Words by Holly Gleeson-Payne.
Illustration by Divyalakshmi Suressh.
[Trigger warning for homophobic comments and suicide.]
This piece includes excerpts from my journal that were written during this period.
“I’m worried about the social situation here… it’s just really lonely in my head right now, like I’ve been in my mind a lot and it’s pretty quiet and lonely. I’m just really hoping I meet some people soon. I just feel like it’s going to be really hard to fit in… I’m probably complaining more than I should be but it hurts and I miss everyone.”
Moving to another country during your teenage years isn’t easy for anyone. At fifteen, I was right at the beginning of a turbulent period of my life. My questions about my sexuality had been growing over the past year, and my mental health issues were starting to show themselves. My few very close friends were my whole life. I relied on them, completely; I told them everything, and I confided in them even in my darkest times. They were there for me as I questioned my sexual orientation and a few of my friends were questioning things for themselves too. Moving away from my support network was incredibly scary, but the prospect of finding a new group of supportive peers in my new home kept me pushing through the early days of homesickness.
Then, about a month after the move, I found out about section 377A. My first reaction was anger and confusion. I knew same-sex marriage was still illegal here, but I hadn’t yet grasped the full extent of Singapore’s institutionalized homophobia. I was just disgusted. Why would such a big group of people go out of their way to oppose something that had no effect on them?
It doesn’t affect me. I’m not gay, I’d tell myself.
But every time I walked outside after that, I couldn’t help but look around and feel as though I was lying to everyone; that I was keeping some secret I should be ashamed about.
“This is more than just different political views. This is people who honestly believe other people are inherently inferior to themselves and deserve less rights, and I can’t be friends with people who think that. I just can’t.”
Months later, I had been sitting with my classmates before ballet one day when someone brought up LGBT+ rights. Here were the people I’d started to become friends with over the past year, talking about gays by saying “that’s just not natural” and “I don’t care if people are gay, but I don’t agree with gay rights”. I couldn’t believe my ears. I felt like I was boiling from the inside out, but I couldn’t think of the words to argue. By this point I was sure that I was gay, and hearing this made me sick to my stomach. I just didn’t understand how these people who seemed so friendly could think that. What would they think about me if they knew what was going through my mind? I spent the train journey home trying to stay calm but as soon as I got into the door of my house I burst into angry tears.
“It’s this lack of desire to even do anything, to have any friends, to be happy. I guess it’s part of moving and being homesick but everyone else seems to be fine and it’s been a whole year. I’m supposed to be okay by now… I’ve been isolating myself from everyone...”
That day had been the one that pushed me over the edge. I completely shut down and stopped talking to everyone at ballet. I felt as if I were lying to them by being their friend. If they thought it wasn’t okay to be gay, they wouldn’t want to be friends with me if they knew. I felt like I was doing something terribly wrong.
In the meantime, I was falling into depression. I knew deep down that I desperately needed help and support from my friends, but how could I ask them for support when I knew that they were uncomfortable with who I was?
“Can I ask you kind of a weird question? Do you ever feel like your mind is really disconnected from your body? I know you do, because you’re me. But that’s how I felt today. Like I was just going through the motions of the day. Like I had to keep reminding myself that I exist in the real world and this is my one life. Like I keep having to remind myself that if I jumped in front of a bus I would actually die. I just hate these days because these are the days I start overthinking, introspecting. These are the days I feel like I don’t want to exist anymore.”
For a year, the state of my mind grew steadily worse. I pulled away from everything and everyone, and I stopped going outside. My mum had to drag me out of bed, and I could barely force myself to shower more than once a week. I hated eating. I hated being awake. There would be days when I couldn’t pinpoint anything but I would just cry and cry and cry, not able to keep the tears back.
“This has literally been my life almost every day for the past year, more. I literally have no friends here. At all. Nobody who I can talk to. I miss San Jose so much. I just wish I was back there, where I enjoyed being alive and cared about things and had people to cry to and hug. Nobody except Mum has seen me cry since last summer. I wish I had people in my life again that I cared about. I wish I had friends who made me feel like it was worth it.”
This was a period when I was truly and completely friendless. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone to a social event or talked to my classmates. I had lost all hope, and had completely resigned myself to feeling that I would be hated if I ever spoke out about what I’d been thinking and feeling. I felt so unwanted in this society. I wished I was someone else.
“I want to die. These past few weeks that I’ve barely written, they’ve been really, really tough. I’ve been really depressed. I’ve cried nearly every day. In class one day I started having a breakdown and I had to leave an hour early, and say it was a migraine. And on Monday this week, I tried to walk in front of a truck. It’s been about six weeks of this. I really think I need help but I’m scared to tell anyone... if I just dropped dead right now I would have no issue with that.”
The final straw was the day when I tried to walk in front of that truck. I was completely hopeless and desperate, but I knew I needed help so badly. I told my mum about everything that had been going through my head; seeing my parents after I told them I wanted to kill myself was the saddest moment of my life, but it was a turning point. They started taking me to therapy. Even just having someone acknowledge that I had an issue and that I could be helped was a relief. Things started to get better – not steadily or easily, but better nonetheless. Therapy helped me realize that whoever I was, it was okay. I did not have to feel guilty or like a burden because of my own identity. After time, I even began to talk again to my classmates sometimes.
“This time, she just directly asked me, “so Holly, what’s your ideal type of man?” and without thinking I just said “well, I’m gay.”
Fuck. What did I just do? There was a silence for a couple seconds.
“Are you serious?” Someone else laughed.
“No, she’s not serious!”
I was serious, I told them again.
“So if you’re gay, that means you like girls?”
“Yes.” There was a pause.
“So… what’s your ideal type of girl then?””
The sheer relief I felt in that moment was more than I can describe. It almost felt silly that I’d been so scared for so long. Just that gesture of acceptance was the most supported I had felt in so long, and I was so grateful. I’ve faced the occasional homophobic comment since, and still do, and perhaps always will, but the acceptance from just one person has made such a huge difference in my confidence. It was okay to like myself – and maybe one day I would be able to.
“I might cry and feel terrible afterwards and I’ll feel like I’ve regressed. I might have negative thoughts and not be able to cope or even not be able to go to class. I accept that that may happen, and it is okay. It’s okay that I have these feelings, and it’s okay to not feel like I’m making progress all the time. I am making progress.”
Holly is a young Australian artist and photographer who has recently made the choice to be more involved in breaking down the stigma so often surrounding discussions of mental health. She hopes that by sharing excerpts from her journal that were written during her struggles with depression, as well as her thoughts on her recovery so far, she may be able to help empower other people who feel like it’s not worth it. Her Instagram accounts are instagram.com/artbyhollyz and instagram.com/photosbyhollyz.
Div is a multidisciplinary artist and activist who often works with themes of ethnic and queer identity. Their website can be found at here and their Instagram account is instagram.com/crispy_prata_sucks.