These days occur consecutively every year – October 10th and 11th. It’s a good chance to kind of look back and take stock. And to see where I was at; here’s what I wrote last year:
World mental health day / Nat’l coming out day 2016
Before talking about this year, I just want to note that last year I said, “I’d say within the next 6 months I’ll be out at work and everywhere else. I look forward to the day that my driver’s license, signature, little plastic rectangle on the custodial office, Facebook page, the words out of teachers’ and co-workers’ mouths, and everything else, all say the same thing!” I’ve reached that point!!! Well, everything except that little plastic rectangle, but that is in-process (see below)!
This past year in my mental health landscape: I thought I was stable in a way that couldn’t be rocked, but actually I ended up back in the hospital again with another manic / psychotic episode. I know my loved ones went through a lot of stress and strife, but, in comparison to past episodes, this felt like a breeze, and it even felt healing in many ways. I do want to try to write about this, but I’m not quite there yet. Hopefully soon. I spent two months out of work, I got raised to triple my prior dose of Seroquel (a drug I continue to like a lot – a first for me), and now I’m down to double my prior dose. I’m off of any antidepressants right now. I’m worried I will lapse into another depression, but so far, so good. I’m starting to finally address the issues I’m having with oversleeping. But, to be honest, if oversleeping is the worst thing to come out of being in a really good place mentally otherwise, then so be it, I guess… For now at least.
In terms of National Coming Out Day, coming out is happening all the time, and I’m glad to be in a place where I’m neither invisible nor fearful of having to come out again and again and again. I love every opportunity. Take yesterday for example: I didn’t realize it was National Coming Out Day until that night when I went on facebook after work. And during that day, I had two instances of coming out. While I was working in the cafeteria during lunch, a kid asked me, “Are you a boy?” I replied, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” He replied, “Really?!” And I said, “Yeah!” I had a big smile on my face. Then later in the afternoon, I realized that my new boss(?) got his plastic rectangle with his name “engraved” and it was now on the custodial door, and I’ve been waiting for mine since January, when I changed my name. So instead of getting worked up about that, I just wrote down on a piece of paper what I wanted (so there’d be no confusion) and explained to the administrative assistant that Mr. [last name] has his on the door and I’ve been waiting for mine. She apologized for forgetting to include mine in the order, and said she would go ahead and order mine. I gave her the paper: It said, “Mx. [last name].” She verbalized that back to me to make sure it was right, and I said, “Yep.” I should have that up hopefully within a couple of weeks, finally. This feels like such a victory!
There’s one other thing I want to mention regarding mental health: I started listening exclusively to a new-to-me podcast. By this, I mean, I listen to podcasts every day while at work. And previously, that would be somewhere between 5-8 different ones at any given time. Right now, for whatever reason, I’m just listening to one, all day every day. I’m sure I’ll get tired of it and get back to some of my other ones, but for now, it’s pretty mesmerizing. If you’re interested in checking it out, it’s called the Mental Illness Happy Hour. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. The host jokes that he does not give advanced notice for triggers because he would have to stop every couple of minutes to announce another Trigger Warning. And it is absolutely true. There is a lot of stuff about abuse of all kinds, dark secrets and shame, both sexual in nature and just like, the kinds of stuff that randomly pops in your head and you hate yourself for thinking it. The host lightens things up by being in turns uplifting and darkly humorous. Each show is somewhere between 2-3 hours (!?!), and he’d read people’s surveys they’ve sent in anonymously, and he will also interview one person per show. He’s doing all this seemingly on his own, and he’s making a living off of it. I’m kinda obsessed right now.
At the school I work at, there are two main sections to be cleaned – upstairs and downstairs. For the vast majority of my time there, I’ve always cleaned the downstairs. The water fountain was better. It was cooler in hot weather. There were more people to interact with. The rooms were cleaner (for the most part). I was closer to things that I needed to access: receiving room with supplies, dumpsters, the custodial office.
