Living and Working with Disability

During this past year, I sought out and was granted a disability accommodation at my job. My work is about to start back up after a natural break and I am filled with constant dread. I’ve searched for years for an alternative to working where I do and I’ve concluded that my disability (primarily PTSD but other issues as well) is so severe that I may need to seek permanent disability status. If I knew that I would be granted this if I sought it and that it wouldn’t be taken away from me, I would have applied for it yesterday. That’s how difficult it is for me to make it through each day at my job.

I am about a decade and a half from the earliest at which I could potentially retire with some benefits. I cannot imagine how I can possibly get through this as I feel that I’ve been running on fumes for the past three to four years and am about to coast to a full stop. The triggers that are present at my job are constant and intense and, as such, they overwhelm my capacity to cope. I’ve had time off and have done nothing but worry about what is to come in the next year; even away from it, my job consumes nearly all of my mental and emotional energy. Coming out as trans and non-binary has only escalated the situation and increased the likelihood of triggering situations.

I feel less stuck now that I’ve come to accept the reality that there isn’t another type of job that would alleviate my symptoms. I both can’t do my job and I’m choosing to do my job for right now as I weigh the pros and cons of applying for disability. I do not feel any shame about getting to this place, but it is bewildering to think back to my early 20’s where I never would have imagined I would be at this place (in fairness, I was frequently suicidal so I often saw no future at all for myself during that time).

I’ve told people again and again that getting up each day and taking care of food and shelter has felt as though it has taken everything I have in me, but I didn’t actually hear what I was saying because I couldn’t imagine a world where I wasn’t forced into an impossibly stressful and overwhelming experience every workday. I’ve significantly reduced my commitment at my job to the bare minimum of full-time work; in doing so, I’ve given up tens of thousands in income every year. This change has helped but, when a person is running on fumes, pushing with less intensity on the gas pedal still uses up whatever fuel remains.

I would be extremely grateful to read about your experiences if you’ve been on disability or thought about pursuing it. There are so many stereotypes and judgments about “not working” and I’ve definitely fallen for them myself for far too long. It took a lot for me to apply for disability accommodations and I regret not going down that path earlier, so I want to keep an open mind about my options now as well.

Why I Write (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Yesterday, I missed my first daily post since starting this blog. I had an unpleasant obligation in the afternoon that disrupted my normal writing schedule and I forgot to come back to post. Perhaps that is why I continued to have strange dreams and felt restless!

After this unintended mini-break, I decided to reflect a bit on what this blog has meant for me. I began posting to this blog last September, first with recording simple pleasures and then expanding into topics like card draws and meditation. I’ve also chronicled aspects of my journey as a trans and non-binary person and discussed life as a person with disabling PTSD and other chronic illnesses.

I am proud of the fact that lots of aspects of who I am are able to show up in my writing. This blog functions primarily as a personal record of my life, but there have been days where I feel that I have a message I need to share with others. Something about having to craft my words to be comprehensible to an audience functions so much better for me than trying to write a paper-and-pencil journal.

I don’t have a particular goal or “next step” set in my mind for my writing, but I am looking forward to more free time in about a month and a half during which I hope I can further reflect on where I am at in my life and what I’m learning. Writing on my blog feels like exercise most days, something that I don’t necessarily always want to do, but something from which I benefit every single time I engage. What does your blog mean to you? What do you get from it, and what goals, if any, have you set regarding it?

Open Space for Transition

I’ve been almost confused at times in the past few weeks as to why my mood is suddenly so much better than it has been in months. I realized today that a good part of the calm I’m feeling is the fact that I am no longer being misgendered* countless times every day. The few times it’s happened in recent weeks, it has stung just as much as it did in the past, but having it occur once a week doesn’t deplete my mental resources the same way more frequent misgenderings do. In addition, I’ve been getting “he/him” pronouns in one of my social media groups, which, although inaccurate, is much less painful than the ones I’m used to getting.

I can simply be myself now, and don’t have to put much effort into my appearance or being “read” correctly. Every now and again, I remind myself that I’m on T and that it will continue to affect how I look, because I’m a little worried I’ll first take a good look at myself in August, which is when I anticipate having to return to in-person work, and not recognize myself anymore if I don’t attend to the subtle changes that are happening.

I absolutely love not having to contend with others’ views of me and not needing to absorb their judgments unless I want to (in that I can choose when and how I engage much more than I could in the past). I don’t want this way of life to end, but I don’t think I can maintain my income anywhere near its current level if I try to work from home on an ongoing basis after this crisis ends. It is important, though, to know that enjoying minimal in-person contact isn’t a false fantasy I’m conjuring, but a lived reality I’m appreciating.

