As a community, LGBT people have a lot of mental health struggles! Historically our very identities and experiences have been pathologized, and in modern times we’re “almost 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder,” often exacerbated by living under deeply oppressive systems. A lot of the requests from readers for advice and for personal writing are about mental health, so today we thought we’d share with you about our brain situations, what helps, what doesn’t, and what we’re still working on.
Ali, 29, Staff Writer (New York City)
I am now a person who has four panic attacks a day?
It’s not like I’ve never had a panic attack before this summer. I’d have one once every four years, thereabouts. But now I have panic attacks like folks giving birth have contractions. I try to get things done between them, and then when I feel one starting to happen, I go hide somewhere and let it wash over me. On Thursday I hid behind a First Republic Bank and cried before going to teach some undergraduates. This is new. I am still figuring out how to be a person who has panic attacks, which really means I am still figuring out how to be a person. I sure can tell you what doesn’t work — waiting until the good health insurance kicks in to find a therapist. I can decidedly tell you that this does not work when you are having four panic attacks a day. I have found that taking a walk helps. I’m steps from Central Park; there has been quite a bit of communing with the Angel of Bethesda Fountain because it’s the perfect walk distance for me to feel calmer after. I am also a big fan of reading comics my friends have written (currently obsessed with Hi-Fi Fight Club and Moonstruck) because I can hear their voices in them so, so clearly, it’s like they’re sitting next to me and I feel far less alone. Texting folks — gosh, my poor friends, they are hearing so much more from me lately. Hopefully they’re enjoying the conversations as much as I am.
Mey, 30, Trans Editor (Los Angeles)
Oh gosh, I have depression and anxiety disorders and have dealt with a lot of suicidal ideation throughout my life
I first started therapy when I was in the fifth grade after my friend killed himself. But I was only in it for about a year. Then three years later I had my first serious thought about killing myself. I didn’t go to therapy for a long time after that, but started up again two years ago, when I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety issues, and now I go weekly. I’m also on 40 mg of Prozac, which is working really well for me. Right now is an especially tough time for me. I was hospitalized for six days at the end of May for a suicide attempt and I’m still working on getting better from that. I have good and bad days, but I’m definitely doing work that is helping me. I talk to my therapist and take my pills and talk to friends, like Fia and Vi and Cecelia, and I talk to my girlfriends and hold them tight and I take breaths. I’m still working on not exploding little things into giant things, putting an entire world of meaning on meaningless things and seeing everything in black and white, but I’m doing better at that too. I’ve got work to do and I’m looking forward to doing it.
Tiara, 32, Staff Writer (Melbourne, Australia)
”Diagnostic Dilemma” – Depression? Panic disorder? Bipolar II? PMDD? ADHD? BPD? WHO KNOWS
I was first diagnosed with panic disorder and depression the year I turned 17 after a string of panic attacks. I’d suspected that I was some level depressed for some time (I was first suicidal at 11 due to immense racism) but it was still remarkable to get diagnosed and treated given that I grew up in Malaysia, which refuses to acknowledge that mental health is a thing that exists. (I would later learn that I was far from the only person in my school with mental health issues, but we all got dismissed as “hysterical” and “making it up for attention”; mind you, this was an all-girls school.) I went on Xanax, which made me a zombie even with the smallest dose possible, and first on Aurorix for a short while before the headaches made me switch to Serzone, which worked great, but then I had to come off Serzone because apparently it can lead to liver failure! So I was off-meds for about a year and asides from the odd panic attack I was mostly fine, probably because I was also done with school and thus far away from my biggest stressor.
About a year later I moved to Australia and for various reasons was placed back on treatment — this time, Effexor, a.k.a. THE WORST. After a few years I found that I hit a plateau and decided to come off Effexor — a very slow and involved process that felt like withdrawal from hard drugs. Right after that was a trial of various drugs that had different levels of suitability: sodium valproate (made me ditzy), Seroquel (made me sleepy), Remeron (a last ditch attempt before I moved to the Bay Area because it was closest to Serzone). My doc tested me for brain problems and toxoplasmosis (the “crazy cat lady” parasite) and both turned out fine. In a letter to future doctors he started off by saying that I was a “diagnostic dilemma.”
