I feel like people grow up learning that doctors and dentists and such are authority figures, because as children we are small and they are adults and specialists and it breeds an unhealthy mental relationship. If you ever are belittled, or don’t feel safe or listened to by a medical professional, you need to advocate for yourself. You can get other referrals. You can fire them. They are not your superiors because they went to school for a long time. YOU are the expert on your symptoms. You are a goddamn grown human being with worth and value and they are too. You are EQUALS. Remember that. You are not inferior to someone with more education. Your sickness doesn’t affect your inherent worth and value and shouldn’t affect your treatment.
Coming out of depression isn’t like a fog lifting or a flower blooming. That’s entirely too romantic. It’s more like a bright light, but it’s only just spiking through, it’s mostly dark, you’re tied up. Rough. Burlap and rope tied around you, left alone to figure out your confinement and your freedom. Everything is rough and cold but it’s a real feeling. You take inventory, try and figure out where the pain is worst, try to piece it together with a memory stunted by sedative. Bones creak and scars are measured. Checkmarks go with traumas as you remember the things that you agreed to when you weren’t a qualified advocate for yourself. You’ll pay for those for the rest of your life. You were kidnapped by depression. It owns that part of you. It’ll always creak behind your thoughts. But today you’ll get to wonder if this chance at freedom is real.
Dreams are very powerful for me. I have vivid, imaginative dreams, a woven tapestry of realities and falsehoods that make me question everything when I wake up. A drinking dream shatters me. Dreams catalyzed my coming out process. A dream is how I knew I was pregnant.
It’s not something I talk about often. But it’s niggling at my soul, a little catch in the back of my mind. It’s a hurt that’s coming back after being repressed, so that means it is time to process it.
Vulnerability is a risky dialectic of connection and rejection. I know that there is a chance that saying what I have to say will bring closeness and help to salve an old wound. There is also the chance that I will alienate people and start battles I don’t want to get into.
Ultimately, however, the decision comes down to whether there’s someone else out there that might read this and find some peace from it. And so I move forward.
In 2010 and 2011 I was going to school and living in Grand Rapids with my boyfriend at the time and one other girl. I was a shitty roommate to her and I regret that, since she and I had planned to move in together and my boyfriend just kinda never left.
One night I sat bolt upright on the goddamn futon, having had a dream that I was pregnant. I tried to remember when my last period was. I asked him, he didn’t know either. We hustled to a grocery store and got several pregnancy tests, and the first one came back positive almost instantly.
I couldn’t have a child. I am not meant for child rearing. Especially not as my life was. Especially not as my descent into alcoholism was going.
But I didn’t have health insurance. Or a spare $900.
So I turned to the internet.
I don’t recommend anyone try to induce a miscarriage or self abortion or whatever you want to call it. I combined three or four methods and hoped and prayed.
Vitamin C stings. Parsley tea smells like horse piss.
But it worked, over several days. I started to bleed. And bleed. And bleed.
I felt nothing but relief then.
It hurts now.
Sometimes I think about the child I might otherwise have had. Somehow I imagine a boy, and I’m pretty damn sure he’d have curly blonde hair. I wonder about the way things might have gone with my boyfriend/ex husband, who wanted children later on. I question whether I would have cleaned up my act, whether I could have saved a few years of the depression institutionalization yo-yo. I know this sort of thinking is useless though.
Not much can keep me safe from my own insecurities though. About what this makes me, whether I’m a good person. You can be pro-choice all the live-long day and still struggle with internalized hate. I feel so alone. I don’t know anyone else who’s done this, because no one talks about it. So I stay inside my head with all my thoughts, and they percolate into vile piles of self loathing, and little story lines for dreams.
I take a prescription medication now though, one that prevents dreaming. I also have an IUD.
once told me
of my skull
filled with mirrors
I r fractured
split like concrete
served like pie
page at a time
all stories are lies
Late at night,
when you have to
step outside of yourself,
stop your own breathing,
and slow your racing heart,
enough to verify that
the people who
yell at you and
spit on you and
beat you up and
leave you bruised
have taken their own
that they are
and you are
to keep them safe,
that is the
season of refreshment.
the great equalizer
moment of vulnerability.
