By Zak Hiscock
Trigger warning: Zak writes about wanting to end his own life.
As we age, we often look back on our lives and wonder what could’ve been. If we had made better choices, would we be in a better place now? If I had gone left instead of right? If I had said yes instead of no? Questions like that can haunt us.
And maybe they should.
Over the past two years, I have done a remarkable amount of soul-searching and self-discovery. In that time, I came to terms with my sexuality, gender and own mental health. I started to let go of things that were holding me back, including past events that were stunting my personal growth which I kept hidden from everyone, including myself.
I would often lie about myself in the face of questions and over time I came to believe my own lies.
I lost myself. More accurately, I buried myself.
I buried myself under the detritus of my lies and I suffered for that.
At the age of six, I became religious. My parents didn’t force religion on me; they never made me go to church. It was my decision.
The church was not accepting of people outside of gender norms and of different sexualities. I was taught it was a sin to be gay and gay marriage was wrong. And I believed it. For a long time.
Whenever I had doubts or thoughts regarding my own sexuality, I’d bury it. Whenever I did something with a guy, such as hug or cuddle, I told myself it was because of how secure I was in my own sexuality. Whenever I expressed interests in girly things, I told myself it was because of how masculine I was.
I buried myself under my own lies.
I went to a bible college that was actively against same-sex marriage and routinely taught that being gay was not just a sin, but it was simply wrong.
When another school backed out of a deal with mine over our stance on same-sex marriage, our president painted them the villain. I believed him. That being gay was wrong was ingrained in me. I didn’t even question it.
The church disapproves of and hides a lot. Members with mental health problems—anxiety, depression or whatever—are told to pray more or members of the congregation pray over them.
If you were suffering from depression, you obviously weren’t being a good Christian, so you hid it. You put a smile on so no one could find out.
This really fucked me up. Whenever I felt down, I’d pray and pretend everything was better. But it never was. It never got better.
I kept things buried down, simmering out of sight, just waiting to explode. I’d have outbursts of emotion: anger, fear, sadness, doubt.
My self-worth and confidence became non-existent and still I buried it down. I tried to keep it hidden from everyone. I didn’t want people to worry. I didn’t want to be shunned.
This, of course, was extraordinarily bad for my mental health. I ended up on medication, which I hated because it made me feel empty. The medication wasn’t my lowest point. That came in October of 2006.
I was 16, still attending church where I was seen as a youth leader and active in my school’s student council.
I wasn’t the most popular kid, but the various cliques liked me. My days of being constantly bullied were behind me and, to others, my life seemed good.
The fact that every second was all out warfare in my mind was not evident. My feelings and problems were mine, dammit. I took in everyone’s problems, but never let anyone know mine. I had to be strong for everyone. That was my job.
Jesus could take my burden, I would take everyone else’s. I became more and more depressed and worn out. I wanted to escape but didn’t know how. I thought suicide was a legitimate option.
So, I decided to do it. I started cleaning before my parents went out, so I had music playing as I always did. After they left, I was ready. I won’t go into the details, but something happened that stayed my hand: a song started playing.
The song was “Zero” by Hawk Nelson. It’s about the affect suicide has on everyone else. Words have always held power to me and these words froze me. I wept. At the end of the song, I collapsed and cried for a long time.
There have been many times I’ve regretted not following through that day, but I never tried again.
This suicide attempt and my depression are two of the things I kept buried. I didn’t want pity. I still don’t, but burying feelings is not dealing with them. They are part of me. They, in a way, help define me and allow me to relate.
By pretending they didn’t exist, I was perpetrating the stigma that exists around mental health. Not only that, I was damaging my own.
I fell out of the church in my early 20s. I got tired of the hypocrisy I was seeing in its members. All these people claiming to serve god while they just served themselves, never mind the fact that I felt god had turned their back on me.
For the first time since I was six, I didn’t know the direction of my life. I had gone to school to be a youth pastor for a church and a god I no longer trusted. All that time and money I invested became for naught. I was rudderless.
It was around this time the walls I built began crumbling and my latent feelings and beliefs about gender and sexuality started bubbling forth.
When I was religious, I assumed my lack of sexual attraction to people stemmed from how awesome a Christian I was. But I wasn’t Christian anymore and I still wasn’t attracted to people. I thought I was broken. So I buried it like I always did.
Bad habits are hard to break.
As I moved away from the church, more and more of my friends were queer, so I became immersed in that world. I read papers snd articles about queerness, and researched the history and the different aspects.
I stumbled across an article about asexuality. It intrigued and fit me. Things made sense. I wasn’t broken. I was asexual. I was excited and read everything I could find on it! I had the beginnings of a path in front of me! I was overjoyed.
I think I told two people.
I was still figuring it out. It was new and personal. I didn’t want to share. What if I was wrong? After all, things hadn’t worked out well last time I thought everything made sense.
I guess I was mainly scared. Part of me still believed that not being straight was a sin and, all of a sudden, I wasn’t straight.
With this new perspective, I looked back on my life: all the times cuddling with my male roommates, flirting with guys in the city. Was it possible that, not only was I asexual, but also not heteroromantic?
The answer was yes. As I researched more and dug into myself, I discovered I was more panromantic.
How could I come to terms with this? How could I let myself be honest, not just with myself, but everyone?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t done with the self-discoveries.
As I reflected on my life, trying to figure out what kind of man I was, I realized I wasn’t a man. I wasn’t a woman either though.
This left me more rattled than before. In the midst of discovering my sexuality, I began questioning my gender.
My whole life I knew I was a man. That’s what everyone said. That’s what my biology told me. Gender identities weren’t taught in high school or college, so this wasn’t an area I had much experience in. Thank goodness for Google.
I found non-binary on a list of genders. It fit. It made sense. All the anomalous past events—those things ‘normal’ guys don’t do—started making sense. Slowly, I was beginning to find myself.
I wish I had discovered my sexuality and gender earlier. Maybe I would’ve liked myself more.
Some days, I wish I’d followed through with my suicide attempt. Most days I don’t, but I’m more honest about my mental health now and it’s getting better. It’s not something that will ever go away, but it’s become something I can admit to and deal with in a healthy manner.
I’m becoming more open with people and more comfortable with my own skin. I still dress and act like a man on a daily basis, partly because it’s habit and partly because I’m still scared to be 100 per cent me.
I have regrets. We all do. I wish I had done things differently, had handled some situations in different ways and treated certain people better. But I wouldn’t go back and change anything. Everything that happened—all the bad, the good, the mistakes—brought me here. My experiences made me who I am. And, now that I’m actually being honest with myself, I’m starting to like that person.
Photo by Keoni Cabral.