Every year around this time, since starting this blog eight years ago, I revisit the events surrounding a hospitalization that happened when I was 17. That was 22 years ago now, and I’m getting closer toward a goal of sharing my writing about it with a wider audience. Two years ago, I wrote, “Maybe one day I’ll share it with a wider audience.” Last year, I wrote that I was actively working on a memoir, in which the hospitalization plays a large part, but I was avoiding revising that portion. I had a lot of other work to do at that point, so it was easy to not get to it.
This year, I can say that I have a fairly cohesive draft of the entire memoir complete, and I am now forcing myself to get in there with the hospitalization “interlude.” I’m calling it an “interlude” because it’s written in a much different style than the rest of the piece. We’ll see if I keep that phrasing. Almost all of it, I wrote twenty years ago, for a class in college. It’s super disjointed, out of sequence, and jarring. Which, in a lot of ways, works, I think. I was going through a psychotic break. But I definitely needed to get in there to help readers orient themselves. I started to straighten out the timeline a bit. I added a lot of information about when I first got there, and my relationship with my mom, who brought me, at the time. It feels doable. I am glad I can finally start to face it down.
Other than that though, I’m stuck. I feel like it’s been so long ago that I no longer have any firsthand memories. It’s hard to conjure a feeling. (Which is amazing because I used to feel like it was always looming over my head.) I have all this writing, which I think is very accurate because I recorded it so closely in time to the events. I’m trying to figure out how to improve on it.
At this time, the event feels like a mosquito crystalized in amber. Or any other thing that’s trapped in a protective casing. And I’m trying to extract its essence without tampering with it too much. I’m trying to bring it back to life.
Last Wednesday, I asked my supervisor if I could work from 9am – 5:30pm for the rest of the summer, and he agreed. And then it struck me all over again that I’ve never worked this standard shift before in my life – I’ve worked almost everything except, spanning from super early to super late (excluding overnights). I’ve been with this school district for 19 years so far, first as a painter, but mostly as a janitor. It’s a full-time job, Monday-Friday, but my times have varied greatly.
I’ve joked with people before that my job is the antithesis of the 9-5 office job, and I like that about it. Generally, I work a B-shift, which I am a big fan of. But when kids are on break from school, including over the summer, I have to come in super early, and it is extremely hard for me to adjust, every time. My current supervisor is aware and he’s been accommodating for the most part. He set it up so I can come in at 8am instead of 6am like everyone else.
But this summer has been extra stressful in a lot of ways. We have lots of contractors in the building doing renovations. And my supervisor is leaving for a month, soon. And I have trouble working with my co-workers, since I’m used to the solitude of the job when school is in session. Oh also, lots of questions about how we will be adjusting to the pandemic coming up this fall. Lots of unknowns.
Due to all this stuff, I had a hypomanic episode earlier this summer, including being on the brink of a break from reality. I caught myself in time and course corrected, but recovery has been slow. I was out of work for a week and a half, and coming back has continued to be a struggle.
In talking to my therapist, she suggested I ask for a change in hours. Coming in later has always helped me feel like more of a person, but I didn’t want to ask for something too late – it wouldn’t make sense right now. She said, why don’t I ask for a 9am or a 9:30am start time. I laughed and told her we don’t do that. We don’t work 9-5. No one has. We do everything but. But then I let it sink in… Why not though?!
So, in talking with my supervisor, I was more upfront with him than ever before, citing that I need to take time off for therapy appointments, and that I am on medication that makes it difficult to get up early. Prior to this, I was always evasive as to WHY, exactly, I needed time off and why I hated mornings, only saying, “I have an appointment,” and repeating over and over again, like a mantra, “I don’t like mornings.” He was accommodating enough, and because of long absences due to hospitalizations, he probably had more than a clue about it. I just never said it out loud. It felt good. It felt like I was advocating for myself, and I was being accepted for this aspect of myself.
So in two days, I get to wake up at like 7:30am, which isn’t my favorite but seems actually do-able, short-term. Gonna join the masses, gear up for rush-hour traffic, enjoy a happy hour or two. Until school starts, that is, and I get to return to my favorite shift of all time, 1-9:30pm. That shift fits me like a part of my identity.
Edit: I only got to work 9-5:30 for one day! Blah! My supervisor wanted to negotiate further, and we agreed on 8:30-5pm. The 9-5:30pm shift remains elusive.
