You Are Not a Burden, and 4 Other Things I Wish I’d Known About Mental Illness

The image features an androgynous person, trapped inside a pill bottle, looking at a map that says
Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

This might as well be part two, because quite a while back, I wrote a pretty exhaustive list of things that newly-diagnosed folks with bipolar might want to know. This might just be an ongoing series where readers have the privilege of learning from my mistakes, because I’ve made more than a few along the way. Lucky you!

While I’m writing from the perspective of someone who grapples with bipolar and generalized anxiety, I feel like much of this could be applied to other mental health struggles as well. I hope this is helpful to anyone who needs it.

Lastly, a content warning: There is some discussion about sexual assault and consent, so if that could be traumatizing for you, feel free to skip over #2.

So let’s chat! Here are some things I wish I’d known about having a mental illness:

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1. You are not a burden.

Biggest lie ever told. Not just by others but by the nasty voice in my head that likes to encourage me to do the exact opposite of what I need to do when I’m depressed. It’s the same voice that tells me I’m worthless, the same voice that tells me to stop taking my meds, the same voice that tells me to skip town… you get the idea.

It’s not really a voice that I should trust. And neither should you.

Mental illness, or any kind of struggle with mental health, does not make you a burden. If people offer their support, compassion, and love, take it. And if you’re worried that you might be asking too much of them, have a conversation about boundaries.

“I’m in a rough place right now, and I don’t want to overburden you. Can I trust you to let me know if you need space?”

Don’t push people away assuming that you know what’s best for them. Respect their autonomy and allow them to dictate the capacity in which they’ll be involved in your healing. As long as you’ve had a conversation about how to best support each other, it isn’t your place to decide for them what they can handle and what they can’t.

When I’m depressed, I have to fight every urge to self-isolate. But I know that being alone is often the worst thing for me. Let the people who want to stand by you be there for you. If they truly care for you, you’ll be anything but a burden. I promise you this.

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2. You may not be able to consent to sex while manic.

First of all: Why the fuck aren’t we talking about this? Time for me to get up on my soapbox for a minute.

I’m not sure how the law weighs in on this, because the idea of “insanity” from a legal standpoint is a complicated (and often oppressive) idea.

But I can tell you from personal experience, there may be times when your inhibitions are so low from a manic state that there is no way – I repeat, no way – that you can reasonably consent to sex with another human, no matter how riled up you both are.

As a teenager, I had unprotected sex that, when stable, I consistently refused and would never have engaged in. There are acts that I said “no” to emphatically while sane, but enthusiastically said “yes” to when I was manic or experiencing dissociation.

This is one way in which an “enthusiastic yes” model of consent fails many folks with mental illness.

It’s a painful thing for me to talk about, but it needs to be said: There may be people in this world who will knowingly take advantage of you because they are convinced that mania is fun and not at all dangerous.

Some people will argue that manic sex is just regrettable sex, or that manic sex is just acting on impulses that you’re too prude to act on otherwise.

But I call bullshit on that. More specifically, I say that this is just a larger part of rape culture and victim-blaming. If I’ve said “no” a thousand times while sane, that “no” still applies if I’m not sane, just like that “no” still applies if I’m drunk.

I know now that if I am especially manic, I cannot give consent. And now, the partners that I have know this too. I only wish I had realized this much, much sooner.

Maybe this applies to you, or maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, this is why having conversations about consent, boundaries, and the like are crucial so that everyone is on the same page and the boundaries are made explicit. Sex should be safe, sane, and consensual – always.

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3. You may be the last to notice the progress that you’ve been making.

Sometimes, when we’re in therapy or we’re trying out new medications, the progress we’re making is so incremental that we don’t notice it as it’s happening.

It can be tempting to call it quits when we aren’t seeing the magical transformation we want to be achieving. However, in my experience, sometimes I’m the last one to notice just how much progress I’m really making.

For example, when I was dealing with really intense depression, I was so focused on the sadness that I felt that I hadn’t even noticed that this new medication I was taking was helping immensely with anger and irritation.

But my parents definitely noticed. My friends noticed. And they didn’t hesitate to remind me that while I may not have noticed, things were definitely changing.

They were right. After a few more weeks on this medication, I began to notice some really significant progress.

This applies to any kind of healing work, whether it is psychiatric, therapy, self-love, or outside of the realm of Western medicine. When we’re in the midst of it, sometimes we’re actually the last to notice our own progress.

It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s a very real phenomenon.

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4. To hell with anyone who tells you that your pain isn’t important, valid, or real.

Literally. They should be consumed by a bath of fire. Cut them out of your life. Run far, far away and very fast (if you can).

If you couldn’t tell, I have really strong feelings about this. That’s because I’ve been told by people in my life, folks that I cared deeply about, that my disorder was made up, that I was “playing the victim,” or otherwise invalidating my trauma.

Instead of lending any credibility to what they’re saying, listen to me: Your suffering? It matters. Your pain? It’s real.

You need to surround yourself with people who validate your struggles – not folks who try to tell you what YOUR lived experience is, what YOUR trauma is like, what YOUR burden feels like when you have to shoulder it each and every day.

They aren’t you. They haven’t lived through it.

No one can know what it’s like to be you. But if you’re anything like me, grappling with mental illness, we both know that it can be devastatingly painful, and leave us at our wit’s end. It’s the kind of hell that is inescapable because it’s happening inside our minds.

You deserve compassion and respect, as someone who is brave enough to continue living, each and every day, with something as difficult as this.

Fuck anyone who says otherwise.

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5. You may feel like you can’t trust in yourself or in anything that’s good. But you need to rebuild that trust.

I’ve often said that living with mental illness has created a chronic condition of “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Sometimes, I don’t trust that the good things in my life are here to stay. Sometimes, I don’t trust myself to make big decisions (like transitioning or going to grad school) because I’m afraid that I don’t have clear judgment. I don’t trust my own happiness because I fear I might be hypomanic.

