Over the years, coming out as a lesbian hasn’t been that hard for me — because I was always too busy hiding something else.
Confessing queerness can be a breeze compared to revealing mental illness.
But I decline to play this game of hide-the-worse-stigma any longer. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and a fitting time for me to acknowledge I’m now so out as a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and hoarding disorder (HD) that my closet is as empty as Rep. George Santos’ conscience.
Which is a weird sensation, after decades of keeping mostly mum about my conditions. Occasionally I ask myself whether there isn’t something else I’m still hiding, something embarrassing nestled among the hangers and dust bunnies.
Nope, there’s nothing. But it’s not a surprise I ask. I’m checking, which is the primary manifestation of my OCD. I can doubt anything: whether I locked my car door, or spelled a name in a story correctly, or said something stupid in public. This results in a need, a compulsion, to check once, twice, 50 times.
OCD is known as the Doubting Disease. HD used to be considered part of OCD, but is now officially its own condition, the big show-off. As a hoarder, I find it incredibly hard to part with a lot of items. I’m especially compelled to keep old letters, books, newspapers. I’m the princess of paper, the sultan of stuff, the collector of crap.
These two disorders, combined with depression, made for rough decades. My journalism career fizzled; my personal life was a study in frustration. I reached a point where I wanted to explain to my family and friends why I lived a stagnant existence, and the only way I knew to do that was to write a memoir about living under the thumb of OCD and HD.
I’m sure entire planets were created in the time it took me to get the book done. What was I thinking? I’d set myself a Catch-22 of a situation: trying to write about how hard it is for me to write. I must’ve been crazy.
Anyway, I laid out in print the baffling, humiliating nature of these illnesses as honestly as I could. Sometimes the level of vulnerability scared me, but I figured there was no point in doing this halfway. I hurled open the closet door, and if it swung back and conked me on the schnoz, so be it.
I still have moments where I can’t believe I exposed myself to that extent, but in the main I feel unburdened. No more secrets. No more hiding my truth. No more cringing with shame over a part of me that I didn’t choose.
I wish I didn’t have so much LGBT company where mental illness is concerned. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults are more than twice as likely as straight adults to have a mental health condition. Transgender folks are almost four times as likely as cisgender folks to have a mental health condition.
If you didn’t suffer from depression before, reading these NAMI statistics will do the job.
But there’s hope in my story. Now that I’ve drop-kicked denial and faced my conditions, and now that I’ve gone extraordinarily public about them, I’m more willing and able to battle them. Coming out helped shed the stigma.
When May rolls into June, Mental Health Awareness Month rolls into Pride Month. The two are linked by more than the calendar. Both aim to make the world a safer place for telling the truth.
I think July is Disability Pride Month. But I’m not sure. Let me check six or seven times.