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.
In November of my senior year of high school, I had an appointment to see a counselor – my mom had set it up for me. I’m not sure who she contacted or what route she took to find this person – I should ask her. I never ended up going to them though because, a week before the appointment, I went to a psychiatric hospital. I talked to people there. And when I got out, I started seeing a therapist who was affiliated with that hospital. I went to her for the rest of that school year, plus my freshman year of college. I remember talking to her on the phone from my dorm room, and seeing her whenever I came home on breaks.
She quickly and easily became my favorite adult. I always looked forward to seeing her. I didn’t talk much. I had no template for how to converse, basically. She chipped away at that naturally, gradually, over time. Sometimes we would role-play. I often came home from our sessions and wrote out, word-by-word, our conversations. It’s really neat to read back through those!
She was the first person to ask me about gender, and specifically, if I was comfortable with my female body. I had just seen Boys Don’t Cry (my mom was reluctant to let me see it, but I was persistent, and she took me), and I told my therapist all about it. She asked me about different aspects of my body, and I admitted that I don’t like this or that about it, I don’t shave my legs, etc. But I essentially told her I couldn’t see myself as a man.
I started to go to a youth group through the local gay alliance that spring, and it was super helpful to be able to talk about those experiences from the group, with her. Plus I had a crush on someone at school – in my memories, it feels like 90% of our sessions were taken up talking about that, specifically. She always made me feel like there was potential and hope there. In the end, she was right. Kinda. In some ways. But that’s a different story!
Last week, I uncovered a cassette tape that has her name on it, in my handwriting. I knew exactly what it was – I always knew this tape existed. I had just misplaced it for a long time. I’d been passively searching for it for years, actually.
I put it in my tape deck, which is right behind me where I’m sitting now, and pushed “play.” I thought I would have some visceral or nostalgic reaction to her voice, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. It was just her, reading from a script, going through a guided relaxation full of visualizations. It was kinda cheesy. Nothing that actually felt like a connection.
As I was planning my radio show this week, I incorporated about 2 minutes of this tape, layered with an instrumental track.
When I went to therapy on Wednesday, I brought all this up – finding the tape, planning on including it on my show, thinking about her again. My current therapist knew her – they were collegues. I told her I was thinking about trying to contact her, but I was at a loss because she got married (changed her name) when she moved to North Carolina.
I’ve half-heartedly tried to “google” her once or twice, a long time ago. For whatever reason, it felt super weird and I didn’t pursue it any further. But actually talking it out, at therapy (and I’m talking about the here-and-now, current therapist) made it not seem strange at all. People do these things. They reach out, try to find important others from their pasts, all the time.
I’m gonna do it! I’m pretty sure I tracked down her phone number online. Now I just gotta figure out what I’d say in a message. My voice sounds male now – I’m gonna have to explain that. I have a different name. Yet another coming out. What am I gonna say?!
Stay tuned for the conclusion, where I actually talk to her, if it all works out…
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.
I made a decision that I’d like to get on testosterone injections, temporarily. I’ve thought on-and-off about it for a while, and I think the idea solidified over the summer, like, once I’m back to normal after recovering from surgery, I’m going to look into it. Unfortunately I knew I couldn’t just get this from my Primary Care Physician – she had been OK with maintaining my androgel dosage, but not comfortable with changing / increasing anything.
On September 26, I called the local LGBTQ+ health clinic and explained what I’m looking for. They said they could get me in on January 25th. I said, OK set the appointment, but in my head, I was thinking, this is a ridiculous amount of time to wait. (And, I know, I know, relatively speaking, it’s not at all, especially looking at it from a global perspective. But, if I think I can do better than that, why not try?)
From there, I looked up endocrinologists in my area and what types of care they covered. I found one that hypothetically seemed like a good fit, and I posted about it on the local transmen Facebook page. I got one comment that yeah, she and her staff are good, and a few more comments agreeing with the inefficiency of the clinic. In terms of vetting, that seemed good enough.
