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.
This has been my biggest transition goal. For a long time. I always knew I would / could, at some point in the (distant) future, but usually it felt like there’d be no way. I’ve been riding the waves of my legal name change though, and getting in on that as an opportunity to say that there’s more to it than just that I am going to go by a new name now.
Monday – My supervisor had been out of work for 3 weeks, and Monday was her first day back. During her absence, I had received the signed court order from a judge in the mail, and was starting in on some of the bureaucratic processes: going to the DMV, going to my bank, etc. So it was good timing for when she came back – I told her (again) that I was changing my name, and I deferred to her in terms of what she thought I should do. I did not tell her anything beyond the name change, and she expressed concern that she wasn’t going to remember. I also came out to my 2nd co-worker (my one co-worker has been in my corner this whole time.) She was emotional in her responses, but I’m sure she’ll be fine / nothing will change.
Tuesday – Before work, I went to the “third floor” to speak to the benefits lady. I filled out paperwork. She asked me if I had my new Social Security card, and I was like, “uhhhh…” I made a mental note to get on that. She said we could get things started anyway, without it, and I just send over a copy when I get it. While at work, I came out to my favorite teacher. It went well. The reason I like her is because she just seems real. We don’t talk a whole lot, but when we do, she’s always reserved yet super thoughtful in her insights. She shared with me a couple of impressions her 4-year old daughter has had of me (she’s met me a handful of times.) That was nice. I told her the name and the pronoun thing, but I didn’t get as far as “neither male nor female” in this interaction. It was good enough for me right then; she said, “I’m happy for you,” a couple of times.
Wednesday – I gave it a day or two. My supervisor basically seemed to think now I just wait for things to trickle down from the “third floor.” I wasn’t feeling that – I was feeling more proactive than that, but I gave it a day. I In the meantime, I emailed our union president (the benefits lady prompted me to do this) to give him a heads up. We just had an election in November, and my favorite buildings and grounds guy was elected. It’s always a buildings and grounds guy, and if it has to be one, I’m so glad it’s him because I think he can absorb the news and take the lead on it within all those guys – electricians, plumbers, HVAC, maintenance, conservatives, white men, Trump supporters, etc. etc. Hopefully.
Thursday (today) – I talked to my supervisor about when can I change my badge, stuff like that, and she reiterated that I just wait and it’ll all happen. What I was really most concerned about was talking to the principal (again), so that she hears it from me, and so that she hears all of the information. I knew that once I talked to her, she’d take it from there (I’m not sure how she’ll do it, but the whole school will know through her.) My supervisor said she mentioned it to the principal, and I took that as a green light. I came out to three more teachers (one of them told me about a relative, and I was able to get to the part about “not male or female” with her, which felt great!) I was feeling pressure to talk to the principal either today or tomorrow because we’re going into Xmas Recess, and having everyone know when they come back from break would be ideal. So I made it happen. After school but before the admin. assistants leave for the day, I went to the office to see if the principal was available. The assistant principal happened to be with her in her office right then, which worked out perfectly. Kill two birds with one stone! Plus, the dynamic with both of them was so much better. A lot of times, they are like foils to each other. I said the stuff (the name, the pronouns, the “neither male nor female,”) the principal brought up bathrooms (which I have mixed feelings about), the assistant principal brought the energy and excitement, but also brought up how he was not going to be able to remember, and that’s not anything about me. I said yeah yeah I know it’ll be an adjustment period. (In my head, I’m thinking, how long is this adjustment period, exactly???)
Friday (tomorrow) – I have about 5 other people I’d like to tell in person, if I get the chance. If not, no big deal. Everyone’s gonna be focused on Xmas parties and getting ready for domestic family things and cookies and blah blah blah. We’ll see. The best part is there’s really no more pressure!
And so, that’s it! Now I just wait for things to happen around me. Next week, during Xmas Recess, the only people who will be at the school will be me, my two co-workers, my supervisor, and maybe the principal and assistant principal. So, that’s a whole week for the people who say my name the most, to practice. I have a feeling my co-worker / ally will step up and lead it, followed by me correcting everyone every single time.
