Pain is relative

Content note:  blood, needles, things that might make you squeamish, self-injury.

Three days ago, I did my 24th shot of T.  I started to psych myself out – for some reason, it suddenly seemed super-difficult.  The needle looked extra long, and it has been looking that way for a while now.  I decided maybe I should stick it in a “meatier” part of my quad muscle.  I did, and must have hit a vein – it HURT a LOT and it bled quite a bit.  I just felt like, “Damn, I’ve been working myself up about the pain more and more lately.  I just wanna do it like a routine, without any glitches!”

It then occurred to me to look up the gauge online and see what was the range.  I looked at my zip-lock baggie from the pharmacy, full of my syringes.  I suddenly realized that my newer ones were a different shade of green than my older ones.  I was looking at 23 gauge versus 21 gauge.  In addition, the 21s were 1.5 inches, and the 23s were 1 inch – my fear that I was gonna hit my femur was semi-legit!  I need to go back and get more 1 inch needles, pronto!

Needles are scary, right?  It makes sense that people would fear needles.  They hurt.  Also, what about negative associations to getting shots at a doctor’s office, as a small child, vaccines and booster shots, stuff like that.

And then there’s the taking of the blood.  Like, say, you have a medical condition that causes you to need regular blood draws to make sure everything is on track.  If you are transgender, this is a common best practice.

When I was 17-21, I had to get regular blood work done every 3-6 months, because of a psychotropic drug I was on.  I can’t remember the reason why. ( To check liver functioning, and/0r cholesterol?  I forget.)  It was a hassle, at the very least.  But I did start getting very comfortable with it:  I was present, it barely hurt – I just looked away so I didn’t have to see the vials filling up with blood.

Because of this, probably, I was intrigued by the idea of donating blood.  I did it a handful of times between these ages (17-21), both at my high school and at my college.  It was one of the most bizarre things, in my opinion:  Here we are, a bunch of us, all laying down on cots.  Any one of us might pass out at any time, and that would cause a chain reaction for others to pass out too.  There are these nurses hovering over all of us, making sure we can stand up OK as if we are rising from the dead, with these baggies of blood tied to us.  They are on hand with cookie packets and juice boxes.  We can have as many as we want…

The one reason I stopped doing it was because I had a hard time maintaining the minimum weight requirement during college (110 lb).  I didn’t have an eating disorder, per se, I just didn’t have an appetite or desire for much of anything at all.  I also struggled with anemia.

And self-injury too.  In that case, pain was my friend.  I guess I can best describe it as, I would work myself up into such a frenzy that cutting my skin felt like the only thing that would bring me down.  I was hyper-ritualistic about it.  It was a fairly common occurrence for years, but never “severe.”  And I don’t do it anymore.

Testosterone has changed my relationship to pain, for sure.  I’ve written about that here:
Differences In How I Experience Pain

Here’s a quick excerpt (I wrote this somewhere around 3 years ago):

Before I started taking testosterone, I had a peculiar, but not really uncommon, relationship to pain.  In many cases, I derived pleasure from pain.  I would create sensations of pain, within my control, in an effort to calm myself.  Also, when I’d hurt myself accidentally like for example, hit my arm on a doorway, I would feel alarm, followed by an adrenaline rush, followed by a pleasant soothing wave.

Now?  If I hurt myself, it hurts!  If I accidentally ran into a doorway, it would not be pleasant in any way, shape, or form.  I remember the first few times I got hurt in little ways, in the first couple of months of being on testosterone; I was so surprised by how much pain was coursing through my body.  I just felt like, aaaaaah!  I’ve been swearing under my breath and feeling unnerved by how much stuff hurts.

So what am I trying to get at?  I guess I just want to acknowledge that sticking yourself with a needle, in an ongoing way, is a really intense thing to do.  And it’s totally understandable that some trans-people would just have a hard limit and say, “I’m not doing that.”  For myriad reasons.  So at least there are other options:

– Gels, patches, and creams (unfortunately, quite costly)
– Sub-cutaneous injections (not as deep)
– Stuff like Nebido that’s injected every 3 months or so

Does anyone have experiences with switching methods?
Doing self-injections feels like a badge of honor, but I’m not quite sure that it feels like an “honorable” thing to do…


Getting slammed by visions of violence

Trigger warning:  violent imagery (as the title suggests).

