20th anniversary of a specific trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Two year anniversary of my most recent hospitalization

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

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

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

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

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

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


Finances and the LGBTQ community

It’s been long-known and proven over and over that, in general, people who identify as LGBTQ are worse off, financially.  Discrimination at work and within housing, along with being kicked out, disowned, or cut off from family ties, are big factors as to why this might be.  Mental health also plays a huge role.  There have been times when I was so deep into depression that I was not able to function at my job (or, in the past, at school).  Fortunately for me, I was able to take multiple medical leaves, when I needed them, with full pay and full job security.  That’s not always the story, though…

I was contacted a couple of months ago by Linda Manatt, who works for OverdraftApps.com, a company “created to increase awareness of the annual $35 billion overdraft problem in the U.S., which primarily affects the most vulnerable populations of our society. By creating content and developing tools to inform the public, [they] hope to make a positive change and shape tomorrow’s consumer finance policies for the better.”

In July of 2018, they commissioned a research organization to conduct a survey about financial attitudes and realities.  1,009 people from 46 states, aged 18- 71 participated, and 11% of them identified as LGBTQ.  A couple of other factors were isolated, including renters vs. owners and income levels, but not age, race, education level, or any other demographic.

Some of the big take-aways, as it applies to the LGBTQ community were:

  1. While only 14% of people surveyed make less than $25,000 per year, 25% of LGBTQ people fall in this bracket.
  2. 51% of the general respondents reported feeling “that the system is trying to take advantage of them when it comes to financial products.”  When isolating for LGBTQ people, that percentage jumped to 61%.
  3. LGBTQ people are 50% more likely to overdraft between three and nine times in the past year compared to the general population (18% compared to 12% of the general population.)

It is surprising how many people overall have over-drafted at least once within the past year (46%), how few people were even aware that they can opt out of over-drafting all together (39%), and how frequently over-drafting happens without their knowledge (42%).  No wonder people feel taken advantage of, purposefully!  As I was reading through the data, the overarching human emotion running throughout is the avoidance of embarrassment.  And sure enough, there’s a quote within the article to suggest this:

Paul Golden, from Nefe [National Endowment for Financial Education], provides an … interpretation on the reasons people don’t opt out more often of overdraft protection. In his opinion, “bankers [don’t] say that overdraft protection is mandatory” but they do sell it as an insurance to one’s reputation.  In his experience, this is how they are sold to consumers: “You go out to dinner with your friends or work colleagues and the bill comes up. You don’t have enough to cover it – can you imagine the embarrassment you would suffer if your card was declined?” People react: “Oh yeah, I should have overdraft protection.”

It’s like, pay $35 later for the convenience now of not having to put groceries back, in front of other people, when there is not enough in the checking account.  I’d even take this a step further and go so far as to say that people who are more likely to be singled out, to be devalued, humiliated, harassed, abused, and assaulted, are exponentially more compelled to do certain things to get out of embarrassing situations, including (but not limited to, by a long shot!) financial embarrassment.

I’d be curious what types of trends would emerge if the data had been isolated even further, to account for transgender and gender-nonconforming identities, within the LGBTQ community.  I can tell you right now that the picture would become much more bleak, very quickly.  I’d love to hear your own stories if you’d like to share, in the comments section!

If you’d like to see the full study, it is here:
Overdrafting in the United States:  Distrust and Confusion in the American Financial System

And thanks to Linda Manatt for prompting me to get out of my comfort zone and attempt to cover such a big issue, in my own, semi-personalized, way…


Thinking about trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Janitors in pop culture #4

I haven’t written one of these since 2014!  That’s way too long!  My spouse and I just watched Another Earth for the second time, and I had forgotten that the protagonist, Rhoda, is a high school janitor.  Heads up – this post might contain spoilers!  And also, although I’m being critical and having fun with it (the portrayal of a janitor), I actually really do love this movie (hence, the wanting to watch it for a 2nd time!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She doesn’t start out as a janitor.  She’s a promising student that just got accepted to MIT, but her path takes a sharp turn when she kills a wife and child in a drunk driving accident.  She spends the next four years in prison, instead of college, and when she gets out, she struggles with even wanting to be alive.  When talking to a social worker about a job placement, she says,

“I don’t wanna really be around too many people or do too much talking.”

