I was doing homework in the library one night my junior year at Texas Christian University when 10 years of questioning my identity hit me upside the head.
"Just face it Cooper, you're gay. This is who you are. Recognize it and own it."
I sat in that same spot for the next couple of hours thinking of what my future was going to be like. I had finally admitted to myself that I was gay. There was no studying that night.
I had been bullied growing up in Katy, Texas, and I knew there wasn't any way I could talk openly about those feelings I had. I locked them away for a long time. When I was in high school I couldn't let anyone find out for fear that the bullying I was already experiencing would escalate. There were rumors spread about me being gay, and I was teased about it by some people, even by some of my teammates. I didn't feel safe or comfortable sharing my secret.
I wouldn't talk much around people because I didn't want to sound or come off as gay.
Swimming helped distract me from fear. I started swimming when I was in eighth grade. My achievements with the sport started to accumulate, including qualifying for Olympic trails, getting a scholarship to Texas Christian University, and becoming TCU's first Big XII champion my sophomore year.
Yet there was still something missing. I still felt broken inside. I was scared to be open about it even in college because I didn't want to be known as the gay swimmer. I didn't want that label and I didn't want to face any potential discrimination from my friends, family or teammates.
During that same semester I became friends with a classmate who I later found out was gay as well. One December night we were doing homework at TCU's local coffee shop, and I decided it was time to come out to someone. I didn't want to bear the weight of this secret any longer. I was tired of being so alone.
He was so understanding and wanted to help make me feel more comfortable in my own skin. He became a mentor of sorts and helped me reach the point where I could start opening up to more and more people. I have a lot to thank him for; He helped me feel more comfortable with who I am.
I still had the fear of being disowned by other people in my life, but there was a sense of relief when I was finally able to open up to at least one person.
For the rest of my junior year I slowly came out of my shell and I noticed myself getting happier. Unfortunately, that flicker of peace was short-lived.
I branched out and met other members of the gay community while still remaining "in the closet" as they called it. I ended up trusting people who didn't earn my trust, and it backfired. I fell into a deep depression the summer before my senior year and shut myself off from the world.
I didn't get any sleep, I lost weight, and my swimming career suffered tremendously. I decided to take a break from everything after the swim season was over and spent some time at home, hoping that everything would change when I went back to school. That wasn't the case.
When I got back to school my teammates and other friends somehow found out that I was gay. My worst fear was realized: I was having to go through the coming out process when I wasn't ready. I was terrified, and I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't know what everyone was saying behind my back.
There were girls who came up to me and said "you're the gay swimmer." They would laugh and walk away. It was like my heart broke in my chest, and I was done. The fear of coming out and the sadness I was experiencing with my depression pushed me over the edge. I was tired of being unhappy and lonely to the point where I couldn't function anymore.
I sat in my room that night and contemplated many things. A bottle of prescribed pills sat next to me. I knew I could end all the sadness.
I was about four pills in when I realized — faced with death — that there had to be a way to around all the pain. There had to be some other option than to just end it all. I didn't want to be beaten by the sadness that consumed me. I was just going to have to face my fears whether I wanted to or not. I wasn't strong enough to do it alone though. I explained to my roommate the heartbreak I'd been feeling, and that I didn't know what to do. He was great.
After a while of talking, we decided it would be best if we told my coaches everything. As we walked to the coach's offices, I was scared to death. I kept thinking "will I be kicked off the team?" or "will I lose my scholarship?"
I ended up telling my coach everything. Soon we were all crying. All of my coaches embraced me with their support and care. In that moment so many of my fears subsided. I realized that it was OK to feel comfortable with myself. It was like something changed and I didn't really care what people thought of me anymore. I was able to be more open with myself and the rest of my swim team. Since then I have felt nothing but support from them.
My coming out experience helped me realize that just because people in high school had different opinions about being gay doesn't mean the rest of the world is like that. Yes, there is real discrimination toward LGBT people, but I truly believe that times are changing. Things are getting better.
I am not afraid to be open about who I am now. I am confident that this is who I was born to be.
Because of all that happened to me, I was able to find the confidence to come out to my family. Since I told them I was gay I have received nothing but love and support from them, and I am blessed to have that in my life.
Life may seem unbearable sometimes, but it does get better. I just had to hold on through the dark times. I emerged from all of it stronger; I emerged a fighter.
This has been reposted from OutSports.
If you are LGBT and suffer from depression, contact The Trevor Project hotline at 866-488-7386. It is a FREE hotline, and someone is there to help.