A friend of mine living in Albuquerque posted about an art project s/he recently completed, and I messaged hir to find out more about it. What follows is an interview with the artist, Harley Kirschner, in which we touch on toxic masculinity, safety, artistic processes, and a whole lot more!
Kam: How did you get involved in it? Did you propose the idea?
Harley: I work at Winnings coffee shop again, after a few years in plumbing and pipefitting , unemployment, self employment and other jobs. We have artists do murals in our bathrooms and it was time for a new one.The need was expressed and I jumped on the opportunity. I got free reign over what I wanted to do and as a trans artist who is getting into what I like to think of as oversized zines, naturally I created a zine installation about using public restrooms as trans in a public restroom.
Kam: Is it related to your plumbing career, your art career, or both? Can you elaborate on that?
Harley: My plumbing career collapsed which I now see as a blessing. However, in that collapse, after living stealth 24/7 I really collapsed emotionally. Everything about my art and my loud trans non-binary self is because I failed at fitting the mold of what a plumber or pipefitter or man is supposed to be. Trying to be someone that I’m not almost killed me as I was terrified and disassociated all the time. I do share my experience with how bathrooms were such a huge part of that in this installation. However, although I would usually put my name on my story, due to the location being my place of employment and coming to embrace myself as non-binary and using mixed pronouns when I feel safe, I felt too vulnerable. I thought about censoring my story but felt the content was important so I chose to leave off my name.
I found empowerment in taking a bathroom and making it my own and a safe place for trans people after my experience in the plumbing industry which has rules (which are laws under the guise of safety… Most are.), about gendered bathrooms. That was one issue that I always had issues with myself. My experience in the plumbing and pipe fitting industries was heavy industrial for the most part so I did very little in bathrooms and actually very little with water. Mostly, I piped refrigerant and coal. I still use some of my skills in doing irrigation.
When my plumbing career fell apart and I started talking about it in zines and about how toxic masculinity makes me want to kill myself, I started getting recognized for my art and it was very clear to me that where my art had been lacking in the work that I had been showing wasn’t in the technical sense but rather in the voice. I knew that if I wanted to achieve what I wanted with my art, to make trans people feel beautiful, I had to use my own voice and make it loud. I had been very scared to do that. Partly because it was incredibly unsafe in my plumbing career and partly because I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself. When I had nothing to lose career wise and my sanity and breath depended on taking up queer and trans space I knew that taking the steps to enhance my literary voice would give my fine art real value.
Kam: What are your goals with the project? What would you like people to get out of it?
Harley: To make Winning Coffee Company the most queer and trans friendly coffee shop in Albuquerque. To take back bathrooms after they made me feel so unsafe. To embrace the diversity within my community by feeling the love and support of not only trans people but of all the people who love my work. I feel that it is very new to me to feel the amount of love and support around being trans from cis people that I do and I would like to offer that same safe feeling in a public place in Albuquerque for all trans people. I am very lucky to have such great supportive coworkers that helped make this happen, including making the bathrooms gender neutral (a few years ago) and helped me paint the walls.
Kam: Do you see ways to expand on this? Other places or other ideas?
Harley: I would like it to be an ongoing conversation. As the installation deteriorates and get tagged (unfortunately a given with the Winning’s bathroom-nothing offensive just disrespectful in general) I would like to replace the paper with different stories. People are encouraged to contribute any stories they have about using the bathroom as a trans person. I have thought about doing this bathroom in other spaces but am too busy artistically to take on another project right now.
Kam: What did your artistic process look like for this?
Harley: I used matte black paint on all the walls but chose to keep the ceiling white and paint the door white so it didn’t create a feeling of being trapped. There was a metal frame that used to have an advertisement poster in it. The advertising company closed but the frame was still there. It reminds me a lot of the welding that I was working with at the job that I reference in my story so I chose to keep it and decoupage the plexiglass that it holds. It works very well with the symbolist element of my work. I wallpapered large photocopies of stories and photocopied collages of images related to being trans and using bathrooms. I incorporated images from my time in the union, including an image of my shadow where I look like I’m holding a gun and I’m going to shoot, an image of a sign that says “ouch”, and images from one of my textbooks. My favorite part is the dictionary words “restricted” followed by “restroom”, nothing could have been more appropriate. In my photocopied collages I incorporate transfers to overlay images. There is a grainy quality in oversized prints that I find particularly appealing.
