Lately, I’ve felt an increased breadth of emotionality, and I’ve been wanting to embrace that and document it. At this point, I’ve been on injections for about 2 months. I’d say I could first recognize this about a month ago – I saw the film, Moonlight, and I felt choked up / on the verge of tears a couple of times. This was no small event: I haven’t cried or even come close for a very very long time.
About two years ago, I was seriously depressed for a year. It’s definitely different for everyone, but whenever I’ve been depressed in that way, I do not cry. I don’t have any emotional experiences, really, other than fear and panic and deadened mental capabilities. And physical pain, but not in the way where I want to cry. Then, after about a year of trying different meds, I got on one that I actually like, for the first time ever. It helps me sleep. It helps me not think in obsessive ways. It helps me absorb new information and changes and take those things in stride. I’ve had some serious high notes, in this past year. This drug has actually helped with that, perplexingly. I’ve also had a couple of anxiety attacks, but they were extremely few and far between, and related to stressful times.
But I had not felt sad, or any of those nuanced pallets / ranges within the emotion called “sadness.” Until I started (again) on testosterone – which is kinda interesting because the more likely narrative is “once I started T, I couldn’t cry anymore.” I have yet to actually cry, but the sensation is there, and I welcome it.
Today, I was listening to a podcast, and I felt overwhelmed with emotion. Like I said, this has been so rare, that I embraced it. It was “This American Life,” the episode called, “Ask the Grown Ups.” Tig Notaro was giving some advice to a teenage girl who’s mom had recently passed away. It was so moving that the world around me changed, temporarily.
Also, I’ve recently been seeking out music that I listened to while I was depressed, 2 years ago. (There’s not much at all to uncover because I listened to so little music. It’s basically 2 albums by Royksopp, something by The Notwist, and, probably a couple more I could track down if I really wanted to dig…) It’s been… interesting. There have also been big changes in my life lately, mostly at work, that has triggered some images of violence to flash before my eyes. I’m all too familiar with this, and in the scheme of things, it’s been super mild. But, yeah, haven’t experienced that in a very long time. Instead of acting on it or obsessing on it though, I just came home, took my pills, and went to bed early. I feel sooooo grateful that that’s all I have to do. And then the next day it is not too bad. What???!!! It’s true!
So, essentially what I’m saying is that I have felt some intense emotions over the past couple of years, but very rarely did that involve any form of sadness. Which, is pretty bizarre if I think about it. And that’s been due to depression and medication. And then, this higher dose of T opens back up a world I have not been able to access. It includes nostalgia and emotional connectedness and feelings associated with the weather and isolation and the season and the environment, etc. etc.
As long as I’m not continuously bawling my eyes out, it’s all good.
Game changing significance was loaded on top of more and more significance, this past week. On Monday the 7th, Leonard Cohen passed away. Then, of course, the upsetting election results. My spouse woke me up to tell me the news. I was in a hazy half-sleep, largely induced by my medications (I think), and I just replied, “Ohhhhhhh,” and immediately fell back asleep. It was a surreal half-consciousness, and, in a way, I continued on in that space for a long time after, even now, as I try to wrap my head around it.
She also texted me later that morning saying “Happy anniversary of our ‘legal’ marriage today.” I had completely forgotten about that. We have much more meaningful anniversaries between us; this one is not a big deal. But, interesting that it happens to fall on this same date. Plus! It was the one year mark of the launch date for the radio station I am a DJ at. Also on this day, a friend’s father passed away. The next day, my spouse’s sister proposed to her boyfriend!
The following day, I heard word that two pride flags had been burned in our neighborhood. Talk about being hit close to home! More on that in an upcoming post. We attended a rally on Saturday morning with some friends, and the spirit of that event was totally incredible.
Also, around this time, 17 years ago, I was hospitalized for 19 days, and was traumatized by the process, for a very very long time. I take a moment every year to think about this and reflect. (In the past, it’d been much more than “a moment” to reflect. For too long, it had felt like constant rumination.)
Three years ago, I wrote about how I finally gained access to the medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist: Continuing to work through a specific trauma.
Then two years ago, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time: That specific trauma is still there.
