How To Put Mental Health First

· Updated on May 28, 2018

In this week’s Hola Papi!, the advice column by writer, Twitterer, and prolific Grindr user John Paul Brammer, a reader writes in for advice on a topic many of us skirt around: mental health.

Our dear reader is going through some serious stuff and now finds himself doing what we should all do during moments like these and ask for some help. And Hola Papi! is here to help in anyway he can.

If you want his advice, just email him at [email protected] with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start out your letter with Hola Papi!

Hola Papi!

I’m going through a stressful winter.

I was rejected from my dream MFA program, I’m not sure I will graduate on time, I’m gaining unwanted weight, and my father’s mental health is deteriorating due to Alzheimer’s.

I’ve resorted to some unhealthy coping strategies, such as skipping my medication, abusing drugs, and avoiding my boyfriend. In order to work towards healthier coping strategies, I’d like to see a therapist. I crave a space in which I can verbalize my issues and receive honest and constructive feedback.

However, I have some unresolved trauma from spending part of my adolescence committed to a residential treatment center. The therapists and staff were heavily religious, extremely sex-negative, covertly and overtly homophobic, and oftentimes verbally and physically abusive. It was a toxic environment for LGBT teenagers, and I had to unlearn their harmful messages about LGBT identity outside of therapy.

Papi, how do you suggest that I (and any other LGBT person who carries trauma from treatment or therapy) begin and navigate this intimidating, triggering, overwhelming process of returning to therapy?

Gay, Interrupted

Hello, Interrupted!

I’m so glad to get a question about therapy. While it’s great to reach out to your friendly neighborhood Grindr columnist for life advice, there’s really no substitute for a therapist who can get to know you on an intimate level and help you work things out.

Not that I wouldn’t do that if I could. It just sounds really time consuming, and the only official license I have is my license to drive. Even that might be expired. I don’t know. I don’t drive. I am gay.

Anyhow, lucky us, you’ve already got a handle on the problems that need solving. That’s a difficult first step! Hello! Let’s celebrate that. Now we just have to help you process your trauma and find you an LGBT-friendly therapist.

You’re not alone in having a negative experience as a gay person in therapy, Interrupted. The fear you have is valid. But I know this for a fact: there are people out there who are qualified to help you and will do so without negating your identity. I’ve met and seen some myself!

To find one, I suggest you reach out to your nearest LGBT center and ask for resources. They are likely to have a list of LGBT-friendly therapists. You can also visit Psychology Today, which lets you filter therapists by whether or not they affirm LGBT people. You can also ask friends and peers.

And remember, you are no longer that child at the residential treatment center. I know what it’s like, Interrupted. I often feel like I’m still carrying around my former self, when I was a kid trapped in a school where I had no choice but to be bullied and tormented every day. Those feelings of helplessness can stick with us and inform our present.

But the situation has changed. If you have a negative experience with a therapist, you have the freedom to not see them again, and the freedom to find someone else. I want you to focus on that freedom as you begin the process of finding another professional. Remind yourself frequently: I have power, and I am choosing this.

I believe in you, Interrupted! It sounds like you’re going through a difficult time. There’s no easy fix for that. But committing yourself to a routine that will serve you, i.e. therapy, getting good sleep, and surrounding yourself with friends instead of ignoring them, will help you out of your funk.


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