As a young child I was happy. I came from a loving and happy family, and never felt that I wanted for anything.
But I’d say even before I was 10 I started getting very quiet and shy, and even though I was popular enough, got on good with school work and sports, I still loved to get home to my room and close the door on the world. As time went on I became more introverted, and though I excelled in life, my inner world was in turmoil. I started to question myself. Am I normal? But then what is normal?
I seemed to be lacking self-esteem, confidence and I didn’t understand all of my emotions. I came to the conclusion that I felt nothing. Numb. I can live with that … and believe my numbness was the easier option for me to fall back on, for many of the years to come!
So on I went with life. Then the realisation, ‘Oh my God, I have feelings for girls’, no, that’s impossible. It goes against everything I was brought up to believe in. It’s wrong, it’s dirty, and above all else it’s a mortal sin. How can I sit in church on a Sunday with my family knowing what I know! I’m a sinner. I started praying to God to take these feelings away from me; to please make me normal.
My friends like ‘getting off’ with boys. Why can’t I? I mean, I like boys, I enjoy being around them. I’m a better footballer than most of them. I spend more time with boys than girls, but when I kiss them I don’t feel anything. I don’t like it. There must be something physically wrong with me.
Then one evening I was out for a spin on my bike and I saw my friend Edel’s bike on the side of the road. She was in the ditch. She had been to a friend’s house, and they drank a bottle of whiskey. I took her back to my house to sober her up as I knew my parents were out. After a while we really started talking, and I told her about my feelings for girls. She said she felt that way, too, and had actually kissed a girl. We laughed about it because deep down we both knew about the other without it being said.
We then started reminiscing about conversations we’d had years before and having boyfriends but not really enjoying kissing them, but that’s just what you do. ‘Lesbian’ wouldn’t have been in our vocabulary back then. We were both popular and fitted in easily with the boys because we played football with them and got out of school to go to matches, which none of the other girls did.
After that night such a weight was lifted from my shoulders and I had a CONFIDANT, who had been my friend from childhood until the day she died, and even now I still talk to Edel in my own wee way.
Even after that night I still seemed to be getting more and more introverted, so much so that my parents noticed that something was wrong and got help for me. I started seeing a psychiatrist and a counselor and was put on medication for depression. I saw the counselor for a good while before I told I thought I was a lesbian. And that only came about because one day I was in my room crying uncontrollably and my aunty, who was visiting home from England, asked me to tell her what was wrong.
I told her I had feelings for women. She said it might be just a phase as I was still young, but if it wasn’t then it was still OK. So my aunty came with me to my next session with my counselor, and I just let it all out. My feelings, my shame, my fear, and that I didn’t want to be like this.
At the time I was becoming good friends with a girl and had quickly developed deep feelings for her. Of course I was too scared to do anything about it, but one night we were out and she kissed me. And it happened again and again. I loved it and it felt so right. Finally I had a physical connection with someone and it had done something positive for me. Of course I told Edel straight away and she said, “You see, I told you you’d like it. It’s lovely, isn’t it?” And yes it was lovely … it felt normal for me.
I had planned to tell my parents, but the sudden death of my father put an end to that idea. I just couldn’t let my mam deal with it on her own. I thought she’d feel ashamed of me and wouldn’t want me any more. So I told my older sister. She said she thought I might be and said, “Welcome to the club”. She’d been in a relationship with a woman for years. I couldn’t believe it. The two of us are gay!
Edel had told me that her parents had found out about her brother and then her. I was envious at the time of Edel, thinking her parents know and are OK with her, she doesn’t have to hide any more. But in further conversations with her, she had said it was good that they knew, but it wasn’t as plain and simple as that. But I so wanted to tell mam … but not yet!
I started going to the odd gay disco with Edel, but deep down I was still in turmoil and very confused, and petrified of people finding out about me. We still continued to go to our local pub, too, but I felt we were looked down upon, especially by the lads we were friends with growing up in school. I was still going out to pubs and clubs with another friend, getting off with lads, torturing myself trying to be ‘normal’. Living two lives, and not quite fitting in with either.