Last year, I wrote about how much time has changed things, and it no longer felt like a big deal. The fact that I had been hospitalized again, that year, surprisingly helped me find ways to heal, rather than adding more baggage onto the feeling of it: That specific trauma is no longer a big deal.
This year, this personal matter has simply been buried underneath all this other stuff going on. I don’t have the capacity to think about it and write about it right now. I don’t see that as a problem. It’s not like I am grieving the loss of space and emotional energy to be with this thing. It was a thing. And it gradually became not as much of a thing. It is OK.
I also experienced an upswing this week. Probably galvanized by the shitty stuff going on. I cancelled a doctor’s appointment that I didn’t want to go to. I called my grandpa and talked to him about different ways to save for retirement. I solidified plans for my spouse and I to take a trip to Washington D.C. for her birthday – right around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and just in time to get the fuck out of there before the presidential inauguration. We are going to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian, which just opened a few months ago.
I also submitted my stuff to legally change my name! Finally! I did this yesterday. (This might also be a separate upcoming post.) I also emailed a lawyer to see if he would be willing to work with me toward gaining legal non-binary status. I haven’t heard back yet, and I realized that the timing is shit. This is such a low priority right now, as transgender people scramble to get their Social Security card, passport, etc. in order before the Trump take-over. And I know this lawyer in particular is probably swamped with going above and beyond to help people with this. So, I’m going to wait on it.
But a time will come. I know it.
I made a decision that I’d like to get on testosterone injections, temporarily. I’ve thought on-and-off about it for a while, and I think the idea solidified over the summer, like, once I’m back to normal after recovering from surgery, I’m going to look into it. Unfortunately I knew I couldn’t just get this from my Primary Care Physician – she had been OK with maintaining my androgel dosage, but not comfortable with changing / increasing anything.
On September 26, I called the local LGBTQ+ health clinic and explained what I’m looking for. They said they could get me in on January 25th. I said, OK set the appointment, but in my head, I was thinking, this is a ridiculous amount of time to wait. (And, I know, I know, relatively speaking, it’s not at all, especially looking at it from a global perspective. But, if I think I can do better than that, why not try?)
From there, I looked up endocrinologists in my area and what types of care they covered. I found one that hypothetically seemed like a good fit, and I posted about it on the local transmen Facebook page. I got one comment that yeah, she and her staff are good, and a few more comments agreeing with the inefficiency of the clinic. In terms of vetting, that seemed good enough.
I called her office on September 27th and was told I’ll need a referral from my Primary Care Physician, and then once that’s in, I should hear back within a week. I called my PCP’s office, and they said they’d send that over right away. I then waited 10 days before calling. I was told the referral didn’t get received, huh, not sure, can you have them send it again? Got that done, this time with a confirmation plus I got a copy, and waited another few days. I got a call from my PCP’s office, saying that the endo needs an additional referral, from a psychiatrist. GATEKEEPING at its finest. I would have been super pissed, and probably would have stopped trying to go this route, if it weren’t for the fact that I actually do have a psychiatrist right now. So although I hate that I had to do it, it wasn’t actually much of a hassle.
I emailed my psychiatrist (she was already aware that I was pursuing this), summarized the nature of the referral from my PCP, and asked her to also write a letter. I said that including pertinent information, like the fact that I’ve been on a low dose before, that I’ve had top surgery, and/or that I identify as non-binary would be great. She replied that she could write the dates she’s seen my, my diagnosis (meaning my mental health diagnosis), medications she prescribes, and mental stability status. “OK?”
I replied, “OK that’d be great, thanks.” Guess I didn’t want to argue or push it.
I then waited another 8 days (by this point, it was Oct. 25th, a whole month later and I still hadn’t secured an appt.) and called the endo’s office again. I was given a wishy-washy answer by the administrative assistant. That the endo is still in the process of finding more information, and she is currently booking out till January – they can get me in for January 10th. But at the same time, she can put me on a waiting list to get me in sooner. I asked, if I were to call and check my status, would that help me “jump the line”? (I didn’t actually use this phrase.) She implied that sure, that could help.
