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Reaching Out is an Uphill Battle

  • Beyond wishing for aide or counsel in this new period of my life, something I really looked forward to was meeting other people in the flesh who could sympathize, understand, and identify with the challenging mindset that has plagued my life for far too long. I think the consequences of willingly trying to neglect that part of myself and subsequently hiding it from the world has led me to ultimately develop reclusive tendencies and hide all of myself away from the world. Strangely, the very thought doesn’t make sense to me at all, but it happened anyway. At some point, I just didn’t want to be seen by the world feeling ugly, conspicuous, and confused at the subtle resistance I intuitively perceived ubiquitously. Considering my personality, I would think that it’s a baseless fear, but personality takes time for non-acquaintances to grasp while friends and co-workers in the past generally find me to be humorous, warm, and understanding if not a little eccentric. I’ve grown weary of guessing what onlookers must think of my apparent disregard for nondescript conformity and the imaginative judgments that must come with their thoughts. For example, last year, it started becoming harder and harder to leave the house for school, for food, for anything. Nowadays, it’s hard to even want to leave my room at all or go to my job which has become a sticky web of interpersonal frustration fringing on sexual harassment and other uncomfortable minutia. In light of all this, my one hope was in seeking help or seeking out others with a more personal and permanent problem; others who could easily understand my curious exterior and see clearly through the mistiness into my heart with little effort, without the questions, without the scrutiny, without the insinuations. So much wouldn’t have to be said, but having a chance to speak those thoughts anyway would be a heart-wrenching relief and comforting release. My chance finally came and I was so close to meeting some new friends… but when I was actually near, I was so terrified that I figuratively ran away.

    Why? I wondered to myself as I hid in my car. I had taken a short journey out of town to meet a support group. I wasn’t even fifty feet from the building when I think the reality of all of this finally set in for a change. It was cold and raining out, but my car was warm from having the heat run during part of the trip. As I sat there contemplating my own escalating trepidation and hesitation, my body slowly became as glacial as my anxious heart, knotted stomach, and arctic mindscape. I was paralyzed and suddenly fearful of my own life and future even. There were a handful of reasons for this, some of which may not even be very logical, some of which might’ve even been imagined, others of which I’ve probably forgotten by now, but they froze me to my seat preventing me from simply walking a few steps, preventing me from even moving at all as I began trying to shut out or rationalize some random, fearsome ideas.

    The primary purpose of the trip was to meet and introduce myself to a therapist who could help me find some clarity as well as other guidance in terms of emotional damage control in goodness knows how many other dimensions of my frightened, ashamed, and subservient internal psyche. Since I was from out of town and without insurance, it wasn’t practical for me to meet her under other informal circumstances, so she suggested that I meet her with her support group. That way, I could talk with her freely and get to know her a little as well as meet the others. When I saw that there were a group of what seemed to be nearly fifty people, I felt seriously overwhelmed. What made it worse was that as I watched, I perceived that a greater majority of the patrons weren’t there for the support group. Apparently, there was a guest speaker present and his seminar, which effectively superceded the meeting, was open to the public. I felt that if I stepped in, they might gawk at my unusual manner of dress and fragility especially considering the subject matter of his lecture, whatever it must’ve been. Even for me, I was entirely over-dressed for such an occasion which made me feel even more self-conscious considering the bleak, wet, wintry evening. It was warmer and brighter earlier in the day, but by nightfall, it had become quite cold, and there was really no way to anticipate this drastic change in the weather. I just couldn’t do it. After everyone left, I miraculously caught the therapist as she was leaving. She admittedly had no idea who I was though in light of her own burdensome workload, and I had to remind her of our emails. After a very unusual moment, she acknowledged her lack of recognition and we went on our way. Somehow, I got a very positive impression of her regardless.

