Mental health is a topic LGBTQ+ people still find difficult to approach, even with their closest circle of friends. If you ask us, we are always gay and cheerfully happy. How ironic, considering the staggering amount of data proving otherwise. Sexual minorities suffer worse mental health than the sexual majority. Supported by Stonewall, a recent study survey shows that our community is suffering from an epidemic of poor mental health: half of LGBTQ+ people have experienced depression, and three in five have experienced anxiety. Most worryingly, one in eight people aged 18-24 had attempted to end their lives, and almost half of the transgender community thought about taking their lives.
Jar of hearts
Yes, you can have a body to die for, a perfect job, bathe in money, and be in the ideal relationship. You can have it all and still be a mental mess. You shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling low when many people seem to be doing much worse than you do. Who knows what it took to get you where you are right now? Our private life is an intricate labyrinth. You can quickly lose your way in there, especially if your story is not as straightforward as it appears to be from the outside, or if this is simply the way you are from birth. If you find life an uphill struggle, you are not alone, and it’s okay. It’s acceptable to talk about it with anyone happy to listen.
There is a shelf in my heart where a single container stands isolated. It’s see-through glass, and its label reads DO NOT OPEN. Years ago, when at my lowest, I somehow managed to find the strength to compress and bottle up the darkness within myself and virtually seal it away in what I eventually filed in my brain as a Jar of hearts. I have always identified my condition with the ability to feel life, and the world, in ways only people who experience depression can understand.
Abuse and assault
I remember crying the first time I saw a clown in a circus. I was eleven years old. Seeing the man behind the make-up and immediately identifying with him and his concealed desperation gave me nightmares for weeks. Even at that age, I subconsciously understood how we all try to hide hellish realities behind the mask we are likely to wear as soon as we wake up. Perhaps, my pre-puberty attraction to my male friends played a part in this. Having realised I had homosexual tendencies, I considered the environment around me, and I decided to not only hide but also that something was wrong with me, something unspeakable, a curse. My reasoning doesn’t come as a surprise. Young gay and bisexual men are at significantly greater risk of poor mental health than older men because they experience more homophobic abuse and assault.
A while ago, I underwent initial training for a new job. After six weeks, my classmates elected me the funniest of the group. I won easily, without even trying. As it turns out, stand-up comedy would be my talent if I ever decide to enter a beauty pageant and embrace love and world peace. Creative people in general and comedians in particular are very likely to dive into depression. It may have something to do with quick wit. When you process stuff quickly, you are bound to question your mission in life more than your average Joe, and, as I know too well, questions can be deadly. There is only so much you can do to keep the darkness at bay, so many projects you can take on and strategically place between yourself and the moment you come to realise that waking up in the morning no longer holds any meaning. Human beings who take their life do not do it lightly. If you are one of those who perceive suicide as a selfish act, you should reconsider your angle. The thinking process, weighing up the pros and cons, occurs over a very long period. The anguish and guilt often involved during this time show that individuals who commit suicide have no single selfish bone in their bodies. In truth, committing suicide is extraordinarily intimate and lonely, an act devastatingly tragic and hopeless in its finality. “Selfish” is what we do to soothe the pain generated by something inconceivable. We cannot imagine that someone we love dearly may commit such an act and then leave us to deal with the horror left behind. Therefore, we blame it on selfishness. Acceptance is an elusive concept regarding feelings and matters of the heart.
I have lost count of the times I have debated the impact of my unnatural death on the essential people in my life. Above all, I picture my mum by my coffin, her face reduced to stone, crazed with unimaginable pain. All I feel is remorse for considering such atrocity, coupled with the awareness of not knowing how dark tomorrow could be, and the day after tomorrow, and then the next, on repeat for the foreseeable future, as the shadows stretch and cover my heart. For the time being, green grass covers my land of reason, but the Jar of hearts is still stored deep inside me as a reminder that I will be forever a work in progress and that sanity is as fragile as a jar of glass. Mine is not a call for help. I am in a place where I cherish my good days, which stretch into good months, even good years. Yes, I experience strings of bad days. Yes, at times, I find it difficult to get out of bed, but I do get up because I make a conscious effort to keep living, one day at a time, doing the things that ultimately make me feel alive and worthy. Above all, I do not hold any shame in admitting how fragile I am.
On the contrary, I cherish and embrace my many vulnerabilities because natural, everlasting strength comes from within. Learn to love yourself. The rest will follow.