pills do I want? Wasn’t it her job to prescribe a medication that made sense based on my experiences? Wasn’t it her job to make an educated decision on how to manage my symptoms?

“I don’t know. My aunt takes Prozac,” I said quietly. “Should I be taking Prozac?”

“If it worked for her, maybe it’ll help you,” she told me, completely apathetic.

She wrote me the prescription and told me to leave.

This psychiatrist had confirmed that I did, indeed, have bipolar disorder. There was no confusion there. And yet she prescribed me an antidepressant without telling me that antidepressants can increase the risk of mania or rapid cycling in folks who have bipolar. Most psychiatrists will prescribe them with a mood stabilizer rather than prescribing an antidepressant alone because of this risk.

(Of course, I learned all of this from my next psychiatrist who, upon learning that I had taken Prozac by itself, looked at me and said, “I don’t understand why any trained psychiatrist would’ve done this.”)

Instead of prescribing a medication that took into account my diagnoses of anxiety and bipolar, she let me choose my own medication – as if I had gone to medical school and had a background that made me at all qualified to prescribe meds to myself.

Let me say that again: A so-called medical professional let a teenager prescribe their own drugs.

I was so very young, and in no way equipped to deal with the very serious disorder I was diagnosed with. I came to her for help – in arguably the most vulnerable place a person can be – and I was shamed for it, invalidated, re-traumatized, and worst of all, prescribed a medication that endangered me.

I trusted her, and she failed me.

And yes, of course, I began rapid cycling. I experienced volatile mood swings, vivid suicidal ideation, mania like I’d never seen before, complete breaks from reality. I scared everyone around me, including my parents, who at that point didn’t have much knowledge about bipolar and thus often missed the red flags with my episodes.

It was pretty exceptional stuff if my parents were taking note.

At my mother’s urging, I called the psychiatrist. I assumed that, perhaps, it was an honest mistake. But to my complete shock, despite several urgent voicemails, she did not call me back.

Not only did she endanger me with the wrong medicine, but when I called her in crisis, she made no attempt to help me.

My gut said that this psychiatrist had no right to invalidate my pain or shame me for asking for help. My gut said that asking a patient to choose their own pills was not how psychiatry was supposed to work. And my gut said that she had given me the wrong medicine, and that she should be held accountable for irresponsibly ignoring all of my calls.

But I was a teenager, and I was afraid. She was well-respected at this clinic – one of the best, I was told. It was my first time ever seeing a psychiatrist, and I thought that maybe this was just how psychiatry worked. Maybe it really was just quick and abrasive. Maybe I was being too sensitive.

Looking back, I deeply regret not making noise for the very clear wrongs that happened here. While I am in no way to blame for what happened, I fear for all the patients that came after me, especially the younger ones who are in many ways the easiest targets for this kind of abuse because we are placing our trust in adults that we are told are there to help us.

The sad part about it is that these psychiatric horror stories are not at all rare. We often come into these offices very vulnerable, even afraid, and are expected to somehow advocate for ourselves. We are asking for help, which is the most difficult thing in the fucking world to do, and when a professional preys on that vulnerability, it can be disastrous.

I share my story not to scare folks who are considering psychiatric interventions or discourage them from seeking help. Because as terrible as this was for me, and as long as it took to get past it, psychiatry as a whole has still helped me immensely. I’ve had the great privilege of having doctors that I can honestly say are my heroes, who modeled the kind of compassionate and competent care that we all deserve.

But people need to know that psychiatry is not infallible. That doctors and psychiatrists, too, are not infallible. In fact, in my experience as an advocate, I can tell you that abuse, intimidation, shaming, and endangerment by so-called professionals is not exceptional. In fact, tragically, it’s all too common.

Folks who are seeking out a psychiatrist need to know that they are entitled to the best possible care. If something feels wrong, if the experience was traumatic, or if there is an issue of trust, you are not obligated to continue seeing this person. I’ll repeat that: You are not obligated to stay. You’re not even obligated to be “nice” or polite, especially if you feel unsafe.

You can leave at any time, or call them out if you feel like you’re in a position to do that. You can seek out local mental health organizations if you feel you might have been the victim of abuse, and of course, any feedback you can give the clinic, even if it’s anonymous, is vital.

Well-intentioned loved ones who push us to seek out psychiatrists need to understand that this is not an easy bake oven, where you hand us over to a psychiatrist and we emerge on the other side perfectly composed and healed.

If you are invested in our well-being, I would encourage you to keep an open line of communication with us. Ask us about our psychiatrist. Don’t pry about the details of what we shared, but do ask us questions about the experience as a whole. “Did you feel safe? Did you feel validated? Did anything feel off or wrong? Do they seem trustworthy?”

Those questions can actually be life-saving.

While it’s clear that reform is needed to address the lack of quality psychiatric care and the dire inaccessibility of that care, it is crucial that we advocate for our loved ones to ensure that they are receiving treatment that does not hinder their healing, but rather, facilitates it.

I walked away from my first visit with a psychiatrist feeling like an imposter. Maybe I was a liar. Maybe I was wrong to ask for help. Maybe I was selfish. I walked away confused, more fearful than ever, and convinced that nothing could get better.

This should go without saying: No one should walk away from a medical professional feeling ashamed, afraid, and traumatized.

It took me years before I could write about this experience, but it’s my hope that sharing this story can give insight into the kinds of struggles we face not only as folks with mental illnesses, but as people trying to navigate a failing system.

I am not the first person to encounter abuse in the office of a psychiatrist, and I will certainly not be the last.

