Content warning: suicidal thoughts
By Hannah Johnson
I had always been an anxious person, and by the time I started high school I was also depressed. When I was fourteen, my mother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. I was told by a few of my peers that my mom was sick because I was bisexual, that God had made her sick to punish me. I’d like to think that I never believed that, but regardless, it was scarring to hear other people tell me that something so traumatic was my fault. Later that year I was diagnosed with clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
I don’t think my depression was directly related to my sexual orientation. Even on my worst days, I was secure in my identity as a bisexual girl, and I knew that my feelings for my then-girlfriend weren’t wrong. However, I lived with the lingering fear of being rejected by friends and peers. This created distance between me and the people around me and made it increasingly hard to ask for help.
My anxiety and depression became more than I could handle, and when I went through a difficult breakup a year later, I became suicidal. I lost over twenty pounds in less than a month, couldn’t sleep and was having up to five panic attacks each day. My waking hours were spent crying and shaking uncontrollably, dreading the next attack. I sincerely believed that life was not worth living, not like that. Halfway through my junior year of high school, I decided I was going to kill myself.
A girl in one of my classes noticed that I was behaving differently, that I was extremely withdrawn and unresponsive. One day she asked me if I was feeling suicidal, and I told her the truth. She sat with me for an hour and told me that what I was feeling was valid and real, but that I shouldn’t end my life. When I asked her why, she said, “Because you’re important. We’re all more important than we know.” She told me that even if I didn’t believe it right then, it was possible for me to feel better, and that my life was valuable to her. She made me promise that I wouldn’t kill myself that night, and with her encouragement I was able to get help. She made me believe that I was worth getting help.
I am deeply concerned about the results of studies showing that bisexuals are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety and suicide. These disparities are a tragic consequence of living in a judgmental, heteronormative society, and at times circumstances seem so dire that as a community, we don’t know where to start. In a perfect world, there would be no biphobia, and I hope that if I don’t live to see that day, future generations will. But for the time being, I think we have a powerful tool for fighting our way through depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts: each other.
This is why the connections we make with other people are so important. Not everyone has a reliable support system within their family or group of friends, so we owe it to each other to step in and be that support system when it’s needed. We can help each other by sharing the stories of our struggles with mental illness. We can help each other remember that although being bisexual in this day and age comes with its own set of obstacles, sexual orientation itself is not a cause of mental illness. If we are struggling with difficult feelings, it’s not necessarily because we’re bisexual but because we’re human beings.
It’s been five years since I planned to take my own life. I’ve been on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications since then, and although I continue to have ups and downs, my quality of life has improved by miles. I am grateful for the life that I decided not to give up. If there’s one thing I want everyone to take away from my story, it’s that you’re important, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. There’s nothing wrong with seeing a counselor or being prescribed medication. There’s nothing wrong with taking a day off to take care of yourself. Whatever it takes to get through one more day, it’s worth it. You’re worth it.
Hannah attended the University of California Riverside. She studied Creative Writing and LGBT studies, and is a moderator for The Non-Mono Perspective, a blog about non-monosexual identities and issues.
This post originally appeared in Bi Women Quarterly in Spring 2014 and is reprinted with permission. Read current and back issues and sign up for a free electronic subscriptions to Bi Women Quarterly at www.biwomenboston.org.