Kam: Anything else you wanted to add that I didn’t ask about?
Harley: Thank you very much for asking me to talk about my work on your blog. Your writing has always inspired me and I hope that my voice will be as touching to others as yours has been to me.
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.
I have not come up against very much resistance or ugliness as I’ve come out, in stages, in different ways, over the span of like 18 years. I’ve been called rude things out car windows. I’ve had uncomfortable and disconcerting medical appointments. I’ve faced silence-as-acceptance(?) from certain family members. I’m still dealing with people not grasping the right pronoun, or referring to my spouse as my “friend.” But these things have been few and far between, and although they do add up, they don’t feel terribly crushing. Most of the hardest feelings have come from within, and not outside forces.
Two weeks ago though, something came up that was deliberate, that would affect me long term, and that I can’t just let go. It’s my name plate at work.
I’ve worked at this school for over 10 years, and I’ve struggled to find my place within the rest of the staff. As a default, I’ve been distant and out-of-the-loop for the most part. It took me 6 years to get a name on the custodial door at all, and that only happened when a new person started and he got his name on the door. Then it was suddenly, hey, wait a minute! I had been fine without one, or so I told myself, because I’d rather not have one at all than be a “Miss” or a “Ms.” or later a “Mrs.” or even a “Mr.” All of those feel cringe-worthy and totally wrong for me. So when I was actually asked, and I said, “KT [last name]” and that was accepted, I was thrilled. That was the name I went by. It felt right. At the time.
And then it didn’t. I came out at work last December. Holy what, that was a year ago! Part of this included talking to the principal about my name and pronoun change. I also made it clear that I was not transitioning to male, exactly, and I’d like it to be known I identify as in the middle or as a little bit of both genders. She replied that that distinction was not necessary, and that was more of a private thing. PS- It isn’t. It’s my identity. Instead of deciding I needed to clarify in that moment though, I attempted to grasp onto other compromises and specifics. So that, when she asked me about my name on the custodial door, it was immediately a no-brainer. “Mx. [last name].” It’s another option, I said. It is in use. It’s a thing, I tried to assure her. I said, “If this is representing my name, then I don’t feel compelled to spell out [in a coming out email she was going to be sending on my behalf] how I am neither gender. The title will speak for itself, and people can ask me if they want.” The principal nodded. It felt very much like we had agreed on this. She had told me that it could say whatever I wanted although she would like there to be some uniformity with everyone else’s. Mx. seemed perfect. I assumed there was follow-through on this.
As the months went by and I still didn’t have a name on the door (my supervisor had ripped off my old one), I wondered what was a reasonable amount of time to wait before asking what’s going on? But then I was out of work in May for mental health reasons. And then it was summer, and stuff like that doesn’t get done over the summer. I again had a new co-worker. I decided I would just ride in on his coat-tails. It would be easier, and that was the route I preferred to take at that time. And sure enough, within the first couple of weeks of school starting back up in September, he got his name on the custodial door. And I still didn’t. It was Mr. [last name]. I went to the administrative assistant that day and asked about my name. She apologized for not adding mine to the order, and she said she’d order it right then and there. I gave her a piece of paper where I had written it out, so there’d be no confusion: Mx. [last name].
It took 2 months, but it finally came in 2 weeks ago, but it was all wrong. I checked the custodial mail slot like I do most days, and I was appalled to see two new name plates: one for me and one for my co-worker – both of them were our first and last names. No titles at all. My ears turned red, my pulse quickened. I paced around a little, trying to move forward with my work while processing this. The principal was still in her office, adjacent to the hall where these mail slots are. I started to gear up to approach her, but then I hesitated, thinking I should wait until I’m more levelheaded. I didn’t get a chance to decide because right in that moment, she left.
