Towards self-acceptance: Izzy’s story

January 2023

Izzy wrestled with accepting her sexuality for many years and her mental health continued to suffer. Here she reflects on her journey towards self-acceptance and better mental health

I was 16 years old when I first felt that my anxiety and depression was having a debilitating effect on my life. It was when I left school that I really began feeling like that. I went to the doctors and was put on anti-depressants straight away; at that time, during the mid-eighties, talking therapies didn’t really exist.

I’ve been aware that I’m gay since I was 16. But I didn’t want to be that way. So I tried going out with boys, but it never felt right. I tried to deny that I was gay and I’ve denied it until fairly recently. For many years, during my mid-20s and 30s, I was involved with a church that believed that being gay was a sin – and that didn’t help with my self-acceptance.

Now I have peace within myself about my sexuality, but this has only really come in the last two years. After I left the church in my mid-thirties, I still had a voice in my head that said that loving and being attracted to other women was wrong and I carried a lot of guilt about this. I had a few relationships with women and if they didn’t work out, I told myself that I was being punished by God.

When people started talking about being non-binary, that really spoke to me, because it was a term to describe how I have always felt

Izzy

I was just 18 when I became involved with a local church. I was very low at the time and my depression was debilitating. I found solace and comfort in the church; it was a relief to be accepted there. But in reality, I was accepted – but rejected for my sexuality. However, for a brief period of time, the church gave me a feeling of family and community that I was looking for.

Feeling isolated and rejected

Loneliness was the biggest thing for me. I felt isolated by my difference. In my twenties, we had Gay Times, which was very male-orientated, the Pink Paper and Spare Rib, which had a feminist slant. But everywhere else, I sensed that the way I felt about my sexuality just wasn’t accepted.

My family were okay about it really. I never actually had a conversation with my parents about my sexuality – they just saw my lifestyle, me bringing partners back to the house etc, and they accepted it. It wasn’t a big deal for them and they didn’t disown me. It was in wider society that it was hard.

Like many people of my generation, the way I felt about my sexuality had a big effect on my mental health. I have been on anti-depressants for most of my adult life. I spent a few years walking around in a daze, never getting much sleep or feeling truly refreshed. These were really hard times. Then in 2015, I had a nervous breakdown.

I was at the end of a long-term relationship, I had a physical illness that became serious and I had financial woes too. I was working full-time and I felt like I was fire-fighting through life and couldn’t deal with the stress. I spent a period in hospital and was hospitalised three times in two years. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which I have always felt ambiguous about. That was a really hard time.

The impact of support and counselling

But I had a really good mental health nurse, who spent a lot of time helping me. And I got peer support through the Pathfinder service in Bognor, through United Response. I also got help with a local women’s charity, called My Sister’s House in Bognor, which really helped with building my confidence. I benefited from the activities I did with United Response and the peer support I got there, and that helped me get back on track.

Over the years, I also had some counselling to help me deal with conflicting feelings about my sexual identity and the effect it was having on me emotionally. During the nineties, I had some counselling with a woman privately and it was really life-changing. It helped raise my self-esteem and combat my fear of being my true self. I had always felt like a misfit, but the counsellor helped me to build my sense of self-worth and increase my confidence.

These days I would say that my mental health is 70 per cent good. I have bad days still and I haven’t managed to get a job again since my breakdown, but I feel more stable than I have for a long time. And part of that is accepting my sexuality and feeling finally able to be my true self. I am more at peace with my sexuality than ever before. And I have found an accepting church environment, where I can be myself, and where emphasis is not put on sexuality.

I have also been helped by the greater acceptance in wider society around being LGBTQI+. I have always felt that I wasn’t entirely female, but that I wasn’t entirely male either. So when people started talking about being non-binary, that really spoke to me and helped me, because it was a term to describe how I have always felt. Seeing other people being bold about being non-binary in public has helped with my own self-acceptance. I feel confident in who I am. Finally, I can be my true self.