Guest writer

Free Hugs: A Simple Truth About Mental Health


Did you know that LGBT people are two to three times more likely to experience a mental health problem than our heterosexual brothers and sisters? Did you also know that we (LGBT) are seven to eight times more likely to commit suicide? Grim facts, I don’t mean to bring you down but stick with me…. I’m giving away free hugs.

 

hug1It depends on which research you believe and of course statistics can be misleading but recent figures suggest that forty four percent of LGBT youth have considered suicide. Personally I believe the above figures (two to three / seven to eight) to be wildly conservative. Let’s get personal and drop the stats for a bit…

 

A few years ago I experienced what is commonly called a ‘nervous breakdown’. I prefer to call it a ‘mental breakdown’ because that is what it felt like. It was as if my mind had crumbled completely and I had no idea who I was anymore. My thoughts were, if you’ll excuse my language – fucked. ‘The fog’ of depression (and if you get depression you will know exactly what I mean) descended at such a speed that it took me with it. I became lost. Lost without anyone or anything to cling onto.

 

Stick with me. I promise things will get better.

 

Depression and anxiety, a part of our mental health, are tough nuts to crack. I think it is a little too easy to say ‘I have depression because I’m gay. I was bullied at school. I spent years being ashamed of my sexuality, therefore obviously I’m depressed’. If you are depressed right now maybe it is because of your sexual preference or gender identification (or more namely: other people’s attitude towards it) but maybe it isn’t.

 

hug2.jpgLet me tell you a little about me, just for a minute. When I had the breakdown (which I now refer to as a ‘breakthrough’ – aka ‘I saw the light’) I spent ten days in a suicide prevention unit. This in itself was wonderful and awful all at the same time. The twist in the tale is this: I’m a trained therapist qualified in counselling and talking therapies. I have worked in facilities very similar to the unit I stayed in. It was weird being ‘on the other side of the couch’ so to speak. I tell you what though, and here is the light at the end of the madness – I have never met such sane people in all my life. Yes. The patients in there (of which I was one) had been through so much shit that they had no choice but to surrender into reality. The conversations we had were honest, authentic – real.

 

What hit me whilst I was in there recovering was that all the years I had been working as a psychotherapist – I actually had no idea what I was talking about. I just bundled all my patients with a mental health problem together and labelled them: ‘mentally ill’. But here is the simple truth – in the suicide prevention unit – we were just human beings who had been through so much that we no longer could stand on our own two feet. Sure, a diagnosis can be helpful with regard to being prescribed the correct meds and of course to be given the right treatment but, actually – weren’t we all just having a very normal response to far too much pressure? This pressure can have many triggers.

 

hug3What pressure are you under right now? Is this made worse by the fact that you’re gay? Bisexual? Questioning? Is it because you are exploring your gender? Because you identify as trans?

 

Or…. dare I say this…. are you just having a very reasonable reaction to an almost unbearable situation? Regardless of who why or what is happening in your world right now. Stay with me.

 

Here is the bit where I talk about hugs. I LOVE hugs!!!

 

hug4I could go into an intellectual, sociological and historical exploration of LGBT health issues and homophobia/transphobia but I’m not going to. I’m not going to because the lovely Darren has done this and will continue to in his work. I’m also not going to because I don’t want either you or me to lose ourselves in facts. I want us both to remember something very simple – we need human affection in order to feel better.

It’s as simple as that.

 

The meds, the therapy, the treatment – all play a part in recovering from a crisis or mental health episode. Do you know why it took me so long to recover? Because I had so little human contact that I couldn’t feel a damn thing.

People are busy. People are so busy with their own lives, friends and family that they often, unintentionally, fail to see the lone LGBT person drowning in a sea of loneliness.

 

It’s lonely being LGBT don’t you think?

Actually – it can be lonely being human.

 

How about we connect with each other as human beings? How about we drop the labels, for now, and reach out to that human being sitting alone on the park bench? What if we all did this? What if, just for today, we dropped the separation of labels and just gave free hugs?

 

hug5Do not misunderstand my intention with this blog post. I value your need to use a label to help you to understand yourself and to assist you in being visible in the world – I get it. For now though, I’m just reaching out to you. The facts of what you are, where you are, what gender you were when you were born, what gender you are now don’t really matter to me.

 

What matters to me is that you don’t have to go through the isolation, abandonment and sadness that I went through back in 2013. It wasn’t because I am gay. It wasn’t a result of schoolyard bullying. It was an absence of affection during a time when I needed human touch. Do you know that people are actually searching the internet for ‘What will happen if I’m never touched?’ ‘How long can I survive without being touched?’ ‘Can I live without hugs?’

 

It’s heart breaking that people are feeling so alone. If you have no family, like me (or at least, I don’t know where they are but that’s a whole other article) then things can indeed be that much harder.

 

The practical stuff that triggered the crisis for me in 2013 (financial loss and eviction) would still have happened but here’s the thing – people were so wrapped up in themselves that they forgot me.

 

Do you know what it feels like to be forgotten?

 

Hang on in there; free hugs are on their way…

It wasn’t all bad news (hooray! I hear you cry). Two of my friends did stick around for the duration (thank you Iain! Cheers Andrew! Love ya!). I made it through. So what I am saying to you is this….. I can see you. I remember you. I love you.

                                  

cool boyNo, we haven’t met. It’s a weird thing to say to a stranger isn’t it? I tell you, I get a few off looks and raised eyebrows when I say ‘lots of love to you’ when I am shaking someone’s hand whom I have only just met.

I no longer give a shit.

 Because I can remember what it feels like to feel unloved. To think I am unlovable. This all comes from isolation, lack of human contact – lack of hugs.

 

Whatever you are going through right now – I can’t rescue you. I am unable to mend your broken heart. All I can do is love you.

 

How does it feel?

 

I know, it does lift the weight off, just a little.

 

Doesn’t that feel great?

 

To be loved.

 

By a perfect stranger.

 

Hug more. Allow yourself to be hugged more.

 

Here’s mine right now: HUG! HUGE HUGE HUG!!! xxxx

 

With love,

 

Matt xx

http://www.facebook.com/mattvalentinemcr

 

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