When I moved to the States I found student health insurance to be a scam. They wouldn’t cover the visit to the psychiatrist that prescribed me Lamictal (which I’m still on with the Remeron) or both my meds. An emergency when I suddenly ran out of one of my meds turned out to be a blessing in disguise; the Alameda County health services got me signed onto Obamacare, which got me free meds and free GP visits for the rest of my time there. I also found an amazing therapist who understood the challenges of being an international student (Morgan you rock).
I’m back in Australia now, in a different city after nine months in Malaysia where I was languishing from lack of therapy options (my original psych had retired). Part of my move was because I needed my mental health care; I’m seeing a therapist again and will soon have an appointment with a local psychiatrist to review my treatment.
What I’ve found really helps for me is keeping myself ridiculously busy. People ask me how I’m able to be involved in so many things; most of the time it’s literally the only thing getting me out of bed in the morning. Creative pursuits are especially good for this. I’m in the middle of a massive performance art production right now and it’s incredible how I’m able to put aside my angst for a while to work as my character. I’m also a talker: I feel much better talking about my issues with friends or therapists, and even just having their company helps a LOT. They don’t need to actively engage with me, we can just hang out while rectangling and it’s good.
Meditation does jack shit. Exercise makes me feel worse. (Creative physical pursuits, like circus or dance, are great because I get to focus on the creative side.) Sometimes the best I can do is sit through it and let it pass. Some days I’m “alive by default” — somehow I’m still going.
I’m still trying to manage the hormonal cycle/PMDD aspect of this. Treatment for PMDD is very hit-or-miss and it’s annoying to feel randomly in despair for a week and a half almost every month. I also suspect that I have ADD, given how similar my brain works to people with ADD and how I have similar issues with focus and attention — I’m hoping the new psychiatrist will have some leads on that.
Erin, 31, Staff Writer (Los Angeles, CA)
I suspect, after having many conversations with doctors over the years, that the concussions I suffered in college – particularly one that left me with cognitive problems in the weeks that followed – played a big part in how intensely my depression rolled out in in my early 20s. Depression super runs on both sides of my family, so the genetics were there, but how dramatically and suddenly my sleep schedule/emotional state changed makes me think the two were very linked. Regardless of what it was, it really made an entrance!
My family is very catholic, which in my experience means you don’t talk about emotions or believe that mental health is actual a thing, and so my vocalization of some of these issues when they presented fell mostly on deaf ears. Luckily I had just enough drive to make an appointment for myself (which isn’t always a given), and after a couple of tries got on a medication that works for me.
I know a lot of people don’t like to “alter their brain” or whatever some people say when they don’t want to take pharmaceutical drugs, but I am a huge advocate of being on pharmaceutical drugs when you need them!!! And I do, so I am, and I will likely be on them for the rest of my life because I’ve tried not being on them and it never goes well. Shout out to Wellbutrin love you boo.
Heather Hogan, 38, Senior Editor (Astoria, New York)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, ADHD
I was no kidding eight years old the first time I thought I was having a heart attack. I couldn’t breathe and my chest hurt like a rubber band was wrapped around it and I just laid in bed and assumed I was dying and never told anyone. It became so normal to feel that way and so normal to not have anyone to talk to about it that I was in my late 20s before a therapist — who I was seeing for a completely different thing — was like, “Oh whoa hey kiddo you could actually NOT feel like that; most people don’t.” After some more talking about some more things over some more time she also finally confirmed what every teacher in my life had suspected: ADHD! I went on and off a bunch of medicines trying to find a good combo but nothing ever really worked perfectly for me, and so a couple of years ago I went off all my meds because I was determined to figure out exactly how GAD and SAD and ADHD were manifesting themselves in my life.
