Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Difficult Post

This is going to be a post about the past two years of my life, and my struggle with suicidal thoughts during that time. Your first instinct may be that you don't want to read about that. And, while there are no graphic details, it is possible this post will be triggering for people who are, or once were, struggling in the same way. If that is the case, by all means, skip it. But if you don't think you'll be triggered and just don't want to hear about sad stuff, I urge you to try and read on. It will help give some insight into my behavior over the past couple of years, and more importantly, may give insight into how to best support other people with the same kinds of issues.

"I am better". If I say that, it is true and a lie at the same time, because of the way "better" can mean more than one thing. I am definitely better than I was in 2011 when I had to be hospitalized twice in the same summer for suicidal ideation. I'm stable, and thoughts of suicide are mostly in my past. I've found a chosen family who love me, my living situation is the most comfortable it has been in a long time, and I've learned a lot about self-care and what triggers I need to avoid to be safe.

But that word, "better", also implies that my illness is over. And while it is possible for depression, like cancer, to go into a sort of remission, I don't think it's ever safe to say depression is over. It's kind of like alcoholism. Members of AA generally refer to themselves as "recovering" rather than recovered, no matter how many sober years they've put behind them. This is because they know how easy it is to slip back into that dark place, and how for the rest of their lives they will have to be vigilant, how it is never safe to take "just one drink". Depression is like that, too. I have to be careful to avoid things that may trigger my thoughts of self-harm. I have to create something of a bubble of self-protection around me, and always consider the effect any action may have on my mental health. Much like a person with diabetes must be more careful than most people about what goes into their diet, I have to be more careful what goes into my mental "diet." This means surrounding myself with safe people, avoiding scary news articles and hateful internet comments, not watching violent or soul-crushing movies (the latter is how my partner describes Les Miserables, which is why I haven't seen it yet), etc. Just like a healthy food diet is a good idea for most people, this mental diet would probably be good for anyone. But for me, it is necessary for survival.

These days, most of my depressed thoughts have to do with what the worst part of my depression has cost me. I've lost a lot of friends. Most of these people didn't outright walk out of my life, they simply quietly slipped away while I was too preoccupied to do anything to mend the relationship. I know I hurt people, and I don't know how to fix it. For one thing, I'm not entirely sure what I did that made people so uncomfortable. My guess is that my behavior was simply too unpredictable for a lot of people to feel safe around me. I was never violent toward anyone other than myself, but I can see how my friends may have simply not known what to do. So I want to talk a little about what was going on.

Some of the details are too painful to share, and some I can't responsibly share because they involve other people. What I can say is this: I spent most of 2011 living in a house where some of the people were emotionally abusive toward me and most of the people were heavily involved with drugs and/or alcohol. I also spent 2011 and 2012 going through the intense emotions that come with a gender transition (more on that in a bit). All this while still grieving my mother, who I never got a chance to fully grieve because I was too focused on surviving. And, like I said, I won't share details about things that involve other people, but I went through a really heartbreaking tug-of-war friendship with a person I thought I could trust, who ultimately shunned me. This person had their own issues to deal with and I'm not angry or trying to shame them, but I want people to understand the impact this situation had on my mental health. It was hurting me deeply, and I couldn't talk about it because I didn't want to hurt this person. I still can't. It was a mess.

More about that gender transition. That I can talk about, because it was an internal process. I never shared the details of what I was going through at the time because I was too busy going through it. I first realized I was not cisgender in the summer of 2010, which was part of the motivation for my move to Massachusetts. At the time, I thought I was genderqueer - neither fully male nor fully female - and didn't really feel any desire to live as male. But I was under a lot of cultural pressure. Western society is really heavily invested in the gender binary and really, really wants people to "pick a team". And this pressure doesn't come only from outside the trans community, but also from within. Even in the most "trans-friendly" of spaces, non-binary people are often overlooked. And some trans people - not any of the ones I know personally, but many of the people running trans support groups, websites, conferences, etc - are openly hostile to non-binary people. For example, on Tumblr there are a lot of binary trans guys who stalk the FTM tag, looking for unwitting non-binary people to attack, calling them "transtrenders" and accusing them of "appropriating trans identity". There are less openly hostile people who acknowledge that non-binary people are trans, but still believe some trans people to be "more trans" than others. And even well-meaning binary trans people are prone to simply forget that non-binary people exist. Plus, all the gatekeeping in the medical community leads many non-binary people to feel they should pretend to be binary-trans in order to have access to services.

