Tag: mental health

Biphobia, bi-erasure and bisexual mental health in Ireland

Biphobia, bi-erasure and bisexual mental health in Ireland

Bisexual people have the highest risk of developing a mental illness, self-harming and considering suicide in comparison to lesbians, gay men and heterosexual people.

The LGBTIreland Report 2016, which is considered to be the largest study of LGBTI people in Ireland to date, found that 34% of participants had self-harmed, with 60% of these people saying that their self-harm was related to their LGBTI identity. Bisexual people were more likely to have self-harmed than lesbian/gay females and gay males, with 54.5% of bisexual people interviewed stating they had self-harmed at a point in their lives.

The report also found that 60% of LGBTI people had seriously thought of ending their lives, with almost half of these people considering it in the past year. 60% said that their suicidal thoughts were related to their LGBTI identity. Again, bisexual people were more likely to consider ending their own lives than lesbian/gay females and gay males, with 65.3% of bisexual people interviewed mentioning they had considered ending their life at one point. This is compared to 19.5% of gay men, and 37.4% of lesbians/gay women.

With figures so high, you’d think that this would be a difficult problem to ignore. Unfortunately in Ireland, bisexuality in general is still very much swept under the carpet. The stigma surrounding mental health issues is slowly but surely being broken down, but bisexuality is something that people still fail to understand. To tackle the problem of poor mental health in bisexual people, we need to look into why it’s happening in the first place. Why are bisexual people so much more prone to developing a mental illness, self-harming or attempting suicide? Sharon Nolan, Galway based Bi+ Ireland co-ordinator, says that there are many different factors contributing to this,

“The lack of acceptance within both gay and straight spaces for bi+ people [causes poor mental health]. Questioning the validity of their identity, slut-shaming, questioning their commitment abilities, and questioning the sheer existence of us. This leads to rejection from social spaces and internalised biphobia. The pressures of feeling that you always need to educate or defend your identity is also damaging for your mental health.”

I carried out a survey on 100 people who identified as bisexual, to see what their experiences were with biphobia, bi-erasure and mental health difficulties. The findings were as follows:

93% said they had experienced difficulties with their mental health

50% had been diagnosed with a mental illness

79% said they had experienced biphobia or bi-erasure

54% said that biphobia or bi-erasure had contributed to their mental health issues

67% had self-harmed

28% had attempted suicide

As Sharon mentioned, biphobia and bi-erasure are contributing factors to the poor mental health of bisexual people, adding to the shocking statistics above. Biphobia is the dislike or prejudice against bisexual people, and Matthew Palliser-Kehoe, a 20-year-old bisexual man from Cork says that his experience of biphobia seems to stem people being unwilling to understand what bisexuality is. The BESS (Business Economics and Social Studies) student says that there is a significant difference between homophobia and biphobia,

“There seems to be a large proportion of members of the LGBT community, along with the wider population, that are unwilling to even recognize bisexuality as a thing that exists. While homophobia is undoubtedly alive and well, there is an underlying acceptance that homosexuality exists. This contrasts with biphobia, where the most painful and most common encounter of biphobia is the denial or refusal to accept the existence of bisexuality in the first place.”

Ellen Reid-Buckley, a 23-year-old queer woman from Limerick, says that biphobia has a lot to do with erasure, “I think marriage equality hit home in assimilation culture for cis gay men especially, but cis lesbian women also gained from that representation. Bi+ and trans voices didn’t get a word in edgeways.”

Ellen, who recently graduated from UCC with a Masters in English (Irish Writing and Film) has experienced biphobia both from inside of the LGBT community and from heterosexual people. One of the more recent incidents was being called “blasphemous” by a lesbian at Dublin Pride for having a boyfriend. She has found that some members of the lesbian community have been “very sceptical or almost enraged” by the thought of a bisexual woman. However she says she most commonly experiences biphobia from cisgender straight men,

“I have been asked by many cis men how many women I’ve slept with, solicited for threesomes by strangers on Tinder because I had a bio that stated I was queer, and even filmed in nightclubs kissing women.”