I manage my ADHD by managing my environment. No clutter, everything has a place and at the end of every night or the beginning of every morning I put everything in that place, white noise, a handwritten planner/task list system, soft clothes, soft light, aromatherapy, routines, routines, routines.
I manage my GAD and SAD with exercise, meditation, journaling, sleep, and therapy. I know for sure that I could squash some of my bigger symptoms with meds; they’ve worked for me in the past and it might become time again for them in the future. Mental health isn’t static, you know? It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. But for now I’m doing better than I ever have with that combination of actions. Meditation and mindfulness, especially, have transformed the inside of my head in ways I didn’t think possible. It’s not just my thought patterns that have changed; it’s also my relationship to the way I think. The quality of my mind, as Headspace Andy would say. I’m calmer and more at peace and more purposeful, even when I’m sad or angry or worried. Also: ASMR has done a number on my anxiety. I’m not sure I was ever relaxed, not one time ever in my life, before it.
(Look, man, I thought all this stuff was was baloney rubbish too until it worked for me.)
Luckily I live and work in my own house so I have a lot of control over everything. It’s when I’m in unfamiliar or shared spaces that things get tricky. I don’t know how to balance what I need with my desire to make sure everyone else has what they need and it wears me down pretty fast. I’m actually not sure there’s a way to have a handle on that. I think instead of trying to manage my whole deal in those situations I just try to maintain until I can get back home. May the goddesses protect me if I ever have to work in an open office floor plan.
Stef, 33, Vapid Fluff Editor, Brooklyn, NY
Major depressive disorder!!!
I’ve had some sort of depression most of my life; my parents first put me into therapy in third grade and I’ve been sort of bouncing around trying to figure out what the fuck is wrong with me ever since. I was staunchly anti-medication for a very long time, until a couple of years ago when a friend explained that for her, medication hadn’t changed who she was as a person; it had made it easier to be herself. When she put it like that, it didn’t sound so bad, so now I take what seems to be an abnormally high level of Wellbutrin every day. I have to admit that even with that and weekly therapy with a person I like a lot, I still struggle with my depression on a daily basis. There’s an essay I’m figuring out how to finish for this very website about a time I was involuntarily committed because of it, which is something I’m still struggling to work through. It’s a story I’m never really quite sure how to tell.
I know that I can stave off the nameless dread by being creative and staying busy, spending time with friends doing things that make me feel productive. When I have time to wallow in it, that’s when things get tricky. I have never been a person who found exercise cathartic, unfortunately, though people love to tell me how much it would help. In stressful situations, I tend to Scorp(io) out and feel things very intensely before truly understanding what specifically has made me so upset. My therapist has had me start journaling, which I curiously haven’t done since I was a kid, and that helps me organize my thoughts.
Interestingly, I’m in the middle of taking a bunch of blood tests to figure out if there is some kind of physical issue happening somewhere that’s causing me to feel particularly out of it. There are certainly days where I wonder if my entire personality is just a vitamin D deficiency or a thyroid problem! I’m a lot of fun to be around.
Nora, 30, Fashion & Beauty Editor (Brooklyn, NY)
Acute Anxiety and Some Suspected Other Stuff
I only became aware of my clinical anxiety six months or so ago; before that, I spent a lot of time blaming myself for not just bootstrapping myself into normal adult life. On a day-to-day basis, much of my anxiety is of the social variety; even on meds, it’s painful for me to introduce myself to new people, attend events that I really ought to for the sake of my career and friendships, etc. Weed helps to an extent, but I’ve started CBT again because while I don’t consider medication a sign of failure, I am afraid (shocking, I know) of a future in which I lean solely on the crutch of pharmaceuticals. I still have to identify my triggers and how to deal with them responsibly.
I also realize that I need to talk to my therapist and psychiatrist about the seasonal, if not general, depression I suspect I have — the effect of overcast skies on my mood and productivity are no joke — and about how the effects of emotional abuse and codependency in my family are magnified by my illness(es), and vice versa. I have a ways to go, but it’s been so crucial for me in my mental health journey to be around people who talk openly about their own battles with their brains; it’s nice to know I’m not alone, or just making stuff up.