At this point, I took a step back and thought about what’s happening. So far, the endo got a referral from my PCP, and that didn’t include any history of care: just Female to Male transgender person (F64.1), chronic. In addition, they got information from a psychiatrist that I am bipolar, that I have been seeing her for 9 months, and that I’ve been stable during that time (relatively, this is such a short amount of time; it’s kind of implying that the rest of my “bipolar disorder” time is a wildcard.) I don’t want to get too paranoid, but this collection of information is not working for me at all. That plus the fact that it’s straight up inaccurate.
Feeling like the system is working against me, I decided to pull from my bag of tricks and email my therapist. If there’s anything that could help this stalemate, it’d be her. I relayed this whole series of events and asked her if she could also write a referral, actually filling in the background information. She replied in 10 MINUTES – such a refreshing change! and said crazy that this is so hard, and sure she’d write a letter, and is there anything else I’d want to make sure she includes?
So she’s writing a letter. My intent is, essentially, that this is not a new diagnosis, coming out of nowhere. That I’ve already been on T in the past, I’ve had top surgery, I’m in the process of legally changing my name, etc. So, this should be a continuation of ongoing care (timely, please!). I’m not starting from square one here. I imagine this endo has access of my medical records (?? not sure how that works), so if she looked into it, she’d find this stuff. I’m just having my therapist bring it to the forefront, which will hopefully change something?
Because, I feel like if it went the other way – my doctor sending the referral first on my behalf, instead of me going backwards to get this stuff covered, I would have been given an appointment within a more reasonable window. Not sure if that’d be true or not – there could be dozens of reasons outside of my control – maybe she’s just really busy. But, I gotta try…
I never before realized that these days are consecutive! Oh hey, these are the two most frequent topics of this blog!
In the past, I haven’t observed either through writing here, but I currently have a lot to say about both; this’ll probably end up being one of my more personal posts, at least as of lately.
First just real quick – a little bit of background / information about both:
World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10th) was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. This year’s theme is “psychological first aid.” My first thought was that it refers to how to handle someone who is in a mental health crisis, but it actually refers to being a support to someone who just witnessed or experienced a terrible tragedy. There is a world of difference between the two, even though there’s also overlap; of course, learning about both types of situations is going to be important.
Nat’l Coming Out Day (Oct. 11th) was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. Oct. 11th was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the 1987 Nat’l March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. It is observed in the spirit of the personal being political and the idea that homophobia cannot thrive once people know someone personally who is LGBT+.
(Information is coming from the World Health Organization website and wikipedia.)
Last night, I saw an amazing documentary called Strike A Pose, which just came out last year. It’s about the seven young male dancers from the NYC underground (the origins of voguing) who were personally selected by Madonna for her tour. They also ended up starring in a behind-the-scenes documentary at the time, called Truth or Dare. Madonna was very outspoken about AIDS, gay rights, safe sex, and of course, Expressing Yourself! [Spoiler Alert:] What was most interesting though, was that at the same time these young men were embodying those messages on her behalf, they were not all on board or comfortable with it. Three of the men had been diagnosed with HIV prior to the start of the tour, and they all were silent about it to the extreme, not even telling friends or loved ones. Also, one of the men sued Madonna after the tour, for forced outing, partially spurred by a coerced kiss with one of the other dancers in the Truth or Dare doc. He was not ready or willing to be that person, to be making that statement.
So, I guess what I’m saying with all that is that Nat’l Coming Out Day is great and celebratory and everything, but in order to actually be empowering, it has to be on each individuals’ own terms. Once I outed a friend (about something totally unrelated to being LGBT) as part of a joke, and then I felt really crummy about it. I just let time wash over that one, but it’s still a prominent memory.
So where am I at? I still have a fair share of coming out to do. I’m not doing any of it today. It does feel imminent though – I’d say within the next 6 months. I look forward to the day that my driver’s license, signature, little plastic rectangle on the custodial office, Facebook page, the words out of teachers’ and co-workers’ mouths, and everything else, all say the same thing! As of now, I have 5 different names going on in different places, and none of them are the full name I actually want to go by!
Here’s something I wrote that really captures this feeling (I wrote it almost exactly 2 years ago. Dang, that is a long time!): Fractured identity and fragmented feelings
Moving on to mental health:
My mental health has improved by leaps and bounds within the past 9 months, and I have not written about it. Actually, the most recent thing I did write was 9 months ago, here: A full year later / Making major changes. I was hopeful but tentative. I had had 23 good days in a row (an anomaly), due to starting yet another drug. I am still on that drug, and I am still having good day after good day after good day (other than not so great days due to a cold, a handful of really bad days during the stress of surgery).