I called her office on September 27th and was told I’ll need a referral from my Primary Care Physician, and then once that’s in, I should hear back within a week. I called my PCP’s office, and they said they’d send that over right away. I then waited 10 days before calling. I was told the referral didn’t get received, huh, not sure, can you have them send it again? Got that done, this time with a confirmation plus I got a copy, and waited another few days. I got a call from my PCP’s office, saying that the endo needs an additional referral, from a psychiatrist. GATEKEEPING at its finest. I would have been super pissed, and probably would have stopped trying to go this route, if it weren’t for the fact that I actually do have a psychiatrist right now. So although I hate that I had to do it, it wasn’t actually much of a hassle.
I emailed my psychiatrist (she was already aware that I was pursuing this), summarized the nature of the referral from my PCP, and asked her to also write a letter. I said that including pertinent information, like the fact that I’ve been on a low dose before, that I’ve had top surgery, and/or that I identify as non-binary would be great. She replied that she could write the dates she’s seen my, my diagnosis (meaning my mental health diagnosis), medications she prescribes, and mental stability status. “OK?”
I replied, “OK that’d be great, thanks.” Guess I didn’t want to argue or push it.
I then waited another 8 days (by this point, it was Oct. 25th, a whole month later and I still hadn’t secured an appt.) and called the endo’s office again. I was given a wishy-washy answer by the administrative assistant. That the endo is still in the process of finding more information, and she is currently booking out till January – they can get me in for January 10th. But at the same time, she can put me on a waiting list to get me in sooner. I asked, if I were to call and check my status, would that help me “jump the line”? (I didn’t actually use this phrase.) She implied that sure, that could help.
At this point, I took a step back and thought about what’s happening. So far, the endo got a referral from my PCP, and that didn’t include any history of care: just Female to Male transgender person (F64.1), chronic. In addition, they got information from a psychiatrist that I am bipolar, that I have been seeing her for 9 months, and that I’ve been stable during that time (relatively, this is such a short amount of time; it’s kind of implying that the rest of my “bipolar disorder” time is a wildcard.) I don’t want to get too paranoid, but this collection of information is not working for me at all. That plus the fact that it’s straight up inaccurate.
Feeling like the system is working against me, I decided to pull from my bag of tricks and email my therapist. If there’s anything that could help this stalemate, it’d be her. I relayed this whole series of events and asked her if she could also write a referral, actually filling in the background information. She replied in 10 MINUTES – such a refreshing change! and said crazy that this is so hard, and sure she’d write a letter, and is there anything else I’d want to make sure she includes?
So she’s writing a letter. My intent is, essentially, that this is not a new diagnosis, coming out of nowhere. That I’ve already been on T in the past, I’ve had top surgery, I’m in the process of legally changing my name, etc. So, this should be a continuation of ongoing care (timely, please!). I’m not starting from square one here. I imagine this endo has access of my medical records (?? not sure how that works), so if she looked into it, she’d find this stuff. I’m just having my therapist bring it to the forefront, which will hopefully change something?
Because, I feel like if it went the other way – my doctor sending the referral first on my behalf, instead of me going backwards to get this stuff covered, I would have been given an appointment within a more reasonable window. Not sure if that’d be true or not – there could be dozens of reasons outside of my control – maybe she’s just really busy. But, I gotta try…
I never before realized that these days are consecutive! Oh hey, these are the two most frequent topics of this blog!
In the past, I haven’t observed either through writing here, but I currently have a lot to say about both; this’ll probably end up being one of my more personal posts, at least as of lately.
First just real quick – a little bit of background / information about both:
World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10th) was first celebrated in 1992 at the initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. This year’s theme is “psychological first aid.” My first thought was that it refers to how to handle someone who is in a mental health crisis, but it actually refers to being a support to someone who just witnessed or experienced a terrible tragedy. There is a world of difference between the two, even though there’s also overlap; of course, learning about both types of situations is going to be important.
Nat’l Coming Out Day (Oct. 11th) was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary. Oct. 11th was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the 1987 Nat’l March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. It is observed in the spirit of the personal being political and the idea that homophobia cannot thrive once people know someone personally who is LGBT+.
(Information is coming from the World Health Organization website and wikipedia.)