    It’s embarrassing even admitting to this wasted outing and pathetic display of cowardice, but it’s that kind of fear that has surreptitiously ruled my life for longer than I’m willing to admit. It is a cancerous, spontaneously manifesting sensation that comes in a variety of forms, but cancerous nonetheless because despite having more than enough exposure to it on a daily basis at college or during other public situations just trying to be myself, the grip and paralyzing effect it imposed upon me has only intensified over time. During my second year of college, I felt that I was getting better at dealing with it. I was able to do my homework, give my presentations, perform at the shows, and speak to the faculty with a lesser degree of stress in my mind and body. When I switched schools, I noticed during my fourth year that I was becoming so evasive in light of this terror that I frequently wouldn’t even go to my classes. I would just stay at home, in my room, trying to muster the strength to persevere or reason my way through the fear. I had to admit to myself that I was ill-equipped to handle it, and I just let the suffering run chaotic havoc upon my consciousness and identity despite the consequences, despite the appointments, despite anything. I didn’t want to be me anymore. I didn’t want to be anybody. Honestly, it was so overwhelming that I lost the will to live my life any longer and felt like I surely going to drop completely out. At its worse, I remember I missed three full consecutive days in a row sometime in the spring. Even though I was working full-time, I wasn’t mentally or physically tired. It was just this crushing emotional hindrance, and I just couldn’t take going into school devoting all of my energy to pretending (to myself) or acting like the terror wasn’t there because I was noticeably a ball of tension or sadness to a few of my more observant friends. Sometimes that simple question "Are you okay?" was nearly enough to set off the water works destroying whatever little image and reputation I still had and land me in the counselor’s office.

    What are you supposed to say about dealing with something like this that’s so debilitating? I used to say that I was just sick and leave it at that, but I’ve found that people generally have lesser sympathy for mental health ailments over more common physical ailments. When someone says he/she was throwing up, it’s all completely understandable. Take the day off. Get some rest. Stay in bed. You’ll feel better soon. What about some guy struggling with depression who has overly morose day or the woman who has an anxiety attack or someone with a phobia who was freaked out of their living mind? No one wants to catch any sickness at school or work from some sick coworker or friend for sure, and that’s easily understandable. It’s just not the same when someone says, "I had to stay home. I was severely depressed," or "I couldn’t make it. My anxiety was acting up." When I used to say that I was sick, the responses I would get would usually imply that something’s indeed going around or that it’s the season, and that’s what I’m talking about. I left anyone thinking that to their own deductions, a demonstration of the deception I often guiltily utilized to protect myself from being judged harshly, rudely, undeservedly. I suppose people might just be used to hearing about others getting physically sick so often even in those cases where it is completely fabricated or even self-imposed like when drinking or eating too much, and I’m not trying to judge anyone for a lack of compassion. You explain to someone close to you that you have depression or something of that nature, and they do empathize with you. In my case, I had no explanation that would make sense to anyone. "I was scared." "It was the terror again." "I couldn’t bring myself to be seen." Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, identity disorder, personality disorder, it could be any or all of them, but terror manifests in a variety of ways in everybody. On that gloomy, icy night in my car though, I felt a different type of fear along with a bit of that social hesitation I know only too well. I felt like I was in danger.

    The exploration of my gender orientation (or failure therein) has been a private internal analysis for quite some time. By associating myself with this group, the therapist, and anyone else involved, I was finally at the threshold of making it more public, and I wasn’t ready for that. At least, I thought I was for a time, but I really wasn’t. I started contemplating the consequences of sharing that part of my life with anyone, and I didn’t like what I came up with. The therapist explained to me that if I were to come to the group, an emphasis was placed upon the protection of the participants as their privacy was of great importance. I thought, "Here I am watching them like a tiger, a shark, some predator in the wild. Who’s to stop someone else out who might be watching me someday?" I’ve had enough trouble already by dancing around the subject or otherwise evading personal inquiries within my own family. Questions that they’ve always asked me seemed to have such simpler ambiguous answers in the past, but when I finally stumbled upon the answers myself, that kind of deception has become more and more painful to perpetuate regardless of its necessity. I felt that I might be exposed in some unforeseeable, inexplicable way if I started associating with this group. My concerns for privacy even with the therapist have yet to be discussed for I have my own legitimate issues as there are people within my life who have access to medical databases including personnel files. Three curious people from my past and present, two particularly, who’d like more than anything to know more about what makes me tick as their blatant disregard for my right to privacy has caused immense damage to my self-image growing up and beyond. I’ve been running from them all because it was the only solution. They are both stubborn beyond reason, and their only objective was to keep the fight going for another day, to be victoriously in the ‘right’, to humiliate and ridicule me for their own amusement and self-empowerment, (as disgusting as that truly is) to bring me down to their level, and to simply keep me talking so that they could interrogate and judge me like some lab experiment. I always had a lot of fight in me, but in those particular cases, it was an exercise in futility for me but fun for them. When I left my ex who is still a dear friend, she once commented not too long ago that she never met anyone else who could make her feel so wrong about an argument and that it helped her develop the ability to out-reason anyone with little effort compared to our conversations. Ironically, I felt the same way about her for I always felt like I was generally wrong, (which might’ve, more or less, been an extension of my lacking self-confidence) but she would sooner drop any subject or move on to something else before closing any issue we might’ve had. These other two, however, were relentless in making arguments cyclical for their own entertainment and egotistical nourishment, and it was maniacal. Sadly, my uniqueness was among the subject matter for debate, as sick as that sounds, so two of the most prominent people from my past made me feel ashamed and guilty about my lack of adherence to normality. I learned how powerful yielding could be for turning that arctic shoulder of disinterest, and disgust for that matter, for years on end was more agonizing to them than losing even the most trivial of arguments. Yet they never gave it up for good after catching up with me and still pursue me to this day whenever I pop my head up…

