Monthly Archives: July 2013

On Coming Out As Trans: The Early Days

On the few occasions that I have spoken openly about being trans, the rewards have been well worth it.

I don’t tell everyone I meet that I am trans. Why should I? For all intents and purposes I’m just another guy, slightly awkward, somewhat shy. Attention-grabbing isn’t my thing; I’d much rather work away in the background and let someone else claim the glory. But I also know that part of my healing process involves sharing who I am with the people who matter to me. And I’m learning, slowly, to be comfortable with who I am even if other people aren’t.

My First Post-Transition Employer

When I first transitioned I also happened to be unemployed. Having just finished a semester of university, and still in the early stages of hormone treatments, I hit the pavement in search of a job. Through a friend I landed an interview with a self-publishing company who was seeking the services of a prepress technician. That is, someone to receive manuscripts from would-be authors, lay out their book and design or assemble a cover. I had limited InDesign skills and even less graphic design skills (I had briefly volunteered at the university newspaper) but these were all things I could learn – and I did.

It so happened that I had interviewed with this particular employer 3 times before – as a woman. The fourth time was my lucky break – and it happened to coincide with my transition to manhood. I mentioned this in my interview – that if they called any of my references, they would refer to me by my female name and female pronouns. My interviewers seemed unphased by this piece of information. It helped that they had previously hired a trans person; they were not completely oblivious to the particular challenges I faced.

I worked there for a year and a half before I decided to move on. My father had died, my family had rejected me, and I was still wrestling with guilt over a close friend’s suicide. The work was no longer satisfying, the company was struggling financially, and I couldn’t function anymore. So I decided to go on EI. I asked my employer to lay me off and they obliged. I remain grateful for that.

The Government Funded Self-Employment Program

The thing about EI is that it doesn’t last forever. I was assigned a employment counsellor through one of the many government-sponsored employment agencies. My case worker was an eccentric man with a baritone voice who liked to cradle his junk with one hand as he explained to me the next steps of my process. I told him everything: about the years I’d struggled with depression, my mother’s reaction when I came out to her (she’d said it would’ve been better if I’d just died), my father’s passing and my feelings of unemployability.

He suggested that I might be eligible for government-funded re-training and we started the paperwork. Interestingly, he thought my trans status would cause less problems than my diagnosis of clinical depression. We would have to prove that I was too sick to work in a regular employment environment but healthy enough to attend school and work for myself. Not so easy.

All I’d ever wanted to be was a writer, but I had no faith in my abilities and didn’t see how I could make it work financially. I figured, if I was going to study something, I wanted to study something I’d actually enjoy. So I settled on attending the Vancouver Film School. They had a 12-month screenwriting program that also included learning how to write journalism, TV specs, children’s shows, documentaries and other types of creative writing.

As part of my application process I needed to speak with people in the industry and get them to say that they would hire me on their projects once I graduated. I looked up everyone and anyone I could find. I volunteered with an organization that screened documentaries in a restaurant setting. I befriended two documentary filmmakers who’d been in the filmmaking biz for more than 30 years. They said that if I got everything together for a project they’d consider coming on as a producer. I was elated. The way I saw it, even if I didn’t learn a thing from film school, I’d get a chance to network. And everybody knows that networking makes the world go round.

I completed the paperwork, put in the application to the school, including a writing sample about my life as a trans person. It worked; the school said yes. Now all I had to do was make sure that the government was on board. With my case worker’s support, I completed form after form, outlining my career plan and arguing that because of my challenging life experiences, I had plenty of material to draw on to succeed in the film business. I was approved; I was given a living allowance of $12,000 for the year and my tuition and text books were covered. A good thing, too, as the tuition wasn’t cheap: $20,000 for the entire program. There was no way I could’ve gone without the government support. I packed my bags and got ready to move to Vancouver.

I was eager for the next chapter of my life to begin.

Living with Suicide

The day A— died marked a turning point for me. Suicide was no longer just a theoretical concept; it was real.