Overall, I am more stable and happy than I ever have been before, BY FAR. And I feel certain that I can attribute that to a drug, something I never would have thought possible before (I’ve been on lots of drugs over a span of many years, and did not have a good experience with any of them. I had gone off medications completely for 10 years because I thought it was hopeless. I always downplayed the usefulness of psychotropic drugs. When I was younger, I thought I was the only one who had this reaction; now I know it’s fairly common to have to go through a trial and error period, searching for something that will actually be a good match.
During those 10 years I was not taking medications, I focused on other things to improve my well-being. Most of that was social in nature – focusing on not isolating, focusing on positive connections with people, focusing on emotional intimacy. It worked. To an extent. I started to think that getting back into therapy would probably help. That worked too. It felt miraculous for a while at first, actually. But as the years went by, kinda only to an extent. I found myself in a situation where I HAD to get back on medications, and I was not happy about that at all. In fact, I recall thinking a lot about when I’d be able to get off of them (maybe 6 months? I was thinking…)
In the end, it has worked out better than I ever could have imagined. I am neither pro-med nor anti-med. It’s way too personal, and different for each individual, to have a general feeling about it. But I can say that I used to be anti-med, and now I feel that, for some people, it can be that one game changer that makes all the difference.
There’s a trans-kid out there who could use some words of support and encouragement right now. (There are many trans-kids out there who need help; here’s one way you can make a direct impact!) Tell Ollie your story and how you get through hard times related to depression and gender dysphoria, by sending him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I sent one in last night!
It started with, on Tuesday, I read an email that was dispersed through a closed Facebook group I am a member of, and I contacted the writer, Aldana, to see if I could share her message. The following is posted with her permission. Please do forward to specific people who might be interested, via email! If you would like to re-blog or share on social media, please contact me at email@example.com first… Aldana has conveyed that it’s a fine balance between wanting to get the word out and get more letters sent in, and on the other hand, the potential of it spinning out of control, having the message get watered down, and possibly having the surprise no longer be a surprise.
Aldana, a friend of Ollie’s father, wrote, (Edited version.)
I apologize for an email coming out of left field but I need some help and I hope you might be able to point me in the right direction. My name is Aldana and I have a very close friend who has a 17 year old transgender son named Oliver. Ollie just came out the end of last year and suffers from extreme gender dysphoria and depression. He has been going through a really rough time for a while now. He needs help and support so badly, and his dad does too.
I looked up local mentorship programs to send to his dad because I really believe that if Ollie had a mentor in his life, he would have someone to relate to and to talk about what he is going through. Besides sending mentorship information, I thought there might be another way to help Ollie feel love and support right now. It might be a long shot, but I wanted to put it out there just in case you might be able to help me make this happen!
I thought that it would be so great and powerful if people who went through similar hard times and came out the other side, were able to write a letter to Ollie telling him their story and how they overcame their challenges. This young soul is in desperate need of acceptance and love and I would appreciate any help or guidance you can give me in helping me make this “Letters 2 Ollie” project happen.
I went ahead and created an email account that I can give to his dad to share with him once people start writing him letters. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I am hoping to get about 30 but would be grateful for any amount to be honest.
I know this is an ambitious project and I want to thank you in advance for any help or guidance you can offer. You have my permission to forward this email to anyone you think might be able to help me make this “Letters 2 Ollie” project a reality. Thanks for your time!
Here’s what I wrote to Ollie:
My name is Kameron, and I’m a 34 year-old trans-person. (Oh man, that makes me twice your age!) I wanted to write to you, share a little bit about myself, and hopefully learn more about you.
When I was 17, I was going through a really rough time too. I felt depressed, and stressed out about trying to make friends, plus juggling school, cross-country running, and a part-time job. (I worked at McDonald’s. It sucked.) On top of all of this, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to figure out my sexual identity (gender identity questions ended up coming later for me) and to be more open and honest. I was really shy.
