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A gay Aspies tale - Low mood, anxiety and loneliness in the digital age

I’ve been struggling recently. Low mood and anxiety have felt overwhelming at times.

As a gay man with Aspergers syndrome, I’m not surprised. Three in five LGBT people surveyed suffered anxiety between 2017-18, and half had depression. In the first lockdown, the depression figure for LGBTQ+ people was 69% of respondents.

The statistics for those with Aspergers are not much better, with 70% of autistic youth having other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression which are thought to often worsen in adulthood. Both communities can experience concurrent feelings of isolation and a lack of acceptance, and in this era of heavy social media communication, everyone has a part to play in halting this slide.

Since my teenage years, loneliness and a lack of belonging have been frequent feelings. I know I got a little better after secondary school, but it hasn’t gone away. While trying to keep in touch with friends and make new ones, feeling empty has been more common. As I scroll on Instagram, and see people taking selfies with friends in sun-strewn parks and cities projecting living their best lives, I have been wishing that that was me. Part of a group, accepted.

I know these things aren’t completely true.

I do have people in my life that like and accept me, I just haven’t been able to go out and have those moments for myself as much as I would have liked yet. I’m also sure everyone in the mentioned selfies above wishes there was something about their lives that they could change, a mood or anxiety they’re struggling with, a goal (big or small) that they just can’t reach. But it still doesn’t always stop these feelings of loneliness and not fitting in.

Then there’s messaging. Pinging something directly to a friend or a crush has bought it’s own terrors. People not replying can cause irrational anxiety – “What have I done?”, “Is it personal?”, “Is it all over with this person?”, “Will I ever have the social and love life that I want?”.

Instagram seen receipts and WhatsApp blue ticks have been particular mortal enemies. Like a monster towering over you, the doubt and powerlessness has hit like a viper. And it has almost always felt like it’s me messaging other people. I’ve been wanting other people to take the lead, and the feeling of chasing has contributed to the loneliness.

This is all also the case when trying to find love.

At almost 22, I have never had a relationship, a kiss, or even a date. I have been craving that connection with a guy, the physical touch and emotional bond which given my feelings of not fitting in, I think I want even more. With London gay clubs being out of the question because of the loud noises, flash lighting and confined space that we Aspies hate, I’ve had to try and find alternative ways of achieving this.

But with social anxiety, even approaching someone in person can be incredibly overwhelming. I have been turning to social media which has been good in some ways, but problematic in others. As much as I try to compliment and flirt with people, ghosting and a lack of reciprocation feels common.

Furthermore, as I type in the #gaylondon tag on Instagram, it’s been hard to avoid selfies of people with these dreamy faces and brilliant bodies. Then there’s me, never taken a shirtless selfie in my life, scared of uploading one even with my top on. It can feel like these people are out of my league, like I will never find the one.

I know that stuff isn’t true either. I am just as good as them, inside and out. Social media can just trick all of us. And I have been trying to be more confident with approaching cute guys. In shops I have complimented people on their hair, have said to customer service staff I hope to see you again, in the queue to Gays the Word the other day I tried to get into conversation in the hope that maybe the guy will like and fancy me. The problem is it’s so subtle that they probably don’t notice! It’s still common for me to feel like I’m getting no closer to finding romance. I have always believed that there’s someone out there for all of us, but in the words of Queen, can anybody find me Somebody to Love?

I know as we continue being able to do more things in person, I need to explore LGBT community groups more to keep finding my tribe. I have seen a few promising things on google: The meetup website, LGBT-friendly football clubs, maybe even some speed dating. However, as I lay in bed last night, low and anxious, the thought of getting out, walking into these places and trying to mingle with a bunch of strangers felt too much to bear. That’s what mental health can do. That’s why we all need to help each other.

My brilliant Uni mentor said something important recently. When communicating online, we can often forget that we are talking to human beings on the other side. Therefore, I end with this plea: Take the lead with friends and family – Reach out, ask them how they are, tell them how much you care, zoom them, ask

them about meeting if you’re going out. Respect them if they don’t want to, but give them the choice. Believe me, you never know how much that could transform someone’s day, week, month or even year (My Mum has been watching Friends in the background!).

Seriously though. If we all do this, we could dramatically reduce the poor mental health in the autistic and LGBTQ+ communities, alongside young people as a whole.

We have the power, now we need to take the responsibility.


About Nathan Mann:

Nathan is currently studying Writing for Performance at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has written articles, plays, a musical and a book. He has been published on Wired4Music.

He writes mainly about Aspergers, Mental Health and LGBTQ+ issues.

Nathan was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome aged 7, and came out as gay in the summer of 2015.

If you wish to connect with Nathan, you can follow him @nathanmann5 on Instagram


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