Bipolar disorder (and mental illness more generally) has left me with some serious trust issues.

After going through so many episodes of depression, and losing many of the good things I had in the process, in recovery I still find myself terrified that nothing good is permanent or safe.

No one told me that I’d have this kind of perpetual mistrust of all things good, but I kind of wish they had. I also wish I could say I’ve overcome it and impart my super awesome wisdom to you.

The best I’ve been able to do is talk about it – with people I love, with a therapist, or sometimes I just talk through it alone in my shower. Being aware of the ways that I question or mistrust the good stuff has helped me to recognize when it’s happening.

I eventually end up asking myself the same question, “Who’s going to make this decision? Me, or my fears?”

Knowing when my chronic mistrust is creeping up on me allows me to see it for what it really is: a learned condition after years of trauma. So I tread carefully, holding myself in compassion and moving forward knowing that I cannot allow fear to rule my life.

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I kind of wish that, after a diagnosis, we were given a guidebook for how to deal. Sadly, we’re usually just given a prescription and a reminder to call if there’s an emergency. Often times, we have to be our own advocates and teachers as we figure out how to manage these illnesses.

Part of why I and so many others write is because we’re trying, little by little, to create the resources that we really wish had existed for ourselves. Resources by the community and for the community are often the best ones; we have the scars and the lived experience that can be so invaluable for those of us who are in the midst of it.

I hope that showing you some of my scars can help you to heal.

As always, I am wishing you the very best. Comment with questions, more advice, or just drop in and say hello!

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A note on labels: Like many people with mental health struggles, I’ve experienced my fair share of misdiagnoses. Since writing this piece, I’ve finally been correctly diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and complex PTSD, which have been life-changing realizations for me. That said, I hope that the resources I created in the past can still be helpful. (Jan 2019)

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No Justice, No Peace: Why Civil Rights Doesn’t End With Baltimore

Let’s Queer Things Up! is proud to present its very first guest post, written by Melissa Monier.

melissaBlack, White, Transfeminine, Queer.

I live in a world where two movements are happening simultaneously.

And I am told, as the future of my marriage waits on the line, that I need to be on the “right side of history.” There are people celebrating love, marriage, and equality; there are people mourning the loss of another man that was turned into a criminal to justify his murder.

I am tired of having to choose a side.

I want to talk about race. I want to talk about Baltimore. I want to talk about black lives, and queer lives. I want to talk about the lives that America likes to pretend don’t exist.

Lives like mine. People like me.

People aren’t listening to the communities that are hurting, and now isn’t the time for apologies. Communities want action, families want justice. And I think it’s time we started listening.

Black America is hurting.

But somehow you turn a blind eye because it is easier than to confront your privilege.

You are able to turn to any outlet and find a representation of yourself, your friends, your families, your relationships; you are told by the government, by the media, by society that you matter.

But do I?

Yesterday, six police officers were charged with the murder of Freddy Gray. And yet, this won’t really change the climate for queer people of color across the country.

This movement is as diverse as the people out on the front lines speaking out against injustice, for their rights, for what’s right. To ignore the intersectionality of the citizens of Baltimore supports the structures and institutions that continue to silence their voices.

This is the boiling point, and it has been reached through the neglect to acknowledge the intersectionality of race, class, gender, sexuality, American citizenship, and how those facets of identity have left citizens in New York, Baltimore, Ferguson, Detroit, and many others marginalized and oppressed.

I am not a cisgender black man. But my life matters and my life is at stake.

I have participated in protests; I have participated in die-ins, sit-ins, and marches. And I can tell you that there is not one moment that I didn’t look at a police officer and fear for my life.

And to those that believe that this will all be solved by protesting peacefully, I advise you to check your privilege. Being able to walk openly in the streets and speak your mind is not a privilege allotted to all of us – some of us have much more at stake.

You are supporting the structures keeping people subordinate. You are working against their movement, and supporting the status quo that is killing people on the streets.

How long can you peacefully exist within the system, because “white people are scared?” White America sees “thugs” destroying their own cities. They shake their heads and call people in Baltimore “animals” and preach respectability as a means to rise above their conditions.

But I see broken communities disowning the very structures, the physical representations of the institutions keeping them subordinate.

This country was never built to support black or brown people; it was never built to support women, and it certainly was not meant to support queer people. But that does not mean that we should accept our place as subordinate, living in a nation that refuses to acknowledge our existence.

I will not stand for forced assimilation because America does not want to change.

I want marriage equality, but I also want the world to know that it’s not a solution.

I want to make sure it’s safe for me to walk down the street before walking down the aisle without hearing racial slurs or being misgendered.

I want medical protection, and my insurance to cover the possibility of transitioning, or starting a family.

I want my relationship to be recognized.

I want legal protection from discrimination.

I want to raise a family without fearing that they won’t come home because someone abused their power, because someone truly believed that the life of a child was worth less than their own.

I want to exist in a space where I don’t have to unlearn everything I know about my culture to assimilate into white spaces, for my voice to be heard, for my body to be respected.

I want change. I want police to be trained in sensitivity, I want them to take rape, trans issues, and the lives of colored children seriously.

This is not just an issue of race, and those that believe it is are also a part of the problem. This is an issue of class, race, economic status, political systems, citizenship, and gender.

This is intersectional, and this is important.

This is about the structures that have been put in place that have yet to change, that have yet to treat people of color and other marginalized folks as equal. Sadly, the benefit of privilege is not knowing that these systems are still in place, because they don’t affect you.

But they affect me.

I am tired of having to justify my existence to white America. I am tired of having to prove that I’m hurting, or that my pain is valid.

Your privilege is not an excuse for your ignorance. Your apologies do not excuse you from educating yourself on issues even if they do not directly impact your life.

