Like anyone with Bipolar, I have a list of triggers that some days seems impossibly long. Some days, they’re everywhere. Triggers seem ubiquitous. But even with the numbers, and through the struggles to learn myself, I finally thought I had a handle on all my triggers—bad weather, people yelling, the feeling of letting someone down—but then IT happened, the thing that changed my life as much as having a mental illness: I realized I was gay. For years I had toyed with the thought that I was, actually, bisexual. Or even pansexual. But those labels didn’t fit as well as I felt they should. Something didn’t feel right. Until it all clicked for me one day as I was scrolling through random celebrity photos on the internet. I was gay. That was the word. Bisexual didn’t fit, and neither did pansexual, but gay—lesbian—fit perfectly. And the second I knew, in my heart, what I was, I couldn’t hold it in. I told everyone, within days: family and friends. I mentioned it to strangers, even. And I learned very quickly: I have many more triggers than I thought.
New to a wholehearted identification with the LGBTQ community, new to thinking of myself—knowing myself—as gay, my skin was as thin as paper when it came to perceived attacks on my identity. I felt as vulnerable and exposed as in the months after people learned I had a mental illness, so many years ago. I felt naked, like by coming out I had stripped away some vital protection that came with people thinking of me as straight, or even bisexual—capable, at least, of feeling sexual attraction to men—and that now I walked around people with an intimate part of me laid bare. To be gay, bi, pan, asexual, or queer in some other way is so much more than sex, but that’s what I felt like everyone in my family and close circle of friends were thinking about when they talked to me. I felt so incredibly revealed.
This feeling of intense and permeating vulnerability triggered depression almost immediately. The days, and months, after coming out to my family and friends were very dark for me. I cried a lot, wept, something I never do. My emotions and sense of self worth were like bobbing corks in the rapids of a river: any current, any splash could fling them someplace unsafe. I hated that the topic of every other conversation with my conservative, highly religious family involved my sexuality, something I had been raised to keep quiet and private. These conversations were in no way harsh or demeaning, or even unkind at all. I was shown much love by my family, and my friends. But all my emotions were exposed to the surface air and any little hint of disappointment, or even questions I didn’t know how to answer, could set off a terrible crying spree and days or weeks of depression.
It took me the entire first year to come to grips with what was really happening. My mother’s fear for my immortal soul, my father’s innocent questions about my standing with God, all their earnest but harmful attempts to understand how I resolved my identity as a Christian with my identity as a lesbian, these all penetrated so deeply for the simple reason that deep down, I had all the same fears and questions, I struggled just as hard to make sense of the confluence of faith, religion, and sexuality. Everything they said or asked, I had already faced the same confusion. My vulnerability to their words, their innocent beliefs, came from the fact that in my heart, I was lost.
How to make sense of faith and religion, let alone both and sexuality is not an easy topic. I’m still learning, still growing in my ability to sort out the truth from hurtful lies. I still believe in God, I’m still a staunch liberal. I still pray, I’m still gay, out, and unashamed—or working on it. I still consider myself a person of faith, I’m still working out for myself what that really means for me. Paradoxes, I’ve found, are often what’s left when all the falsities are stripped away. The truth is deeply personal, and hard to see through the murk of fear and disappointment and pain. But I’ve come out of that dark time to a place where my triggers are a little more normal: rainy days and arguments, pretty much. I’ve learned one of the most important truths of my life: to protect yourself, you must first believe you are worth protecting. To fight for yourself, you must believe in your cause. And to be accepted, you must first accept yourself for everything that you are, no matter the sense it does or does not make. Self-acceptance, and self-love, are the two things I’m learning to hold on to now. My triggers will always be there, some more potent than others, but my skin is only thin if I do not reinforce it from the inside out. Bipolar can exist with lesbianism, which can exist with faith. I believe that to my core.