An Open Letter To Amanda Lauren From Someone ‘Beyond Help’

Having nearly died by suicide six years ago, I can imagine what people would have said about me. They would’ve talked about my deep depressions, my unpredictable rage, how lost I was.

Maybe, like you, they would’ve said that I was better off dead. Maybe, like you, they would have callously remarked that some people with mental illness can’t be helped.

Here’s a letter for you, Amanda, from someone “beyond help.”

You were right to judge yourself for exploiting Leah’s story, because it’s exactly what you did. You took the life of a mentally ill person and diminished it, deciding to use her struggles for your own personal gain.

Mentally ill people do not exist as entertainment for you. They do not exist as a sensational story to tell. They are not a product for your consumption. We are not property, we are not objects, we are not paychecks for you.

But ethics were never a consideration for you, Amanda.

Let’s look at the facts: You celebrated the death of a mentally ill person. In doing so, you told people everywhere, “Some people with mental illness are better off dead.”

And you believed it, too, it was the crux of your entire essay. You, a self-declared expert on mental health recovery, have decided that some people with mental illness would be doing themselves and the world a favor if they died.

I want to ask you something. What did you think you were offering the world in writing this? What good do you think you were doing? I can’t see the good, but I can see the immense damage and pain that you’ve caused my community and myself.

I can think of a mentally ill teenager that would read your essay and say, “Maybe I can’t make it after all. Maybe I’m not supposed to.”

I can think of a society that already stigmatizes mental illness saying, “See? Sometimes they’re just crazy and there’s nothing to be done.”

I can see relatives of mentally ill people saying, “Just give up already. There’s nothing we can do.”

I can see a police officer pulling the trigger, deciding in a split second, “He’s crazy, that makes him too dangerous.”

Mentally ill people die because of attitudes like yours.

They die because they stop believing in their ability to recover in a society that tells them they can’t. They die because the stigma around their illness – stigma that was rampant in your essay – prevents them from seeking out help or accessing treatment. They die because their support systems abandon them. They die because law enforcement ends their lives.

We are the victims of violence and trauma because we encounter people every day who see us as less than human – people like you, who believe that being crazy is an invitation for tragic mistreatment and even death.

Six years ago, they might have said that I was beyond help. They sure liked to emphasize how severe my disorders were, how dysfunctional I was. Like your “friend” Leah, they might have said that death spared me from a life of institutions and burdening my loved ones.

(Maybe an asshole ex-friend would’ve made a buck at xoJane talking about my life with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. A kid can dream, right?)

But let me explain something to you, Amanda.

I wasn’t beyond help.

And it took six medications, and it took a psychiatric hospitalization, and it took a hell of a lot of support from the people around me (who, no doubt, felt the burden of my illness at times), but I am slowly but surely climbing out of the depths of severe psychosis and depression.

People counted me out for years, thinking that I could never reassemble my life after mental illness had torn it apart. But those people were wrong.

And you were wrong.

You don’t get to decide, Amanda, which of us are “beyond help.” You also don’t get to decide which of us deserve to live. You don’t get to decide who has a chance and who doesn’t.

Leah could’ve had a chance – and while you toss confetti on her grave, I can’t help but think about all the people that would’ve done the same to me prior to my recovery.

It’s easy to take a glance at someone’s suffering and count them out. It is difficult – and it’s called empathy, you should try it sometime – to see that person as a whole human being that is irrevocably worthy of care, validation, and support.

Leah was deserving of that and more, not death – whether or not you believe it, regardless of what your essay says.

There are so many people like Leah in this world, grappling with severe mental illness, who are told that they will not or should not survive. They’re counted out before they’re ever given a chance to live. They’re reduced to their illness and denied their humanity by people like you.

But every mentally ill person, including Leah, deserves the chance to live their life and pursue recovery on their own terms.

And every mentally ill person has the right – the goddamn right – to be treated with dignity.