My first, more general thought was that this is disrespectful in a classist sense. Why should ours be the only names that don’t have a title with them. Other thoughts spiraled out from there, most prominently, “I don’t want to have to deal with this!”
When the name got put on the door, I told my co-worker that’s not what I wanted. (He failed to change out his name plate, so mine was the only one with a first name). I then told the administrative assistant, and she said this was the principal’s decision. Which I already figured; I just didn’t want to talk to her! For 5 days in a row, I gathered myself to go talk to her, only to be met with her on her way out the door right in that moment. So finally when passing her in the hall on the 6th day, I asked, “Can I talk to you before you leave today?”
That worked! I talked to her and it was no big deal on her end. I wrote out what I wanted, for a third time, and she said it’d be ordered the following day. Which was yesterday. We’ll see how long it takes this time around; at this point it’s been over a year!
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.
This actually happened a few months ago – she was fired from a nearby college on May 24th. It’s only now hitting larger news outlets because there are now three state-level civil rights complaints, trying to get her re-instated. I read about it in the newspaper while at work, yesterday.
She was treating transgender students who came to her with a previous diagnosis. She was definitely qualified to do so, having gone through many hours of training in trans-health care, attending a conference sponsored by WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health), etc. She was doing this at the college’s expense, which just makes it seem like it was condoned by the college, right?!!
WPATH’s stance is, “With appropriate training, …hormone therapy can be managed by a variety of providers, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and primary care physicians.” Apparently, this was outside the scope of what the Student Health Center did, but this was never communicated to her. The termination came from out of the blue.
Hormones are prescribed for other reasons at the health center, with no problem. Birth control, ovarian disease, and low testosterone are all treated regularly.
Interestingly, the information on the Student Health Center’s website changed two months after her firing: While it had said, “comprehensive primary care,” and “continuity of care,” it now says, “basic primary care” and has no mention of continuous care. At least they’re being accurate about the downgrade???
This just angers me to no end because this doctor took it upon herself to step it up and become well versed in an area that, for whatever reason, makes so many medical professionals so squeamish and stand-offish. And if this was something she did of her own volition, and it was well within the standards of care, then back it up! What was the university afraid of? There are standards in this field, despite the fact that the medical professions are grotesquely behind the curve with this, in general. A bunch of transgender students were left in the lurch.
The college’s associate vice president of student wellness was quoted as saying, “We are fortunate to be situated in [city], where there is a strong medical community rich with resources.” As if to say that students can just go elsewhere. I’ve tried “elsewhere” around here, as an adult, and it was a super-frustrating process. If I think back to who I was at age 18 or 19, disrupted care at the on-campus center in this regard would have definitely sent me into a tailspin and/or mental health crisis. I would have felt like I didn’t have the means or psychic energy to find out another path. I would have felt deeply cut, in a personal way, by my institution’s sudden change in policy.
It just seemed like this college was at the forefront – it could have laid the groundwork for other area places of higher education to follow. And then it just took a huge leap back into the wrong direction. One step forward, two steps back sometimes I guess, right?
I had a bunch of problems with getting continuous care. I was first getting hormones from a sketchy-ass doctor. I finally felt so disgusted with his practice that I sought out another path. I went to one specifically because she was listed as being LGBT friendly and knowledgeable. That ended up being wrong basically – she told me she didn’t know how she had gotten on that resource list. I had to have a pretty heated conversation with her – her stance first was that I could come to her for primary care, but I should continue to get my hormone prescriptions through that other doctor. I told her I wasn’t going to do that. She told me this was beyond her scope and if she had a male patient with low-testosterone, she would not even monitor him for that reason.
We finally landed on a compromise. She would continue to prescribe what I was already at, and she would monitor that. If I wanted to make any changes though, I would have to do that through other means.