I decided that I must be a lesbian, since I was so masculine and it seemed like I would probably date women, although I wasn’t so sure about that. I didn’t know about transgender identities. I didn’t know of anyone who was trans, or even what that really meant – it wasn’t talked about at the time, and I didn’t know about any resources. I could barely come to terms with the idea of being gay, anyway, so maybe it was for the best! To end up exploring these things in stages…
After a couple of months of feeling such intense pressure in my senior year of high school, I broke down and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks. The rest of that school year was really really hard. I had to drop out of a few of my classes. I went to more study halls and art classes, but that didn’t really help. I was not able to focus on my school work or anything else, not even TV!
Things did get better though, slowly but surely. I don’t want to sound too cliche, but it does get better. At least for me it did. And I think if you were to really ask people who struggle with depression and gender dysphoria and everything else, most of them would tell you the same thing.
My mom was supportive, and she found out about an LGBT youth group that I started going to every Sunday morning. (It prevented me from going to church with my parents, but I was secretly happy about that.) I will say that I found it difficult to connect with people at first, because I was so shy, but I at least started to feel a little bit more confident at my school. At the time, my school didn’t even have a gay-straight alliance or any club like that! Does your school?
When I went to college, a lot changed for me, largely because it was an opportunity to re-invent myself. Everyone was new. Also, I learned about so many things I was not aware of, including gender identity. Do you have plans to go to college? Even if you don’t, there are all sorts of opportunities to be the person you see yourself as, even if most people know you as someone else right now. Whether you join a new gym or start a new job or join a new group, I feel like people are more and more accepting and understanding about transgender identities, by the minute, these days. It’s really incredible how fast things are changing.
I would not have believed I could be where I am today, when I was 17 (the year you were born! Were you born in 1999?) I changed my pronouns to he/him/his about 10 years ago. I changed my name socially, and I want to change it legally too. I was on testosterone for a few years. I just had top surgery 3 weeks ago! My transition has ended up not being as straightforward, partly because I identify as non-binary, but that’s a different story. Also, I got married to a totally amazing person, and I have a blog, and I’m a radio DJ, and despite having some bouts of depression at different times, I am usually happy and want to get as much out of life as I can!
I’ve been thinking about you and hoping that things are at least getting a little better, every day. I wonder if you’d want to write back and forth more? I’d love to hear about what kinds of stuff you like. I just talked a whole lot about myself, but I’m actually more interested in learning more about you! Also, if you want to ask me something, go for it! I doubt I will think anything is “too personal.” I’m pretty open!
Your pen pal,
Three years ago today, I took a huge leap, not at all sure this was what I wanted to be doing, but fully positive I needed to try just to find out. Even though I’m not currently on T, this date is still a really big deal for me.
When I started, I felt, almost immediately. that this was the right decision, and that I could have benefited from testosterone way sooner, if I hadn’t been so unsure I could just take a low-dose to see what it felt like. Those first few weeks, I wrote a lot in my journal, things to the effect of: “feel hungrier, more energized, had to get up at 5AM because I was doing overtime [Saturday morning]. Buzzed through the 8-hour area, as if I didn’t lose any sleep and am in fact on speed. Floated through the rest of the day in a cozy, mellow cocoon.”
About 4 months later, I stopped writing just privately, and decided to start this blog!
First post: low-dose testosterone for the rest of my life
At the time, I thought about testosterone and it’s effects all the time. I was hyper-aware of any physical changes (mostly not wanting anything to change) and also my internal states. It’s impossible to inhabit that way of being, long-term, of course, and other life events happened, causing roller-coaster-like mental states. And I started to wonder what testosterone was doing for me anymore.
I had been treating testosterone like a psychotropic drug, in my mind. And, in a way, it kind of is (a naturally occurring one). I wasn’t on any medications, and I kind of saw it as the solution to my mental health issues. Until it wasn’t. (But it did feel like it was for quite a while.)
When I did go back on medications (a little over a year ago), the purpose of taking testosterone started to feel like it was getting diluted. And the reason to stay on it became, “I need to keep as much as I can the same, right now, so that I can stabilize” rather than, “Testosterone is stabilizing me.”
Right around the end of December, I finally switched to a medication that seemed to be working (maybe for the first time ever, for me). And right around that same time, I decided to stop taking testosterone. Was the timing coincidental? No. It felt like I found a substitute, actually. And I’m still feeling really really good.