Then teachers and kids come back. And teachers will have a heads up from the principal one way or another, and then I just start correcting, correcting, correcting. For how long? Not sure.
(I gotta say, I definitely feel good and accomplished, but I don’t feel that “wheeeeeeeee” feeling that often comes with big comings-out. I’m attributing that to my medication, for better and worse. It makes so many things so much easier, but those roller coaster feelings – yeah, I miss the good ones…)
So, I’ve been listening to this one podcast religiously since its beginning in December of 2014… it’s kind of a guilty pleasure; it’s a straight up advice column! It’s called Dear Sugar; the “Sugars” are Cheryl Strayed, of Wild fame – the book, the movie (starring Reese Witherspoon), the attitude, and Steve Almond, who wrote Against Football, among many other books and essays. They also always bring in an “expert,” or someone who can speak from personal experience about the person’s question.
They have fielded numerous letters about relationships, family dynamics, friend betrayals, weddings, lies and secrets, infidelity, personality clashes, (surprisingly, nothing that I can remember about work drama or school issues…) A couple of them have been about lesbian and gay -centric problems: parents who are unsupportive, partners who are still in the closet, etc…
I have been waiting for something that relates to trans-people. Finally, after a year and 9 months, they tackle it!
And… it’s totally underwhelming.
Have a listen, here: I’m a Transgender Man, Seeking Acceptance (For reference, it’s 39 minutes long.)
I mean, I think it’s great for the general population. So, it’s a good start. They read two different trans-men’s letters, and they seem to be at different points in their transitions, so that’s cool.
The first guy is in college, and he’s feeling great about his path and the people around him and everything – everything except for his parents, who just will not get on board. This, I feel, is super common.
The second guy seems to be a little more established, in a career, and he’s navigating the world of dating. He is concerned that since he is short (5’2″), does not have a lucrative career (social worker), and does not have a penis, he may be unlovable. This, too, seems like a pretty common concern.
The “Sugars,” in general, use radical empathy as a basis for starting a dialogue. And, in this case, since they don’t know how it feels to be transgender, they take the angle that,
“The best way to begin to understand an experience very different from your own is to listen to the stories of others. This week, we read the letters of two transgender men who are struggling to find love and acceptance. The Sugars discuss with Cooper Lee Bombardier, a visual artist, writer and transgender man.”
According to his bio, Cooper “has been a construction worker, a cook, a carpenter, a union stagehand, a welder, a shop steward, a dishwasher, a truckdriver, a bouncer, and a housepainter, among other things, for a paycheck.” He’s currently super successful with the writing and the art. He sounds super cool!
Steve Almond starts off talking about the first time he met a trans-woman. It was slightly cringe-inducing, but also definitely a worthwhile story. Then they get into the letters, and introduce Cooper. He, as a guest, is eloquent and upbeat, but he does keep it pretty basic, and seems somewhat detached from his own personal stories. There is a really great moment though where Cooper says he’s been “transitioning” for about 15 years, and when the Sugars ask him how old he was when he started, he says, “in my early 30s.” They sputter about how young he looks and how could this be? And he replies, “I moisturize.” And then later, “It’s the trans-fountain of youth, you know…” and there’s lots of laughing, and Cheryl says, “Sign me up!”
One thing that Cooper says really well in discussing the first letter is,
“We wrestle with these feelings for so long, that by the time we articulate it to somebody, it’s like a bottle bursting open. …And we tell our parents and we expect them to get it, like, tomorrow. Even though we’ve been struggling with it for years and years, right? And so I think that… it’s really hard to be patient when we’ve waited so long to kind of actualize and realize that this is what’s going on for us. But for those relationships that we do want to bring along with us, we do need to offer some patience, even though it’s hard.”