Edel asked why I was doing it, and to tell my friend about the real me. So I did. She was shocked and didn’t take it too well at first, and I thought, “Fuck it, I’m going to lose a good friend because of what I am”. But thankfully that wasn’t the case, and she remains a friend to this day.
After another year or so of torture and having the feeling that I wasn’t getting anywhere in life, I decided to move to England to train as a nurse. My dad, whom I was missing terribly and still do, had always wanted me to have a career and not be dependent on anyone. I was drinking a lot, too, which was going to become a big problem for me later. I wanted a new start. I was now ready to go.
After two days in England, I befriended a lad, on my course at university, who was gay and he took me to a club that night. I was speechless. It was packed full of people. Openly, men with men, women with women, like it were the most natural thing in the world. Which of course I now know is perfectly natural.
It wasn’t too long before I was like a child in a sweet shop! I was out most nights partying and having a ball. I spoke to Edel regularly and she visited a few times. I told her I was living my life, no one was judging me, and I was being me.
I started coming out to those around me at university and the girls with whom I was sharing a house. I was making loads of friends, gay and straight, and it didn’t matter where we all went out at night.
It was coming towards the end of my training when I met and fell in love with the woman with whom I was to spend the next three and a half years. I had secured a good job, we were living together and we were happy. Her family knew and welcomed me into their family. This was my normality.
I wanted to take her home on holidays with me, and she wanted to meet my family, to see where I was from. But then the dread, I’ll have to introduce her as my girlfriend.
My brother was coming home from Australia, on holidays so that was when I planned to take her home. He was delighted to see me so happy and said he didn’t care that I was with a woman. Another brother said he didn’t give a shite, while my other brother was a bit shocked as he had no idea, but soon came round. Luckily they all liked her and all was well. She attended all the family parties and weddings. I’m pretty sure the relatives knew, but nothing was ever said to me.
It was now time to tell mam, who was in hospital at the time and very sick. I was afraid she might die not knowing the real me. I told her that my ‘friend’ and I were more than just friends; that we were together in a relationship and living together. To my surprise or shock, she asked if I was happy. I said I was. Her reply was that as long as I was happy, that’s all she wanted for me.
So I headed back to England, ecstatic. Mam still loved me. So life went on, job going well, everyone at work knew I was gay and didn’t care.
After three and a half years, the relationship ended. I was devastated. At the time I wasn’t well. My depression had come back with a vengeance, and my drinking was spiralling out of control. I was hospitalised for a time and really struggled. Who could blame her if she’d had enough? I can see that now, but couldn’t then.
So back came my old friend numbness, only I’d gradually found throughout the years another way of achieving that. Oblivion at the bottom of a bottle and any other drug that worked (a whole other story!). I didn’t have to feel anything, push those feelings and emotions away, numb again. I was a mess. I started sleeping with men again and women still. Trying to change who I was. The longing to fit into the world again.
I received a phone call around this time that my brother in Australia was coming home. He had cancer and was dying. So I decided to take time out and come home to nurse him. Edel was very sick at the time, too, and they both died within six months of each other. There are no words to describe how I was feeling. I tried to get back to work, but it was obvious to all I wasn’t well. I needed help and I needed to move back home to be with my family.
Months before Edel died, she sat me down and said, “Look at me, I’m dying of cancer. I don’t want to die, and you are killing yourself. Please get help”. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. I needed my coping mechanism for a while longer.
But then the time came and I was moving back home for good. I got help. I went to a treatment centre to dry out, followed by an after-care program and counseling. I started seeing my old psychiatrist again to get the depression under control, and get my mental health back.
I’m home a few years now. It’s been a tough journey. I’m lucky to have met good friends in my self-help group who love me for me. One friend told me the good thing about getting sober and mentally well is that you get your feelings and emotions back, but the bad news is that you get them back, too. I now understand what he meant.
The difference is I can cope with them today in a healthy way. I don’t have to hide and feel numb. I have peace of mind and I’m comfortable with me. I have a good life now. I haven’t found the woman of my dreams yet … but I’m pretty sure Edel will send her my way when the time is right. Well, I keep asking her to, anyway!