For as long as I’ve had this blog (9 years!), I’ve written annually around this time of year, about a hospitalization I went through at age 17. I was there for 19 days; it was voluntary but quickly became involuntary once it was clear I wasn’t actually based in reality.
This year, I wasn’t sure if was going to write anything. I’ve been thinking it over for the past few days. What else is there to say? I mean, there’s a lot, but is it worthwhile? Do I want to get back into the headspace? I’m not even sure if that’s possible anymore (which is mostly a positive thing.)
I started by opening a tab for each post I’ve made about it, so far. Rereading it all. I’m not sure why, but I think I want to try to plot out a timeline, even if it’s hazy and incomplete.
November 12 – December 1, 1999 – hospital
Spring of 2001 – wrote down everything I could remember, for a college course
Next 10+ years – continued to get blindsided by the emotional intensity of this trauma, all the time, but especially mid-November
Spring of 2012 – talked a lot about it, tentatively, in therapy, which really started to help
2013 – got a copy of the medical records. Was disappointed at how boring and repetitive they were. There were some nuggets though, for sure. First wrote about it on my blog.
2014 – brought the records to therapy. Watched my therapist zero in on the paperwork as if she were working out a puzzle. She kinda tore it apart, actually! This was both alarming and calming. Something was definitely lifting.
2015 – I got the records back from my therapist (she had been hanging on to them for me). I had been hospitalized earlier in the year, for the 2nd time for the same reasons, and it started to sink in that I might actually have bipolar disorder, type 1, might have had it this whole time.
2016 – didn’t dwell on it. Lots of other things were going on.
2017 – I was hospitalized for a third time, and the traumatic event was starting to be re-contextualized as just, one of the times I was hospitalized.
2018 – This is where I really started to rework things. I’m not sure how to distill that down into a sentence; it’s just pretty amazing to be able to look back on this journey.
2019 – This was the 20th anniversary of my first hospitalization. I wrote that I thought all this writing might serve a future purpose; I just wasn’t sure what yet. I included a photograph of a re-working of different photos I did for a college project, in the spring of 2002.
2020 – I wrote about starting work on a memoir, and the raw material from that college course in 2001 factors into it, but I couldn’t get myself to revise that stuff; make it more cohesive. I was working hard on everything else surrounding it.
2021 – I had gotten past that block and had reworked the writing quite a bit.
Earlier in 2022 – I was clearing out a lot of old stuff from a storage area in my parents’ house, this spring. I save everything. In sorting through all that stuff and reorganizing it to bring to my house, I found a hand-written letter my mom had given to me while in the hospital. I had been looking for this ever since then! I even asked her about it; I was at a loss for where it might have gone. It was in response to a letter I wrote her – that piece is still a mystery, but it was so healing to finally find this thing.
Present day (my 10th time posting about this) – I’m stuck. My memoir is off track and I’m sad about it. I started to revise it drastically in a whole different direction for a long time, but it doesn’t feel like it’s mine anymore and so I stopped. I haven’t touched it for over 6 months. Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of journal writing, emailing my therapist, the usual. Recently, I started on ideas for a 2nd memoir. I’m starting to feel a little more serious about writing overall; I think I have three different stories to tell. Working on this other memoir has felt rewarding, but it’s not the story. I want to get back to this traumatic event and the events surrounding it. I feel like I might be on the cusp of getting back to it…
In those early posts about the hospitalization, I kept ascertaining that I didn’t need to be there, that it was extreme, and I didn’t actually lose a grip on reality until I got there. I see it much differently now. I definitely was going to need to be there – it was more a matter of when? If I hadn’t gotten my mom to get me there, I would have eventually had to go some other way. I know that now. And I could have ended up doing a lot more long-term damage. It’s kinda incredible that at 17, I had enough insight to know I needed to get there. Somehow, I saved myself. (In looking back over all these posts, I realized I wrote something very similar in 2018. For me, writing and recording and reviewing and revisiting all overlap and blend into each other. I’m starting to feel like maybe I am a memoirist? And trying to understand this one experience could be the impetus that has been pushing me there?)