Nicole* is one of many bisexual people who has suffered badly with mental health issues; she has struggled with eating disorders, self-harm and suicide attempts in the past. In 2011 when Nicole* was still in secondary school, a girl named “Layla” added her and other people in her year on Facebook. She was a blonde haired, blue eyed American girl, and instantly she zoned in on Nicole*. What Nicole* did not realise was that it was a fake account,

“After about three weeks of a joke that everyone except me was in on, Layla told me that she liked me. And I melted, I felt excited and attracted to her too. So I told her I had always felt this way toward girls, and she said that it was okay to like girls and try it out, and that we could try it together. The next day, Layla fell off the face of the earth.”

The next few days in school were hell for Nicole*, who was called a “dyke” by classmates who refused to get changed in the same room as her for PE. The next year she met her first boyfriend, and everyone forgot about her and Layla. But Nicole* never forgot,

“I didn’t ‘look or act gay’ anymore so I sailed through school relatively unscathed. The flip side of straight passing is that I lost all sense of self and identity, and fell quickly into drugs and alcohol after school.”

Nicole* also found it difficult to come out to her family, who do not believe in bisexuality, “They think its greed or confusion, but they all voted yes to marriage equality. They’re not homophobic, they love gay people but the bisexuality thing doesn’t make sense to them.”

If we aren’t going to acknowledge that bisexual people exist, it makes tackling the bigger problems like poor bisexual mental health even more difficult. We have to take it right back to the basics and examine the way we think and talk about bisexual people. Ireland can be a very one-track mind type of nation, where there is a tendency to think in binaries because that’s all we know. But with statistics as high as these, something has got to change. Sexuality is a spectrum, and there is so much more to it than simply being straight or gay.

Nicole’s* name has been changed to protect her identity

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Sometimes all you have, is you.

Sometimes all you have, is you.

August 30th, 2017

Next month will be a year since I came out.

A year and a half since I came out to myself, to some of my closest friends.

A year since a relationship that taught me so much about myself, so much that I thought I’d die without figuring out.

It had never seemed clear before.

I never thought I’d allow myself to get to this place.

A year since I first experienced what it really felt like, to be so full of appreciation for someone, for the life I’d chosen to live, that I was blissfully unaware of the rest of the world.

I chose this life.

It was me.

I did it myself.

I decided that my life had to change.

I decided that I had to put my happiness first.

In doing that I risked everything; my stable yet unfulfilling life was turning upside down, rattling.

An aura of self-confidence surrounds my every move now,

Because one year ago my confidence was all I could rely on.

The harsh reality that you might lose the ones you love does that to you, creates this shield.

Some may try to knock you down and you have to be sure of yourself,

And if they walk away you need someone. And that someone, sometimes all you have, is you.

Throughout it all I was glad I had a hand to hold,

I thought I’d continue to watch this link unfold,

But it stopped. I didn’t expect it to stop.

And I thought I would stop too, but I didn’t.

This was the moment I’d anticipated, but not when I’d expected it.

Sometimes all you have, is you.

But that’s life.

The world keeps spinning and life doesn’t stop for anyone.

I had to learn to appreciate it.

When you experience the highs, sometimes you have to face the lows.

And I’m grateful for that.

If I didn’t experience the ups and the downs of coming out,

Then where would I be?

Sitting at the bottom of my bed, asking myself again,

“What do you feel?”

“Nothing. Emptiness.”

I don’t look back on my journey with sadness,

I’m fucking proud of myself.

Of the person that I’ve become,

Finally able to say that I’m gay and smiling,

Not curled up in a ball in my bed, through choked up tears and a pounding head and a pain in my heart because I can’t face my life in this lie that I’m living.

It still feels surreal.

