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.
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.
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…
There’s a trans-kid out there who could use some words of support and encouragement right now. (There are many trans-kids out there who need help; here’s one way you can make a direct impact!) Tell Ollie your story and how you get through hard times related to depression and gender dysphoria, by sending him an email at email@example.com. I sent one in last night!
It started with, on Tuesday, I read an email that was dispersed through a closed Facebook group I am a member of, and I contacted the writer, Aldana, to see if I could share her message. The following is posted with her permission. Please do forward to specific people who might be interested, via email! If you would like to re-blog or share on social media, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org first… Aldana has conveyed that it’s a fine balance between wanting to get the word out and get more letters sent in, and on the other hand, the potential of it spinning out of control, having the message get watered down, and possibly having the surprise no longer be a surprise.
Aldana, a friend of Ollie’s father, wrote, (Edited version.)
I apologize for an email coming out of left field but I need some help and I hope you might be able to point me in the right direction. My name is Aldana and I have a very close friend who has a 17 year old transgender son named Oliver. Ollie just came out the end of last year and suffers from extreme gender dysphoria and depression. He has been going through a really rough time for a while now. He needs help and support so badly, and his dad does too.
I looked up local mentorship programs to send to his dad because I really believe that if Ollie had a mentor in his life, he would have someone to relate to and to talk about what he is going through. Besides sending mentorship information, I thought there might be another way to help Ollie feel love and support right now. It might be a long shot, but I wanted to put it out there just in case you might be able to help me make this happen!
I thought that it would be so great and powerful if people who went through similar hard times and came out the other side, were able to write a letter to Ollie telling him their story and how they overcame their challenges. This young soul is in desperate need of acceptance and love and I would appreciate any help or guidance you can give me in helping me make this “Letters 2 Ollie” project happen.
I went ahead and created an email account that I can give to his dad to share with him once people start writing him letters. The email address is email@example.com. I am hoping to get about 30 but would be grateful for any amount to be honest.
I know this is an ambitious project and I want to thank you in advance for any help or guidance you can offer. You have my permission to forward this email to anyone you think might be able to help me make this “Letters 2 Ollie” project a reality. Thanks for your time!
Here’s what I wrote to Ollie:
My name is Kameron, and I’m a 34 year-old trans-person. (Oh man, that makes me twice your age!) I wanted to write to you, share a little bit about myself, and hopefully learn more about you.
When I was 17, I was going through a really rough time too. I felt depressed, and stressed out about trying to make friends, plus juggling school, cross-country running, and a part-time job. (I worked at McDonald’s. It sucked.) On top of all of this, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to figure out my sexual identity (gender identity questions ended up coming later for me) and to be more open and honest. I was really shy.
I decided that I must be a lesbian, since I was so masculine and it seemed like I would probably date women, although I wasn’t so sure about that. I didn’t know about transgender identities. I didn’t know of anyone who was trans, or even what that really meant – it wasn’t talked about at the time, and I didn’t know about any resources. I could barely come to terms with the idea of being gay, anyway, so maybe it was for the best! To end up exploring these things in stages…
After a couple of months of feeling such intense pressure in my senior year of high school, I broke down and ended up in a psychiatric hospital for three weeks. The rest of that school year was really really hard. I had to drop out of a few of my classes. I went to more study halls and art classes, but that didn’t really help. I was not able to focus on my school work or anything else, not even TV!
Things did get better though, slowly but surely. I don’t want to sound too cliche, but it does get better. At least for me it did. And I think if you were to really ask people who struggle with depression and gender dysphoria and everything else, most of them would tell you the same thing.
My mom was supportive, and she found out about an LGBT youth group that I started going to every Sunday morning. (It prevented me from going to church with my parents, but I was secretly happy about that.) I will say that I found it difficult to connect with people at first, because I was so shy, but I at least started to feel a little bit more confident at my school. At the time, my school didn’t even have a gay-straight alliance or any club like that! Does your school?