The reality is, these fights aren’t over. We need to educate ourselves and be aware of our privileges, and use them to advocate, NOT speak for our marginalized brothers and sisters and siblings.

We need to create safe spaces to let the silenced speak. We need to continue to stand with Baltimore. We need to stand with our queer, trans, black, brown communities, even when the protests stop.

We need to stand together in solidarity.

Melissa Monier is a 21-year old Queer blogger, feminist, and gender, sexual, and racial justice advocate from Metro Detroit. She spends her free time drinking way too much coffee, writing shitty poetry, finding new reasons to fall in love with her home-city every day, and loves her dog more than most people. She is a Communications major and WGST minor at the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Visit her blog at lalavandemenace.tumblr.com

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Why Aren’t We Talking About Suicide Attempt Survivors? Here Are 7 Ways to Support Them.

When we talk about suicide, we tend to focus on prevention – or mourning those that we have lost to suicide.

And while these are worthy and important causes, they sometimes make invisible a very real and important group of people.

We forget, too often, that some of us are on the other side – that not everyone who attempts suicide will die.

When I attempted suicide as a young teenager, I found myself set adrift.

I couldn’t find support or resources because those resources focused exclusively on either family members who have lost a loved one or preventing suicide attempts – neither of which applied to me at that time.

Confused and alone, I was unable to find a single website or article that acknowledged that sometimes, suicide doesn’t go the way we planned – sometimes, we live to tell the tale.

I went to school the next day, resuming business as usual, because I didn’t know what else to do.

Six years later, more resources are being created, and amazing projects are unfolding. I’m grateful, as an attempt survivor, to know that other survivors will have more of a safety net than I did.

However, I still believe that there are things we all can do to support suicide attempt survivors – and to create a culture in which these survivors do not feel invisible.

As feminists, I believe that this work is especially important and relevant – the stigma around mental health and suicide is a hurdle for folks in every community, and is most often shouldered by folks who are already marginalized in significant ways.

Here’s a list of seven ways we can all do right by attempt survivors.

1. Include Attempt Survivors in Your Conversations About Suicide

In any conversation about suicide – whether it’s a formal panel, a public policy discussion, or a casual conversation – it should never be assumed that survivors don’t exist.

And many of us are not only surviving, but also thriving. Others survive and continue to struggle.

If you’re doing work in prevention, for example, it’s important to remember that folks who have attempted suicide before are at even greater risk to attempt again.

In fact, one-third of people who attempt suicide will try again within one year.

Regardless, attempt survivors are an important demographic when we’re talking about prevention.

When organizing panels or conferences around mental health and suicide, there should be a concentrated effort to include survivors not just as attendees, but as speakers and organizers.

If you already support a particular mental health organization, you can also inquire about what they are doing to support attempt survivors.

And in everyday conversation, remember that attempting suicide is not synonymous with dying.

Including attempt survivors in conversations that impact our lives is an important part of making survivors visible.

2. Stop Treating Suicide Like a Taboo Topic

I know that suicide sounds really scary. I know that it can be hard to have conversations about it.

However, when we treat suicide like a hush-hush topic, we’re not only hurting people who may be suicidal and need help, we’re also hurting people who have been through an attempt and need a safe space to talk about it.

When we don’t have healthy, compassionate conversations about suicide and survival, we ultimately discourage survivors from seeking out support.

After my attempt, there was no script on how to talk about what I’d been through. I just knew in my gut that it wasn’t something that people talked about.

If I had felt safer or more encouraged to open up, I might have been able to cope more effectively and get help sooner.

In fact, if it hadn’t been so taboo, I might have talked about my suicidal thoughts before I acted, and my attempt might have never happened.

We need to stop treating suicide and suicidal thoughts as taboo.

Instead, we need to foster conversations that can help survivors feel safe enough to disclose their experiences and seek help when it’s needed.

3. Stop Shaming Survivors

Part of my decision to keep what had happened to me a secret for so many years was because I had heard, over and over again, that suicide was a selfish decision.

I was afraid that if I opened up to someone, I would be met with shaming and criticism instead of compassion.

Put simply: We need to stop shaming people who have attempted suicide.

The decision to end our lives is not a decision we ever take lightly – and it’s not indicative of a character flaw, but rather of immense pain that we have carried for too long.

Attempt survivors face enormous amounts of discrimination – and it’s compounded because we not only face the stigma of being suicide attempt survivors, but often that which goes with struggling with our mental health.

We’re not only “selfish”, but we’re “crazy“, we’re “unstable”, we’re “unhinged”; in other words, we’re worthless.

A culture that either pretends we don’t exist or treats us as selfish and subhuman is a culture that ultimately perpetuates the cycle of suicide.

If we are encouraged to keep silent and told we are less than human, we are far more likely to attempt suicide again.

If we want to support attempt survivors, we need to stop shaming them into silence.

4. Don’t Assume That Suicide Attempts Are a Universal Experience

Some of us are traumatized by our experience. Some of us don’t have strong feelings about what happened. Some of us consider our attempts life-changing. Some of us view them as one terrible event in our lives. Some of us feel regret about our attempt. Some of us feel no regret at all.

Some of us feel all of these things at different times in our lives – sometimes even at different points in a single day.

There is no universal narrative that fits for every suicide attempt survivor.

All of our experiences are valid, all of our experiences are important, and all of our experiences are unique.

When we talk about suicide attempts, we need to be careful not to generalize about those experiences or about survivors.

By acknowledging the complexity and diversity of our experiences, we support all survivors, instead of just those who fit into our preconceived ideas of what a survivor should be.

If we want to be supportive, we need to be supportive of everyone, regardless of what their journey looks like.

5. Tune In When Survivors Are Sharing Their Stories

There are many survivors that are already sharing their stories, and you may someday encounter someone who trusts you with their story. The most important thing is to listen – and to let them take the lead.

I’ve found that when I share my story with folks, people have a lot of questions and don’t always know how to respectfully engage.

