How to Deal and Live With Your Brain Goblin
Mental health and illness have been an interest of mine and a big part of my life for a long time now. I was also aware of the fact that queerness, blackness, immigration and other sources of otherness seemed to be linked to a high prevalence of mental illness. It’s not hard to see why, you live in a society that tries to tell you that you’re wrong and eventually you start to see it in yourself. I set out to write this article so that someone starting to struggle with their sexuality and with their mental illness could have what I so desperately wanted when I was going through that period in my life. Recognition.
I was also aware of the fact that queerness, blackness, immigration and other sources of otherness seemed to be linked to a high prevalence of mental illness. you live in a society that tries to tell you that you’re wrong and eventually you start to see it in yourself.
Since every cis white dude you’ve ever met who’s totally not homophobic or sexist at all but just wants to play devil’s advocate is definitely going to question lived experience though, I figured I should try and find some studies to back me up.
In a study done by Mustanski et al, investigating the prevalence of mental illness in LGBTQ youths found that a third of the participants met criteria for mental disorders and that LGBTQ youths in general had a higher rate of mental illnesses than youths in the national sample (USA) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2978194/)
In a GLEN funded report on the connection between mental illness and LGBTQ persons, it was found that 86% of online survey participants and 90% of interview participants had experienced depression or depressed moods at one point in their lives. The average age of first suicide attempt among online participants was 17.5% (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.853.2745&rep=rep1&type=pdf)
In October, after a report showing the prevalence of mental illness among transgender people in Sweden was released, the Swedish government ordered a more extensive study into the mental health conditions of transgender people. In ILGAs ranking of all European countries in terms of policy and treatment of LGBT populations, Sweden ranks 12th. (https://www.thelocal.se/20171012/swedish-government-orders-study-of-transgender-peoples-living-conditions-mental-health)(https://rainbow-europe.org/country-ranking# )
I was curious to see a) how this affected the people around me and b) what kind of coping mechanisms people used. Coping mechanism is a sort of survival strategy that helps you adapt to a stressful situation and who wouldn’t want more tips on those.
I asked a few of my friends these four questions to see if I could get an answer and answered the questions myself as well. This is less of a complementary study and more lived experiences and friendly advice.
Anna and I went to school together but I actually only met her because her girlfriend and I are close friends. Fierce, fab and fantastic, her main interests are Drake, make-up and dogs. All the dogs.
Dani: Lovely, funny, passionate and loathes working in customer service. Amazingly talented and kind and writes beautiful poetry.
Nadiya and I also went to school together and bonded over our mutual love-hate relationship with all things nerdy. She’s smart, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, kind and hilarious. She’s studying linguistics and computer sciences. She is a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons and podcasts on history and linguistics.
Amanda studies political science with me and is insightful, kind and super-funny. She likes football and is low-key obsessed with Ru-Paul’s Drag Race
All you need to know about me is that I study political science and I cover my insecurities with terrible what-I-insist-on-calling humour.
1) What have your experiences with mental illness been?
Anna: Diagnosed with Major depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and supposedly social phobia
Dani: It’s been such an ever-present thing in my life that I couldn’t imagine my life without it being a part of me. I try not to let it define me as a person however, it’s not a deciding factor in my worth or my abilities. Friends and family have also experienced it which can be difficult but also means I have a support system.
Nadiya: Almost entirely related to academic performance. Have undergone different physical and psychological examinations.
Amanda: I went through a type of depression when I was 12 because I was sick for a long time. A few years later, I started dealing with anxiety related to issues with coming out. I had panic attacks, long periods of anxiety and trouble sleeping. I didn’t tell anyone at the time and a few years after that, I started dealing with anxiety and panic attacks again. This time, I was in a relationship and it affected more people than just me so I felt like I had to take care of it this time. I called Vårdcentralen wondering if my anxiety was related to hormonal imbalances because I usually get spikes before and during my period. Their response was “everyone is sad when they’re on their period” which was no help at all so I started seeing a therapist at ungdomsmottagningen. However, I turned 23 a few months later meaning I aged out of the system. I went to a doctor who prescribed me antidepressants and tried to set me up with a psychologist at vårdcentralen because she thought I needed both medicine and therapy. The psychologist didn’t think I had enough problems to need therapy so I only saw her the one time. Fortunately, my parents helped me financially to see a private therapist instead. I’ve been on antidepressants for almost a year and I still have panic and anxiety attacks which are hard and tiring but I know more about how to deal with them now.
Me: Diagnosed with GAD, panic disorder and major depression with possible hypomania
2) How do you feel media portrays mental illness?