Alaina, 26, Staff Writer (Austin, TX)
Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, ADHD!!!!!!!
I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder after I tried to kill myself when I was 17. In my last year of college, in an attempt to find the treatment I needed, I got tested for ADHD and found out I also had PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder! I’m a lot of fun.
I am honestly still learning how to manage my mental illnesses. I stopped drinking this summer because I hate how I feel when I’m drunk, but it’s also one of my favorite ways to forget about things that are causing me stress. I have a pretty active spiritual life and lean heavily on spirituality and religious rituals to work myself out of crisis. I see a psychiatrist twice a year and re-evaluate how my meds are doing. I also live a very regimented, controlled life. There is very little surprise in my day-to-day business, and that helps me to feel secure/as if the earth isn’t going to fling me into space.
I do not go to therapy, and that is my biggest hurdle right now. I don’t drive and I don’t want to drive, and getting around in Austin without a car is doable, but also something that I have to really prepare for. I also go to a huge school with an overworked staff of therapists who don’t have time to see me. These are all excuses. If I wanted to go to therapy, I could, but I hate talking about myself. I hate how personal therapy is, and I hate the anxiety I feel when I walk into a group therapy session. My favorite way to deal with feelings is to sleep until they go away, or to make plans to run away and become a hermit. Therapy is the exact opposite of that, and therefore I’ve got a lot of friction when it comes to seeing a therapist. Which means that I haven’t been to see a therapist since I started grad school over a year ago. Instead, I smoke a lot of weed and have gotten very comfortable crying in public.
Carrie, 29, Staff Writer (Los Angeles, CA)
I started going to therapy a few years ago to get over some writer’s block, which led to the discovery that I actually have an anxiety disorder. I haven’t received a detailed diagnosis because my therapist isn’t big on medicalese — I just know that I have anxiety and that it will run the place if I let it. It manifests as a feeling of perpetual guilt, like I’ve screwed something up before I’ve even begun, as well as the assumption that everything (from going to the grocery store to finishing an important project) is a Big Deal. I haven’t quite figured out how to shut down those running loops yet, though I’m getting closer. Now they just feel like outdated brain software that really needs an update.
Cutting down on phone time has made the single biggest difference recently. I find that the less I use social media, the happier I am, which should come as a surprise to precisely no one. I read two books back to back that helped me get a handle on routines that were doing more harm than good: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and (especially) Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi. Now I spend a lot more time in silence, with no background noise to spice up tasks like washing dishes or driving, and it’s remarkable how much calmer my brain feels when I give it space to just exist. I also personally rely on Buddhism and the old standbys of exercise, therapy (!!!), water, and sleep. None of that fixes everything, but my mind gets a lot quieter when I have all the routines locked in.
Alexis, 23, Staff Writer (Maryland/USA)
C-PTSD/BPD (possibly on the spectrum and working with therapists on possible diagnosis)
I was first aware of my mental health conditions, well at least one of them, when I was like nine. I asked my mom, “Does it ever feel like you’re not really here? Like you’re in a movie and you’re just watching your life movie play out?” and when she couldn’t understand that, I started to be on the lookout for what could be wrong with me. I was diagnosed with depression in high school and PTSD and BPD around the time I would’ve been in college so between 2012 and 2015.
Leaning into the emotion usually helps me get on the other side of it. And even when I’m feeling something, knowing I don’t have to act on that emotion or that I can wait until I feel more even, helps. Talking in third person/narrating are big things for me, because it helps me get out of the loop in my head and try to be more present. Therapy has saved me more than I can count. I’ve found that stressballs are the best kind of fidget for me. They help me stay grounded especially when I’m dissociating. Writing helps though I avoid it more than most creative work because it’s too… honest? Like, sometimes I wanna get better but also I just want a nap and for one second not to feel like I’m always an emergency. These help: Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, Child Trauma Handbook by Ricky Greenwald, The Moment by T.C. Anderson, Self Care After R*pe, and The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison and I keep an archive of sorts of things that help me when I’m going through Tumblr.