To this, I would suggest that people should actively listen when survivors are sharing their stories. Don’t interrupt, don’t interrogate, don’t ask invasive questions.

Let survivors decide how much to share, when to share, and how their stories will be told.

I know that suicide is a topic we don’t often hear about, and when someone is willing to open up, there’s a lot that we want to know.

However, a person’s attempt story is not about you – this is a story about them, by them, for them.

If there is an opportunity to ask questions, be sure to ask in a way that allows this person to opt out if they aren’t ready to answer.

Survivors deserve to disclose their stories in an environment that makes them feel safe, validated, and respected.

You can facilitate this by listening, first and foremost.

6. Realize That We Are Everywhere

It’s gut wrenching when an acquaintance, not knowing my history, says something terrible like, “Ugh! If I have to go to work on Saturday, I’ll kill myself.”

We, as a culture, need to recognize that attempt survivors are in every community – and then we need to behave accordingly.

We need to speak compassionately about suicide not only because it’s the right thing to do (suicide jokes are never funny, especially when they aren’t coming from folks who have lived it), but because triggering survivors is another way that we both invisibilize and marginalize them.

We assume that survivors aren’t around, and thus we say things that we wouldn’t otherwise say to someone who has been through it.

There are many microaggressions that survivors face, by virtue of the assumption that we do not exist or that we only exist in certain communities.

Suicide should always be discussed in a way that is sensitive, inclusive, and does not uphold discrimination or shame, so that survivors in every community can feel safe and respected.

7. Get Behind the Amazing Organizations, Resources, and Projects That Support Attempt Survivors

Suicide attempt survivors need resources, too. This is why supporting the organizations, resources, and projects that advocate and assist attempt survivors is absolutely vital.

Unlike six years ago when I had my attempt, Googling “suicide attempt survivor” lists a number of resources that now exist for survivors – some of which are quite fantastic.

One essential resource can be found over at Grief Speaks. The guide, found here, gives a comprehensive run-down of ways we can assist someone in the aftermath of a suicide attempt. If those close to me had had something like this, it would have made all the difference.

One of my favorite projects is called Live Through This, the amazing work of attempt survivor Dese’Rae L. Stage. She photographs and documents the stories of attempt survivors from all walks of life.

It’s the only known project of its kind, bringing a human face to a struggle that is too often anonymous.

When I first saw this project, I was struck by how whole it made me feel. To know that there were others like me, living through this and telling their stories, gave me the courage to keep telling my story, too.

Supporting the work of survivors and advocates like Stage is a way of both bringing visibility to survivors, as well as creating a greater safety net for future survivors who need to know that they are cared for, seen, and – most of all – not alone.

* * *

My suicide attempt was not the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I think what was worse was the loneliness I felt when I realized I didn’t know how to talk about it, and I didn’t have a safe space to have that conversation.

As an adult, I know that I’m not alone in my experience. There are so many attempt survivors worldwide, and many feel unsupported, isolated, and shamed into silence.

However, there’s so much we can all do to make attempt survivors feel more supported.

This list is a place to start, and should be part of an ongoing conversation about how to make survivors feel safer, respected, and visible.

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If you’re feeling suicidal, please reach out to someone. If you’re in the US you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255. If you’re not in the US, click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.

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Cross-posted from Everyday Feminism

Bipolar Disorder Will Not Win: A Letter to My Teenage Self

This week, I wanted to share a letter I wrote with the hopes that it inspires some of the readers here at LQTU. Sending you all so much love, hope, and positivity as you work to overcome your own struggles. Whatever they may be, please know that I believe in you!

The illustration features the author, Sam, seated in a restaurant booth with a younger version of himself.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

Dear Sam,

You’re not going to believe this, but you’re my hero.

“Who, me?” you’re wondering. “What did I do?”

You saved my life.

It may not feel like you did much of anything, but you are the reason that I’m here — me, Sam, six years from now.

When you made the brave choice to continue living, despite everything in your body begging for you to give in, you gave me a chance.

The chance to become a writer, to live in California with my amazing partner, to make a difference in this world through my activism, to live a life I am both proud of and happy to be living.

I can’t thank you enough for that chance.

I don’t know if you realized it at the time, but each time you asked for help, each time you forgave yourself and treated yourself compassionately, each time you chose to let a wound heal instead of inflicting another, each time you showed up to therapy when you felt like you had nothing to say — you were giving me and so many others a chance.

You gave 17-year-old-you the chance to graduate from high school.

You gave 19-year-old-you the chance to meet the love of your life.

You gave 20-year-old-you the chance to transition.

You gave 22-year-old-you the chance to graduate college.

You gave 23-year-old-you the opportunity to get a master’s degree, to move across the country to the San Francisco Bay, to travel to Europe, to mend your relationship with your parents, and most importantly, to find happiness.

There were times when we were both convinced that bipolar disorder would swallow us whole, leaving nothing but our broken bones behind. It’s a frightening disorder. It can make us feel like we have lost control, like there is a terrible darkness inside of us, pushing us forward like a puppeteer as we act out our worst nightmares.

Sometimes it seems like the darkness is all we will ever know and all we have ever been.

I remember that feeling, even now, years later. I remember what it was like to feel like my blood was composed of shadows, pumped in and out of my heart, consuming every last spark, every urge to live.

But when you made the choice to keep going, you gave every future you the chance to become something great, to experience something beautiful, to learn something new. You gave every future you the chance to fall in love, to fall out of love, to meet new people and travel to new places, to help someone in need and inspire someone to do the same.

That is an amazing gift. In fact, it’s the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.

You didn’t know what the future held, but you were willing to give it another try. And I want to tell you that your strength and courage is the reason why I am here today. I’m alive. You gave me that chance.

You gave us that chance.

I can’t promise that the darkness will go away forever. I can’t promise that it will never come back.

