or forty years of being misgendered?
This may be a true thing, or it may not. Eventually the possibility had to come out into the light to be held up and prodded at. A secret kept so close and for so long and I just blurted it out to my psychiatrist at my last hospital appointment.
Did I need to say it at all? I think so. Years of therapy, years of anti-depressants have got me nowhere, certainly nowhere close to the happiness that is advertised as a ‘right’. My last/latest bout of depression seems to have just gone on and one, trying one tablet after another and getting nowhere fast. The way my local health authority is organised I had to refer myself to the ‘Healthy Minds’ service while waiting for chemical assistance from the local hospital psychiatric unit. I’m sure the staff at ‘Healthy Minds’ mean well but the practical constraints that they work under means that the most they can offer most people is 6 half hour sessions of CBT over the phone (over the phone!!) and if your score manages to fall below the threshold of likely self harm/suicide risk then they drop you as soon as they can.
In the run up to my gender revelation I had been so low that I considered suicide to be a rational option in my situation. The mystery man on the phone was telling me to keep busy, that depression thrived on inactivity … Oh, I’d never heard that before (sarcastic voice) … The telephone sessions weren’t even half an hour, the phone calls came from a noisy office where I could hear other staff gossiping and laughing in the background and the priority seemed to be completing the same list of question each time to assess your level of ‘risk’ (in the last two weeks how many times have you considered harming yourself? – not at all, several days, most days, every day) before going on to advice given by script.
Nothing was changing, nothing was going to change. It all just seemed like a box ticking exercise, the local authority showing that they were doing something. If I had an addiction they could put me on a program. If it was just low self-esteem they could offer 6 group sessions and the same for other single issue hang ups (all of these options assuming that I was also out of work and available any time). Only after you have gone through all the ‘beginner’ options with no progress is there a chance that something more tailored will be offered.
So. I was at the hospital thinking nothing was ever going to change, feeling like it didn’t matter what I said or did. I would just get better with time, or I wouldn’t.
It turned out that I saw the same psychiatrist as my previous appointment. This was new for me. They told me that they would be my psychiatrist until September 2017 (when, no doubt, the NHS would move them on). We talked. I don’t even remember thinking about it. I just made a comment that things were always worse for me in winter, that the turn of the year always reminded me of the feelings of wrongness that I’d had since being a child and how detached I was from this body of curves and fat. Suddenly it was easy to say it. To confess how every night I would go to sleep wishing I would wake up a boy, my daydreams had been full of make believe that a doctor would turn up and explain that a mistake had been made when I was born and that I wasn’t a girl. If I could wish hard enough, just wish hard enough and I would be changed. I confessed my extreme horror at puberty, not only because of the physical evidence of being female but because I clearly hadn’t wanted to be a boy hard enough for all my wishing to work.
They didn’t laugh at me. Can you believe that? They didn’t laugh. They took me seriously and asked me further questions. I was asked if I could wait to see the consultant. Of course I could. The consultant didn’t laugh at me. He also asked my questions and took me seriously. He explained the different options available to me (from therapy and staying as I am all the way up to full reassignment) … along with the warning about how long it will take to get seen at a Gender Identity Clinic.
I left feeling lighter and happier than I can remember. Giddy almost (if such a word could ever be used with me). Obviously I have a huge way to go but putting out there, starting to consider that my feelings may be real has provided more of a lift to my mood than any of the chemical supports I’ve tried over the decades. I know about all the bad things can come out of this if I take it all the way … or even any part of the way.
I don’t know how long all this will take or how I will end up. For now I have my first Underworks binders and the feeling of a permanent hug thanks to the extreme compression they give. And I have a secret weapon to help me through. My secret weapon is my husband who was neither angry or offended when I told him. My husband who only wants me to be happy and who I can only be thankful for.
“We are in a state of vague American values and anti-intellectual pride” – David Cross (for “vague American values” you can also read “vague British values” or choose the country you think most applicable to your situation)
I was offered a role in a show opposite Katie Hopkins. Sometimes, your brain doesn’t even flirt with the idea of asking what the fee is, it just goes straight into Don Logan mode, “no, no, NO NO NO NO NO NO no, no, NO NO NO NO no no NO!”
