Archive of ‘Society’ category

Kings & Queens: Tips from a Therapist on Coming Out

In honor of October being Coming Out Month, I wanted to write a blog very near and dear to my heart. Easily over half of my clients identify as LGBT, non-traditional, non-monogamous, and have some form of a coming out story. Whether they did not feel attracted to the opposite sex, they did not identify as the sex they were born, or the idea of a traditional monogamous marriage was not attractive to them, over 60% of my clients have had to go through the mystical, terrifying, and liberating experience of coming out. 

If you are questioning your sexuality, myself as well as the folks at Austin Family Counseling want to reassure you that you do not have to go through this alone. Coming out itself is a very isolating experience, and given the current pandemic, we need as little isolation as possible. Per my previous blog, social distancing does not mean emotional distancing. When a human comes out to their friends, family, and coworkers, their need for emotional support is so strong as it is one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. 

Below are helpful suggestions from an out-of-the-closet gay man turned therapist to the LGBT community of Texas who had his own share of struggles coming out in early adulthood. These tips are generalized as every person’s story is unique and beautifully different. 

Know Who Your Cheerleaders Are and Are Not

As the great Dr. Brene Brown talked about in her book “Daring Greatly”, all of us in some way, regardless of if we have a coming out history, are walking into some kind of arena in life. We are showing up and being seen, regardless of where we are. And in this metaphorical arena she has so beautifully drawn, all of us have the Support Section. This is the section closest to the arena where the cheerleaders in our lives belong—the people who get the closest and most intimate perspective of our struggles. And these people we absolutely need in our lives when we come out.  Siblings are often the first people who non-heteronormative people come out to first. They can also be parents, close friends, teachers, counselors, mentors, and close relatives. Consider who is going to be cheering you on and in your corner when you come out. Messages like “This does not change how much I love you”, “We are still your friends regardless”, “We love you no matter what” are messages that ideally should be told to someone who is so vulnerable when coming out. 

Being someone’s cheerleader when they come out does NOT sound like: “Well, just don’t hit on me if you are gay”, “It’s okay, I won’t tell anybody”, or “It’s okay, God will forgive you.” There are sadly still families who disown their children for coming out, and in lieu of the recent banning of Conversion Therapy this is a form of emotional and psychological abuse that has no place in our current climate. 

Be Mindful of What Could Change

Since coming out can be such a freeing and liberating experience, it is almost counterintuitive to say that there can be “consequences”. As mentioned above, some families disown their relatives for coming out (the amount of homeless LGBTQ youth makes up 40% of the entire minor homeless population). Some workplaces still discriminate against LGBTQ employees for coming out at the workplace. Though we should ALL be able to live authentically as our out and proud selves, I know several clients and several close friends who have had an adverse experience when coming out to their friends and family. 

Be Mindful of Mental Health

Bias aside, it is almost always better if you have a therapist to stay with you during the coming out process. As mentioned, coming out can be very isolating and is linked to depression, anxiety, compromised immune systems, suicidal thoughts, and drug and alcohol abuse. In extreme cases, some people never come out of the closet and suffer from very high anxiety and feel obligated to live a double life which can be very harmful for mental and physical health. 

Bullying Sadly Still Exists in 2020

I am filled in by a lot of my queer teens and early adults who sadly experience an enormously high level of bullying both in person and through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. Teens who are forcibly outed are prone to suicidal thoughts, feelings of humiliation and embarrassment, and lower senses of self esteem. Having gone through my own fair share of bullying in high school, I am fully empathetic to how painful and scary repetitive bullying can be. 

Bullying for queer people can also be present in the adult world. As women, racial and cultural minorities, and persons with special needs can empathize with, bullying in the workplace is alarmingly common. Workplace discrimination based on sexual identity is still sadly alive and well. However, if bullying in any capacity (from coworkers, managers, supervisors, bosses, etc) is present, it is NEVER okay and does not need to be tolerated. 

FOR TEENS:

If you are an in-the-closet teen and reading this, please know I am here, I am with you, and I am here to help. I have been through some of the worst parts about coming out (before and after) and I can probably relate to the struggles of coming out in a world that is more straight-friendly. Please let me reassure you that you do not have to go through the process by yourself. One of my favorite kind of client is a teen who is going through the coming-out process as I was there not TOO long ago. 😊 If you are not in a place to tell your parents why you need counseling for coming out, feel free to email me at [email protected] with questions about resources I can give you—and there are plenty in Austin! 

