OJ and I just recently met with the Rabbi who will be performing our wedding ceremony and one of the questions she asked us each individually was, “what do you think your future looks like together?” Talk about a loaded question! I honestly paused with a blank stare for what felt like 30 minutes, but really was probably only about 30 seconds. I know what I look forward to building materialistically and financially with OJ: a career, a family, a house, etc. Nothing particularly unique, but things that we have talked about sharing together. But when I tried to think about what our future looked like emotionally, it was more difficult for me to determine what I wanted.
Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it in quite some time. Since being in school and taking on more of a caregiver role, I’ve been stuck in the present, and I’m realizing it’s not necessarily mindfully, but in the obligatory, yet overwhelming taking-it-one-day-at-a-time sense. I’ve been too fearful to even let myself think too far into the future because the unknown scares me. There’s just too many “what ifs”. I know that anticipating a future that doesn’t yet exist ensues fear and anxiety so I try to stay present as much as I can. After pausing and thinking about the Rabbi’s question more deeply, I responded with a single word, “safety”.
In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando against the queer community and continuous attacks against our community, I hope that OJ and I, as well as our future family can be safe. Beyond being scared for our children that do not exist yet, I want OJ to be safe. Sometimes as a carer, I feel helpless because we exist in a world that does not yet fully accept or understand mental health. It has become ever so present in recent insurance decisions with OJ’s care, that our society still prioritizes physical health over mental health even though eating disorders are a psychological illness with physical manifestations/consequences.
Earlier this week, I was having a much appreciated Twitter conversation with Andrea LaMarre (you can find her musings at: @andrealala89) and Science of EDs about the parallel relationship between coming out as queer and “coming out” as a carer of someone with an eating disorder. In terms of my sexuality, I came out to my parents the summer of freshman year going into college and it was more of a sudden outburst of screaming “I’m gay!” and proceeded to run upstairs to my bedroom and close the door.
Looking back on that day, I recall the fear I felt about how people’s opinions and thoughts might change of me. The only queer people I knew were my parents friends and my first girlfriend who I only spent time with in my ’97 Toyota Camry because I was too afraid to be seen with her. My fear definitely clouded my ability to step back and realize that perhaps my very liberal parents were going to be 100% fine with me coming out (which, fortunately they were).
This type of fear was unique. I hadn’t felt it again (I recognize how lucky I am to have the safety of this) until I found myself being really uncomfortable and nervous about telling people that OJ was in the hospital. But just like when I eventually came out, and became open about authenticity and the truth of the situation, I was able to start to break down the barriers and the stigma of mental health. I hoped that this would help OJ to feel less shame around her mental illness. As I started coming out to more people, I was able to start to build my own much needed support network, just like I needed support when I came out as queer.
Another parallel that I found between coming out in terms of sexuality and mental health is that there appears to be a progression or a series of stages that exist. I tended to start with those in the circle closest to me, including parents, then immediate family. The next circle was closest friends at school, and then to anyone that crossed my path. Similarly, I’ve witnessed OJ progress through these stages over the past year or so as she has come out about her mental illness.
When this relapse began, her providers and I were the only people that knew about her trauma, then she shared this information with her immediate family/friends, and then she shared it publicly. It was this kind of natural progression of expanding her comfort zone when the time felt right and safe, just like coming out as queer was.
Right now, with so many acts of hate throughout the world, it seems like safety is a luxury, when in reality, it should be a fundamental human right. So when our Rabbi asked what I envision mine and OJ’s future to be together, I realize that yes, I crave a home, I crave a family, but truthfully, I don’t want any of that unless there is a sense of safety involved for both OJ and I individually and together. I want our marriage to be one of compassion in which we love ourselves as much as we love each other. I know that OJ is not intentionally damaging her body and that it’s her eating disorder, irrationally instilling negative thoughts in her mind that are difficult to disobey, yet it is so scary to witness. Her safety seems all but transient at times when she is keeping her body safe one minute and her ED is damaging it the next. So in terms of our future, I want OJ to keep her body and mind safe so we can continue to explore more of this world together – a world where everyone has the luxury of feeling safe in their bodies and in their surroundings. Without a sense of safety it is impossible to live life authentically.