by L.K. McKinnon
For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled with loving myself. People make it sound so easy to love yourself, but it is a concept I haven’t been able to master. I blame white heteropatriarchal society for making black queer women, girls, and femmes hate ourselves. But, I also blame depression for my lack of self-love. Since middle school I have suffered from depression and anxiety. I thought those were the only mental illnesses I suffer from. Last summer, however, I learned the horrific truth that this is not the case.
In May 2015, I finally decided to take an antidepressant to help manage my depression. For the first month on it, life was going as good as it usually did for me: a little above bearable. Then things started to fall apart. I was acting erratically, from quitting my summer job to discussing my sexuality on Facebook in all caps. For days I couldn’t eat or sleep. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and my family didn’t know what was wrong with me. They tried to help me by telling me to calm down and encouraging me to eat and sleep. The only exception was my sister, who repeatedly called me “crazy” and “a drama queen.” Their lack of understanding made me suicidal.
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I never acted on my thoughts and instead sought help from my cousins and friends. My cousins turned out to be my biggest supporters by talking to my parents, suggesting they take me to the emergency room. At one hospital, the only thing they told me was that I was experiencing side effects from my antidepressant and that it will go away. My parents, and especially me, couldn’t wait for “eventually.” So the next day my parents took me to a psychiatric hospital where I was admitted as a patient.
My time at the hospital felt like a living nightmare. The first day was the worst as I was now living under a set schedule and guidelines in the horrendous state I was in. A doctor had to sedate me to sleep. I went from being the most hyperactive person in the building to the numbest. I felt like a zombie when my parents came to visit me one day. I spent five days in the hospital before I was released.
I thought my life would return back to normal when I got home. Instead, my world was flipped upside down…again. My three best friends dumped me via a Tumblr message. It felt as if someone had dragged me to hell for a week and brought me back to earth only to shoot me in the heart. As with most (friend) break ups, I went through the stages of denial and anger, blaming them for leaving me. But as time went on I turned my anger away from them and toward myself. I blamed and hated myself for pushing my best friends away. even after being diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder, unofficially known as bipolar disorder III. What I had suffered from was a hypomanic episode.
The loss of my best friends was really painful because they had been my source of support for past difficult moments in my life. They were there for me when I came out to my parents as bisexual. They were there for me as I watched the events in Ferguson and Baltimore unfolded. They were the best white queer allies a black queer woman could ever ask for…or so I thought. So it made sense to reach out to them in my time of need. However, the way I went about it in my hypomanic state, blowing up their phones with calls and messages did not help the situation. For the longest time I sought a way to apologize to them and craved for their forgiveness. Slowly but surely I have come to realize that I do not owe them an apology for something I had no control over. I probably will never receive their forgiveness and that’s okay because I need to focus my energy on forgiving myself.
Today I realize how blessed I was to be able to go to the hospital and receive the help I so desperately needed. Not everyone, especially queer and trans people of color, has access to mental health services or can afford treatment and therapy. I am fortunate to be able to see a psychiatrist at least once a month and have tried several different medications. It is only recently that I started to see a counselor again. Going to counseling has helped me tremendously. My counselor has made me realized how malicious I had been treating myself over what had happened to me. When you are having a cyclothymic episode, you have no control over the things you say and do. Your reality is vastly different from those around you, seeing and hearing things others cannot.
I am learning to forgive myself for being emotionally self-abusive after going through hell and back again last summer. I am learning to say goodbye to the old L.K. and embrace the new L.K. I am learning how to love myself after going through years and years of hating myself. My mental illness does not define me. My old friends do not define me. The only person who can truly define me is me.
L.K. McKinnon is a writer studying English at George Washington University and is the founder and former co-president of Society of Womanists. When she’s not writing, she is reading, performing spoken word or blogging about diverse YA literature and womanist issues.