Normally, when I write for Puttylike, I like to focus on the joy of affirming your identity as a multipotentialite by offering you resources and strategies to help you live a more authentic life. But it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes there is pain in these processes, too. Living a more authentic life—especially one that goes against the grain—requires making difficult decisions that not everyone will support.
Can you relate?
When you reveal your true self, and aren’t met with love and support, it can activate a whole range of emotions and behaviours that, for some of us, can feel like stages of grief. This year, I discovered that the grief is shared—both you and the people who don’t support you grieve in different but equally powerful ways. Naming the stages of this grief can help us feel less alone in our experience, but the stages certainly aren’t linear. As we deal with a lack of support or affirmation for our multipotentialite identities, we can repeat stages, skip other ones, or have a complete mess of emotions that can only be unraveled when the pain is less immediate.
This year, National Coming Out Day has me thinking about all sorts of ‘coming out’ experiences: times where we take the incredibly courageous step to reveal an identity, conviction, or experience that goes against the grain. Coming out as a member of the queer community is at the forefront of my mind because I went through it this year, but diverse experiences and understandings of what it means to come out are all around us. For example, in my PhD research I studied how youth ‘coming out’ about living with a mental illness could reclaim their stories by using them to educate teachers about how to support them in the classroom. As a multipotentialite, you might be wrestling with your decision to tell someone the truth about a goal that you have or a decision you want to make that would allow you to live your life more authentically, but risks rejection or criticism.
Today, I share my queer coming out story as one person’s experience of making an unpopular decision, experiencing complicated stages of grief, and finding inner acceptance—even without external affirmation. Before we go any further, it’s important for me to say that I have the privilege of living in a community that allows me to find success after coming out. Many people do not have this privilege, so I would never tell anyone to make the same choice that I did, or judge them for making a different choice. As a multipotentialite, my hope for you is that you get to make the decision for yourself about how you will express your authentic self in this world.
Coming out can be a shock—for everyone
When you share your plans to take a multipotentialite path, you might experience shock, especially if it means leaving a role, occupation, or path that seemed secure or prestigious. When I came out to my family as a member of the queer community, I didn’t expect a parade. My family is embedded in several cultures that are traditionally not accepting of queer folks. It might have been more shocking if my family had reacted positively! Still, I admit that when my family began to be honest with me about how much I had broken their hearts with my decision to live life openly, I was shocked. I had no idea how extreme their reactions would be in the days, weeks, and months after I came out. And my family was equally shocked by me: They alternated between being shocked by my identity, and shocked that I had been hiding it from them for so long.
Sometimes, denial is a useful tool
As I said, the stages of grief aren’t linear. In fact, I think that my family still exists in the denial stage to some extent. I retreat to denial as well, when the heartbreak of realizing how much distress I’ve caused my family becomes too overwhelming. It’s a safety mechanism for both of us. I think denial can take on many forms when we receive a negative reaction to our identity or our plans. We may try to backpedal a bit: “Oh no, you must have misunderstood. I don’t expect my life to change very much by taking this new path…” I think this denial keeps us safe in some ways, and that’s not always a bad thing. At some point though, we do need to reckon with the reality of what it means to make a decision that doesn’t play it safe.
You will be angry
As a multipotentialite, righteous anger may rise up when you are blocked from living your life authentically. You may also be confronted with a surprisingly forceful amount of anger when people realize that you’re not going back on your decision.
As a Black woman, I have been taught to see anger as an emotion that’s dangerous to publicly express. So, after I came out, all of my anger happened privately. I kept it within my family. When I reached out to friends for support, I appeared very depressed (another example of how grief doesn’t move on a linear track) but when I spoke to my family, I wasn’t always sad. Sometimes I was angry. I questioned why they expressed disappointment in me for hiding who I was. Their extreme reactions were exactly why I’d felt the need to keep my identity a secret!
Because I am an educator and a coach, I had prepared resources for my family to cope with my coming out. I had bookmarked detailed interpretations of passages from our sacred texts that showed that being gay was not necessarily against our religion. I asked my family members to identify ‘safe’ people they could talk to when they were having a difficult time with my coming out. They rejected all of my education and coaching. I found myself angry with them—couldn’t they see that I was trying to make this easier for them?—and angry with myself—how could I have been so pathetically naive?
Bargaining is sometimes impossible, no matter how much we want it
I often describe myself as a people-pleaser. I live for win-win situations! Life before coming out felt like one big compromise, so when I made the decision to be honest with my family about who I am, I had already decided not to spend a lot of time bargaining. However, my family did try to bargain with me. We had many conversations about where and to what extent I was allowed to be out. I felt the urge to bargain again, when I wanted my family to meet my new girlfriend. That process sent us through an entirely new and painfully destructive round of grief.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Sometimes the choices you make are not win-wins. Part of grieving the cost of living life authentically as a multipotentialite is to reckon with the fact that something will be lost when you make that decision. Does that make you squirm? It made me squirm when I wrote it. The more empathetic you are, the harder this stage can feel.
When depression happens, reach out for support
As a person who lives with depression, I was the most prepared for this stage: I knew what internal and external resources I needed to survive. On the first night that things got really bad between me and my family, three friends set up a Zoom call with me. All I remember is sobbing my heart out. That same night, my then-girlfriend had tearfully admitted that she could never love me, so I was a total mess. But strangely, I celebrated that moment too, because it felt different. Although I had hit rock bottom, I knew there was something still alive in me because I could still feel something. That was new!
I felt heartbroken, but also that I deserved not to be. I felt unloved by some people who claimed to love me, but I could also feel love and support from many more friends and colleagues who surrounded me in the coming days. Because coming out is showing people who we truly are, it can allow us to feel love and support in ways we never have before.
I know, as a mental health educator, that the number one predictor of emotional well-being is a sense of social support and belonging. If you’re a multipotentialite, you have a community here at Puttylike, and in The Puttyverse. So many people have experienced the difficult parts of the journey to a fulfilling multipotentialite life (and all other kinds of coming out as more authentically themselves), and are willing to share how they kept going.
If there comes a time when your emotions feel beyond your control, do not hesitate to reach out for professional support. Recently, I tried to bargain with my family, and they told me that I had caused a beloved family member to fall ill with severe chest pains. I tried to work at my day job that morning, but before long I needed to call a crisis line to get professional counseling. Although (or because?) I am a mental health literacy expert, I will never believe I know enough to get through depression on my own. Neither should you. Your life is precious enough to keep fighting for.
Acceptance has many meanings
With everything I’ve told you, it might seem surprising that I still do not regret my decision to come out. Do I feel ambivalent on some days? Absolutely. But I don’t feel regret. Coming out—and continuing to live every subsequent day in the open—proved to me that I could make a decision that went against the grain. Coming out defied others’ expectations of me, when I used to hold those expectations as more important than my own. It gave me the gift of taking a leadership role in my own life, instead of allowing others to set the standards for me.
As a multipotentialite, what might be some of the benefits of making an unpopular decision that allows you to take a leadership role in your own life? How might setting your own standards for success, fulfillment, and joy change the opportunities you create and choose for your multipotentialite path? If you’re struggling to figure this out, who is a few steps ahead of where you are today, and how might their story help you on the road to acceptance? I draw strength and learn lessons from seeing Emilie live their life authentically every day. If you’re reading this and already have some lessons under your belt, what might you be able to offer someone else?
Today, I offer my story to remind you that you are not alone. There is hope in the aftermath of grief. Let’s find it together.
What role models do you draw on to find the courage to live more authentically? Have you ever had a “coming out” experience? Share your thoughts, and support your fellow multipotentialites, in the comments!
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