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

All Together Now (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Things are shutting down left and right where I live as daily cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 are doubling within a few days. As my coworkers, friends and neighbors and I deal with the situation, a singular experience is rising to the surface for me. This crisis isn’t personal, it’s global.

I cannot tell you how many times in my life I’ve dealt with a personal crisis and felt completely alienated from the happy, calm people around me whose lives seemed to be humming along perfectly while mine fell apart. There is such a lie at the heart of trauma–that. because our experience was unique, we alone have been ruined and bring ruin into our lives. I feel more energized and empowered than I have in months. It is because I can move away from a place of “I suffer alone” to “we’ve got this, how can I help.” I was made for this type of situation, and, because it has not yet involved an overwhelming amount of interpersonal conflict, I am not triggered by it.

The realness of the fact that I have a mental disorder, PTSD, rather than a personality flaw is becoming crystallized in my mind. Sure, I’m not coping perfectly and have had mood swings and trouble sleeping. But, I am not feeling helpless or hopeless. I am attacking the challenges that face me instead of crumbling underneath of them, and it is happening in large part because almost everyone around me is validating that this is a crisis and that we are here to support each other in it. How different would my everyday life be if people responded to my PTSD with support and care and took my triggers as legitimate?

Underneath of all of this is a feeling of being a real human for once, rather than a cobbled-together set of traumatized parts trying to masquerade as a real person. I feel more adult, more helpful, more reassuring and more kind than…I don’t know when. Apparently all it takes is absolute chaos, danger and a global pandemic to realign my interior into an optimally-functioning collaborative. If you are a trauma survivor, especially one who deals with dissociation, how are your parts holding up right now? What reorganization is occurring? What inner truths are rising to the surface?

Room for Growth

I am following up my recent post about how to know whether each person’s full humanity is being recognized in a relationship. Today, I’m focusing on my own weak spots in living up to what I wrote. The list from my previous post is below.

“If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported.”

Offerings of acceptance

“Welcomed as you are” is a struggle for me in my personal relationships. In professional relationships where I have authority over someone, I strive to my fullest capacity to be open-minded, non-judgmental and to find something good in everyone I meet. Outside of the structure of this context, I tend to focus on potential red flags, signs of abusive tendencies and to assess on a continual basis how likely my boundaries will be repeatedly tested in a relationship. In other words, I center my attention on self-protection and compatibility. I would like to better trust myself to be able to adjust how close I am to someone in the context of information I learn in the future, rather than to take every questionable situation and elevate it into “and we’re done” before I have a full assessment of how things might go.

Unearned trust

I am not certain as to my capacity at “offering love, affection and trust without having to earn them.” I am not overly transactional in my relationships (for example, I don’t give gifts or act with generosity with the expectation that it is returned in kind), but I do open up incrementally as I build trust with someone. I also think that I am prone to withdrawing if I feel hurt and could fairly be accused of “abandoning” people, although my perspective is that we each need to be responsible for handling our own emotions rather than expecting someone else to resolve difficult feelings for us. I suppose my evaluation of this capacity would be that I am alright with where I am at on it, but I think there have been others in my life who would report me as being limited in intimacy and closeness.

Change on your own time frame

I am not very good at making sure those in my life are “encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace.” I want results and I want them now! My lovely brain is highly skilled at instantly peering, with accuracy, into another’s weaknesses and then developing, without intention, a multi-step plan for how they can better their life. I have advice overflowing and have had to do a lot of work to contain my desires to share it when it is not solicited. I’ve been reinforced many times as to the fact that the assessments I make are on-target and insightful, so I feel confident that my wisdom isn’t merely a projection of my own unconscious issues. I own my shit and I work on myself constantly; my desire to help others do the same is both a reflection of my dedication to inner work and of my intolerance for a lack of insight.

But, and the pause matters here, I am not in charge of anyone’s life besides my own. I do not get to decide how, when or where someone comes to a reckoning with who they are and the impact of their actions, especially when they do not have a direct effect on me. My insight may not be what the person needs at that moment in time, especially if they are upset. Often, offering empathy clears space for objectivity and analysis, but being “rational” doesn’t always allow for an emotional connection. I feel frustrated that people I care about have to help me learn this lesson on a repeated basis, but it also allows me to circle back to considering compatibility. I do best with those who appreciate my clear-sighted way of looking at the world, rather than with those who only want “emotional support” and who do not move from a place of coping emotionally to working on solving what can be solved in their life situation. There is a fine balance to be struck in this area and I hope, with time, to get better at finding it.

If you care to, please share which of the aspects of my list you find to be most challenging at embracing, and where you might go with it.

Lessons Learned (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Today’s card invited me to consider what I have learned from a mistake I’ve made. What sprung to my mind, based on current issues I’m facing, is that I’ve lived “as-if” at times in my life to my own detriment. Specifically, I’ve muddled my way through life as if I do not have a disability, when in fact I do.

