This weekend was Pride, and for the third year in a row I felt like a terrible person for not attending.
Since I 'came out' at the ripe old age of 21 after a lifetime of sub-conscious oppression and multiple identity crises, I've felt a looming sense of dread and complete insecurity about the person I am and how people perceive me.
At the beginning, I had it easy. I met my girlfriend. I told my parents - neither of them cared. I told my friends - none of them cared. My gran asked me a series of bizarre questions about sex toys, but ultimately - she didn't care. It was great. I had never felt so genuinely happy.
You couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I was elated, uplifted. I felt like I'd broken out of my shell for the first time. I started writing for some lesbian magazines and websites, exploring my limitations and the ideas surrounding this person I had finally become.
Then I lost my best friend because I'd had it too easy. She had come out a few years earlier, and it hadn't been as peachy. The person I had relied on for support and guidance through the whirlwind of re-discovering myself was gone. It left me feeling exposed.
I was made to feel I wasn't honest or truthful. Like the person I had built up was a sham - a vision of the person I wanted to be. And after a while I started to believe it.
I gave up my column for a lesbian lifestyle website, and stopped pitching features about my sexuality. I no longer felt confident to write about issues that I had been made to feel I didn't understand. I didn't feel good enough to write about or represent the LGBTQ+ community.
I lived in constant fear of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing. I wanted to defend people. I wanted to fight their fight and feel their struggle but I no longer felt equipped to offer them the kind of support they needed.
I constantly wonder whether I use the right words and support the right causes. Our community is so fast-paced and so full of incredible and inspirational people that I just get lost.
Sometimes I still feel like the community is too big for me. I'm too normal. Too average. I don't have enough to say, or enough to offer. I don't use my voice enough or shout loud enough. Sometimes I don't feel brave enough.
Those doubts still sit in the back of my mind but now I have finally found my voice and there's not much that can stifle it. I have a history, I have a story, I have had a struggle and I've overcome it. I have become proud of who I am. I know that going to Pride will not validate my sexuality - it doesn't need validating.
I am proud. Prouder than I ever believed I could be. I feel capable of standing up for myself and for our community. I've let go of my own narrow-sighted opinion that everyone will agree with what I have to say.
I celebrate Pride every day that I wake up with my girlfriend. Pride consumes my every movement. My every achievement. My struggle lifts me beyond all I thought possible. I accept that my pride is what makes me different, but also just the same.
I'm proud of how far I've come. Proud of how far we've come as a society. Proud of myself for letting myself be. Proud of my family and friends for their unrelenting acceptance and love.
I spent the Pride weekend with my girlfriend's family at their home. We had a barbecue, stayed up drinking wine and chatting about anything and everything until the wee hours. It was then I realised that for me, that's what it's all about.
Promoting acceptance and standing proud in the face of adversity. Being able to be the truest version of you that you can be 24/7. Whether you're marching through the streets of Soho or sitting on a sofa somewhere in West Sussex.
Pride, by definition, is: "a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of one's close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired."
Pride is every single day. Now I realise that, we can march together next year.