Around this time, 20 years ago, I was experiencing suicidal ideation and debilitating depression, after being hospitalized for mania and psychosis. The #1 stressor in my life was my sexual orientation (I hadn’t yet gotten to the gender identity part). Two things saved me: therapy, and regularly attending the youth group at the Out Alliance (called the GAGV – Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley, at the time).
Learning, yesterday, that the Out Alliance was folding and laying off all its employees hit me hard, both in a community-forward kind of way, and on a personal level. We need the Out Alliance and the services it provides. The board stated, “We hope that this cessation in our services will be temporary and that, after reassessing and restructuring the organization, we will resume our vital mission, stronger than ever.” Let’s hope this happens sooner than later.
I went to the youth group for the first time on March 15, 2000. I was a painfully shy, sheltered, awkward, naive 18 year-old. I wrote about it immediately afterward, in my diary:
“I was really nervous about going, but felt like it was something I had to do. I got mom to drive me. While I was there, I badly wanted to leave, but in retrospect, it doesn’t seem so bad. We talked about dangers on the internet and stalkers. I had nothing to contribute. Dr. [Therapist] says that’s OK. It was my first time. Next Sunday might be better anyway. There’s going to be pizza and a guest speaker on relationships. Also, I noticed many bookshelves filled with books. Maybe next time all the kids are outside smoking, I’ll go check them out.”
And it did get better. I remained painfully shy and awkward. I never did connect with the other kids or make any friends, but I went every single week from then until I left for college at the end of August. At the time, the age limit was 19, but I asked if it could be extended to 22 because I still wanted to keep going. The age got changed in the “rules of the group,” and I was so thrilled I had been heard. I went sporadically when I could throughout my college years.
To back up, I started writing in a diary a year before attending the group, and my first entry starts out with a fantasy scenario in which I come out to a support group, 12-step style.
” ‘Hello. My name is Katie. And… I am a lesbian.’ ‘Hi Katie.’* I’ve gone through this scenario hundreds of times. I wish it were that easy. I’d just walk into a gay / lesbian support group and come out. I just can’t do it though; I haven’t told anyone.”
So actually attending and being around other LGBTQ+ people was HUGE for me, even if it was hard. Probably largely because it was so hard. Schools did not yet have Gay Straight Alliances. The internet was, well, you know, it was the internet of 2000. Which is to say I didn’t / couldn’t use it to find like-minded friends or look up information about sensitive subjects. I was too ashamed to take out any books about LGBTQ+ topics from the library for fear of the library clerk looking at them and deducing that I was gay. The information I would have found in those outdated books might have been more detrimental to my sense of self anyway. I was most certainly internally homophobic.
To know that there was an organization that was out and loud and proud was a revelation. I attended the Gay Pride Picnic that July, and was blown away by the number of people. Who knew?!
It took a while, but the sense of belonging and the normalization of the gay experience grew on me. I learned so much about safe sex and sex-positivity, LGBTQ+ portrayals in media, history, just a ton of feel-good stuff. We watched movies, we went on outings as a group, and yes we even got to eat pizza.
Huge shout-out to the facilitator at that time, Patty Hayes. She changed my life. I was so psyched to find that this 44 minute interview with her is out there on the internet! (Interview conducted for the documentary, Shoulders to Stand On. She has about 3 minutes of screen-time in the final product; here is the full interview):
The Out Alliance was there when I needed it, and I can honestly say it saved me from my own self-hatred, homophobia, and loneliness. Now that there are so many more options and ways to learn and connect, so what? It’s still very much needed. Every city needs something like this. It was a place to connect face-to-face and find role models and local resources. A place of hope for kids in surrounding rural areas who could drive in and find out they’re not alone. City and suburban kids too, of course. Older people just coming out. People who have been out for forever. SOFFAs and allies. It does, however, need to change with the times. There were times where I railed against it, for being too normative, too playing-it-safe, not diverse enough.
