Pride 2017: Young, bipolar and gay - Katie's story
Digital team's blog
Changes in equality in the past twenty years have meant that society is changing for the better. However, some in the LGBTQ+ community experience difficulties that can affect their health and well-being. One of our campaigners, Katie, has shared her experiences of having mental health problems as well as being gay.
When I was 12, I realised that something about me was different, it took me a while to work it out but I finally got it: I didn’t fancy boys. Initially I fought it: surely I couldn’t be gay?! The idea that my friends and family might find out was terrifying, but the idea that the bullies at school would find out was unbearable. This fear came true when eventually I was outed and I struggled with homophobic ridicule and bullying.
It all became too much when I was 14 and I made an attempt to take my own life. This set in motion many turbulent years during which I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So now I wasn’t just gay I was also ‘mad’. One was bad enough but both? I couldn’t stand myself.
My self-loathing softened slightly when I met someone I was interested in. I couldn’t embrace calling myself ‘gay’ but I allowed myself to have feelings. This was a positive step but I soon encountered different problems. My relationships led to real struggles with partners’ families and friends. Not only were their daughters involved with a woman, that woman had bipolar. My bipolar and my sexuality seemed to frame me as someone not worthy of acceptance or capable of a loving relationship.
Shame made me shy away from the LGBTQ+ and mental health communities but as I got older I started reaching out. The LGBTQ+ community gave me a sense of solidarity, understanding and support. They introduced me to the Pride march and I went on my first at 16 years old. I felt such an overwhelming set of emotions: acceptance, joy, and as the name suggests, pride! It was extremely liberating. I was also surprised to realise that I was far from alone with my mental health struggles. In fact, many LGBTQ+ community battle with mental ill health. Studies show that LGBTQ+ have higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings and that nearly half of trans people under 26 have attempted suicide. Mental health is an integral part of being LGBTQ+.
Being part of the LGBTQ+ community combined with a growing acceptance of my bipolar means I have become more and more empowered to stand up against homophobia... the LGBTQ+ and mental health communities are powerful, positive forces in my recovery.
For my own mental health contacting Rethink Mental Illness’ advice and information service about my condition was a real breakthrough. Being able to ask questions in a non-judgmental way as well as the materials on managing mental health showed me that it was possible to live fully and well with bipolar. Information became my best weapon against my illness and having access to advice on practical issues such as finances and housing made sure I was well supported. Volunteering with Time to Change I started being open and having conversations about mental health. I encountered stigma along the way but for the first time I knew that those people were wrong.
When I first realised I was gay I felt hopeless. The shame I felt contributed to my ongoing mental health difficulties. Though the world has become more accepting, it still has a long way to go. Since embracing these aspects of myself I no longer hide in shame. I wear my gayness and my bipolar as badges of pride and I am committed to being an advocate for both. I will be proud to be marching with Rethink Mental Illness for London Pride this year, supporting the LGBTQ+ community and marching for better mental health.
If you need any practical help on issues such as the Mental Health Act, community care, welfare benefits, criminal justice and carers rights you can contact our Rethink Advice and Information Service. They also offer general help on living with mental illness, medication, care and treatment.
Rethink Mental Illness will be attending the London Pride parade on Saturday 8th of July for the very first time! If you spot us then please come and say hello. We'd love to hear your stories.