Almost one year on, and a lot has changed.

Acceptance has come my way,

Slowly but at the same time, faster than I had ever imagined.

To hear that one of my favourite people said,

“Promise me one thing; that you’ll never turn your back on her.”

When they were who I most feared would turn their back on me,

Well it makes everything worthwhile.

I’ll always be grateful for the life I have now,

That I fought so hard for.

I will always appreciate my journey.

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Vera

“I bet you thought you’d gotten rid of me.”

Vera smirks, she perches onto her dusty, tattered thrown. It’s almost as old as I am, because Vera is the name of my anxiety and she’s been with me for as long as I can remember now.

Vera is an elf like creature. She’s tiny and I should be able to fight her, but I can’t and it kills me that she’s so powerful.

Vera is in my brain and in my heart. She’s in my chest and my stomach, my hands, my legs, my eyes. She is wherever she wants to be, and she knows she can take over me.

Vera’s hair is black and matted and her skin is greying. Her clothing is torn and she looks battered after all these years, and all my failed attempts to drown her out. I never succeed.

Vera’s voice is the part that fills me with dread the most. It’s louder than ever now, she demands to be heard. She screams and screams and screams over anything left of the rational thought process I’d tried so hard to build up. She will be heard. She knows how to get to me.

Her voice goes in waves and whirls until it fills my head and I feel it all the way down to my throat, and it’s choking me.

Vera gets angry with me, she’s screaming now. Was I incapable of looking out for myself? How had I let this happen? Why would I put myself in a vulnerable position? She says that now she’s back to protect me, to stop harm from coming my way.

Vera clicks her wicked fingers, her long black fingernails are touching my own and now suddenly, there’s pins and needles. I can’t feel my hands, and then it’s my feet and I’m trapped.

I’m stuck and I can’t get out and I just sit and I listen to Vera punishing me.

I let myself get like this.

This is my fault.

Why hadn’t I been afraid?

Vera asks me what’s wrong. When I won’t tell her, she yells at me. She yells at the top of her lungs and although she’s so small, her roar makes my whole body shake and I can’t stop.

I tell her what’s upset me, begrudgingly. She shakes her head and glares at me with bloodshot eyes, her pupils a sea of blackness into her dark soul. “Your fault,” she shrieks.

Her shrieking brings a tear to my eye, and another one, and another one, and another one, and they won’t stop and it could be hours before they do and that’s the scary part.

Vera wants more answers and she knows she’s got control of me now. She knows I can’t give in and give her the rational answer, even if I want to.

“There’s no point.”

“You can never fix this.”

“It can only go wrong.”

“She hates you. Why shouldn’t she?”

Now she’s clip-clop, clip-clopping on my heart with her spikey leather boots. She’s kicking and she’s thrashing and now she’s down on all fours and I swear this is the time she’s going to give me a heart attack and I’m going to die.

Vera screams that everyone is out to hurt me and that everyone secretly hates me, and I wonder if she knows how much I hate her now.

Vera flutters down towards my lungs and my stomach churns and she smirks at me. She knows that she has me under her spell now, and she’s cackling. She tells me I’m worthless and she asks me a question,

“Why would anyone want to be around you?”

She screams and screams and screams, and she won’t stop and I can’t think and she’s tricked me once again.

She knows she’s the winner; she’s always the winner.

She squeezes my lungs and a heavy black cloud weighs down my chest and my throat closes up and I can’t breathe anymore. I’m hyperventilating now and I can’t make it stop and all I can hear is this screeching inside of my head,

“This is your fault.”

“You’re so stupid.”

“You’re pathetic.”

My ears are ringing and it drowns everything out. The sound of my friend trying to calm me down and the rational thoughts are all washed away with every breath that I struggle to take. I know she’s won, again.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t breathe.

Then sometimes there’s a thud, and my exhausted body collapses onto the cold, hard floor. Often it feels like the easier route because for a moment my eyes black out, and I can’t hear, and I have peace for just a few moments. Its peace, all the same.