When I went to college, a lot changed for me, largely because it was an opportunity to re-invent myself. Everyone was new. Also, I learned about so many things I was not aware of, including gender identity. Do you have plans to go to college? Even if you don’t, there are all sorts of opportunities to be the person you see yourself as, even if most people know you as someone else right now. Whether you join a new gym or start a new job or join a new group, I feel like people are more and more accepting and understanding about transgender identities, by the minute, these days. It’s really incredible how fast things are changing.
I would not have believed I could be where I am today, when I was 17 (the year you were born! Were you born in 1999?) I changed my pronouns to he/him/his about 10 years ago. I changed my name socially, and I want to change it legally too. I was on testosterone for a few years. I just had top surgery 3 weeks ago! My transition has ended up not being as straightforward, partly because I identify as non-binary, but that’s a different story. Also, I got married to a totally amazing person, and I have a blog, and I’m a radio DJ, and despite having some bouts of depression at different times, I am usually happy and want to get as much out of life as I can!
I’ve been thinking about you and hoping that things are at least getting a little better, every day. I wonder if you’d want to write back and forth more? I’d love to hear about what kinds of stuff you like. I just talked a whole lot about myself, but I’m actually more interested in learning more about you! Also, if you want to ask me something, go for it! I doubt I will think anything is “too personal.” I’m pretty open!
Your pen pal,
Three years ago today, I took a huge leap, not at all sure this was what I wanted to be doing, but fully positive I needed to try just to find out. Even though I’m not currently on T, this date is still a really big deal for me.
When I started, I felt, almost immediately. that this was the right decision, and that I could have benefited from testosterone way sooner, if I hadn’t been so unsure I could just take a low-dose to see what it felt like. Those first few weeks, I wrote a lot in my journal, things to the effect of: “feel hungrier, more energized, had to get up at 5AM because I was doing overtime [Saturday morning]. Buzzed through the 8-hour area, as if I didn’t lose any sleep and am in fact on speed. Floated through the rest of the day in a cozy, mellow cocoon.”
About 4 months later, I stopped writing just privately, and decided to start this blog!
First post: low-dose testosterone for the rest of my life
At the time, I thought about testosterone and it’s effects all the time. I was hyper-aware of any physical changes (mostly not wanting anything to change) and also my internal states. It’s impossible to inhabit that way of being, long-term, of course, and other life events happened, causing roller-coaster-like mental states. And I started to wonder what testosterone was doing for me anymore.
I had been treating testosterone like a psychotropic drug, in my mind. And, in a way, it kind of is (a naturally occurring one). I wasn’t on any medications, and I kind of saw it as the solution to my mental health issues. Until it wasn’t. (But it did feel like it was for quite a while.)
When I did go back on medications (a little over a year ago), the purpose of taking testosterone started to feel like it was getting diluted. And the reason to stay on it became, “I need to keep as much as I can the same, right now, so that I can stabilize” rather than, “Testosterone is stabilizing me.”
Right around the end of December, I finally switched to a medication that seemed to be working (maybe for the first time ever, for me). And right around that same time, I decided to stop taking testosterone. Was the timing coincidental? No. It felt like I found a substitute, actually. And I’m still feeling really really good.
I’m still undecided about how much more masculine I would like to look and sound, and if I would want to use testosterone to get me there. It’d be awesome if I could pick and choose… (probably most trans-people wish this). I would pick a moderately lower voice, a little more muscle mass, and a higher sex-drive. I would toss the facial hair and balding, the acne, the feeling too hot, and the other body hair.
This will probably be my last update in this series “___ years on testosterone without noticeable masculinizing changes,” since I’m not currently on testosterone. It doesn’t make sense! Most definitely I’ll start it right back up if I decide to go back on. And I imagine, where I am right now, that my reasons will be different. Less of, “what would testosterone feel like?,” and more of “how much do I want my body to change?”