When discussing the second letter, they telescope it out, to bring it to the wider theme of anyone who feels like they are unloveable, and how to change that internal notion. Cheryl says, “This is a universal conundrum. …Am I too fat to be loved? No. Am I too poor to be loved? No. Am I too fill-in-the-blank to be loved? No.” They touch on how his height and his career might factor into this, and no one makes one further mention about the fact that he does not have a penis. Is it because they think it’s not important to talk about? No, I kind of doubt it – I think they are finding it too awkward to address. And/or, in being respectful, they feel that it’s not up to them to talk about a trans-person’s genitalia (or sex life, or surgeries, or…) which is definitely important that we’ve gotten that far, but in this case, it was right there, in the letter, and it just got straight up ignored.
I do really hope they expand the dialogue about what it feels like to be a transgender person. I have been thinking of writing in, for a while now, and I only feel more motivated after listening to this. I’m planning on it; I’ll let you know.
Going into surgery, I was in pretty rough shape. I felt sick (although I didn’t want to say so, specifically, to anyone other than my spouse… I kept saying “slight head cold”) and exhausted. Luckily, my cold symptoms were not too worrisome, medically: no fever, no chest congestion / trouble breathing. Other than the cold, I felt mentally prepared. In retrospect, I totally was. But, not so much prepared for the recovery process…
office/home/guest rooms mansion
Surgery Day: We arrived at 6:15am, surgery was from 7:30-9am, I was sleeping till about 10:30, and we were leaving by 11:30. At which point, I felt a lot better than I had for days – it even felt like my cold magically disappeared.
Everything went smoothly, except for the fact that the surgeon was about to do the wrong procedure. I was afraid this was the case because during the entire process including the consultation, the paperwork continually listed “double incision mastectomy with free nipple grafts.” Even after I called a month ago to verify we were on the same page with the peri-areolar procedure and was assured that we were. So when she came in and said, “Double incision.” I said no, and luckily wasn’t phased by the mix up. She said peri-areolar, I said yes, and she drew circles around my areolas. I talked to her about nipple size, saying I wanted them small. She said, “They’ll be smaller. Your nipples will be nipple-sized.” That was not very reassuring, but after she left, and before the anesthesiologist came back around, my spouse clarified that she had said, “your nipples will be nickle-sized.” That sounded better.
If you want to read a more detailed account of what it’s like, here’s a good one someone wrote just a few days ago: Surgery. It was a lot like that. Back at the guest room, we texted with some people, a Philly friend came and visited for a while, we watched Seinfeld, and we went to sleep early. I was up a lot that night, ravenously eating snacks and just not able to get comfortable. I was sleeping sitting up, at the foot of the bed, a lot.
Day after surgery – The next day, we were driving home. And I was in bed by 6pm. My cold symptoms were back, and I was not feeling so good anymore. I’ll bet that first day, I had a good mix of adrenaline and endorphins flowing, plus whatever they put in the IV. And then I crash.
2 days after surgery – I sat outside for a while. A friend came over, and we chatted for about 30 minutes before my spouse and they went thrift shopping. We listened to some podcasts. I read a book about subway art, written in 1984, a book I had found in the trash at school. We watched 2 episodes of Mad Men.
3 days – Podcasts, Mad Men. I stopped taking the pain meds (Percocet) because they were causing OIC (opioid induced constipation). The pain increased throughout the day, but it’s not like Percocet was all that effective anyway. We went to my spouse’s parents’ house, which did not go so well (I could not bear being social, especially once a family friend came by – I just went and sat outside.) We went to the grocery store on the way home – that was OK.
4 days – Glad to be off Percocet – realized that there are other pain meds (D’uh!) so I took an Alieve. I feel like 95% of the pain now is due to this fucking surgical wrap I have to wear for 7 days. I can only take shallow breaths; I can’t laugh or yawn or cough; it’s digging into my ribs and underarms; it’s way too tight; it just fucking sucks*. There’s a reason I didn’t bind! We went to the movies – nice to get out of the house. Also, one of our cats got suddenly freaked out by my Frankenstein walk (even though I’ve been doing it for days), and she bolted off the table, knocking a bunch of my records onto the floor. It was loud. Also, I had a mini melt down about hating asking for things that are so basic, telling my spouse that I keep doing things because I would rather do them than ask – open and close doors, get ice trays out of the freezer, pour water from our britta, reach up high for a Q-tip, carry my laptop… I gotta stop so I don’t mess up my healing process! She was on it and strategized a bunch of new ways to make things easier!
