20th anniversary of a specific trauma

For 20 years, I’ve been churning and mulling over, obsessing and ruminating about, writing and re-writing the events surrounding my first hospitalization which happened around this time of year in 1999, when I was 17.  Up until the age of 30, it had a hold on me in that way that trauma can stay with a person:  it was my biggest source of shame and fear, I felt like it defined my past and if only I had avoided it, maybe my mental health wouldn’t have gotten so derailed for so long.  It was a super sore spot that for some reason I just kept picking at, revisiting, but wasn’t getting anywhere with.

I’m 37 now, and I’ve been seeing it much differently, with the help of my therapist.  It was extreme and drastic, for sure, but it led to me getting real help that I desperately needed – without that help, my mental state could have festered and bubbled badly for much longer, in a much darker place; who knows what might have happened.  Not that I didn’t suffer for way too long regardless.  I did!  But some systems were in place that helped me feel not so alone, even through those times where I despised those systems.

I’m writing kinda vaguely here…    I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit because I thought I was bipolar and I stopped being able to sleep, and things were getting wonky.  I was indeed diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as having gone through a psychotic break.  I was there for 3 weeks, even though I kept thinking I could leave at any minute, if I could just figure my way out.  I was put on medications, and later on, different ones and different ones and different ones.  So many different ones.  I got disillusioned with drugs and eventually weened myself off of everything because they ultimately didn’t make any sense.  They did do me some good at some points in time, but not much.

The thing that helped more than anything else, ever in my life, was getting assigned a therapist.  I was required to attend 20 sessions after my hospitalization; I ended up going so many more times than that; if not specifically with her because she moved away, then to the therapist she referred me to.  In fact, I’m still seeing this therapist (with a break of a bunch of years in between, during that time where I wrote off meds and all other psychological interventions).

I was talking recently with a friend about therapy, (It seems like all of my friends are currently in therapy…) and I referred to the fact that my parents facilitated me being in therapy from such a young age (and by young, I mean 18) as “early intervention.”  I know that term usually refers to 3-5 year-old’s who might be on the spectrum or might have a learning disability or a speech delay.  But, sadly, when it comes to emotions and figuring out how to communicate them, age 18 is still pretty much “early intervention,” in my opinion.  Things are definitely getting better, but not fast enough!  And when I said that out loud to my friend, it hit me how lucky I was.  I always went to therapy willingly – at some times, it felt like the only thing I had to look forward to.  Usually it felt like the progress was not quantifiable.  Was it doing anything?  What good was it?  Was it worth it?  I still pretty much always loved going, even if logically I wasn’t so sure.

My therapist has told me that among her clients who have gone through psychosis, I’m the only one who has ever wanted to revisit it (for me, there are 3 instances).  Everyone else just wants to put it behind them.  I don’t understand that; and I’ve ended up doing a lot more than just revisiting it.  I think there’s a lot of worth there.  It feels like a gold mine in an alternate universe.  The more I write, the more I can mine it later, for future purposes.  I’m not sure what those purposes are, exactly, yet, but I want the raw material to be intact as much as possible.

In the spirit of that, here’s one short snippet, that I first wrote in 2001:

“I’m going to be leaving tomorrow,” I announced at our afternoon community meeting.  I figured that since I wanted to come here, I was allowed to tell them when I wanted to leave.  I was getting sick of this charade.  The day before, I had told the nurse that I wanted to go home, expecting to find my parents there when I woke up.  When nothing came of that, I panicked, but then I realized the key was for me to get myself out.  I was going to have to stand up to everyone and announce my intentions.  I had to take control.  Everyone, including the staff workers, stared at me without saying a word.  That made me uneasy, especially when my statement went untouched, and the meeting continued with staff member Bob saying, “If no one has anything else to say, it’s time to go to the gym.”  It’s alright, it’s alright.  They’re just testing me.”

There’s a lot more where that came from.  Maybe one day I’ll share it with a wider audience.