Hopefully their return will be swift, and well-thought out. The former staff have laid out some demands:
- Diversification of the board’s executive committee. They point out that the board is diverse but the executive committee members are all white and cisgender.
- Selecting a person of color to serve as the next executive director, “to reflect the necessary changes the agency still needs to take.”
- Making all board meetings open to the public and the minutes from those meetings accessible to the public.
- Including dollar figures, not just percentages, in all future annual reports. The annual report for 2018 showed a dollar figure for contributions, but nothing else.
- Changing agency bylaws to give the board greater oversight over the executive director and “veto power” over major spending and investment decisions.
- Creating a mechanism for agency members and community members to weigh in on who sits on the board.
Sources: CITY News article by Jeremy Moule
Shoulders to Stand On, documentary film
*At the time, I thought my name was Katie and that I was a lesbian. Now I know it’s actually Kameron, and that I’m a queer person.
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.
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.
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…
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…
The bathrooms (all except for two) at the school I work at are getting a complete makeover this summer! (This is only a part of the remodeling / demolition that’s been going on – it’s been a fairly chaotic and atypical few months. Most of the time it feels like, how is all of this going to be completed by September 4th?!)
Here’s a quick rundown of the bathroom count:
3 boys gang bathrooms
3 girls gang bathrooms
1 mens staff bathroom
1 womens staff bathroom
2 gender-neutral staff bathrooms
1 girls gym teacher bathroom
1 boys gym teacher bathroom
1 nurse’s office gender-neutral bathroom
7 classroom gender-neutral bathrooms
2 girls single-use bathrooms
1 boys single-use bathroom
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that my workplace has more bathroom options than pretty much anywhere else, ever. As a genderqueer person, I have never stressed out about where I was going to go pee. Never, until this summer. All bathrooms are out of commission except for one girls gang bathroom and one boys gang bathroom. “Gang,” in this case, means that more than one person can enter and use the bathroom at a time. I am missing my gender-neutral option!
Before I came out at work, I was using both womens and gender-neutral bathrooms. After I came out at work, I gradually transitioned to only using gender-neutral bathrooms. One good thing about all this upheaval is that when they’re done, there will be 4 more gender-neutral bathrooms than there had been previously. !!! !!!
Until then though, I’ve had to make some tough decisions. As the bathroom options started to shrink (due to demolition), I was getting creative, for a while. For example, I realized there was still a toilet not yet destroyed in on of the classrooms, and I was using that for a while. My co-worker, who knew I’d been only using gender-neutral options, asked me, “So which bathroom are you going to use?” Being semi-facetious, I replied, “I’ll use the womens for #1 and the mens for #2.” And I actually was doing that for a while.
But then I started running into other people who were also using the bathroom as the pickings got slim. And I started getting nervous. I’d rather people saw me as male and used he/him/his pronouns for me than not. Some people get that I’m neither, and that’s great, but I don’t need the whole school understanding this nuance. Things have been so much better for me since coming out; I just want to keep up that momentum.
So I made a stark, black and white decision, that I was going to use the boys gang bathroom, no matter who was around or who wasn’t around. It was tough to wrap my head around because, since top surgery, coming out, and being on a regular dose of T (in that order), I’ve been in all sorts of bathrooms depending on the context, how I’m feeling, and what the options are. But I STILL prefer and gravitate towards womens rooms. And I STILL have not been stopped or questioned once.
But, in this case, I’ve been feeling like I gotta do this because I’m trying to assert and simplify my identity so everyone gets the picture / is on the same page. It’s been working. Almost everyone (except my former supervisor who keeps leeching onto the building) uses he/him/his pronouns for me. Essentially, I haven’t been wanting to confuse people or have them question where I’m at. Even the contractors – all of them have been calling me “buddy,” and that actually feels really good!