Some people suggested I should have said yes and aimed for a carnival of mockery, but it would be pre-recorded, so no control over what makes it to the screen. Also, I believe that by taking part, it is an endorsement of the idea that her “toxic opinions for cash” are a form of entertainment that should be encouraged. The show may…
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I sit and I sit.
People talk and I’m not sure it’s me they are talking to. Most of my conversations go on inside my head now, arguments with analogues of my husband and others.
Depression isolates completely. I cannot ask for help, I cannot ask for time or understanding because I never really feel that I’m worth any of it. So I sit and the voices I’ve created do their work on me. Even when I’m ‘well’ they are there. I assume that everyone has them, but that maybe they are better at ignoring them or their words are not so harsh.
Now I’m at the stage where I’ve dropped my therapist (one advantage of paying for it I guess) because she didn’t seem to be helping any more and the version of her in my head had joined the voices telling me how useless I am. My job doesn’t help … but at least those voices telling me I’m useless are real ones, and the only reason they are in my head is because I wear a headset at work.
Everything has to be muted, everything has to be avoided. One step distant to try and stop it hurting.
I had an operation last year to try and make some parts of my life better/easier to cope with. I don’t know if it has been successful or not. I’m under some pressure to ‘test’ the results but have been unable to do so. The cycle repeats, the loop closes and becoming unattractive, unwantable, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The voices are my company. Whatever you might think you are saying to me is filtered through them. How do I step aside? Step back and start again, do over and be something that you would want to be with.
The voices remind me how useless I am. How little value I have and how much better things would be if I just wasn’t any more.
Me and my voices went to see the doctor to try to get something that would work without the disastrous side effects of previous tablets (never really gave the last two versions time to work because of the side effects). In less than ten minutes. Said what I wanted and why. Left with new prescription and vague comment that I should go back in a couple of weeks so she could see how I was taking to them. She asked the question that she had to ask and the conversation kind of went like this:
Doctor: Have you considered harming yourself?
Me: Yes, nearly every day
Doctor: Will you do anything about it?
Me: Probably not, it’s just there.
Doctor: Why not?
Me: Getting up and carrying on is the habit.
No upside from the tablets yet (how she thought there was a chance of improving in 2 weeks I’ll never know). The blessed relief of sleep that they seemed to offer started to wear off after the first couple of days. Weight has started to go up. I know it’s listed as a side effect but I can hardly blame a piddly little tablet for putting all that chocolate in my hand. I know I can counter it … then get dragged into the whole ‘what is the point, no one will find me attractive anyway’.
Maybe that is how I will feel comfortable again? When my outside matches what my inside tells me I am.
I’m not writing, I’m not doing anything. The drama is all going on inside and saps my will to do anything. I don’t talk about it because the voices tell me I’m worthless, no one is interested, no one wants to know. If you step back I cannot follow you, cannot force you to talk to me about it.
Is the waiting for it to pass all I have left?
How do I recover this distance?
These things I should be saying to the person I live with. He steps back, he doesn’t know what to do. He might care but not know how to deal with me (after all, wasn’t that what the therapist was for? wasn’t that what a friend is for? surely that’s not something he should have to deal with?). Depression doesn’t make for a pretty sight.
The voices are there, the voices don’t mind what I look like. They are so kind to remind me that everything is my fault.
Depression makes us all our own special island. I’m not waving, I’m not drowning. I’m just here, waiting.
Therapy write up again. Homework from a recent session was about looking at myself and looking for things that I liked.
Yeah, right. Try that without the ‘not bad for someone my age’, ‘in a low light’ and the inevitable ‘but …’. This isn’t anything new. This has been me wanting to be taller, thinner, prettier (there, I said it and I feel ashamed of myself) for as long as I can remember. I seem to be incapable of seeing myself in any positive light, the most I manage is a kind of grudging acceptance of my plain-ness.
I am terrible with compliments. I will blush and make excuses and think you are taking the piss/setting me up for the punchline of some joke. I work hard at deflection rather than take the difficult step that someone might mean it when they say I have nice eyes. Call me a Hobbit and ask how long I spend shaving my feet and I am immediately more comfortable.