When I did want to make other changes, I first got on a long waiting list for an LGBT-specific clinic. I kept hearing negative stories about the quality of care there, so I decided to also try another approach: an endocrinologist. I had to get on a long waiting list for that, as well. I’ve been going there since January, and so far, I’m happy because I don’t have to deal with the PCP anymore. Getting an endo was not like adding yet another medical professional and another series of appointments. It was more like, instead. Unless I get like, a rash or something, then I’d go back to my PCP.
All of this was hard enough, and I am an adult who has worked really hard at advocating for myself. Thinking back to who I was as a student I would have withered under this kind of stress. Students need to be able to access trans-specific care on their campuses. Period.
A note about the lack of specifics in this post: I left out the doctor’s name and the name of the college, city, etc. because that’s been the way I’ve always operated with this blog, in order to keep some anonymity. I’m not sure anymore whether it’s all necessary, but I’m not about to try to figure that out here-and-now. If you’d like specifics and the names of the sources I got a lot of this information from, just leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you!
At the school I work at, there are two main sections to be cleaned – upstairs and downstairs. For the vast majority of my time there, I’ve always cleaned the downstairs. The water fountain was better. It was cooler in hot weather. There were more people to interact with. The rooms were cleaner (for the most part). I was closer to things that I needed to access: receiving room with supplies, dumpsters, the custodial office.
About 2 years ago, I cleaned the upstairs for roughly 6 months. It was not my choice – things were rough in a lot of different ways, and this was just one more thing. One more really big thing though, in my head. I was in and out of work a few times, due to a serious depression. When I was up there, it felt as if I could barely do the tasks, and the fact that they were recurring forever and ever was intolerable. I was rushing myself, always feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do everything. I was at a loss as to what to do about all the recycling, which for me is a “must do.” I just felt like I did not belong up there. I was trying to pop in and out of areas before kids were out of school, and then backtracking, which felt totally inefficient but seemed to be the only way to keep busy. Just being felt painful. And the fact that the being was on the second floor made the pain feel compounded so tightly within itself that I was struggling beyond belief.
By about mid-October of 2015, I was told I was switching back to the first floor. Apparently my co-worker wasn’t doing a great job, there were complaints, it was more important to be clean on the first floor than the second floor. ?? Anyway, at that time, I was sooooooo relieved. It was a visceral feeling. All the negativity was left up on the second floor, and although I was still struggling, I fit right back into the first floor. A few months later, I got on a medication that really started working for me, and the next two years went really well for the most part.
Sometimes a little too well: As I’ve mentioned before, I went through a manic episode in May, and I was out for two months, recovering from that. In a good way though – so far so good on the avoidance of a rebound depression. However, I lost my status at work. When I got back, it was clear that the new guy was now the new second-in-command.
In the past, this would have felt devastating, and I would have clung onto whatever control I did have, to the detriment of myself, only, really. I know because I’d already put myself through all that, big time. This time around, I decided to take it all in stride, as best I could. Instead of arguing about how I couldn’t do the second floor or anything like that, I spent time “staking it out,” I guess you could say? Just, spending time up there visualizing this or that and getting accustomed to the idea, before kids came back.
Now that school is back in session, I am IN IT. And it’s not actually bad. So far it has felt preferable, in fact. I’ve made some changes to my routine that really feel like they’re making a difference. Instead of bringing my cart plus mop bucket plus garbage barrel to each and every classroom, I am “sweeping through,” first with the garbage and rags to wipe everything down, then with the vacuum for all the area rugs, and then with the dust mop. I am taking WAY more steps going through multiple times instead of going room-by-room, but it’s feeling good. Feeling faster, even.
And the weather has not been too hot. And there’s a new drinking fountain up there as of a couple months ago – the kind where you can easily fill up a water bottle from, and it says how many plastic bottles you are saving by doing so. I love it! And I like the fact that the teachers clear out early up there, for the most part. And the rooms have been clean thus-far.
Best of all, I have my own “room” to store stuff, up there. That’s new. So while things are kinda turbulent with co-worker dynamics, I am so glad to have all my stuff and activities separate from theirs, more-so than ever before.
