Whenever I find myself settling into a new living space, one of my top priorities is finding my “spot." Ask any of my former roommates, and they will surely tell you that once said spot is identified, that is where I can be found virtually any time I am home. It’s not to say I’m particularly unhappy about being elsewhere in my domicile, but for me, this spot is more elevated than just a comfortable physical location: it is where I go to think, unwind, find comfort, and block out the rest of the world, even if it’s only for a brief moment.
While I have come to love having an actual spot where I can find peace as an adult, I have not always been able to claim a space for myself; at least not a physical one. As many LGBTI youngsters do, growing up, I often took refuge in the only place available to me: my mind.
Even as a child, I kept this space well protected. I likened the barriers I established around my mind to armor; they were there to protect me from danger and were carefully constructed to keep information in and others out. Inside that deepest layer were all the wonderfully weird and unusual elements that make me the person I am, as well as an active imagination that gave me hope that one day I would be able to share that version of myself with the world. But for a long time, that hope remained a fantasy, one of many that swirled about my mind that I wished would one day come to fruition.
As I grew into adulthood, I remained protective when it came to lowering these barriers; I was careful with what information I let out and rarely if ever, let anyone in. I had become so used to retreating to this protective mental space that I loathed the idea of spoiling it with anyone else’s intrusion or influence. Of course, the older I got, the more space I needed, which meant eventually, the armor was going to weaken and crack. Slowly but surely, the forces within broke free, which led to an incredible number of milestone events in my life: I came out as a loud and proud bi man, started writing about my experiences, and became more comfortable with who I am and what I want out of life.
For many, that is where the public story ends: I lowered my mental barriers, and it was all sunshine, rainbows, and butterflies until the end of my days. While I was and am happy that my mental armor broke down, since the amount of energy and focus it took to maintain was exhausting, the dissolution of those barriers presented me with a new problem: I was overwhelmed with emotion.
All the pain and hurt I had buried deep down throughout my life came rushing out, along with fears, anxiety, depression, and so much more. While I was great at keeping these feelings buried and hidden, I felt as if I did not have the tools to successfully address and move past them now that they were bubbling about on the surface. I needed help to navigate these new, open waters, but unfortunately, I decided to suffer in silence and attempt to address them on my own rather than allowing anyone, even a skilled professional, in to see what I perceived as impenetrable chaos. It was my mess, which to me meant I was the one who must fix it.
In some ways, I was successful. In other ways, not so much. As a naturally reflective person, it was fairly easy for me to acknowledge areas of my psyche that needed work: relationships, self-worth, and a few other noteworthy areas were at the top of a surprisingly long list. While identification was easy, developing solutions were less so. I used countless ways to help address these perceived issues, including alcohol, journaling, gardening, sex, and many more. I tried everything I could except the one thing I knew would put me on the right path: getting professional help.
There were a few practical reasons as to why I didn’t seek out the help of a mental health professional when I was just starting out, which included having dismal insurance, a lack of funds, and a jam-packed work schedule. However, as I advanced in my career, I was lucky enough to gain access to benefits and resources that would allow me to get this help that I knew I clearly needed. Still, I resisted, even though my previous excuses were no longer valid.
Ultimately, I realized why I hesitated to take this step for so long, despite the clear benefits it could provide to me: I was scared. My mind is my oldest, most precious refuge, and I was terrified to let that core part of myself be exposed to judgment from someone else. What if they told me I was irredeemable? A lost cause? Or worse, what if they couldn’t help me?
Recognizing I needed help was a challenge unto itself but asking for it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. In the community I was raised, seeking out help from mental health professionals was (and remains) perceived as narcissistic, self-indulgent, and lazy, all qualities I try not to attribute to myself. So, I found myself at yet another one of life’s many crossroads: I could let others determine my path forward, or I could do what is best for me and tell them to shove their judgment back up whatever orifice they prefer. I chose option two with ample encouragement from some great friends who helped connect me with local practitioners who could address my mental health needs.
Almost nine months ago, I had my very first therapy session, and I have spent one hour every week since working on my mental health with a trained professional. Sometimes the conversation is light and trivial. Other times it hits me at my very core, but with each session, I am learning more about myself and how to grow stronger both mentally and emotionally. It takes work, time, and energy, as most worthwhile endeavors do, but I do not regret the effort it takes, as I am more secure and comfortable in myself than ever before. Participating in therapy has unclogged me. Yes, it’s an ugly word, but not everything in therapy is pretty, and I can’t wait to find out what’s left to uncover as I continue working on my mental health for the rest of my life.