Last night, I saw an amazing documentary called Strike A Pose, which just came out last year. It’s about the seven young male dancers from the NYC underground (the origins of voguing) who were personally selected by Madonna for her tour. They also ended up starring in a behind-the-scenes documentary at the time, called Truth or Dare. Madonna was very outspoken about AIDS, gay rights, safe sex, and of course, Expressing Yourself! [Spoiler Alert:] What was most interesting though, was that at the same time these young men were embodying those messages on her behalf, they were not all on board or comfortable with it. Three of the men had been diagnosed with HIV prior to the start of the tour, and they all were silent about it to the extreme, not even telling friends or loved ones. Also, one of the men sued Madonna after the tour, for forced outing, partially spurred by a coerced kiss with one of the other dancers in the Truth or Dare doc. He was not ready or willing to be that person, to be making that statement.
So, I guess what I’m saying with all that is that Nat’l Coming Out Day is great and celebratory and everything, but in order to actually be empowering, it has to be on each individuals’ own terms. Once I outed a friend (about something totally unrelated to being LGBT) as part of a joke, and then I felt really crummy about it. I just let time wash over that one, but it’s still a prominent memory.
So where am I at? I still have a fair share of coming out to do. I’m not doing any of it today. It does feel imminent though – I’d say within the next 6 months. 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! As of now, I have 5 different names going on in different places, and none of them are the full name I actually want to go by!
Here’s something I wrote that really captures this feeling (I wrote it almost exactly 2 years ago. Dang, that is a long time!): Fractured identity and fragmented feelings
Moving on to mental health:
My mental health has improved by leaps and bounds within the past 9 months, and I have not written about it. Actually, the most recent thing I did write was 9 months ago, here: A full year later / Making major changes. I was hopeful but tentative. I had had 23 good days in a row (an anomaly), due to starting yet another drug. I am still on that drug, and I am still having good day after good day after good day (other than not so great days due to a cold, a handful of really bad days during the stress of surgery).
Overall, I am more stable and happy than I ever have been before, BY FAR. And I feel certain that I can attribute that to a drug, something I never would have thought possible before (I’ve been on lots of drugs over a span of many years, and did not have a good experience with any of them. I had gone off medications completely for 10 years because I thought it was hopeless. I always downplayed the usefulness of psychotropic drugs. When I was younger, I thought I was the only one who had this reaction; now I know it’s fairly common to have to go through a trial and error period, searching for something that will actually be a good match.
During those 10 years I was not taking medications, I focused on other things to improve my well-being. Most of that was social in nature – focusing on not isolating, focusing on positive connections with people, focusing on emotional intimacy. It worked. To an extent. I started to think that getting back into therapy would probably help. That worked too. It felt miraculous for a while at first, actually. But as the years went by, kinda only to an extent. I found myself in a situation where I HAD to get back on medications, and I was not happy about that at all. In fact, I recall thinking a lot about when I’d be able to get off of them (maybe 6 months? I was thinking…)
In the end, it has worked out better than I ever could have imagined. I am neither pro-med nor anti-med. It’s way too personal, and different for each individual, to have a general feeling about it. But I can say that I used to be anti-med, and now I feel that, for some people, it can be that one game changer that makes all the difference.
Two states down, 48 to go!
I am starting to work toward getting in on this!
In June, I posted about Jamie Shupe, the first person in the US to successfully petition for the gender status of “non-binary.” Now as of September 26th, Sara Kelley Keenan is also legally non-binary. Here is a full article about it: Californian Becomes Second US Citizen Granted ‘Non-Binary’ Gender Status.
I want to be the third! (Or the fourth, or the fifth, or the sixth, etc. The number doesn’t matter to me at all; just that I get to do it, eventually.)
I’ve been stalling about changing my name legally, for a long time now. It’s been a year and a half since I socially changed it, everywhere except for work. Part of the reason for waiting is because I don’t know what I’m doing with my last name. And if there’s a chance I’m going to change it, I don’t want to go through this process twice!
And yeah, work is the other reason. I mean, I can legally change my name without coming out at work, but it would be great if the two goals aligned.
And now I’m wondering if I can change my name and also request the status of “non-binary” all at once. I’m in the process of finding this out. There is a social justice group called Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) that partners with lawyers and law firms for pro bono work on issues including the Name Change Project. Luckily, I fall within their geographical range, so I filled out their form, and should hear back within two weeks!
I also am fairly close to feeling good about moving forward with a new last name. I had one idea a long time ago but was unsure. Over time, I stopped thinking about it entirely, until just last week. I went to a therapy appointment for the first time in a few months, and that jump-started some thought processes that had been calcifying in the corners of my brain. Things got shaken up, and I’ve been feeling consistently euphoric ever since.