About 2 years ago, I cleaned the upstairs for roughly 6 months. It was not my choice – things were rough in a lot of different ways, and this was just one more thing. One more really big thing though, in my head. I was in and out of work a few times, due to a serious depression. When I was up there, it felt as if I could barely do the tasks, and the fact that they were recurring forever and ever was intolerable. I was rushing myself, always feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do everything. I was at a loss as to what to do about all the recycling, which for me is a “must do.” I just felt like I did not belong up there. I was trying to pop in and out of areas before kids were out of school, and then backtracking, which felt totally inefficient but seemed to be the only way to keep busy. Just being felt painful. And the fact that the being was on the second floor made the pain feel compounded so tightly within itself that I was struggling beyond belief.
By about mid-October of 2015, I was told I was switching back to the first floor. Apparently my co-worker wasn’t doing a great job, there were complaints, it was more important to be clean on the first floor than the second floor. ?? Anyway, at that time, I was sooooooo relieved. It was a visceral feeling. All the negativity was left up on the second floor, and although I was still struggling, I fit right back into the first floor. A few months later, I got on a medication that really started working for me, and the next two years went really well for the most part.
Sometimes a little too well: As I’ve mentioned before, I went through a manic episode in May, and I was out for two months, recovering from that. In a good way though – so far so good on the avoidance of a rebound depression. However, I lost my status at work. When I got back, it was clear that the new guy was now the new second-in-command.
In the past, this would have felt devastating, and I would have clung onto whatever control I did have, to the detriment of myself, only, really. I know because I’d already put myself through all that, big time. This time around, I decided to take it all in stride, as best I could. Instead of arguing about how I couldn’t do the second floor or anything like that, I spent time “staking it out,” I guess you could say? Just, spending time up there visualizing this or that and getting accustomed to the idea, before kids came back.
Now that school is back in session, I am IN IT. And it’s not actually bad. So far it has felt preferable, in fact. I’ve made some changes to my routine that really feel like they’re making a difference. Instead of bringing my cart plus mop bucket plus garbage barrel to each and every classroom, I am “sweeping through,” first with the garbage and rags to wipe everything down, then with the vacuum for all the area rugs, and then with the dust mop. I am taking WAY more steps going through multiple times instead of going room-by-room, but it’s feeling good. Feeling faster, even.
And the weather has not been too hot. And there’s a new drinking fountain up there as of a couple months ago – the kind where you can easily fill up a water bottle from, and it says how many plastic bottles you are saving by doing so. I love it! And I like the fact that the teachers clear out early up there, for the most part. And the rooms have been clean thus-far.
Best of all, I have my own “room” to store stuff, up there. That’s new. So while things are kinda turbulent with co-worker dynamics, I am so glad to have all my stuff and activities separate from theirs, more-so than ever before.
All the negative associations I’ve held about the second floor have pretty much melted away. A lot of that has to do with mental health and coming out at work. I don’t feel like I’m trying so hard to get in and out of places. I actually feel like I belong. When I talk with people, I like my voice. When I walk and do all this physical work, more muscle mass is making it feel much more effortless.
The only thing I’m dreading now is “gym use.” Coming soon will be screaming children using the gym for their cheer-leading practice, from 6-8:30pm. And once that’s over, it’ll be basketball all winter-long. We’ll see how well I can adjust…
I was in the hospital for psychiatric reasons, for a week in mid-May. It went so much smoother than my two other “stays.” (Those occurred in 1999 and 2015). I attribute that smoothness to:
– Having a complete social network around me for the first time in my life
– The fact that even though I had never been to THIS hospital, I was able to draw from my experience in 2015, and use that blueprint to (semi)-successfully navigate my way through, this time around.