It defintely has been nervewracking though. A few times, I almost ran into the girls room when I heard that someone was in the boys. I’ve never been in a mens/boys room with other males. (Er, actually, maybe a handful of times when I was traveling in Turkey, but that’s it.) But I stuck it out and passed them at the urinal in order to use the stall. Or was in the stall and heard them using the urinal. Or at the sink, etc. I went into the boys room while B&G (buildings and grounds – for the district) workers were around, while my co-workers were around, while (female) teachers were around.
And in the end, it’s all been OK. (It was a little less nerve-wracking, overall, because contractors were made to use a port-a-potty outside. Sucks to be them!) All I mean by that was that there were way less males using the school’s boys bathroom.
As soon as I can though, I will be right back in those gender-neutral, single stall bathrooms, which will be all over the place!!!
Wanna see other posts I’ve made in this series? Here they are:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective (pt. 2)
Oh, and, as always, I’ve been all over both the girls and the boys bathroom, in order to clean them, daily.
Back in November, I lamented about not being able to find much writing out there that really portrays what can go on in someone’s head while they are in the middle of a psychotic episode. In the past few weeks, two such books sorta fell into my lap, so I want to mention them!
My spouse picked up a book called Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind from the library last weekend. They pointed it out to me, like, eh? You’ll want to read this! This weekend, I was super sick, and I binge read it in 2 days, while trying to stay warm on the couch. It was compelling for so many different reasons, one major one being that I could relate to so much of it. The author, Jaime Lowe, was also hospitalized for a good chunk of her senior year of high school, and she also just took the pills without much reflection for years and years. Like, it’s something that is a thing now. (Although, for me, it was Depakote, and not Lithium.) She had another manic / psychotic episode when she tried to get off Lithium at age 25. I successfully(?) did get off all my pills in my early 20s, and that was my new normal for a long time, until I had 2 subsequent manic / psychotic episodes in my 30s. She had to switch off of Lithium because it was killing her kidneys, and she had a really hard time stomaching Depakoke, but she finally did get through it.
Having to switch sent her on a spiritual journey to learn about Lithium as not just a psychotropic drug but as an element, super common in nature. Which made the book encompass much more than just her mental health trajectory. The best thing about it though, was how thoroughly and deeply she gets back into that headspace of being so completely out of her mind. The slightest suggestion toward a minuscule thing could send her on an all-day (or longer) journey to do and/or be that thing. She devastated every aspect of her life that second time around. I was surprised by the fact that everyone around her wanted to keep her out of the hospital for a second time because she was no longer an adolescent and the adult ward was apparently to be avoided at all costs. As a result, she was in that state much longer – days, weeks… I was brought to the hospital like, BAM! So fast my head didn’t get a chance to spin out too far too fast with too many repercussions.
The second book I’m reading with a portrayal of a breakdown is called The Petting Zoo, by Jim Carroll (of The Basketball Diaries fame). He wrote this book in 2010, and according to the forward by Patti Smith, he died at his desk while writing. He had finished it at the time of his death, but it was still in the editing process. A few people had their hands in trying to edit as close to Jim’s style as possible. It’s fiction. It’s hard for me to get through (probably largely because it’s fiction – I almost always gravitate toward non-fiction and memoir). The book opens with the main character, Billy, in the midst of a manic frenzy. I didn’t know the book would be about that at all – nothing about that on the back cover summary – I bought it on a whim from a record store that was going out of business. So it was interesting to get thrown into that unexpectedly, but I gotta say it felt lacking in… something.
Billy has some kind of crisis over an art opening at the MET and how what he saw of this one artist affects how he’s approaching his art for his own upcoming show. He careens off down the steps, on his own, into the Central Park Zoo, more specifically a side spectacle, an outdated petting zoo. From there, he flees down the street, in his tuxedo and fancy shoes, to a building that reminds him of an Aztec temple. He then hits his head and his eye on branches or something and starts shouting something about a knife. He has a momentary black-out and the cops pick him up. At which point he comes back to reality, and that’s it. Although the aftermath ends up taking longer, red tape and everything. He has to stay overnight in a mental ward, which is just kind of looked at as a novelty, a curiosity, a stop-over.