I think I have always been terrible with compliments. Less so, perhaps, with what might be classed as compliments for ‘intellectual’ attributes rather than physical ones but I am still uneasy. Kudos from my little writing exercises on AO3 make me happy then spiral off into ‘oh, but what I really wanted to write was …’ or ‘but I am so slow and need to get around to writing more’. People taking the time to make comments is something I really can’t cope with – is it possible to be flattered and shamed at the same time? They are too kind to me.
I do not ‘fish’ for compliments. That seems to be one of the big taboo things I grew up with. They don’t count if you have to ask for them. I grew up asking if clothes looked ok, not if I looked ok (and always the little voice in my head added on the provisos of ‘for a short girl’, ‘for a plain girl’, ‘at least I’m fat in proportion’). Clothes shopping now is an exercise in never really looking at myself.
I have had some good feedback from work. Feedback is another word for compliment. I do not let it touch me. I discount it and devalue it by comparing myself to others and the feedback they get. Even doing well at industry exams makes me uncertain how to react even though those results are as objective as can be. I think I managed 10 minutes of being happy at getting ‘master’ level of the Service Desk Institute Service Analyst course before telling myself off about it and then refusing to see it as anything other than what should be expected of me (‘been doing the job over 20 years, of course I should be able to get qualified in it’ and so on).
It’s like everything has a ‘but’ attached to it.
Anyway, speaking of butts, back to not being the Death Star on legs.
I know I’ve mentioned working at Oddities Heaven. Sometimes I’ve wondered if this re-enforced my discomfort with myself. Back then, back when VHS tapes were over £50 (I kid you not) there seemed to be very few women in fandom, fewer still who might have been considered ‘normal’. Go with me on this, I don’t want to be specific but trust me.
I thought men were just being friendly but then I realised that some of them were chatting me up. (Shock and horror, I know.) I was asked out to lunch, drinks after work … did I fancy getting dressed up for a photo shoot? I always put this down to the the small pool of women that:
a) seemed to have similar interests
b) were not the size of the Death Star on legs
c) didn’t chat to their spirit cats in public (and related quirks)
d) were apparently available
I was a shop assistant! Of course I was going to smile and talk to you.
If you are brought up never to fish for compliments then you can tend to overthink those few that you get. I think I self-sabotaged by always taking the source of the compliments into account. Being a fan may be cool(ish) now that Big Bang Theory is one of the highest rated programs around, but I have to be honest and say that there are still a lot of guys out there more like Captain Sweatpants than Leonard. What do you do when your first memories of personal compliments were from people who make even Captain Sweatpants look like he has every social grace.
It’s cruel to say it, but if these people thought I’d be interested, if that was all I could aspire to … then what did that say about me? Not being the shape of the Death Star seemed to be my only asset.
Way to go there with the self-esteem Andrea.
My contract is up in a month. I don’t know what I’m going to do. No, literally. I don’t know if I am going to be extended or shown the door.
Is this uncertainty the cause of my (current) malaise? I’m not sure. I mean I’ve clearly been unhappy for some time and I really do want this job to go well but my mood has been getting lower the longer this has gone on.
I caved in and asked my therapist if I could have an appointment. I have to applaud modern technology – I’m in the UK and she’s in Israel now but can still see her thanks to the wonders of Skype. So I sat and I waited for my appointment, patted the cat on the head and made a few notes. Here they are:
Maybe I’m actually just not suited to work? So what do I do?
- carry on anyway? (Isn’t that what grown-ups do?)
- keep changing jobs in the hope that I find a company that suits? (Believe me, I don’t think anywhere could be more me than this lot.)
- change career altogether? (Yeah, like I’m good for anything else.)
- give up and stop forcing myself to be something I’m not?
Am I just someone who will always tend toward depression / maybe I don’t have it in me to be ‘happy’?
- why is that bad?
- are the tablets really to help me cope or just to mask the symptoms so other people don’t see how I am inside?
- why do people always seem to think that being with other people is something you need to do to be happy/feel better?