I have to fully re-start working from home tomorrow, so it will be highly interesting to observe how much of my positive attitude relates to the decrease in transphobia I’m experiencing and how much relates to the PTSD triggers which will start to pick up once I have more online interaction. I have seven weeks to get through and then I will have a few months off this summer. At the minimum, doing everything I can to be able to take the summers off consistently is a top priority for me in order to meet my personal and mental health needs as much as I can.

*My heart goes out to trans people that are currently trapped in abusive and unwelcoming environments because of stay-in-place orders. Here are some resources specific to COVID-19 and the trans community.

  1. Trans Equality
  2. Trans Lifeline
  3. Trans Advocate

Inner Wisdom (In the Cards)

As I transition to the spring season of my In an Open Hand intuitive deck, I want to take a few moments to reflect on one of the parts of self to which my deck attends, namely, wisdom. I view wisdom as inner guidance that observes and responds to the needs of other parts of self. I became curious, in sitting with the concept of wisdom, as to what it needs itself.

My wise self immediately answered me and let me know, in a word, respect is what it desires. This week has been one experience after another of people (mostly senior to me), blatantly ignoring my education and insight and flat-out telling me I’m wrong or discounting my opinions in areas where I carry a great certainty that I am right. I crave the type of respect that takes time to develop, the one that evaluates another’s capacity and deems them worthy of taking seriously. I’m afraid, though, that there is often a temptation to give or withhold wisdom based on more superficial traits.

There is an entire body of work around the concept of (primarily cishet white) men asserting, without sufficient evidence, their own opinion as fact. What struck me as of late was the level of disregard that can accompany the dismissal of another’s perspective, as I found myself spoken to as though I had no right to stand on equal footing. I swear I could feel the arrogance of privilege seeping through. I knew in that moment that my wisdom wasn’t being respected; my inner needs were not being met by the person with whom I was communicating.

I get frightened when I can tell that someone is absorbing what I am sharing without any critical thinking, as though my knowledge is to be unquestioned. I want my wisdom to be held to the light, as there is always room to add in nuance and perspective. I do not want to be worshiped or for my insight to replace hard science. What angers me greatly is when the hard science I share is discounted because of the vehicle of my semi-young trans and non-binary body being the one delivering it. I believe we need to see past peoples’ exteriors and grant them a fair audience, judging what they have to say on the quality of their knowledge base and not on their similarity to us or our internalized stereotype of competent.

I find myself wondering then how I can better care for my inner wise self, given that I am likely to continue to be disrespected and ignored in the outer world. The first idea I have comes back to not wasting my energy. My capacity for knowledge isn’t related to how many cishet white men take me seriously. F*ck, that feels like a revelation! I felt something fall off of me when I wrote that sentence, the truth of it hitting me emotionally and not just intellectually. Can we please teach all children this message? Such a large percentage of the “people it is necessary to impress” in my life have fallen into this category, and releasing myself of any need for them to be my target audience is powerful. I think, then, that the next part of reassessing what my inner needs for respect might be is to ask to whom I most want what I have to say to be meaningful, a question which I think will take some time to ponder.

Buried in this entire essay is an unasked query as to my ability to show others respect. There are layers of unconscious biases I still need to uncover, but I think I have begun to move in a direction of acknowledging the value of listening to lived experience in earnestness, rather than “well, actually..” as a default. Wisdom and hard science aren’t synonymous, nor is “sounding smart” the same as being astute. Where are you at in terms of accessing your inner wisdom? Do you feel respected? To whom might you be giving away your power? How well do you listen to the wisdom of others?

Coloring to Reflect (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I finally started a page in the “Trans Affirming Coloring Book” I purchased a while back. I do not like to engage with the human figure in any way artistically, for reasons I do not fully understand. The adult coloring book seemed like a low-risk way to explore some of my feelings and thoughts on this.

I recall having dolls as a child, and sketching human figures as a young teenager. I then went on to develop an eating disorder which may have been the start of my lack of comfort. I think it was when I came into awareness of the extent of my trauma history and my dissociation that I not only disliked looking at myself in the mirror, but also began to have substantial difficulty in connecting with any form of artwork that related to a person/the human body. I prefer visual art that is either abstract or of natural settings with no people present.