– I was already on meds that were working pretty well, for the first time ever. This means that my psychiatrist wasn’t just taking a shot in the dark. She was just tweaking what was already working. (For me, specifically, this meant getting my Seroquel (anti-psychotic) increased from 200mg, to 600mg, dispersed into three 200mg doses throughout the day, and discontinuing the Wellbutrin (anti-depressant), at least for now.*
So, what were my priorities?
1. Getting on an adequate sleep schedule.
2. Eating the hospital food without having too many digestive issues (this included not relying too heavily on food visitors brought me, even though I was so grateful that they were doing this.)
3. Interacting as opposed to shutting down: Unless I was knocked out on meds, I was up and about, talking with people (sometimes shouting at them), pacing the halls (“going for a walk”), coloring with different medias and different methods / trying to do number puzzles (figuring out what was feeling more “right brained / left brained”), marking my turf / territory in ways that may have been specific to me (this, right here, would be a post unto itself… I’ll leave that for another day…
Some peripheral priorities / goals that I tackled / attempted and had some success with was:
1. Watching out for other people, checking in to see if they felt safe.
2. Micromanaging free-dance party / art times.
3. Getting other people condiments and other things they might need / want.
4. Modeling my behavior off of others / acting as a role model.
5. Pushing for Gym Time and Therapy Dog visits.
6. Reinforcing privacy vs. getting help. Also reinforcing quiet hours and other scheduled parts of the day.
7. Taking a shower every day (night) at the same time (10pm).
8. Dispensing important information.
I realize this post is a pretty vague sketch of some important things – this might serve as just an outline for me to fill in more interesting details / experiences / stories…
*I was also administered a shot, which I refer to as a “Haldol Cocktail.” 5 parts Haldol, 2 parts Ativan, 50 parts Benadryl. Plus, of course, my Testosterone shot – 50mg.
Content note: This post might not make a whole lot of sense unless you really like 70’s and 80’s music and/or gender. And writing and the English language…
In my city, there are two chain-type places to go to get an average oil change within about a half-hour wait. One also sells it’s brand of oil (nationwide? internationally? not sure). The other is more of a gas station / car wash place.
For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call them:
LV – the oil specific place
SD – the gas station
I almost always go to SD because my parents give me coupons for free oil changes there, every xmas. And also because there is one on my way to / from work. About 3 years ago, I started trying LV a couple of times, but I concluded that it was too expensive, and I switched back.
I was overdue for an oil change, but I didn’t want to go to the SD in the suburb where I work, cuz I don’t really want to be seen out and about, while I am out of work for medical reasons. So I went to one in a further away suburb. I had been there once before, and it was kind of anxiety provoking (in my head, at the time).
Why? Because the style was Drive Thru, as opposed to giving the mechanic your keys and sitting in a waiting room. “Drive Thru” is one of my longest lasting fears, almost bordering on a phobia before I reigned it in a few years ago. This included parking garages, anything with a “gate,” car washes, etc.
Anyway, I made it through no problem, but I was noticing all these little “masculine touches” / masculine underlying communications, body language, etc. Stuff that’s barely worth paying attention to. Stuff I generally am not around because normally I’d be sitting in a waiting room. An example would be a giant truck in line honking, just because he(?) wanted to get an attendant to come over ahead of time for some reason. (As opposed to reading signs to find out the information). These are all assumptions, of course, but I’m just saying I was in tune to things in a different way than I normally would have been. And I was the opposite of anxious.
While waiting in my car, I was listening to a mix CD that a friend gave me in our early 20’s. Before he hardly knew me. And now he’s one of my longest-lasting, solid friends here locally.
While hypo-manic currently, I’ve been spending most of my time at home organizing and cleaning and catagorize-ing things. One thing I uncovered was this mix CD, which he had titled, “A DRUM IS A THING IS A DRUM,” (all caps.) which, for me, is reminiscent of Wire’s album (one of my favorite albums ever,) “A BELL IS A CUP UNTIL IT IS STRUCK” (all caps.) The song that stood out the most, from the others was:
T-Rex – Jeepster. So GLAM / FLAMING / FLAMBOYANT!