I know that there’d be a lot of confetti on my grave if I had died six years ago. But I’m glad that I made it through. And I’ll tell you why, Amanda.

I’m glad because I am still here to fight for mentally ill people. People who are considered too much, too sick, too crazy. People who are written off before they’re ever given a chance. People like Leah, and people like me.

Because we don’t deserve to die. We deserve to live, and not only that, but live to tell our stories the way they should be told.

Not by people who want to exploit our struggles, but by us, celebrating the people we’ve become because of them.

Leah doesn’t get that chance. But there are people out there who still can.

And I hope they take your essay with a grain of fucking salt.

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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).

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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.

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

Content notice: suicide. 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.

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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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Fat by Choice: Happy (and Healthy!) At the Intersections of Size and Mental Health

The illustration features a place setting with breakfast foods, and two hands: one clutching a spoon, the other clutching a bottle of pills.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

Almost two years ago now, I began taking a medication with the hope that I could finally manage the aggressive symptoms that came with mental illness. I was experiencing despondent, suicidal lows; I felt panicked, paranoid, and inexplicably angry.

But by far the worst part of what was happening was the feeling that I wasn’t a “somebody” and, instead, the host for this parasite known as bipolar.

And it was this feeling – the feeling that I was no longer a person but rather, a shell – that compelled me to try a medication that had not been around for very long.

To the surprise of both my doctor and myself, it worked. It worked astonishingly well. As the months progressed, I began to level out. The loud noise in my head began to dial back. The hopelessness gave way to a hesitant, fledgling optimism. The anger dulled and I was able to problem-solve without coming undone. I began to feel human again.

I remember thinking that it was too good to be true. In every fairytale I’d ever read, miracles like these came with a trade-off. You could have effortless beauty, but give up your first born; you could have strength or immortality or riches, but there was always the fine print.

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but when I noticed my body beginning to change, I was convinced that my day of reckoning had come. I could be mentally healthy, sure, but in return, the universe was going to issue me a new challenge.

I know what you might be thinking. No, gaining weight was not the challenge, though at first I thought it was. Gaining weight is not inherently a bad thing. Bodies themselves are not inherently bad.

The challenge was dealing with the internalized fatphobia I didn’t even know I had.

I was a good little feminist. Wait, wasn’t I? I had no problem with fat. In fact, both my parents were classified as “obese” and I had some idea, as someone who considered themselves very committed to body positive activism, of what it might mean to occupy space as a person of size.

And yet, when I went from being a tiny, petite little queer to being a member of the Chub Club, I reacted in such a strong, visceral way, that it became obvious that this body change had come with a lot of baggage – and I’m not just talking about physical weight, I mean, the weight of internalized oppression.

Because, holy cow, the words that flew out of my mouth? I’d look down at my round and protruding belly and say something like, “This is disgusting. I’m disgusting.”

I’d glance at my stretch marks and say something like, “I failed. I should’ve been dieting. I should’ve been exercising. This is my fault.”

As if the fat on my body made me inherently bad, some kind of failure; as if being fat makes me some kind of disgusting and unlovable human being. These are the ideas I swore I’d never think, let alone say about someone, and yet here I was, taking a shit on myself.

Being thin had allowed me to bury the fatphobia and leave it unchecked. But having highly visible fat, rolls, stretch marks – the whole shebang – finally brought to the surface what was there all along. As thin, I had the privilege of not confronting my fatphobia. But sixty pounds later, I had no choice but to examine my attitudes, because there was nowhere to hide.

I not only could see the fatphobia in myself, but I saw it in others around me.

When I was thin, no one had ever questioned whether or not I was healthy. Now that I was “overweight,” people around me started to ask if I was “okay.” As I received my official classification as “overweight,” and doctors began to suggest taking away the medication that had finally stabilized my life, I was disgusted.