Last week, I was in high stress mode.  It’s due to an annual drastic change in my work schedule (and really no other reasons, as far as I know about.  I mean, I have other stressors going on, but nothing I can’t usually handle.)  This happens every single year, and it really affects how I engage with summer.  I can always predict it; simultaneously, I always conveniently forget how extreme it gets.

I wrote what follows last week, when I was in the thick of it.  And then I just sat on it, because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to post it.  Partially because it’s a departure from what I usually write about.  Now that I’m feeling better, I find that, yes, I’ll post it.  So, here’s what I wrote, only slightly edited:

My mind’s reaction to long-term stress is terrifying to me.  I continue to wonder if this is really just how it is. (Why can’t I just grow out of this???).  Some people get stress-induced migraines or upset stomachs or struggle with insomnia.  Anything like that is, without a doubt, difficult to deal with.  In a big way, I am glad I am not afflicted with those stress-responses.  In some way though, a part of me wishes for something like that instead,  but only because it’s relate-able and I’d probably feel like I could talk about it with others.  “My stomach is in knots thinking about what I have to do.”  Or, “I’m losing sleep over this.”  These phrases are super common.

When I get stressed out for long enough, it feels like my brain is rotting away.  I lose brain functioning (not a figure of speech – my cognitive abilities actually suffer in some big ways.)  But more than this:  It feels as if my brain has turned against me; I am bombarded by visions – images of violence being inflicted upon me.  I do not know what I can do.  I can distract myself.  I can try stress reduction techniques.  I can (and do) follow through with inflicting pain on myself in an attempt to stop the visions.  None of these things have ever worked too well when I’m actually in it.  When I was younger, I was “in it” on-and-off for years and years and years.  It would become intolerable.  It’d be beyond intolerable, but, of course, I had to keep waking up and living it, over and over again because there’s no getting away from your own mind.

Often, my brain would feel so rotten that I couldn’t read, I couldn’t make sense of things on TV or in movies.  I couldn’t talk to people or follow a conversation.  Eventually I couldn’t do any schoolwork at all.  (And it wasn’t about concentration, which is a common issue with people who are depressed.  It was specifically that synapses seemingly disintegrated.)  I made it through because luckily I had a therapist at home and a therapist at school, and they helped advocate for me to get accommodations I needed to not flunk or drop out of college.  I felt like dropping out.  I “got by” with very high grades, because I couldn’t have lived with myself with anything less.  ???  Does this make any sense at all?  I was barely functioning, yet I somehow ended up with very high marks.  If my grades had ended up slipping, I would have been even more abusive to myself.  Maybe the people around me could sense that.

Somehow, I could still write, surprisingly eloquently.  Although, it was limited to journal-style writing, not academic-style writing.  Like what I’m doing right now.  When I can’t seem to do anything else.

I get barraged with images spanning from mild (such as my face being slapped or my skin being cut) to morbid (such as being hacked away at with an axe.  Or my head being whacked repeatedly with a 2×4.  Or falling and hitting my head so hard that I pass out.  Or my neck being held down as I am whipped over and over and over again.)  These images are never sexual.  They are disturbing and unwanted.  I seem to have no control over them.

I have heard of some people struggling with urges to actively do something they do not actually want to do.  Like inflicting pain onto someone else.  Or stepping off the subway platform in front of a subway.  Or driving their car off the road and down a steep ravine.  There is an excellent graphic novel I would highly recommend that is largely about this compulsion.  It’s called The Nao of Brown.  What I’m talking about is so similar, yet strikingly different.  I am never the one in control.  I’m not harming anyone else or actively harming myself.  It is always an anonymous person outside the visual frame, inflicting violence on me.  I’m the object; I’m looking at myself.

Last week I told my therapist, “whoever made brains needs to try again.”

