The rain has gone

The rain has gone

Wotcher, friends!

So I have a confession to make.

I am on antidepressants. Escitalopram, 10mg a day. Have been for nearly three years now.


TRIGGER WARNING.

I am about to engage in a discussion that could inadvertently hurt some people. However important the topic at hand – and I do believe it is important – nothing is more important than your own health. If you tend to be triggered by talk of depression, please read at your own discretion.


The first psychiatrist I ever went to told me I had a bad case of the blues.

“You’re still young, you shouldn’t disengage from your life like that.”

I was shaking and unable to talk properly so I just nodded, but deep down I was angry at her. I felt dismissed. I blamed her for not just understanding, for not seeing through my slightly-less-stiff-than-usual upper lip. After all, it was her job to read my mind, wasn’t it?

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Unfortunately, it isn’t easy for someone who hasn’t experienced depression to imagine what it actually does. And that’s totally normal. You shouldn’t be expected to just know. On the flip side, it isn’t easy either for someone currently suffering through it to explain how they feel.

So this is me attempting to communicate some thoughts and feelings, from the easier standpoint of “two and a half years later”. Cue cheesy flashback transition.

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It started very suddenly, a little after my landlord passed away. I didn’t know him all that well. He wasn’t a close friend or a family member, and it’s not like I thought about him every day. Yet when he tragically, abruptly, died, something was triggered inside of me.

I started thinking about death every day. Mine. Depression is narcissistic like that. Then I started thinking about death every hour. Then every minute. I had had “the blues” before, but this wasn’t it. This was different. It felt permanent. It felt like I was broken. It involved an endless circle of downs (numb apathy) and even-further-downs (locking myself in the bathroom and crying my eyes out in panic).

Now, you have to understand that my life didn’t suck. Actually, it was quite amazing. But depression isn’t really about all the bad stuff that is going on in your life. It’s more twisted than that. No matter how incredibly fantastic my life might be, depression constantly reminded me that it would still have to end and that all the incredible fantasticness would be lost forever.

In my ill mind, this progression of events:

  1. be born
  2. follow your dreams
  3. get your novels published
  4. find love
  5. be happy
  6. die

… was exactly the same as this one:

  1. be born
  2. die

This is not how a human brain is supposed to work. If it were, then there is a decent chance life would have died out years and years ago.

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No.

This is a glitch.

 

 

Yet there is a stigma in our society. When I started this post with a “confession”, I wasn’t using the word lightly. For some reason, admitting to being depressed, especially to the point of needing medication to function properly, has become – or maybe it has always been – a confession.

You whisper it, mumble it, beat around the bush. You rationalize it away. “Oh, I’m taking meds for now but I’m going to stop soon.” It has somehow become shameful to take antidepressants.

Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t feel that medication is the right way for you to go about fighting your depression, then I’m certainly not here to tell you you’re wrong. I don’t pretend to know everyone’s experiences, nor do I pretend to be a doctor.

But it seems to me that nobody goes around telling diabetic people to stop shooting themselves full of drugs. When you have a headache, it’s fairly rare for your friends to suggest maybe you shouldn’t take painkillers because then you wouldn’t be yourself anymore.

This is something I have actually been told. I have been told I’m just drugging myself up and that it keeps me from seeing the world as it is.

This is bullshit. Dangerous, radioactive bullshit – go on, take a moment to picture that, I’ll be waiting.

Done?

Okay, seriously though. When you say something like that to a depressed person, you are effectively telling a very vulnerable, sick human being that they will never be happy ever again. Even if you believe that to be true, how sadistic do you have to be to think it’s a good thing to say? It’s not funny or helpful. In fact, it can cause very severe harm.

I wasn’t feeling like myself, and I was deeply unhappy, and now that I take “the drugs”, I’m more able to connect with other people, I feel like myself more often, more easily, and I’m happier. This isn’t to say that the world isn’t absurd and weird and that it’s abnormal to feel alienated by that. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that if you used to be happy and now you’re not, then there’s probably something wrong.