Disgusted because it was as if my mental health counted for nothing. At my heaviest, I was undoubtedly at my healthiest – I was mentally sound, happy, eating well, stretching my legs. I had never been this whole, never felt this human. I was able to live my life without the constant, looming threat of bipolar, putting my life in danger and turning me into something I could not recognize.

And yet, the idea was that it was better for me to be thin and suicidal than it was to be fat and mentally healthy.

At times, horrifying as it is, I found myself thinking this same thing.

Many people around me, doctors included, ignored the psychological aspects of health and the risks associated with a relapse of my disorder and, instead, obsessed over my weight. Everyone around me was more concerned for me when I was heavier than they ever were when I was depressed, empty, and thin.

Thankfully, there were good doctors in my life, too, just as there were good people, who assured me that health was more than just a number on the scale. I began seriously investing in my practice of self-love, challenging the fatphobia when I felt it kicking in.

I became an advocate for myself, and discovered what it meant to put body positivism into action – not just as a way to boost my feminist cred, but when I face myself in the mirror and decide if I will smile back or pick myself apart.

To this day, I am still on that same medication that transformed my body. This is my choice. I will proudly remain a member of the Chub Club, and rock this curvy, chunky, fabulous body with pride.

I refuse to return to the days when the thought of ending my life was as mechanical as brushing my teeth in the morning. I refuse to return to the days when depression was a given, and happiness was a stranger. I refuse to return to the days when I had no hope, no desire, and no purpose.

And moreover, I refuse to buy into the idea that health is not possible at every size. I’m healthy in all the ways that count, and I know better than to equate thinness with wellness; I know better than to equate fatness with bad, with ugly, with less than, with harm.

When I look at the stretch marks, pink and fresh and new on my body, I’m reminded of all that I’ve weathered to get to this place of health, wholeness, and happiness.

Why would I ever apologize for that? And why would I choose any differently?

Editor’s Note: We use the word “fat” in the title to be an alternative to “overweight,” as we believe that “overweight” suggests a normative weight and upholds the privileging of some sizes over others (hence placing it in quotations throughout the piece). We in no way seek to undermine the struggles of folks who actively identify as Fat and are perceived as fat in the world, which Sam only experiences to a very limited extent.

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Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

Coming Out Again: Why More Queer Folks with Mental Illnesses Need to Speak Out

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

Many of us in the LGBTQIA+ community know all too well what it’s like to be queer with a mental illness.

I know this because when I tell you that I have a mental illness, more than half of you say, “Me too.” We have these conversations on the regular – whispers at Pride, a confession in our support groups, anonymously in our forums, or if we’re feeling brave, it’s an off-hand comment when a friend is struggling.

But too often, these conversations are happening behind closed doors, and the folks who need us most are often left on the other side.

The stigma of being a person with a mental illness is enormous enough on its own, but to be queer at the same time is daunting.

But without visibility, too many people in our community are left convinced that they are alone as they occupy an intersection that too few are willing to openly claim.

So many folks in our community have struggled with their mental health, and yet the only time it’s considered appropriate to open this “can of worms” is when someone in our community commits suicide. Suddenly, we collectively nod and, feeling brave, we admit, “I’ve been there.”

We talk about suicide, but we often neglect to discuss mental health more generally. We neglect to talk about the pain and instead we talk about the consequences.

Every other day, there’s an email in my inbox from someone in our community who says, “You’re transgender and bipolar? I thought I was the only one.”

The idea that anyone in our community would be convinced that they are alone in this struggle is indicative of a bigger issue. This tells me that conversations about mental health and mental illness in the queer community aren’t accessible enough for everyone.

And ultimately, if we continue to have these conversations in private – afraid to admit that we are here, queer, AND neuroatypical – we uphold the isolation, the fear, and the stigma that convinces so many queer people that they must suffer alone.

Where are the conversations about depression? Where are the conversations about anxiety? Where are the conversations about queers with OCD, queers with bipolar disorder, queers with borderline personality disorder, that are actually written by queer people?