On this day, 21 years ago, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for 19 days. I was 17. I’ve observed this time of year, every year since starting this blog 7 years ago, by revisiting the events surrounding it, in one form or another. This year, it feels like not a big deal at all. This hasn’t always been the case, but it’s felt less and less traumatic as the years have gone by. Processing it in therapy has helped tons too.
One way I do know it still has some sort of grip over me is, I’ve been working a lot on long-form autobiographical writing this past year and a half. At first, I wasn’t sure what my “story” was. I assumed part of it would include this hospitalization, but then I rejected that and focused on other times in my life. After floundering around with what to focus on, I finally told my therapist, “Even though I don’t exactly want it to be true, ‘this’ is the story.” (‘This’ refers to my senior year of high school, including the hospitalization, and my first year, more or less, of college. Maybe other stuff too; I’m not sure yet) She smiled at that. It felt momentous, as if I’d been on a journey and then found my way back home and declared, “here I am.” Something to that effect.
But I’m still avoiding this part in particular…
As a Freshman in college, I was taking a class called Personal Essay. I ended up writing roughly 8,000 words about my hospital experience as my class project. It was disjointed / not chronological. That’s the way I had to approach it, in order to get as much down as I could remember. My professor, who ended up telling me he had been in hospitals / treatment centers for addiction issues, was super supportive of me pursuing this. That felt good. I was really proud of the final product, and I ended up sharing it with a bunch of friends and family members, at the time. Since then, I’ve glanced at it here and there, but it’s been rough. When writing about my life around that time, I’ve skipped over that completely, rationalizing, “Well, I already have that part down.” And I do. But, I’ve gone back and revised and changed and tweaked everything else. That remains untouched.
I don’t really want to touch it. Maybe it’s good enough as is? I doubt it though. At some point, I will have to get past this, and face it down, if I want to include it in a larger piece. As for now, I’m doing everything but. Which is working out for the time being, but not for forever…
Around this time, 20 years ago, I was experiencing suicidal ideation and debilitating depression, after being hospitalized for mania and psychosis. The #1 stressor in my life was my sexual orientation (I hadn’t yet gotten to the gender identity part). Two things saved me: therapy, and regularly attending the youth group at the Out Alliance (called the GAGV – Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley, at the time).
Learning, yesterday, that the Out Alliance was folding and laying off all its employees hit me hard, both in a community-forward kind of way, and on a personal level. We need the Out Alliance and the services it provides. The board stated, “We hope that this cessation in our services will be temporary and that, after reassessing and restructuring the organization, we will resume our vital mission, stronger than ever.” Let’s hope this happens sooner than later.
I went to the youth group for the first time on March 15, 2000. I was a painfully shy, sheltered, awkward, naive 18 year-old. I wrote about it immediately afterward, in my diary:
“I was really nervous about going, but felt like it was something I had to do. I got mom to drive me. While I was there, I badly wanted to leave, but in retrospect, it doesn’t seem so bad. We talked about dangers on the internet and stalkers. I had nothing to contribute. Dr. [Therapist] says that’s OK. It was my first time. Next Sunday might be better anyway. There’s going to be pizza and a guest speaker on relationships. Also, I noticed many bookshelves filled with books. Maybe next time all the kids are outside smoking, I’ll go check them out.”
And it did get better. I remained painfully shy and awkward. I never did connect with the other kids or make any friends, but I went every single week from then until I left for college at the end of August. At the time, the age limit was 19, but I asked if it could be extended to 22 because I still wanted to keep going. The age got changed in the “rules of the group,” and I was so thrilled I had been heard. I went sporadically when I could throughout my college years.
To back up, I started writing in a diary a year before attending the group, and my first entry starts out with a fantasy scenario in which I come out to a support group, 12-step style.
” ‘Hello. My name is Katie. And… I am a lesbian.’ ‘Hi Katie.’* I’ve gone through this scenario hundreds of times. I wish it were that easy. I’d just walk into a gay / lesbian support group and come out. I just can’t do it though; I haven’t told anyone.”
So actually attending and being around other LGBTQ+ people was HUGE for me, even if it was hard. Probably largely because it was so hard. Schools did not yet have Gay Straight Alliances. The internet was, well, you know, it was the internet of 2000. Which is to say I didn’t / couldn’t use it to find like-minded friends or look up information about sensitive subjects. I was too ashamed to take out any books about LGBTQ+ topics from the library for fear of the library clerk looking at them and deducing that I was gay. The information I would have found in those outdated books might have been more detrimental to my sense of self anyway. I was most certainly internally homophobic.