Two year anniversary of my most recent hospitalization

I’ve been hospitalized a total of 3 times for mania and psychosis; for some reason, the anniversary of this one, this time around, is hitting me pretty hard.  Every year in November, I make a post to remember and acknowledge my first hospitalization, because it was so traumatic, and it’s stayed with me even now, 20 years after the fact.  These two other, more recent ones were much easier to get past / work through.  In fact, I’d even say that this most recent one was even cathartic, in a positive sense (not so much for my loved ones, I know!)  But personally, it helped me heal from the other two times.  And the fact that I didn’t boomerang into a deep, dark depression afterward… that I was able to take as much time off as I needed and kind of come back around gradually, organically, meant the world to me.

It’s been a very rainy May so far.  It reminds me of looking out the windows of the hospital; it was rainy a lot of the time then too.  It was my brother’s birthday, and then Mother’s Day, and right after that, I was admitted to the hospital.  The Lilac Festival was going on; there are lilacs in bloom right now.  We have a lilac bush; I can see the flowers from our dining room window.

Last year during this week, I was preoccupied with a trip to Massachusetts to visit our friends.  I didn’t think about the fact that we’d be away during this week.  It occurred to me while we were on the trip, I think.  I remember being hyper-aware of everything blooming at that time, exactly.  We smelled lots of flowers while we walked around different parts of Boston and Salem.  Things weren’t in bloom when we left, but suddenly, bam!, they were, when we got back.

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I’ve been super stable, mental health-wise, for a long time now.  I’d say I re-stabilized by September of 2017, and I’ve been good since then.  Great, even.  Super productive with creative projects.  Anxiety has been at an all time low.  I have energy.  My mood is very very very even-keeled.  Iike, maybe a little too much.  Meaning, there’s so little variety in how I feel, from day to day.  But… I’ll take it.  I haven’t felt any compulsions.  I haven’t been having obsessive thoughts.  The only down-side to my mental landscape, in an ongoing way, is that I sleep a LOT.  And I have trouble waking up in the mornings.  I usually sleep 10-11 hours a day, on average.  Which is most likely a side effect of the medication I’m on.  (Seroquel.)  But, also, as the years have gone on, I’m also realizing it just might be how much sleep is actually optimal for me.  I generally slept that much, if I was able to, long before starting this medication.  And I used to beat myself up about it, like I was being lazy and unproductive.  And whenever I’ve had to get on an earlier schedule, such as during summers, for work, my mood, energy levels, and motivation have always suffered.  Probably because I wasn’t sleeping as much as I seem to need to.

So I’ve decided to give myself a break.  It works out much better if I let myself sleep as much as I tend to need to (as opposed to how much I think I should want to, I guess?), life goes much more smoothly.

Huh, I went on an unexpected tangent about sleep!  I meant to write about my most recent hospitalization.  Actually, I’ve already written, in a word document, as much as I could remember from my week-long stay.  It was jam packed with activities; it was action packed.  So maybe I’ll just cut and paste a slice of life from that time.  …I just pulled it up to find an excerpt I could put here, but it’s total nonsense!  No one paragraph makes any sense within itself.  Also I burst out laughing a bunch of times.  I think it’s not quite ready for consumption yet.  But it might be, one day, as part of a larger project…


Thinking about trauma

Every year around mid-November, I tend to think back and reflect on a defining period of time in my adolescence.  And for as long as I’ve had this blog, I’ve written something about it, annually.  When I was 17, I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit.  I envisioned I’d be there for a day or two; in the end I was there for 3 weeks, with everything quickly no longer becoming my choice.  It was both good and bad that I went voluntarily – On one hand, I didn’t resent anyone else for making that decision, and I may have made some things easier for calling that shot so early-on in my downward spiral.  Specifically, I could have been walking around in a mild/moderate psychosis for a long time without giving off any glaring red flags, which could have been much more damaging in the long run, led to me slipping back into that state easier and more frequently as the years went by.  On the other hand, I couldn’t forgive myself for the longest time, and I blamed that traumatic experience on being just the start of all problems and struggles that came after it.  If I hadn’t gone to the hospital, everything would have been different, I thought.  If I hadn’t gone to the hospital, I wouldn’t have lost my mind, I thought.  Now though, 19 years later, I don’t think those things anymore.  Instead, I think that I was an incredibly self-aware teenager, and I acted out of self-preservation.