All the negative associations I’ve held about the second floor have pretty much melted away. A lot of that has to do with mental health and coming out at work. I don’t feel like I’m trying so hard to get in and out of places. I actually feel like I belong. When I talk with people, I like my voice. When I walk and do all this physical work, more muscle mass is making it feel much more effortless.
The only thing I’m dreading now is “gym use.” Coming soon will be screaming children using the gym for their cheer-leading practice, from 6-8:30pm. And once that’s over, it’ll be basketball all winter-long. We’ll see how well I can adjust…
I have a mild case of trichotillomania. It’s come and gone during different times in my life, and it’s always been specific to the hair on my face, not on my scalp.
Trichotillomania, to paraphrase wikipedia, is an impulse control disorder, also known as “hair pulling.” It’s generally triggered by anxiety and stress, and is usually treated with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy.)
In the past, I have honed in on eyebrow and eyelash plucking, using my thumbnail and pointer finger-nail as tweezers. It hasn’t been bad over-all, like I still have eyebrows and eyelashes, it’s just that my left eyebrow is a little bit sparse. It’s barely noticeable.
I also would get chin hairs, from time to time, starting in adolescence, and I would pluck those too, with my fingers or tweezers. This was, apparently, “pro-social” behavior, because I was socialized as a female, and therefore, it’s necessary to eradicate any hint of a mustache or “chin whiskers.” ??? I mean, there’s a whole industry just devoted to that – bleaching the “mustache,” laser-hair removal, waxing, etc. Blah!
Still though, I keep pulling those hairs out not as a gendered statement, but rather because I liked the sensation of getting at them from the follicle, that very specific and very minutely visceral feeling of a “pull” away from something rooted underneath some of the layers of the skin. It’s much more satisfying to get them with my fingernails, but I also use tweezers, so I can get ’em all! The reason I’d say it’s within the realm of “trichotillomania” is because I will do this out in public and I can’t seem to get myself to stop. It’s not just in front of my bathroom mirror. It’s during break at work, with people sitting in the same vicinity. It’s during a meeting, because I am bored. It’s during a movie with a stranger sitting two seats away. Etc. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like a big deal. It’s a rough life to be constantly conforming to societal standards, at least in my opinion…
Facial hair, for me, is a hard limit. I do not want a beard. If I have a shadowy mustache, that’s fine by me, but that mustache never stays for very long before I start plucking out each hair individually. It’ll always happen eventually.
Now that I’m on a regular-ish dose of testosterone, I am getting more facial hair. And I just will not give in and shave. First off, I don’t feel like it! I prefer my methods, even if it ends up taking 10 minutes per day – more or less – to “groom” my face. Secondly, I do think that I believe that old wives’ tale, on some level, about the more you shave, the thicker and darker the hairs will fill in. I do not want to do anything that could potentially promote more facial hair growth.
I do realize this is a little bit counter-intuitive (is that the phrase I’m looking for?) Like, most people who are taking testosterone are embracing the full effect, whatever that means for them. But as someone who is non-binary, it’s a little trickier. Like, I like this effect, but this other thing screams “masculine” a little too loudly, and I’m not really feelin’ it. Something to that effect.
If my facial hair growth ever did start to feel unruly / out of my control, and / or the “grooming” ritual were creeping up toward closer to a half hour per day, something like that, I would not rule out laser hair removal At this time, it just seems a little too extreme, expensive, and unnecessary. But, hey, with this kind of journey, sometimes you never know what is coming up next!
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.
I have been under a lot of stress lately. Between taking on an acting supervisory role at work for 3-4 months and being hospitalized, I can’t remember the last time I was so stressed out. Probably throughout college, over 10 years ago. And although it sucks, there are some interesting things I’m learning about myself at the same time. Namely, that stress is interacting with the added testosterone in some typical (but surprising-to-me) ways.
