June is Pride Month, and for many in the LGBTQ+ community, it can be a great joy and celebration. However, Pride Month isn't always a happy experience for everyone. It can even be challenging and stir up complicated emotions, especially for those struggling with mental or emotional health or those who have had difficulty coming out experiences. The complexity of this time has also increased with the recent wave of targeted violence and political discourse threatening to undermine bodily and personal autonomy. If you're finding the month of Pride to be challenging, here are four practical tips to help care for your mind and heart during the month (and the rest of the year):
1. Honor and Embrace All Your Emotions: Being LGBTQ+ is a unique experience for everyone, and Pride is not always a safe space for everyone. So, it's okay if you feel joyful and eager to get in on the fun, while it's equally okay if you feel sad or angry or apathetic or have mixed feelings that fluctuate daily. If you're also at a place where you've not fully accepted and embraced your identity, practice self-compassion and remind yourself that getting to the place of "out and proud" can take time, and where you are in your journey is where you need to be.
2. Celebrate in a Way That Feels Safe and Authentic: There are assumptions and expectations that Pride is a roaring good time for every LGBTQ+ person and that everyone wakes up on June 1st ready to hit the streets wearing the colors and waving the flags that represent them. That is not always the case; if you aren't out yet or still feel uneasy about sharing your sexuality or gender identity with everyone, that's completely fine! It is important to remember that you cannot rush this process and that doing so for other people or appearance's sake can often be more distressing in the end. You will be ready when you're ready. Honor where you are, and don't pressure yourself into anything that doesn't feel congruent with who you are.
Attending parades, protests, and parties can be fun, but it can also be exhausting! Especially if you're attending many events while trying to balance work, school, and other commitments. You may also find yourself triggered by being in large crowds or around a lot of noise. Pace yourself; take breaks or consider taking part in smaller (even online) Pride events. Also, if you're at a live event and feel overwhelmed, just take a few moments to step aside and breathe. You can always head home early (there's no shame in doing that) because your mental and physical health comes first. You deserve to be a part of Pride, and there's no 'right way' to get involved. Wherever you are on your journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, be kind to yourself and find a way to celebrate safely and authentically!
3. Practice Self-Care: No matter how busy you are, it's essential to carve out a little time for self-care. During Pride, self-care might be making sure you're getting enough sleep; staying hydrated (especially if you're drinking alcohol or are out in the sun for long periods); eating well; doing some exercise when you get the chance, and making time to do things you find relaxing. It is also important that your self-care ritual include something that you enjoy and makes you feel good. Start small if you're having difficulty identifying what these things are or feeling unmotivated to care for yourself. Self-care can be as simple as lighting a candle while you're cooking, making hot tea, or taking a ten-minute walk. The most crucial point is not doing it perfectly but creating rituals that support your life situation and the amount of time you have in your day. These rituals are also great tangible reminders to yourself that you are worth caring for, even if you may not feel like that's the case at the moment. And remember, practicing something (even if it's difficult) will often help this become habitual. Getting in the habit of nurturing ourselves is one of the best, most Pride-worthy things we can do.
4. Ask for Help If You Need it: Check in with your loved ones if you feel like you're struggling. Talk to your friends or family members. If you think you may be experiencing depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, reach out to a therapist to discuss treatment options. If you have concerns about finding an LGBTQ+ affirming therapist, there are some national directories you may want to begin your search with. Psychology Today is one of the most thorough national listings of mental health professionals and has filters to narrow your search by the therapist's identity, modality, and other classifications. The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network lists LGBTQ+ POC therapists across the country. Organizations like GLMA (previously known as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association), AGLP (The Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists), and others have national listings of queer and queer-affirming mental health professionals, though they may not be fully up to date
If you feel like you may harm yourself or someone else or otherwise feel like you're in immediate danger, don't wait to find an LGBTQ+ or -affirming therapist; go to the emergency room, or call an LGBTQ+ crisis hotline, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), The Trevor Project (866-488-7386, for LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24), The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline (888-843-4564), or the Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860).
Pride, in its essence, originated to give the queer community a designated time and space to celebrate the beauty of the LGBTQ+ identities, find a sense of solidarity there, and continue to emphasize the necessity of activism. Going to a parade might be part of continuing this legacy, but I think the truest way of honoring Pride month is being authentic to yourself and embodying who you are, and finding sincere ways to connect with others as a result. This might be a quieter act of resistance, but it is resistance just the same and often one of the strongest forms.
Amy Echstenkamper, LCSW is s an LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist who supports individuals navigating issues of isolation, shame, and trauma to find a stable and a deeper home within themselves. Amy is based in Virginia Beach, serving Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Hampton Roads, and the state of Virginia via online counseling.