The closet that held my crippling anxiety: It gets better

Katarina Kovac, Staff Reporter

I was an outgoing kid. I remember loving confrontations and speaking my mind. I never got nervous about certain lessons at school and would willingly volunteer to present in front of the class.

It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that I first experienced real, crippling anxiety.

When I was eight years old, I had posters of Carrie Underwood taped to my pink walls. By 10, I had constructed a convincing argument that Vanessa Hudgens wasn’t “hot,” she was “cool,” when in reality I couldn’t understand why all of my friends were drooling over Zac Efron. At 13, I fell in love with my female best friend, without recognizing it as such. In middle school, while all my friends were going after getting boyfriends, I kept my mind busy with textbooks and soccer.

The signs were all there. I knew I was different, but I had no idea why.

The repressive culture of my hometown revealed itself to me at a young age. I was made aware that it wasn’t okay to be gay, and I had to do everything in my power to convince people I wasn’t.

In high school, I was loyal to my academics and played soccer at the highest levels, all while trying not to think about my sexuality.   

As college started, it became harder and harder to distract myself from the issue. What I tried so hard to repress was making its way into the forefront of my brain again.

While doing a research paper during my freshman year of college on designers in the fashion industry, I stumbled upon a “New York Times” profile on Jenna Lyons, former president and creative director of J.Crew, that made my heart sink to the pit of my stomach.

“It’s just as surprising to me as it probably is to everyone else,” Lyons said.  “It certainly is strange to wake up, at 44, and look at the person next to you and think: ‘Oh! This wasn’t what I expected.’ But I don’t think love works that way, and I am O.K. with that.”

Here was a strong, feminine and successful woman in the fashion industry who was proudly in a relationship with a woman. I saw myself in Lyons, and it terrified me.

Following this “aha” moment came an extreme bout of physical anxiety. I began to question all of my previous life experiences with women, and more importantly, how long I had been lying to myself.

My worry about being gay soon caused me to become physically ill. I became aware of my breathing patterns 24/7, developed heart palpitations, suffered from insomnia and developed ringing in my ears. I saw various doctors to try and figure out if there was an underlying illness. It turns out, they were all symptoms of high functioning anxiety.

I soon found myself seeing a therapist.

One day, while walking into my eighth therapy session, I abruptly told my therapist, “I think I’m gay” before even saying hello. The day I began to divulge in my feelings and secrets deepest in my soul was the day that I finally felt lighter. The shame I felt due to my upbringing started to wilt away.

Every queer person deals with self-acceptance every single day. As a feminine woman, it’s tireless and painstaking and never-ending.

So, what have I learned? I’ve learned that love is unexpected. And it matters because this is life—it’s short and shocking, and I don’t want to miss out on the joys of life because of fear, nerves or social normality.

Lyons coming out was proof to me that visibility matters. She allowed me to realize that my sexuality is something to be proud of.   

Love is love, and if you’re loving anybody, anywhere, you’re doing life right.