by C.L. FREDERICK
Recognizing You Need Help And That There Is Hope
There have been innumerable instances in my life in which I have felt like I was standing on the edge of the proverbial cliff. Preparing to fall because I had lost all hope. That my mental disorder and addictions could never be bested. Getting to that point is not only frightening, but can also be a paralyzing and hopeless experience.
Going months without using is an accomplishment and a source of great pride, but when you relapse it is humiliating and difficult to overcome. I never planned on having addiction issues and I never wanted to admit to having a mental disorder. They are a part of me and need to be addressed.
It is OK to acknowledge our faults and imperfections. It is time to end the stigmas associated with mental disorders and addiction because they can happen to anyone and there should never be shame associated with things that demand medical attention and understanding. It is OK to admit to these issues and it is OK to seek help.
For nearly a year, I have been having a series of the most vivid reoccurring dreams. They have left me shaken to the core. I have never been one to see meaning in our dreams. These dreams have been different and have certainly captured my full attention.
These dreams are always set in a park. Birds chirping, a beautiful blue sky, and the greenest of green trees surrounding me. I am sitting on a handcrafted wooden bench and am surrounded by three women.
These women are my angels, yet they don’t have wings and they resemble everyday women. One is a wise African American woman with the most enchanting smile. Another is the most loving Latina woman who sits next to me and holds me. The third is a Caucasian woman with the blondest of hair who radiates calming energy.
These women spend time talking to me about how much they love me and how special I am. They tell me all the great things they see in me. However, they eventually begin to calmly tell me that they aren’t able to put off the inevitable anymore. They aren’t able to grant me any more time. They lovingly explain that as much as they want to, they simply can’t continue to extend my time here on Earth. They have given me much more time than they were allowed to.
My time, if I did not make some changes, would finally be up. The four of us cry together and each holds onto my right hand. When I wake up, I always feel loved and sad at the same time. The dreams stay with me and leave me interpreting them as it’s time to make changes or I will not make this a long life. A very profound and spiritual happenstance; or maybe the dreams were fated to happen in order to reach me before it was too late. Either way, they certainly made an impact.
Since I was a kid I have battled depression and abandonment issues. As an adult, I never wanted to use them as an excuse. I always hoped people who knew me would just get it and be conscious of that in how they related to and understood me. This has rarely been the case and I am fully to blame for that. I have never been medicated for this issue. I never was one who wanted to live a life relying on medication to make me normal.
I believed that the use of medication to treat depression and anxiety would only mask the problems and either make me a zombie or teach me to not deal with these issues on my own. I was embarrassed to admit I struggled and was intensely ashamed that I was not normal. I tried so hard to deal with my issues on my own, but they never got better. I was on a collision course and what was to come next would lead straight to addiction.
Hurt and fear became overwhelming in my life and I was learning how to mask those feelings. Alcohol led to marijuana, marijuana led to a substantial cocaine addiction, and cocaine led to a few random encounters with methamphetamine.
The realization that I could have avoided all of this by simply admitting I had a mental disorder and seeking treatment most likely would have rescued me from addiction, but I was too scared to have that label – too fearful that it indeed meant I was crazy. The truth is it happens and seeking help can save your life or the life of someone you love.
Sometimes the gay world can be a cruel place. People are constantly trying to “humble” others they see as needing to be taken down a peg or two. We are guilty of tearing each other apart socially for reasons that are truly beyond me.
When I first entered the gay scene in Kansas City, I experienced this social matter from day one. People gossiped about me, wanting to know my story (though they never asked me), and that is when I realized I had become an object. Looks and sex trumped my brain or achievements. I started talking to the most beautiful guy. He was just my type and I saw him as someone I could have a life with. Having been let down by my first Kansas City boyfriend and his continual judgments of me, I saw this guy as someone who would give me a real chance and would value getting to know me.
We started writing flirty posts to each other on Facebook and talking nonstop. I have never been that excited about anyone (and if you want my vanity to come out, I have been with some incredibly famous men) so he was certainly a very special person to me.
