In 2006, when I was eleven, I attended a camp for young writers, and I fell hard for a boy that I met there. I had a crush on him from the first time that we spoke. One day, we walked together as all of the campers made their way down to the river. While we were walking, I remember him mentioning that he identified as bisexual. I had previously assumed that everyone was capable of having feelings for anyone, like I did. Once he corrected me, I knew that I had a new label for myself.
Being in therapy had given me other labels, already. At that time, I knew that I had clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. As the years went on, I was able to overcome my depression, but added Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the diagnosis list instead. A few years later, I gained a new diagnosis: having some of the traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. My internal life has often felt like a collection of acronyms: BPD, LGBTQ+, PTSD, with a nice marinade of anxiety and dysmorphia just to keep things interesting.
In a dream world, my sexuality would never have had a negative impact on my treatment for mental illnesses. Unfortunately, not all mental health professionals are well-educated in what it means to be young and queer. (Hell, not all mental health professionals are even good people.)
I don’t remember ever really feeling comfortable talking about my sexuality with my treatment team. I know that I always made it clear that I was bisexual, but I don’t remember ever talking about all the confusion that came along with that. I don’t recall wanting to be open with any of them about crushes that I had on girls, or being madly in love with my best female friend for two years, or discussing the way boys would objectify me as soon as they heard about my sexuality. I don’t remember talking with them about how everyone called me a slut in the seventh grade, and spread rumours about me having already slept with six different guys.
I think that the first time I really spoke about my queerness was when I finally sought help for being sexually assaulted at the age of ten. I was fifteen at the time, and started seeing a crisis counselor who was more regularly available than my psychologist.
I believe that the crisis counselor was the first person to whom I admitted that I was afraid that my sexuality might be the way it was – attraction to people regardless of their gender identity – because I had been raped by both a woman and a man. I was afraid that I had been living a lie since childhood, and I didn’t know how to recover from it.
This self-doubt crept into my therapy again a few years later, when I was told that I had some of the traits required for a BPD diagnosis. One of the biggest things that I internalized from my treatment was that I couldn’t trust my own brain (I’ve since realized that this isn’t entirely true). I learned that most of my beliefs about myself and about others were the product of this mental illness, and I began to question everything that I knew.
A year ago, when I was twenty, I finally started Dialectical Behaviour Therapy to treat my BPD directly. Unfortunately, one of my main issues with the therapist who led me through DBT was that she seemed unable to comprehend gender and sexual diversity. She never spoke with hate about queer people, but she didn’t seem to believe me when I said that I was queer. She seemed to think that my mental illness had caused me to seek attention where I didn’t really want it (see: women).
For example, I went through a bit of a crisis when I started to fall for my now-boyfriend. I had been determined only to date women for about a year, and with the exception of one awesome tryst with a boy that I had really liked, I had managed to stick with that plan. Once I realized that I was catching feelings for my now-boyfriend, I began feeling unsure of how to process my sexuality. For a brief moment in time, I had wondered if I was a lesbian. Now, I was being forced to re-examine my pansexuality once more.
My therapist’s response? Something to the effect of: Maybe you’re not all that gay after all.
I stopped seeing her shortly thereafter. You see, this feeling of invalidity and erasure was really what had kept me from talking to other therapists about my sexuality in the past. Whenever I did, they seemed to blink it away, to ignore me. I’m reminded of another psychiatrist, who once looked my overweight body up and down after I told him that I was a vegetarian and said to me “You don’t look like a vegetarian.” My word never seemed to be enough for these people.
Now, I have an amazing therapist. While she still doesn’t understand everything there is to know about what it means to be LGBTQ+, she’s eager to learn. She listens to me and doesn’t serve judgement when I talk about my sexuality. Even when she doesn’t understand something, she does her utmost to offer sound advice.
Recently, while I was crying over a particularly severe bought of dysmorphia, she said something very wise: why don’t you try just being yourself? We both laughed, in the moment, but the profundity of her statement has really sunk in for me since then. I do want to try just being myself. That includes the many mental illnesses that I deal with on a daily basis, and it includes the confusions of being queer. Thankfully, I feel that for the first time in my life, I’m getting treatment from a therapist who supports all of these parts of me, not just the heteronormative ones.
I’ve written all of this because I want you to know that it can happen. Hopefully, you don’t have to search for ten years, across five cities, and over a dozen therapists like I did. However, even if it does take that long, trust that there are mental health professionals out there that want to help you. Keep searching, and you’ll find the right one.