5 days – My spouse went back to work. Our refrigerator was making a loud noise this morning and stopped working. That was stressful! I called a repair person, then changed my mind because we should just buy a new one because this thing is super old. My spouse’s mom came over to save our freezer items for us, store them at her house. Then the fridge started working again, so it feels like less pressure – we’ll still get a new one, but it doesn’t have to be today. A friend brought over lunch – I liked that! My mom stopped by after work. I felt anxious and lightheaded for a lot of the day. I was feeling really confined/claustrophobic, as if this binding thing were made of plaster of paris, or steel. I had a serious melt down (I got an all-too-real glimpse of what it could feel like, if I lost it right now – I felt in danger of becoming more and more triggered), and told my spouse we need more people around us, helping. She called her parents to make that happen. We talked and I felt a lot better.
6 days – That’s today! I only managed to sleep 3 hrs. I’ll be spending more time with people today. I’m just going to try to relax. I also gotta start preparing for going back down there tomorrow, to get this fucking binding off. Oh, and the drains. I’m going with my mom.
Overall, I’m in more pain than I thought. And I’m way less out of it than I thought (like, I didn’t get to be in a fun pain-killer induced haze, haha). And I don’t like TV that much and I’ve been up and about a lot. I hate not doing things because it reminds me of being depressed.
* Note: this may be the only time I’ve used swear words on this blog (in reference to the surgical binding). It’s that bad. Also, though, I appreciate this thing because it reminds me of where the limits are and also it’s preventing me from coughing stitches open or anything like that.
My spouse and I are leaving shortly, to drive down and arrive by mid-afternoon, to then get ready for surgery in the morning. I hope. I’m saying, “I hope,” because I came down with a cold 3 days ago, and I still feel stuffed up. I’ve searched the internet for, “Can I get surgery if I have a cold?” and there really is no consensus. It’s a good sign that I don’t have a fever, and I don’t have a cough. But ultimately, it’s up to the surgeon. It feels like I have a 50/50 shot here.
And I haven’t been able to get in touch with their office any earlier because of the holiday weekend (I did email a heads up though), so I’m going to have to call while on the road, once their office is open… When I call, I am going to act as though everything is proceeding like normal, just want to let them know about this development. Because I really really really just want this to happen. Tomorrow. And I don’t know what I’m going to feel if I’m told, “Don’t bother coming. …We can schedule you for the last week of June.” Or something like that.
Between this and shingles, it feels like my body is trying to say, “this is not happening.” I’m angry with my body. I was so super careful – eating well, sleeping well, I don’t recall being around anyone who was sick… I wasn’t even feeling stressed or anxious. And this is super strange for me too – I don’t generally get sick often. I used to, but not anymore. I don’t get headaches. I don’t get queezy. I don’t throw up easily. So what’s with the shingles (which have thankfully cleared up in time) and the cold?!?
I currently don’t feel stressed about the surgery. I feel ready. I feel stressed about the cold, but not about the surgery.
So, I guess I’ll know what’s happening within a few hours. Let’s hope next time I write, it’ll be good news!!!
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!
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.
*Back to school is in quotations because as a janitor, I didn’t actually leave school. We’re just gearing up for everyone else coming back.
I spent this summer waking up at 5:20AM every day, working to get the school ready for students and teachers. We are winding down from that (we’ve been wound down for a while – we started out really fast and got done early). I’m back to late nights (2-10:30PM) without much to do other than dump the trash of the few teachers who have been coming in to set up every day. It’s been nice that the cleanliness of the school is at a standstill. We can just look around and say, “we got all that done.” And we don’t yet have to work to maintain it. Kids start back on Wednesday, so that will all change in a couple days.
