Why I’ve Just Begun Being A ‘Good’ Mentally Ill Person

You know when you learn about something for the first time, and then suddenly it keeps popping up everywhere(that’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, by the way, and I bet you’ll hear that somewhere else soon)… That’s been happening with the writer Sam Dylan Finch for me. He represents a slice of who I crave to become. He is the beautiful butterfly of a feminist, transgender, and mental illness advocate and writer. I am barely building the chrysalis where I will liquify into the goop of my potential.

When this article popped up on my Facebook feed today, I took notice. I read it. I re-read it. I went to work in a residential psychiatric facility. I had Kool Aid thrown on my new shirt. I kept someone from harming themselves but not from destroying their wooden bed frame. I guided a woman to the floor and used my hand to prevent her from hitting her head as she had a seizure. I came back home. I read it again. I starting writing this. I read it again.

I see myself in it. Then I look, and I see myself in it again. I look a little deeper, and there I am. I’m existing at all different levels in this piece, just as I’ve related to the mental health system at all different levels.

 
As a child

The first time I said I wanted to kill myself, I was on the playground. It was second grade. The recess monitor abruptly replied “No you don’t” and I continued to hang between the bars, imagining a vast expanse between me and the ground. I doubt she told anyone. I suppose if she had, there might have been some earlier intervention, and my life might have gone a little differently.

My parents didn’t really “believe” in mental illness. They saw me struggle. They saw me come home crying. They saw me gain weight. They prayed. They kept their distance, because I was pushing them away and they thought it was the right thing to do.

I wasn’t quite right, socially. I wouldn’t get diagnosed with Asperger’s until I was 19, but all the signs were there. However, I made good grades. I excelled in every subject I touched, except PE, where I was clumsy, apathetic, and unpopular. But when is came to Science or English I basked in the attention of teachers and other authority figures. These were the only people I could seem to talk to. My peers were just out of reach of my awkward rumblings. Somehow I was okay with that for awhile. Increasingly, I isolated. Increasingly, I became more and more difficult to reach out to.

This is how I slipped through the cracks.

 
As a patient

The seeds of potential in me had long been choked out by thorny tendrils of mental illness and substance abuse by the time my grandfather died. I had dropped out of engineering school and semi-flunked out of community college. I was living with my sister, drinking heavily and pretending that it was okay.

The years of 2012 to 2015 remain fuzzy to me. It’s hard to clarify timelines, or which hospitalization happened in what order. I went to treatment centers somewhere between eight and a dozen times, I believe. Some were partial programs, where I learned coping skills during day classes and then drank at night. Some were full hospitalizations, with varying levels of functioning. Once I was in the ICU for three days, knocked out following a suicide attempt. I had Electro Convulsive Therapy, also colloquially referred to as shock treatment(this is part of why by brain is so scrambled).

I started writing about my experiences not long ago, transcribing hospital records and frenzied scribbles in notebooks that are entirely free from metal binding or staples. I found statements from the psychiatrist in one of the partial programs I did. He said “I do not know how much she will get out of our program as it is impossible for her to think with any kind of speed.” This was a kick to the gut, which, coincidentally, also happened during my shift at work. I have never once been accused of being slow, it’s nearly universal that people who interact with me will make some off hand comment about how I seem smart within minutes of meeting me. It hurt to read. At that time, I was assessed with a GAF, or Global Assessment of Functioning, of 40. The scale goes to 100, for reference.

I have been a “bad” mentally ill person. Bruises from fighting against the restraints(I have no memory of this.) Someone trying to drag a necessary response out of me, but I was too busy staring at a crayon with tears running down my cheeks. Not waking up for any reason but to go to the bathroom, for days. Not remembering who or where I am. Being awakened for a blood pressure check to the croons of “well you’re just wrapped up like a burrito!” which became decidedly less charmed when we both(!) realized I was actually naked in my blanket burrito.

Then there’s the egotistical nature of depression. I was quoted in one of my charts as saying that I was the worst person in the world. God, how arrogant. But to truly believe, right down to the base of you, that that is true, is absolutely wrecking. It reflects in everything about you. You don’t care about a damn thing. Eating, showering, moving, taking meds, appointments. You have to be pried out of wherever you are in order to be forced to do anything. And there’s 25 other people on the unit in various stages of recovery that need to be handled too. And guess what? Staff would do a phenomenal damn job. And I’d still be back in three months again.

I have also been the “good” mentally ill person. I was grinned at and asked what I’m doing for the next art competition by about 5 staff during one stay. I always made sure to give them a baffled look and respond “The 16 hour days from the LAST one landed me back HERE again, what makes you think I wanna do more giant art?!?!” I’ve been the bright, relatable, engaged one, who will hold a conversation while meticulously coloring. I’ve been asked what hair color I’m gonna do next, and quipped about how I hope they don’t get to see it. I’ve made a girl nod sheepishly when I asked if she was pregnant the last time I was there.