I’m still undecided about how much more masculine I would like to look and sound, and if I would want to use testosterone to get me there. It’d be awesome if I could pick and choose… (probably most trans-people wish this). I would pick a moderately lower voice, a little more muscle mass, and a higher sex-drive. I would toss the facial hair and balding, the acne, the feeling too hot, and the other body hair.
This will probably be my last update in this series “___ years on testosterone without noticeable masculinizing changes,” since I’m not currently on testosterone. It doesn’t make sense! Most definitely I’ll start it right back up if I decide to go back on. And I imagine, where I am right now, that my reasons will be different. Less of, “what would testosterone feel like?,” and more of “how much do I want my body to change?”
From my experience, I kind of feel like, if you’re on the fence about hormones, and you’re not sure about how you feel, gender-wise, it’s worth a try (if you can get access). It might take you to a new place on your journey. It might jump-start something inside you. It did for me. Or, on the other hand, it could help you rule something out. I know someone who was unsure about starting estrogen, but they kept obsessing over it. Once they went through the steps, and had the estrogen on hand, they suddenly strongly felt they did not want to continue to pursue that path (after taking only one day’s worth of the hormone.) So, either way, you may learn something about yourself…
Right around this time of day one year ago, I was just getting out of the hospital. I remember the out-take process was long / we had to wait on meeting with certain people first. I was so antsy to go, that once we finished something at the front console, I went to open the door to leave. I didn’t think about the fact that you had to be buzzed out! Oh yeah, no coming and going as we please – I forgot…
I got coffee at a snack bar on the way out, and we went home. I was super up and psyched to be out of there. It wasn’t till later that I got depressed. For a full year, more or less.
Within the past month, I’ve made some major changes that are impacting my mental health. I currently feel better than my baseline. We’ll see if this lasts.
I changed medications: I had been on Geodon, Wellbutrin, and Klonopin (for sleeping). I didn’t think the drugs were doing anything; I still felt shitty, and in December, it was getting worse again. I was having vague suicidal thoughts and was having trouble making it through my daily routine. I talked about this in therapy, and my therapist asked if I would talk to my new psychiatrist about it. I said, “Yeah, but what can she do? What else is there to try?” It seemed hopeless – I’ve been on so many drugs, and overall nothing had ever worked out long-term. My therapist just said that she might have some ideas. So at my next appointment, I did talk to her, and she suggested switching off of the Geodon onto something else. She listed a few, told me about what they work best for and what side effects accompany them, and left it up to me to pick one, basically. I said Seroquel, but I couldn’t really tell you why. I didn’t have much faith. I did the tapering off /ramping up thing, and surprisingly, right when I hit a certain dose of the Seroquel, my day got way way better. And then the next day. And the next. And now it’s been 23 straight days where I have felt free of crippling anxiety and vague suicidal thoughts. I feel present in my body, and I am looking forward to simple things that make my day more interesting / better. Like listening to a radio show, or going to get a bagel, or just, anything that previously would not have brought me any extra joy. I’m kind of floored by this. I’ve never had this experience with a drug before. We’ll see if it lasts…
I went off testosterone: I had been increasing my dose for a while, but it was a fine line between looking for more masculinizing changes and worrying about my hairline receding. (It had started to.) I found myself obsessing about my hairline and feeling negatively about testosterone. I felt stuck and stressed. Eventually, I decided, why don’t I just go off it for now and stop all the worrying. I have my whole life to figure out if I want to look more masculine or not – it doesn’t have to happen right now. So I stopped, and I felt better. I worried I might hate feeling colder or having less energy or having more aches and pains or experiencing a drop in mood. But none of those things happened. I haven’t been looking for anything to be different, and as a result (partly) nothing feels different. (I’ve been reading this book about expectations and beliefs and how much our judgement gets clouded – maybe testosterone hadn’t been doing much for me if I hadn’t been looking at what I thought it was doing. This is convoluted, and of course there’s more to it – it’s a powerful hormone! – but so far, so good.)
