written by Lauren JCG (she/her)
Coming out is different for everyone, and there are different processes we take to get there. It isn't something that only happens during the teen years, either; people come out at a range of ages, and ideally, it should be the right time for you. A stable, supportive environment will make it easier, and adversely, an unstable, unsupportive environment will hinder that process.
Now more than ever, mental health is being talked about. There are adverts on the television encouraging us to talk, to seek help if we need it. As with a good deal of things in life, this is very rarely straight-forward. Dealing with mental health issues whilst figuring out your sexual orientation / sexual identity can be extremely difficult.
Before coming out happens, though, there's the realisation that you are not heterosexual. And there are mental disorders that can make figuring your identity out even harder, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, individuals suffering with this have a highly unstable self-image. It can be extremely alienating and lonely to consistently question one's sexual orientation / sexual identity. Certainly, in the case of undiagnosed BPD, an individual might not be aware that this repeated questioning might be tied to the nature of the disorder. This sort of knowledge is the sort that has the potential to act as a catalyst for change; if the individual can discover their true desires, they are on the way to building a more stable sense of self. This is just an example of one of the complex intersections between mental health and sexual orientation / identity.
Two of the most common mental health issues (in terms of how much they are discussed, for example, in the media) are anxiety and depression. Both can be debilitating in their own right, and both can be comorbid, resulting from other mental health issues (for example, Autism Spectrum Disorder). Even with an optimal environment, it's completely normal to feel nervous about coming out. But when mental health issues are factored in, it's likely going to have an effect. Anxiety can lead an individual to overthink and ruminate, and intrusive thoughts can creep in to amplify the negatives. Depression might delay the process of coming out, for various reasons. Having to hide one's sexual identity / sexual orientation can also take a toll on an individual's mental health, although it is worth noting here that there are many reasons for a person not coming out (for example, it might not be safe).
Of course, coming out seems like the end goal, but it is worth noting that it doesn't happen just once. Every time you speak to someone who assumes you're heterosexual, you'll feel like you're coming out. And that's OK.
Ultimately, I think it's endlessly important to speak about our processes of coming out; after my first long-term relationship ended with a girl who identified as straight, I sought and found comfort from the LGBT+ community, and some of the answers I needed most came from that community.
My own coming out experience does not, in hindsight, read as being particularly neat. As already indicated, my first relationship was with a girl who identified as straight. We kept the relationship secret, and I did so for her sake. Being anything than other heterosexual is still taboo in a lot of communities.
My mum eventually got the truth out of me - I wouldn't tell her. I cannot illustrate why, beyond assuming that she wouldn't understand. Now I'm an adult, we can talk about these things, and she has since told me she never had a problem with my sexuality, she had a problem with who I was with (because she full-on knew I was going to get my heart broken. To be fair, I walked into that willingly because, to put it simply, I really loved the girl. We were together for three and a half years). Any time I came out, I came out in the context of revealing I had a girlfriend. I didn't refer to my sexuality, a lot of people assumed I was bisexual.
For a long time after that relationship ended, I struggled to define my sexuality. I know we don't have to define or label ourselves, but I craved a firm identity. These days, I'm very proud of the fact that I'm gay. And my family are a big part of that; I'm blessed to say that they have always accepted me as who I am, and I'm very aware that not everyone has that support.
My advice to anyone who might be struggling with their mental health and coming out is this; work it out. Talk to someone you trust. Call a hotline. Write all your feelings down - a sheet of paper can never judge you (destroy it afterwards if you don't have a lot of privacy). And most importantly, don't rush it. It has to be when you're ready.
And remember this: coming out isn't always easy, but there's always a community waiting to welcome you, and being able to be the real you will feel better keeping it inside.