To know that there was an organization that was out and loud and proud was a revelation. I attended the Gay Pride Picnic that July, and was blown away by the number of people. Who knew?!
It took a while, but the sense of belonging and the normalization of the gay experience grew on me. I learned so much about safe sex and sex-positivity, LGBTQ+ portrayals in media, history, just a ton of feel-good stuff. We watched movies, we went on outings as a group, and yes we even got to eat pizza.
Huge shout-out to the facilitator at that time, Patty Hayes. She changed my life. I was so psyched to find that this 44 minute interview with her is out there on the internet! (Interview conducted for the documentary, Shoulders to Stand On. She has about 3 minutes of screen-time in the final product; here is the full interview):
The Out Alliance was there when I needed it, and I can honestly say it saved me from my own self-hatred, homophobia, and loneliness. Now that there are so many more options and ways to learn and connect, so what? It’s still very much needed. Every city needs something like this. It was a place to connect face-to-face and find role models and local resources. A place of hope for kids in surrounding rural areas who could drive in and find out they’re not alone. City and suburban kids too, of course. Older people just coming out. People who have been out for forever. SOFFAs and allies. It does, however, need to change with the times. There were times where I railed against it, for being too normative, too playing-it-safe, not diverse enough.
Hopefully their return will be swift, and well-thought out. The former staff have laid out some demands:
- Diversification of the board’s executive committee. They point out that the board is diverse but the executive committee members are all white and cisgender.
- Selecting a person of color to serve as the next executive director, “to reflect the necessary changes the agency still needs to take.”
- Making all board meetings open to the public and the minutes from those meetings accessible to the public.
- Including dollar figures, not just percentages, in all future annual reports. The annual report for 2018 showed a dollar figure for contributions, but nothing else.
- Changing agency bylaws to give the board greater oversight over the executive director and “veto power” over major spending and investment decisions.
- Creating a mechanism for agency members and community members to weigh in on who sits on the board.
Sources: CITY News article by Jeremy Moule
Shoulders to Stand On, documentary film
*At the time, I thought my name was Katie and that I was a lesbian. Now I know it’s actually Kameron, and that I’m a queer person.
For 20 years, I’ve been churning and mulling over, obsessing and ruminating about, writing and re-writing the events surrounding my first hospitalization which happened around this time of year in 1999, when I was 17. Up until the age of 30, it had a hold on me in that way that trauma can stay with a person: it was my biggest source of shame and fear, I felt like it defined my past and if only I had avoided it, maybe my mental health wouldn’t have gotten so derailed for so long. It was a super sore spot that for some reason I just kept picking at, revisiting, but wasn’t getting anywhere with.
I’m 37 now, and I’ve been seeing it much differently, with the help of my therapist. It was extreme and drastic, for sure, but it led to me getting real help that I desperately needed – without that help, my mental state could have festered and bubbled badly for much longer, in a much darker place; who knows what might have happened. Not that I didn’t suffer for way too long regardless. I did! But some systems were in place that helped me feel not so alone, even through those times where I despised those systems.
I’m writing kinda vaguely here… I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit because I thought I was bipolar and I stopped being able to sleep, and things were getting wonky. I was indeed diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as having gone through a psychotic break. I was there for 3 weeks, even though I kept thinking I could leave at any minute, if I could just figure my way out. I was put on medications, and later on, different ones and different ones and different ones. So many different ones. I got disillusioned with drugs and eventually weened myself off of everything because they ultimately didn’t make any sense. They did do me some good at some points in time, but not much.
The thing that helped more than anything else, ever in my life, was getting assigned a therapist. I was required to attend 20 sessions after my hospitalization; I ended up going so many more times than that; if not specifically with her because she moved away, then to the therapist she referred me to. In fact, I’m still seeing this therapist (with a break of a bunch of years in between, during that time where I wrote off meds and all other psychological interventions).
