Born This Way

CW: Internalized Homophobia

I grew up trying to please, sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce with my back upright and ready to hang on to every word that came out of my teacher’s mouth. When I asked my mom if I could marry a woman – after all, the curly-haired British twins in our class had two moms – she told me that women didn’t usually marry other women, because if there was no man they would never be able to carry the groceries into the house. Because marriage was between a man and a woman, I was reminded time and time again as my mom squealed words of disgust when the TV showed two women kissing on the lips, or when my uncle said that Netflix should get rid of their Lesbian and Gay genre because it would influence the kids.

But they didn’t have to worry about me, because I was a good girl, I was taking AP classes and didn’t waste my time on frivolous things like hanging out with friends or going to after school peer support groups, because I was busy studying, of course. I wore clothes that covered my legs and pretended that cramps didn’t hurt and counted calories and straightened my long, dark hair every day, because I was a good girl, not like those rebellious girls who would bleach their hair and chop it short and burn their skin with tattoos and eat what they wanted and talk about what they really felt. I chose to be a good girl. I chose not to be gay.

I still remember when my friend and I spent the whole Sunday afternoon at her place, painting our nails and curling our hair as she confided in me about the boys in her life. When it was my turn to share, and when I showed her a journal entry I had written about losing someone I considered one of my closest friends in high school. I remember her peals of laughter as she read, each one like a slap in the face. “It sounds like she was your boyfriend and you guys just broke up or something!” she shrieked in between fits of giggles, and I pretended to laugh along with her, as if I had written the whole thing ironically, as if I didn’t know deep down that I was in love with her and that was the real reason we couldn’t be friends anymore. From that day I understood that sharing the real me was like that recurrent nightmare where you’re stuck standing in front of a crowd of people naked, vulnerable, and exposed.

When I was twenty, my uncle asked my parents if they should start looking for a man for me. They seemed to have already planned out a ten day, elaborate wedding in Jaipur with camels and obnoxiously shrill flutes and intoxicated uncles and aunties. When I came back to visit my high school friends and the only thing I could share about my college experience was school, they told me that they needed to find a man for me. When I tried to tell my mom that I might be only attracted to women, she told me that I was just going through a phase, that I was too young to know my romantic orientation for sure. I was twenty-two years old.  For the longest time I felt that the only way to please the people around me was to find a boyfriend like all the other girls around me. I tried to choke back the revulsion at the thought of being intimate with a man. I tried to convince myself that was what I wanted.

It wasn’t until I was in my last term of college that I began to wonder why I cared so much about making other people happy and why I wasn’t extending the same kindness to myself. I realized that if I didn’t take care of myself, no one else would. I realized that it was okay to say no to things that I didn’t want to do, and I didn’t have to put up with people who brought me down rather than building me up. I didn’t have to try so hard to protect the feelings of people who didn’t think twice about mine. I will apologize if I say or do anything that hurts someone else, but I will no longer apologize just for being who I am.

Sometimes I wonder if my process of coming out would have been easier if there was someone in my early life to tell me that sometimes girls like girls and boys like boys and some people like both girls and boys, and some people are born with a set of chromosomes that don’t match their identity, and that all of these people are simply born that way, not because they chose to be rebellious or promiscuous. Or that sometimes you might love someone with all your heart and they will never feel the same way, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – all it means is that they aren’t meant for you. That feelings of attraction are natural, normal, and feeling them towards a woman doesn’t make you any less of a woman, or less beautiful, or less deserving of love and acceptance for who you are and not for who others want you to be. That there are women out there who might have the same feelings for you that you have for them, but that there’s no rush to try to find a partner, and it’s okay to devote time to caring for yourself and investing in your future. These were the things I wished someone had said to me, and the things that I am finally learning to say to myself.

Shit People Say to the Depressed

I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety three years ago, although I am certain that the disorders have plagued me for much longer. Try as I may, I find it extremely difficult not to fall into the pit of cynicism. Moreover, I find it unfortunate how ignorant many people are in the realm of mental health.

Of course, every person is different. Some things that I find frustrating might be helpful to others under similar circumstances. I shall address three major things that have been personally frustrating to me. I have put together quotes from highly intelligent and well-intentioned people. I highlight the fact that they have good intentions because chances are, those who are truly malicious and ill-willed will not bother to take note of this and try to filter what they say, if they manage to even get past the first paragraph. I am taking advantage of this opportunity to explain to those who truly care what depression feels like for me. Please excuse the extreme cynicism and bear with me!

“It will be okay.”

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Do you know everything about my life? Do you know how many times in my past I have been looking to the future hopefully, only to be bitterly disappointed? Can you look into my future and honestly tell me that it will be okay?

After a recent relapse of my depressive episodes, I thought the worst was over. From now on, it could only go uphill, right? I felt hopeful, clear-headed, and ready to face the lemons that life threw at me. That same day, my dog, as dear to me as any other family member or close friend, had a heart attack and left this world forever. Nah, life didn’t just throw lemons at me. It squeezed lemon juice into my fresh wounds.

Maybe it will get better eventually, but relying on such a murky and uncertain possibilities will not change how I feel now.

“You know, this is all happening because of your cognitive errors.”

No duh. Would you tell a cancer victim that their condition occurred to them because of physiological errors? Obviously! Depression is a mental disease, and the sooner people accept that, the less people will judge each other for things that they might not completely understand.

EVERYONE has cognitive errors to a certain extent. Everyone is flawed, and everyone makes mistakes. What is a cognitive “error” anyways? Is it a cognitive property that tends to make us unhappy? Stop treating it like it is something we erroneously planned out. Being depressed is just an extreme chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s not always under our control.

“You need to stop being so sensitive. Be strong.”

Let me tell you something. Depression HURTS. It’s not a passing worry that stings for a second, and starts to ease. It’s not something that can be easily brushed off. It is a pang. It is physically painful. Imagine your chest sandwiched between two extremely heavy and powerful magnets of opposite poles. It bears down on your heart, and wears it down.

Have you ever had one of those nightmares where you fall down flat on the ground, and people walk all over and trample you as you futilely struggle to lift yourself? You raise your head with every ounce of willpower you own, and open your mouth to say something, but alas! Someone’s polished black boot slams against your lips, crushing your nose inwards and and pushing your mutilated face back down on the concrete floor.

You want to cry out for help, but no one can hear you. And then finally you see a familiar face. “That sucks. Sorry,” they manage, and inch away from you. Because who wants to be affected by such negativity? Better to surround yourself with those who make you happy. They run far, far, away, looking back at first with pity, but finally deciding to distance themselves. They favor the company of those who will make them smile, laugh, and forget about the piteous creature writhing in pain on the floor who can only bring them down.

Depression is a headache, heartache, and stomach ache. Even the smallest of things – a friend laughing at your foolish actions, considering you an amusingly clueless and stupid individual or a parent closing their bedroom door, forging a physical wooden block of distance from you – makes your stomach twist with uneasiness. It is as if there are a few big, slimy tuna fish living in your guts, and any time someone does something that disappoints you, they start colliding against your walls furiously, trying to escape. Your stomach is such an inhospitable environment that even the most repulsive of creatures want to abandon you.

So, yes, it would be helpful if I were stronger and less sensitive. But it is not something than I can change so easily.

On a hopeful note, I am planning to make some drastic changes in my life. Will it work out for the better? Who knows. I can’t control how the world reacts to my decisions. I can only hope.