The DBSA Young Adult Council (YAC) develops unique resources to support other young adults living with depression and bipolar. They use their own lived experience to help inform the way that DBSA provides hope, help, support, and education. In this piece, Sadie talks about recovery.
By: Sadie, DBSA YAC member
It took me a long time to come to terms with my queerness. My crushes on other women have been obvious since middle school, and I grew up with liberal parents in a liberal city, so my anguish over my sexuality was sometimes difficult for my friends to understand. An early sign of depression for me is a fixation with the judgments of others, and being fortunate enough to have experienced very little outright homophobia in my lifetime, I became fearful that I was not queer enough.
Biphobia has been described as a double bind, in which you experience the homophobia of the straight community, but also suspicion and invalidation from the lesbian and gay community. Studies show that bisexual women have higher rates of mood disorders and substance use than their gay and lesbian peers, though both have higher rates than straight women. Despite my fear, in reality, I had supportive queer friends. I existed in queer spaces since high school, where bisexuality was accepted and celebrated, and I have always felt at home there.
Despite this support, it seemed vitally important for me to decide if I was gay or bisexual, and each past encounter took on a disproportionate weight. It was difficult for me to sort out which situations I could reasonably blame on mania and when my desire had been genuine. I read article after article about compulsory heterosexuality and bipolar women’s experiences. I was especially ashamed of the times I’d felt I’d been in love, only to realize, after my diagnosis, that I’d been experiencing a delusion. Did delusions count? Trying to explain this over text to a friend, she sent me a meme of a crime scene investigation covered in red string.
As my friends pointed out, it wasn’t that I needed to be a lesbian or bisexual one way or another; my agonizing was mostly to do with not knowing, the feeling that this crucial aspect of my identity was unclear and out of my control, and uncertainty about love in general. When depressed, I fell into a deep despair that I had not yet found love, and the answer “because you’re gay, and you have not dated women” seemed too tempting – it would have let me off the hook too easily. Confusion about my sexuality and my lack of romantic fulfillment were a manageable mystery to me when at baseline, but when depressed they were glaring failures.
My struggles to come to terms with my sexuality coincided with my path to accepting my bipolar diagnosis. For two years after my first manic episode, I was intensely determined to defend myself and find just the right words to explain to the people around me what my experience of mania and depression had been. I craved their understanding and I needed their forgiveness.
Over the last three years, I have met many other people who have experienced mania, delusions, and psychosis, and I have come to understand that these experiences are not ‘abnormal’ – on the contrary, they are deeply human, and I’m ok with the fact that some people might not get it. There are people who will never understand mania or depression, who do not care to try to understand, and that is ok. I know the truth of my experience and know that I have done a good job given my capacity at the time, even if no one ever knows it but me.
In some ways living with bipolar disorder requires a perpetual state of second guessing. In moments I worry or am sad, I question if it is an everyday sadness or a sign that my medication needs to change. And in times in which I’m joyful or feeling pleasure or awe, I find myself holding back just a little bit, afraid that I will go too far and not be able to come back. I rely on my self-consciousness to keep myself mentally and physically safe, and there are times when this has felt suffocating. But a habit of self-reflection on my emotions and desires has also led to a deeper connection with myself.
It took many years since my first middle school crush, but I have finally come to a place where it is ok for me not to be able to articulate or explain exactly what my sexual identity is at any given moment, and I have given up my tendency to practice a lengthy defense of my queerness in the bathroom mirror. Instead, I pay attention to the feeling in my gut when I receive romantic attention from different people. I reflect on who made me feel lighter and freer and who made me feel small and unseen. Most importantly, I recognized that my experience of gender in myself and in relationships with others does not have to be clearly articulated or understood. Over time my experience of queerness has become a practice of self-affirmation.
I overcame a lot of challenges and setbacks with my mental health before I started to feel truly hopeful that recovery was possible for me. And though I know that recovery is not a final destination, and depression and mania will always be there, I also know that I’ll be there to meet them. In the last few years, I’ve been baffled at my own surprise every time I had a crush on a woman. Every time I felt nervous to meet her eyes it felt new, and I rediscovered my queerness with every flutter in my gut. Rereading journals from high school and college, I understood this to be something I had rediscovered, again and again, for over a decade.
This June, I have nothing to defend.