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I grew up in a time when little girls where supposed to wear nice little rose-bud dresses and play with dolls. But I just couldn’t fit into that stereotype - I wanted to be active and run around playing with guns. I grew into a real tomboy and began wondering if that meant I was also a lesbian.

The traditional thinking in the 1970s was that lesbianism might be a phase you go through, but if you remained homosexual in your adulthood you were a very screwed up person and that really scared me.

My mental health issues started cropping up when I was eighteen. I started getting deeply depressed and then after a while I started developing highs as well. I had a whole lot of stresses - I was just leaving home, my grandmother had just died and I was sorting out my sexual identity. All of these things became entwined with my mental health problems.

I went to my doctor and said I’d lost my appetite and that I didn’t feel very good emotionally. He referred me to a psychiatrist who told me I had depression.

I went to see him twice a week for about six months. I only talked about the things that were easy to talk about. I was too terrified to tell him about the struggles I was having with my sexual orientation because of the fear of being judged. I thought he would try to label my feelings as a medical condition and think I had a sick personality.

Over the next couple of years I continued going to these talk sessions as well as taking anti-depressants but nothing really seemed to help and so I ended up in hospital.

As soon as I crossed the threshold of the hospital I was labelled and identified as a psychiatric patient. Once you’ve been in hospital you can’t escape that label. I was a mad person and to this day ‘mad’ has become a key part of my personal identity.

The lowest point for me was facing the prospect of becoming a chronic psychiatric patient. Nothing seemed to be working for me. I’d been in and out of hospital for several years and I was losing all hope for the future.

Then my elder brother drowned.

When Sean died it jolted me out of my self-pity. I thought gosh, here’s this man of twenty-eight, his life was going along fine and then suddenly he’s dead. And then I thought I might have another fifty or sixty years to live. I suddenly felt that I was the lucky one. His death really helped change my whole outlook on life.

My medication was changed and I began to stabilize. I saw several other psychiatrists but I still didn’t feel that I could talk to them about my sexuality.

At the same time my own internal attitude towards lesbianism began to change and I began mixing with people who thought it was ok.

After I left hospital I moved to Auckland and that’s when I came out as a lesbian. I had gone through similar experiences earlier coming out as a mad person.

I guess what really helped was that the politics of lesbian feminism in the 1980s had exact parallels with the mad movement - they were just a template of each other. Lesbians and feminists were being subjugated by men or heterosexual society and mad people were being subjugated by the mental health system.

They were both liberation movements, they reinforced each other. So I fed off each of them in my understanding.

Sexual identity was one of the cluster of identities I had at eighteen that fed into my mood swings. Would I have got depressed if I hadn’t been confused about my sexuality? Been confused about my abilities? Confused about the meaning of life and I hadn’t felt lonely and isolated? I don’t know.

I do know now there’s nothing to be afraid of - you just have to be who you are.

Recovery is very much tied up with your identity. Going through mental health problems shakes the whole ground of your being. I felt that coming out as a lesbian was a resolution to part of my identity, it stabilized me.

Another part of recovery is about accumulating good experiences.

If you’ve had instability that goes on for years you end up with a deficit of good feelings about life. And even though coming out as a lesbian was traumatic and confusing and mind-blowing, in the end it enabled me to have some good experiences.

If you start succeeding in life or you start doing the things that make you feel good then you gather a bit of momentum and that tends to continue. In the early years of my recovery it was about building up that store of good feelings and coming out was definitely a part of that.