A little more about Sara Kelley Keenan: She is a 55 year-old retired paralegal who was born intersex. According to the article,
Her court petition was a quiet, unannounced test case for a group of California people who also seek to change their legal genders to non-binary rather than female or male. About five people—all working with the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project—plan to petition courts in the counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara and Sacramento over the next few weeks.
How awesome is that?! I’m picturing a floodgate opening and people just pouring through. First five more people. Next fifty!
… “I’m 55 years old, this doesn’t really change my life very much. But I want to leave the world a better place for younger intersex people. This represents a huge opportunity for acceptance and awareness for young non-binary and intersex and trans people—and for their parents.”
There are still more barriers, though, of course. The DMV. Getting a passport. Other documents. Things are changing though, slowly but surely. Just last week, Shupe’s attorney got an email from the Oregon DMV, stating,
“[the Oregon] DMV received the okay to move forth with forming an advisory committee and drafting administrative rules regarding the capturing of sex on the driver license. The rules will allow DMV to capture and print an identifier for sex other than M for male and F for female on the driver license, permit, and ID card.”
Hassles! But, things are moving…
Content Note: vanity.
When I first saw my chest, looking down while everything was being unwrapped, I was pretty happy. Everything looked good, except for the fact that the left side was larger than the right. I was assured it was due to swelling, and everything would even out.
Now that another week has passed though, I’m not feeling it. I am more and more skeptical that there is much, if any, swelling going on. My spouse agrees. Regardless, I’ve been taking arnica and bromelain… using ice packs a little bit.
Right now, there is not enough symmetry, in multiple regards. The areolas are different shapes, and they are too large (not “nickle sized,” like we discussed). The nipples are also too large, but it’s kinda hard to tell what’s going on there (they’re currently being smooshed flat, and will continue to be for another 2 weeks.) The biggest thing, though, is, I have different sizes going on, which contributes to the areolas/nipples being not in the same place, on each side. I don’t like that!
All these differences are fairly subtle, but definitely noticeable. I know it’s way too early to be coming to conclusions about how things look, but, so far, not so good.
I’ve been in a pretty negative space. I’ve felt so negative at times, in fact, that it was hard to feel motivated to do all the showering and “nipple care” stuff. This has gotten better over time. Everything could change a lot, as I heal; I do recognize that. It’s not all bad. Every time I have the sterile pads and binder off for a little while (to let things air out), and I put on a t-shirt (carefully!), I think, “This could work!” Excitement is there, somewhere. Sometimes I push down the good stuff, and remain guarded and reserved.
There is something here though: When picking a surgeon, I wasn’t going off of a whole lot. I mean, I pored through what was available on transbucket, for sure, and searched resources, youtube, and the like. But I didn’t really entertain all the possibilities very much, in my head. I had a gut feeling about one route, and kind of just stuck with that.
This isn’t the first time I’ve made huge, life-changing decisions in this manner. But I kind of hope it might be the last time. (I know it won’t be, haha.) There are better ways to go about narrowing down all the options!
There is one resource that I just learned about a couple of days ago, because a fellow blogger pointed the way. Gabriel wrote a post called Getting Started With Top Surgery. He mentioned “top surgery Facebook groups where people share their results and stories with their surgeon as well as the price quotes they’ve paid.” Oh yeah! Facebook. That had not even crossed my mind, unfortunately. So I just joined an FTM top surgery group, and wow, this is where all the good stuff is. Wish I had known about it 6 months ago.
Edit: My spouse suggested I stop looking at the FTM top surgery page for a while. That sounds like a good idea – I was starting to get obsessive about it. She said wordpress is good. Stop going on facebook. Haha. I agree.
I feel torn about whether I will post pictures or not, and if so, where. Before surgery, I was sure I would not post pictures on this blog, but I would post them on transbucket, when I feel ready. (They can be accessed if you create an account on transbucket). This still sounds like what I’m going to want to do. I do not plan on ever being shirtless in public. So, in regards to aesthetics, the most important thing is how everything looks while wearing a t-shirt. Other than people looking up pics as a resource, the only people who are going to see my chest are my spouse and me (and medical professionals, when necessary). So is it important what it looks like? Ultimately, yes. But for right now, as long as I can wear whatever I want, I will be happy enough…
During my most recent therapy appointment, right before surgery, I had said, “I’m worried my chest won’t look as good as it does now.” As opposed to saying, “I’m worried my chest won’t look as good as I envision.” That, to me, says a lot.