So when you gently suggest to a friend that they “just see a psychiatrist” as if it’s a walk in the park, let me remind you that it’s more like a bath with piranhas, or slathering on some honey and slow dancing with a bear.

You should probably, you know, adjust your sympathy accordingly.

 Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

Why I’m “Out” as a Person with Mental Illness

This piece was originally published at The Body Is Not An Apology.

The image features the author, SDF, smilling at the camera. He is an androgynous white person wearing large, round glasses and a striped t-shirt.

Out and proud!

Far and away, the most frequently asked question I receive as a writer with bipolar and anxiety is, “How did you get to a place where you could be this open about your struggles?”

It’s usually followed with a question like, “Aren’t you scared?”

I used to be terrified. Like many folks with a mental illness, one of the first things we’re told is to keep it to ourselves. At times, I existed in a cloud of shame that followed me around wherever I went.

But that’s just it – that’s exactly why I came out and became such a vocal advocate for my community. It’s because of that shame that I started talking about what I had been through. I was tired of feeling afraid, tired of feeling ashamed, and tired of seeing the stories of my community being told by people who just didn’t get it.

I wanted to tell my own story and to reach people like me who needed to know, without a doubt, that they were not alone.

Yes, it’s scary to put yourself out there and tell the whole world – let alone family or friends – about what can be the darkest, most vulnerable part of our journeys. There are real risks involved, too, that people need to weigh when deciding who to tell about their illness(es) and when.

Our safety, our security, our housing, and our jobs can all be at stake because mental illness, unfortunately, is a highly stigmatized status to hold in our society.

But when I weighed all of these risks, and I thought about my fourteen-year-old self, who was contemplating suicide because he felt utterly alone, I knew that I had an obligation to speak up. For me, if I could help make someone’s burden a little bit lighter by being outspoken about my illnesses, the benefits far outweighed the risks.

I remember that the first place I looked for help as a teen was not a guidance counselor, not a parent or guardian, not a friend. Instead, I turned to Google. I searched for things like, “Help, I want to die” and “I’m depressed and I don’t know what to do.” I remember, vividly, scouring the search results, looking for some kind of affirmation or something to hold onto.

The reality is that the stigma around mental health keeps us so silent that we’d rather ask Google what to do than ask our friends or family. We go it alone because we’re ashamed, we’re afraid, we’re confused, we’re overwhelmed, and we think that our struggles make us too much of a burden for others to deal with.

There was a time when Google knew more about my mental illnesses than my best friend did.

After spending too many years feeling isolated, disconnected, and self-hating, I began to write about what I had been through. And, with time, that writing ceased to be a private exercise and instead, became the beginnings of a blog. That blog, which came to be known as Let’s Queer Things Up!, helped bring into sharp focus all of the reasons why being out as someone with bipolar and anxiety was the right decision for me.

Why am I out?

Because I want to build community around mental illness, especially for those who, like myself, are transgender and also grapple with these illnesses.

Because, too many times, I’ve received emails that said, “You’re genderqueer and bipolar? I thought I was the only one.”

Because too many people think of folks with mental illness as anything but people – as criminals, or “psychos,” or burdens on society rather than fully human and deserving of every bit of compassion, respect, and dignity that all people should be afforded.

Because, when you take away the rights of people with mental illnesses – when you vote against important legislation or elect a politician who wants to strip us of the resources and support that we need – I want you to remember my face and remember my words.

Because visibility matters, and because I want teens to grow up in a world where, when they are searching for people who have lived through what they’re going through, they can find them.

Because a teenager sent me a letter that said, “I found you through Google. I’m trans and I have bipolar. I didn’t think I could be successful, but I look at everything you’re doing, and you make me believe in something.”

Because I want to create a safe space for others to use their voices, too, so that together, the collective vibration of our voices will be an undeniable force.

Because you cannot deny our personhood, our worth, our brilliance, or our power when we work together.

Because teens would rather tell me they’re suicidal through my Tumblr ask box than pick up the phone and call a hotline or a friend.

Because an article I wrote asking people not to ridicule someone with a mental illness was read in over 180 countries by millions of people around the world.

Because it was an article I never should have had to write in the first place.

Because no one with a mental illness should ever feel alone.

Because there is enough shame surrounding mental illness that we have to even consider whether or not to “come out.”

Because we shouldn’t wait to have our stories told for us. They are ours to tell.

Telling the world that I have bipolar disorder (and later, anxiety) was not an easy choice to make. Friends and family expressed concern, asking me whether I was sure I would want the word “bipolar” forever attached to my name for anyone in the world to see. Others told me it would be a career-ruining move that would haunt me for the rest of my professional life.

But in order for other people with mental illness to have a life – to have careers, to have a future – they first need to know, unequivocally, that they are not alone, and that others now thrive with these same illnesses that threatened to pull them under.

When seeing is believing, visibility is everything. If living visibly means that I give someone with a mental illness the chance to keep going, I will keep the word “bipolar” forever, and I will proudly do the work that I’m doing, even if it means that a lousy potential employer puts my resume in the garbage.

There’s something poetic about the fact that Google was the first place that I found people like me, and nowadays, I am the person that people are finding when they search for help. The tables really have turned.

Even on the days when I feel afraid and question my decision to go public with my disorders, I remember what it felt like to turn the internet upside-down as a teen, looking for someone, anyone, who knew how I felt. If I can be that person for someone else — the link that opens up their world and keeps them going — it’s all been worth it.

 Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

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