And eventually the short staggered breaths even out, but the tears keep flowing and my body is full of this emptiness.

Now Vera is staring, beady eyed at my hunched over limp, lifeless body and she shakes her head and asks,

“Who wants to deal with an anxious mess like you?”

She turns away and I think that’s the end but somehow, somehow in between my sobs she finds the space to hurt me one last time.

Vera squeezes me tightly, her claws digging into my skin so hard that her words are left like tiny scars on my arm. She says,

“Don’t let this happen again.”

Now I’m alone with my thoughts, and Vera’s words keep swirling through my mind; I know she’s wrong but she always manages to take over me. Vera knows I’m afraid of putting myself into a position where she’ll come back again. She knows I’ll avoid facing my fears.

She knows she’s the winner; she’s always the winner.

Mental illness is not confined to anxiety and depression

We think we’re destigmatising mental health issues by talking about anxiety and depression more, when we’re really just destigmatising anxiety and depression more, and that’s it.

I can tell you that a lot of people are going to read that sentence and think, “And?” or “What’s she talking about?” You probably thought I messed up what I was trying to say, or maybe you don’t think there’s anything wrong with that sentence. Anxiety and depression are mental health issues, right? Yes, but mental health issues are not confined to anxiety and depression.

You could argue that anxiety and depression are the more talked about illnesses because they’re the most common ones, but we don’t know just how true that is. More often than not, mood disorders that show any signs of depression, such as bipolar disorder, are put down to just that – depression. It can take years for doctors and even patients themselves to realise that there is something more to their problem.

As I said, patients can go undiagnosed for years, because they don’t really know that they have a problem. Personally, I know how that feels. I went until the age of fifteen before realising that there was something wrong with me, that this crippling anxiety I’d been feeling my whole life was not normal. Why didn’t I realise? Well, because nobody ever talked about it. Ten years ago, anxiety was still a taboo. People weren’t sure if it was a real thing, they looked down on people who had it, they didn’t understand it, and they were scared of it. And while I’m so glad that moves have been made to destigmatise anxiety and make my life that little bit easier, I can’t help but think about the people who still have a mental illness that nobody talks about. I can’t help but think about the forgotten side of mental health.

Unfortunately the likes of borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder still have a huge amount of stigma attached to them. People forget that they are a part of the group of mental illnesses, and they know little to nothing about them. Because they know nothing about them, the people who have to live with these illnesses every day are afraid to talk about them. And because they’re afraid to talk, nobody is learning.

When there’s so little information given to us about these illnesses, how are people supposed to recognise that they have a problem in the first place? Would you know the signs of borderline personality disorder if you had them? Most people wouldn’t. Oftentimes, patients are only diagnosed when their illness gets to an advanced stage, and this is what helps make up the negative stigma attached to the illness.

And that’s not the only thing that creates negative portrayals of mental illness. Patricia R. Owen conducted a study on the portrayals of schizophrenia by entertainment media, and in this study of more than 40 movies (released between 1990 and 2010) she discovered that over 80% of characters who were schizophrenic showed violent behaviour, and almost a third displayed suicidal behaviour. This portrayal that people with schizophrenia are dangerous is wrong, and it’s having a detrimental effect on sufferers who are afraid to speak out for fear of having this label slapped on them.

People have a fear of the unknown, but we can help them with that. By speaking out more about the less commonly known mental illnesses, we can break the stigma attached to them and help sufferers feel more at ease when talking about them. We think we’re destigmatising mental health issues by talking about depression and anxiety more, but we need to speak more about mental illness as a whole. We can’t keep leaving certain issues out because we’re afraid of the unknown.

