Maintaining Mental Health During the Same-Sex Postal Vote
The internet and media have been flooded with the conversation about marriage equality for the past few years now, however, nothing has compared to the level of exposure it has received over the past few weeks. Along with it has come an alarming amount of anxiety and shame that many had felt they had dealt with and resolved long ago. While we can’t prevent people from voicing their beliefs, we can learn how to ensure we protect and maintain our own mental health and allow ourselves to become mentally stronger and resilient.
Since the idea of a marriage equality plebiscite was first presented, there has been strong resistance to it from mental health organisations who were concerned that it would cause mental hardship on the LGBT community. In the past week, many mental health organisations have spoken about the sharp increase on their services from LGBT youth who are struggling with this vicious debate with some organisations having a 20% increase in their calls. While the government promised a ‘civilized debate’, the ability to facilitate this around such a personal topic that people care passionately about was always going to be in question.
I began noticing it from the moment the postal vote was announced. Many of my friends who were often quite psychologically robust were beginning to say that they were feeling down from watching the news and reading comments online. In many cases, they even felt surprised by their reaction as they perhaps assumed that, after many years of ‘being out’, they were comfortable enough with their identity to no longer allow the narrow-mindedness of others to impact on them. Yet here they were, finding themselves in situations and reading comments that caused them to feel difficult and uncomfortable emotions that many may not have experienced for some time.
On social media, many who would often remain silent have felt compelled to comment on the situation, some even saying that the survey has provoked feelings not too dissimilar to when they were coming out and facing a world that was often quite harsh on LGBT folk. Those feelings of who you could confide in, how would people react, and were you going to be rejected for being true to who you are all easily flood back as if we have managed to go on some horrific time machine. In many ways, the lead up to this survey has allowed us to be intellectual and to understand the approaching ‘no’ vote from a logic viewpoint however, now we are in the midst of this ‘debate’, it has certainly arisen an emotional reaction that many of us were ill prepared for.
On some level, this survey has also made up look at the ideology of friendship. Until recently, I personally thought those who said they would immediately de-friend anyone who voted no as being perhaps ‘a little extreme’. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinion and that means that we do need to accept someone’s right to vote no. What surprised me was when I came across an old high school friend’s profile that heavily supported to ‘no campaign’, complete with the scare-tactics that this side has resorted to using, and discovered that my own emotional side decided that now was the time to step up and take action. In that moment, I realised that these beliefs were so personal and so close to the very core of who we are that it would be hard for me to be genuine or authentic in who I am if I was to spend time with her again. I began to realise that perhaps I was holding onto that friendship because of a shared history however that was now so long ago. Maybe it made more sense and was kinder to be grateful for the times we did enjoy together and, to prevent those memories from being destroyed, time to let it go.
It now went from being about voting a yes or a no, and more to about being authentic, genuine and being allowed to simply be who I naturally am. As the great gay philosopher RuPaul once said, what someone else thinks of you is none of your business – and that is absolutely true. I can’t control what other people choose to believe, nor should I have any right to, but I can choose what kind of people I want to allow in my world. I can decide that I have no place for people who focus on differences and inequality. We all have our beliefs and we can all agree to disagree on many things without it having an impact on a relationship however when it becomes a belief that hinders someone from being genuine or authentic around you, then perhaps it is one belief held too far.
The thought of losing friends… discovering someone who you thought knew you could be a no voter… the fear of rejection or alienation… of being told that you’re flawed or a deviant or unnatural or unlovable… these are all things that feel a little too much like someone just coming out and yet here we are again, finding these emotions surfacing in even the most subtle of communications. No wonder some in our community are struggling with it.
Additionally, to have the ‘no campaign’ attempt to make the LGBT community look even more like villains with claims that this is an attack on ‘free speech’ and ‘political correctness’ and that they are ‘feeling bullied’ is something that adds insult to injury with the LGBT community. I think back only a handful of years ago when my friend Stephen was violently and physically thrown out of the Prahran Hotel on High St because he complained to security about homophobic comments being made to him. If something like this is still happening in recent times, it is very hard for politicians like Tony Abbott to claim that the gay community are no longer harassed any more.
When you consider all of these things, it is easy to understand why we are seeing an alarming increase in calls to help lines and people on social media sharing thoughts of despair and concern about the possibility of the no campaign being successful. It suddenly feels like the world is very much against the LGBT community again after years of making confident strides forward.
With that, it is important to know how to mentally stay strong and to help you in dealing with these difficult times.
Acknowledge those feelings
Your feelings are real and valid, and you might be surprised at just how many others out there are feeling the same. Don’t try to bottle them down and suppress them – trying to escape a negative feeling isn’t going to make it go away. If you’re concerned about becoming overwhelmed or consumed by them, make the conscious decision to allow only a certain amount of time each day to sit with them and feel them.
Talk about it
The ‘debate’ is likely to be bringing up lots of emotions right now; feelings of anger and rejection both from the past and now. Allow yourself the courage and vulnerability to share your thoughts, insecurities and concerns with the people you trust and who you know care for you. During times like this, it is important to have connection and engagement with others who share a common experience. Keep in mind, many non-LGBT people out there share your outrage and anger at this survey. Many Christians are also in support of marriage equality. You are likely to have more of a support resource around you than you may have initially realised.
Write about it
Some people find writing about their thoughts and feelings to be a great way to express what they’re feeling and to, literally, take the problem ‘out of you’. Set aside 15 minutes and just write down what’s there.
Finding acceptance that everyone has their beliefs and their values and that’s what they need to make sense of their world and shape their reality. We can’t change anyone else; the only thing we have control over is ourselves and how we respond. Understanding that many of the insecurities that people may project or excuse through their values is saying more about them than it is about you.
Understand what is and what is not within your power and take action. You can’t stop people from having their say but you can know when to turn off the television or close down the social media for a break away from the madness and to allow yourself a moment of ‘ignorance is bliss’.
Focusing on positives
With so much negativity and uncertainty being shoved in your face, training your mind to see the positives and the negatives in a situation can be a valuable psychological tool to help your mental well being. While we are fighting hard at the moment for equality, to see our community and our allies out in force, letting their voices be heard is heart warming. The ‘no campaign’ is only a fraction of the population compared to the many, many people who welcome equality with open arms.
Don’t allow the negativity to drain you and make you inactive. Exercise helps to release positive endorphins that will keep you focused, strong and more in control.
It’s easy for us to get caught up in what our mind tells us, especially when we start to see proof of that all around us. Mindfulness allows us to catch our mind when it wants us to believe something that isn’t helpful and to create space for those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings so that they have less impact on our lives. It can also allow us to find more acceptance and self-compassion so that, in those moments where old feelings of rejection and alienation are being triggered, we can remind ourselves that we truly are enough on every level.
Lastly, if you’re finding that it all is becoming just too much, get support. There are many organisations out there that will offer support, such as Mind Australia, the Victorian AIDS Council, Switchboard Victoria, Headspace and Beyondblue.
Photo: Instagram: Anthony Dann
You may also like to read:
OUTthink – Talking About Marriage Equality with Joe Busuttil
Release Hypnosis’s Lawrence Akers on JOY FM
Why Gays & Lesbians Need To Focus More On Mental Health
OUTthink – Matthew Cooksey – A Discussion on ‘The Velvet Rage’