#8: Coming Out

It’s time to come clean.

No, not like that. Not that I haven’t questioned or critiqued my sexuality before…I think most of us do. For the moment, I’m entirely comfortable in that aspect of my life. I have a loving and supportive partner in Charnè, my girlfriend of over two years now, and it’s the best relationship I could have ever imagined. She is, quite frankly, nothing short of exceptional – as a woman, a partner-in-crime, and, above all, as a friend.

It stands, in fact, that the realisation of my condition – the realisation I share with you now – should be, to a great extent, credited to the unashamedly honest thoughts that we’ve shared in conversation, and continue to share with one another. I will be ever in her debt, and I look forward to repaying those favours for many more years to come (as long as she’ll still have me, basically!)

Other credits go out to the friends and family that I’ve been able to share bits and pieces with here and there (you know who you are). My sincerest thanks to you all. Every single one of you have played a part in helping me become the person you see today, clumsily bashing keys on an old phone screen, happy to share these words with anyone who’ll listen to me. You’re all part of this story, and I’m blessed to be a part of yours, too – no matter how big or small.

Anyway, enough of that, or it’ll turn into a bloody oscar-style acceptance speech, and nobody truly wants that – not even me.

So, here it is: a couple of weeks ago, I received a piece of paper that said, in no uncertain terms:

“Ryan has provided the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service with evidence that he is disabled.”

I think it’s important to share this, not because my own life is particularly significant, but because the issue of mental health concerns far more people than me alone. And if putting myself out on the line can help even one other person out there, then it was totally worth opening up.

I am, in many, many ways, fortunate for what I have: a fairly healthy body (albeit with a little excess baggage!), a brilliant support network (thanks again, family and friends), and the ability to blag my way into a PhD. But, living life with the long-term mental health conditions I have – moderate depression, anxiety, and Obessive Compulsive Disorder – can often make it easy to lose sight of all of that.

Sight is, of course, important. Because the type of disability I have isn’t always easy to actually see, it’s easily disregarded – especially, in my experience, by those who have it themselves. By this, I mean that it is very easy to put yourself down for not being able to do this or that, when in actual fact, it isn’t your fault at all.

I should probably stress that this isn’t simply exclusive to those like myself with a mental health condition. Any one of us can have a bad day, and perhaps we should make more space, both for ourselves and for others around us, to be able to have bad days. We are being frequently reminded in the media what can happen when we’re not allowed to have one – a tragic and recent example, here – and yet, the pressure on individuals to be okay only seems to be growing.

For me, having a Learning Support Plan put in place by my University last month has already been a massive help. I thank my friend and fellow PhD-er, Rebecca Hearne, for recommending it to me; and I would recommend it, in turn, to anyone who feels that they could benefit from having one. It hasn’t changed the fact of my condition, but it lends that little extra support and understanding when I have to tell my department that I need to stay at home today – either to work from my home desk or, on those especially bad days, to simply stay in bed and sleep it off.

I’m sure the University of Sheffield is not alone in offering such support. I only wish more people knew about it. I’ve known about my depression/anxiety/OCD since 2015; I only found out about the Learning Support Plan last October (thanks again, Rebecca).

I’m fortunate enough to work and study in an institution that encourages the kind of visibility around mental health that this blog post enables by virtue. It’s the only way, in my opinion, to ever truly dismantle the stigma that forces so many with mental health conditions to put up and shut up until breaking point comes around – whatever horrible form it takes. Luckily for me, breaking point forced me to finally open up. Not everyone is quite as lucky as I am.

8 thoughts on “#8: Coming Out

  1. thank you for sharing something so personal Ryan, incredibly brave, glad you’re being supported and have such a great network around you. So so many people doing PhD take leaves of absences for depression and anxiety and yet it’s still not very openly discussed in academia.

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Amber. I didn’t feel particularly ‘brave’ writing it…if anything, I was worried I might come across as too self-indulgent. But maybe you’re right. Maybe it was brave, too.

      I guess the fact that it isn’t openly discussed in academia means that a lot of us – me included – see taking a leave of absence as a bit of a total no-go. I mean, I know I could, if I really wanted to, but would there still be a PhD for me to come back to?

      I wonder if there’s any networks and/or conferences out there for researchers with mental health conditions? Personally, I don’t know of any.

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      1. Totally, I live in fear of my mental health taking a turn for the worse and having to ask for a leave of absence. I don’t know what the reactions would be like, especially from workaholic supervisors who never seem to leave their desks. I’m worried they wouldn’t understand or think I’m not ‘strong’ enough to cope with my studies or some shit like that…

        I don’t know of any either, it would be great if there were. I think it’s a hidden endemic in academia.

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      2. I’ve often feared the very same thing. It’s a thought process that can be very detrimental to mental health in itself. The thing I would say, the thing I tell myself many times, is this: my wellbeing is more important that any position, any project, and any person that can’t accept me for what I am. Jobs come and go. But this passion that drives us, and drives our research…it might ebb and flow, but it is ever present.

        The moment it leaves, is the moment I do.

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      3. As for a network…if there really isn’t anything out there, maybe we should set one up…a group that not only supports each other, but a body that represents any student out there who is treated unfairly for the state of their mental health, whether they have a long-term condition or not.

        An unofficial union, of sorts.

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