In other news, I had a great time in Philadelphia with my mom, after my follow-up. We went to a brewery and record store. We met up with friends at the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference and went to two workshops. Wish we could have stayed longer!
Also, my spouse and I went to a wedding this past weekend, and it was a lot of fun! Their ceremony reflected who they are, a lot, and everything was casual and laid back. After the ceremony, I was asked to sign the marriage certificate, as one of the witnesses. This was a total surprise! I felt honored. I asked the officiant if it had to be my legal name, and she said it didn’t matter. Awesome!
About 10 days ago, my breast tissue started to feel inflamed and tender. It wasn’t in line with my menstrual cycle, and it hurt way more than that would, anyway. As it got worse and not better, I wondered if it was some strange manifestation of a psychological reaction to my upcoming surgery. I wasn’t feeling stressed or anxious about it, but was this psychosomatic? Then a patch of skin below my left armpit started to really burn and sting, as well as the skin around my shoulder blade.
Then 3 days ago, I broke out into a rash in those areas… and my boooobs still hurt a lot. I was able to get in to see my doctor yesterday, and… it’s shingles. She said that would also be causing the breast tenderness, because of where it is. Shingles flare up along a line of nerves starting at your spinal cord, and wrapping around to the front of your body – so that you only get it on one side, within a range of area. It’s like chicken pox, redux. Everyone I’ve mentioned this to says, “You’re too young to get shingles!” All I know about it really is that Carrie Brownstein got shingles while on tour (from reading her memoir, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl,) so I guess I’m in good company.
I got 2 prescriptions to help with the pain and the duration. We’ll see – it should start clearing up within a week… I’ll be going back in 2 weeks for my doctor to take a look. If this had happened close enough to my surgery, it would have had to have been postponed. That would have made me really upset! According to this timeline, I should be OK. It’s just so mind bogglingly coincidental that this suuuper painful inflamation occurred right in the area I’ll be having surgery. I’ll let you know which ends up being more painful – this or surgery!
Other than that, I feel relatively prepared. I just had my pre-op appointment via phone call a week ago, and that has put things into motion for getting everything ready. I got a huge packet in the mail of things to sign (informed consent), directions for when to do what, etc. I made a checklist to make it easier.
Pay surgeon – I still have to do this. I exhausted all info about my insurance plan, and there is no way insurance would pay for any of it. I expected as much all along, so, no big blow there…
Get parking permit – In process. My spouse and I will be in Ardmore, PA for close to 48 hours, and we need a temporary parking permit to park in the municipal lots.
Get therapist letter – In process. My therapist just sent me her draft last night, and it looked good to me, so she should be faxing it at some point today.
Get prescriptions filled – Done. This could be done well in advance, so your meds are ready for you when you need them. I needed to get a pain med and an antibiotic.
Get lab work – Done. I did it yesterday morning.
Go through a pre-op appt. with primary care physician – Done. I did it yesterday morning. I killed 2 birds with one stone – this plus shingles diagnosis all in one. She will be filling out a form to clear me, despite the shingles, and faxing it in.
Send in consent forms and everything else that needs a signature by me – I gotta get this together. I think I need to re-print certain pages and figure out what I still need to read through.
Take photos of chest – I did this for the surgeon already, but I might want to re-do it. Not while I have these shingles though!
I feel ready for surgery, mentally. Emotionally, I’m wondering if something is going on (shingles are brought on by stress, which I’m not actually feeling). I set up an appointment to see my therapist (who I haven’t been seeing lately), just to cover all my bases. It can’t hurt!
Around this time, 16 years ago, I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit, but then I got stuck there for 19 days without knowing what was going on. The lack of communication was horrendous. I suffered a psychotic break and left with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I accepted this for years, and I internalized that I have a mental illness in some pretty detrimental ways. This has always stayed with me, always felt like something I needed to work through and get past.
Two years ago, I wrote about how I came to finally acquire my medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma
Last year, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it. I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.
