Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Inevitable

It happened again.

I just learned that November 1st is Autistics Speaking Day. And that's when it happened.

I had been getting increasingly anxious about transitioning from tap class to jazz class for the next month. We knew this was happening, and I'd been anxious to learn a new style. I've only ever been instructed in hip hop, and I'll admit my technique is a bit messy due to my original learning environment, but I don't think I'm too bad considering I learned to dance under a bridge with a bunch of kids from around the city as a teenager, all while hiding this from the people I knew because I didn't want to appear feminine in any way. I hid it for a long time because I still wasn't as good as I feel like I should have been. I've always had pretty unrealistic standards for myself, and that's what set me up for failure this time.

I couldn't visualize the class going well, which should have been a sign for me. I knew that a meltdown was likely. It was all so new, and with my brother's accident, the Pittsburgh incident, and the general stress of work and life hitting me all at once in the days preceding, I was probably at my limit. I went anyway.

The beginning of the class actually went pretty well. We warmed up a bit and stretched, and I'm pretty damn flexible, so it felt good to actually be good at something. But things got complicated quickly. Maybe that wording isn't quite right. The steps were easy enough, but my brain couldn't work to put them together in the moment, which only made me more frustrated and embarrassed. When we got to completely new things, I just couldn't even make my body move to try. I was apparently digging at my head, and I know I went to the corner and stopped making eye contact altogether. Jackson tried to help by telling me to "get water", which usually means I should step outside to collect myself, but I wasn't able to get that, or maybe I refused to. I was afraid that leaving the room would actually make it worse. I knew I needed to stay even if I didn't do anything. I was still taking in the information even if I couldn't move. I was still processing, still trying. There is effort even in stillness, even in chaos. That's one of the things that's been most difficult to explain. You may not see anything happening, but--in these situations--I'm honestly trying as hard as I can. Some of that energy goes into the task at hand, while some of it goes into making sure I don't completely fall apart.

The worst of it came at the end of class, when everyone started talking. There was a loud burst of laughter that startled me. I slammed my hands against the wall without being able to even think about it. I had no time to stop myself. I scared everyone. And then when they left, we fought. We'd made a plan to stay and practice afterwards, but he wanted to go home. Given the state I was in, all I wanted to do was stick to the plan. To finish what needed to be finished and feel like something had gone right. I didn't pay attention to his emotional needs because I was too focused on my own, and I made things worse. Maybe I shouldn't be saying this. But it's important to know that these things happen. We talked it out, and we both learned a few new things. But here's the thing. These situations, however infrequent they become, are absolutely going to happen. I can't change the way my brain works. I can only change how I prepare for situations and how I respond to them. In the moment, it's impossible to make those changes.

In spite of everything that went on, I'm trying to focus on what went right. I did not become entirely disruptive. I may have clawed at my head and stood in the corner, but there was no screaming. There was no banging until the very end, just that one time. More importantly, I'm not deterred from going back, and I am not afraid that it will happen again. It's almost as if I feel that the worst has already happened--that I can never look any worse than that. I have nothing to lose, and I still want to try. I still want to learn. I accept that things will feel awkward at first. I'm ready to try again. To start over. And I don't feel like running away or giving up. In addition, while my mood may have been off that night, I didn't stay in the "meltdown/shutdown state" for long. By this morning, I was mostly fine. This is progress. I know the things I need to work on, but I really have to acknowledge the things that I have been able to improve.

I also need to mention this before I forget. It's been a few days since I've had my lithium due to some issues with the pharmacy. And, other than the incident Thursday, I've felt fine. Not just fine. Better than fine. I have more energy overall, I feel more focused, and I'm generally happier. This happened the last two times we had pharmacy hiccups. I'm worried that the lithium is making things worse, but I'm hesitant to stop. I did stop taking both medications for a few weeks last winter, and that went VERY poorly, but I did so without talking to my doctor. I may mention it this time to get his thoughts. I've accepted that I may need the medication, but given how I've felt, it's worth asking.

My head is still spinning. One post-meltdown side-effect that I'm experiencing is this sort of eerie silence in my mind. It's not complete or ever-present. I can't tell if it's clarity or numbness, or a little of both. It still hasn't detracted from the overall positive feeling I've been experiencing. Needless to say, I've been a bit confused by my own emotions for the past few days. I'm hoping to get more words out as they come. I spend far too little time writing for myself these days. I'm sure I'll have plenty of time after surgery, which is in 67 days. Get ready for all the shirtless pictures. I've got 10 years of them to make up for.





Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Processing Attempt

This weekend, eleven people were murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue. My brain is still processing everything that has happened. Maybe there are no words anymore. Maybe there never will be. What do you say when you're starting to lose count of the number of times you've had to check to make sure your friends are alive? Welcome to Trump's America.

It's hard to balance my emotions right now. The weight of this tragedy, this administration's persistence in denying the existence and rights of trans people, and the emboldening of hate groups around the country have drawn my attention away from some very positive things going on in my life. As difficult as it is, I want to focus on those things for a moment.

Last week, on my mother's birthday, I had my top surgery consult with Dr. Ramineni in D.C. The process was almost effortless, and the entire staff couldn't have been more professional. I walked out with a surgery date. All I need to do is submit my letter. Here's the interesting part. Throughout the process, I've felt relatively subdued. I know that I am excited, but it's definitely not showing through. Maybe I'm worried that something will happen to alter my plans. Or maybe it's just been so long--so overdue--that it just needs to happen like any other medical procedure. Maybe I'm just ready. Ready to take my final step toward living my truth. Ready to feel the sun on my skin in the summer. Ready to see myself for what will feel like the first time, I'm sure. I don't think it will fully sink in until that day, or until I see the final result. The emotions will come in time. Knowing me, they'll hit me all at once.

I've talked with two potential grad school mentors on opposite sides of the country, and both conversations went exceedingly well. The researcher at UMD wants me to come up for a visit to the lab after I submit my application. I finally feel like I'm moving forward with my career plans, and I do have a good feeling about at least one program. I'm worried about the financial burden of taking a drastic cut in pay to attend school again, but I know that will be temporary.

I'm 30 years old, and I decided to learn something new. I started learning to tap, and after four classes, there are some things I can do up to speed with everyone else, and many of these people have been doing this their whole lives. I'm still a beginner, clearly. But I've learned a hell of a lot in a short amount of time, and my focus has increased overall. I'm doing more. I'm getting more done in general, and I'm slowly getting better at regulating my emotions. I've been on the edge recently, contemplating whether I should return to the hospital almost daily. The only reason I hadn't? Grad school applications and those phone calls. I needed to make it at least that far. Now, I can take a break from work to tap for 20 or 30 minutes, feeling refocused and energized afterwards. I want to see how far I can get. However, the class is shifting to jazz for the next month, so it looks like I'll be on my own for the most part, at least for a little while. If I had the extra money, I'd pay for private lessons. I expected to enjoy it, but I've fallen in love with it, and I really want to get better.

All of this has happened within this past year, and I think that's something to be thankful for. Right now, I'm also thankful that my brother is alive. He was in an accident last night and had to have surgery this afternoon. With all the plates, screws, and bone grafts, I'm worried that he may not have full function in his wrist/hand ever again, but it looks like he's going to be okay for the most part. I'll know more tomorrow.

I feel like I'm still trying to synthesize everything that's been going on. I still sort of feel like I'm struggling to keep my head above water, but it's manageable right now. Taking this break from performing to focus on school and my own life has helped, and it's given me the opportunity to plan some really awesome numbers for my comeback after surgery.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Grad School, Mental Health

It's been an exhausting weekend of performing and meeting with old professors/advisers to discuss my plans for graduate school. Luckily, my Sunday evening plans had been canceled, saving me the trouble of using spoons I just don't have right now. I have a lot to think about, and some of this feels like starting the process all over again.

My former research adviser noted that the main weakness in my application would be my lack of research experience beyond undergrad--pretty much what I expected as well. She also made the point that my research interests and desire to see my work put into practice when working with individuals with disabilities may align well with certain rehabilitation sciences programs, which may place less of an emphasis on extensive research experience during the admissions process. I've identified a few more program options over the past several days, but I honestly didn't expect to have to shift directions this much. I think I am still going to apply to my top choices in neuroscience/psychology while exploring these other programs.

I know I have a little less than 2 months to get everything in, but that honestly feels like such a short amount of time given everything that I have going on, especially if I have to contact a dozen or so additional people. I suppose I know what I'll be doing in my spare time this week.

Shifting gears a little...

I spent a lot of Saturday night following the show in a sort of trance, though I descended towards full-blown meltdown territory on the car ride back to the hotel. We had planned on staying out a little later, and I felt like I was fighting myself the whole time. I struggled to sit still and avoid screaming. I'm nowhere near that point this evening, but the urge to scream and thrash tends to come and go these days. I know I need a break. I'm taking one as soon as I can, while trying to avoid the need to say yes to everyone about everything. I'm scared that I won't make it. I'm scared that everything will fall apart again. I normally wouldn't even care, but I'm finally working towards something that matters to me instead of just getting through each day. But that's proving more taxing than I thought. I don't think it would be nearly as bad without the travel every weekend, and I know that's something that I'll have to consider in the coming months.