When i was in the hospital, it was expected that I keep up with my schoolwork, or at the very least, try.  In Humanities class, we were just starting to read The Handmaid’s Tale.  Instead of my school-issued book arriving for me to read, a copy was sent from the Central Public Library, which made me immediately suspicious.  I was paranoid that we were being force-fed, brainwashed, and doped, and every little detail just added fire to that flame-in-my-brain.  I started reading it anyway, but I didn’t get far.  On pages 3 and 4, phrases such as,

“A window, two white curtains.  …When the windown is partly open – it only opens partly…”  “I know why there is no glass, in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window only opens partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof.”

really freaked me out!!  All I could think about were the parallels.  The decor in my own hospital room, the panic and the dystopian surrealism of it all.  This part especially has always stayed with me:

“It isn’t running away they’re afraid of.  We wouldn’t get far.  It’s those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge.”

I’m pretty sure I did eventually finish the book.  But I dropped the class.  I dropped a bunch of classes when I got back to school, out of necessity.  In order to graduate and have as little stress as possible while doing so.  In order to try to put some of my mental health issues behind me and to look forward to college…

My spouse and I just finished watching The Handmaid’s Tale, up through season 2.  So depressing and distressing.  Just a really jarring portrait of where we could end up, some of it hitting way too close to home – not so much on a personal level, but in a collective consciousness kind of way.  Hauntingly horrifying.

I got the book out of the library again – my local branch this time, not the Central Public Library…  Gonna attempt to re-read it.

Here’s what I wrote in the past, on the topic of being hospitalized:
2013:  Continuing to work through a specific trauma
2014:  That specific trauma is still there
2015:  That specific trauma is no longer a big deal
2016:  Anniversaries, traumas, deaths, and name-change
2017:  As that specific trauma dissipates further…


5 years of writing here

WordPress sent me a notification today letting me know that it’s my 5th anniversary of blogging here.  So I’m scrambling to do a celebratory post!

When I started this blog, I was trying soooo hard to navigate my gender identity and to find a community.  I’d say the first year or two was spent feeling like my blog was not enough, just continually putting myself out there and obsessing about how to connect with others through this method.  I spent hours, daily, reading as many other blogs as I could find, about gender.  After about 2 years, I think I started to feel secure in my writing voice, if not quite my gender yet.  I really settled into writing regularly, and I got so much enjoyment out of it – this more than any other creative endeavor, for a long time.  I’d say that within the past year, that’s shifted again, and I’ve felt pretty disenfranchised.  I get way more “views” than ever before, mostly thanks to this singular post:  28 risks of chest binding.  People love a good scare.  They love to google things that could go wrong.  I’m definitely proud of that post – I put a lot of work into that one.  And I do love the fact that once they find my blog through that route, it seems like the majority of people poke around a little more and go deeper.  (This is based on what I can tell from “stats.”)  But the sense of community I felt so strongly has dwindled over time.  People have stopped posting / I have stopped finding new blogs to read.  There are a few mainstays that I haven’t quite kept up with; I’d like to remedy that…

The way I decided to celebrate this milestone is to pick 5 blog posts that I think got overlooked (one per year).  Either I put a lot of emotional energy into them and didn’t get much feedback, or maybe I just think they’re worth checking out – they withstand the test of time, something like that…

2013:  From whimsical musings to invasive rumintations on transitioning – This was my 10th post ever, and I really think I zeroed in on the psychological push-pull of not feeling like either gender for the first time here.  I even used some of what I wrote here much later, in an essay that is forthcoming as part of an anthology published by Columbia University Press.  For real!  The date keeps being pushed back, but it will be within a year – I’m sure I’ll have updates as that approaches.