When the CD ended, I could overhear what was playing in the garage / mechanic dock. It was:
Elton John – Benny and the Jets. SO GAY!
Anyway, I got the oil change and then went to this place that used to be called The Stereo Shop. It’s now called something like, “Digital audiophile visual environments.” I wanted to go there because there was a used cd / record store in the back of this high end Hi Fi Sound Equipment store. When I got there, I asked the guy at the front about the cd store, and he said it wasn’t there anymore. It had moved. I asked if he could write it down for me, and he did. I don’t think any music was playing in there, or if it was, I didn’t pick up on it.
Back in my car, I was listening to a station that claims it is the only station that matters (that’s their “tag line.”) A song came on that is unusual for their roster, and also happens to be a song I sing along with / almost know by heart. That would be:
David Bowie – Diamond Dogs SO GLAM!
I got to the new location, and realized they didn’t open for another 45 minutes. So I went down the road to another record store. When I walked in, what happened to be playing?
THE CARS – MOVING IN STEREO!!! In my book, it doesn’t get any more classic / fabulous than that.
I was really just browsing, not looking for anything in particular. A bunch of stuff popped out to me as “must have’s.” I got a handful of 7-inches, and a couple of records.
I’d recently started thinking I need to upgrade a few records, if I come across copies in better condition, because I am a DJ (That’s a Bowie song!), and it sucks to play crappy sounding vinyl.
Five days prior, I’d told a friend that I probably need a new copy of Culture Club’s “Colour by Numbers.” Me ‘n this record have a loooooong history together. It doesn’t get any more basic than that. Sure enough, at this record store, they had two options!!! Either:
An original, still factory sealed, for $9.99, or
An original, still with the plastic plus promo stickers saying “Grammy Nominee,” and “All New Songs!” (and then it listed 4 song titles. This one was $10 even.
I went with the one with bonus stickers!
(PS – $10 is pretty much the most I’m willing to spend on a record, and it better be pristine and/or hard to find!)
Another exciting find was:
PETE SHELLEY* – HOMOSAPIEN* (Elongated Dancepartydubmix) !!!
Anyway, back to the story: So I bought this stuff and went back to the music store I had really wanted to check out. It was small and quiet (I think he was playing music, but I have no recollection of anything playing!) and there were just a couple of older dudes coming in and out, with special requests and just to shoot the breeze. I was only there for about an hour, but I left with a HUGE HAUL. I spent more on records and cds than I ever have before (meaning within one store at one time.) Almost everything I found was $5 or under, and it was an extreme pick-through type situation. Meaning, don’t go looking for anything in particular, just start looking at everything!
I had a nice conversation with the owner while he rung things up (in a way so as not to distract him, haha, he was super methodical with his calculator and his mechanical receipt machine.) I told him he’s got lots of great obscure stuff, and I might be back within 6 months or a year or whatever. He asked me if I live here or am passing through. I said I went to his old store with my mom a lot and he then seemed to maybe remember me. I said I do live here, I’m a DJ, I like 80’s music, etc. It took him a long time to ring everything individually, so I started browsing to pass more time. Found 3 more cds to buy, and then, as a last minute thing, the “DAVID BOWIE” category within the records popped out. There were two records in there:
DIAMOND DOGS* (pristine and currently hard to find) for $15.98 and
LET’S DANCE* (pristine and currently hard to find) for $9.98
I bought Diamond Dogs because that more or less completes my Bowie On Vinyl collection (no new pressings or record store day garbage, haha.) I left Let’s Dance behind because I already have it, but, hey everybody,
LET’S DANCE, everybody, DIAMOND DOGS and BENNY AND THE JETS included! We’re all HOMOSAPIENS, we’re all JEEPSTERs, MOVING IN STEREO, sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll…
*All Capital Letters
This is, by far, the longest post I’ve ever written.
