Queer Query: The Stigma

My illness is killing me, but no one else can see it.

When I first wake up, the illness is what keeps me in bed an hour more than I planned. It comes down on me like an invisible force, making my movements more sloppy and my voice more slurred. I forget to take a shower until the afternoon. I’ll sometimes forget to brush my teeth. Not because I don’t realize it’s disgusting, but because it takes more effort than it does to take a bus somewhere. At least the bus will carry me.

I get out of the shower. Just drying myself off and putting clothes on is like a war with myself. If I finish getting ready this morning, then it means I have to continue on with my life. Some days, it’s like I’m not actually there and I’m just a robot going with the motions. I’m blurry faced. I see my arms doing the work, but it’s like seeing another person finishing these actions. These chores. I’m not awake for the first couple hours of the day, whether it starts at 4:00 AM or 4:00 PM, or in between those times. I could sleep for more than twelve hours and I’ll still feel like sleeping.

After I look myself into the mirror, a little voice tells me about my stretch marks. It scolds me for the cellulite, the acne, or the weight. The width of my arms are too wide. Sometimes, I can barely stand looking at myself. Other times, I act like I’m an emperor and that I can take over the universe. But, that time wasn’t today.

Then, my cell phone rings. I’m awakened like cold water was poured onto me. I’m alive and I have things I need to do. Someone calls me to (Indirectly) remind me that I’m alive. “You need to pick up your sister from school,” or “You need to buy groceries”, or “I have work that I need you to do.” As a senior, I get out of school pretty early every day. It isn’t like I have anything in particular to do, right? Like a robot, I brush my hair and ignore the little voices that poke at me and I slide my sandals on. I never wear sneakers, although that’s probably better for my health. It just takes too much energy.

The illness shows its ugly head when I’m in the middle of work, or buying groceries, or getting my sister at school, and I feel like I’m drowning. The responsibilities are there, and they pinch me like the voices do, but in a different way. When people talk to me at an office or store, I can’t smile. I can’t bring myself to use a friendly tone, so I avoid everyone in the area. Because they deserve better, and my medications aren’t making it better. I’m printing files at the library at noon, and I’m doing paperwork an hour later, and the distance from the printer to a desk is like walking through sand dunes. I don’t have time to think.

I’m scrambling to do these things before I have to get my sister. I don’t have a single complicated thought in my head until I see other people. I’m in the middle of the car pick-up lane, and I see a flood of kids like me and I feel utter alienation.

I drive up to the middle school, where I see my sister enter my car. She tells me she needs food(Oh wait, I forgot to eat too - again?), and I drive. I drive and I drive and I drive. She tells me about her day, and about her friends, and I can’t bring myself to laugh along with her and nod. I can’t sing along with her to the radio, and I can’t even describe what it’s like to her. The illness puts me into its own isolated way of being, and all I can do is pretend.

We’re across town and my sister can’t look at me. If I try cheering her up, she snaps at me. Not because she blames me, but because she’s tired and school is draining and she doesn’t want to spend the next few hours in the heat of the sun.

I get out of my car when we arrive, and the sun is melting off the makeup I wear over my blemishes. I finally feel the drain of the day. I give my father the paperwork and I give him a hug. My arms are tired even though I haven’t been carrying car parts and tools like he has all day. I look down at my hands and I feel guilty for not being tired like he is. I am emotionally tired. He is physically and mentally tired. I cannot describe why I feel the way I do. He has an actual reason, and I don’t. Not visibly.

My sister talks about boys, and my dad talks about the girls he dated in the past. He tells my sister and me that one day, we’ll have husbands and not to marry an Israeli, like my mother was.

I told him I liked girls the summer before, but he pretends now I didn’t. I did come out as queer, but it doesn’t visibly seem like so because I’m not dating girls in front of him. So what does it matter? I guess nothing of me will be validated to him, not ever, not the mental illness nor my queerness nor my accomplishments. I try not to let it get me down.

So when he tells me the next day he needs me for an errand, I pretend to sleep in.

That’s the way of my life.

The illness shows when I have destructive thoughts, and I begin to wonder if they’re correct. Am I actually messed up in the head? Am I actually going nowhere in life? By the time I shovel food into my mouth and am ready to retire for the day, I’m too tired for my usual outlets. I cannot write or sing or draw to feel better anymore. So I just sleep, and sleep, and sleep. Even when I am awake, I am a groggy mess that barely qualifies as ‘alive’, and yet that’s what I am.

This is depression. This is anxiety. This is everything else I cannot diagnose.

It’s like being pushed into an ocean during a riptide, but everyone else is swimming fine. I don’t want to get into the water, but I get pushed into it and the riptide carries me along. Everyone is obsessed with getting to the shore, but it’s no big deal to them. Everyone gets up, goes to work, and just swims. Like their side of the ocean doesn’t have a current hurling them out into the depths of the sea. The lifeguards glance at you, sometimes, but no big deal. You’re not drowning yet.

Why bother if you look alright from the outside?

My illness is killing me, but nobody else can see it. Nobody sees me.

I wrote the above during one of the darkest periods of my life. I am not fine by any means, but I am doing exponentially better. I’m sharing the above to show what a day is like in the life of someone who deals with mental illness. It can strip you of your humanity, stability, your joys, your sense of self, your self esteem, and everything else you’ve ever known and twist it. Twist it until your soul is something you don’t recognize anymore. The most painful thing: the entire experience can be utterly invisible from the outside.

In the end, nobody saved me. I ignored everything for years growing up and tried suppressing it. All that did was cause me to spiral further down that emptiness. I still deal with the effects of that everyday of my life.

I just wanted to say: to anyone who is still experiencing the above, please reach out. If you’re able to get to the other side, you’re a survivor of your own mind. Even if all you do is accomplish a feeling of Just Okay, or Not Alright (But Trying). Nobody can take away that feeling of endurance from your mind, that you survived this and that you can go on to kick depression’s ass. (Or anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia, or what have you.)

To the people who aren’t experiencing it: your comprehension of what a neurodivergent person goes through day-to-day can save a person’s life. You don’t need to be the person that “saves them”, you don’t need to be the person that “cures them”, or anything of that sort. You just need to validate them. You just need to see them. That itself is enough.

The Trevor Hotline: 1-866-488-7386

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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