I’ve been on testosterone for close to 2 years now. And in that entire time, I did not experience a lot of the negatives you hear about – oilier skin, heightened agitation / quicker temper. Right now, I’m experiencing that. Plus some added hormonal weirdness: I feel hot and then cold and then hot and then cold. I am stress-sweating a lot. I STINK! My skin feels prickly, then I feel light as a feather, then I feel like I’m weighted down, back and forth. I’m getting more hairs on my chin and around my nipples. I am pacing and dancing and taking magnesium and doing a lot of other things to try to counteract these stress symptoms and just calm down. I feel calm right now, as I’m writing this.
Not too long ago, I was planning on increasing my testosterone because I’d like to appear even more androgynous. Now I’m thinking that won’t be anytime soon. There will be a time – it’s just not right now. I’m even considering stopping Androgel for a while, but that’s not something I’d do lightly. For right now, I’m hanging in there, because in my own mind, I’d like to be on it… We’ll see. I’ll probably talk to my therapist about it, first and foremost. She has witnessed a lot of my agitation lately.
Normally when I’m stressed out, I might tend to clench my teeth. I will have trouble sleeping. I will have obsessive ruminations in an extreme sense. Those thoughts can get pretty dark and even turn to uncontrollable visions of violence. I would probably get a cold, due to my immune system being compromised.
Right now? I haven’t been sick all fall/winter. I previously was having a lot of trouble sleeping, but due to my new medication, now I am not. I am clenching my teeth a lot. And my obsessive gauge is going at full throttle for large chunks of time. I’m taking super good care of myself – eating well, showering daily, applying deodorant often and chewing gum, to mask bad bodily smells.
I am really off my game, but I’m hanging in there…
These symptoms due to testosterone (educated guess) are really throwing me for a loop.
Around this time (middle of the night), fifteen years ago, I started a game changing series of events by getting my mom to bring me to the hospital, from which I was admitted (voluntarily) to an adolescent psychiatric unit. Once I was actually there, I didn’t want to be there anymore, but a lot of things were changing, and I ended up having to stay for 19 days. I left with a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder and prescriptions for Depakote (mood stabilizer), Risperdol (antipsychotic), and Wellbutrin (antidepressant). The medications changed a lot over the years… I’m happy to report I’ve been med-free for about 9 years at this point.
Last year, 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
This year, I finally brought this massive document in to therapy with me, despite the fact that I was pretty unsure, er maybe more like totally ambivalent, about what I wanted to get out of talking about it (yet again) exactly.
My therapist started reading through the pages out loud, and simultaneously made comments and processed it in her own way. At first this felt tedious (the thing is 210 pages long!) But I also felt intrigued. It was much more helpful for her to tell me about the content than for me to try to go through it myself (which I hadn’t done since first receiving it, last year). I also started to feel yucky and shut-downy. I finally verbalized, “Let’s take a break.” I was worried this therapy session was really going to have a negative lasting impact on me, but, in fact, I felt fine afterward. Maybe I’m more resilient these days than I think.
I used to always think that if I do this one thing, or if I find out these missing pieces, or if I reflect back in a different way, the pain of that experience will be lifted. If I just keep grinding into it and picking away at it, I’ll one day be free. Now I know that this can’t really happen. And I can accept that it was a shitty thing that probably didn’t actually need to happen. It was traumatic. It was so long ago. I can look at it with a completely different perspective by now, but not because of anything I did – that perspective shift happened naturally, over time and with personal growth.
There is so much I could write about. But I actually really only want to write about one thing right now, as it relates to my hospital experience: while I was there, I wore this one particular hoodie constantly. And once I was released, I never wore it again. But there seems to be no way I can get rid of it. I brought the hoodie in to therapy, along with the document, and told her all about it. When the document felt too overwhelming to keep delving into, I told her she should just hold onto it and go through it on her own time. She asked if she could hold on to the hoodie too. I said, “yeah sure.”
The reason I loved the hoodie so much was because the LA Rams were not a team. (I just looked it up, and they were a team from 1946-1994). I worked at a thrift store and picked up this gem at some point. I liked the incongruousness of it. I do not like football.