2014:  The Soft Sell (upping the ante) – This was my 30th post.  It was mostly about:  despite the fact I may have been solidifying my gender identity more and more, I was waaaay behind in telling a lot of the people in my life about it.  The blog was a great outlet to be semi-private but also just feel it out as I went.  The term “the soft sell” came from my therapist – that was her reaction to me telling her the half-assed way I had come out to my parents.  When she said that, all I could picture was the members from Soft Cell, one of my fave bands.  That has always stayed with me.  Hah.

2015:  I came out to the principal of my school (workplace) – This post was definitely not overlooked, but I still think it’s worth highlighting.  I came out to her waaaaay before I actually actively came out at work, and I strongly feel like the fact that I did that, that I put those roots down, gave me hope toward my final destination.  It also breaks down the divide I feel between the “janitor” and the “queer” parts of my identity – this blog has continually felt out where that line is, where it crosses, where they are distinct, etc.  I just really like this post because it addresses a lot of that stuff head-on.

2016:  Drag king stories #5 – This is definitely my favorite entry within this ongoing series I’ve been doing.  I wrote it in honor of Prince’s death (the actual show took place in June of 2012) – the fact that I got to emulate Prince at a really well attended event meant the world to me, and the fact that I performed one of the songs with my drag partner/buddy’mentor made it all the more special.  We were both regular drag performers at a gay bar in 2006 and 2007.  Before I could articulate where I wanted to go with my gender, I got to act it out in all kinds of fun and creative ways, harnessing music and dance and costuming and make-up.  Being a drag performer was a big step in my journey – this post really showcases that, I think.

2017:  Jeepster (working title: I got an oil change and got my mind blown) – this is a real oddball post.  I’ve always said that the three things this blog is about are: gender, being a janitor, and mental health, and this one here really crystalizes a mental state that was temporary (thankfully!)  I had just recently gotten through the thick of a manic episode, and the residual disorganization / megaorganization is still very much apparent in the writing here.  I think I want to highlight it because I’m currently working on a 16+ page piece where I just try to remember as much as I can about my most recent hospitalization.  This is a companion piece.

And I’m gonna cop out and not do 2018 because the year’s not done yet!  Plus, it’s my 5th anniversary, so I’m highlighting 5 posts.  Makes sense.  Here’s to 5 more years!


As that specific trauma dissipates further…

Every year around this time, I revisit the first time I was hospitalized, which was Veteran’s Day weekend in 1999.  It used to feel like the worst thing that ever happened to me.  And, in terms of fallout, I still think that it was – it just no longer feels that way.

Two years after this hospitalization, I wrote an essay for a class, including every little thing I could remember about the experience.  A few months ago, I gave that document to my therapist to read over.  I didn’t necessarily want to delve into it or have her probe me about it.  I just wanted for her to have read it.  And she really only said one thing:  “There were always questions about whether you had been in a psychotic state or not.  This definitely shows that you were.”  And, strangely, I was satisfied with that.  As if I could lay to rest whether I needed to be there or not.  For the most part…

I’m currently giving my most recent hospitalization (from 6 months ago) the same treatment, as best as I can remember.  I’m up to 2,500 words so far, and only about 15% done.  I don’t have any plans for it other than just something that I want to do for myself.  We’ll see.  I feel like there’s not much writing out there that really portrays what can go on in someone’s head while they are in the middle of psychosis.  (If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!)  That does not mean I have lofty goals for where I could take this writing; it’s just a motivating factor, something that pushes me to try to capture it as best as I can.