I feel like I keep losing my train of thought. I'm tired all the time but can't sleep. I wonder if this increase in medication dosage has actually made things worse. It doesn't feel any better, but I don't want to keep increasing doses because that's what always seems to happen, with pretty dismal consequences. I still wonder if I really need the medication--if I can resolve my issues by taking control of my environment more effectively--but I don't think that's a decision I can make right now. If the medication worked in a way that allowed me to do that, I could understand. It just seems to get me moving and out of bed, but with all the same mental anguish and anxiety. I'm so over all of this that I want to give up, but I also know that that leads to its own set of problems.

I don't know what the hell is going on in my life anymore.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Rambling about "Motivational" Speakers

Oh look. More generic "inspirational" messages from people trying to be motivational speakers. Like, does this crap actually help anybody? I feel like I just watched 5 minutes of fluff and 20 seconds of an actual point. Granted, some of these people have done a lot for the community, but sometimes I have to roll my eyes because, while it may be just me, I take little comfort in those "everything is going to be alright"/"look at me! i did it so you can!" videos. I prefer people who provide a critical analysis of the problematic shit that fuels feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and isolation among queer individuals. I'm not really here for your feel-good pieces, but I suppose that's what's most marketable because people love their easy answers.

I know there is a need for young queer people to hear positive messages, though, so I acknowledge that my feelings might be a bit misdirected. But I think they also need to know that it's okay to not be okay. That simply putting on a brave face and powering through isn't always the best choice for your mental health. "It gets better" has always been a problematic phrase for me.

Because it doesn't just get better. Not on its own anyway. You learn to make it better. You learn to claim agency in your own life, you learn to set limits, you learn to cope. It gets better when you realize that you have the power to make it better, even if that's just in small ways. And, as I've said before, better doesn't always mean easier.

The last thing I need to hear when I'm really not okay is that I'm going to be okay. Maybe that's true in a way, but unless I deal with whatever is making me not okay, I won't actually be able to let it go enough to be okay. My brain doesn't work that way. I obsess over mistakes I made 20 years ago, so you can imagine what real problems do to me. Sorry for rambling a bit, but I think I'm getting to a breakthrough point here. What do I need in those situations? First, I need to get it out there. I need someone to talk to me about what's going on, and not just on a surface level. It'd be nice not to have to have those conversations with myself: "What is the worst thing about the way you are feeling right now?" "Do you think anything specific/any combination of things is making this worse right now?" "Can you improve this by taking care of any of those other things first?" I appreciate supportive statements as well, but I feel that generic advice is unhelpful in these situations. I think that offering advice without knowing the full situation or asking what has or hasn't worked is kind of presumptuous. If one more person tells me I need to try deep breathing exercises, I will scream. Seriously.

I've learned a lot about how to manage my own mental health. And how not to. When I finally get to the point where I can't, it's usually because EVERYTHING has failed to help. I've never really had a decent therapist. At least not one who has been able to provide truly novel insights. I'm a shit show right now. I'm doing my best, but I'm not doing well. Sometimes I feel like running away. Running home, even though I am home. I've gotten to the point where I get anxious/overwhelmed by having to do anything at all. I'm taking a break from a lot of things starting sometime in October. I'm hoping this helps. A few days/weeks at a time just doesn't seem to work. I still fear that I'll have to return to the hospital before long. The thoughts hit me at random times. I feel like screaming quite often. I hate this medication and what it does to me physically. I wonder if I really need it. I wonder if getting past the withdrawal phase would change things. But I'm scared to try, and I'm scared to ask. It's not that I have a bad relationship with my doctor, but I wish I felt like I could really open up. It just feels...very sterile, I guess. 

The thing is, I am having more of those days where I feel fucking amazing. Where I'm bouncing off the walls ready to do everything, but still unable to focus on anything long enough to get a lot done. The problem is that I can hit rock bottom the same day. This can happen multiple times in a day, even in an hour. I keep wondering how I will ever be able to live with this outside of my own house. I've been fortunate enough to have a place where I can hide from the world to deal with this for years. If I want to move forward in my life, I won't have that luxury. Maybe that's been part of the problem, but I know I won't have the balance I need. I don't know what this means I should do, but I feel like I at least have to try. I'll just end up regretting it if I don't. 