There was a point where I was a revolving door patient, but I was liked. I was cared about. They prescribed the name brand stuff and made sure to give me a stack of samples on my way out the door. They signed special notes in the cards that we all got with our Christmas bags. They tell me to come back and visit sometime when I’m NOT suicidal. Give them an update. Maybe someday I will.

 
As a provider

Things have changed a bit lately, and I’ve turned the corner well enough to be able to actually work in the mental health field as a care provider, and that provides a different perspective.

One, you have to consider your safety at all times. Allowing your preconceived notions about who might be a “good” patient to lower your guard just means that you will be attacked. Yay, you didn’t suspect it! That probably means your injuries are worse.

 

Two, your patients crave connection, and the staff will most likely try to connect to the ones they relate to most. This means the “mostly normal” one who has a substance abuse problem is going to get better treatment than the person with schizophrenia. This is an unfortunate reality of bias. I try to compensate for it every day, but it’s something that workers need to be actively conscious of.

Three, the mental health field is othering as all get out. I have Borderline Personality Disorder. Every-Single-Training that I went through specifically called out people like me. There were multiple instances of failure to use person-first language, “You might be dealing with schizophrenics or borderlines.” This occurred in the class that brought up using person-first language. Even in Van Safety, the watered down two hour driver’s ed class, “One in four people have experienced a mental illness, there’s seven of you in here, I bet at least one of you has anxiety or something, raise your hands.”

The “Trauma Informed Care” training referred to individuals with trauma as “broken” and says that we are to be there for them while they put themselves back together. THIS IS THE APPROVED CURRICULUM OF TRAUMA. INFORMED. CARE. Broken. Seriously. I was mildly uncomfortably during most of the training, but he had provided coloring sheets so I was keeping pretty chill. Some people were stepping out because the videos were triggering. But the second he said that, my brain went on a loop. Broken, broken, broken. I scribbled it all over my carefully and brightly colored paper. I went up to him afterward and expressed my concerns. He diplomatically explained that this is how traumatized individuals are to be viewed through this approved and regulated curriculum which cannot be changed.

I guarantee you, every time I had a concern in one of these classes, I brought it up the the trainer afterwards. I can also guarantee you that I was not the first to notice or be made uncomfortable. I was probably not the first to complain either. There are systemic mindset issues in the field of mental health. Fortunately, the type of people drawn towards that kind of work are usually compassionate and often touched by mental illness in their own life somewhere, so they make efforts to improve. Awareness is where it starts though.

Okay, what was it, four? This is tough work. You will be kicked, punched, spat at, and insulted on a regular basis. Anyone that doesn’t do this is a welcome respite.

So yes, being able to function as a somewhat “basic human” can make you a “good” mentally ill person.

The thing is, high functioning, low functioning, a number on a GAF scale, these are indicators of illness, of danger. If you have a GAF of 20(which you do, if you are clearly suicidal) you are Stage 4, man. Appropriate interventions are planned and made to save your damn life.

That guy screaming for help? He could have established attention seeking behaviors.

You never really know.

Band-Aids

I’ve been up since 5:37 am. My partner is snoring beside me. I can’t get back to sleep. Why?

Today is the day.

Today I get my instructional session on injecting Testosterone. Today I get my first dose.

It marks a huge milestone quite early on in a long journey. I’m excited and nervous and completely unable to shut my brain off.

“Will my snoring get manlier? I’m not sure that my snoring isn’t already manly. Must consult friends and family.”

“Will it be worth it?”

“Ooh, my belly hair will be socially acceptable!”

“When will I pass?”

“What a great opportunity to bring my Iron Man band-aids into the world of adult endocrinology.”

“I wonder if I’m gonna get beat up.”

“I think my voice just cracked!”

“Should I go into sex work to afford my transition?”

“My toe twitched, I wonder if it’s getting stronger, oh god what if the muscles come in asymmetrical and I end up walking lopsided or upside down or something.”

“Maybe self defense classes are cheaper for women, I should jump on that.”

“I’m kinda horny. I wonder if that’s, like, regular horny or T horny. I bet my genitals are gonna start finishing before my brain gets the chance to, and then roll over and go to sleep. Typical…”

“How much will they have to slice apart my body to sculpt something tolerable?”

“I’m on my period. Can a uterus have a testosterone seizure? Would that be any different than regular cramps?”

“When will I feel like myself?”

“My beard is coming in so PATCHY. Wait, I think that one has been there for awhile.”

“This isn’t going to make the pain of growing up go away.”

“Nevermind on the horny thing, I think it might have just been gas.”

“I’m driving up costs in every insurance pool I’ll ever be in.”

“I’m kinda hungry. Well, I’m essentially a teenage boy now, so…”

“One of these days you’ll have to talk to your parents.”

