For various reasons I have not really lived for many years. Whenever I start to pursue a life that might lead to happiness, I retreat to the safety of my cocoon. This “safety” has almost killed me several times in the last two years. I am now taking an honest look at moving towards a healthier life. My doctor told me this morning that contentment is a good goal to work towards. No one is happy 100% of the time?!? Whether it is happiness or contentment that I am seeking, at this point in time I can’t see that it matters for me personally. Just thinking about a future that is longer than a couple of weeks is a big step.
It hasn’t been easy to flush out what that future may look like. It is even harder to get myself moving along the right path. Hopefully when (if) I start building some momentum it will get easier. Right now all I know is that future involves working with transgender people or mental health or both in some capacity. I am fortunate enough to have some knowledgeable and supportive health workers willing to spend time with me to get me started. Stay tuned, I can’t promise regular posts, but I will check in and let you know how it’s going.
I reached a milestone in my transition last week that I didn’t expect. The last 7 or 8 months have been focused almost entirely on my health and survival. Of course I think about my transition, but I am at a point now where it isn’t a focus. I am female and that’s it. The only time being trans has been an issue is in the health system, where some people seem to be less educated about it.
The medication I am on now has fewer side effects, which is great, but it does make me sleepy and I have very vivid dreams. Last week in one of those dreams I was staying in a beautiful old building. It was huge, with three stories, marble floors, stained glass and old oak railings and steps. This building was the housing for the Canadian Olympic team and I was somehow on the team. The coolest part of all this was that I was a female athlete!
This was the first time I remember being female in my dreams. After pretending to be male for 40 some years, I think my brain must have been conditioned to dream of myself the way I lived my everyday life. Now my dreams are starting to match the reality of who I am.
Needless to say, I woke up happy and thouroghly confused about how I managed to get into the Olympics. With so many negative things happening in my life lately, this was a nice and unexpected boost.
It has been one year since I came to terms with the fact that my gender assigned at birth does not match my internal gender. It has been a busy year. I do not think my year ago self would recognize much of my present self. There have been internal and external changes for me.
I cannot describe how happy it makes me when I get dressed and do not feel like I am presenting a lie to the world. I am so much more comfortable facing the world as my true self, whether other people agree or disagree.
I have of course been trying to write on this blog. It has been hit or miss at times over the year. I have wanted to write for many years and this is giving me the opportunity to not only write, but to get my story out to people who may find it useful. Just in the past few weeks I have submitted two posts to an online magazine and both were accepted for publication! I was also asked for a quote for someone else’s article about transphobia and mental health. It is truly an honor that people are listening.
Speaking of mental health, as most of you probably know, I came very close to not making it through this past year. I have been plagued with depression for years and it almost took my life. I was also diagnosed with anxiety and borderline personality disorder. So now I have names for what I have been feeling for years and hopefully a better path to treatment.
My health effected my job also. I found out just how quickly my contributions can be devalued by people who seemed to care. It is a good lesson and I am starting to move on from that. Being trans and looking for a new job can be a bit intimidating, but it is looking like some exciting possibilities may be opening up for me.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading and sharing in my year. My illnesses often convince me I am alone and no one cares, but it is always a comfort to come to WordPress and see that people are out there reading, liking and commenting. I am grateful for the time you spend on my blog and I hope this next year I can improve my writing and keep sharing.
This is mental health week and I have seen many posts on social media urging people to speak up to help end the stigma around mental illness. I am now an official member of two stigmatized groups. Not only do I have a diagnosis of one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses, BPD, I am also a transgender woman.
I will not pretend I do not understand the stigma. I will not agree with it or condone it, though.
One year ago I would not have publicly identified as either mentally ill or trans. I had just accepted for myself that I was trans, I was not ready to let anyone else know. I accepted and even admired trans people I knew, but now this was me and that was different. I thought it was a horrible thing for me and I would never be accepted.
I realize now that although I could sincerely accept others, there was still judgement and stigma buried within me. It was something that was ok for others but not me. I would never be “like that.” I was good at fooling myself because that had been me for years though.
My mental health diagnosis were the same way. They are much newer and I am still having trouble accepting them some days.
I do not define myself by my gender or my illnesses. They are part of me, neither was a choice that I woke up one day and decided to try on. Neither tells my whole story though.
Yes, I understand stigma. Want to or not, I looked at people just like me as different. Different is not bad though. We are all different. A mental illness does not tell a persons whole story, whoever they are. Gender does not tell a persons whole story either. Get to know the person, not the labels. You may be surprised what you can learn. If I would have done a better job of that I may have accepted myself years earlier.
Going to the ER for suicidal ideation was a new experience for me that was full of surprises. One of the most disheartining surprises was how difficult it was for doctors to see past my transition. On my first visit that was all they could focus on. I felt like they believed it was impossible for anything else to cause my distress and they did not believe me when I said transition was the only positive in my life. Doctors seem to be fixated on my gender and it has really had me worried. Not only do I feel I do not get the proper treatment at times because of it, I have also been really concerned about the effect it will have on my transition. Maybe they will try to stop me from transitioning or suggest I go back to who I was pretending to be before.
