These days a week doesn’t pass by without there being a day dedicated to raising awareness for something, and two in the past week crept up and flew past without me realising, despite seeing a photo of myself and one of my best mates being used to promote one of them a couple of weeks ago.
Thursday was World Mental Health Day and the following day National Coming Out Day. On the face of it two different causes championing different ideas but both of them dealing with the subject of stigma, and I personally believe the two are interlinked further than a simple fight for equality and tolerance in society.
In the UK the lgbt community are more equal in society than they have ever been, but there is still a long way to go until we are as equal as our heterosexual counterparts. When growing up heterosexual teenagers never have to sit their parents down or pen a letter and tell them that they are straight, so why should lgbt teenagers have to discuss their sexuality or gender as if it is something unusual. Just because there are less of us does not mean we should be less equal. So it doesn’t shock me that what with having to deal with homophobia, discrimination and bullying that lgbt people, in particular the younger generation are more likely to suffer from mental health issues.
Living in a world where your feelings can make you feel abnormal and different to your friends and family can’t be good for the mind. Before coming out I was worried that I had let people down, that I was going to be a disappointment, and even when it was obvious my family still accepted me for who I am I still struggled with identity issues and being happy with myself and my body.
So when six years later I found out I was HIV Positive I was concerned that if I disclosed to a lot of people I’d face potential prejudice again and also I would start to feel depressed again. I think that’s why I decided from the start that I had to get my head around the virus and deal with my own issues with HIV before I started to deal with other people’s problems or questions with it.
I knew when the time was right and that’s why last year I came out again, this time not as a gay guy but a guy living with HIV. Instead of feeling anxious and worried I felt liberated and free, no longer hiding something that didn’t matter that much to me, that I wasn’t afraid of and a secret that was stopping me from reaching out to people in the hope that my story might touch someone and make them think about how they’re living their life, and maybe stop a potential diagnosis.
The issue with awareness days is that people stop and think about the people and causes concerned for a little while, but then they’re soon forgotten. Whether it’s depression, coming to terms with being gay, being worried about telling your friends and family or living with a virus, those that do don’t just endure it for one day, the feelings, memories, mental or physical scars will stay with them for a long time or even for life. It’s a hard ask but if people were a little more aware that we are all different, each doing their own thing, we’d have solved half of the issues that ALL the awareness days stand for just like that!