I have no idea how to manage obsessions especially during manic phases. Like, it’s gotten to the point where I can be in the middle of one and I keep trying to walk away from it, but end up talking about it in my down time or going down a good rabbit hole, and I feel myself leaving my body while constantly asking, ”Okay, but are you finished or are you done?” and the answer for some reason is always no. I’m also fantastic at self-sabotage. Like, I know what to do, but I’m pretty sure making myself miserable will do it better.
Molly P, 32, Staff Writer (Montana/USA)
Depression and anxiety
I had a panic attack my sophomore year of college after an entire lifetime of living with anxiety, and after that, a psychiatrist put me on antidepressants. What works for me is a mix of chemical treatment — Cymbalta and Wellbutrin, holla! — and talk therapy with my therapist I’ve been seeing for about five years now. I also have a medical marijuana card to crack back on that anxiety, which works really well and in coordination with my other meds (my primary care physician and therapist and I are a goddamn dream team).
Sometimes, even after years of knowing I have depression and anxiety and how low they can knock me, I still get surprised by the depths of the lows, and am taken aback and get confused as to why my life is so terrible, why I’m suddenly worthless, why I’m sure no one loves me, why I’m certain I’m toxic. That knocks me around for a few, then I try to get my feet under me and remember: This shit makes my brain a liar about me. That’s hard to grasp sometimes, even now.
Reneice Charles, 28, Staff Writer (Los Angeles, CA/USA)
I was diagnosed in high school but first became aware in middle school. My family made a big move when I was starting 5th grade and it really took a toll on my mental health. I’ve lived with depression of varying intensities ever since then. I need to be social in order to manage my depression as it’s strongest grip on me comes when I isolate myself. I’ve also done a lot of self-work to be very self aware because I’m the type of person that if I let one thing fall off in terms of self-care or mental health management, I eventually snowball and fall completely off track. I’ve had to get better at catching myself when I start to change my eating based on my emotions or avoid social contact or begin losing interest in things and stop in my tracks as soon as I’ve noticed it’s happening so I can figure out what the trigger is and keep it from derailing my whole life.
The biggest item I’ve yet to master is getting out of bed when I feel like sleeping all day and know that the desire is driven by depression not a true need for rest. I used to be a therapist and I have my masters in social work so I know literally all the coping skills and tricks but knowing and achieving are different beasts. It almost makes it worse because I know that I know exactly what to do and how, but I just can not drag myself out of bed some days. It’s always a bummer to lose that time, but I just have to have faith in myself that I’ll get better at it over time and try not to be too hard on myself about it in the meantime.
Rachel, 29, Managing Editor (Massachusetts, USA)
Depression, Anxiety, General Inconvenient Emotional Baggage
The first time anyone ever told me I was depressed was when I was maybe 12 and the court-mandated therapist I was seeing gave me a depression scale test. No one ever really needed to tell me I was anxious because since I was very young I had been doing things like refusing to fall asleep alone, having screaming night terrors, and avoiding going near windows at night because I thought something was waiting outside them. Much of my adult life has been trying to manage those and how they dovetail specifically with all my baggage and weird learned behaviors from growing up with a dad with narcissistic personality disorder, which leaves you with a lot of codependency and weird trauma stuff.
I’ve been in and out of therapy for sooooo long, starting when I was about ten through middle school. I later went back into therapy briefly in 2011 (so, when I was 23) during something of a personal crisis when a friend gently forced me into seeing her therapist as a bandaid for a few months. I found my own therapist at the end of 2016 and I’m glad I did! I’ve never used antidepressants or a regular medication regimen for anxiety; I’ve had it suggested to me but it but it never felt like a good fit (although I do have a Xanax prescription, and I take one maybe a few times a month). Cognitive behavioral therapy is often recommended for depression/anxiety and I do find it helpful sometimes (I like the app Koko a lot, which has a CBT basis) but overall I’ve found a dialectical behavior therapy approach more useful for me; its focus is on helping with “emotional regulation,” which is definitely Something Of A Struggle for me. I will also be real with you and say that some mildly hokey self-help books have been really good, like the Codependent No More books and Harriet Lerner‘s unfortunately-named “Dance of” books.