 


I’m becoming pussified* by testosterone

*I made up this word, I think (actually I just looked it up, and I totally did not make this word up), but that doesn’t mean some people don’t like it.  Let me know if you don’t like it; I’ll think more about it.  The root word is “pussy,” which I don’t mean to use in a derogatory way.  More like it has a certain ring to it; it is an accurate descriptor for what I mean to say.  I’m writing about becoming a pussy when it comes to pain, basically.

Also, trigger warning: self-injury

Before I started taking testosterone (about 9 months ago), I had a peculiar, but not really uncommon, relationship to pain.  In many cases, I derived pleasure from pain.  I would create sensations of pain, within my control, in an effort to calm myself.  Also, when I’d hurt myself accidentally like for example, hit my arm on a doorway, I would feel alarm, followed by an adrenaline rush, followed by a pleasant soothing wave.  I think in retrospect, I had a lot of potential to really get into BDSM, except for the fact that before taking testosterone, my sex drive was pretty close to non-existent, so none of that was all that appealing in a sexual context.

Now?  If I hurt myself, it hurts!  If I accidentally ran into a doorway, it would not be pleasant in any way, shape, or form.  I remember the first few times I got hurt in little ways, in the first couple of months of being on testosterone; I was so surprised by how much pain was coursing through my body.  I just felt like, aaaaaah!  I’ve been swearing under my breath and feeling unnerved by how much stuff hurts.

When I’ve been feeling particularly upset or depressed, I will still have the urge or flash-image to self-injure myself, but there is no real desire to follow through with it whatsoever.

I haven’t self injured since last winter, which is so incredible to me.  I hated that it was such an effective coping strategy.  Probably my most effective coping strategy, for about 13 years or so.  I’ve had such a long, complex relationship to self-injury, both as a concept and as it relates to my body.  And I’m so glad to see it changing.

Is pain tolerance a gendered thing?  I’m sure the way people experience pain is all over the map, but are there generalities between genders?  Such as, females have a higher threshold for tolerating pain.  I have no idea, but I’m really curious about it.

And seriously, how cool is it to be living through such a transformation on so many different levels?  Like when I started testosterone, it never occurred to me that I might feel differently about pain and be cured (so far at least) of my self- injuring tendencies!


Telling an old friend about new directions

Recently, out of the blue, I got an email from my childhood best friend.  We’ve been in touch off-and-on throughout our adult life, but I haven’t heard from her in probably about 3 years at this point.  She wrote to me about searching for who she is and what she finds important in life.  I wrote back and similarly talked about recent journeys, finding myself, gender-wise and otherwise.  I wrote about starting testosterone 6 months ago and what that means to me.  I then wrote that if she has questions, I’d be glad to answer them.  (Because I assumed she’d be accepting, but not fully understanding / not knowing how I identify / not knowing much about trans* identities.  She just now responded back, and re: my request for questions, she said,

“I don’t really have any questions about it that you didn’t already answer: that you feel more normal than ever. You feeling comfortable in your own skin is something I have wanted for you ever since we hit puberty. That change is difficult for everyone, but it seemed to wreak havoc on you, as I’m sure it does on everyone who doesn’t fit in the tiny little boxes our society has labeled “girl” and “boy.” It was surreal to watch you struggle with your identity when, to me, you were always YOU. And I did a truly shitty job of being your friend and supporting you at that time.  I’m really sorry.  Now, I just feel so happy to hear that you’re ridding your life of the things that no longer serve you and that you’re finding solutions to elements of your life that never seemed to fit quite right before.”

When I read this, tears started streaming down my face; it’s one of the most touching things someone’s ever written to me.  Largely because she’s saying that she KNEW, and at the time, I had no idea anyone could see how much pain I was in, and I guess I didn’t even see the pain, or, I just did my best to normalize it.  And also because even though I’m not sure how versed she is in trans* identities and gender politics, that actually has no bearing on her knowing what I’m saying.  She knows, because she knows who I am, and that feels so personally connecting, and intensely empowering.