On Tuesday when I went to see my GP those were the concerns in my mind. I did not want to bring them up with her. No matter how supportive she has been, I was not going to open that can of worms. Eventually she brought up my most recent lab tests. She went over the levels with me and asked if I wanted to increase the hormone dosage I am on. What a huge relief! Not only does she see my transition as positive, too, my new diagnosis are having absolutely no bearing on how she is treating me. Needless to say, I left with a new prescription and a much lighter mood.
I started another post this morning about a similar topic but from a more positive perspective. I will finish writing that one and post it soon, but I really needed to write about my experience earlier today and my thoughts on navigating the mental health system as a transgender woman.
I just met with my case manager and psychiatrist. They are both very nice people with the best intentions. I left the meeting feeling discouraged and down though. It has taken the rest of the afternoon for me to sort out what was bothering me about it and put it into a somewhat comprehensible post. I wish I could have come up with the words during the meeting. I did not want it to come across as anger though and I think I often do come across that way when my emotions get the better of me. I guess I can thank BPD and anxiety for that.
In this meeting I told both of them that I thought I needed more support in the form of mental health groups or a community peer support worker, which I was told I would have access to even before I left hospital. They told me that there are no transgender support workers available. Now I wish I would have told them that while maybe that would have been idea, any support would be better than what I have now. As for groups, again their focus was on groups for the LGBT community. The honest truth is that I have that covered myself and probably know more about that than they do. My needs from them are mental health supports.
I have seen the statistics that I am sure they are familiar with about the increased risk for suicide among transgender individuals. What I do not see in those statistics are the reasons for suicide. Sure, I tried my best to kill myself and I happen to be a transgender woman, but one was not directly related to the other. I remember seeing a statistic somewhere about females suffering more from depression than males. Sorry if that is not correct, but my point is, I do not think a doctor would assume someone is depressed solely because they are female. Gender would not be the main focus of the caregivers.
To me, it has seemed that the health care providers in our hospital system cannot get past the label of transgender woman. They assume all of my problems are because of that. If they would look deeper they would see that I do not let that label stop me from socializing, working or living my life. In fact, it has not been an issue in my day to day life except when I interact with the health system. They seem to make it a bigger deal than it is. I do not want my identity to rest solely on the diagnosis I have been given or on the fact that I am a transgender woman. I am me.
I have given a lot of thought to how my mental illness and gender may be related. I am no doctor but all I can see is that maybe hiding my true identity for so long contributed to my lack of self identity. I stress the word contribute and acknowledge that it is by far not the only contributing factor.
My feeling is that the health system needs more education. Transgender people are just people, like anyone else. If gender is a problem for someone, please help them. If a transgender person commits or attempts suicide, please do not assume the only reason possible is gender, though. I feel that focusing so intently on my gender is a subtle form of discrimination. Treat me like you would treat anyone else. If I say gender is not an issue for me, focus on what the real issues are. If a transgender person is not available as a peer support worker, give me a choice of someone else.
One more vent from today, then I am done. The highly functioning thing is rearing its head again. It seems that unless I am in full crises mode, they think I am doing good. I am unsure of how to get through to them that I am not as good as it must seem.
Does anyone else have experiences with doctors not recognizing the real problems or only fixating on one issue? I would love to hear your comments.
Years ago there was a child actor who played a character that turned out to be likeable and fairly popular. Being young and a little insecure, this actor had the thought that the character was more popular than the actor was capable of being, so the child stayed in character whenever around any other person. The character and the actor soon became indistinguishable from each other to everyone except the actor.
The character served the actor well. With no one to write a script, life experiences molded how the actor played the character. The lines between actor and character even blurred in the actor’s own mind sometimes. At other times, though, it was quite clear to the actor that there was a difference between actor and character. At these times, the actor longed to show the world who the actor really was, no matter the reaction. Those feelings would fade and the actor continued to live as the character. Every decision, every move and every word in front of others was filtered. Here is what I would say or do, but what would my character do? The actor then modified all behavior to conform to the character’s nature. Applying this filter and guarding behaviours became normal for the actor from a young age right up to mid life.
At this time though, the actor realized just how alone she was. Everyone knew the character, but no one knew her. The actor realized that by putting on this character to protect herself, she had indeed kept out some of the coldness and harshness of the world, but the character also insulated her from warmth and goodness. It was time for her to shed the character, quit acting and live as herself. It was an odd sensation at first. She felt naked and exposed without this covering she had worn for years. It took effort to not automatically use the filter. It did become freeing as well. What she found was that yes, some people disapproved of who she is, but that was far outweighed by the warmth other people showed and the happiness it brought her to be herself.
It has only been a couple of months now since she shed this character for good. Parts of that character is already starting to fade from her mind, though. Every now and then she catches herself thinking like the character and realizes now how uncomfortable she was in that role. The character definetely helped shape the person she grew to be, but the person she is today is the person that has always been there, mostly hidden at times by the mask of the character.