Culture Opinion Politics

Fighting with Pride (Opinion)

My queer experiences with mental health
2017 White House Protest // Photo by Ted Eytan

I almost did not write this piece. It took a lot within me to compose my thoughts, but I think it is important that this reaches the audience it is intended to. I might not know who you are. I don’t have to. The queer community is a large family, and we don’t ever have to cross paths for us to fight for and uplift one another. That is the beauty of love — something people who oppose our rights and existence will never understand.

These are difficult times we live in. We see factions of the right calling for the “eradication” of parts of our community from “public life.” Georgia has criminalized offering gender- affirming care to youth under 18, and our Southern neighbors are doubling down on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that could potentially set course to detransition trans kids. The dog whistles blow loud throughout Republican-led states, and some of the national rhetoric has started to seep into campus.

For a variety of reasons, I chose not to report an instance of me being a victim of a hate crime on campus this semester to the police or to Georgia Tech. Thus, I will not elaborate on the incident, except that I would urge every queer student to be mindful of their surroundings, especially at night. This incident, coupled with interactions with the homophobes from the Baptist Church (the folks with the banners who stand outside the student center) caused a severe decline in my mental and physical health. Georgia Tech was supposed to be a safe space — a place I felt welcomed and wanted — but I did not feel safe in these situations.

This quickly escalated into anxiety. I was scared that my end was coming and that it was only a matter of time before a homophobe came to campus and shot me. As my anxiety peaked, I fainted and started to have difficulty in remembering events and trusting people. I was lucky to have my best friend when I was at my worst, who ensured I did not harm myself during this agonizing period. Without him, I do not think I would be here writing this piece.

Why am I sharing this? While I had a difficult start to 2023, I did seek help. I reached out to my department and the Georgia Tech LGBTQIA Resource Center, both of which were very resourceful and helpful. I was able to access the mental health resources that I needed and get academic considerations that helped me transition back to normalcy.

I have also been using Georgia Tech’s counseling services, and they have been very useful for me. Therapy can be a hit or miss for folks. This was my fifth try at therapy and the first time that it worked for me. It allowed me to find the root causes of my fear and deal with them in a healthy manner. I am glad to report that I am no longer afraid of dying on campus. Therapy did cure my paranoia, and I encourage you to find a therapist that meets you where you are.

I reached out to friends and am incredibly indebted to everyone who has helped me along the way by keeping me company at the lounge in DM Smith when I felt alone and walking me back home at night. Being around people who loved me and cherished spending time with me helped me feel wanted on campus. Doing things that made me happy like painting, birdwatching, and cooking with them made me rediscover who I was: a very queer and happy man. That allowed me to be more open about what I was going through to acquaintances and allowed me to heal better. Talking and empathizing with folks who have been in similar situations helped me reflect and overcome the events that transpired.

The road to recovery is not fast or easy. For weeks, I felt my throat closing due to a high flow of adrenaline, and I could not eat and speak without discomfort. Even as I write this, I can feel my throat close, thinking about everything that happened. I occasionally have mild palpitations and shortness of breath. During these situations, music seems to do the trick. I have a few playlists that I associate with happy moments that help me combat my anxiety. Comfort food also helped me, especially warm food during the colder winter days. I tend to be happier when I surround myself with folks (I am an extrovert) since it makes me not think about the thoughts that cause me anxiety. If you are an introvert and find your Zen in solitude, place your phone on do not disturb and read that book you’ve been meaning to start all semester.

You know your body best! If physical engagement like going on long walks or working out in the gym helps you, do that! If you get happiness from singing, dancing, clubbing, writing, reading, watching a movie, or trying out your grandmother’s old cooking recipes, do that! The things I did were things that made me happy and calmed me down. Some might work for you, and others might not. It is important to find your happiness niche and absorb it all so you don’t find yourself helpless when you do face difficult mental health situations.

While there are ignorant and evil forces that are at play against our community, remember that there are always folks ready to stand up and fight for you. Sometimes scrolling through some of those positive wins help in improving your day and feeling a sense of hope. I get my hope seeing the Democratic state Senators filibustering the entire Nebraska legislative session due to the introduction of an anti-trans bill. Right here in Georgia, student activists and queer organizations once again defeated a “Don’t Say Gay” bill in February 2023. I would like to particularly recognize the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition for their exemplary work this legislative cycle to protect LGBTQ+ youth from harmful bills.

It is easy to lose hope in these trying times. If there is anything you take from this piece — whether you are queer or not — it is to recognize when you are not okay. It is okay to not be okay. You must, however, recognize it and attend to it by taking any help that comes your way. Also remember that you are not alone. I am here slaying on the battlefield for folks like you, asking you to not give up. You are worth it, and I promise that it will get better. One day you too will lead with a heart of courage and set the pathway for another queer person to follow.

2022 PrideFest // Courtesy of Vikas Madhav Nagarajan

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