While we were busy though, we were rushing through things. We scrubbed every desk and chair. We cleaned surfaces in the rooms, shined the sinks, dusted. We scrubbed the old wax up off the floors. I single-handedly waxed every floor. 3 times over. I’d like to know how many square feet that was. Tens of thousands? Maybe even a hundred thousand? Or a lot more?
It has been a relief to drop back to the later shift and not feel like I’m stumbling, half-awake, in the mornings, just to come home and start dreading about waking up early again. I had been going to bed at 8:30PM! My mental health has been better overall, but not great. I’ve been mildly depressed all summer.
Going back to late nights has been lonely, and strangely, a lot of my worries have centered around what to eat before work. I need to fit in breakfast and lunch. I don’t know what to eat. I also don’t really know what to do, all by myself, other than oversleeping. I’m forcing myself to do some things I don’t really feel like doing, as of now. I guess the hope is I will grow into it; I will like it once I’m doing it. I’m going to be a radio DJ starting pretty soon. I’m also going to take a writing class.
I’ve been realizing that I’m living with a lot of dread lately. Whether that’s residual from mental health issues earlier in the year, or whether that’s just me being me, I can’t really figure out. It’s been helpful to notice it while it’s happening though, and just focus on the here-and-now. Remind myself that I’m actually fine in whatever I am doing presently, so just be more involved in that, rather than thinking about all the perceived horribleness ahead.
For example, I’m dreading going back to doing the exact same thing, at work, every day. But, it really is what I make it, from moment to moment. Unlike most jobs, I don’t have unpredictable things pop up daily, or new challenges to tackle, or people to deal with. It’s just me, in my head. I need to remember that it’s important to change what’s on my iPod frequently – new music, new podcasts… And to talk to people on the phone. And although I don’t believe her, my therapist keeps telling me that I’m actually in control of my own thoughts. So I can choose to keep obsessing about something negative, or I can move on to more interesting topics. In my mind, I am powerless to whatever my brain ends up dwelling on, and I get stuck feeling whatever feelings those thoughts conjure up. I should work on that…
This post has nothing to do with being queer and trans; it’s not about janitors or mental health. I think I need a short break from that stuff…
My partner and I went camping this past weekend, and it was exactly the sort of thing I needed. Things had been feeling heavily monotonous and mundane, even on weekends. I hadn’t been getting much enjoyment out of things that are usually fun.
Leading up to going away, I had an anxiety meltdown about it – about all the planning and packing. Mostly, it was about the prospect of being away all weekend and not having enough time to regroup for the work week. It didn’t occur to me that being away could be rejuvenating in a way that doing things at home, worrying about work and mentally preparing for work, never could. Huh!
We left Friday right after work and drove for about 2 hours to our destination. We stopped at a farm stand along the way to buy firewood, and we got some golden plums too. We had wanted to camp at a state park, but all the ones near where we were headed were booked up already, so we had to resort ahead of time to a privately owned “campground.” It was actually an RV park with over 150 trailer sites and only 9 tent sites. Everyone was right on top of each other. Quite a few were blasting country music or classic rock music, and people were rowdy with the fires and the drinking till late into the night. We got the sense that some of these people had been there a while, and a lot of them seemed to know each other. (Other than the noise and the overcrowding), we had a great time! We didn’t spend all that much time at the site anyway – basically just making a fire both nights, making food over the fire, drinking some beers, and sleeping.
During the day, we did a bunch of stuff at the nearby town. We went to the very impressive (and very busy) local farmers’ market, then went to a craft supply store and a book store and a clothing store. For lunch we went to a (also very busy) brewery, where they had beet greens on their pizza and salads made of baby kale, tat soi, beets, candied peanuts, and grilled blackened tofu. Yum. We then went for a hike on a gorge trail and waded in the cold creek.
Back at the campsite, it was Christmas in July (7/25). Some trailers had gone all out with the decorations – it was pretty entertaining to see. Events included a hayride with Santa at 6, cookies with Santa at 7, and a Christmas movie in the field at 8:30. We’re not sure but we think at least the movie got rained out. Yep, it started raining, but we were prepared. We’d already made a fire and eaten quickly, as the sky darkened, and we spent some time reading books in the tent that night.