The thing about darkness is that it cannot destroy. It’s just the absence of light, the hiding of what was once visible to us. Shadows do not destroy the things that they encompass — they mask them. And Sam, when it feels like your strength is gone, when your ability to love and your will to live are nowhere to be found, please remember that underneath the darkness those things still breathe, still thrash, still live.

Bipolar disorder cannot take your courage away from you, because that courage is a part of who you are.

That courage is what gave rise to me — your older self, the one that still lives to this day, despite every perilous suicide attempt, every painful wound, every relentless depression. I am still alive because you had the audacity to live, and the will to survive.

I know you spent years wondering if your life mattered. And it does, to a lot of people, many of whom you haven’t even met yet. But if that’s difficult to imagine (I know that it is), there’s only one person that you need to remember: You. Your life will always matter to me — the future you, the one that needs you to keep going, the one that desperately wants to be a part of this life, the one that has so much living yet to do.

I’m here, on the other side, living proof that happiness isn’t a fleeting daydream but rather, your future and my present; happiness is a warm light that extends as far as the eye can see, and you deserve to see it.

It can feel as if the walls are closing all around you, and that there is nothing left to hold onto. But there is a future you that needs you to stay alive. There’s a future you that’s writing a book. There’s a future you that’s falling deeply in love. There’s a future you that’s laying in bed, happy to be alive. There’s a future you that’s eating the best damn pizza he’s ever had in a cafe in Italy (no, really, we visit Italy).

There’s a future you that inspires people — real, living people — to keep going.

And Sam, there’s a future you that needs me, too. If I’ve learned anything from you, it’s that I have to push forward — not because I’m certain that things will get better, but because there’s a future me that deserves to see this through.

If I could, I would travel back in time, and we would have coffee together. We would sit, you and I, so I could thank you properly for everything you’ve done for me. For seeing the crisis counselor, even though you were afraid to trust her; for throwing away the razors, even when the urge to hurt yourself was so raw and so real; for not listening to the voices, even when they kept you awake all night; for taking those mood stabilizers, even though medication scared you; for crying when you needed to, even when you were afraid of seeming weak; for getting up each day, even when your body was so, so heavy.

Most of all, I would thank you for being here, and for choosing to endure this pain so I could have the chance to live.

With Gratitude,

The Future You

P.S. Yes, “he.” You’re transgender — but don’t worry, you’ll figure that out with time.

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I Am Queer, I Am Non-Binary, and I Don’t Know What it Means to Feel Safe

[The image features the author, Sam, glancing nervously over his shoulder while a hostile stranger smirks from across the aisle of the bus.]

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

From the moment I stepped onto the bus, there was something about me that didn’t sit right with you.

You couldn’t put your finger on it, but I knew what it was from the start, from the way that you looked at me.

You heard my voice as I greeted the driver. As you eyed me up and down, searching for my curves, you decided that I was, indeed, “a woman who was trying to be a man.”

And I think that’s what got your goat. I think you didn’t like that I had the nerve to stray outside of what you thought I ought to be.

I took my seat, and after I did, my partner – a masculine queer who, shocker, you also didn’t care for – sat next to me. You crinkled your nose at us, as if we smelled vile, as if we were rotten to you. But you moved over a seat to be closer to us anyway, to be sure that we would hear you when you spoke to us.

“You getting married soon?” you ask us. This would normally be a harmless question, but you say it with a growl in your voice, staring daggers. You say it in a way that sounds angry, hostile.

I begin to feel afraid, wondering how many of my trans siblings had conversations that started just like this one but ended with blows to their skulls.

“We’re…”

I remember the time we were nearly run over by an SUV, the way I screamed expletives down the street while bystanders pretended that I didn’t exist and that I didn’t hurt. I remember being told, shortly after, “Sam, the police don’t care about hate crimes. Let’s go home.” I remember our friend being beaten with a baseball bat, found unconscious and bloodied and broken. I remember all the close calls that felt too close, too near, and too present.

In my panicked state, I blurt out, “We’re… sisters.”

I pretend to laugh, and my partner, playing along, nervously chuckles.

“I want you to get married,” you push. “I want to be there. I want to watch.”

Your eyes widen, and you laugh, licking your lips like a carnivore staring down fresh meat. I begin to feel nauseous.

My partner and I get up to move to the back of the bus, and when I turn around to see if you’re following, your face contorts as your throat makes a deep hacking sound. I watch, seemingly in slow motion, as you rise from your seat to spit at us. I watch your phlegm splat onto the bus floor, inches away from my heels.

I want to yell obscenities at you. I want to tell you to rot in hell. I want to scream until I fracture your ear drums.

But I say nothing. I say nothing at all, because being transgender means never knowing if a small altercation could lead to violence. And because getting the last word between us runs the risk of those being the last words I ever speak. And it’s a risk I won’t let myself take.

The driver says nothing, and the other passengers on the bus say nothing, and you, satisfied with yourself, take your seat again.

I shroud myself in the silence, and I try to steady my shaking hands. I spend the next fifteen minutes – which feel like a lifetime – pretending to stare out the window, while I feel your eyes on me, your mouth forming a gleeful, delighted smirk.

You’ve put me in my place, haven’t you? Seeing me so powerless makes you feel something, something you enjoy, something that makes you straighten your spine a little and bare your teeth.

I try to imagine what you must be thinking. Maybe it’s the same thing that teenage boy was thinking when he tweeted to me, “Die, tranny faggot scum.” Maybe it’s the same thing those men were thinking as they blew that red light, nearly hitting us as they yelled, “Straights have the right of way!”

Or maybe, just maybe, there were no words for it and, instead, you imagined a perfect, circular wound in the center of my forehead, matching the bullets held in the belly of your shotgun.

I can’t ride the bus for a week after the incident. I skip all my classes. I order takeout instead of going to the grocery store, and I call in sick to work. Not because this is the first time it’s ever happened and I’m shocked, but because it happens all too often and I am afraid that the next time will be the last time.