 

It is not cool or edgy or deep to be miserable.

 

I take antidepressants for the same reason I take anti-allergy medication. Because otherwise I would be a wheezy, teary-eyed, non-functional mess, unable to accomplish any of the simple tasks of everyday life. Because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to be myself.

And you know what? Two and a half years later, I am myself again.

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A Boy Named Me

A Boy Named Me

Wotcher!

Yup, definitely like this “wotcher” thing. I think I’ll keep it for now. For anyone interested, this is a British colloquial greeting, originating from the South of England – London, mainly – and derived from the phrase “What are you up to?”.
What are you up to?
What ya up to?
Watcha up to?
Wotcher up to?
Wotcher!
And since I am genuinely interested in hearing from you and wotcher up to, it’s quite fitting.
Another reason I now officially love this is that when you type “wotcher” into Google, this blog comes up fourth in line! Ain’t that great, guv’?

Anyhoo – quite like “anyhoo” as well, but we are not getting into that right now or we’ll be here all day.
Today, class, we are going to talk about gender identity. Mine. Yeah, I know, narcissistic much. Hopefully, though, some of my experiences might resonate with some of yours, and that’s just how we create bonds and validation and awareness and all that good stuff.

Now it is not as easy for me to confidently speak up about gender as it is to speak up about, say asexuality. That’s because to some extent, I am still a bit confused about my own gender identity. And I do not wish to convey the misconception that genderqueer people are confused. Just as I don’t want to convey the misconception that asexual people are depressed. It just so happens that I am a mildly confused genderqueer person and an asexual on antidepressants. Coincidental.

Actually, you know what? Scratch that. It’s probably not that coincidental. After all it can be pretty confusing to be genderqueer in a boys v girls, blue v pink, penis v vagina world. After all it can be pretty depressing to be asexual in a half-naked-models-on-every-poster, sex-is-what-makes-us-human world.
Notice how people can flip it around on you? “You’re depressed because of this asexuality nonsense.” “You’re confused because of this genderqueer nonsense.” Well no, actually I’m confused and depressed because of you. You, person who dismisses my experiences as nonsense.

All this raises barriers, both internal and external, that make it harder, but also more important, to talk about these things. I have wanted to discuss gender identity for a long time, so… deep breath… here we go.

I’m a gamer.
This means I go online and play with other people who don’t know my gender or my sex or my hair colour. But while people online would never think of asking “hey, by the way, what’s your hair colour”, the other day, my questing partner – a real nice dude, don’t get me wrong – said this:
“So hey, not to be rude or anything… You’re playing a girl, but are you a girl in real life?”
“There it is,” I said, turning to my partner.
And there it was. Your sex/gender is, for many people, a very important part of how they will think about you. They feel like they need to know this in order to comprehend you as a person. Never would my questing dude have asked me “so you play a Khajiit, but are you a big-ass talking cat in real life?”

jzargo
Unlikely.

Here’s another example. Discussing Pink Floyd with a family member, I happen to mention my friend Sam, who loves the Floyd. Sam has an ambivalent name by design. They are agender. Sample dialogue:
“My friend Sam is a huge Pink Floyd fan.”
“Who’s Sam?”
“An online friend, from the forums.”
“Is it Sam-boy or Sam-girl?”
“Uhh,” I say. “Neither. Both. They’re somewhat transgender.”
They’re not transgender, though, that’s not the word Sam would use. But I decide to use it because there is no way in all hell that my interlocutor will have any kind of clue what agender means.
“But do they look like a boy or a girl?”

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This is how important gender is to people. So when you don’t fit into one of these two categories, or when people keep putting you in the wrong one, it can hurt. And when you’re not sure where you fit in all of this, or if indeed you fit at all, it can be confusing.

