“I think of myself first as a first-generation American child of immigrants. I felt more adversity from that than from my LGBTQ status, but I’m not ashamed of it or anything since I do identify as bisexual. I think I’ve always been bisexual and always thought that everyone felt that way, but I never really thought about it until I got into college and my Master’s program. I guess what’s most important about this story is the intersectionality of these parts of me and my mental health.
I’ve struggled with depression all my life. I never really got to live as a teenager because I had to accommodate my family and their needs. It started getting really bad when I was in my Master’s program because it was a graduate degree, it was stressful, and I’m sure programs like that exacerbate mental illness. At some point I went to an Ob/Gyn at the UofM Student Health Center, and the provider I met was more of a Nurse Practitioner.
So I’m there and she’s doing a gynecological exam on me, but I know I’ve been feeling depressed so I think okay, girl this is your chance.
“Hey, so they gave me these screening questions, and I’m sure I failed every question. I feel depressed. Can we do something about this?” And I don’t think she was expecting it since she was mainly there for women’s health. She was just not ready. I had assumed that they were going to set up an appointment with me or something, but instead what she said was that, “we’ll get you in contact with a social worker.”
I was like okay and assumed that I’m gonna meet with a social worker, but that’s also not what happened. The next day I get an email from a social worker that reads, “alright I hear you have some depression, so I’m going to set you up with a therapist. Just put a check by whichever box you want to talk about and send me a follow-up email. Then I’ll send you the contact info for the therapist.” In my head I just kept thinking well this seems stupid, but I’ll do it.
So already it’s not going well.
One of the boxes - and they weren’t good boxes - reads “are you LGBTQ?” and at this point I’ve been dating women for awhile now, so I check yes because I wanna talk about it. Another one reads “do you identify as a Person of Color?” and I check yes for that since I also want to talk about my identity as a Middle Eastern, Muslim, first-generation immigrant. It’s not really the same, but it kinda falls in with that category. Again, they’re not good check boxes. I type in, 'hey, I just came out. I’m bisexual. I’m also a Muslim middle eastern woman and first-generation child of immigrants, and I’m struggling' in the comment section at the bottom and send it off.
First of all, I thought when she said therapist, she would get in contact with someone and set up an appointment. What I get back instead is list of links where you could tell they googled 'gay' and 'Person of Color' and just sent it to me. I guess I’m supposed to set up the appointment? The first one I looked into was someone who specialized in working with gay men, which I’m not a gay man. What’s worse is that they wanted to use psychoanalysis and Freudian thinking, which I personally did not believe in.
The next two people were people who specialized in transgender patients, and that’s great! Good for those folx; but again, I’m not transgender, so this helps me in no way. The fourth person posted, 'don’t worry I can help you with being black in America.' My thought process at that point was okay, so this was useless. It was an exercise in futility, so I just deleted the email. It was insulting to me because none of those resources had anything to do with me. They sent therapists that were experienced in working with gay men, trans folx, and black folx, which is great for those groups, but I was a middle eastern bisexual woman. This didn’t help me. This is why you can’t reduce people’s complex identities to a few check boxes.
But because I had depression that was untreated, it just kept getting worse and worse; and then I went on a date with a woman. It’s fine whatever, and then I start having some vaginal itching, which is pretty consistent with a yeast infection, and I’m pretty sure of it at that point. Still I didn’t know a lot because this is my first foray into dating women, and I wasn’t very sexually experienced at the time. I was thinking maybe it’s an STD, should I be worried? while boiling that together with all of the depression and anxiety up in my head.
I decided to call the UofM Student Health Center to schedule a few appointments, one of which I missed because it was so hard to get out of bed. I wasn’t living my best life at this point. The next appointment I didn’t miss. So I end up getting examined by a doctor, and while I was there I mentioned my depression again.
“I’m sorry if you feel like we didn’t do enough for you.”
'Just so you know, a month ago I reached out for help for depression. All I got was this pointless email that didn’t help. It’s getting really bad, and I just need help. I can’t continue to live like this.' I didn’t know what to expect after the last time, but to her credit, she was a really good advocate for me. She validated me and told me that I should’ve gotten better help when I last asked for it. I don’t know why that simple action was so meaningful for me, but it made me trust this provider much more. She brought out the same social worker from before who got pissed off saying, 'I’m sorry if you feel like we didn’t do enough for you.' You know, like one of those fake apologies. She sounded so upset with me but they eventually set me up with a doctor’s appointment. And in my head I was just like finally, thank you.
It wasn’t an active point of discrimination of being LGBTQ, but I think the way they handled the mental health aspect was bad. They believed that they could just set me up with any POC & LGBTQ friendly therapist, but not paying attention to my needs only made it worse. If I had known more about the healthcare system like I do now, I would’ve just called and asked for an appointment like that, but back then I remember not being familiar with how you went about getting treatment for your mental illness. It sounds silly to me now, but I didn’t know you could call a family doctor with a chief complaint of “depression.” What should’ve happened is that they should’ve scheduled an appointment for me when I first brought up my problem.
It has a happy ending though, I promise. The next day I went to my appointment, got put on medication, and came out much, much better. And since then it’s never gotten as bad or worse. Even though I came in for a yeast infection, the doctor I saw advocated for me really made a difference in how things went for me. That strength in the advocacy a healthcare provider can offer was the big positive I took from this experience.
When I look back on it now, I think that if it happened to me - and I’m upper-middle class so me seeking out healthcare shouldn’t be complicated - then it must be even more difficult for everyone else, meaning that no one’s getting adequate treatment. How can they expect anyone else to follow through in asking for help?
My advice for those in the LGBTQ+ community navigating their health is this: be firm in what you want and persistent with your health. If you have a problem, don’t be afraid to talk about it." -Anonymous from Michigan (she/her/hers)