Written by: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

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Self-Care During COVID-19

For curiosity sake, I searched “what to do if I get covid-19”.  In 0.77 seconds (because Google tells you), “about 8,280,000,000 results” populated.  Various questions that were included in these results included:

  • What to do if you are sick? 
  • What should I do if I think I have been exposed to coronavirus? 
  • Can you recover? 
  • Does drinking a lot of water help flush out COVID-19?
  • Can antibiotics treat the coronavirus disease? 
  • What should you do if you live with someone who has coronavirus? 

Without a doubt, these questions are important and should be asked and are included in the top results for a reason.  Someone I know shared on her Instagram feed that she was tested positive for COVID-19 and the conversation was, I’m summarizing, something along the lines of “Hi, you’ve tested positive.  Now you need to quarantine for (however many) days.  If you experience severe symptoms, go to the hospital.”  Of course, that was (and is) important information for her to know.  However, nothing was discussed regarding the emotional impact of COVID-19 (whether it’s the collective/societal impact of the virus or the personal impact of testing positive).  Below are a few things to consider when thinking about the current pandemic. 

First…Let’s Talk About Shame

Several months ago, someone I know was exposed to COVID and was tested as a result.  When she received her test results (they were negative), she shared how excited she was because there is so much judgment around it.  She said, had she gotten positive test results, people would have likely judged and/or blamed her for clearly not following the rules of social distancing.  Similarly, a friend of mine found out she was positive for COVID and shared that when she told people she had come in contact with that she was positive for coronavirus, she felt like she was sharing with the world that she had a sexually transmitted infection (which there is a LOT of shame around those…that’s a blog for another day.  In the meantime, check out this poster from UnHushed, that provides accurate & direct information about STIs). 

Oh, And Fear

There is SO much uncertainty with COVID-19 and how this virus impacts people.  Whether someone is asymptomatic, has minimal symptoms (my friend I mentioned earlier only lost her sense of smell & taste), or has severe symptoms (e.g.: has a high fever and difficulty breathing), there is truly NO telling how you will be affected until you are actually experiencing symptoms…if you, in fact, experience them.  Because the CDC is constantly learning new information, we do not have a clear idea of a lot of things…which, is NO fault of the CDC (I want to be very clear about that!)  This takes an already scary situation and makes it that much scarier…because we don’t have clear information about it and what it entails.  If that’s not scary, then I don’t know what is. 

What About Grief? 

While shelter-in-place/quarantine/social distancing (fill in the blank of what language you’ve been using) has been happening for almost 4 months now (woah), it’s been difficult…to say the very least.  Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, humans, by nature, are social creatures.  Thanks to technology (social media, texting, video calls, Zoom…oh, Zoom), snail mail, social distance outings (if/when they feel right), people have found ways to stay connected to those that are important to them….which is great…AND there is a huge amount of loss that is affiliated with that.  You don’t need me to tell you everything that has happened as a result, but to sum a few major things up…

  • Graduations were, essentially, cancelled
  • Weddings have been cancelled and/or postponed
  • People who are pregnant are going to their appointments solo…and when they give birth, minimal people are allowed to be with them
  • As people died (whether it be COVID-related or not), loved ones had to grieve alone…or at a socially distant place
  • Vacations were cancelled

AND SO MANY OTHER THINGS.  Some of you may look at that list and think “Woah…vacation being cancelled is in the same list as people dying alone?”  And to that, I say “Yes”.  Grief and loss is not something that can or should be quantified.  At this time, the world (truly…everyone in the world) is living a collective trauma related to covid-19.  Whether you’re 17 years old in Texas…or 42 years old in Indonesia…or 5 years old in Australia…or 81 years old in Finland…we are all experiencing grief related to the coronavirus…on top of any and all stressors that life is presenting us at any given moment. 

So…What Now? 

Ready for a buzz-word?  Self-care.  Yup…it’s as “easy” as that…which, surprise, is not easy at all.  There isn’t a right-or-wrong way to practice self-care as long as you’re doing what is right for you.  The suggestions I’m about to provide are 100% just suggestions and is definitely not comprehensive at all. 

Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings 

A lot of us, at various times (I’m generalizing here), have experienced anger.  What we often fail to see, though, what’s below anger…whether it’s worry or disappointment or guilt or trauma (or any or none of those things), anger is often just the surface of feelings people are experiencing. 

Similarly, there is a quote, that I love that states “I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief.”  When you sit with this…it really reveals how complicated emotions, particularly anger, can be.

In no way am I trying to invalidate anger, however, sitting with your emotions and allowing yourself to feel your feelings is an incredibly valuable way to take care of yourself. 

This Anger Iceberg gives an explanation (and visual) of what I’m talking about. 

Practice Mindfulness

…Buzz-word #2.  Not sure where to start?  That is OKAY.  Check out this blog I wrote on 5 Mindfulness Tips & Tricks.   

Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break! 

We are inundated with highly emotional information on a daily basis…whether it’s about coronavirus, politics, murders of innocent black members of our community, or anything else–it’s OKAY to take a break.  Admittedly, this has been harder for me to do (I’m human…what can I say?)  But if you don’t allow yourself to take a break from the emotional weight of this information, you are not going to be the best version of yourself when you need it most.  Whether taking a break involves turning off the news or social media and reading a memoir about your favorite Queer Eye member (ahem, JVN), do what’s best for you and know that it is okay (and extremely valuable) to take breaks. 

Lean On People

Cue “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. 

The words of this song (yes, I listened to it as I wrote this) state:

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

People, again, I’m generalizing, often feel hesitant to ask for help.  Whether it’s fear of looking weak or not wanting to be a burden or not wanting to be disappointed…we tell ourselves SO many lies as to why we shouldn’t or couldn’t ask for help.  Rather than listening to those lies, remind yourself, as I said earlier, humans are social creatures by nature.  Whether it’s your friend, a family member, your therapist, your former teacher, your neighbor…whomever it may be…ask for help.  It might be scary in the moment, but I can assure you it will be worth it. 

By: Julie Burke, LPC
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Running…it’s Kind of like Therapy

but not really.

Back in October of last year my friends and I agreed to do a fitness challenge. The intent was for something new and challenging for all of us. We thought it would be a good way to connect, stay in shape and see what each of us was capable of. After some discussion, we decided on a running challenge: who could run the most miles in October. Two of us, myself included, would not consider ourselves skilled runners. From the beginning, I was nervous and started to worry about my capabilities as soon as we began talking about the possibility that the challenge would be running based. I had very little experience as a runner and I knew that if I was going to be successful I would have to commit to changing a few things and accept that it was going to be difficult and take commitment. It is safe to say that I had a reasonable amount of fear. Fast forward to about a week into October, my friend “the runner” had not changed much since beginning the challenge. He decided to rely on his past skills as a runner and within 7-10 days into the month he was injured and not able to finish the challenge. This was surprising for all of us involved. We had all thought “of course the one of us who was a runner would win the challenge with no problem“. Never was it a thought that we could actually win the challenge. At around 10 days that the challenge became incredibly difficult for me. I began asking myself almost every time I went for a run, “why am I doing this?” All I could come up with were reasons why I didn’t want to finish:

  • It was hard
  • It pushed me to do things I normally would not have done
  • My friend just got injured; I should quit too before I get hurt
  • I had other more important things to do
  • I was sore all the time

It occurred to me during a run that the feelings and questions of doubt were familiar. The question shrouded in doubt “Why am I doing this?” was a question I heard all too often from clients in my therapy practice. 

If you have ever been in therapy then you know it can be really challenging (especially at first). If therapy is hard then why do it? I asked myself the same question about the running challenge, “if this is going to be so hard, why do it?” There are several reasons that therapy can be hard. It’s not like we think to ourselves “Hmm, I don’t want to change anything about myself, I think I will go to therapy.” This is one of the reasons therapy is so challenging. We are not everything that we could be, we have a laundry list of things we don’t like about ourselves or relationships we wish to be different. These are often difficult truths for many of us to face. For example, I was faced with my dream of being a competitive runner not coming to fruition because I am not very good at running. The self-awareness developed in therapy is only the beginning. Developing a sense of self-awareness can show you how big of a mess you have to clean up. Self-awareness is similar to a map. It is not going to solve your problems for you but it can point you in the direction of success. You would expect that after 10 days of running it would get easier for me, right? At least that was my expectation. All that came from the first 10 days of October was a self-awareness that I did not know how to run properly and if I did not change something about how I was doing things, the rest of the month would be demanding. Knowing who you are and where you are in life is a really good place to start…especially if you want things about yourself to be different. But you can’t grow if you don’t know where you are starting from. Self-awareness seems to be a good place to start. I am not sure which is harder, self-awareness or running? Just as learning how to run can be uncomfortable, so is learning about yourself. So why do it? 

I do not have your average runners build and I have never enjoyed running. Running has always been the last thing on my mind when I consider exercising. My excuses ranged from “running isn’t for me” to “you need the right type of body to enjoy running.” While there might be some truth in those ideas, with some truth about where I was starting out as a runner I learned I was not everything that I could be. This is the type of recognition that I witness with my clients in therapy. Your self-awareness can highlight all of the things you wish to improve. It lays out a path forward, a map. This sounds good in theory. If it was as easy as developing self-awareness why wouldn’t more people achieve their goals? Who knew that shining a light on your faults would be such a painful process. It’s not always easy to confront the things about yourself that you wish were better. So why do it? Because You deserve it. Therapy can be the space where you feel understood, safe and accepted while you learn difficult truths about yourself. 