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The February Blues

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I knew February would be a rocky month for me, it has been for the last couple of years. February doesn’t like me, and I despise it just as much, but as low as I feel I’m not letting it get the better of me. I started to notice the changes in myself a few weeks ago. I didn’t feel like going out, I just wanted to sleep all the time, I wasn’t eating properly and I just didn’t feel happy. And that’s scary for me, because I knew just how bad my mental health was capable of getting again. But this time I’m taking control of my own happiness, I’m not letting my mental health deteriorate.

The problem with taking control of your mental health is that a lot of the time, we leave it too late. We fail to recognise the signs that we’re falling down a slippery slope and by the time we realise, it’s too hard to get back up. We feel like we’re stuck in a bottomless hole, and it’s impossible to get out. So many people don’t seek medical help until they’re really bad, which is why it’s so important to help yourself from the get go. This time, I’ve been trying really hard to make myself feel better.

I’ve been leaving the house, even when I really don’t want to. I’m still going to all my lectures, because I know that skipping class makes me anxious and that’s what I want to avoid. When I skip a class, I don’t know what’s going on in the next class, which makes me anxious to go to that one too. It’s easier to just get up off my ass and prevent that happening in the first place. I’m making sure I see my friends, and I’m trying to go out and have as much fun as I normally would. The latter isn’t working out too well at the moment, but hey, I’m working on it, there’s always room for improvement.

I’ve been keeping myself really, really busy. I have a tendency to spend my spare time lying in bed, overthinking, but I’m not letting myself do that this time. I have a to-do list on my phone of all the things I should have done over the last week, but let go over my head. I’m currently ticking away at those and the shorter the list gets, the better I feel knowing I’m getting things done. Plus, it gets me out of bed and into the library, doing something productive with my life.

If I could, I’d be working my ass off in the gym at the moment. After walking 22 kilometres in the pouring rain in Amsterdam, I have a chest infection that’s caused me to very nearly cough up a lung about five times now. So yeah, I’m taking a break from the gym until I get better, which isn’t doing much for my mental health at the moment. But next week I’m going to get back into it, because I know it’s the one thing that always makes me feel better.

As with all illnesses, prevention rather than cure is key when it comes to mental health. I know that my anxiety is going to get bad again if I let it, but I’m taking small steps to ensure that doesn’t happen. Just because you’re starting to feel down again, doesn’t mean you’ll spiral into a deep depression once more. Just because you’re feeling anxious, doesn’t mean you’ll be too scared to leave your house in two weeks time. Life is full of ups and downs for everyone, and it’s all about doing the best you can to make yourself feel okay again. Remember that no matter how bad things are, they always get better.

How To Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

Trying to help someone that’s in the middle of having a panic attack can be hard, and I’m sure a lot of the timepanicattack people have no idea what to do. In fact, I’d say it makes a lot of people feel helpless and scared themselves. Earlier this week I had a panic attack, and some of the people around me had never seen one before and weren’t sure what to do to help. I was discussing it with my housemates yesterday and I said, “I think I need to give everyone who comes into contact with me a crash course on dealing with panic attacks.” So here it is, a little guide for everyone on how to help somebody that’s having a panic attack.

  1. Stay calm

I know it’s probably difficult, but the most important thing to do is stay calm. If the person having a panic attack sees everyone around them panicking, they’re going to panic even more because they’re thinking “Oh God, this must be really bad”. Remember that nothing life threatening can result from the panic attack, and they’ll be okay once they’ve calmed down.

  1. Eye contact

Get the person having a panic attack to look you in the eyes, so that they have something to focus their attention on other than the panic. If they break eye contact, firmly but calmly tell them they need to keep looking at you.

  1. Deep breaths

Once the person is able to maintain eye contact with you, start getting them to take deep breaths. This works the best if you breathe in sync with them, inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for another four seconds. They might not be able to breathe properly at first if they’re hyperventilating, but keep breathing in sync with them until their breathing returns to normal.