I think I deeply underestimate the effect of pain on my mental health.
Oftentimes that pain will lead me to seek out medical care.
That medical care will fall short in myriad ways.
The most damage is done when I am treated like I do not know what I am talking about(which I do, it’s my body and I’m a smart cookie).
They go on to not listen or ignore symptoms.
Ultimately, ineffective treatments and I have wasted hours, expending myself mentally and physically, with nothing new tried, no answers, no treatments, no referrals, no belief that it would improve, a whole mess of micro aggressions, and worsening pain.
I was writing my suicide note in my head while driving home.
I wasn’t worth listening to. I wasn’t worth respecting. I wasn’t worth treating. I was a drain on the system.
A creature of pure torture and it wasn’t going to get better.
Because I will always be the person that writes “LOL” when a form leaves 8 spaces for you to put your medication list.
Because I will need multiple specialists who for some reason can never coordinate their blood work requests.
Because the combined costs for the surgeries I will need to no longer squirm like a child at a funeral just at the idea of being in my body exceeds that of most suburban homes.
Because I have wanted to die as long as I can remember, and only regular therapy, medication monitoring, inpatient hospitalizations, and the occasional emergency interventions keep it from happening.
There’s so many stories lately about resuscitating addicts. Someone mentioned a “three strike rule,” where they’d no longer administer emergency medication.
So where does that come in with suicide? How many times do you wake someone up with a smile and tell them they aren’t worthless and sit beside them coloring and chatting as they stare off in to space and beg the universe that JUST ONCE someone would have thrown up their hands and said “well I guess they weren’t worth saving after all.” How many times do you say hello and goodbye to the staff that all knew you anyway before the EMT blacklists your house?How many interventions does it take until when a patient says “I’m worthless,” the reply is, “Well, you’ve met your mental health value quota so, yeah, you’ll have to find some worth somewhere else in life. ”
The mental health system is slow, toxically still full of stigma, and prey to every -ism.
But here I am still.
I was past three strikes years ago, folks.
I thought a line should go in my suicide note- “In lieu of flowers, please send letters to local hospitals and your congressmen.”
I came up with some clever lines. Even some stuff about the selfishness of suicide.
Because it’s not. It’s not about you, and you’re being arrogant if you think that. If anything, it’s selfish of you for wanting to keep someone who is suffering that much around, just so you can feel marginally better.
Things like that mindset guarantee I’m not pleasant to be around, I’m pretty sure I don’t have all that many friends, mostly acquaintances.
Profound mental illness, it turns out, is uncomfortable.
I hide behind biting sarcasm a lot. It’s actually the shield that bites back.
Then I got to thinking about family. Ain’t that a can of worms.
I thought about the funeral. It’d probably be at the church I grew up in and was chronically awkward in. The one that was 400 people that met in a pole barn when I was 2 and vomited on someone’s shoes and will never live down. I was there as it expanded. As it moved. As it kept rejecting me socially. I was there for the newest addition, millions upon millions of dollars raised. I toured it it when it was scaffolding, sheets of plastic and exposed concrete. I watched as it stretched a video outreach across the globe and my father would occasionally do some paint touch up work on the pastor’s massive boat.
Somehow non-denominational is its own particular denomination. Whodathunkit, it has some very traditional and conservative mindsets.
I knew that without a legally changed name and gender marker, I would be deadnamed among my family until we were all dirt.
And when I came out as pansexual I was told that “a line has been crossed in the eyes of God” if I would ever touch a woman.
And when I came out as transgender I was told that “this was an exploration” and “I will find a revelation.”
“God loves her more than we love her.”
You can change if it’s supposed to cut or be supportive depending on what you emphasize.