I just did a cursory search, and a couple of books that stand out as worth checking out are:
Stress Fracture: A Memoir of Psychosis and Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Here are the other posts I have made, yearly:

Continuing to work through a specific trauma – Four 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.

That specific trauma is still there – Three 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 no longer a big deal – Two years ago, 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.

Anniversaries, traumas, deaths, and name change – Then last year, I wrote about how other things were going on, and I really didn’t have the space or time to reflect.  Which was perfectly fine.  Between the election results, working on getting my name legally changed, and other emotional markers, it just didn’t come up.

This year, I am thinking about it, but it is more in terms of “one of the times I was hospitalized,” rather than, “a traumatic event – the worst thing that ever happened to me,” etc.

 

I’ve been thinking of all the little occurrences that go into the bigger story.  Like, for example, in that state, my mind was so malleable and adaptable that it seemed like, theoretically, anything could be true and just as easily, not true all at once.  Which is one of the reasons I avoided watching any TV.  (There were two TVs on the unit – one played music and had legalese constantly scrolling, in both Spanish and English – like a “know your rights” kind of thing.  The other TV had a remote and listing of channels, and we could watch whatever we wanted, 24/7.)  At one point I did sit down, and there was a documentary on about pineapples.  (Er, rather I’m sure the documentary was on something more broad, but I saw the pineapple part.  I started yelling about the unlikelihood about these pineapples growing.  Don’t pineapples grow on trees like sensible fruits?  What were these miniature pineapples growing up from fronds in the dirt?!  A patient who knew-all immediately matched the intensity I was spewing, and argued for the realness of these pineapples.

A few months later, my spouse’s aunt was visiting from Hawaii, and sure enough, she grows pineapples on her property and sure enough, she had pics to prove it.  I can now accept it fully.


6 months on testosterone

Today is 6 months on 50ml injections / week.  I didn’t know I would end up liking it as much as I am.  At this rate, I may be on it for a while, whereas previously I was thinking roughly 6-8 months.

I have not noticed anything major since the 3 month mark, except for probably just my voice, and also some psychological changes, which can be chalked up to any number of different things, first and foremost my “mood disorder” and the tweaking of my psychotropic meds.  (All for the better, thankfully!)

I also just celebrated 4 years with wordpress (got a notification from the company haha)!  That’s pretty cool – I’ve been writing roughly once a week this entire time.  I have over 200 posts “published.”

Also, locally, we just celebrated pride in our mid-sized city.  We’re always a month behind everywhere else with that.  Why?  I have no idea!  But I definitely do love the fact that it’s in mid-July as opposed to June.  It makes it all the more easier for me to be involved, with work and everything else going on with the end of the school year.  I’ll be making a post about that, as I do every year, for sure!

Speaking of work, I will be going back to work tomorrow, finally.  I’m neither nervous, worried, or anxious.  I’ll just see what’s what when I get there.  I have been out for 2 months.  Since my hospitalization in mid-May.  That is a long time to be out.  It has been relaxing, exciting, productive, and eye-opening.  I hope I can keep that feeling with me as I go back to the drudgery of a 40hr / week routine.

Hey, my T shot is also tomorrow, so I can have that to look forward to, at the same time.  And, the fact that I’ll be working again does not negate all the awesome things I’ve been up to.  Gonna try being more social and friendly and network-y.  Wish me luck!

Also, here’s my face:

6 months!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

before injections

 

 

 

 

 


1 year post-op (top surgery)

With everything else that’s been going on lately, I completely forgot that my one year anniversary was on June 1st.  I think I was aware on some level, because I’ve been super vocal with my spouse, the past few days, about where I’m at with this process.  So I’ll try to distill those diatribes into something that  makes sense!

Most importantly, within the past few weeks, I would say I have grown increasingly more comfortable with the off-beat sensations that I have going on.  Nothing is painful, per-se, but there’s still a lot of tenderness.  I am finally OK with my spouse resting her head there without warning, and in addition, I’ve realized that the more I ignore/avoid that area of my body, the more it will stagnate.  ???  (That’s just a hypothesis, but I hope there’s some truth to that – I’ve been trying to actively “manhandle” some spots, in the hopes that’ll promote more nerve growth, haha.)