Every time I approach the bus stop, I can see your face, and the foul, disgusted looks you give me. When I close my eyes, I can hear the crackling sound in your throat as you prepare another loogie to spit in my direction. And everywhere I turn, I wonder which ones are like you, the ones who have forgotten my humanity. The ones that see me a wild animal to be put into submission.

For too many of us, when you are transgender, there is no such thing as feeling safe.

I try to remember a time when I could ride the bus, or walk the streets, or encounter a stranger and not feel that sudden twinge in my gut, that wound up feeling that readies my body for fight or flight. I try to remember a time when I was more gentle, when I smiled at people I didn’t know, and I met the eyes of every person who looked at me and I did not look away.

These days, my head hangs low, and I look through everyone as if I were walking amongst ghosts.

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

Editor’s Note: We at LQTU! want to acknowledge and affirm that, by and large, trans women of color carry the burden of violence in our community. That being said, Sam shares his experience with the hopes of offering some insight into his fears and experiences around street harassment as a white queer and non-binary person. We previously wrote a brief piece about the street harassment that trans women face as well, and today’s piece is not meant to talk over, compare/contrast, or ignore this reality. We encourage anyone in the trans community to share their stories and contribute to this ongoing conversation.

7 Ways to Lovingly Support Your Gender Non-Binary Partner

This is a piece I posted over at Everyday Feminism that I wanted to cross-post here. This advice, while geared towards romantic partners, can more generally be applied to anyone who has a gender non-binary person in their life.

The image features the author, Sam, playfully biting his partner's face while his partner appears both confused and amused.

My fiance, Ray, and I. Yes, I am biting Ray’s face. Yes, there was consent.

I still remember the moment I came out as genderqueer to my then-partner. I was finally sharing a deep and important truth about myself: I was ready to transition and was overjoyed at the prospect of having my partner by my side.  

But for him, my transition was threatening.

“I just wouldn’t find you attractive anymore,” he told me.

That was all he would say about the matter. My heart broke that day.

While his sexual preferences are his prerogative, he had failed to be supportive. That made me afraid to transition. I was afraid of being abandoned, afraid that I could not be loved as I was.

I never brought it up again and delayed my transition until our eventual breakup a year later.

Partners can have a big impact on our transitions, for better or for worse. A partner’s reaction to our coming out can devastate us – as in my case. My partner’s reaction made me fearful that transitioning would ultimately result in tragedy.

I thought that it was better to live a lie than live without the person I loved, and that was not only unfair, but it was also untrue. It wasn’t my transition that was the problem – it was my partner’s lack of understanding and empathy for what I was going through.

Rejecting our transition is rejecting who we are on a deep and essential level, and the pain that comes with that can be agonizing.

But when our partners support us through this experience, it can make all the difference. It can make what can be a frightening beginning evolve into a beautiful journey.

This is why it’s so important to learn how to best support your non-binary partners.

If you are a cisgender partner looking to be supportive of your non-binary partner, you’ve already taken the first step. Making a commitment to being there for the person you love can make all the difference.

With that in mind, here are seven ways that you can support your non-binary partner:

1. Do Listen to Your Partner – Don’t Invalidate Their Experiences

If your partner has trusted you enough to talk about their gender and their experiences as non-binary, it is important not to break that trust.

If you aren’t non-binary, or even if you are, you may not relate to or understand everything your partner is saying. That understanding will come with time. Your job, for now, is to listen and validate those experiences.

Remember: This is your partner’s lived experience. And living as non-binary and coming out are often difficult experiences.

So telling your partner that their gender isn’t real, that it sounds absurd, or that you don’t believe what they’re saying are all offensive and awful responses. Your partner’s gender identity is for them to declare – and not for you to interrogate.

If your partner is coming out, believe them. If they are sharing something they have lived through, believe them.

A supportive partner is a partner that doesn’t undermine, talk over, or insult their non-binary partner. A supportive partner will do exactly that – support them.

Simply validating your non-binary partner’s experiences can go a long way.

2. Do Be Honest About Your Feelings – Don’t Prioritize Your Feelings Over Your Partner’s

You are allowed to be afraid. You are allowed to be confused. You are allowed to be sad.

Your partner’s identity can have an impact on your relationship, and that can bring about a lot of changes that are intimidating and even scary.

You should be honest about how you feel and talk about your feelings. However, it’s important that when you do disclose how you feel, you are doing it at the right time and aren’t prioritizing your feelings over your partner’s.

For example, when I came out to my ex, he didn’t offer his support or engage with what I had said.

Instead, he prioritized his feelings over mine. He de-centered a conversation about my identity, and instead, refocused it on himself, without indicating that he had heard what I said or cared.

Instead, think of phrasing it this way: “Thank you for trusting me with this. I am completely supportive of your transition and believe you should do what you need to do to be happy. I have some fears, but we can talk about that whenever you’re ready.”

When you’re discussing your partner’s gender identity, whether they’ve just come out or it’s years after the fact, it’s important to give your non-binary partner the space to talk about their identity without worrying that you will take it as an opportunity to talk about you and your feelings instead.

Be honest about how you feel, but discuss those feelings in a way that is respectful of your partner and allows them to feel heard.

3. Do Educate Yourself About Non-Binary People – Don’t Expect Your Partner to Teach You

If you want your non-binary partner to love you forever, doing some research on your own time is the way to their heart, I promise.

While it’s great to ask questions and be curious, your partner wants to be your partner – not your educator. The role of an educator can be stressful, tedious, and tiring. It’s also unfair to expect your partner to teach you everything there is to know.

There are great resources around the net. Everyday Feminism actually has a whole guide to non-binary gender. Reading about some myths regarding non-binary folks is always a good idea, and brushing up on your terminology never hurts.