I wish I could talk about everything that's going on, but I'm entering some new territory. It's largely positive, but things are probably about to get a lot more complicated. 


Thursday, August 23, 2018

This is 30

A few years ago, I remember writing something in a journal of mine that eventually became an Instagram post, fully filtered and angled appropriately, back when filters weren't entirely frowned upon by the faces in the shadows of the internet:

"Let me always feel like the best is yet to come."

So, I'm 30 now. That's a lot to take in for someone who feels both 15 and 55 at the same time. Obviously, nothing has really changed in the span of a few weeks, other than what I've known to be changing over the last several years. I'm still bald as fuck, and maybe that's the worst of it physically. I can't drink like I used to, but I don't want to anyway. However, the one major change that's been messing with me for the past 5 years is that my ability to handle mental and emotional stress has gotten progressively worse, rather than better. I can't seem to go a year without making a trip to a mental hospital. Medications just seem to lose their efficacy after a few months, and ECT left me at a loss for some of the most important memories in my life, and I'm terrified to risk that again. What's the use of being happy if you can't remember why you should be?

I know the reasons behind this are partly physically, partly psychological, and that the two are inseparable. I hurt myself. I'm broken and very likely can't be fixed, although--if I'm being really honest here--I haven't exactly been trying for the past year. Earlier this year, we drove 4 hours to Pittsburgh for an interventional radiology appointment, which we were informed was cancelled for me only when I had already checked in and filled out all the necessary paperwork. I was so frustrated by that that I think I just gave up. I spent three full years constantly focused on improving the pain, so much so that there wasn't really room for anything else in my life. I've made that room by pushing my medical concerns aside, but they still occupy a great deal of my emotional resources. My goal now is not so much to be pain free, but to be at a level of pain where I can still do the things I love to do. I want to dance again, on the floor and in the air. I want to be able to jump and land without feeling those painful vibrations throughout my torso. I want to be able to do simple things like make the bed and pick things up off the floor without holding on to something. I've gotten pretty good at avoiding tasks and working around my limitations, but I'd rather work through them. I want to feel useful. Even though that shouldn't be a requirement for a fulfilling life, it is for me. As I've said many times before, I want to stop feeling like I'm weighed down, both physically and otherwise. A little pain doesn't bother me, but there's only so much that one person can take. 

I fear that these physical limitations will only worsen if I keep up like this. I do a pretty good job of managing what I can by staying in shape, by keeping my muscles strong and functional, but I'm starting to feel like that's not enough. I've lived here over a year and still don't have a PCP. I also may not live here by this time next year. I feel like I've been hiding from life, sometimes by choice, sometimes not. 

I'm applying to grad school for the second time, but this time, my options are located all across the country. We're still working on what happens if I get into a school somewhere else and Jackson gets a different job at the agency. I've written before about my fears regarding my ability to handle the intensity of a graduate program, so I won't harp on that for too long. There's another possibility that terrifies me, though. What if I don't get in at all, again? What happens with my life? What direction will I take, and would there be any point in trying a third time with little chance of gaining any extra experience? I think my mind is already preparing me for that mental breakdown. The last time I received those rejection letters, I had just moved to Pittsburgh, ready to start a new life in a familiar place. I entered a new relationship a few weeks after moving there. Within a few months, I was in the psych ward again, and I haven't really had the time to stop and think about life for very long since. There was my injury, my medication-induced psychotic break, moving every 6-8 months, his cancer, his dad's cancer...It just never stopped. So I kept moving forward with life, without really knowing when I'd be able to stop and think about what I wanted it to be. 

I spend a lot of time alone these days, working from home. I've had a lot of time to think about grad school given what I do now. This is also the longest I've held any kind of job without having to quit due to overload. I know this is the right path for me. I'm just hoping that it's not too late for others to see that as well. I'm hoping that, yes, the best will be to come in this next decade of life.

It's been almost 10 years since I began my transition, since I first posted a video in March of 2009 crying my eyes out about how much harder my life was about to get. While it's hard to believe that parts of college were over 10 years ago, I remember many things pretty clearly. For the other stuff, it's probably best that I don't remember it. I remember seeing my chest in a binder for the first time, my first drag show, the beginnings of HMH and TransPride, the places I lived and the people who came to know me. Many of them have long since moved on from Pittsburgh, with more and more leaving as time goes on. Most of the people that made Pittsburgh home for me are gone, but there are new faces, and I'm the one they look up to now (or despise, with no in-between). Pittsburgh will always hold a special place in my heart, and I frequently feel drawn back, and I can't always explain why. Cruze is closing in a few weeks, and that itself feels like another nail in the coffin. 