I was talking recently with a friend about therapy, (It seems like all of my friends are currently in therapy…) and I referred to the fact that my parents facilitated me being in therapy from such a young age (and by young, I mean 18) as “early intervention.” I know that term usually refers to 3-5 year-old’s who might be on the spectrum or might have a learning disability or a speech delay. But, sadly, when it comes to emotions and figuring out how to communicate them, age 18 is still pretty much “early intervention,” in my opinion. Things are definitely getting better, but not fast enough! And when I said that out loud to my friend, it hit me how lucky I was. I always went to therapy willingly – at some times, it felt like the only thing I had to look forward to. Usually it felt like the progress was not quantifiable. Was it doing anything? What good was it? Was it worth it? I still pretty much always loved going, even if logically I wasn’t so sure.
My therapist has told me that among her clients who have gone through psychosis, I’m the only one who has ever wanted to revisit it (for me, there are 3 instances). Everyone else just wants to put it behind them. I don’t understand that; and I’ve ended up doing a lot more than just revisiting it. I think there’s a lot of worth there. It feels like a gold mine in an alternate universe. The more I write, the more I can mine it later, for future purposes. I’m not sure what those purposes are, exactly, yet, but I want the raw material to be intact as much as possible.
In the spirit of that, here’s one short snippet, that I first wrote in 2001:
“I’m going to be leaving tomorrow,” I announced at our afternoon community meeting. I figured that since I wanted to come here, I was allowed to tell them when I wanted to leave. I was getting sick of this charade. The day before, I had told the nurse that I wanted to go home, expecting to find my parents there when I woke up. When nothing came of that, I panicked, but then I realized the key was for me to get myself out. I was going to have to stand up to everyone and announce my intentions. I had to take control. Everyone, including the staff workers, stared at me without saying a word. That made me uneasy, especially when my statement went untouched, and the meeting continued with staff member Bob saying, “If no one has anything else to say, it’s time to go to the gym.” It’s alright, it’s alright. They’re just testing me.”
There’s a lot more where that came from. Maybe one day I’ll share it with a wider audience.
I’ve been hospitalized a total of 3 times for mania and psychosis; for some reason, the anniversary of this one, this time around, is hitting me pretty hard. Every year in November, I make a post to remember and acknowledge my first hospitalization, because it was so traumatic, and it’s stayed with me even now, 20 years after the fact. These two other, more recent ones were much easier to get past / work through. In fact, I’d even say that this most recent one was even cathartic, in a positive sense (not so much for my loved ones, I know!) But personally, it helped me heal from the other two times. And the fact that I didn’t boomerang into a deep, dark depression afterward… that I was able to take as much time off as I needed and kind of come back around gradually, organically, meant the world to me.
It’s been a very rainy May so far. It reminds me of looking out the windows of the hospital; it was rainy a lot of the time then too. It was my brother’s birthday, and then Mother’s Day, and right after that, I was admitted to the hospital. The Lilac Festival was going on; there are lilacs in bloom right now. We have a lilac bush; I can see the flowers from our dining room window.
Last year during this week, I was preoccupied with a trip to Massachusetts to visit our friends. I didn’t think about the fact that we’d be away during this week. It occurred to me while we were on the trip, I think. I remember being hyper-aware of everything blooming at that time, exactly. We smelled lots of flowers while we walked around different parts of Boston and Salem. Things weren’t in bloom when we left, but suddenly, bam!, they were, when we got back.
I’ve been super stable, mental health-wise, for a long time now. I’d say I re-stabilized by September of 2017, and I’ve been good since then. Great, even. Super productive with creative projects. Anxiety has been at an all time low. I have energy. My mood is very very very even-keeled. Iike, maybe a little too much. Meaning, there’s so little variety in how I feel, from day to day. But… I’ll take it. I haven’t felt any compulsions. I haven’t been having obsessive thoughts. The only down-side to my mental landscape, in an ongoing way, is that I sleep a LOT. And I have trouble waking up in the mornings. I usually sleep 10-11 hours a day, on average. Which is most likely a side effect of the medication I’m on. (Seroquel.) But, also, as the years have gone on, I’m also realizing it just might be how much sleep is actually optimal for me. I generally slept that much, if I was able to, long before starting this medication. And I used to beat myself up about it, like I was being lazy and unproductive. And whenever I’ve had to get on an earlier schedule, such as during summers, for work, my mood, energy levels, and motivation have always suffered. Probably because I wasn’t sleeping as much as I seem to need to.