It’s hard to describe how it felt: I remember a kind of hissing noise in my ears, like when a radio channel isn’t quite tuned in. It also felt like either the event itself was a dream, or my life was an episode of the Twilight Zone, and sooner or later the show would be over and everything would return to regular programming.

Except, of course, that didn’t happen. I remember driving to the house where A— had lived and where her friends now gathered after her death. We sat around in the living room, some of us having never met before. K—, A—‘s partner, seemed the most well-adjusted of all of us. She described going to the coroner’s office to identify A—‘s body. She described how, earlier in the day, she had seen A— amidst the city traffic but had been unable to follow her to wherever she was headed. She mentioned that A— had made personal videos instead of leaving a suicide note. She offered to show them to me, but I declined. They weren’t made for me, I said. I eventually saw one of them at the memorial we held in her honour. She looked drugged, out of sorts. She advised us, her friends, to love each other. She said she felt she had given too much of herself at times, and not enough at others. It was hard to watch.

I later found out how it all went down. A— went to the Sandman Hotel, poured herself a glass of wine and ran herself a bath. Someone, maybe K—, told me she drank Chinese herbal medicines to relax herself, then she slit open her wrists and bled to death. I calculated the timing and realized that while she was doing this I was at Cinecenta, a movie theatre at the university, watching a documentary on the life and times of Edvard Munch, the guy who painted The Scream. A— had left me a voicemail earlier in the day, telling me that she was going on a long journey. I had listened to it and dialed *69 to find out where she was calling from but the number was blocked. I had known something was wrong but instead of contacting K— or anyone else, I chose to go to the cinema with a friend. I felt sick thinking about it.

Unlike K—, I hadn’t had to ID the body once they found her. And yet, without something tangible, some actual proof that she was no longer alive, my brain struggled to make sense of it. I thought back to our last conversation, when we had enjoyed oysters together at a local restaurant. That had been three weeks earlier. She had seemed somewhat subdued but not depressed.

I found myself seeing A— everywhere. Strangers constantly reminded me of her as I walked the streets. When the feelings overwhelmed me, I listened on repeat to David Gray’s Sail Away and Jorane’s Film III, songs A— herself had introduced me to. A restless numbness seeped into my soul.

I visited K— often during the aftermath. I admired K—‘s strength; she seemed so much more grounded than anyone else, a role model on how to handle grief. And yet she had been closer to A— than all of us. She was hurting too, of course. I remember her calling me and asking if I wanted to go to the bug zoo with her. Sure, I said, and off we went. I think it was a Sunday afternoon.

The bug zoo was fascinating. I was mesmerized by insects that disguised themselves so effectively that you couldn’t tell them apart from a leaf.  Or the scorpions that turned indigo under a UV light. Or the tarantula the guide placed on my hand and that crawled up my arm, harmlessly. Or the spider that had figured out that it could copy-cat the black widow quite effectively even if it had no poison of its own. A black widow’s bite, the guide explained, rarely kills people but it hurts on a par to a woman giving birth. I wondered how much pain A— was in when she died.

After the bug zoo visit, we went our separate ways, K— and I. Eventually she met a nurse and moved to Vancouver. We visited a few times, but slowly drifted apart. Maybe I reminded her too much of A—. K— conceived and had a baby. I never got to meet the little girl, though I hear from friends we have in common that she is quite cute. I am happy K— has been able to move on. She deserves a happy, enjoyable life.

But for me the descent into madness continued after A—‘s death. Five months after she killed herself, my father passed away from cancer and my family disowned me for being transgender. It seemed like a cruel joke, like the universe was trying to tell me something, only I couldn’t figure out what. The Twilight Zone episode that my life had become continued on; I tumbled deeper and deeper into the abyss.

(to be continued)

Designing the life you want (and living the life you have)

When I first consulted an endocrinologist to discuss hormone treatments for my condition, she warned me: you can’t get pregnant while taking testosterone, understand? I thought: not worried about that; I’m single and likely to stay that way for a very long time to come. I thought: don’t make me laugh. I had no wish to be a parent, nor any intention of passing on my messed up genes to the next generation.

When I consulted a surgeon six years later to discuss the pros and cons of having a hysterectomy, he strongly encouraged me to go ahead with getting it. Why go through the risk of getting cancer in your ovaries or uterus, he said. You don’t need them so get rid of them. I was persuaded and underwent a full hysterectomy and oophorectomy in 2010. The surgery went smoothly and I especially looked forward to much less dramatic hormone fluctuations afterwards, something that had been affecting my mood more severely than I liked. I wasn’t disappointed.

After the surgery I could take much lower doses of testosterone while maintaining within male range of hormones in my body. I no longer had to worry about the dreaded trough; that time of the cycle when many transmen experience severe mood swings right before their next shot of testosterone. I was elated.

But having a hysterectomy also marked the moment of no return for me. I had already been on testosterone since 2004 and had no intention of ever transitioning back to living publicly as a woman; that bridge had been crossed well and good. But in physical and theoretical terms, I could, if I so wished, do so. I still had a choice. I could, conceivably, be a very hairy, very deep-voiced woman and have intercourse and conceive a child. I could be a biological parent to a child. If I wanted to, which I didn’t.

That changed when I met M. Love has a way of doing that; making you reconsider even your most basic values, beliefs and plans for the future. With M, for the first time in my life, I could imagine a life that included children and me as a parent. I hadn’t even realized this was something I wanted. I had a lot to learn: I hadn’t known, for example, that I would find love — it had snuck up on me. For so much of my life, it had simply seemed like an impossibility, and yet here I was, in a loving partnership. What else had I taken for granted as impossibilities? Was it time to reconsider these too?

Since my hysterectomy I have had no regrets. But I would be lying if I said I did not grieve for the loss of that intangible desire to create a clan of my own, from my own loins. As I become more comfortable with my manhood, I have to grieve for that part of me that will not experience something that is so key to what we are told makes being human great — having a child, a family of your own.

We have other options, of course. My partner and I have discussed the possibility of adoption, or of perhaps inseminating her with the sperm of a donor. These are all exciting and worthy discussions to have as we plan a future together. Don’t mind me, though, as I shed a tear for the child who will never be. The one I could have had, had my life unfolded differently. Sterility takes some getting used to — even when you choose it for all the right reasons.

What intersex people teach us about gender

What is gender?

Just finished watching the documentary InterSEXion on CBC TV. A powerful piece of visual storytelling by an intersex filmmaker about the many injustices intersex people face in today’s world.

The main point the film makes is that intersex people are natural, and as natural beings, as persons, they have a right to define their own identity. The film is a strong condemnation of what has been a common practice within the medical community of subjecting infants and young children to so-called corrective genital surgeries. Babies are getting cut up to make them conform to common standards of boy or girl.

But, as the film asserts, there is really nothing to correct — because intersex people are not broken. As Dr. Milton Diamond proclaims in the film: nature loves variation.

I recall my own conversations with an intersex woman I met while at film school. She talked about the shame she felt growing up, the lack of family support (they refused to talk to her about it) and the devastation that followed when a Doctor matter-of-factly informed her that she was sterile. Her response, while not morally upstanding, was understandable: she slept with as many married men as she could. Why not?

It took a long time for her to make peace with herself and even longer to find a loving partner. In fact, when I met her she was in her sixties. I don’t recall how old she was when she met her partner, but I think she must have been in her fifties. Her partner, interestingly, was a female-to-male transsexual. They both identify as female but both have XY chromosomes.

The film interviews many intersex people who have simply given up on love. They’ve become pigeon-holed for their unusual genitalia or mannerisms, classified as gay or freak. And as a result, they have avoided the pitfalls of romantic relationships altogether. After all, medical doctors and adults in their lives have been touching their genitals since they were infants. They were raised from the earliest age to see their body as ugly, different, monstrous. As far as most of them knew, no one else like them existed, nor were their bodies desirable in a sexual way.

It was refreshing to see among those interviewed, some who had loving childhoods, and who were able to develop healthy love lives and partnerships when they grew older. Either by chance or by the luck of the draw some of these children ended up with parents who did not allow their children to go under the knife. These children grew up oblivious of their difference until they were faced with the genitalia of their peers.

None of these people, the ones who escaped the knife, felt any shame at all about their difference. Not, at least, until they were confronted, as in one person’s case, with a medical professional who told him when he was 14 that based on his genitals and chromosomal makeup he was neither female, nor male; he was nothing.

Who calls a 14 year old nothing? Who gets to make that call about anyone else’s worth – regardless of their gender? And since when is gender the baseline for one’s value to society?

Ridiculous.

So many lives have been affected because of Dr. John Money‘s misguided assertion that gender was more about nurture than nature. Dr. Money was considered a brilliant psychologist at John’s Hopkins Hospital in the 1960s and his theories, which held that children were blank slates that could be raised to be either men or women regardless of chromosomes or other biological factors, were largely taken as gospel in the medical establishment — still are by many to this day, despite the mounting evidence discrediting his claims.

As one expert eloquently explains in the film: it’s not so much that John Money got it wrong. It’s that when evidence appeared that he was wrong, he simply wasn’t able to admit his mistake. After all, his blank slate theory of gender had made him world renowned. To admit he was wrong would be to admit that the theory that had launched his career was a sham. No one wants to be wrong, least of all a brilliant, ambitious psychologist at one of the world’s most prestigious hospitals.

Interestingly, the obituary for Money in the New York Times (he died in July 2006), presents him as an advocate for transsexual rights: [Money] was an early proponent of sex reassignment surgery for men and women who believed that their biologically given sex was at odds with their sexual identity. This does not square with my understanding of the man. He is much reviled in the trans community, understandably. Here is a man who thought he could change gender with the flick of a blade and the cooperation of trusting parents.

But back to the question I started with: what is gender? Gender is what you want it to be – but I believe it is also innate. It’s more than a choice, it’s in your DNA. As a transman who was raised as a woman, I believe gender is a choice we make only insofar as we let ourselves live out the identity we feel belongs to us. For some, that identity is pretty straightforward: man or woman. And for most, that conforms to the genitals they have. But for some of us, gender is more like an inverted onion — with layers upon layers of complexity the more you examine it up close.

Compartmentalized for Success?

Since as far back as I can remember I’ve enjoyed the ability to compartmentalize my life. It’s been a way to stay sane, in control.

My work life in a mainstream business environment doesn’t meld that easily with my personal life on the margins, as a transman, a queer person, a survivor of mental illness. My life is anything but normal, but as long as I’m able to keep these realms separate, nobody needs to know. Or so I’ve been telling myself. But what if it isn’t true anymore?

Order and tidiness give me a sense of control, like I’m in control. And it works great — until someone introduces an unknown element into the picture. Like a co-worker who’s late for a meeting, or a flat tire, or an emergency at home. I can sort of wrap my head around it if it happens only on certain occasions. Because when your world is so tightly ordered, a little bit of spontaneity can shake things up just enough to keep life interesting. As long as the disrupting element causes only minimal distress. The problem is when no matter how hard you try, the tidy pattern you’ve built for your life gets disrupted on a daily basis. Or when the disruption is so large that it requires a wholesale recalibration of your being.

That’s when the alarm bells sound.

I’ve used the regular pattern of my days as a measure of my own mental stability. As long as I get up in the morning, make my way to work by 8:30 am (at the latest), and work til 5 pm (or later), I feel like I’m doing OK. When my depression or anxiety gets so severe that I am no longer able to maintain that consistency I know I am in trouble. Like, really in trouble. I’ve come close a few times these past few weeks as I’ve wrestled with my latest bout of depression.

But I’m also realizing that as a professional copywriter, as a professional of any kind, predictability is a rare commodity. When work bleeds into my personal life, and in turn, my personal life bleeds into my work life, then my footing gets wobblier and I start to topple over. It sucks.

But I’m not sure it’s the life I want to lead anymore. I have struggled with feelings of fragmentation, of dissociation, of feeling separate from myself in the past. Part of it had to do with my depression, part with my secret identity as a transman who wasn’t ready to climb out of the closet. But I have no need, really, to hide who I am anymore.

In the workplace I’m in I don’t talk much about being trans. But I spoke openly about it in my job application. No one has broached the subject with me, and I’m OK with leaving that particular sleeping dog lie for now or until I feel like it’s time to speak up. But I am grateful that I no longer have to hide. If I were to bring it up, for whatever reason, it would be just fine. I’m fairly sure of that.

Just knowing this gives me so much peace of mind. And I know just how lucky I am, not to have to worry that such disclosure could cost me my job. My landlady, too, is supportive of transpeople. It’s the first landlord I’ve had that rented to me knowing that I was trans.

It feels good, to not have to compartmentalize my own being. To not have to pretend to be anything other than what I actually am, at work, at home.

When my father found out I was transitioning he lamented that I would be a person with no history. He assumed that I would hide my transitional journey.

Well, I haven’t and I don’t want to. My female past is part of my story. Why hide it? I might not declare it loudly to everyone I see – I get to decide, after all, who I want to share my story with.

As I become more comfortable, with my skills, my talents, and my identity, I hope that the remaining cognitive dissonance between who I am at home and at work will disappear.

Let me just be as I am. Always learning, always evolving, and always true to who I am now.

sxc_1389756_busA phone app that let’s you buy a bus pass electronically. As with Groupon, you’d scan in the barcode as you climb on board. No more coins, monthly cardboard bus passes, booklets of tickets. A public transit solution for the digital age.

When relationships hurt

Relationships come and go. Like everything in life they ebb and flow. But when you find a pearl, you don’t want to let her go. M is a pearl.

When I met M I knew I’d found someone unlike anyone else I’d ever met. She was smart, funny, exuberant, and had a joyfulness to her that was infectious. Her heart was big and generous and she broke through my crusty exterior like a butter knife cutting into soft, melty butter.

I thought the good times would never end; I didn’t want them to.

I thought we’d get married, have babies, and grow old together.

Part of me still hopes we will.

But everyone has baggage, and some of us have a heavier burden than most. I’d never met anyone who’d had to go through what M faced. She ran away from home at 11 and escaped an abusive household, but the scars of her troubled childhood accompanied her into adulthood.

I know a thing or two about troubled childhoods; I have my own scars – some of them etched into my wrist quite literally.

But M has a fighting spirit; her fearlessness mesmerized me from the first day I met her. Her ability to articulate complex thoughts about her past and about her politics was astonishing, especially considering she had never finished high school. Hers is an unusually bright mind.

The closest she ever came to having a supportive family was T, a radical feminist lesbian 9 years older than her that adopted her when she was 16. While she only lived with T for a year and a half, they connected enough that she calls T her adoptive parent. They are close to this day. Note, she doesn’t call T ‘mother’. That word is forever tainted by the unspeakable deeds her biological mother inflicted upon her. Who can blame her.

Maybe that’s one of the keys to our relationship, that bond over non-existent mothers. I don’t pretend to have lived through the horror that M faced with her parents, but I’ve experienced enough parental neglect that I can empathize at least at some level with what she’s been through.

My own mother turned her back on me for good in my early twenties, disowning me for being a transgender man. The last time I spoke to her was in 2006, a year after my father passed away and two years after I first started taking hormone treatments. Neither of my parents approved of my decision to transition. And because they come from a conservative culture, with conservative friends, I did not feel comfortable attending my father’s funeral. I grieved on my own, a continent away.

But long before I transitioned, my relationship with my mother was toxic. In her eyes, I was lazy, stupid, and purposefully disobedient. I could do no right, and when I became suicidally depressed, she refused to talk to me about it, asking that we “let the scars heal”. She meant her scars, not mine. Now, I realize it must be difficult for a parent to watch their child descend into the depths of a suicidal depression, but I wager that most parents would seek help for their child and stand by their side. My mother’s only effort in this direction was to have my father, a psychiatrist, give me sample anti-depressants that the drug reps dropped off at his office. I was never taken to see a psychiatrist (other than my own father) and I was never taken to a psychologist or counsellor.

As far as my parents were concerned my depression was genetic. And that’s all there was to it. Pills were all that were needed. Never mind that they made the suicidal thoughts worse. But my parents wouldn’t have known that. Because we didn’t talk about why I was taking them. They figured it was my job to tell them what was going on, and I figured it was better not to say anything – because who wants to tell their parents they want to kill themselves?

I did eventually seek out help on my own, long after I’d left my parents’ home and fled to a different continent (my parents lived in South Africa and I settled in Canada). But by that time, the depression had gotten quite severe. Long story short, I still suffer from it; and I still see a therapist. Sometimes I still contemplate suicide, but I haven’t acted on those impulses in over 10 years. I’m proud of that accomplishment.

Needless to say, M and I both have trauma, and while that shared experience brings us together, it can also send us in a tailspin apart.

Maybe that’s what happens in relationships. We rub up against each other’s raw spots and we bleed and bleed. And if we don’t learn how to quell the blood, well, things can end badly.

I worry about that, especially these days.

The suicidal thoughts are back for me. And M is struggling with behaviours that I can’t help her with, behaviours that, I’m sure, once helped her deal with the trauma of her childhood but now simply cause her to hurt herself. It’s mostly related to body image and food. For the sake of her privacy, I’ll leave it at that.

Figuring out a path forward, a path that doesn’t lead us in separate directions is the challenge we face. We are at a crossroads. And it’s foggy out there. But I’ll keep looking for the light. Because I love her. And because I want to live. I need to remember that.

Hey here’s an idea

The conceptual artist Dario Robleto writes “there’s a beautiful philosophy in knowing a universe exists in the scraps around you, if you just know how to access it or tease out new, hidden meanings”.

I love this image of the world around us being a scrapyard from which we can build something truly original and authentic. So, in this spirit, I’m creating a new category for my blog. The Idea List. Here I will list random ideas, thoughts, inspirations as they occur.

Who knows, maybe one of these ideas will lead to something.

A moment together: My first gender odyssey

It’s done. The hotel is booked, as are the bus tickets. Come August 1st to 4th I’ll be in Seattle to attend the Gender Odyssey Conference for the very first time. I’m especially looking forward to being – for once – in the majority, surrounded by other transpeople. Where else does that ever happen? Nowhere, that’s where.

Life is pretty good lately. I keep waiting for the tide to shift again. I so want this to be the new normal for me. Let there, please, just be stability. Cautiously, tentatively, I feel more positive about the future. Part of it is, I’m sure, the wonderful sunshiny weather we’ve been enjoying lately. But part of it, too, is that I feel myself emerging from my crusty old shell. I’m still fragile, don’t get me wrong, but maybe, just maybe I’ll let myself feel like I’m OK. This life is OK. Everything is gonna be OK. And that makes me look forward to this conference. It’s an adventure.

Of course, who knows what’ll actually happen.

I’ve been thinking a lot about authority lately, and my lack of it. Part of what happens when I get into a real funk is that I start questioning my own capacity to add value to the world I live in. I feel like I’m just an energy suck, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to live. If I can’t be a productive member of society, the voice in my head goes, then what the heck am I doing here? And sometimes, when the depression runs deep, I don’t feel like I am productive at all. Probably because I’m not. And it’s a struggle to get out of that space. It’s a struggle and it’s scary.

But as I said, I’ve been thinking a lot about authority, and about how, what’s important to me is to feel like I have something to offer. Because having a skill, a talent, or a gift, means that I’m not just dependent on others; I can give back. And I have something to give back. So that’s what I’m working on. I want to expand my toolbox of what I have to offer the world. Having spent such a significant portion of my life barely existing outside of my bedroom, I have a lot of living to catch up on. I have a lot of skills to learn.

It’s not just about feeling useful though. My partner M has shown me that. She is exceptionally useful and yet has no accreditations to show for it. Her usefulness is not the kind that’s recognized by the society we live in. Her voice is not taken seriously – at least, not without a lot of effort. Her friends, on the other hand, know better.

And that’s the key. Finding your tribe. Developing a voice that people listen to; that people find meaningful. How does one do that? Especially when money isn’t something you have a lot of, or degrees, or rich friends in powerful places.

How do you make your mark when you’re just a nobody in the corner that everybody overlooks?

It starts with having something to say. It starts with knowing that what you say has value, and that you have a right to say it. And it starts with knowing who you want to say it to.

It starts with knowing that you deserve to be here. And then it’s about really being here. In the moment. Alive. Learning as much as you can, so you can share it with others.

Meaning comes from giving. But first you need something to give.

That’s why I want to go to the Gender Odyssey Conference. To find my tribe, my people, and to learn from them what I can. And then to share, my own story, my own struggles. Who knows maybe next year I’ll be a facilitator for a workshop on how to blog your way back to health. Or maybe I’ll connect with someone who wants to collaborate on an art project with me. Or maybe I’ll find new inspiration for my personal writing.

And maybe nothing at all will come of it. That’s a possibility too. But that’s the serendipity of life right there. You never know until you try.

To Repeat, or to Not Repeat

Attunement, disruption and reparation. Those are the ingredients of a successful relationship. M and I are pretty attuned, most of the time, but we have our moments. Usually because something the other is doing provokes memories from our trauma-based histories. And once the disruption occurs, the road to reparation happens slowly, moment by moment, until equilibrium is restored.

Maybe that’s the trajectory for my moods too. Step 1 is attunement with my own needs, my sense of myself as a whole, capable person. Step 2 is the depression, which causes me to dissociate from myself and enter a state of disharmony with my own needs and wants. Step 3 is where I attempt, sometimes not so successfully, to regain connection not only with that part of myself that is whole, but also with the environment, which I form a part of.

Really, I am the product of my environment, my history. But I also hold in my hands the ability to shape my environment, my story, moving forward. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes I forget. And when I forget, the moment seems to drive me rather than me driving it. That’s when the pain is at its worst. Why is that? It feels like all my power is seeping out of my body; and I feel totally, completely vulnerable. Not fun.

One way to control people, is to convince them that, not only is the world a dangerous place, but also they are incapable of navigating that world on their own. I feel like that was a message that I received early on in life. I remember one particular instance where my mother told me not to trust strangers, ever. A fairly innocuous message. But in my fear-based world view, it meant that when I ran into my sister’s best friend on my way home from school the next day, I categorized her in the stranger category and refused her offer of a ride home.

Because that was the message in our household. Anyone who wasn’t part of the family was basically under deep suspicion. And the flip side, if an authority figure in the family ordered you to do something, you did it – no questions asked.

I am not a rebel by nature. I want to please those I trust. I want to be a good person. But as I grew into a disaffected teenager I no longer believed that the messages I was receiving from my parents, my teachers were true. But because it wasn’t safe to dissent, I simply withdrew from life.

I killed myself – became a living dead.

The world is full of people who are dead but breathing. And I’m not talking about those unfortunate people who are dependent on a breathing machine. My father, for example, shrank smaller and smaller as he grew older. His personality, the space he occupied in the world, it all shrunk. Until finally he was crawling around (literally) on his knees and later got pushed around in a wheelchair.

I loved my father deeply; admired him deeply. But I don’t feel like he ever truly got the chance to flourish into the best person he could be. Sometimes I worry that I won’t have a chance to flourish either. The years tick by and life doesn’t seem to get any easier. The years feel shorter and shorter every time they pass.

How do I interrupt that dialogue? How do I make the remainder of my life count for something? Even if it hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would….?