Last month, I got the chance to do something few people will ever get to do. I became the first completely pre-op trans man to model for Andrew Christian. I still can't believe it. It still feels unreal. I was supposed to do an AC fashion show at the end of the month, but due to some issues with overbooking models (or so I'm told), they pulled me since I was traveling the farthest. I spent very little time in LA, but it also felt like home, but in different ways. It had that new-home feel. It felt exciting. Full of opportunity, but a bit overwhelming at times. I still don't know where I belong, and I expect that it will change throughout my life. I still miss my friends. I long for us to be together again. I've figured out that that's what they mean when they say the "good old days". Things were a lot simpler overall, and we were all in the same place trying to navigate our lives. We celebrated our victories and mourned our losses together. I hate to feel these connections slipping from me. I guess this is growing up.

It's late. I'm about to head to the gym after being sick for over a week yet working non-stop. Sometimes, it feels like that's all I have to keep me sane and out of the house. I don't know where I belong, or what I'll be doing 5 or 10 years from now, but I want to be in a place where access to like-minded people isn't so limited. I want to be in a place where I feel in control of where and when I go, even if I never learn to drive myself, which seems more and more likely every time I think about it. My issue is that, until I feel more emotionally and mentally stable, it's hard to tell which options would be best. Here's hoping that this next year of life brings me the answers I need, or at least sets me on the path to finding them.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

LA Trip: Still Processing

I haven't quite fully processed the past week, which seems like it's lasted a full month. Last Monday, I flew out to LA to be part of an Andrew Christian photo shoot--the first non-op trans man to do so. My level of comfort fluctuated throughout the day. Despite AC being an internationally renowned underwear company, it was a nude photo shoot, some of which involved some pretty neat underwater photography. At the end of this month, I'll be doing an AC fashion show in Columbus. I met Andrew last week, and I'm told he'll be in Columbus as well. Is this real life?

I'm insanely proud of myself, yet I still feel like I could have been in better condition. I still feel terrible about my body, but I think that's been changing, even over the past week. I can't describe how comfortable I felt on Tuesday. I never thought that word could describe me, completely naked and surrounded by a full crew, experienced models, and three other trans men who have already had top surgery. My comfort wavered a little during the day, but something about the experience felt so natural. Holding a conversation while naked seemed to get easier as the day went on too.

Like I said, I'm still processing all of this. I'm still working on my body image issues. If that were all that's going on, I might be further along. I managed to do something else that's been terrifying me for months: I asked people to write letters of recommendation yesterday. Applications don't open until September 1st for most schools, but I want to stay ahead of the game this time. I want to have enough time to tailor my statement to each school. Plus, I need to have my shit submitted by mid-November to avoid having to take the GRE again.

These are two big fucking things right now. Then there's drag, my schedule for which is about to get a little crazy come November, when I travel to Memphis to perform.

I'm waiting for my phone to charge enough to go to the gym. Not only am I preparing for this fashion show, I'm trying to keep my mental health under control given the stress of life in general. They recently doubled my dose of Abilify, so tracking these next few weeks is going to be important. I'm still having a lot of focus issues, and I'm starting to consider asking for help with that again. I'd finish work much more quickly if I could stay on task for more than an hour at a time. I'm used to being the kind of person that doesn't move for 8 hours, so not being able to maintain focus is really weird to me. It's been about two or three months of that, and I can't exactly figure out why.

I'm actually surprised I've maintained enough focus to write this, though I still feel slightly distracted.

I'm going to try to readjust my sleep schedule again, which feels like fighting a losing battle every time. They took me off the medication that was supposed to help me fall asleep because, as always, it stopped working very shortly after I started taking it. Even when combined with an antihistamine. Then there are the times when I sleep for almost 2 days straight. I haven't even been able to figure out a pattern.

I'm starting to ramble. Maybe I'll be able to get more out later this week.

Oh, there's one more thing.

I turn 30 on Saturday.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Nope

I'm not okay, and all I want to do is wake up up, even though I know there is nothing you can do to help me. I just can't stand being alone with my thoughts right now. I am overwhelmed to the point that I can't do anything that I actually enjoy anymore. I'm trying to survive this, but all I can do is get up and work. I have nothing left, and there's no reason for that other than it's just how I am.

I can't even get the rest of this out. I just need to go lie down.