Before the rain started, we got a chance to make use of the campground’s pool. This monstrous pit was nothing like I’d ever seen before. It was huge, and it was 7 feet deep at its deepest, but there was no drop-off edge of the pool. So there was no way to jump into the pool – it just gradually got deeper from the edges, like a lake would. There was a rickety slide with one of the railings duck-taped at the top. My partner and I slid down it about 5 times each – that was the best part! It seemed to be not heavily chlorinated; algae was growing at the bottom of the “deep end.” Another great factor was that it was “swim at your own risk.” No lifeguard! And there was a bin for returnables (full of beer cans and bottles) near the gate where you sign in and enter.
So many people had golf carts! We saw people taking golf carts to the bathrooms, to the playground, to the camp store. People just driving around on them. Dogs looking regal in the passenger seats. Do people pack golf carts into campers and bring them? I’d never seen this. Do they rent them from the campground? I have no idea.
Sometimes when things have been rough, and options don’t seem possible because of mental energy or anxiety or difficulty initiating, mixing it up and going out of comfort zones is the best thing for the mind. We have a couple more trips planned for this summer. Trips I’ve been anxious about. I hope I can just remember how much fun going camping was, and harness that feeling as I get ready to go on vacations!
I drew this picture to illustrate the jumble I feel is going on. Just to recap, 6 months ago, had a manic episode and was hospitalized. I previously was not on any medications, but suddenly I was thrown back into all of that – psychiatric visits, side effects, adjusting dosages, trying different drugs. I’d definitely say the hardest part of the past 6 months was being depressed for a good chunk of that time. But almost equally hard, just in a different way, is the long term.
Early on, I was cavalier. I was sure that I’d get off of all these medications within 6 months – just go back to the way things had been. I was even reluctant to add an antidepressant – things had to get really bad for me to go there. Now that it’s been 6 months, I can easily say that time frame was way too short. And I’m also not so sure anymore: Which drugs are helping? Which side effects can I tolerate? How long will I be seeing this psychiatrist? Do I potentially want to stay on any of these long term? (That last question scares me – it’s almost as if being med-free has been a part of my identity…)
Some of this journey has felt crazy. I was having hot flashes and cold sweats, my mouth tasted metallic, I threw up a few times (and I have a stomach of steel). At one point, I went on a drug called Cogentin. Its purpose was not to help with symptoms, but rather to help with side effects. One of the other drugs, Geodon, typically causes hand tremors and a stiffening of facial muscles. When a nurse practitioner asked if I was experiencing these things, I said, “I guess so.” So she prescribed yet another thing to add to the mix. After 3 days of taking it, my nearsighted vision became blurry. Overnight. One day was fine, the next day, I couldn’t read the computer screen. I wasn’t reading books at the time, so that wasn’t an issue, but I remember eating food and not being able to see it and just feeling enormous sadness on top of depression. I didn’t put the pieces together, but luckily I had an appointment with my psychiatrist 2 days later, and when I mentioned the blurry vision, he said, “Oh, that’s common with Cogentin.” What?
I also cycled through 4 different antidepressants within a short amount of time. Celexa, Zoloft, and Lexapro were making me feel famished all the time, which was just making me feel anxious. I got on Wellbutrin, and luckily that’s been side effect – free as far as I can tell.
Ideally, I don’t want to be medicated. And it was so easy when it felt like that wasn’t on my radar. But now I am faced with all these decisions and timelines. And although there is strong input from other people (mostly my psychiatrist, who thinks I need to be on at least something for forever), it’s all ultimately up to me.
For now, I just advocated for myself to lower the amount of Geodon (mood stabilizer / antipsychotic) that I’m taking. I feel really happy about that. I have plans to tackle Klonopin (anti-anxiety medication that I’m using as a sleep aid) next. As for Wellbutrin (antidepressant), I’m not quite decided. I’m just going to take these things one step at a time.