And are these conversations accessible? Or are they hidden away on the top shelf, just out of reach?

Instead of telling queer youth that it gets better, why aren’t we having more open and honest conversations about what it means to struggle with your mental health as queer? What it means to be queer and hospitalized? What it takes to survive when you are marginalized at this complicated intersection where the stigma and the pain are so compounded?

It’s not always safe to reveal a diagnosis, and it’s scary enough to come out once. But if you can, I’m asking you to come out twice. I’m asking you to leave the closet once and for all. I want to issue a challenge to my community – to those of you who come to me and say, “yes, me too” – to emphatically remind others like you that they, too, are not the only ones.

Because straight and cis people aren’t the only ones who grapple with mental illnesses – in fact, these disorders disproportionately impact our community, and fuel the tragic losses we incur as more and more of us take our own lives.

Inevitably, if we only have these conversations under pseudonyms, behind avatars, or in the comfort of our own homes, we cannot advocate for ourselves, and we cannot reach the people in our community who desperately need our stories, our words, and our voices.

I know I am not the only genderqueer person who has a mental illness – but so long as we live in a world where people are actually convinced that I am the only one, or worse, do not know that I and others exist, LGBTQIA+ people will continue taking their own lives under the impression that people like them don’t have a future, people like them don’t matter, or people like them aren’t meant to exist.

I am asking you to be visible, because visibility is everything when you are in the depths of these illnesses, unable to imagine a future that has you in it.

Visibility is everything when the pill bottle is in your hand, and all you can see is the pain you’ve silently endured day after day. I can tell you (and maybe you remember, too, because maybe you’ve been there) that a bottle of pills is nothing in comparison to the years of pain that break you down, pain that you are convinced that no one understands.

I understand. So, so many queer folks understand. And there are people in our community, right now, who need to know that we exist.

We still live in a world where queer people with mental health struggles are largely invisible and isolated. But that is within our power to change, if we choose to extend our hand and reach out to them, and if we make ourselves known.

The next time you are wondering if your story could make a difference, remember what I am saying: I thought the same thing. I didn’t know if my words could ever make a difference. But you know what? Five million views later – and countless letters that start with, “I thought it was just me” and “I am so glad I found you” and “you make me believe in something” – have proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that our voices are needed.

Our voices could save someone’s life.

So where do we start? There’s a call for submissions for a great anthology, HEADCASE, of folks who are both queer and neuroatypical; there’s an awesome website, Queer Mental Health, that’s looking for new writers.

Heck, you can just do what I did and start a blog (and let me know so I can go promote the fuck out of it).

Volunteer at your local LGBTQIA+ community centers, volunteer for queer hotlines, or start a support group for folks in your area and get the discussion going. And of course, support the organizations, writers, bloggers, and communities who are keeping these conversations alive.

It can be as simple as saying “me too” when someone in your community talks about their depression instead of just nodding; it can be as simple as saying “I know what that’s like” or “I have that too” or, most importantly, affirming that they are not alone.

It can be as powerful as saying, “I have depression and I need help” to the folks in your community, instead of choosing to keep it to yourself and going it alone. And it can be as beautiful as saying, “How can I help?” when someone else opens up to you.

We are no strangers to struggling. But we, as a community, are also not strangers to supporting one another, advocating for change, and creating a refuge for those who need it most.

And when it comes to our mental health, it’s not enough to have these conversations where only a few people can access them.

We need to make our voices loud enough so that no one doubts that we are here.

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Editor’s Note: This article is by no means intending to invalidate or ignore the many courageous activists who are, indeed, very open about their mental health struggles and identify as queer. It is meant to inspire more of us to take on this work, and to support others who are doing it.

We’d also like to acknowledge that not everyone is in a position to “come out,” and safety should always be your first priority.

Help keep this blog free, accessible, and queer as hell!

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