Hallucination or spiritual energy?
Reprinted from "LGBT" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, Vol. 6 (2), pp. 14-15
I have a mental illness, I’m gay and I’m a person of colour, from a South Asian community. I belong to a cultural community where most people do not accept homosexuality and many people do not understand mental illness. But over the years I’ve found ways to overcome my challenges and focus on my strengths.
Leaving home; encountering the “light”
I was a closeted young man. I was very sad about being gay—was suicidal throughout my teens. I felt like a sick person for having sexual thoughts about men. I didn’t want to be different and was afraid of being rejected by my family—there’s a lot of pressure in the South Asian community to get married and have children.
When I was 13 I secretly found my way to a psychiatrist, hoping to become straight. His approach was to support me in whatever I decided, and he did walk me through the process of coming out as part of exploring my options.
When I was 18, I had a brief but positive relationship with a man. I knew then that I couldn’t change my sexuality. But I wanted to escape to another country, where very few people knew me, to live a gay life. So in 1991, at 19, I went to live with my grandfather in Kent, England, to attend college.
I felt lonely and missed my family in Canada. Within a few months of arriving in Kent my emotions started going up and down. I didn’t feel like eating. I’d pace in circles around my room. I had so many ideas in my head that I began to write—about politics, the cure for AIDS and homosexuality, and things that increasingly made no sense. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize myself, I’d changed so much in just three weeks. I’d lost weight and my eyes wouldn’t stay still.
A cousin who lived nearby visited and was shocked by my appearance. He took me to his house and tried to get me to eat and sleep. I couldn’t eat or drink much, but I did lie down, cover myself with a blanket and fall asleep on his bed.
All of a sudden I was awake and felt a surge of energy come from within me. Then it felt like it was leaving me. The top part of my body lifted up, the blanket fell off my face and I saw this light right in front of me. It’s hard to describe it, but it was magnificent.
Then I got scared, so covered myself again with the blanket. And when I took another peek, the light was gone.
Coming home; struggling through my 20s
I didn’t know what to make of the light and struggled until into my 30s to understand what it was. I wasn’t a spiritual person at the time it happened. I’d say I was open to the idea of a god, but didn’t think about it much. I’d also say I related more to Christianity than my cultural religion because of the friends I hung out with. But somehow, through seeing the light, I had a sense of God wanting me to pursue work in the helping professions.
I returned to Canada and decided to study social work. However, I had some mental health ups and downs to contend with.
When I was in England, I did go to the hospital for help after seeing the light. There they thought I just needed food and sleep. I was prescribed medication that did help me eat and sleep—but it didn’t help me mentally.
Back home, I started school, but ended up losing a whole year of college. I didn’t always take my medication—I thought I’d had a spiritual experience in England rather than a hallucination, so didn’t need treatment. As a result, I’d get sick again, sometimes having to go to the hospital to get treatment. It was in that period that I realized I had a mental illness and that I’d had a first break of mania in Kent.
In this period, my mother asked me if I was gay. I lied and said I was bisexual.
Later, when I was at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I volunteered with a student gay and lesbian group. I wanted to make gay friends, and I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. We did presentations to the campus community on homophobia and other forms of discrimination. We also organized a fun-filled “coming out” week, when gay and lesbian students could feel good about themselves and come out of the closet if they wished to.
At home with the light
I’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. I’ve been on numerous medications and am currently working with my doctors to reduce side effects by taking the lowest dose possible.
I am creating a custom world around me that I can handle. I believe in a holistic approach to treatment, including medication, counselling, nutritious diet, exercise, socialization, support groups, family support, good sleep and low stress. I find swimming really helpful for the body, mind and spirit. I’m currently involved with a social support organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and intersex South Asians and friends (see sidebar).
Sher Vancouver—For LGBT South Asians and Friends
Sher Vancouver is a social support organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex South Asians and friends of all ethnicities and sexualities. Its goal is to reduce the alienation, isolation, loneliness, depression and suicidal ideation of people dealing with gender, sexuality and coming out issues. Services include peer support, information, referrals, social activities and outreach presentations.
Support of family and friends is very important. The people close to you can monitor the signs and symptoms of your illness Their support can help reduce stress, which can reduce relapse. My mother has always been supportive. My father, who I felt anger at for abandoning me when I was younger, is now in my life. He doesn’t agree with my gay activism and lacks education on mental illness. He did attend one meeting with my psychiatrist, but believes I don’t need medication. But I’m grateful that my father supports me the best he can.
The other healing thing I have is my light experience. I’m now convinced that seeing the light was a spiritual experience. It took a long time for me to accept that, because in North American society we’re not socialized to acknowledge spirituality (which is different from religion). The western world is based on science and facts. The medical model relies on this to determine treatment.
I believe it was a spiritual energy that everyone has within them; that God is within everyone and is everywhere. My doctors think it was a chemical imbalance in my brain, but I’ve never had any other visual or auditory hallucination, ever. And, really, all that matters is what I believe.
When I think about the light, it feels like God telling me it’s okay to be gay. I think of the light every other night and it brings me peace.
About the author
Alexander is currently working on his Master of Social Work. He has a Bachelor of Social Work with a first-class standing from the University of British Columbia