I am in the process of applying for accommodations at my job due to my PTSD. I do not know if they will be granted or not, but I recognize in coming to the point where I need to request them that I have finally accepted that I am significantly affected by my mental health condition. I am not doing “fine.”

For over a decade, I’ve lived in a shadowland of feeling completely overwhelmed emotionally but also terrified that the shaky progress I’d made towards autonomy would instantly collapse if I asked for mercy for any reason. I’ve been driven further into the fog by experience after experience where I’ve conveyed my limitations in personal relationships, only to have them be completely ignored or used to harm me. I’ve little faith that institutional mechanisms will prove more reliable, but I have to at least try to seek them.

I feel weak and pathetic for not being able to muster the resolve to defeat my demons, as if where I’m at in terms of functioning is a choice I get to make. It’s as if I’ve run non-stop for almost 15 years and yet continue to question why my knees are bone-on-bone. As though I’d chose this life if presented alternatives without PTSD.

My mistake has been not only in living without accepting my limitations, it has also been in believing my situation to be feast or famine. I kid you not, my conception of my world is one where I work as a professional and make a solid income or one where I’m homeless, with no room for possibility in between. Prior to the last few weeks, I honestly never considered attempting to get accommodations, as I figured my only alternative, if I could not manage anymore, was to quit my job. I question which other areas of my life I hold in the same untenable perfect-ruined dichotomy.

Are there any areas of your life where you live “as-if” and struggle to accept the true nature of your situation? What would it look like to face reality? Are there any gradients available between “all is well” and “it’s gone to hell” in the issue with which you are dealing?

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.

Appreciating the Absurd (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

I struggle as a person with the false belief that the events of my life are completely under my control. In my worldview, planning, due diligence and attention to detail can surely prevent all catastrophes. Although there is certainly wisdom in forethought, I acknowledge that massive efforts to wall off any possible harms comes at its own cost, and that some circumstances are truly out of our control. In addition to the unknowable, mistakes happen even when we try to avoid them. I decided to take a bit of time today to recall the humor that can come with such situations.

One of my most poorly planned driving errors (of which there are many) occurred when I was in college. It had snowed significantly the night before and the sunniness of the day belied the amount of precipitation that had accumulated. I entered a complicated intersection of two roads which offset each other. Somehow, in my brilliance, as I tried to find a parking spot, I decided to make a three-point turn. I unfortunately drove directly into a snow bank in order to do so. I have no idea why I thought I could just pop into it for a second and then retrieve myself. I immediately became hopelessly stuck and blocked multiple lanes of travel, as I was now perpendicular to the curb. A few people eventually jumped out of their cars and angrily pushed me out of the snow. It was my total confidence as I drove into the snow that has always stuck with me, a “this is fine and will work” attitude that failed to consider in any way the physical realities of my situation that makes me laugh.

Another mistake came at a thrift shop, I believe a year or two after the first story. I wore dresses and skirts at the time but was very lackadaisical about shaving my legs (a preference that makes more sense in light of my realization that I am trans and non-binary). I found a skirt that I thought was cute and attempted to try it on. It wouldn’t fit over my pants so I took them off. It still wouldn’t fit (at this point, the lesson is to give up), but I forged on by straining it, one arm at a time, over my head. I was wearing it finally, but could only move it a foot or so up and down my torso. This was before cell phones were popular so I had no way of calling anyone for cover. Were this to happen today, I would walk out and explain my dilemma. I was much more easily shamed at the time, so I felt there was no solution other than to force it from my body. After several minutes of straining, I finally got a handle on it enough to rip it a bit and pry it off of myself. Even though it caused me immense guilt to do so, I ended up leaving it in the dressing room as I was too embarrassed to admit I got stuck in it. The mental image of tangling my way through mismatched clothing makes me crack up, especially in light of the ridiculous lengths to which I went to trap myself in a piece of clothing.

I have many, many more stories of stupid actions I’ve taken. Before jolting off on a new adventure (which these days often involves an attempt at DIY repair), I often ask myself “Is this how I die?” mostly but not fully in jest. The importance of being able to make a fool of and laugh at one’s self cannot be over-estimated as both a coping skill and a check to arrogance. What is a ridiculous scrap into which you’ve gotten yourself? What about it strikes you as funny? What lesson, if any, did you learn from it?

When We Fail (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Are the endpoints of success and failure the only way to encapsulate our life experiences? This is a question I am considering for today’s Daily Remembrance. In contemplating ways in which failures have helped me grow, I believe one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to look at the largest possible framework in any given situation. (Content warning for discussion of eating disorders below).

What may feel like a personal failure often looks quite different when we take the broader context into consideration. I did poorly on a science fair project in high school. I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed of myself when this happened, to the point that it held me back in my future career. The main reason I did poorly was that I did not stay after school and work with a teacher on it. I failed to do this because I had an eating disorder at the time and was near collapse by the end of the regular school day. Had I received the treatment I needed and been supported in my healing, perhaps I would have been more successful.