Read about non-binary people and their experiences. I’ve got a pretty interesting blog if I do say so myself, and Neutrois Nonsense is another one of my personal favorites. If you’re on Twitter, I am a big fan of Charlie (@cutequeer96) who always keeps it real.

Tumblr has an abundance of resources. One of the particularly awesome ones, Ask a Non-Binary, allows users to anonymously ask questions about non-binary identities. They have tags where you can read up on previously asked questions as well.

Non-binary people can sometimes feel like mythical creatures if we don’t know where to look. But the Internet is a magical place, my friend, so use it!

4. Do Be Mindful of the Language That You Use – Don’t Forget to Use That Language at All Times

This is a given, but using your partner’s pronouns is not optional – it’s mandatory.

This also means the language you use to describe your partner may have to change.

Ask your partner if they are comfortable being referred to as a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” or if a neutral term like “partner” is what they prefer. Be sure to check in about nicknames you’ve given each other, too; your pet names might need an update as well.

If friends or family are using the wrong pronouns, educate them and remind them of your partner’s pronouns.

Don’t expect your partner to do all the work. Be an ally, and call out incorrect language usage when you see it, so that your partner doesn’t have to shoulder the burden alone.

Finally, use the correct terminology at all times, unless they’ve stated otherwise. Don’t use their pronouns in front of them, but use the incorrect pronouns behind their back.

Yes, you might trip up sometimes. But as long as you’re putting in a sincere effort, your partner will definitely appreciate it.

5. Do Offer to Help in Whatever Ways You Can – Don’t Assume You Know What’s Best for Them

Your non-binary partner may need your help from time to time, as being non-binary isn’t always easy.

Dysphoria, for example, is a very real part of my life. I often feel depression and panic in relation to certain gendered parts of my body, like my chest, and need my partners to be patient when I’m having a difficult time.

I also feel particularly distressed after family gatherings, where I am misgendered or criticized for my gender presentation. My partners know that after such get-togethers, I may need extra support and care.

Ask your partner how you can help.

Do they need you to accompany them to a hormone therapy appointment? Do they want a chest binder for their birthday? Do they want you to accompany them when they go dress shopping? Do they need a nice, home-cooked meal on days when their dysphoria keeps them in bed?

Don’t assume that you know what they need or what their triggers are. Instead, let them teach you about their needs. You may be surprised.

6. Do Have Conversations About Boundaries – Don’t Push Those Boundaries

This article on having sex with trans folks is required reading if, at some point in the future, you and your partner plan on becoming intimate or if you’re already doing the deed.

Boundaries are an important thing to keep in mind with your partner, especially since you may be unfamiliar with what kinds of boundaries your non-binary partner has or what could trigger dysphoria.

Having conversations about what parts of the body are okay to touch, what kinds of sexual acts your partner is comfortable with, and what your partner needs during a sexual encounter are all important things to talk about before getting busy – not after something has gone wrong.

It’s important to have this conversation even if you don’t plan on having sex or if your partner identifies as asexual.

Physical boundaries exist in contexts beyond sex. For example, your partner may not be comfortable with PDA, or might find it triggering to be pulled in for a hug by their hips.

Talk about touch – what to touch, what not to touch, and where the boundaries are. And respect those boundaries, always.

7. Do Be Supportive Without Conditions – Don’t Discourage Your Partner from Transitioning

Regardless of how you feel about your partner’s identity, transition, or body, you should be unconditionally loving and supportive.

If your partner wants to bind their breasts, it’s their right to. If your partner wants to start wearing dresses, it’s their choice. If your partner is going to grow a beard, power to them.

Being supportive means respecting the choices your non-binary partner makes about their body and their gender expression, regardless of what your feelings about it may be.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts. No “if you don’t cut your hair,” no “and I can’t call you by that name,” no “but your pronouns are so confusing.”

If you can’t love your partner for who they really are, in whatever gendered or non-gendered form that takes, you need to ask yourself if this relationship is right for you both.

A transition could be a deal-breaker for you. And you need to be honest if that’s the case.

***

Today, I am happily engaged to my biggest supporter — one who helped me through every step of my transition. They helped me squeeze into my first chest binder, they were the first to try out my masculine pronouns, and they taught me how to tie a tie.

On more than one occasion, they left work early when my dysphoria had me hiding beneath the covers. Without a complaint, they crawled into bed with me where we watched home renovation programs and chatted about dream apartments and hardwood floors and termites until we fell asleep.

Having someone by my side through it all helped me to realize how much of a difference a compassionate partner can make.

At the end of the day, the best way to support a non-binary partner is to give them the love, encouragement, and room they need to grow.

Not only do they need that from you, they deserve it, too.

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A Guide to Self-Care for People with Anxiety

The image features a metal case, presumably a first aid kit, with the words "SELF CARE" on top.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

[The image features a metal case, presumably a first aid kit, with the words “SELF CARE” on top.]

 

Holy anxiety, batman. If there’s one thing readers want to hear more about, it’s my experiences with anxiety — namely, how I cope with it. It seems like a lot of us are still trying to navigate this tricky condition.

Therapy and medication can help, but a lot of how I manage my anxiety is based on a regular, consistent practice of self-care.

I think that self-care — defined as intentional actions taken to improve one’s sense of well-being — has made a significant difference in my overall mood, and has been especially helpful in dealing with my anxiety.

While the ups and downs that come with anxiety are not always within our control, there are a lot of things we can do to impact our mood and make the wave a little easier to ride. It’s not about getting rid of anxiety altogether — it’s about changing the way we respond to anxiety to lessen the impact.

So when I start to feel anxious, here’s what I do, step by step:

 

 

Step 1: ENGAGE with what’s making you anxious.

Okay, so your gut is probably telling you to run for the hills. Engaging with what’s making you anxious is probably the LAST thing you want to do. I know that my personal tendency is to avoid what makes me anxious.