In conclusion, real life is zanier (or at least more compelling to me) than fiction.
I have not come up against very much resistance or ugliness as I’ve come out, in stages, in different ways, over the span of like 18 years. I’ve been called rude things out car windows. I’ve had uncomfortable and disconcerting medical appointments. I’ve faced silence-as-acceptance(?) from certain family members. I’m still dealing with people not grasping the right pronoun, or referring to my spouse as my “friend.” But these things have been few and far between, and although they do add up, they don’t feel terribly crushing. Most of the hardest feelings have come from within, and not outside forces.
Two weeks ago though, something came up that was deliberate, that would affect me long term, and that I can’t just let go. It’s my name plate at work.
I’ve worked at this school for over 10 years, and I’ve struggled to find my place within the rest of the staff. As a default, I’ve been distant and out-of-the-loop for the most part. It took me 6 years to get a name on the custodial door at all, and that only happened when a new person started and he got his name on the door. Then it was suddenly, hey, wait a minute! I had been fine without one, or so I told myself, because I’d rather not have one at all than be a “Miss” or a “Ms.” or later a “Mrs.” or even a “Mr.” All of those feel cringe-worthy and totally wrong for me. So when I was actually asked, and I said, “KT [last name]” and that was accepted, I was thrilled. That was the name I went by. It felt right. At the time.
And then it didn’t. I came out at work last December. Holy what, that was a year ago! Part of this included talking to the principal about my name and pronoun change. I also made it clear that I was not transitioning to male, exactly, and I’d like it to be known I identify as in the middle or as a little bit of both genders. She replied that that distinction was not necessary, and that was more of a private thing. PS- It isn’t. It’s my identity. Instead of deciding I needed to clarify in that moment though, I attempted to grasp onto other compromises and specifics. So that, when she asked me about my name on the custodial door, it was immediately a no-brainer. “Mx. [last name].” It’s another option, I said. It is in use. It’s a thing, I tried to assure her. I said, “If this is representing my name, then I don’t feel compelled to spell out [in a coming out email she was going to be sending on my behalf] how I am neither gender. The title will speak for itself, and people can ask me if they want.” The principal nodded. It felt very much like we had agreed on this. She had told me that it could say whatever I wanted although she would like there to be some uniformity with everyone else’s. Mx. seemed perfect. I assumed there was follow-through on this.
As the months went by and I still didn’t have a name on the door (my supervisor had ripped off my old one), I wondered what was a reasonable amount of time to wait before asking what’s going on? But then I was out of work in May for mental health reasons. And then it was summer, and stuff like that doesn’t get done over the summer. I again had a new co-worker. I decided I would just ride in on his coat-tails. It would be easier, and that was the route I preferred to take at that time. And sure enough, within the first couple of weeks of school starting back up in September, he got his name on the custodial door. And I still didn’t. It was Mr. [last name]. I went to the administrative assistant that day and asked about my name. She apologized for not adding mine to the order, and she said she’d order it right then and there. I gave her a piece of paper where I had written it out, so there’d be no confusion: Mx. [last name].
It took 2 months, but it finally came in 2 weeks ago, but it was all wrong. I checked the custodial mail slot like I do most days, and I was appalled to see two new name plates: one for me and one for my co-worker – both of them were our first and last names. No titles at all. My ears turned red, my pulse quickened. I paced around a little, trying to move forward with my work while processing this. The principal was still in her office, adjacent to the hall where these mail slots are. I started to gear up to approach her, but then I hesitated, thinking I should wait until I’m more levelheaded. I didn’t get a chance to decide because right in that moment, she left.
My first, more general thought was that this is disrespectful in a classist sense. Why should ours be the only names that don’t have a title with them. Other thoughts spiraled out from there, most prominently, “I don’t want to have to deal with this!”