Does the song “Bye Bye Love” by The Cars have 3 F-Bombs in it? Also, are they saying, “It’s OMG Style.”???
Pete Shelley was the lead singer of original English punk-rockers, The Buzzcocks.
Another exciting find was TWO copies (one for me, one for my friend) of a pink marbled vinyl original 7″ EP by The Stranglers from 1977, one of our fave bands! They were $4.00 each. (Hugs Work!)
I’m listening to The Cars S/T debut while I write this.
If you haven’t yet, check out the music video for “Hello Again.” It’s prob on youtube or some shit.
Oh, hey, dang, I’ve been absent for a while. I was in the hospital, again because I was manic (the time before that was January, 2015). This time it was a week: from May 15th-22nd. I’m currently out of work until June 19th. I’m sure once I’m feeling up to it, I’ll be writing a lot in the upcoming weeks. For now though, I’m thinking I’ll have a handful of short, somewhat abstract updates to this blog. The first one being:
I am a transgender person and I was hospitalized for mania and my blood was tested, and I was administered my testosterone shot, but my T-levels in my bloodstream were not monitored at any point in time during my stay.
I feel legitimately angry, like, about as angry as I am capable of getting, about this. Because I experienced some really really bizarre symptoms while there, that I would chalk up to hormonal issues, but there’s nothing for me to measure that against.
I was shouting A LOT. Like, I am not a shouter. I was SUPER vocal, the entire time I was there..
My menstrual cycle came back in a super condensed, concentrated form, for about 3 days…
Sex drive?? Zero
I called people out in their shit, in real time (generally something might occur to me later, what I should have said)…
I was actually able to keep my anxiety in check this time…
Smells and tastes were all over the place…
Blah! When will it sink in, that transgender people face different challenges, and these need monitoring too!
Lately, I’ve felt an increased breadth of emotionality, and I’ve been wanting to embrace that and document it. At this point, I’ve been on injections for about 2 months. I’d say I could first recognize this about a month ago – I saw the film, Moonlight, and I felt choked up / on the verge of tears a couple of times. This was no small event: I haven’t cried or even come close for a very very long time.
About two years ago, I was seriously depressed for a year. It’s definitely different for everyone, but whenever I’ve been depressed in that way, I do not cry. I don’t have any emotional experiences, really, other than fear and panic and deadened mental capabilities. And physical pain, but not in the way where I want to cry. Then, after about a year of trying different meds, I got on one that I actually like, for the first time ever. It helps me sleep. It helps me not think in obsessive ways. It helps me absorb new information and changes and take those things in stride. I’ve had some serious high notes, in this past year. This drug has actually helped with that, perplexingly. I’ve also had a couple of anxiety attacks, but they were extremely few and far between, and related to stressful times.
But I had not felt sad, or any of those nuanced pallets / ranges within the emotion called “sadness.” Until I started (again) on testosterone – which is kinda interesting because the more likely narrative is “once I started T, I couldn’t cry anymore.” I have yet to actually cry, but the sensation is there, and I welcome it.
Today, I was listening to a podcast, and I felt overwhelmed with emotion. Like I said, this has been so rare, that I embraced it. It was “This American Life,” the episode called, “Ask the Grown Ups.” Tig Notaro was giving some advice to a teenage girl who’s mom had recently passed away. It was so moving that the world around me changed, temporarily.
Also, I’ve recently been seeking out music that I listened to while I was depressed, 2 years ago. (There’s not much at all to uncover because I listened to so little music. It’s basically 2 albums by Royksopp, something by The Notwist, and, probably a couple more I could track down if I really wanted to dig…) It’s been… interesting. There have also been big changes in my life lately, mostly at work, that has triggered some images of violence to flash before my eyes. I’m all too familiar with this, and in the scheme of things, it’s been super mild. But, yeah, haven’t experienced that in a very long time. Instead of acting on it or obsessing on it though, I just came home, took my pills, and went to bed early. I feel sooooo grateful that that’s all I have to do. And then the next day it is not too bad. What???!!! It’s true!