This romance came to a screeching halt the day before our first date. A group of gays started gossiping about me and the guy I was so excited to go on a date with. I began getting an insane amount of messages on social media and through text, warning me about the guy I was talking to. They felt the need to warn me, to tell me his business and to inform me that he was not acceptable to talk to. I came to discover that he was HIV positive and that he struggled with a mental disorder and addiction issues.
I brought this up to him and he was so crushed. He was so hurt. I will never be able to erase this experience from my memory. It is the most shameful moment of my life. He had planned on telling me on our date and wanted to do it in person. I called off our date due to the social pressures of my newfound gay social clique.
I was bewildered and caved to the social demands of people who I eventually found out the hard way were never truly my friends. Having never met anyone with HIV or a drug issue, I did not know how to initially react. This is the only moment in my life that I wish I could take back. The only moment that brings me such overwhelming shame. I dismissed and threw away a man I thought was perfect for me because of social stigmas and pressure. It will haunt me for eternity.
Little did I know then that I, too, would find myself as an HIV positive man who faced mental disorders and addiction issues. We should all be a bit more compassionate because these issues can happen to any of us.
I had come to the realization that most people believe that mental disorders and addiction only happen to a certain type of person. Because of this stigma, I was always too frightened to find out, admit and confront my own afflictions. I was used to being called crazy and not normal, so I fought ferociously to never accept those comments as fact. I was going to fight with bared teeth to prove them wrong.
As difficult as this new mentality was, it actually brought me strength and understanding of my humanity. I was free to express myself and to not fear living a life I believed in. People’s critiques in zero way hold importance, especially when those people offer gossip, rumors, innuendo, and judgments instead of offering their hand to someone who obviously needs support or help.
I have learned that mental disorders and addiction are common and prevalent, with around 54 million Americans suffering from some form of mental disorder and around 25 million Americans battling addiction. Countless others are not seeking out the help that they need because they have bought into the social stigmas associated with mental disorders and addiction.
Could this possibly be a connection to our exceedingly high incarceration and suicide rates in America? For me, the answer to that question is clearly yes; there is most definitely a strong association.
It should be noted that the LGBTQ community is at a huge risk for mental disorders and drug addiction. For whatever reason, we are a vulnerable community. Not many are so fearless to admit to having used methamphetamine. Some of our favorite celebrities have gone through the same things, but are too ashamed to talk about it. We can piece together what happened to them, but I find it odd that with their enormous fan bases and their substantial LGBTQ following they don’t discuss their issues more in hopes that they could affect, inspire, support, bring awareness to, or encourage others to seek help. I understand that talking about things isn’t always easy to socially digest.
We sometimes expect our leaders and idols to be perfect. The problem with that expectation is that no one is without their own issues. Even our own LGBTQ leaders sweep their past addictions and issues under the rug and only draw attention to how well they are doing now.
No one is ever expected to share things they do not want to share, but if you want to lead and have influence, you need to realize that you represent the entire LGBTQ community, not just who you want to represent.
Reach out, talk about things that maybe aren’t safe and acknowledge that the LGBTQ community is vulnerable. Offer your hand to those who are facing mental disorders and addiction issues.
Most people are not prepared to cope with learning someone they love or have a friendship with has a mental illness. It can be physically and emotionally trying, and can make those battling feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others. If you think you or someone you know may have a mental disorder or addiction problem, it is important to remember there is hope and help is available.
As soon as I told my family, I felt such a weight lifted off my shoulders. I was free. I sought out help from my HIV specialist and case manager. They were godsends and have helped me begin maybe the most difficult and beautiful time in my life; finding help and healing.
Talk to your doctor, tell your family, or reach out to friends. Just opening up and admitting to someone you have a problem is the best first step to take. In short, we endure. Treatment, therapy, support groups, and figuring out a medication that will work for my mental disorder are being addressed and I am thankful that I now feel I have a second lease on life.
President Barack Obama commented once that “if you’re headed for a cliff, you have to change direction.” That has stuck with me and has become my touchstone for seeking help and eventually overcoming.