When the name got put on the door, I told my co-worker that’s not what I wanted. (He failed to change out his name plate, so mine was the only one with a first name). I then told the administrative assistant, and she said this was the principal’s decision. Which I already figured; I just didn’t want to talk to her! For 5 days in a row, I gathered myself to go talk to her, only to be met with her on her way out the door right in that moment. So finally when passing her in the hall on the 6th day, I asked, “Can I talk to you before you leave today?”
That worked! I talked to her and it was no big deal on her end. I wrote out what I wanted, for a third time, and she said it’d be ordered the following day. Which was yesterday. We’ll see how long it takes this time around; at this point it’s been over a year!
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.
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.
I don’t have a gynecologist. I haven’t had one for probably 15 years. The reason for that is because I felt so out of place there, so I let that aspect of my health passively slip away. I’ve always gone to the dentist twice a year. I was really into chiropractic care for years, consistently. I’ve gotten eye exams. I regularly go to a therapist and a psychiatrist. I even have a primary care physician, and more recently, an endocrinologist. But I’ve neglected and avoided anything related to my junk (this is just my preferred term for what I got going on down there…)
My last pap smear was in 2012, and I went through that because it was a prerequisite for getting testosterone gel. That was enough of a motivating factor to go through that. It was super painful and anxiety inducing, but I had done it! Since then, there’s been no reason to get it done again, in my mind. Prior to 2013, I’m not sure how long it had been.
About a year and a half ago, I was on a panel with two other trans-people, in front of a group of health-care professionals, talking about our experiences with health services. I mostly talked about my experiences with top-surgery consultations, but during the Q & A, the three of us were asked about sexual and reproductive health. I was super open about how uncomfortable I am with this aspect of health care, and how I have avoided it. I even felt a stubborn pride about it – something like, “if I avoid it, that verifies how little I relate to my junk.” This really makes no sense whatsoever, and why exactly is this a point of pride? My two peers were much more proactive – they had had lots of experiences with making sure their needs and check-ups were on track.
Two weeks ago, I was eating lunch with a super close friend. She was mentioning something about her menstrual cycle and about how she needs to get her routine check-up. I told her how long it’s been since I had a pap smear, and she seemed aghast. I said I wasn’t going to be getting one either. She said something to the effect of, “But you have to.” She sort of role played a scenario in which hypothetically something scary is found, like HPV or cancer, that could have easily been avoided by just getting regular screenings. The emotions she was pouring into it were what got me. I kept going back and forth between, “OK, I will get it done,” and “No way never again!” The conversation stayed with me.
A couple of days later, I had a lump in my armpit. I’d never had anything like that before. My spouse told me I should get that checked out. This was something that was more straightforward! I could definitely go to the doctor for something like this! I called and got an appointment for the next morning. Then it dawned on me that I should be getting a pap smear. I waffled back and forth for a while, wondering if I’d be able to get myself to call back. I finally did, pitching my voice as high as I could so it would be apparent that this request would not be totally incongruous. Blah.
The pap smear was just as painful as the other times I’d gotten one, but I would say it was less anxiety-inducing. What helped me get through it was trying to stay present in the moment, in the room. I did this by talking with the nurse practitioner. “This room is cold.” “Please use the smallest one possible.” “This is really hurting.” Etc.
I gotta admit I do not know the exact reasons pap smears are important – what is being tested, etc. But I do think I will be more on top of getting them every few years from now on…
To top this all off, on Saturday we were out in the woods with some friends. Sunday morning, I felt something chafing on my chest, and when I looked, there was a tick latched in right on my nipple! Eeaughhhh!!! My spouse tweezed it and pulled it in half. Half of it is still embedded in my skin. I’m thinking it will work itself out on its own. She talked to our friend on the phone – he regularly gets ticks and gets them tested in groups, after he’s collected a bunch. So far so good but lyme disease is a scary possibility. Do I have to go back to the doctor?!