I’m still working on — and will probably always be working on! — managing my anxiety and discerning between what’s a realistic concern and what’s an irrational fear; also how to actually experience emotions and then address them through the confusing haze of depression and maladaptive coping mechanisms. It’s about the journey not the destination etc! The real lesson of mental health was the friends we made along the way!!!
Riese, 36, Michigan for another two weeks and then California!
Major Depressive Disorder, ADD, Fibromyalgia, Social Anxiety
I showed signs of depression pretty early on, I was an “intense” child. Things should’ve been okay but things felt like an abyss a lot too. I was sent to a series of therapists as a kid and pre-teen, starting when my parents got divorced, then again when my Dad died, then again when I was having nightly mental breakdowns during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, then again in college when I started falling apart for a series of new and brilliant reasons. But I always got my way out of it. I didn’t like talking or crying, especially to strangers. Then I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and forced to see a psychiatrist regularly to get my meds, and so I kept seeing her for therapy all through college. It was hard to sort out the differences between dealing with difficult stuff and being messed up. It still is sometimes.
What helps is medication and exercise! After college, I moved to New York and it took about a year to get set up on Medicaid with a therapist and psychiatrist but I did. Her name was Lindsay and I love her. I saw her for four years and then she moved her practice and I got placed with a new therapist but she wasn’t Lindsay. So I moved to California and saw no therapists ’cause I couldn’t find one / was maybe avoiding myself. I went back to therapy about a year ago, in Michigan, they assigned me to a trauma specialist ‘cause of [things] and it was like the lowest place I’d ever been, even lower than when my Dad died, which I didn’t know was possible. This past year has been putting myself back together again, bit by bit by bit by bit.
Also working for myself and being my own boss gives me flexibility w/r/t my needs for how I work best and sleep and exercise.
I haven’t figured out how to manage social anxiety without alcohol or somebody else’s Xanax, which feels not ideal. And I feel like for some things, I’ve yet to really successfully & consistently employ any systems besides various medications. So yes, those things work? But they often have negative physical side effects so I can’t rely on them forever. That gives me anxiety! lol it’s a cycle.
Yvonne, 26, Senior Editor (Dallas, TX)
When I was coming out and having a really tough breakup in college, I had a horrible experience seeing a therapist for the first time at the university mental health center. The male therapist I got assigned to asked me inappropriate questions about my sex life and it made me hesitant to seek help from a therapist again.
I’ve never been officially diagnosed with any sort of anxiety disorder but I’m sure I have one. I’ve always been super anxious and worry about everything but I thought it was just the way I was and not something that was detrimental to my well-being. After college, my anxiety became more intense, especially when it came to my work and deadlines. I would spiral and it would paralyze me from getting my work done and stop me from enjoying my life. I recognized I needed to manage my anxiety in some way but I never got the courage to look for a therapist because of my previous experience and also because I thought it would be expensive. I tried dealing with it on my own. I did yoga, made to-do lists, planned out my goals and tasks, and generally wrote everything down. But my anxiety was just so overwhelming at times.
Last year I finally decided to try therapy! I found a therapist in my health insurance network and went biweekly for a few months. The therapist helped somewhat but I didn’t really like my therapist. She would say things that I’m guessing was supposed to be encouraging and helpful but they weren’t. I stopped going after Trump got elected because she made it seem like it wasn’t a big deal. I was frustrated with her and I thought this wasn’t the way I was supposed to feel when I went in to talk to a professional. I haven’t gone back to see a therapist or a doctor to really figure this out and I know I should. I’ll try again soon.