My dad had said in the session with my therapist that I have an “emotionally built feminine psyche” and that “guys don’t deal with these emotions.” He figured that a part of my transition goal was to get over trauma through that reasoning. He also said he has nothing but compassion for those that are internally conflicted, which I have been for a very long time.
He challenged me to find one person who was truly happy having done this, 10 years out, figuring that anyone who was transgender would just be so conflicted that they’d never really improve their lives.
Months later my mother was teary eyed when she asked me if I thought I was still saved.
She said “I have to hold onto the thought that you might still be in heaven.”
I wondered at the hellfire that was currently eating her alive, fresh and meaty and ripe, right on this plane of existence.
I thought of all this while I plotted my suicide note. The idea I could be so wrong, so broken that I would be cursed to brimstone and damnation had such a hold on her heart. I fumed.
I spewed. You know, in my head.
Then I craved. I wanted someone to read the note at my funeral. Read the note at the church I was raised in.
I wanted someone to tell them that this is not the gospel. Christ’s blood was spilled so no more has to be.
I got home.
I took some medication.
I pet fuzzy animals.
I relaxed on the bed.
I felt a little bit better.
Then I got angry.
Angry enough to do some good.
When you are low enough that you’ve almost stopped feeling bad, stopped feeling anything, you can find angry.
You can tap into it.
I realized that no one is going to do my advocacy for me.
I may already be fighting hard.
I will have to fight every damn day.
And it will keep hurting.
But I can’t give up and leave my mantle for another, they must carry their own.
I have to be vulnerable.
I have to do it myself.
I have to tell my story myself.
I have to live long enough to improve MY life myself.
To show who I am.
To prove it.
Maybe only to myself.
I have never been able to view myself as smart. Other people would hold that for me- teachers, tests, peers. My self esteem would not allow it. My parents had a systematic lack of regard for what I HAD done versus what I COULD do. “A 97? Why not a 100? A 100? Why not perfect attendance? We’re worried about your weight. Say, why are you coming home in tears so often? I guess it’s a teenager thing. Must need some space.” I lived in the shadow of my own potential, and my potential whispered sweetly about dreams and a future and having worth.
I cried writing the end of that sentence right there. It sinks me that I remain so far away from viewing myself as a creature with worth, yet I can dialectically hold the concept that all lives have inherent worth. I remain a raw, rotten lump of meat in the corner, an exception.
It’s been a rough 6 weeks or so. I’ve gotten strep, kinda beat it, had it come back with a vengeance and morph into walking pneumonia. My testosterone shot caused a giant weird painful lump in my leg. My mental health regressed enough that I ended up in a crisis residential program for a week. Additionally I’ve been in the ER three times, the Urgent Care once, and my PCP once. I got in a car accident and messed up my shoulder nicely. My anxiety is through the roof. Also, I’m not sure if it’s related to the car accident or the strep-hell but I can’t bind because it makes me completely unable to breathe. I’ve missed enough work that I’m worried about whether they’ll just give up on me like my last employer did.
I also got married, so that was cool.
I kept doing this weird thing during all this stress though. I kept house shopping.
See, I found out we were eligible for a down payment assistance program that’s really nifty.
It was a fun distraction if nothing else. But I let myself hope, and when it came down to it, if you’re getting 36 hours and your company still calls you part time, you have to have been there for 2 years.
I’ve had big dreams in the past.
Now all I want is a cute little fixer-upper and to SOMEDAY finish a damn degree above an Associate’s.
I was supposed to be so smart. One of those assholes that throws off the curve.
I’ll probably work entry level for the rest of my life because I am deeply, profoundly mentally ill.
Maybe smart doesn’t mean much if you’re broken.
The big bad monster crept out of my mind to stab potential repeatedly.
It doesn’t whisper anymore.
version of me
that you see
in your head.
is falling away
in my own.
I am re-making
my missed takes
you are wrong
will flaunt your
with flags trailing
from tandem bikes
and flower crowns
and marching bands
from your neck
because the truth
will be evident,
marching into reality
day by day.
my leg hair.