I stopped going to therapy: I have been going to therapy consistently for 4 years. Much of that time was weekly, sometimes we scaled back to every 2 or 3 weeks. The past few times recently, I didn’t know what we were doing / didn’t know what to talk about / we were going in circles. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t need to go. And instead of that thought freaking me out, it settled in and felt right. So on Tuesday, I talked to my therapist about it, and she said it sounded like a great idea. We wrapped some things up for now, with little fanfare, and she made sure the door was open if I ever want to go back. I imagine I probably will, but for now, I had just been spinning my wheels, and it feels good to put an end to that. Maybe I can focus more on other areas of my life…
Considering how unstable I’ve been for a long time, these are some pretty huge changes. And I am finally starting to look forward to what’s ahead!
2015 has been one of the hardest years of my life. I was majorly depressed for 4 months of it. I was moderately depressed for the vast majority of the rest of it. I was out of work for a total of 2 months due to mental health issues. I was in the hospital, and I was also in a partial hospitalization program. I did do some fun things (like camping, going to Pittsburgh, marching in the pride parade, adopting 2 cats, going to the beach 3 weekends in a row, becoming a radio DJ, seeing Sleater-Kinney) but they failed to feel like much fun. I’m only now starting to feel like myself for extended periods of time. For example, today and yesterday (but not the day before), I felt like a person in a normal mood, and that felt great. I hope tomorrow feels like that too! I started on a new medication 2 weeks ago, and I’m really hoping something clicks…
I wrote a similar post last year, and I summed up gender-related stuff this way:
“I continued to settle into a new and improved place with hormone therapy and talk therapy, but I’m finding I still have a LONG way to go until I really am where I see myself. I want to be out as non-binary in all areas of my life. I want to go by a different name. I want all the people who know me to use male pronouns in reference to me, not just most of the people… I might want top surgery…”
I made some pretty big strides – I started to go by a different name, and now all my friends and about half of my family use that name. It’s still growing on me – it feels about equally as strange as my former name feels, now, but that is actually progress. Currently it feels like neither name really is my name, but I think that’ll shift with more time.
This year I went from feeling like I might want top surgery to scheduling a date! This feels like my biggest accomplishment, based on the amount of mental headspace this topic has been taking up. I’ll be going to Dr. Rumer on June 1st. I chose this date because I purposefully want to miss certain things by being out of work. I really do not like working in the summers, and I especially have a hard time with the transition from school-year to summer. I have a lot of sick time accrued, and I plan to use a lot. Often, people can be back at a desk job 2 weeks after surgery, but since my job is so physical, I plan on being out for 8 weeks, as of now. Why not?! That’ll allow me to miss the last 3 weeks of school plus half of the summer. That would be really amazing.
So if I were to sum up gender-related stuff now, a year later, it’d look like this: I want to be out as non-binary in all areas of my life (still). I want to come out at work, so that pretty much everyone will be using my new name and male pronouns in reference to me. No more dual identities. I want to get through the ordeal of surgery without too much psychic pain (physical pain is fine). I want to wear t-shirts! I want to make up my mind about testosterone – take more? take less? go off of it? I want to legally change my name at some point…
These are not resolutions, but it will be neat to go back and see if I made more progress or not.
Other things I’d like to focus on in the coming year:
– Getting back to being more social. Being social this year was too difficult, so I didn’t push it. I’ve been a little more talkative with teachers at work lately, and I’d like to re-connect with some people, both locally and through writing letters to far-away friends.
– Enjoying the summer. I never enjoy the summer – I usually get depressed. But since I’ll be most likely out of work for half of it, maybe I’ll feel it more. I’d like to do a road trip, more time at the beach for sure, maybe some backyard fires, weatherproof our picnic table and actually use it, and go on walks.
– Taking more photos. My dad gave me a new camera for my birthday/xmas, and I want to use it!
– Giving myself a break. I’ve been pretty hard on myself, and I’m going to try not to be (as much).
Around this time, 16 years ago, I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit, but then I got stuck there for 19 days without knowing what was going on. The lack of communication was horrendous. I suffered a psychotic break and left with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I accepted this for years, and I internalized that I have a mental illness in some pretty detrimental ways. This has always stayed with me, always felt like something I needed to work through and get past.
Two years ago, I wrote about how I came to finally acquire my medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma
Last year, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.
