"Coming out of the sanity closet…": Talking about mental health

 

sanity

I never had a coming out moment. I’ve long considered myself “not straight” (whatever that means), but it’s been on a need to know basis. Bar a few situations that a lady really does not reveal in polite company, my not-straight orientation has been largely theoretical. I’ll drop past girl attractions into conversation from time to time, and beyond a few expressions of surprise it has never been a big deal. I also have a male partner, which generally means people assume I’m straight. I’ve discussed my frustrations with this in past Biscuit articles, and it’s not exactly ideal that people somewhere in the middle of the sexuality scale get shoved to either end, but for me it’s also meant that I’ve found the idea of coming out fairly alien. People know me, people know my partner, what more do they need to know?

My real “coming out” moment was when I told the world about my mental health problems.

I’d moved away from home for a job, and it hadn’t worked out. The process of deciding to move back was pretty traumatic. My depression had made doing a difficult job and living in a town where I know no-one next to impossible to cope with. So I came back, but I was faced with how to explain this to everyone. I’d had a moving away party. I’d been excited. And now I was slinking home with my tail between my legs because I hadn’t been able to cope. It was embarrassing.

So I came out, in a blog post I wrote while surrounded by suitcases on an East Midlands train. I explained that I’d had depression for years, that it didn’t rule my life but that it had made this one particular life choice unachievable. The response i got was overwhelming – messages from people I hadn’t spoken to in a long time expressing support or telling me about their own similar struggles, and a real outpouring of love.

It was a feeling of freedom- this thing that I’d been so desperate to hide for so long was out in the open, and people were being supportive. No-one shunned me, or judged me, or called me crazy. These were all things I’d been afraid of. That’s the thing about depression – it makes you fear the worst, completely irrationally. I’d known that my friends and family were good people, and yet I’d expected a horrible reaction from them. Seeing that horrible reaction completely fail to materialise felt like a turning point, like I could be open with my problems and get support, not humiliation.

Since then, I’ve developed a few rules for how I talk about mental health, and some of them can be equally useful for talking about sexuality. The biggest one is to avoid euphemism. Say what you mean, and say it with confidence.Trying to hide what I mean behind a screen of social acceptability just made me even more nervous and likely to back out of telling the truth. I’m not ‘a bit down’, I’m not ‘to weak to cope’, I have a medical condition called depression that makes some aspects of life more difficult. Since I had that realisation about my health, I’ve applied it a bit more to my sexuality. I’m less likely to try and pass of my attractions as a passing phase, or a brief experiment, I’m owning them as a real part of my life and identity.

I still consider who I fancy and what’s going on in my head to be largely private matters. I don’t frequently talk about either. But it is so good to know that I can talk about them when I want to, and that when I do the responses will be overwhelmingly positive. So, fellow crazies, please consider joining me out in the open- the more we talk about our health and our needs, the more the world has to listen.

 

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Samantha Neville-Jones

Samantha is a twenty-something teacher and aspiring writer. She lives in south London with a boy and two pet gerbils, and loves obscure sitcoms, serious debates on silly topics, and jammy dodgers.

2 Responses to "Coming out of the sanity closet…": Talking about mental health

  • Fiona says:

    Brilliant post Samantha, rings true.
    It’s so difficult to talk about mental health and depression (and sexuality) but if we are to understand ourselves and others we have to.
    Well done and thanks!

  • mm
    Charlotte Dingle says:

    Thank you for this piece, Samantha – your admiring Biscuit editor really likes it and it really resonates!

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