There was an incredibly powerful exercise that I did once in a group session with other alcoholics and addicts. It was about the first step-admitting you are powerless. It was recommended by one of our peers, who said his sponsor guided him through it. He gave us all an index card and told us to number one through ten, leaving two lines for each number.
Then he said “I want you to think of ten of the worst things you did while you were drinking, and write them down. Leave an empty line.”
Our leader, Bob, was feeling sassy, so he timed people. The first person completed his in 27 seconds. Others needed to think a little harder. I was in the middle of the pack.
Then he gave us the key for the exercise.
After every statement, we had to write “and still I kept drinking.”
We had to confront the fact that not only did we facilitate these terrible experiences, we chose our demon again. And again. And again.
So for me it would start out a bit like:
I broke a goddamn toilet, and still I kept drinking.
I was sleepwalking naked, and still I kept drinking.
I let the horses out in the middle of the night, and still I kept drinking.
And so on.
It occurred to me recently that this same method could be modified a bit for other situations. I thought of my parents, the spiritual abuse they put me through, and how I’d keep crawling back to them.
So here’s another list. Yeah, it’s different, because the first reflects more personal choice rather than something being done to or with you. It was still a key moment for me to process this list, though. I think it’ll help give me strength.
1. They taught me how to tie a noose when I was really young*, and still I gave them more chances.
2. They told me I was getting fat, and still I gave them more chances.
3. They had me work for the family business in a shop from an incredibly young age, and still I gave them more chances.
4. They made me write pages from the Bible every day to improve my handwriting, until I developed carpal tunnel, and still I gave them more chances.
5. They held me to such high standards that it was impossible to ever succeed or feel like I could be good enough, and still I gave them more chances.
6. They stayed close with my exes even though it made me uncomfortable, and still I gave them more chances.
7. They put down my perfectly healthy dog unexpectedly without telling me while I was away in the hospital, and still I gave them more chances.
8. They left bible pages open about raising godly children after finding a dildo at age 16, and still I gave them more chances.
9. They guilt tripped me for how I was making them feel by choosing to live in my car rather than with them during a complicated time, and later gave me a mattress shoved behind a couch as a bedroom, and still I gave them more chances.
10. They refused to let me see a therapist or get medication for my depression, then insisted on a Christian counselor when it became court mandated after my first institutionalization, and had him perform an exorcism on me, and still I gave them more chances.
It was a pretty frequent pattern that I’d get sick of them and run off, or end up in a mental institution. But I always crawled back, and was always made to feel broken and wrong.
The last couple weeks, I kept getting little barbs from my Mom that indicated that she knew about the transition although I hadn’t had the guts to come out directly to them. Things like telling me how I was the feminine version of my dad, or how girly looking my hair was coming along to be, or how “a girl can dress up pretty and wear makeup and heels and have fun but when a boy does it it’s weird.”
It got to the point that I just walked out the door and left their property after she said something like that. Stopped talking to her. I texted her and said if she wanted to talk, I was meeting with my therapist and she could join, so she did.
She claimed she didn’t have a clue about the transition. She said that when she looks at me she sees “a very confused young person.” When my therapist gave me a chance to express how I was feeling, all I could come up with for a minute was “tense,” and she jumped in saying “And I’m devastated.” Not only did she continue to deadname and misgender me after we explained my wishes, she actively tried to correct my therapist and fiance when they were using the right ones. She asked my fiancé if he was okay with this, and after contorting her face in disgust when he said yes, asked “WHY?!?!” When he explained that his love had nothing to do with my gender, she said “Wow, so anybody can do what they want if they love ‘em.”
There’s another therapy session scheduled.
I added to the list number 11. They invalidated my choices about my gender and sexuality.
Any chances from here on out are to be supervised by a professional.
*It actually wasn’t until very recently that I realized this was fucked up. I mentioned something about it in passing on Facebook and a number of friends jumped in saying how gross that it was. I had been under the impression it was fairly normal, like a Boy Scout thing or whatnot.