From my experience, I kind of feel like, if you’re on the fence about hormones, and you’re not sure about how you feel, gender-wise, it’s worth a try (if you can get access). It might take you to a new place on your journey. It might jump-start something inside you. It did for me. Or, on the other hand, it could help you rule something out. I know someone who was unsure about starting estrogen, but they kept obsessing over it. Once they went through the steps, and had the estrogen on hand, they suddenly strongly felt they did not want to continue to pursue that path (after taking only one day’s worth of the hormone.) So, either way, you may learn something about yourself…
Right around this time of day one year ago, I was just getting out of the hospital. I remember the out-take process was long / we had to wait on meeting with certain people first. I was so antsy to go, that once we finished something at the front console, I went to open the door to leave. I didn’t think about the fact that you had to be buzzed out! Oh yeah, no coming and going as we please – I forgot…
I got coffee at a snack bar on the way out, and we went home. I was super up and psyched to be out of there. It wasn’t till later that I got depressed. For a full year, more or less.
Within the past month, I’ve made some major changes that are impacting my mental health. I currently feel better than my baseline. We’ll see if this lasts.
I changed medications: I had been on Geodon, Wellbutrin, and Klonopin (for sleeping). I didn’t think the drugs were doing anything; I still felt shitty, and in December, it was getting worse again. I was having vague suicidal thoughts and was having trouble making it through my daily routine. I talked about this in therapy, and my therapist asked if I would talk to my new psychiatrist about it. I said, “Yeah, but what can she do? What else is there to try?” It seemed hopeless – I’ve been on so many drugs, and overall nothing had ever worked out long-term. My therapist just said that she might have some ideas. So at my next appointment, I did talk to her, and she suggested switching off of the Geodon onto something else. She listed a few, told me about what they work best for and what side effects accompany them, and left it up to me to pick one, basically. I said Seroquel, but I couldn’t really tell you why. I didn’t have much faith. I did the tapering off /ramping up thing, and surprisingly, right when I hit a certain dose of the Seroquel, my day got way way better. And then the next day. And the next. And now it’s been 23 straight days where I have felt free of crippling anxiety and vague suicidal thoughts. I feel present in my body, and I am looking forward to simple things that make my day more interesting / better. Like listening to a radio show, or going to get a bagel, or just, anything that previously would not have brought me any extra joy. I’m kind of floored by this. I’ve never had this experience with a drug before. We’ll see if it lasts…
I went off testosterone: I had been increasing my dose for a while, but it was a fine line between looking for more masculinizing changes and worrying about my hairline receding. (It had started to.) I found myself obsessing about my hairline and feeling negatively about testosterone. I felt stuck and stressed. Eventually, I decided, why don’t I just go off it for now and stop all the worrying. I have my whole life to figure out if I want to look more masculine or not – it doesn’t have to happen right now. So I stopped, and I felt better. I worried I might hate feeling colder or having less energy or having more aches and pains or experiencing a drop in mood. But none of those things happened. I haven’t been looking for anything to be different, and as a result (partly) nothing feels different. (I’ve been reading this book about expectations and beliefs and how much our judgement gets clouded – maybe testosterone hadn’t been doing much for me if I hadn’t been looking at what I thought it was doing. This is convoluted, and of course there’s more to it – it’s a powerful hormone! – but so far, so good.)
I stopped going to therapy: I have been going to therapy consistently for 4 years. Much of that time was weekly, sometimes we scaled back to every 2 or 3 weeks. The past few times recently, I didn’t know what we were doing / didn’t know what to talk about / we were going in circles. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t need to go. And instead of that thought freaking me out, it settled in and felt right. So on Tuesday, I talked to my therapist about it, and she said it sounded like a great idea. We wrapped some things up for now, with little fanfare, and she made sure the door was open if I ever want to go back. I imagine I probably will, but for now, I had just been spinning my wheels, and it feels good to put an end to that. Maybe I can focus more on other areas of my life…
Considering how unstable I’ve been for a long time, these are some pretty huge changes. And I am finally starting to look forward to what’s ahead!