But often times, we need to engage with our anxiety, because avoidance can make it worse.

A great way to do this is to write down what’s making you anxious in one column, and on the other column, write one thing you could do to make this situation less stressful or more manageable.

Here’s an example:

I’m anxious about writing my annotations paper.

– I could read over the handouts to get a better idea of how to complete the assignment.

I’m anxious about taking the train to Walnut Creek.

– I could listen to music on the train or ask a friend to go with me.

Most of the time, the steps I come up with are reasonable and helpful. Part of what makes me freak out is feeling that I have no control or ability to impact the situation — but when I write down steps that I can take, I feel as though I have a little more agency.

But if there’s a problem and I can’t figure out any steps to take, I know that it’s probably time to seek out a therapist, counselor, healer, or trusted friend to brainstorm some solutions.

Once I’ve written out what’s making me anxious and I’ve come up with one idea that could, at the very least, make things a little easier, I take my notebook and I put it aside. I then move onto the next step.

 

 

Step 2: DISTRACT yourself and give yourself a break.

For me, I know that once I’ve engaged with my anxiety, I need a break so I can steady myself. Once I’ve put the notebook on my bookshelf, I start looking for some healthy distractions to stabilize my mood.

What works for me may be different than what works for you. I like to watch something that will make me laugh on Netflix. I also like to play Nintendo, particularly games that are less action-based and aren’t particularly demanding (in case you’re wondering, this includes Mario Party, Animal Crossing, and a variety of puzzle games). I like to read a fantasy novel, or color in a coloring book, or bake a new recipe.

My favorite distractions will transport me to a new reality (television, video games, books), particularly if it involves roleplaying (which is why I pick up the Nintendo most often). I especially like distractions that utilize my imagination because they seem to distract me the most.

The key is to find things that are distracting without any triggers. I find that the internet is full of triggers for me, so I tend to avoid it when I’m taking care of myself. We should always be looking for healthy distractions — activities that bring you down a notch — instead of unhealthy distractions, which may numb you for a moment but create more stress or consequences down the line.

Once I’m distracted and feeling less frazzled, I go onto the next step…

 

 

Step 3: RELAX in a calming environment.

Hold on. What’s the difference between a distraction and something that relaxes? Distractions are things that take me out of my head, out of my body, and neutralize my mood. Relaxing, on the other hand, will place me back in my body, and help me to feel good again.

After I’ve distracted myself enough, I seek out a relaxing activity that engages my body. For some folks, it’s a guided meditation while they’re laying in bed, and for others, it’s a stroll through their favorite bookstore or park.

Visualize a place that makes you feel safe, and imagine something soothing that you could do in that space. Find something that makes your body feel less heavy — something that involves good smells, good tastes, good feelings.

Decide if that place is indoors or outdoors, at home or away. Decide if it involves people or if it’s something you do by yourself.

I’ve learned overtime that my safe space is a hot shower, maybe with cinnamon incense burning or my favorite soap from LUSH.

Why distract before relaxing? If I’m too anxious and I just jump in the shower, I spend more time thinking about what I’m anxious about than actually relaxing in the space. I need to bring the stakes down a little bit before I can actually relax. Distractions get me to a more neutral place so I can actually relax when it’s time to do so.

Your self-care regimen will probably look different from mine. But once you figure out what distracts you and what relaxes you, be sure to write it down to remember later on.

 

 

Step 4: If needed, REACH OUT for support.

If you haven’t already, it might be a good idea to seek out support from a friend, a loved one, a therapist, a healer. Simply going it alone is not always an effective way of caring for ourselves, and we often need the support of others to manage our anxiety.

When you’re asking for someone’s support or help, I recommend being upfront and using an “I feel and I need” statement to directly communicate your needs.

For example:

I felt so anxious earlier, and I need someone to listen. Can we talk?

I feel so paranoid right now, and I might need a new dose on this medication. Can we make an appointment?

I feel really stressed about this assignment and need some clarity. Can you help me understand it better?

I feel depressed, and I might need a therapist. Can you recommend one?

Articulating what you’re feeling, what you need, and a concrete step that you can take together can help make the conversation a productive one. Remember that people are not mind-readers, and the best way to getting what you need is to ask for it.

By asking the person if they can help, you also ensure that they are not taking on a stress that they can’t handle. You’re giving them permission to opt in, or opt out.

If you aren’t sure what you’re feeling or what you need, you can also say so. “I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now and I’m not sure what I need right now, but I thought that we could talk.” We can’t always articulate our anxiety, but talking through it with someone can still be helpful.

After I’ve gotten some support, I move onto the last step.

 

 

Step 5: REVISIT your list.

Remember the list of stressful stuff that we created at Step 1? When you’re able to, it’s a good idea to return to that list.

Sometimes anxiety comes from feeling overwhelmed, so commit to doing just one, maybe two things on that list. I recommend starting with the easiest thing on the list to get you going. Sometimes starting is the hardest part.

It’s important to take things one step at a time. Commit to just a few steps, and see what happens. You may find that after you get going, you feel motivated to take on more. That’s great! But if not, doing just one or two things at a time will hopefully lessen the anxiety that you felt in the beginning.

 

*   *   *

A lot of folks think of self-care as a way of dealing with stress after we’ve reached our limit. However, I disagree. It should not be exclusively a crisis resource, but something that we practice regularly. I do a little distracting and relaxing every single day. I set aside an hour or so to make sure that I’m taking care of myself.

If you’re interested in more about self-care, check out this fantastic video by my good friend Melissa Fabello:

If you don’t have the time, make the time. You wouldn’t wait until your house is flooded before fixing a simple leak, right?

Our bodies and our minds undergo a lot of wear and tear, because life, my friends, can be very stressful. So do the maintenance instead of waiting for life to blow up in your face; nurture yourself and care for yourself each and every day.

Why? Because you, without a doubt, are worth it.

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