Oct 20, 2010
Hope is a gay unicorn
Today is Spirit Day, a grassroots effort to honor the teenagers who have taken their own lives recently in reaction to anti-gay bullying. As GLAAD says, “it’s also a way to show the hundreds of thousands of LGBT youth who face the same pressures and bullying, that there is a vast community of people who support them.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about anti-gay bullying lately, as have many people in the wake of the tragic suicides that have taken place this fall. I made an It Gets Better video with Amy to share our coming-out stories (and it does get better!), but because I was never bullied in school, I’ve felt a little lost as to what more I could do.
I’ve also read some of the critical commentary about Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, claiming that the videos are unhelpful because they don’t address diversity or actually make anything better right away. When I first watched some of the early It Gets Better videos, I admit I did think, “Wow, that’s a lot of white gay men. That doesn’t speak to me at all as a woman or an Asian American.”
You know what? That’s partly why I made my video. Because I wanted to put the faces of two women into that video stream, and because I’m a person of color. I could help in that way.
As for actually making things better, I agree with Dan Savage, who responded to his critics by saying that the videos can “give despairing kids in impossible situations a little thing called hope.”
And that’s what I want to blog about today. Hope.
I was never physically bullied in middle school or high school. But I did have some terrible, manipulative, mean-girl friendships — though they obviously weren’t really my “friends” — with girls who chastised and belittled me into doing what they wanted. Looking back on it, I guess this is as close to bullying as you can get. The thing is, I didn’t realize that’s what was happening. I thought, well, I just have trouble making friends.
And I did. I was pretty socially awkward for a long time. I spent my most enjoyable hours alone in my room, writing fiction. Writing saved me. Not once, but many, many times.
I’ve been clinically depressed at least twice in my life. Thinking back, I realize now that I was probably clinically depressed in eighth grade, too, when I was going through the worst of those mean-girl relationships. The reason I can tell? I can’t remember giant swaths of time in eighth grade. I also can’t remember months of my sophomore year in college, when I was clinically depressed over coming out. In my memory, it’s like the year began, and then suddenly the year was over, interspersed with memories of a couple of walks through campus to see my therapist.
In eighth grade, I did not have the benefit of therapy. I had my journal, and I wrote a novel. In that novel, a girl leaves home and eventually triumphs over an army of demons. Symbolic much? (Also, a total rip-off of Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, but hey, budding writers have to start somewhere!)
In college, I did have therapy, but honestly, I remember barely any of it. I wrote reams of bad poetry, though. Reams and reams of it. It was almost like automatic writing. I would sit alone and write and write and write. And eventually, I came out of the dark into the sun.
My next bout of depression occurred in my late 20s, when I was struggling with coming out yet again. (That’s right: I had to come out to myself twice. Once did not do the trick.) Again, I wrote a lot. It was during this time that I began working on Ash, which is about a girl who climbs out of very deep grief and comes to love herself. Funny, that.
Anyone who has been depressed both knows what it feels like and probably would like nothing more than to forget. It is like being trapped with no way out, and simultaneously, you don’t even care that there’s no way out. It just is. When you’re in that position, hope is like a unicorn: It’s a fantasy at best.
I’m sure that people told me, when I was depressed, that things would get better. But I can’t remember them doing that. If I saw an It Gets Better video at the time of my deepest depression, I actually don’t think it would have made an impression on me. But that’s me, and if those videos can make a positive difference for someone else, they are totally worth it.
What helped me was learning how to live with my depression — how to manage it. My therapist(s) helped me to do this by listening to me with kindness, and by giving me actual techniques for surviving the day. Things like: Shut off your phone after 10 p.m. so that your sleep won’t be interrupted. Things like: It’s OK to treat yourself to something nice on a bad day.
These are things that seriously would never have occurred to me, because depression erases your ability to be rational.
People who have been depressed once are also more likely to become depressed again. So, after my second bout of depression, I took a meditation class focused on mindfulness and depression to learn how I could possibly prevent further depression. That class included a number of practical tips that have made all the difference in my life, and if you’re interested in introducing mindfulness into your life as a way to manage depression, I highly recommend checking out The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness.
The point is, it is hard to get yourself out of the hole of depression. It’s a lot easier to sink into that hole and even build a little nest out of negative thoughts, wallowing in the pain and guilt so much that it begins to feel like it’s meant to be that way.
But it’s not. You’re meant to be living a life full of beauty and love, not despair and hate.
If you’re in that dark place, you need to seek out professional help. I also seriously recommend finding a therapist. There are many who will work on sliding scales if you don’t have health insurance, or if your insurance doesn’t cover mental healthcare, or if you’re simply broke. (I have been in all three situations while in therapy.) You can start here.
I’m not going to lie to you: It’s a long, hard climb out. It’s brutal. It requires a lot of work on your part, and sometimes it can seem like you’ll never, ever make it out. But I will tell you this: You can do it. I know you can, because I’ve done it, too.
Once you begin to take care of yourself, at some point along the path you are trudging — even if you feel like your feet are sinking into the mud and your body weighs a thousand tons — at some point I guarantee you will see that unicorn of hope in the distance. It might seem like a mirage at first, but it’s not. You can believe me, because I write fantasy novels. Hope, like that unicorn, is a tricky beast. It can sneak up on you. But it won’t do that unless you start looking for it.
And I swear, you don’t have to be a virgin. Or straight. In fact, I think most unicorns are gay.
You can do it. I believe in you with all my heart.