I also believe “success” is relative. Success in the situation I described above might have been me working through the underlying trauma that led to my eating disorder, science fair be damned. In a lot of situations, someone “succeeding” on the outside by garnishing money, fame, connections, and so forth comes at a high personal cost. Those who “fail” to do so are often hampered by systemic imbalances that are out of their control.

I believe the freedom to choose what we want as our end goal is one of the most important freedoms we have. Disavowing popularity and financial riches as the ultimate measures of goodness or happiness or whatever can enable us to feel gratitude for what we are able to experience. Whether our success is individual or communal, disengaging it from consumerism and competitiveness would likely serve many of us well.

Where I struggle is in making my end goals affirmative rather than avoidant. If I’m honest, I often gear my actions towards “feel the least amount of stress possible” rather than “fully live in each moment.” Every stressor then becomes a failure, rather than each experience of presence being a success. I awoke yesterday and wrote a poem to the snowy morning. This action was incredibly powerful as I contemplated what it would be like to fill my mind with the abundance of the times I can both be and do with joy rather than the times I have to dissociate and survive. What are your end goals? How do you define success and failure? What has a past failure taught you?

Emotional Self-Acceptance (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

For as much of my life as I can remember, I’ve existed in states of flight, fight and freeze. I feel anger and anxiety more often than not. At times, I become so overwhelmed I go numb, losing my connection to my body and to the present. I crash from these fragile states into deep ponds of depression. Coming to terms with who I am emotionally, then, has not been easy.

One of the ways in which I’ve grown more comfortable with myself emotionally is that I’ve learned it is possible to have positive emotional experiences alongside the negative. Happy and sad emotions are processed, to an extent, in different places in the brain, so the experience of one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other out. Activities such as my Daily Writing have helped me to bring a little joy into my life amidst the sea of negativity in which I find myself floating.

In addition to having moments of feeling upbeat, I have also benefited from a fuller capacity (after much therapy) to give voice to not only the situations that cause me distress, but also to what I feel moment-by-moment when I am upset. Being with my body, even when it doesn’t feel good, has lessened my dissociation and helped me to feel slightly more confident in approaching stressors. There is a sense of “this will be over soon” that comes to me at times, rather than the timeless horror my trauma-brain foresees.

Finally, I think aging itself has enabled me to see my track record more clearly. No matter how impossible, how helpless and hopeless I feel, I muddle my way through things. I do not give up immediately when difficulties arise and I also recognize when something is intolerable and must be resisted or released. I do not trust life to be kind or easy, but I do trust myself to find a way to respond to it. What is the nature of your emotional life? What have you learned about yourself and how have you grown emotionally?

Just Out of Reach (In the Cards)

I drew the Shimmer card from my In an Open Hand deck today. The focus of this card is on creating internal safety and a welcoming environment for parts of self that might feel abandoned or lost. In order to achieve this, I’ll be spending some time in this post considering adjustments that might be needed in my inner world.

What springs to mind immediately is the amount of time I allot to various aspects of my identity and sense of self. I think that I dwell in my thoughts, trying to anticipate, reason and respond in a mature way to what life gives me, but I do not dedicate as much energy to processing my emotions. My connection to my body is much stronger than it used to be in that I can actually feel my heart beating faster when I am scared or angry and notice the tension in my muscles after a stressor, but I’m not certain that I always take the next step of labeling my emotions after I feel them. Doing so might help me to interact more directly with the parts of self that carry the weight of certain emotional states.

In addition to how I spend my “inner world” time, I also believe that there is room for growth in my level of self-acceptance. I often become angry or upset with myself if I’ve failed to act in a way that aligns perfectly with my values, rather than viewing it from a developmental framework in which I track my progress over time. I know I’ve changed but I don’t necessarily feel better because of it. I want all the parts of who I am to feel loved and embraced, so I hope I can respond more gently and with greater encouragement to myself with time. What is the state of your inner world? How can you create an increased sense of safety there?

A Middle-Age Mindset (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Today’s Daily Remembrance card inquired as to a positive effect growing older has had on me. I find it difficult to accept the challenges with which my life has presented me, but I hold the process of aging itself as an opportunity alongside its inherent stressors. What I enjoy most about it is the expansion of my perspective that it offers.

I find the shift in my viewpoint as I’ve entered middle-age to be akin to watching an animated film as an adult and realizing how much sarcasm and debauchery went over my head when I was younger. Certain topics recycle themselves through my timeline, and I come to them anew as a different version of myself each time. In particular, I think I get better at empathy, holding multiple perspectives and the societal contextualization of experience when I’m allowed another encounter.

What I would like to be able to offer to myself as I continue to age is a freedom from the mentality that I can somehow transcend my flaws and mistakes. I get stuck in a cycle of believing that, if I could only control my inner experience fully, I would never feel any negative emotions and would therefore always act from a place of inner wisdom. I want to move from “I am an unkind person” to “I did something unkind,” replacing my desire to categorize myself with a more hopeful belief that, with careful attention and a slowing of action, I can make choices that are reflective of the core of who I am. What nuances has aging brought to your perspective on life? What positive influences has it had on you thus far?