The point came in October when I knew that I needed to pay attention to my lack of running skills or I would get injured. In other words develop a plan. (Yes, I thought of a running plan a quarter of the way through the challenge). If I continued ignoring my faults I was going to get hurt. I was lucky enough to have an example of “what not to do.” The friend who got injured had chosen to ignore self-awareness and not look at the difficult things he would need to change to avoid injury. I got together with the other guy crazy enough to agree to this challenge. We decided to come up with a plan for success. That meeting looked very similar to a therapy session (remember this is 10-12 days into running every day). Lots of tears. Lots of ruminating on how hard life was at the moment. Lots of feeling hopeless. And we felt and of course a little guilt from not paying attention and planning earlier. The talk ended with compassionate understanding (crying) from both of us that October was going to be very difficult but we had a plan mapped out and each other’s support. We are not everything that we could be and if we think about it hard enough we know it. Knowing your truth is tough but not unbearable. We are worth the courage that it takes to face our faults and therapy can provide a relationship for wrestling with those parts of you that you know could be better and deserve to be better. 

I want to get back to the friend that got injured 10 days into the challenge. He had always been a runner, yes this was true. However, it had been a year or two since he had run on any regular schedule. He also had not been exercising in any way up to October. Before we started the challenge I brought up an observation that he was potentially ignoring something that he should maybe pay attention to. No need for any of that, he was confident and sure that he would win the challenge no problem. He had every reason to believe that. He had been a runner his entire life without ever having a problem. But we all know how the challenge ended for him. The things we avoid do not just go away because we don’t want them to be around.

Part of growth is cleaning up the messes we have made. Often times it’s extremely difficult to sit down with yourself and outline a list of ways you could improve. As difficult as it is, paying attention to things we are avoiding is the only way to move past those things. Therapy can be a lot like that. A healthy therapeutic relationship should feel safe and secure enough for you to turn the mirror towards yourself and confront the parts of you that you are hiding from. Often times I will invite my clients to allow me to be courageous and powerful for them until they learn that they are capable of the same for themselves. When we approach a task like this it is helpful to come from a place of acceptance. We are all deserving of love and compassion. The secrets we hold can make learning to love ourselves very challenging. Let’s get back to my runner friend. After a little firm love from the group, “the injured friend” recognized that he had rested on his previous achievements and was actively ignoring the fact that he needed to change a few things. He admitted this was because it was too scary and felt too big of a task to conquer on his own so he justified his not preparing for the challenge.  

 It was easy at first to just agree to a “who could run the most miles in October” challenge. The courageous part came when I wanted to quit in the middle of the month. When I told myself all of the reasons why the challenge didn’t matter and all the reasons why it wasn’t a big deal to quit. At first, my intention was to suffer in silence. My friends hadn’t “complained” yet so there was going to be no way I was the first. It wasn’t until I was truly ready to throw in the towel that I texted our group thread disclosing how much I was struggling and was not sure if I could finish. It was received with similar cries of struggles and hardship. The entire group was grappling and ready to quit. Everyone needed support…which is no surprise; we were attempting to do something that was a huge achievement for all of us. I immediately felt better after talking through the difficulties we were all experiencing. They understood what I was going through, they understood me, and I got a renewed sense of courage from feeling understood by the group. Confiding in and trusting the group helped us all endure the month. We need relationships and connections. Especially through difficult times. A therapist can be a place where we learn to be courageous. We don’t have to do it alone. Whatever tragedy there is at the moment in our lives, we can endure. How else do we expect to make it through the trials of life? Connection and relationship with a therapist (or a running group full of friends) can be a safe place to learn that we are capable, worthy and valuable. 

Who knew that I would have been able to find so many connections between running and therapy? To bring an end to our not so glamorous running challenge…I am sorry to say that I did not win. I was able to run 150 miles in October and the winner ran 160 miles. Out of the three of us that committed to the challenge, two completed it and the third learned a valuable lesson; avoiding things does not make them go away. Life is difficult and there will be new obstacles to face regularly…some that you are prepared for and others that you are not. When you don’t feel prepared, lean into relationships. Pay attention to the things that you are ignoring. Learn to trust and care for yourself because you deserve it. From that trust, you can develop courage. Before October I was not a runner. I faced my fear of running and struggled to the point where I was ready to quit. When I was ready to quit I leaned on my friends and found a little bit of courage. I endured the month and learned what I was capable of. What was my biggest lesson learned? Even after 150 miles in October, I am still not a runner. 

By: Josh Killam, LPC

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