My name is Ben Conard and I’m from Setauket, New York.
In college, I, you know, I was always kind of known as a go-getter and I worked really hard and I involved myself in everything. And I knew that I wanted to create a life where I was successful and hard-working and made the life that I wanted to make. Deep down, I knew that I was gay and I couldn’t come to terms with that. And that was not part of my plan and my journey and my life.
Once, in college, I was in my dorm room and I was doing homework on my bed and I started to feel really sick. So I actually got up and ran to the bathroom – I felt like I was going to throw up. And after a couple of minutes, I realized I wasn’t going to throw up. The nausea went away. And I started breathing really heavy. I started to get pretty light-headed and I leaned up against a wall because I couldn’t really stand up straight. And I lost feeling in my legs and arms. I actually, like, fell to the ground after that.
My friends dragged me to the couch. I could hear everything that was going on but I couldn’t really sense anything else. And I laid on the couch, hyperventilating, for I don’t even know how long. My friends call the paramedics and they came and they were taking my vitals and they were trying to calm me down. I could hear myself in my head and I specifically remember thinking to myself that this is what it – this is what it feels like before you’re about to die. I had felt so uncomfortable with who I was that it was okay with me and I genuinely wanted to have it end right there.
I ended up going to the hospital. They took me on a stretcher and, you know, I returned kind of back to normal. Went back to my dorm room and for weeks, I had these debilitating panic attacks. Couple of weeks later, I just kind of got over them and learned how to breathe through the pain.
After these panic attacks I was still feeling really intense emotional pain. It kept me up at night. I would cry myself to sleep. I used to have this credit card knife. So it was a – it would like slip into my wallet and it was like a utility knife. You could bring it anywhere. And I remember taking that out of my wallet, opening it up and I just started cutting my wrist. It was because I wanted to – I don’t know – feel pain that felt real. Like, the emotional pain was real but I couldn’t see it or understand it, really, and so this kind of form of physical pain and harm was the only way that I could feel it. For weeks, really, this had become kind of a habit and I realized that it was in its own way helping, as weird as that sounds. But I was really embarrassed by it, so I made sure that I covered it up.
I remember one day with my good friends Eve and Lauren, we were doing some homework together, and I reached over to grab one of my books and my sleeve rolled up and they saw bloodied and scabbed wrists. They offered to talk about it. I didn’t want to and you know the best next solution that they could offer me was scar cream. And I realized that I couldn’t – that was not a long term solution to what was happening.
Fast forward to, you know, my junior year. I remember there was a time when I was just feeling so alone and scared. And when I felt alone, I felt maybe somewhat homesick. So I actually called home almost every day, sometimes twice a day. I remember one day I called home and my sister answered.
She said “Hello?”
And I had no words to answer back.
She asked, “Hello?” again. And I finally, after the third hello, I broke down into tears.
Kate, my sister, told me, “Look, Ben, I think I know what’s happening. And I have this sisterly vibe that you’re gonna be okay. And that whatever it is, we’re gonna get through it.” And that when I’m ready, I should be able to tell my sister anything.
And she said, “I’m ready. Are you?”
And I said, “Kate, I’m gay.” In that moment, I felt so much fear and so much relief all at the same time.
And I remember, my sister said, “Oh, this is wonderful. This is, you know, going to save your life. And I’m so excited for what’s to come for you. Now you need to tell mom and dad.” And, you know, in a matter of minutes, I had come out to my family.
After coming out to my family, I came out to close friends and I felt like I could really be myself. I suddenly felt like I could have a future that I wanted to live in. I didn’t feel suicidal anymore. I didn’t suffer from panic attacks. And I wanted to live.
Feeling better about myself and feeling more comfortable with the people that I’m with, I realized, like, my relationship with my friends became a lot deeper. I just felt really free to be who I was going to be, and to be with people I wanted to be with. That has changed my entire life. I could not be happier with where I am in my life now, and I never would have thought I could feel this way 5 years ago.
People can be going through things without you knowing it. Sometimes it manifests into something physical and begins to break your body down and other times it doesn’t. And I think it’s important that we all know that in ourselves and in the people in our lives so that we can be supportive when we need to be and help each other out.