There are a few things you might want to consider if you’re wondering whether or not you are transgender, genderqueer, or otherwise not cis. Some of which, tested by yours truly…

1. If you’re even asking the question, the answer is probably yes.

It is rather uncommon for cis people to obsess about their gender identity. It happens. Anything can happen. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if your instinct is all like “dude, what’s up with my gender?” then there’s likely to be something up with your gender, dude.

2. Gender dysphoria.

There are two major kinds of dysphoria – that I know of – and I’d like to share my personal experiences with both of them, if you have time to kill before the next train or are looking for a procrastinating opportunity.

Body dysphoria is the negative feeling that comes from a dissonance between your outwardly appearance and your inner self.
As a teenager, I was dysphoric about my breasts, which developed annoyingly early and were annoyingly prominent. And so I would stand in front of my bedroom mirror, with my back half turned to it and my breasts tucked away, hidden. I would wear baggy t-shirts and thick sweaters over flattening bras. I would walk with my shoulders in and my back slightly bent. I did this to forget for a few minutes that these things were there, making me a girl, categorizing me.

Social dysphoria is the negative feeling that comes from a dissonance between how the world perceives you and your inner self.
It’s the little double-take I have every time a vendor calls me. “Ma’am, can I help you with anything?” Who, me?
It’s the boiling anger when a family member refers to me as a “female Keith Richards” or “Keith Richardette”. Why female? Why can’t I just be Keith Richards, damn it! No, I’m not dressed as a girl version of Oliver Twist. I’m dressed as Oliver Twist!

It might seem trivial, but some people will feel like shit for a month after one of these things happens to them. Thankfully, for me, those are only little things. I can brush them off fairly easily.
On the flip side, my lack of severe dysphoria has made me question the validity of my genderqueerness. It has caused me to ask myself the stupid question that plagues a whole lot of queer people out there: am I queer enough?
After all, any strong dysphoric feelings I had as a teen have receded. Maybe it was just a phase. After all, I don’t really feel like a man either. Maybe I’m just a woman by default. After all, I don’t want to transition. Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel special. After all, after all, after all, maybe not, maybe not, maybe not.

3. Gender euphoria.

dscn1228Then there is the less known, less talked about opposite of gender dysphoria. Which is a shame, because it’s so much nicer. It is a feeling of rightness in the relation between your mind, your body and the way the world perceives you.
I get it when my friend Anna calls me “dude!”
I get it when my clothes reflect the way I feel inside particularly well.
I get it when my brother tells me that he never really thinks of me as a girl. I’m just “Gwen”.
I get it when my partner looks at me and says “Huh. You look kinda androgynous with your hair like that.”
You get it.

These are small things but each of them is a tiny hint, a fuzzy, heart-warming little reminder that yes, this is who I am, this is what I’m comfortable with.

4. There is no wrong age to know.

Even as a kid I knew something was amiss. It started early on and became noticeable in junior high, when a girl becomes a miss and a guy becomes a mister. Then one sunny Spring weekend, my thirteen-year-old self tentatively voiced it.
“Ugh, I wish my breasts would just go away,” I said, or something in French to that effect.
And the grownup, the authority figure in the room, replied:
“Well that’s because you’re still thinking you could have been a boy. It’ll pass.”
I remember being deeply upset by that response. Even then. Even when I didn’t understand exactly why I was upset. All I knew was that I felt angry and offended, sad and dismissed, and for some reason I still can’t quite put my finger on, ashamed.

There is no shame to be had. This is who you are and it’s not a joke unless you want it to be. It’s not unimportant unless you want it to be.

This is who I am.

I am gender ambivalent. Genderfluid. Androgynous. My body is a girl but my mind is kind of a dude. And a girl. And both. You can call me “he” or “she”, and if you enjoy a bit of grammatical fun, why not try a mixture of both?

I am genderqueer. Hear me roar.

PENTAX Image

In keeping with the great Internet tradition of offering starchy vegetables in compensation for reading through a very long post, here.