So, essentially what I’m saying is that I have felt some intense emotions over the past couple of years, but very rarely did that involve any form of sadness. Which, is pretty bizarre if I think about it. And that’s been due to depression and medication. And then, this higher dose of T opens back up a world I have not been able to access. It includes nostalgia and emotional connectedness and feelings associated with the weather and isolation and the season and the environment, etc. etc.
As long as I’m not continuously bawling my eyes out, it’s all good.
Game changing significance was loaded on top of more and more significance, this past week. On Monday the 7th, Leonard Cohen passed away. Then, of course, the upsetting election results. My spouse woke me up to tell me the news. I was in a hazy half-sleep, largely induced by my medications (I think), and I just replied, “Ohhhhhhh,” and immediately fell back asleep. It was a surreal half-consciousness, and, in a way, I continued on in that space for a long time after, even now, as I try to wrap my head around it.
She also texted me later that morning saying “Happy anniversary of our ‘legal’ marriage today.” I had completely forgotten about that. We have much more meaningful anniversaries between us; this one is not a big deal. But, interesting that it happens to fall on this same date. Plus! It was the one year mark of the launch date for the radio station I am a DJ at. Also on this day, a friend’s father passed away. The next day, my spouse’s sister proposed to her boyfriend!
The following day, I heard word that two pride flags had been burned in our neighborhood. Talk about being hit close to home! More on that in an upcoming post. We attended a rally on Saturday morning with some friends, and the spirit of that event was totally incredible.
Also, around this time, 17 years ago, I was hospitalized for 19 days, and was traumatized by the process, for a very very long time. I take a moment every year to think about this and reflect. (In the past, it’d been much more than “a moment” to reflect. For too long, it had felt like constant rumination.)
Three years ago, I wrote about how I finally gained access to the medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist: Continuing to work through a specific trauma.
Then two years ago, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time: That specific trauma is still there.
Last year, I wrote about how much time has changed things, and it no longer felt like a big deal. The fact that I had been hospitalized again, that year, surprisingly helped me find ways to heal, rather than adding more baggage onto the feeling of it: That specific trauma is no longer a big deal.
This year, this personal matter has simply been buried underneath all this other stuff going on. I don’t have the capacity to think about it and write about it right now. I don’t see that as a problem. It’s not like I am grieving the loss of space and emotional energy to be with this thing. It was a thing. And it gradually became not as much of a thing. It is OK.
I also experienced an upswing this week. Probably galvanized by the shitty stuff going on. I cancelled a doctor’s appointment that I didn’t want to go to. I called my grandpa and talked to him about different ways to save for retirement. I solidified plans for my spouse and I to take a trip to Washington D.C. for her birthday – right around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and just in time to get the fuck out of there before the presidential inauguration. We are going to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian, which just opened a few months ago.
I also submitted my stuff to legally change my name! Finally! I did this yesterday. (This might also be a separate upcoming post.) I also emailed a lawyer to see if he would be willing to work with me toward gaining legal non-binary status. I haven’t heard back yet, and I realized that the timing is shit. This is such a low priority right now, as transgender people scramble to get their Social Security card, passport, etc. in order before the Trump take-over. And I know this lawyer in particular is probably swamped with going above and beyond to help people with this. So, I’m going to wait on it.
But a time will come. I know it.
I never before realized that these days are consecutive! Oh hey, these are the two most frequent topics of this blog!
In the past, I haven’t observed either through writing here, but I currently have a lot to say about both; this’ll probably end up being one of my more personal posts, at least as of lately.