So it was that pressure, combined with the fact that I did have some internal desire to be more masculine, that made me feel I must be FTM, a label I no longer use for myself. (I do still use male pronouns, for the record.) I don't regret the steps I took toward living as male (aside from the fact that testosterone left me with a bass singing voice that makes it a little hard to sing along with the radio, but that's a trivial matter). What I do regret is that I was so deep-down terrified that I might be a "fake" trans person, that I pushed down any desire to do anything remotely feminine. I did allow myself to wear very dark nail polish on occasion, but only while wearing a binder and otherwise trying very hard to "pass" as male. And you know, trans guys who really are deep-down male also try hard to pass, but they have a different motive. They want to be seen for who they really are. I was doing it because I was afraid who I really am wasn't good enough, that being non-binary wasn't "trans enough" and I had something to prove if I was going to call myself trans. I was afraid that the minute I let my guard down I'd suddenly be a woman - despite never feeling like one in my entire life - and have to go to all my friends and be like "J/K! I was actually cis the whole time!" That fear kept me from being able to relax and enjoy anything, and contributed a lot to my depression.

Last year, I did get out of the abusive-drug-house and into a safer house with a bunch of self-identified bronies. And yeah, bronies have gotten a bad reputation for being creepy and misogynist and all, but these particular people were nice and a big improvement over the previous housemates. They treated other people with basic respect and didn't attack me for things like decorating a jar, singing Beatles songs, or paying rent a single day late (all things I was scolded, insulted and even screamed at for doing in the previous house). And it happened that I actually do like My Little Pony, so it was nice to live in a house where I could watch that in the living room with friends, instead of in my room at a barely-audible volume to avoid being ridiculed.

That house, and the friends I made there, helped me heal. What helped even more was meeting my current partner, and his partner (we're a polyamorous family), who have been wonderfully accepting.
And they've seen me at my most distraught, because I did go through a brief relapse back in October, when I ran out of meds for a week and went through a falling out with a friend (this time most people agreed it wasn't my fault, but it still hurt) all at the same time. They chose to be my family after seeing me at my worst, and that is really huge. Even more, I know they love me no matter how I choose to express myself, so I've been feeling my creativity gradually become less stifled. I think stifled creativity was a big part of what was keeping me depressed.

But I'm still sad. I'm sad because even as my depression gets better, my fatigue is not, which has led me to believe it has a deeper medical cause. All my test results are normal, which means that cause isn't something easy to detect and treat like a vitamin deficiency, but is probably a more elusive, less treatable diagnosis like chronic fatigue. I've also had pretty bad back and joint pain, which, combined with the fatigue, have kept me out of work. (My partner is wonderful about this, but he doesn't make a lot of money, so finances are tight). I'm also sad because I don't know how to go about repairing the friendships I've damaged. I've accepted that the people who've completely left my life probably aren't coming back, but those are a small few and I'm not sure what to do about the rest.

I don't want to apologize for my mental illness. But I guess what I can say is, I'm sorry my illness scared people. I'm sorry it drained my emotional resources so I couldn't be a good friend. I'm sorry my behavior was so unpredictable. I'm not sorry for being suicidal, because I couldn't help it, but I am sorry my suicidal ideation sometimes came across as a threat. I don't recall consciously being mean to anyone, but I am sorry if I was mean by accident or during a time when I was too incoherent to be aware of my behavior. I'm sorry I broke people's trust.

My depression isn't "over" - I'm not sure it will ever be over - but I have reached a point where I am ready to begin making amends. I am not ready to deal with a bunch of people suddenly telling me everything I have ever done that bothered them, so please don't do that. But I am definitely ready to hear things like "In the future, when X happens, I would like it if you did Y." I am ready to have people tell me their boundaries and how they would prefer to be contacted, and what they find triggering and would prefer that I not share with them. So if I've hurt you in the past couple years and there are things I can do now that will help heal that, please let me know. And please know that if I did hurt you, it was because I was literally not able to take care of my own needs, let alone anyone else's. I'm sorry that happened. It was never, ever because I didn't care.

1 comment:

Emily Walsh said...

Hi Elisha, I was actually just checking out a few of your posts and had quick question about your blog. I was hoping you could email me back when you get the chance, thanks~

Emily