  1. Don’t panic if they pass out

There’s been a couple of times where I’ve been breathing so quickly that I’ve ended up passing out, which can be really scary for those around you. But just remember that so long as they’re breathing, they have a pulse and they haven’t banged their head on anything they’ll be okay.

  1. Remove them from public places

If they’re in a public place it’s important to remove them from the situation when it’s safe. The last thing the person having the panic attack wants is to draw any more attention to themselves, and with me when people are watching me it makes me feel even worse. It also helps not to overcrowd the person with people trying to help. While it’s great that lots of people want to help and the person panicking is grateful for that, it’s easier to calm down when you’re only listening to what one person is saying to you.

  1. Don’t be patronising

You need to be careful what you’re saying when you’re dealing with somebody having a panic attack, because you could very easily make them worse. Don’t tell them to “stop it” or to “calm down” because believe me, if it was that easy we would. Don’t tell them that they’re overreacting, because they already know that. But it’s something that their body is doing and they have absolutely no control over what was going on. And finally, do not under any circumstances make comments like “She/he’s just looking for attention.” The last thing we want is anybody’s unnecessary attention, and remarks like this are extremely hurtful for a person suffering from anxiety. Mental illness is not something that anyone chooses or wants, and mental health deserves just as much respect as physical health does.

Does Exercise Cure Anxiety?

It’s true what they say, another year older, another year wiser. Over the past year, I’ve experienced some of my worst bouts of anxiety; times where I wouldn’t leave my house for days because I was afraid of all the things that could anxietygo wrong. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever improve. There were a countless number of nights where I’d just cry and cry and cry, I was so afraid I’d be stuck that way forever. But the last four months have been a turning point for me, and thank God because I was like a raging antichrist there for a good while. Since my mental health is something that I’m so open and honest about, I thought I’d share with you how I’ve made these improvements.

The main thing that’s helped improve my anxiety is exercise. If you have anxiety you’re probably rolling your eyes and sighing right now, and I don’t blame you. Every time I went to see my doctor about my anxiety I was advised to do more exercise, and every time I heard that I wanted to scream at him that I didn’t have time and it wouldn’t work anyways. Low and behold, every time I was told this I’d head off on a walk, and after no immediate anxiety relief, I’d give up. That was that, exercise did
n’t help and it was back to the drawing board.

And I was right, exercise doesnanxiety3’t really work as a once off cure, but if you’re willing to stick to it you’ll definitely see results. I’ve gone from doing no exercise at all, to going to the gym three times a week, and by doing that I’ve gone from having three panic attacks a week to having three panic attacks a month, if even. For me, exercise is a preventative measure for my anxiety. If I go more than three days without going to the gym, I’ll start to feel my anxiety creeping up on me again.

With me, when I have nothing to do I get anxious. I get anxious that I should be doing something, and in the space of about ten minutes I’m panicking about all the things I have to do. Exercising helps to fill these gaps in the evenings, or mornings, or even between classes when I have some spare time. I’m one of those people who just has to be kept busy, and exercise fits perfectly for this.anxiety4

One of the biggest excuses I had before when it came to exercising was that I had no time to do it. And now, I still have no time to do it. I have college, and assignments, and studying, and trying to keep up blogging, and maintaining the social life of a college student, and everything else going on in my life at the moment. But I make time, because I have to. Every Tuesday I start college at 12 o’clock, but I’m always up at 8am to go to the gym. You have the same amount of hours in the day as everyone else, you just have to make good use of them. Prioritise, try to go to sleep an hour earlier and get up an hour before you usually would. anxiety2

So if you’re at your wits end with anxiety like I was, go back to the basics. I know that exercising won’t help everyone, but after experiencing the huge improvement in my mental health I’d be wrong not to promote it. Go to a Pilates class twice a week, start running, dancing, whatever it is that you think you’ll enjoy the most. When a doctor tells you to exercise it can be difficult to listen when you’re thinking, “You have no idea what this is like”. But this is something that really, really helped me and I’ll never go back to not exercising again.