- I might not be ecstatic on my own, but I’m certainly not un-happy.
What has brought things to a head now?
- a gradual build up, reality setting in perhaps or maybe just an effect of the godawful windowless bunker I work in.
- my inability to cope with too much uncertainty – what is going to be on the call/what is going to be the rule for the day/what am I doing?
- a long run of co-incidental and random blues coinciding and piling in on top of the usual underlying fatigue and feelings of uselessness?
- biology. The crappiest reason of all. I said it as a joke to my doctor but, oddly, I do kind of keep coming back to that as an option.
After my Skype session I think about what we said. I reflect on my silences and where things may be going. The conversation included the usual well trodden paths – I am a failure, I am not worthy, yada yada bloody yada.
My body is failing me. Signs of fertility that I never wanted, and that always disgusted me, are on the wane. Am I just jealous of those young people with everything ahead of them? Is it their youth, their potential … their … attractiveness?
I work in an office where young men enjoy the opportunities that our environment has to offer (well, when we get out of the bunker). Even when I was here as a student I wasn’t someone that anyone looked at. I never have been. I never will be. I’m not saying I have a face to curdle milk but I’m not someone anyone would notice. A shadow, part of the furniture … just a voice on the phone.
And now I’m fading away even from that. No one notices that I’m here, or there, or gone.
I guess that’s what most things come down to. I do it to myself.
I write and delete, write and delete … block up completely as soon as I think of other people reading my [insert derogatory term of choice here] output.
I think therefore I stop.
I have a new job. Hoorah! It is fun and an adventure, it is in the best place I could think of being … and … then … I start thinking. It’s the same as any other job because people are the same all over. Just because they are more like me than anywhere else there are still the same elements. I’m the same. Loyal too quick, want to do well, want to be worth something, want to feel like I’m worth paying …
My condition is back (never went away really, I’d just reduced activity to the level where I thought I was coping with it). I wanted to hide it, I wanted to be accepted. I wanted so hard to just be good at something. I tried not to be me but three months in and I’m too tired to smile and I’m trapped in my head and I know I’m just making it worse.
Do you remember how you tell if you’ve got ‘flu or a cold? I heard it was that with a cold you could bend down and get that £5 on the floor. If you had ‘flu, however, you would just leave it. The new job is a contract and I get paid when I go in. To my mind I’ve left quite a lot of money on the floor and, frankly, I just don’t have the energy to do anything about it. Well, other than beat myself up over it.
Amazing. No matter how tired I get there is always enough energy left for my own scorn. A constant well of derision, a babbling brook of self loathing. You could hide the Loch Ness monster in the depths of my self loathing. All the therapy. All the talking … and then the brain fog hits and I forget the words that are clever and are my job and once I’ve fallen through the planks in the rickety pier of my self esteem there is only the deep and the cold. Always waiting.
I have tried the pep talks to myself. Even with my basic interest in maths I know how useful a job can be, and this one would be very handy to stay at. Allowing for putting money aside for holidays, a new boiler, the over-the-top and completely unnecessary side-by-side black fridge freezer (to match other appliances in same range) etc etc this is half my mortgage paid off in 4 years.
Money is no motivator.
My sister in law asked me how I thought it was going and the words came out before I knew they were there. Comparing 4 months in the house, barely speaking, barely seeing people to 3 months of interaction, laughs and ‘being worthwhile’ I found I preferred it just being me and the cat most of the time. The cat might not pay me, but equally I don’t have to cope with public transport (let’s just not go there) or the bone deep pain as I walk or the random phone calls that this job entails, or …
… or the fact that I am with people and I like them and I don’t want to let them down, or be weak, or be flaky. Some of them seem to like me. Maybe it would be easier if they didn’t.
The more people I know the more people there are to let down. I do it to myself.
Maybe I should try to hold on to the idea of what there is outside the windowless room in which I sit. Outside is the University. Outside there are things other than me.
I can go and look at the Shabtis in the museum. Maybe to remind myself that I don’t have to be one, maybe to show myself there is dignity in accepting I am one. Maybe one day I’ll stop doing it to myself.