Anna: It is either portrayed badly or not at all. There is a lot of romanticising of mental illnesses and negative support systems on social media forums.
Dani: Very badly, it is delegitimized and people are labelled lazy and are often not realistic. This has a dehumanising effect in real life. Our lived experiences are devalued and disrespected which stigmatises mental illnesses and leads us to avoid talking about it in real life.
Nadia: The media often links mental illness to abuse and violence. There aren’t many popular narratives of people coping or healing. It seems TV shows can have wonderful depictions of struggles with mental health if they don’t refer to it as a mental illness. Bipolarity is reserved for homicidal people and depressed is for neglectful abusive mothers.
Amanda: Like it’s a bigger deal than it is. I know many people with different mental illnesses and it’s a normal part of life. It’s what my reality looks like but it is not how that has been portrayed to me in media. In media, mental illness is wrongly portrayed as something you’re not supposed to talk about and is a huge deal if you have it. We would all benefit from having a more relaxed and informed view of it.
Me: Not great at all. Either it’s demonize or romanticize to say nothing of the fact that it is mainly brought up in news when trying to excuse violent behaviour borne out of other causes.
3) What coping mechanisms do you use when you feel bad?
Anna: I use distractions: nature walks with my dog, watching movies, online shopping, sleeping, eating and cooking. If it’s really bad I use medications and sleeping
Dani: Negative: self-isolation, controlling behaviour, self-deprecation and questioning my self-worth, sleeping irregularly.
Positive mechanisms: talking to my family and friends, going to therapy, trying to keep a regular schedule and giving myself enough time to rest. I check for the core four questions: Have I slept enough? Have I eaten well? Have I drunk enough water? Have I been out in the sun?
Nadiya: I usually avoid my problems by napping. Texting a friend is good even if it’s not about feelings at all. I also have a small collection of documents I’ve written to vent. I firmly believe in writing things down so that your thoughts can be somewhere outside of our head. It makes it easier to disengage while still acknowledging that they’re there.
Amanda: Sometimes I don’t have the energy to go through the anxiety so I just push it away but that’s not a good solution in the long term. I’ve gotten better at asking for help which is something that used to scare me but now I have a few people that I trust enough to tell and be there for me. I try to take deep breaths and not to be scared because I know it lasts for a short period of time and gets better after a while
Me: I sleep and eat a lot or not at all. I isolate myself and pile on the self-loathing thoughts. When I can manage healthy coping mechanisms, I try and read, write, play music, do dance exercises and cook. If it’s getting worse, I usually call my friend or my therapist.
4) What do you wish you had known at the start of your journey with mental health (so any advice for people who are just starting to struggle with it)
Anna: It’s not worth it
Dani: It’s ok to seek help. It’s always ok to stop hanging out with and stop seeking approval of people who don’t respect you. Try to surround yourself with supportive people who will be able to put themselves and their health first when they need to. Don’t create unhealthy coping mechanisms involving other people. Trust and invest in yourself by establishing a self-care routine
- It doesn’t matter if other people have it worse. It’s a problem, you should try to solve it because you deserve to feel better. Dealing with mental health is not one-size-fits-all.
- Mental health involves putting out fires and forgiving yourself (which is hard, I know) but it’s also about celebrating yourself. Not out of spite or in defiance but because that’s a small part of what happiness is for me.
- You are not a problem that needs to be “dealt with”, you are a living, breathing person. “Treat yourself the way you would treat your daughter” is a tip I’ve heard and I like it more than “be kind to yourself” or “be patient with yourself”. Sometimes you should be real with yourself and sometimes you need to explain things to yourself like you’re talking to a 5-year-old.
Amanda: People don’t like to talk about it but so many people will recognise and understand what you’re going through. It is scary but you will get better at handling it. I feel like I know and understand myself better after going to therapy and analysing my thoughts and feelings. It’s still hard sometimes and I still have panic attacks but it’s gotten much scarier than a year ago. The super cliché advice is that it does get better.
Me: You’re allowed to feel bad even if you have good things in your life. Not everybody will understand but more people will be there for you than you think. You’re not being lazy or making this up for attention you need help and you deserve to get it.
As said above, these aren’t meant to be generalizable answers that can show an overall pattern. They’re just a small reflection of a pattern already found. The main takeaway from this is that you should never feel ashamed or afraid to talk about these issues and get yourself the help you need.
If you feel the need to get help or talk to someone please call 1177 vårdguiden
Note: Answers have been edited for clarity and conciseness. Names have been changed for anonymity