That specific trauma is still there
This year, although I’m acknowledging the anniversary, it feels like just the slightest emotional blip on my radar. I talked about it in therapy yesterday. I finally got my hospital records back from my therapist (she had been holding onto them for me for a whole year!) I looked through them again last night – there was always one page I skipped over. It was handwritten by me, explaining what had been going on in my social life that led me to feel like I needed to be hospitalized. I read it and felt OK about it.
Although this seems counter-intuitive, I think it helps that I was hospitalized in January. Where everything went wrong the first time around, everything went right(?) (maybe not right, but it went smoothly) this time around. I can overlay this experience on top of my shitty traumatic experience, and things make more sense.
I resisted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a long time, I’d been off all meds for 9 years; I felt relatively stable. When it was re-affirmed that I have bipolar disorder by the psychiatrist I was assigned, (“Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.”) I bristled at that. Actually, I bristled at him in general every step of the way. Appointments with him lasted a mere 2 minutes. He was inflexible and adamant I stay on meds forever. He forgot pertinent information about me. (At one point he told me I needed to stay on meds because I had been hearing voices.) After 6 months, I just stopped making appointments with him. With all his intensity toward me staying on meds, it was surprising how easily he let me just get away. Maybe he didn’t even notice I left.
My therapist helped me find a new psychiatrist; she’s awesome! She’s willing to follow my lead on what I want to do about drugs, and she’s willing to dialogue with me instead of ordering me what to do. I still don’t know what to do about drugs, but at least I have the space to feel supported with whatever I do choose to do. For now, I’m staying on them, but I can’t pinpoint why.
I respect this new psychiatrist. When she (also) told me I fit the criteria for bipolar type I, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could accept that. I don’t need to incorporate that in any particular way into my identity; it doesn’t need to mean I view myself differently. Personally, it’s not a core part of who I am. It just is an aspect of me that can just be, and I can leave it at that.
And I can finally integrate the difficult journey toward mental health as parts of myself, rather than things that happened to me.
Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. I didn’t know this till today, but looking back on yesterday, unknowingly, I was thinking a lot about the idea of suicide – something I don’t think a lot about. It’s been an annual day on September 10, since 2003; this year’s theme is Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives.
I’ve been thinking about this book that Kate Bornstein wrote called, Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. I haven’t read this book in its entirety, but the gist is that there are so many things you can do other than suicide – some of them might be extreme, some might be unhealthy, some might be even self-destructive. But if it gets you through the moment, and you’re still here, that is good enough for the the time being. I think that’s a great message. Sometimes when someone is in so much psychological pain, nothing sounds appealing. But if you just try something different, something way out there, it might be enough to even just temporarily jump-start you out of the mode you’re in.
When I was in high school, one day I heard an after-school announcement for a “yellow ribbon club.” I really wasn’t doing well, and I decided to see what it was about. It was run by school psychologists, and there were maybe 5 students who showed up. We went around the room stating why we came. I basically said I came because I was worried I might attempt suicide; I came to get help. The other students had come for other reasons – either they had been affected by the suicide of someone they knew, or they just wanted to help. After I said why I was here, one of the psychologists reiterated what I had said. I remember feeling embarrassed and selfish. I didn’t go back to any more meetings. No one ever followed up with me. I did not end up attempting suicide, but things did get worse, and I ended up in the hospital not that much later on. I partially blame the psychologists for never checking back in with me.
This is a hard post to write because suicide is such a loaded subject. I’ve never attempted suicide or had an actual plan or had serious suicidal ideations. But there’s another way to feel suicidal – just kind of vaguely feeling like you cannot go on. Like you cannot keep living your life. Like you want to just stop existing, or just sleep forever. I’ve definitely felt that. With all the rough mental health – related stuff I’ve been through lately, I’ve felt that even recently. It’s a dull, nebulous, insidious, recurring, empty heavy veil, a lens to see the world through – a hindrance for sure, because there’s not much to be able to see, through all those layers. I don’t really know how to address it, other than to hope it will pass.
I think that what I’m learning is that rather than fighting those types of thoughts and feelings or trying to distract or re-route, it is possible to just give them less emphasis, to live with them, and to just focus on doing what you want to do, despite them. Just let them cycle through your brain, acknowledge them, but don’t give them any more power than what they are – just thoughts and feelings that come and go…
Kinda easier said than done, but I am trying to adopt this practice…