First just real quick – a little bit of background / information about both:
World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10th) was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. This year’s theme is “psychological first aid.” My first thought was that it refers to how to handle someone who is in a mental health crisis, but it actually refers to being a support to someone who just witnessed or experienced a terrible tragedy. There is a world of difference between the two, even though there’s also overlap; of course, learning about both types of situations is going to be important.
Nat’l Coming Out Day (Oct. 11th) was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. Oct. 11th was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the 1987 Nat’l March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. It is observed in the spirit of the personal being political and the idea that homophobia cannot thrive once people know someone personally who is LGBT+.
(Information is coming from the World Health Organization website and wikipedia.)
Last night, I saw an amazing documentary called Strike A Pose, which just came out last year. It’s about the seven young male dancers from the NYC underground (the origins of voguing) who were personally selected by Madonna for her tour. They also ended up starring in a behind-the-scenes documentary at the time, called Truth or Dare. Madonna was very outspoken about AIDS, gay rights, safe sex, and of course, Expressing Yourself! [Spoiler Alert:] What was most interesting though, was that at the same time these young men were embodying those messages on her behalf, they were not all on board or comfortable with it. Three of the men had been diagnosed with HIV prior to the start of the tour, and they all were silent about it to the extreme, not even telling friends or loved ones. Also, one of the men sued Madonna after the tour, for forced outing, partially spurred by a coerced kiss with one of the other dancers in the Truth or Dare doc. He was not ready or willing to be that person, to be making that statement.
So, I guess what I’m saying with all that is that Nat’l Coming Out Day is great and celebratory and everything, but in order to actually be empowering, it has to be on each individuals’ own terms. Once I outed a friend (about something totally unrelated to being LGBT) as part of a joke, and then I felt really crummy about it. I just let time wash over that one, but it’s still a prominent memory.
So where am I at? I still have a fair share of coming out to do. I’m not doing any of it today. It does feel imminent though – I’d say within the next 6 months. I look forward to the day that my driver’s license, signature, little plastic rectangle on the custodial office, Facebook page, the words out of teachers’ and co-workers’ mouths, and everything else, all say the same thing! As of now, I have 5 different names going on in different places, and none of them are the full name I actually want to go by!
Here’s something I wrote that really captures this feeling (I wrote it almost exactly 2 years ago. Dang, that is a long time!): Fractured identity and fragmented feelings
Moving on to mental health:
My mental health has improved by leaps and bounds within the past 9 months, and I have not written about it. Actually, the most recent thing I did write was 9 months ago, here: A full year later / Making major changes. I was hopeful but tentative. I had had 23 good days in a row (an anomaly), due to starting yet another drug. I am still on that drug, and I am still having good day after good day after good day (other than not so great days due to a cold, a handful of really bad days during the stress of surgery).
Overall, I am more stable and happy than I ever have been before, BY FAR. And I feel certain that I can attribute that to a drug, something I never would have thought possible before (I’ve been on lots of drugs over a span of many years, and did not have a good experience with any of them. I had gone off medications completely for 10 years because I thought it was hopeless. I always downplayed the usefulness of psychotropic drugs. When I was younger, I thought I was the only one who had this reaction; now I know it’s fairly common to have to go through a trial and error period, searching for something that will actually be a good match.
During those 10 years I was not taking medications, I focused on other things to improve my well-being. Most of that was social in nature – focusing on not isolating, focusing on positive connections with people, focusing on emotional intimacy. It worked. To an extent. I started to think that getting back into therapy would probably help. That worked too. It felt miraculous for a while at first, actually. But as the years went by, kinda only to an extent. I found myself in a situation where I HAD to get back on medications, and I was not happy about that at all. In fact, I recall thinking a lot about when I’d be able to get off of them (maybe 6 months? I was thinking…)
In the end, it has worked out better than I ever could have imagined. I am neither pro-med nor anti-med. It’s way too personal, and different for each individual, to have a general feeling about it. But I can say that I used to be anti-med, and now I feel that, for some people, it can be that one game changer that makes all the difference.
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.