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"There was a lot of pressure to turn out ‘normal’ or ‘perfect’ "

This LGBT+ History Month, Sarah shares how finding her tribe helped her to embrace her sexuality and positive mental health.

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Trigger warning: This post contains references to body dysmorphia.

My mental health history has been linked to my sexuality for as long as I can remember.  As soon as those first feelings of attraction started surfacing in middle school, I knew that what I felt for girls wasn’t deemed ‘normal’. 

I seemed to instinctively know that it was something I had to keep to myself and hide as much as possible. As my Mum's only child, subconsciously I think there was a lot of pressure to turn out ‘normal’ or ‘perfect’ so I didn’t disappoint her. Experiencing this pressure at such a young age was already starting to affect my wellbeing. 

Going into an all girls senior school, where virtually every sentence that came out of their mouths was to do with either make-up or boys, I felt I had to step up the effort to hide who I truly was. I was so obviously different in many ways though, and as a consequence I was bullied a lot, and I found myself becoming increasingly isolated and depressed.

I suffered a nervous breakdown at 16 years old and ended up coming out to my Mum, which didn’t initially go well. I think that disappointment that I had always been so scared of was what she was feeling. Soon afterwards I came out to my best friend, whose first words were “So?”. She was so chilled out and totally supportive, and I think her attitude really helped my Mum to eventually come around and be fully on board with who I was. So much so that before she passed away she was getting really excited about coming to Brighton Pride with me!

It wasn’t until I discovered the internet and online message boards that I started to discover my ‘tribe’. All of those disenfranchised oddballs from every walk of life who just didn’t seem to fit in. Although I met my fair share of toxic people (always be careful who you talk to online!) it was through finding and talking to the good ones that I started gaining the courage to start finding who I really was.

I cut my hair short, started wearing clothes that really felt like ‘me’ and got my first lip piercing. I came out to the rest of my family. I had my first relationship.

Such is the power of finding your community.

There were however, still huge hurdles to overcome back in the early 2000s. The world still viewed gay people as something to discriminate against. Something still seen as morally wrong, and dirty. 

In my late teens and early 20s, I embraced my ‘soft-butch’ look. I had people shouting vulgar things at me from cars, from building sites, from the other side of the street. These comments hurt, and left their mark in the form of self-hatred and body dysmorphia, which is when you see your body as being worse than it is. It further compounded the mental health issues that I was already struggling with. It took everything I had to not go back into hiding and continue to show my true self, but I persevered. 

It also took years and years for the world around me to catch up and start seeing me as just another person. An anonymity which I truly relish now. I can go out with my short hair, no make-up and boy jeans and nobody bats an eye. It has been a hard earned freedom though.

The message from me is, do not give up. No matter what struggles you are in the middle of. There is always, and I mean ALWAYS, that pinprick of light in the darkness to focus on, no matter how tiny it is. Hold on, breathe, and push through.

If there were 5 main bits of advice I would give for keeping your head above water, it would be these:

  1. Find a positive outlet for your emotions. Music, art, journaling, hiking, gardening, exercise etc.
  2. Look after your body. Hydrate, eat well, sleep enough, limit alcohol intake.
  3. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Take each day as it comes and ride the waves.
  4. Shower or take a bath. It may sound silly, but it can make you feel so much better in general.
  5. Try not to isolate yourself. Keeping to yourself for too long will usually magnify negative feelings.
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