So I’ve decided to give myself a break. It works out much better if I let myself sleep as much as I tend to need to (as opposed to how much I think I should want to, I guess?), life goes much more smoothly.
Huh, I went on an unexpected tangent about sleep! I meant to write about my most recent hospitalization. Actually, I’ve already written, in a word document, as much as I could remember from my week-long stay. It was jam packed with activities; it was action packed. So maybe I’ll just cut and paste a slice of life from that time. …I just pulled it up to find an excerpt I could put here, but it’s total nonsense! No one paragraph makes any sense within itself. Also I burst out laughing a bunch of times. I think it’s not quite ready for consumption yet. But it might be, one day, as part of a larger project…
Two days ago, I abruptly hit a wall in my transition journey. But it’s more like that wall had a secret corridor that I’m now turning down, without really slowing down – just taking a moment to look back, and all around me, and then moving on in this other direction. The decision to stop T for the time being doesn’t actually mean that I’m losing forward momentum. I was expecting it all along. At some point. At the same time, it wasn’t premeditated or planned I just realized, now is the time, all of a sudden, and then I mentioned it to my spouse, and that was that.
The number one reason to stop, for now, is ongoing concerns of losing my head hair. And the number two reason is that uncomfortable sensation of feeling overheated, which is much less welcomed as warm weather approaches.
I’ve been here before. That was, specifically, January of 2016. I feel so grateful to my past self for so diligently recording where I was at, every step of the way, so that I can get super specific about where I was vs. where I am! It feels like a coherent narrative, of sorts. In the fall of 2015, I had been on Androgel for roughly a year and a half, and I had lost sight of why I was doing it and what, exactly, was it doing for me. I switched doses, I went off-and-on, and then in January of 2016, I just went off all together. I ended up being off T for one full year. And then I tried out injections, which I’ve been on now for over 2 years.
And now, again, I’ve lost sight. I’ve been worried, daily, lately, about my receding hairline, and I can’t make sense of all the numerous products on the market to help that. Rogaine, Finasteride, DHT suppressants, etc. Instead of figuring out what might help, it just makes more sense for me to go off T, until I feel differently, which I know I will, again, at some point, in the not-so-distant future.
I do not look forward to getting my period again. That is going to be horrible.
Other than that though, I don’t foresee any major issues. Mental health-wise, I feel super stable and good. I don’t expect that to change much. Oh, also, I’ll be pretty happy about not seeing more and more facial hairs popping up. Not a fan of my own facial hair! I’ll be glad if that stabilizes for a while and I don’t have to think much about it.
I predict (and my predictions have been pretty far off, historically!) that I’l be back on T by November or December. We’ll see! Oh, also I guess I’ll have to tell my endocrinologist. Do I have to go to my upcoming appointment if I’m not taking hormones?! (Answer: No.)
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:
- While only 14% of people surveyed make less than $25,000 per year, 25% of LGBTQ people fall in this bracket.
- 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%.
- 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…
This past Saturday was my two year mark on T-injections, 40ml / week (this was just recently lowered, from 60 – my initial dose was 50). I still very much look forward to every injection (not the act itself, but the being-on-T part), and I still regularly think about the ways hormones have improved my life; I don’t tend to take it for granted.
My original plan was for this to be a short-term thing. But I kind of love it. I think my dose will vary over time, but I don’t anticipate stopping really, probably ever. (Of course that’s subject to change!) Not having a menstrual cycle is huge. Being seen as male 100% of the time is… well, there’s some ambivalence there, but it’s definitely an improvement. Now instead of getting confused for female, I am regularly getting confused for being very young. Which can be awkward but mostly is fine.
I’m able to engage socially in ways I really never could have dreamed of. I look people in the eyes way more. My anxiety is almost zero, where previously, I was operating regularly with an underlying sense of fear and dread. Some of these mental health changes can be attributed to finding a medication that actually works well for me, but a lot of it is the disappearance of gender dysphoria.
I’m still legally female, which is on purpose, and I still almost always go into women’s bathrooms and dressing rooms. I’ve never been stopped or questioned.
I don’t love all of it. I still daily pluck hairs out of my face because I don’t like them and I don’t want to shave. I’m pretty concerned about my receding hairline. And if I were really being honest, I liked the way my face looked before being on injections, more-so than now. It just so happens that the way it is now reads as “male,” and that works out way better for me. Oh well…
So here are the face comparisons: