Saturday, August 6, 2016

Sage Training

One week ago, Rich came to visit and Cody and I tried to take him on a nice hike that ended at a waterfall.  True to form, we forgot how to get there and attempted to wing it.

Cody: "You should write"
Me:  "I don't have anything I want to write about"

That's not an easy thing for me to say and actually mean.  Writing is my creative outlet - it's what I do when I want to share my point of view with the world.  I've found that when I don't want to write, it usually means that I don't want to think about what's actually on my mind.

I think it would be great if this blog was full of posts about how amazing life is.  That would basically mean that my life is perfect and that I've made nothing but correct decisions to get to where I am.  But that's not how the real world works, and if anything my goal with this blog is to be as honest and genuine with things as I possibly can.  Besides, a daily log filled with nothing but success stories probably wouldn't be all that interesting to read.

So if not successes, then what?  Epic struggles and lessons learned along the way?  Those are good, but I've written about my past a whole lot and I'm just kind of bored with it at the moment.  Thanks to my social butterfly nature, most of my best stories are anecdotes that I have told a number of times, and simply writing those out and calling them blog posts has a distinct feeling of me phoning it in.

After doing this for a few months I've realized that I'm far more invested in writing about the present, because it's way easier to write about things when the subject matter is "how I am feeling".  Or, at least, that's how it generally works.  When I'm emotionally invested in something, it's often tough to get me to shut up about it. That was the reason that I wanted a creative outlet in the first place.

...

This post is inspired mainly by two things:
  • that rather morose bit above that I wrote a week ago where I attempted to create despite not feeling particularly inspired
  • recent reflection about what makes my writing style different / why people would choose to go out of their way to read what I have to say
People have called my writing "conversational" - a term that I really like - but I never really stopped to think about why that is until recently.  When I ask myself what fuels my writing 'voice', I think it all boils down to one thing:  I've spent a lot of time in therapy.  

As I've often said, I like to be looked at as an open book.  I tried being in the closet regarding certain aspects of my life for years and it brought me nothing but frustration and unhappiness.  Transitioning forced me to share something personal with the world, and if anything I found that process to be extremely rewarding later in life because I'm no longer scared of being rejected for my beliefs.

And where did I gain experience talking about my personal life?  Therapy.

It's sometimes good to look at the world around you and realize that there is a lot of beauty in it.

1991 

I had gone from getting straight A's in first and second grade to not doing my homework and getting C's and D's instead.    In an attempt to figure out if there was something wrong with me, they took me to a child psychologist. 

Here's a hint for future parents: if you're going to force your children to go listen to some grown-up against their will, don't book the appointment on a Saturday morning or they will hate said adult on principle alone.  All I remember about this guy was that I said upfront that I would refuse to talk to him, and then sat silently for 50 minutes.  He actually told my mother right in front of me when she picked me up that it would take a few sessions for him to be able to build rapport with me.  Challenge accepted, asshole.

I told my mother that she was throwing her money away taking me to this guy.  Thankfully, she listened.  At 11 years old, it would be my first (but not last) experience calling a mental health professional a quack.

Writing this 26 years later, it isn't rocket science to figure out what happened: I got a Nintendo in the third grade and no longer found schoolwork to be the most interesting thing to use my brain on.  The common belief was that subjects like "history" and "science" and "a foreign language" are objectively interesting and useful, and they're not.

1999 

I had just dropped out of college and was feeling miserable.  Even though I was able to surf through high school with minimal effort, college proved to be a whole other beast.  I was forced to repeat a core class because I didn't hand in a final project, and then lost interest when I found myself being re-taught things that I already knew I didn't find interesting.  I skipped out of a few classes and things snowballed out of control pretty quickly.  

My parents picked me up and I moved back home, terrified at the thought of trying to succeed in life without a college education.  At that point in my life, I didn't think it was actually possible.  As if to drive the point home, I got a data entry job inputting records for a museum database where I had long hours to wonder what was wrong with me.

Unlike my visit to a psychologist years earlier, I wanted to go to this one.  It didn't make any sense to me why I could never focus long enough to do my schoolwork, and all I wanted was a cure for it.  He gave me a 100-question survey to fill out with statements like "I find it difficult to focus on my homework" that you have to answer on a 1-5 scale where 1 is "never" and 5 is "all the time", and I answered with 5s on a lot of them.  At the end of my first session, he told me that I was in the 97% percentile compared to other test-takers for something called Attention Deficit Disorder.

I was floored.  That was a thing?

I bought some books about ADD and it was like reading a biography of my life to that point.  Inability to focus on long-term projects, bad grades in school, doesn't pay attention, daydreams too much, tendency to fidget, disorganization - almost every symptom listed for ADD was something I struggled with in school.  He told me that he knew a psychiatrist that specialized in ADD and an appointment was booked.

The psychiatrist did a similar thing where he gave me a questionaire to fill out.  This one was larger - 500 statements instead of 100 that used same 1-5 scale with statements to rate.  This one had things like "I want to kill myself" and "I am sad all the time" thrown in there to mix it up a bit, and I noticed that it repeated questions using different phrasing .  

Humorously, there were also a bunch of questions like "I want to exist as the opposite gender" that I gave straight 5s on, but the psychiatrist never mentioned any of that.  It probably would have saved me a lot of trouble later on in life if he offered me help there, but oh well.

I ended my psychiatrist appointment with a Ritalun script.  It was interesting in that it certainly made data entry easier for me.  I was breaking data entry records with my newfound sense of focus! Unfortunately, breaking data entry records isn't really all that interesting and I didn't like what Ritalun was doing to my appetite, so I stopped taking it.

As years passed and I gave more thought to ADD, I revised my stance on my diagnosis.  I have an attention deficit - specifically to things that I don't find interesting - but I don't think I have a disorder. Years later I would have to do this very same thing for "Gender Identity Disorder".

My childhood did teach me how to shit-talk my friends when I'm better than them at things, like hiking.
2007 

This was basically the bottoming out point of my life.  I (and my close friends) had known for years that I wanted to exist as a woman, but I didn't have the courage to transition and no longer had the patience to exist as a man.  I was fully convinced that the risks of transition outweighed the rewards, and as a result I found it almost impossible to care about anything I did.

One extremely cold night in February, I accidentally started a fire in my room.  I'm not going to go too much into the details of that story other than to say that (a) it was my fault and I felt really guilty about it, (b) I lost all of my possessions and personal space at a time in my life where I was already feeling depressed, and (c) I started to realistically give thought to what would have happened if I lost my life in that fire, and the conclusion that I was coming to was that I wished I had.

Thankfully, I snapped out of it.  I made an appointment with a therapist who specialized in gender identity issues, and for the first time ever I felt free to talk my feelings out (without the influence of drugs) in a safe space with a professional who could help me make sense of them.  I still remember one exchange that made a huge impact on me:

Me:  "I guess that the perfect scenario would be if I had the magic ability to choose my gender at will, so I could be male at times and female at times"
Her:  "If you had that, when would you be male?"
Me:  "..."
Me:  "Well, if I was outside and I needed to pee.  Or if I was playing sports, I guess?"
Her:  "But other than that, female?"
Me:  "Yeah."

I can't remember how long I saw her for but it was probably two or three years.  Since her practice was a 45 minute drive for me, I made my visits to see her into my first attempts to go out in public presenting as a woman.  I would go and see her, wearing a dress and heels and probably not passing, and then go to somewhere like a mall or grocery shopping to work on not being terrified to be seen. She gave me a lot of helpful insight through a lot of scary stuff.

Once I was living female full-time, psychoanalysis no longer felt worth sitting through the commute to get there, so I stopped making appointments.  She understood and made herself available if I needed her in the future.  I started seeing her again when my father got sick, and once again she was instrumental in helping me through a really tough time in my life.

Trying out for "Riverdance"
2016

I think that therapy is both useful and overrated at the same time.

I mean - it's obviously useful to talk out one's thoughts and feelings.  It's nice to be able to do so with someone that who is:
  • confidential
  • non-judgemental
  • interested/engaged
  • knows how to ask relevant/helpful questions
It's just that I've never understood why there's this belief that it takes ten or more years of schooling to teach someone how to do that.  History and sciences and foreign language are interesting to some kids, but to a lot of kids they're not.  Being able to communicate and empathize and seeing the value in human connection has brought me far more in life than anything I learned in a classroom, and I think those lessons are universal.

One side effect that has come with being open about my transition is that it establishes right away that I'm willing to share some of my past with people who want to know.  I like being able to paint the full picture of my life, and it's hard to do so if I'm going to omit the first 27 years of it.  I like meeting new people and feel like I make friends pretty easily, so allow me to share my secret with anyone who wants it:
  • Think of questions that you're interested in hearing the answer to, and ask them.
  • Be willing to answer questions about yourself if they reciprocate, or to listen if they don't.
  • Try to see things from the point of view of others.
These days, I like to make myself available for others to talk their problems out to.  I'm no psychologist - I'm just an open person with a decent amount of life experience who likes connecting with other people.  On one hand, I would never be able to be an actual therapist because I hate all the formality and rules that come with treating human nature like a science.

On the other, I think that my mindset lends itself well to things like writing and making friends.  This is because I do it for fun, and thus no one can stop me.

Do whatever you want in life, but be willing to own it.
Therapy didn't teach me how to write, though.  Therapy taught me how to ask questions to myself and others.  The fact that I've been using the internet as a primary means of communication for more than two decades is what taught me how to write.

I've been on the internet since 1994.  Using written word to communicate with other people has always been natural to me, because for a very long time in my life I used the internet as a way to hide from my real-life insecurities.  I was an early adapter to the idea that one could have "friends on the internet", and more often that not I used the anonymity of the internet as a way to come out of my shell in a way that I wasn't yet comfortable with in real life.

I've used all sorts of different platforms to save my writing, but my favorite has always been long e-mails. Throughout my life, whenever I've really wanted to connect with someone I would send them a long e-mail about everything going on in my life, and invite them to do the same.  Thankfully, I still know all the passwords on all my old e-mail accounts, and so in a way I've created an accidental diary where I can go back and read about how I was feeling at any past point in my life.

My best writing has always been done in letters.  This has many forms - from internet pen-pals, to catching up with old friends who I no longer see as much, to getting to know new people without resorting to small-talk, I do my best work when I'm addressing it to someone else.  I can't believe it took me so long to realize this about my writing:  essentially my blog is like a letter I'm writing about my life, addressed out to anyone who wants to read about it.  As long as I look at it in that light, I can't imagine I'll ever decide to stop.

1 comment:

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