2015 has been one of the hardest years of my life. I was majorly depressed for 4 months of it. I was moderately depressed for the vast majority of the rest of it. I was out of work for a total of 2 months due to mental health issues. I was in the hospital, and I was also in a partial hospitalization program. I did do some fun things (like camping, going to Pittsburgh, marching in the pride parade, adopting 2 cats, going to the beach 3 weekends in a row, becoming a radio DJ, seeing Sleater-Kinney) but they failed to feel like much fun. I’m only now starting to feel like myself for extended periods of time. For example, today and yesterday (but not the day before), I felt like a person in a normal mood, and that felt great. I hope tomorrow feels like that too! I started on a new medication 2 weeks ago, and I’m really hoping something clicks…
I wrote a similar post last year, and I summed up gender-related stuff this way:
“I continued to settle into a new and improved place with hormone therapy and talk therapy, but I’m finding I still have a LONG way to go until I really am where I see myself. I want to be out as non-binary in all areas of my life. I want to go by a different name. I want all the people who know me to use male pronouns in reference to me, not just most of the people… I might want top surgery…”
I made some pretty big strides – I started to go by a different name, and now all my friends and about half of my family use that name. It’s still growing on me – it feels about equally as strange as my former name feels, now, but that is actually progress. Currently it feels like neither name really is my name, but I think that’ll shift with more time.
This year I went from feeling like I might want top surgery to scheduling a date! This feels like my biggest accomplishment, based on the amount of mental headspace this topic has been taking up. I’ll be going to Dr. Rumer on June 1st. I chose this date because I purposefully want to miss certain things by being out of work. I really do not like working in the summers, and I especially have a hard time with the transition from school-year to summer. I have a lot of sick time accrued, and I plan to use a lot. Often, people can be back at a desk job 2 weeks after surgery, but since my job is so physical, I plan on being out for 8 weeks, as of now. Why not?! That’ll allow me to miss the last 3 weeks of school plus half of the summer. That would be really amazing.
So if I were to sum up gender-related stuff now, a year later, it’d look like this: I want to be out as non-binary in all areas of my life (still). I want to come out at work, so that pretty much everyone will be using my new name and male pronouns in reference to me. No more dual identities. I want to get through the ordeal of surgery without too much psychic pain (physical pain is fine). I want to wear t-shirts! I want to make up my mind about testosterone – take more? take less? go off of it? I want to legally change my name at some point…
These are not resolutions, but it will be neat to go back and see if I made more progress or not.
Other things I’d like to focus on in the coming year:
– Getting back to being more social. Being social this year was too difficult, so I didn’t push it. I’ve been a little more talkative with teachers at work lately, and I’d like to re-connect with some people, both locally and through writing letters to far-away friends.
– Enjoying the summer. I never enjoy the summer – I usually get depressed. But since I’ll be most likely out of work for half of it, maybe I’ll feel it more. I’d like to do a road trip, more time at the beach for sure, maybe some backyard fires, weatherproof our picnic table and actually use it, and go on walks.
– Taking more photos. My dad gave me a new camera for my birthday/xmas, and I want to use it!
– Giving myself a break. I’ve been pretty hard on myself, and I’m going to try not to be (as much).
Around this time, 16 years ago, I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit, but then I got stuck there for 19 days without knowing what was going on. The lack of communication was horrendous. I suffered a psychotic break and left with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I accepted this for years, and I internalized that I have a mental illness in some pretty detrimental ways. This has always stayed with me, always felt like something I needed to work through and get past.
Two years ago, I wrote about how I came to finally acquire my medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma
Last year, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.
That specific trauma is still there
This year, although I’m acknowledging the anniversary, it feels like just the slightest emotional blip on my radar. I talked about it in therapy yesterday. I finally got my hospital records back from my therapist (she had been holding onto them for me for a whole year!) I looked through them again last night – there was always one page I skipped over. It was handwritten by me, explaining what had been going on in my social life that led me to feel like I needed to be hospitalized. I read it and felt OK about it.