That specific trauma is still there
This year, although I’m acknowledging the anniversary, it feels like just the slightest emotional blip on my radar. I talked about it in therapy yesterday. I finally got my hospital records back from my therapist (she had been holding onto them for me for a whole year!) I looked through them again last night – there was always one page I skipped over. It was handwritten by me, explaining what had been going on in my social life that led me to feel like I needed to be hospitalized. I read it and felt OK about it.
Although this seems counter-intuitive, I think it helps that I was hospitalized in January. Where everything went wrong the first time around, everything went right(?) (maybe not right, but it went smoothly) this time around. I can overlay this experience on top of my shitty traumatic experience, and things make more sense.
I resisted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a long time, I’d been off all meds for 9 years; I felt relatively stable. When it was re-affirmed that I have bipolar disorder by the psychiatrist I was assigned, (“Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.”) I bristled at that. Actually, I bristled at him in general every step of the way. Appointments with him lasted a mere 2 minutes. He was inflexible and adamant I stay on meds forever. He forgot pertinent information about me. (At one point he told me I needed to stay on meds because I had been hearing voices.) After 6 months, I just stopped making appointments with him. With all his intensity toward me staying on meds, it was surprising how easily he let me just get away. Maybe he didn’t even notice I left.
My therapist helped me find a new psychiatrist; she’s awesome! She’s willing to follow my lead on what I want to do about drugs, and she’s willing to dialogue with me instead of ordering me what to do. I still don’t know what to do about drugs, but at least I have the space to feel supported with whatever I do choose to do. For now, I’m staying on them, but I can’t pinpoint why.
I respect this new psychiatrist. When she (also) told me I fit the criteria for bipolar type I, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could accept that. I don’t need to incorporate that in any particular way into my identity; it doesn’t need to mean I view myself differently. Personally, it’s not a core part of who I am. It just is an aspect of me that can just be, and I can leave it at that.
And I can finally integrate the difficult journey toward mental health as parts of myself, rather than things that happened to me.
Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day. I didn’t know this till today, but looking back on yesterday, unknowingly, I was thinking a lot about the idea of suicide – something I don’t think a lot about. It’s been an annual day on September 10, since 2003; this year’s theme is Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives.
I’ve been thinking about this book that Kate Bornstein wrote called, Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws. I haven’t read this book in its entirety, but the gist is that there are so many things you can do other than suicide – some of them might be extreme, some might be unhealthy, some might be even self-destructive. But if it gets you through the moment, and you’re still here, that is good enough for the the time being. I think that’s a great message. Sometimes when someone is in so much psychological pain, nothing sounds appealing. But if you just try something different, something way out there, it might be enough to even just temporarily jump-start you out of the mode you’re in.
When I was in high school, one day I heard an after-school announcement for a “yellow ribbon club.” I really wasn’t doing well, and I decided to see what it was about. It was run by school psychologists, and there were maybe 5 students who showed up. We went around the room stating why we came. I basically said I came because I was worried I might attempt suicide; I came to get help. The other students had come for other reasons – either they had been affected by the suicide of someone they knew, or they just wanted to help. After I said why I was here, one of the psychologists reiterated what I had said. I remember feeling embarrassed and selfish. I didn’t go back to any more meetings. No one ever followed up with me. I did not end up attempting suicide, but things did get worse, and I ended up in the hospital not that much later on. I partially blame the psychologists for never checking back in with me.
This is a hard post to write because suicide is such a loaded subject. I’ve never attempted suicide or had an actual plan or had serious suicidal ideations. But there’s another way to feel suicidal – just kind of vaguely feeling like you cannot go on. Like you cannot keep living your life. Like you want to just stop existing, or just sleep forever. I’ve definitely felt that. With all the rough mental health – related stuff I’ve been through lately, I’ve felt that even recently. It’s a dull, nebulous, insidious, recurring, empty heavy veil, a lens to see the world through – a hindrance for sure, because there’s not much to be able to see, through all those layers. I don’t really know how to address it, other than to hope it will pass.
I think that what I’m learning is that rather than fighting those types of thoughts and feelings or trying to distract or re-route, it is possible to just give them less emphasis, to live with them, and to just focus on doing what you want to do, despite them. Just let them cycle through your brain, acknowledge them, but don’t give them any more power than what they are – just thoughts and feelings that come and go…
Kinda easier said than done, but I am trying to adopt this practice…