I am over the disappointment of it not being picture perfect.  At first I was angry with the surgeon (Dr. Rumer).  I held onto this anger for a long time.  But, as I noted at 6 months, I had been poking and prodding around my rib-cage a lot more, and I came to the conclusion that my bone structure is asymmetrical, and she (the surgeon) had to work around those idiosyncracies, and in the end, I think she did her best.  I’m sure it would have looked more even if I had gone with DI, but peri was one of the things I was not negotiating on.  I already have scarring on my chest, from my self-injuring behavior years ago, and I really wanted no additional scarring, if possible.  And that was accomplished.  (Aside from my drain holes – those scars are still visible!!!)

My nipples, I believe, can be “tweaked,” (haha) for sure.  They look like they got shrunk and melted on – I think a different surgeon can really change the size and shape and it’ll make me much happier.  I am not going with Dr. Rumer any-further.  I was supposed to have my one year appointment either in person or over skype, on Thursday, but I cancelled it all together.  I am done, and am only now looking ahead to revisions.  The appt. wasn’t even going to be with the surgeon – just a nurse-practitioner, like I did over skype at 1 months, 3 months, 6 months, etc.  I’m done.

I am grateful that insurance reimbursed a large part of it – I really didn’t think I stood a chance with that.

And, just to wrap up, I want to reiterate how important this step was for me:  It’s not just that now I can wear tighter shirts and I don’t have to consider whether to bind or not, etc.  It has really affected my self-esteem, self-perception, and social comfort.  When I get dressed, I am excited to see how the shirt falls now – does it accentuate my pecs (which are now one of my favorite parts of my body), can I layer things in an interesting way, can I wear this as an open shirt and consider wearing a necklace as well?… etc.  Sometimes I will wear two outfits in one day, just to try out new-to-me fashions!

I told my spouse the other day that I used to just feel dumpy all the time, and she was shocked – she said I never looked dumpy.  Now it’s the opposite – I feel snazzy!


Anniversaries, traumas, deaths, and name change

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.


That specific trauma is no longer a big deal

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.


“Passing” at church

I don’t go to church, but I made an exception last Sunday for my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  My family surprised them there and attended service with them, then we took a drive to the church they were married at to take some photos, and then we went out to a fancy lunch.

It was awesome to see their surprise.  And to meet some of the congregation.  I realized I never see my grandparents outside of a family context, so it was novel and exciting to see them interacting with their church people and see them being celebrated by the entire church.

One congregant in particular was super outgoing and came over to introduce herself before the service started.  She went down the row of where we were in the pew, and we all introduced ourselves.  When she got to me, she asked, “Is this a grandson?”  And my grandma replied, “Granddaughter,” even though I have told her (and my whole family) how I identify.  This lady didn’t seem to catch that or care, and when I told her my name (the name I’m using with family, for now), she heard something different which was fine by me!

She came back after the service and pressed some more.  She said,

“I think I’ve met you before!  Were you with him [pointing to my uncle] outside of Dick’s Sporting Goods one time?  I definitely remember that.”
“No, I don’t think I ever was,” I replied.

We went back and forth a little more until it got cleared up that it was actually my adult male cousin who had been with my uncle.  (We look nothing alike, he’s big and has huge muscles and facial hair, but I thought it was pretty awesome!)

It’s strange that these occurrences never seem to fluster my family members (maybe they’re uncomfortable on the inside though) yet they can’t seem to integrate how I identify (and how I’m sometimes seen by others) with how they interact with me.  Some of them are trying though – three in particular are consistently using male pronouns while the rest of the family responds with female pronouns.  Maybe there will be a critical mass at some point where the tables turn.  I hope…