Almost half of individuals who identify as LGBTQ report living in an unwelcoming environment. 1 in 4 LGBTQ teens suffer homelessness after they come out. As many of those attempt suicide.
Meet Wilhelm. A lover of art, literature, and people, Wil grew up in a very conservative, Christian environment. Identifying as a gay man, his mental health suffered from suppressing his authentic self and the shame that followed it. Today, Wil speaks his truth to help others, regardless of their belief, realize that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that they are worthy of love and belonging. Continue on to read Wil’s inspiring truth:
UR Enough: Please introduce yourself to the UR Enough community
Wilhelm: My name is Wil, and I’m a South African-Canadian. I moved to Toronto from Vancouver a couple months ago with my boyfriend Derek (and his cat, Milton). I’m excited to live and work in the big city. I came out when I was 22, which signalled a turning point in the way I view myself and my mental health. I grew up in a very conservative, Christian environment, so it was pretty tough.
My experience has taught me not only to be kinder to myself, but also all people and their unique struggles. I share my story because I want to help people, regardless of belief, to recognize their worthiness.
I am just one person speaking about my experience; I don’t intend to speak for a community or generalize a very unique and diverse group of people.
UR Enough: Okay, Wil, we are just going to jump right in.. historically, one might say that homosexual individuals have been shamed and oppressed in our society, and this oppression continues in many forms today. Why do you think talking about mental wellness in the LGBTQ community is so important and conversation should be encouraged even if a topic is found difficult to tackle?
Wil: I think the misconception is often that LGBTQ issues are only about sex. People don’t consider the negative impact that being different in this way can have on a person’s mental health. The LGBTQ community doesn’t simply want the freedom to have sex with whom they choose. They want to be accepted in their communities. They want to be able to go to work without the fear of getting fired. They want to go to family gatherings without their uncles invalidating them or their relationships. They want to be able to show affection without fear, and they want to be able to love without shame.
1 in 4 LGBTQ teens attempt suicide, and as many suffer homelessness after they come out. Those are seriously disturbing numbers. If you’re unsure about whether mental wellness is an issue within the LGBTQ community, imagine losing your home and being ostracized from your family and your community—consider what that would do to you. It may not happen to most gay men, but I do think that most of us have lived in fear of that loss at some point.
I also think its important for people within the gay community to speak about mental health. There’s a reason that the “mean gay” stereotype exists, and you can find many gay men who have the perfect bodies, the most stylish clothes, and the highest status careers, but still finds themselves intensely sad and lonely. I don’t think we do enough to create healthy, accepting environments for each other. I want people to realize that they don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love and belonging, and I want all of us to work towards realizing that.
UR Enough: Almost half of individuals who identify as LGBTQ report living in an unwelcoming environment. You also have mentioned that you grew up gay in an unaccepting community. How did this affect your own mental wellness and how do you now nourish it today?
Wil: I grew up in a very conservative Christian environment. Both my high school and my university were private Christian schools. Any outright hostility directed towards gay people was rare, but there was a culture of in-acceptance and shame surrounding it. It was either a grave sin or a punch-line.
I managed to do alright until my third year of university. I tried everything I could be to be perfect. I had a 4.0 GPA, I led multiple school clubs and associations, I was an RA. But during my third year, I started to crack. I forgot how to sleep. My mind was working so hard to suppress my sexuality, that I did not know how to let it relax so I can rest. It became so bad that I almost dropped out of university, and that’s after maintaining incredible grades.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with depression and put on medication, which helped, but I knew that I needed to get to the root cause of the problem. Sadly, I remember thinking, even if my parents were to accept me, I didn’t want to be gay. I saw no way to be happy. I wanted a wife and kids — I thought that was the only way. I had to start dreaming differently to be happy.
My journey of self-acceptance started by letting go of some bad people and surrounding myself with incredible ones. At first, I tried to join every LGBTQ club that I could, but I actually found the most happiness when I found people who simply shared my interests and values. I love reading, and I found that a good novel was also amazing self-care.
UR Enough: We can imagine that there might be a great sense of social isolation and loneliness when you are struggling with coming out. For some, they might even attempt to suppress their true selves. If you could, what would you say to someone who might be struggling?
Wil: It’s not worth it. There’s no greater feeling than being loved for who you are. When we try to hide who we are, we become shells of ourselves. You’re going to find yourself looking at that shell, knowing its incomplete, and understand that all the love and validation it receives is worth nothing.
You probably also want to feel normal and natural, so I want you to know that regardless of your belief system, you are fearfully and wonderfully made.* It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe there was a Maker. Two cells multiplied into a full human being who can love and desire and think—that’s crazy. And you’re not flawed. You’re more like the X-men, so use your difference and your struggle to be kind to others and to make life easier for others. There are many ways to be different.
You might also lose people you love, and it’s going to hurt, but you’ll also find many who still love you, possibly even love you more. I am very lucky and privileged to say that all the critical people in my life remained in my life. With my siblings, in particular, I feel like it only made us closer. Coming out to them took enormous amounts of vulnerability, which they reciprocated by affirming their love for me. It took our relationships to another level.
I think it’s also important to note that I did not know I would be accepted. In my mind, everyone was going to abandon me. A lot of this was because of my own perception, but also because comments people made in the past (when you’re closeted, you remember every joke, every accusation, quite painfully). I find that when people, regardless of their beliefs, have to face a person they love coming out, it can cause a paradigm shift. It doesn’t matter what they said or thought about gay people before, something changes. Often people who make jokes about the LGBTQ community have never even met a gay person. Sometimes all people need is someone they actually love and care about, not a socially constructed idea of a gay person, to give them a new perspective. You, as a real human being, will be much more powerful than someone’s made up idea about LGBTQ people. And if they still don’t accept you, then it says more about them than you. Period.
*I quoted a Psalm (from the Bible), and I get the irony in that, but my mom used to tell me that all the time growing up. I find religion to be much more effective when its used to love, rather than to tear down.
UR Enough: We asked you several questions surrounding mental wellness leading up to the campaign. What are some of your own mental wellness rituals that you incorporate into your daily life?
Wil: I love keeping both my brain and my body healthy—I don’t really think of them separately. On the days that I skip the gym I feel cranky and gross. I’m harder on myself, and I’m less kind to my loved ones. I also love a guided mindful meditation app called Headspace. Mindfulness was a new concept for me when I started, but I’ve noticed an incredible difference. The easiest way for me to explain it is to use a metaphor from the app itself. Even when our minds are cloudy with negative thoughts and feelings, there’s always blue sky above the storm. Mindfulness (and Headspace) helps you access the blue to help you cope with the storm. Oh, and another example (this app is great)! Sometimes we try to control our mind in a negative way; we try to wrestle with thoughts and feelings. Headspace asks you to imagine your mind like a highway, with thoughts and feelings going both ways. When you try to control or change one of the cars, you cause congestion—or worse, an accident. Mindfulness is another way to “let go,” to let the traffic flow freely.
Lastly, I love to take baths when I feel stressed. I think it’s the combination of spoiling myself and being submerged in water. It helps me be mindful until my fingers shrivel up.
UR Enough: What is one thing you love most about yourself?
Wil: My empathy. It gives me direction and purpose in life, and to me, there’s few things more meaningful than making someone feel heard and understood.
UR Enough: In five words, what does the messaging and community of UR Enough mean to you?
Wil: Heartwarming, inspiring, kind, needed,
Watch and listen to Wil speak his truth in The #UREnough Campaign, and become inspired to nurture your own mental wellness and speak your truth, too.