The longer I’m sitting with this topic, the more it makes me think I need to create a self-portrait so that I can approach rather than avoid this topic. I didn’t think twice about the fact that the coloring book sat unused for months on my living room table, but I now see that it represents a huge block I have inside of me in regards to how I relate to myself. I want to ease myself into the idea of sitting in front of a mirror or looking a photograph of myself to create an image, so I will start by completing more pages in it. How do you feel in regards to images of people? Have you ever created a self-portrait? What reflections have coloring books shown you?

Appreciating Risk

Being on T has led to so much unexpected personal growth for me; I was unprepared for the mental effects I would experience. The best way I can describe it is having an internal slider that can shift from a fine-grained, nuanced painting to one with broad and bold strokes of color. When I need clarity and decision-making, the lines are clear and I can make a choice. When careful deliberation and a weighing of multiple competing needs is relevant, I can zoom in with great detail. I hope that the easy/simple option doesn’t start to outweigh the more nuanced one over time if I continue to use low-dose T.

A specific area of my life where this new experience of flexibility is showing up is in interpersonal relationships. I find myself speaking where before I would have suppressed my voice; my inner bravery in being honest with myself is being shared with others. Alongside my growing fondness for hearing my own voice (cringe!), I find myself feeling calmer in confronting others. The feeling of “this needs to be said” is taking precedence over “what harm might I experience if I say this.” It isn’t that my assessments of situations are necessarily changing, but my risk/reward balance is shifting. Almost bizarrely, people are starting to listen to me! I find myself being taken more seriously, although it is too soon to tell if it is in regard to a particular situation or a general shift. I do not know what will continue to change physically or cognitively, but I am here for it and am appreciative of being able to see the simple and complex at the same time. If you are on HRT as a trans and/or non-binary person, please feel free to share if anything I’ve described fits for you or if your experience has been different.

Inspiration for Intuitive Cards (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I have been working on my In an Open Hand intuitive card deck for at least a year and a half now. It contains 64 cards, each with a different word and prompts for different parts of self for reflection. It is also split into seasons. I’ve finished the prompts for fall and winter, but have much left to do for spring and summer. I’ve been waiting impatiently for spring to be on the horizon so that I can get back to creating in this way again. As I wait for signs winter is lifting, I decided to spend some time reflecting on the process so far.

If you are interested in creating your own intuitive deck, here are a few tips and ideas about how you might go about doing so, based on what I’ve learned from my own experience:

  1. Decide on a few themes that have a numerical basis to them. For example, I’ve incorporated moon phases, seasons of the year, body systems and the like into my deck. This allowed me to create “suits” as well as types of cards within each suit. Doing this allows for a more intimate focus on a particular area of your inner world and can help to give you some direction.
  2. Consider the purpose you would like your deck to serve in your life and what you would like to learn from it. Intuitive to me speaks to exploring my internal experiences, but it might mean something else to you. What I love about making my own set of cards is that I am not conforming myself into someone else’s way of conceptualizing things but can be as free as my imagination will allow me to be.
  3. Do words or images speak more to your inner world and your intuition? If images are how you process, you may want to begin by creating the artwork for each card and then letting your ideas flow from there. I am much more comfortable with my writing skills, so I’ve started with laying out my ideas in language and am still working on finding a way to represent them visually.
  4. For which type of person do you want your deck to be accessible? As a non-binary person, I’ve been extremely frustrated by the strict gender binary most tarot and oracle cards incorporate, so it was important for me to find a way to represent my spirituality that would not reinforce the gender binary. Even if you are the only one who is going to use the cards you create, spend some time making sure you are welcoming all parts of self and not solely the ones with which you are most comfortable.
  5. Take your time. I have gotten a lot of fulfillment from having an ongoing creative project with no set end-date and a maximum amount of flexibility. I feel inspired by having something in my life that isn’t focused on deadlines, productivity, making an impression or fitting in. It is possible that you might start creating an intuitive deck and find yourself led in another creative direction. Be open to possibility.

If you have dedication to inner work and/or creativity, what wisdom or inspiration do you have to share? What word or image would feel appropriate to your day today? What does it mean to you to attend to your intuition?

OUT AND LOUD

I have been out as a non-binary trans person for about ten months and on low-dose T about six months, so I thought it would be a good time to spend some time processing my experiences thus far. I want to consider both how I am relating to my body as well as how I am relating to others from this place of a deeper understanding of myself. Finally, I want to consider what I would like to focus on going forward.