Although this seems counter-intuitive, I think it helps that I was hospitalized in January. Where everything went wrong the first time around, everything went right(?) (maybe not right, but it went smoothly) this time around. I can overlay this experience on top of my shitty traumatic experience, and things make more sense.
I resisted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a long time, I’d been off all meds for 9 years; I felt relatively stable. When it was re-affirmed that I have bipolar disorder by the psychiatrist I was assigned, (“Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.”) I bristled at that. Actually, I bristled at him in general every step of the way. Appointments with him lasted a mere 2 minutes. He was inflexible and adamant I stay on meds forever. He forgot pertinent information about me. (At one point he told me I needed to stay on meds because I had been hearing voices.) After 6 months, I just stopped making appointments with him. With all his intensity toward me staying on meds, it was surprising how easily he let me just get away. Maybe he didn’t even notice I left.
My therapist helped me find a new psychiatrist; she’s awesome! She’s willing to follow my lead on what I want to do about drugs, and she’s willing to dialogue with me instead of ordering me what to do. I still don’t know what to do about drugs, but at least I have the space to feel supported with whatever I do choose to do. For now, I’m staying on them, but I can’t pinpoint why.
I respect this new psychiatrist. When she (also) told me I fit the criteria for bipolar type I, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could accept that. I don’t need to incorporate that in any particular way into my identity; it doesn’t need to mean I view myself differently. Personally, it’s not a core part of who I am. It just is an aspect of me that can just be, and I can leave it at that.
And I can finally integrate the difficult journey toward mental health as parts of myself, rather than things that happened to me.
Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. I didn’t know this till today, but looking back on yesterday, unknowingly, I was thinking a lot about the idea of suicide – something I don’t think a lot about. It’s been an annual day on September 10, since 2003; this year’s theme is Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives.
I’ve been thinking about this book that Kate Bornstein wrote called, Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. I haven’t read this book in its entirety, but the gist is that there are so many things you can do other than suicide – some of them might be extreme, some might be unhealthy, some might be even self-destructive. But if it gets you through the moment, and you’re still here, that is good enough for the the time being. I think that’s a great message. Sometimes when someone is in so much psychological pain, nothing sounds appealing. But if you just try something different, something way out there, it might be enough to even just temporarily jump-start you out of the mode you’re in.
When I was in high school, one day I heard an after-school announcement for a “yellow ribbon club.” I really wasn’t doing well, and I decided to see what it was about. It was run by school psychologists, and there were maybe 5 students who showed up. We went around the room stating why we came. I basically said I came because I was worried I might attempt suicide; I came to get help. The other students had come for other reasons – either they had been affected by the suicide of someone they knew, or they just wanted to help. After I said why I was here, one of the psychologists reiterated what I had said. I remember feeling embarrassed and selfish. I didn’t go back to any more meetings. No one ever followed up with me. I did not end up attempting suicide, but things did get worse, and I ended up in the hospital not that much later on. I partially blame the psychologists for never checking back in with me.
This is a hard post to write because suicide is such a loaded subject. I’ve never attempted suicide or had an actual plan or had serious suicidal ideations. But there’s another way to feel suicidal – just kind of vaguely feeling like you cannot go on. Like you cannot keep living your life. Like you want to just stop existing, or just sleep forever. I’ve definitely felt that. With all the rough mental health – related stuff I’ve been through lately, I’ve felt that even recently. It’s a dull, nebulous, insidious, recurring, empty heavy veil, a lens to see the world through – a hindrance for sure, because there’s not much to be able to see, through all those layers. I don’t really know how to address it, other than to hope it will pass.
I think that what I’m learning is that rather than fighting those types of thoughts and feelings or trying to distract or re-route, it is possible to just give them less emphasis, to live with them, and to just focus on doing what you want to do, despite them. Just let them cycle through your brain, acknowledge them, but don’t give them any more power than what they are – just thoughts and feelings that come and go…
Kinda easier said than done, but I am trying to adopt this practice…