Have a potato.

The Cyst

The Cyst
An early exercise about memoir writing. This is a true story. Maybe a boring story, but a true story nonetheless.

A cyst, that’s all it was. Just a cyst. Benign is what it was. But I still wanted it off. It had been here long enough. Years, in fact; and I would even go so far as to say five years. More than five years maybe. Anyway it was there and protruding and staring back whenever I looked down at my wrist and it was bad enough. I had been roaming the Internet in search of ways to get rid of it, which was definitely not the right way to go about it. You see, the only people who actually take the time to post anything on forums are the ones who have had a bad experience and want to complain. I had surgery a year ago and now it’s come back and it hurts like hell and my wrist is stiff and my doctor is an incompetent fraud and I hate the entire universe, that sort of thing. Scary as all that sounded, my brain and my mum suggested that I seek the advice of an actual medical professional before deciding whether or not it was wiser to just keep the damn thing on my wrist for all my life.

The doctor I saw about it I shall always consider a true hero. I showed him the cyst, and here is what he said: “Oh, it’s a synovial cyst, it’s not dangerous but it’s a nuisance, you have to get rid of it. Here is the name of a great surgeon.” Not “you have the option of surgery”. Not “you might want to have it removed”. He made the decision I was afraid to take, and I must say if he hadn’t phrased it like he did, I may very well have chickened out. He probably saw that plain on my face.

I called the surgeon. Two months later, I was checking into the hospital. Minor surgery like that is usually done in one day. Walk in, get sliced up, get stitched right back, walk out again. But due to a latex allergy, I had to spend the night. They wanted to make sure I would be the first one to be sliced up the next morning. Spending the night in a hospital room proved to be the worst part of the experience and one of the weirdest creepiest things I have ever had to endure. Needless to say I did not sleep. I don’t think anybody sleeps in hospitals at night. For one thing the smell was unpleasant. It was the smell of wrongness, like if you went to sleep, you might never wake up. And for another thing a woman was moaning and whimpering and calling all night. It was quite hard to judge the distance in the dark. She might have been in the next room, just as she might have been at the other end of the corridor. Felt as if the hospital itself was crying for help. “Please” the hospital moaned. “Please, help please!” And a tired nurse’s feet would shuffle by my door to wherever the plead came from. “What is it, ma’am?” “Please, I want to get up!” “You can’t get up right now, ma’am, you just had surgery.” “But I need to get up.” “No, you can’t get up right now, ma’am.” All night long. When I got bored of feeling sorry for myself, I started feeling sorry for that nurse.

Then, in the morning, she came in, handed me one of those blouses they give to patients to make sure they’re quite uncomfortable, told me to go take a shower and mispronounced my name. I felt less sorry for her.

After that, the rest was a piece of cake, really. It probably had something to do with the tranquilizer the anaesthetist put in my IV. The surgeon was definitely not an incompetent fraud. The cyst has been gone for more than a year, now. It hasn’t come back, it hasn’t tried phoning, and I received no postcard. It is a small thing, but I’m just a little bit happier than I was before. Although I had promised myself that if the surgery was successful, I would talk about it on forums to balance all the negativity, I did not. I guess happy people are quick to move on.

Breaking the taboo: social phobia

Breaking the taboo: social phobia

It’s like there’s a tiny chink in your armor and the anxiety seeps in through it. It makes it hard to breathe and hard to rest. It makes it hard to live.

Sometimes it’s just brewing quietly in the background. You wake up and feel the squeeze in your chest, familiar and annoying. You go to the shop and the cashier asks you a question you weren’t anticipating. You had a whole list in your head of what would be asked of you at the till. Need a bag? Cash, debit or credit? Do you have the loyalty card? What is this unexpected question? Is there a problem? The grip on your heart tightens. You ask them to repeat. “Do you want the receipt?” “Oh, no thanks.” And you walk out. And you feel stupid and lame.