And that is, in a nut-shell, what being a janitor is all about!  She gets placed at West Haven High School.  We see her in a bunch of scenes at work.  I’ll try to break it down a bit:

Uniform
:  She’s wearing workboots in the style of Timberlands.  She has a hoodie and a full-body jumpsuit on over that.  Plus a beanie.  It is winter, but this is what she’s wearing while working in the building, and she is WAY overdressed!  I’d be sweating bullets in this get-up, plus the footwear is too heavy-duty.  Even running sneakers would be better – you do a ton of walking as a janitor.  I wear a t-shirt, pants, and sneakers, and I still get hot – school buildings are usually kept super warm.

The Work:  We see her pushing her cart through the building, mopping halls, and scrubbing at bathroom grafitti.  This is fairly realistic, although where I work, we have an auto-scrubber for halls, and I’d never use that much elbow-grease on anything the way she’s going at that grafitti – I’d blow out my ligaments!  I already struggle with “tennis elbow” from regular repetitive motions.  Not worth it!

Storyline:  There’s a sub-plot where her co-worker, Purdeep, is noticeably blind, and you’re left wondering how he gets his job done without seeing.  Then, one day, Purdeep isn’t there, and Rhoda asks about him.  The reply?  He’s not coming back because he poured bleach in his own ears.  This was the 2nd incident – he had previously blinded his own self by pouring bleach in his eyes.

“He said he was tired of seeing himself everywhere.”

Later on, there’s a scene where Rhoda visits him in the hospital, and she writes letters on the palm of his hand in order to communicate with him.  It’s a tender connection, but other than that, I’m not sure what’s being coveyed through this other than here was a janitor who incrimentally lost his mind and self-destructed.  ???

There’s one other scene, early on, that I think is really relevant.  She runs into an old classmate at a corner store, and from his demeanor, it’s apparent he’s super surprised to see her, and he knows all about what happened to her, going to prison and everything.  Their dialogue reads, starting with him asking,

“So, are you working?”
“West Haven High.”
“Yeah? What do you teach?”
“I clean.”
“What?”
“I clean the school.”
“Oh, that’s cool.  …That’s probably very … therapeutic.”

It might not be apparent from the words, but his tone is sooo condescending, his classism is really shining through.  I often tell people that I’m a janitor, and I feel fortunate I don’t come up against this kind of bias, generally.  But there was a long period of time where I did feel shame about my job, especially because I work for the same school district I went to school at, and I too was a “promising” student, and I actually did go to college (and not prison), and I would brace myself for those moments where I might run into someone I knew from school.


Recent books I’ve read with mental health content

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.


As that specific trauma dissipates further…

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

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

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

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

Here are the other posts I have made, yearly:

Continuing to work through a specific trauma – Four years ago, I wrote about how I finally gained access to the medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist.

That specific trauma is still there – Three years ago, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it.  I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.

That specific trauma is no longer a big deal – Two years ago, I wrote about how much time has changed things, and it no longer felt like a big deal.  The fact that I had been hospitalized again, that year, surprisingly helped me find ways to heal, rather than adding more baggage onto the feeling of it.

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

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

 

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

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


World mental health day / Nat’l coming out day 2017

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.


I’m doing something I dreaded, and it’s not so bad

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…


Letters 2 Ollie

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 letters2ollie@gmail.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 janitorqueer@gmail.com 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.)
____________________

Hi guys,

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 letters2ollie@gmail.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!

Best,

Aldana
____________________

Here’s what I wrote to Ollie:

Hey 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,
Kameron