PHysical Changes

I have had ambivalence about being on T ever since I started it. I want my voice to drop, a bit of fat redistribution, increased muscle mass and mental changes. I am a lot less interested in hair changes. Thus far, it has been a mixed bag. My body hair is darkening but is not extremely different than it was. I also find myself not caring about it at times and bothered by it more at other times. I have had some increases in feelings of depression since starting T, but I do not think they are all due to the physical effects of it. In general, I feel more alert and my body aches are so much better than they used to be. My voice has lowered slightly but not quite as much as I would like it to. Because my job involves speaking, it has been so nice to feel like I can project my voice with less effort. I keep waiting for an internal indication that I need to cut my dose or go off of T because I am being more affected than I am comfortable with, but so far, it hasn’t come.

Social Changes

I have lost a few friendships since coming out as a trans non-binary person. I think being true to myself has led me to be more willing to follow through on creating a safe environment for myself and less willing to tolerate people’s ridiculousness. I’ve always been a decisive person, but T has helped me back up my inner knowing with action.

As a trans person, I’ve come to understand what it means to center advocacy work around the people who are most affected by bias and discrimination in a particular social justice realm (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.). This understanding, coupled with the intensity with which I’ve always approached moral issues, had led me to have a “no shits given” response to cis people’s lack of understanding and/or concern for the needs of trans people, and has helped me to better understand why I need to step back, listen and elevate the voices of others in areas where I have privilege. It has made it harder for me to engage in close relationship with people who lack this insight, but also more appreciative of those who grasp it.

Future plans

I need more (any!) trans people in my everyday life! I am hoping to be more engaged in pride events and such this summer and will hopefully meet people with whom I can form a connection. I have been presented with several opportunities to talk with cis people in a formal training setting about the experiences of trans people as well as how to act in solidarity, but I would love to be able to find places to direct support trans people. Finally, I want to continue to be vocal at least in my state in regards to the rights and needs of trans people. Things are going badly on the legislative front for trans youth in several states and, in addition to advocating for their needs, I want to be vigilant to ensure similar discrimination doesn’t ensue where I live.

If you are a trans and/or a non-binary person, are there topics that you would like to read about and/or discuss? How has your experience been going this last year?

Expansiveness (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I contracted myself into the smallest spaces into which I could fit, believing my happiness lay in being likeable.

When I found myself (in pieces), I realized how much room, mine alone to inhabit, I’d been conceding to others.

Now, I’m smacking the walls, splintering the frame, willing myself into the largest existence I can create.


No boxes. No binaries. No yielding my place of power.


Certain

days shrink me.

people coerce me into thinking these walls are made of granite.

experiences undermine my foothold.


But I am imminent.

My resolve will harden my shoulders and upright my posture.

Embodied and emboldened, I will demolish any resistance to the entirety who I am.

Refreshing My Wardrobe (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

If you regularly take time to purge clothing and accessories you no longer wear and/or to add new items to your collection, do you first pause to consider your goals in doing so? I did in recent days and decided my first priority was comfort. After settling on this goal, I was then empowered to make decisions that fit for me.

Since starting T, I have gained a bit of weight. As a result, some of my clothes have become uncomfortable. I wear a binder when I attend public events and at work, so I need the rest of my attire to be loose-fitting. I want to be read as androgynous which fits along with my physical needs. To achieve this, I purchased pants that are a size larger than the ones I had been wearing and have the old pairs set aside for donation.

Comfort, for me, involves selecting clothing that reduce my body dysphoria and that do not trigger my eating disorder. I am in the process of adding fleece pullover shirts to my closet. I own one of them currently and it is the coziest shirt that I can wear as “work clothes” that I’ve ever owned. I ordered a variety of colors and a few styles so that it doesn’t feel like a uniform.

Appealing to other people’s tastes and making myself look nice are not my top priorities in terms of what I wear. I want to appear well-groomed and to have my clothing be in good repair, but I do not need to have expensive, on-trend clothes to feel good about myself. Removing any requirements to attract the male gaze from my clothing choices feels freeing. I also love the idea that part of what it means to be free is to acknowledge that people can dress in whatever way matches their top priorities; their choices do not need to be about comfort first if that is not what they value most. If you want to look sexy, go for it!

The longer I consider the topic, the more I realize our style of dress is a weird tangle of our personal insecurities, the lived realities of the prejudices people in marginalized groups face, and self-expression. I hope for a world in which what we chose to adorn our bodies is a matter solely of individual and collective expression and not the result of discrimination and/or internalized norms that do not fit our truest being. I’m grateful to be able to make choices for myself in this area. If you could choose, what would you set as the goal for your wardrobe? What pieces would you toss and/or add? How much does the way you dress each day reflect who you really are?