July 9, 2017

Joe Paybe blogs about his experiences of mental ill health in the years following coming out as gay in school

As a young man with everything going for him, I never thought that depression would happen to me. By just age 26 I had achieved a bunch of my dreams. Director of my own record label, touring with my band all over the world to thousands of people, seeing my records on the shelves of HMV and voted Best Male Vocalist in Prog Magazine for the second year running. There was so much to live for.

Of course, you can imagine my surprise in April 2016 when I was suddenly struck down by a wave of ill health. Paralysed by panic attacks. Too weak to even climb out of bed. Guilt-ridden that I was letting everyone down by not being able to work.

Luckily for me I was surrounded by support from close friends and family. My dear friend Duncan was the first to recognise the signs, forcing me to talk about my thoughts and feelings for the first time. My darling partner of 6 years, Max, dragged me kicking and screaming to the doctor. And as I learned to be honest with people about my condition, it seemed like almost everyone could empathise with the black dog. Where would I be without these saviours?

After a year of recovery, I stand strong in the opinion that my breakdown could have been avoided. It was the direct result of years of psychological abuse from one individual both domestically and in the workplace, against whom I remained “strong for too long” in the interest of others. Cutting that person from my life, and unwillingly surrendering my home and business in the process, was the only option I had to survive.

However, I’ve more recently come to terms with the troubled foundations on which that experience was built. The truth is, my vulnerability and my choice to be a closed book emotionally date right back to my teens, when I scraped together the courage to come out as gay.

In 2007, I was just about to turn 18 and was yet to come out. For all I knew I was the only gay guy at school. Like many LGBTQ people, the thought of coming out was terrifying. But that’s not because I was in any physical danger. It wasn’t even because I thought I’d be any less loved. All I was worried about was being profiled as the “gay friend”.

Some people might not see why that is such a problem for me, but I’ll try to explain as simply as I can.

Imagine if you were known as the captain of the football team, or for baking the best cakes in town. Your identity is a reflection of your talents and achievements. Now imagine working hard for years to become a world class singer: that was me. So if people saw me first and foremost as “the gay guy”, that would immediately undermine all my talents and achievements.

I should also add that 10 years ago, attitudes towards homosexuality were surprisingly different. All gay role models (if you could call them that) seemed to be drowned in controversy, playing the clown, or were a stereotype I couldn’t relate to. How was I ever going to be taken seriously if my peers saw me as some kind of camp, slutty, drug mad, disease spreading sexual predator?

And no word of a lie, as soon as I came out some people did respond by profiling me in that way. Ok, so there were different levels of behaviour. Some made jokes which they thought harmless at the time, while others spread nasty rumours about my personal life. But all of it, like any other kind of bullying, was an injustice. I was everybody’s loser.

In burying my feeling about that, I spent the next decade taking any amount of criticism very personally. I would do anything I could to make people like me. Nothing I did was ever good enough. I constantly changed and adapted to suit the tastes of others, still the haters were never happy. It was poisoning me.

Almost in parallel to my coming out as gay, coming out as mentally ill had just as much stigma attached and was just as difficult to do.

I believed no one would ever understand, but actually they did. If I ever have a relapse, I now know that the whole world is behind me.

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