Sometimes it gets bad. It boils over and comes out in thirty-or-so-minute bouts of crying and gasping and snotting up everything in sight. You’re four years old, helpless and you know you can’t make it in the world. It’s scary, it’s huge and you’re alone. When you step out of the house, you can never be yourself and it’s eating at you. It will never get better. Even if you manage to force yourself out there, you will never be a natural at it. You will never be normal. You will have to go through life faking it.

I’ve just had a phone interview. A bad one. I rambled on, searched for my words and couldn’t find them, and ended up saying stuff I didn’t even mean, just so that stuff would come out of my mouth. Just to avoid the awkward silence. I’m beating myself up pretty bad about it of course. Thoughts like “you’re stupid”, “what must they think of you now” and “no one would ever hire you to do anything” are swirling about in the old overcooked noodle.

Then, my uncle calls, wants to know how it went. Well, not great. I sigh. I was having a panic attack all the way through. I was so, so nervous. My uncle, meaning well, replies the worst possible thing he could reply in that particular moment. “Well, you didn’t tell them that, did you?” Did you? Like telling them how I felt, like being myself would have been a terrible, unforgiving mistake. Like surely I’m not stupid enough to admit to such a flaw, such a defect, during an interview.

Now. It seems to me that the struggle inside, more often than not, comes from outside. That chink in your armor? Something made it. And I’m pretty sure a big part of the problem is this taboo we have on social phobia. Nobody is supposed to admit to being scared of people. Not when it matters. You can say it in your own home, in private. A select few can know about it, but you can never tell a stranger. You can never tell your boss, your colleagues, your interviewer. Social inadequacy is shameful and unprofessional.

A few weeks later I’m called in for another interview, another job. I go in and meet the owners of the shop, a lovely couple. They’re nice and encouraging and it makes me want to open up. It makes me want to be honest. So I tell them. They ask me if I would be okay working in a shop. Understandably, they worry that I won’t be able to pro-actively welcome the customers. I do my best to reassure them, thinking maybe I shouldn’t have told them. Maybe I just ruined my chances.
And then the man says something that really takes me by surprise. “Let’s say you have a flaw, and it’s not social anxiety. Because I think that’s more of a character trait than a flaw. What would your flaw be?”
I freeze.
Social anxiety, not a flaw, but a character trait?
I stammer and hesitate and can’t think of anything else. It’s odd. I’m usually good at introspecting. Obsessing egotistically about myself is what I do best. But I’m stumped because now I’m thinking of something else. What if he’s right? What if it is in fact just part of who I am? What if, instead of fighting it, I’m allowed to embrace it?

Of course it doesn’t come all at once after a big revelation moment. It takes time and work and it’s too soon to tell if I will permanently take this new perspective on board.
What I do know is this: when asked to describe myself, social phobia is one of the first things that come to mind. I’m a writer. I’m asexual. I have social phobia. It’s right up there. It’s important. And yet, I hesitate. I look for a way around it. I try to phrase it in such a fashion that it doesn’t seem so bad.

“Shy” is a word I’ve been throwing around a lot. Sometimes it’s “a little bit shy”. Shy is okay. Shy is endearing. But shy isn’t it. Sobbing for fifteen minutes after making an official phone call isn’t shyness. Crossing the street to avoid having to say hello to an acquaintance isn’t shyness. It’s embarrassing, is what it is. It’s shameful. And because of the shame, “it” becomes “It” with a capital “I”. It becomes a monster that we each have to fight on our own in secret.

But what if we decided to come out of hiding? What if we all started embracing our social fears? Because if you’re scared and I’m scared, then we have something in common and maybe we can be less scared together. Maybe we can repair the chink in the armor and set the monster back quite a few HPs in only one throw of the dice.

This second interview ended with the lovely owners telling me that my anxiety doesn’t show that much, and that I probably shouldn’t even mention it in the future. You know what, though? If this is who I am, then I want people to know.