“How fast does facial hair grow anyways? *SPROING*?”

“Living authentically is hard. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if one of those suicide attempts had worked?”

There, right there at the intersection of mental illness and dysphoria, my frontal cortex quivers. I grow ever more hopeful as I pass these milestones, or when people who haven’t seen me since my haircut do a double take. That doesn’t stop a lifetime of self loathing from caressing the smooth edges as it slithers knowingly down into the grooves it has worn into my thinking.

I take another step in my journey, knowing there’s a hundred thousand more.

I might get blisters.

But I packed Iron Man band-aids.

It’s not supposed to be this easy.

I have been positively blown away by how lucky I’ve been and how good that the system has been to me. I called my PCP’s office to see if I could get in earlier than my next med check to discuss the potential of starting hormones at some point after my bariatric surgery. They had an appointment available the next day. He was absolutely awesome, and referred me to an endocrinologist, saying that it’ll probably take me two-three months to get in.

 

The endocrinologist’s office called me that day, and THEY had an appointment available the next day. Absolutely unreal… I feel so blessed.
So I went to that endocrinologist that morning, picked up the vial from the pharmacy at like 11, and on Thursday I have my instructional session.
They said I can start before the bariatric as long as I skip the injection a week or two directly before it.
This way might be a little harder. I don’t really know.

I’ve never been more excited for a shot in my life.

 

Also, today I got a haircut. Witness!

 

I’m very much afraid.

There are plans in place to move to Arizona next year. I was going to do it secretly. I was going to cut ties with everyone I knew back home, but for a select few. I was going to start over. I was going to give up on people that I’ve known for ages, on the chance that they will reject me. That’s borderline personality talking, if you’ve ever heard it whisper.

There are plans in place for me to get bariatric surgery. In a couple months, my body will begin to change rapidly. I was going to start hormones then. I was going to try to be sly.

The truth of the matter is that I will be rejected by some. I will be found out. And this is not the authentic way to live my life. I will regret it.

So I’m going to make the brave choice.

I’m going to choose the words that will baffle, will hurt, will likely come back around to show me pain in the face of a deeply conservative community.

I am not what I was made to be.

I am transgender.

I have had these feelings for a long, long time. Not feelings, really. Knowledge. A soul scab that never quite heals right ’cause it keeps getting torn.

I push it away. Again. And again. And again.

“It’s not natural. I’m just a tomboy. There’s not enough women in manufacturing, you might be an oddball but you’re an important one.”

“They’ll hate you forever.”

“They’ll think their kid is gonna go to hell.”

Probably a dozen psychiatric hospitalizations. Maybe half that many semi-serious suicide attempts(I say semi about the results, not the intent).

I’m on about $1600 dollars worth of medications each month and I still can’t work through the anxiety of going to a goddamn second-run theater.

I was already in hell. I’ve been there a long time. I was in second grade the first time I told someone I wanted to kill myself and I didn’t get any kind of therapy or medication until I was 19.

This is the chokehold, the silencing factor, that a belief system can have.

Maybe I won’t be accepted.

But the time has come.

And I’ll run it if I have to. To Arizona or anywhere else.

But today I declare my journey.

Today I take the first step.

 

 

 

 

 

Please consider donating to the costs of transition here:

https://www.gofundme.com/lets-just-get-rid-of-those

Here you are…

That story you’ve been waiting for, the one I hinted at before! I know the two people in Russia that have looked at this blog must have just been on the edge of their seats.

Here it is: Youtube Story Time!

Sorry you have to put up with my human form being in there.

Astral projection is harder than they make it out to be.

What is this?

Blog number 5? Damn you WordPress.

Like I really needed five distinct blogs to catalog all the nothing I do.

In any case, it’s time for a whole new identity. I’m reinventing myself!

I don’t think I invented my last self, but whatevs.

A part of me is lurking in the back of my head, telling me to make a sperm joke. That part of me is skeeving the rest of me out. Another part of me is calling for me to build a wall between that part of me and the rest of me.

Diplomacy is hard, y’all.

I’ve been struggling lately. There have been a few dreams about gender transition that have really shaken me. I’ve always had the thought. For as long as I can remember. I’m also hyper aware of how much easier my life would have been had I been born a boy. How much more natural it would have felt. How much better I would have fit in. Maybe I wouldn’t have all the mental health struggles that I do. I don’t know.

I don’t really wanna play those games. It only leads to pain.

The truth of the matter is that I have pushed away these thoughts for the 27 years I’ve been on this planet, because of my upbringing. My parents, who are great people, are not great parents. At least not for me. Hyper Conservative Christian Evangelicals.

HCCE’s?

I can’t pronounce that. It’s like coughing up phlegm at the back of your throat.

I think I’ll tell a little story in a bit.