    Anyway, when I did finally bump into the therapist, she did let me know that those from the support group were among the participants that night. I knew they were there. I was able to identify a few of them from my vantage point, but I could neither distinguish them easily from the many other casual passersby nor did I have a clue as to how large the support group actually was. I observed what I considered to be a small portion of the group lingering around when everyone else dispersed and yet another troubling thought entered my mind. What if this was yet another group I wouldn’t fit in with well? Would they too, like the other groups I’ve failed to associate with through college and elsewhere, find me to be wayward, misguided, and bizarre? I realized that I had a propensity to assume that I will eventually fail to fit into any particular group or clique of friends, and the feeling was somehow mysteriously equally prominent in my mind throughout the chilling evening. I’ve lived on the move for a very long time. Never long enough in one place to feel comfortable inviting friends into my heart, too long away from the friends I once loved, coldly ambivalent about reaching backwards into the past as something forgotten and lost in obscurity. It used to be a curious lifestyle and state of being, but having abided by it for so long has diluted the novelty into an eerie solace. Taken to another degree, it’s hard to imagine life any other way anymore, with friends. People find that claim about myself to be truly suspect, but with an overbearing family and transient lifestyle, how can there be any room for lasting friendships and platonic love? I honestly don’t even know how to measure how much I’ve been affected by this, but my disposition towards meeting new people who are nice is confusing. I’m very outgoing, giving, and happy to share, but I just always feel casually aloof and lacking in enough commonalities to genuinely feel drawn to anyone. Do I maintain a distance to prevent myself from getting my hopes dashed? I don’t think so, but I can say that I’ve become comfortable not developing expectations especially in regards to potential love interests, an area where I’ve displayed masterfully precise ineptitude. I simply enjoy having the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences and hearing about others and making people laugh, smile, and feel good for a little while. I anticipate that people will eventually drift from me in favor of others with whom they share more common ground or, frankly, who they care more about. With a few rare exceptions, that’s the way it’s always been.

    Why would it be any different with the trans community, I wondered. After identifying and associating with everyone here for the first time and getting to know some of the members, I find them (us) to be as human as any other group or minority albeit living under some extraordinary circumstances. It has been a calming and reassuring comfort to be supported and not to be rebuked or castigated for opening up. Still, would this new group locally think that I am some sort of strange-looking phony, some inauthentic non-trans knockoff of a sort?  As my ankles turned into icicles and my chest started intermittently shivering, I took notice of how nondescript the members of the group tended to be dressed whereas I was as loud and bright as a retro fireworks display. My way of thinking in terms of coping with and trying to placate that forbidden impulse has been absolutely berserk considering the absence of certain bodily features, so I had to be as creative as I thought I could be under the limiting circumstances. I didn’t think that how I dressed could be understood very easily even by these folks because it was mostly about wearing clothes with a more feminine fit and style. In the beginning, to be even more honest, I knew that I would’ve just been so much happier to explore women’s style and expression because I was drawn to that type of body, beauty, and fashion that I saw within myself in such an inappropriately potent way. I would often ask friends, "Why do they get so many more choices than men?" However, the lacking sense of masculinity that would slowly deteriorate over time was reluctant to contend with hecklers and/or family who might’ve interpreted such a radically diametric expression of my anatomy confusing or taboo, so I could only settle for embodying an expression that was on the fringe extremities of what could be considered masculine these days. I was just lying to myself, really, for I got the hecklers, I confounded my family, I outcasted myself from all stereotypes/groups, and I broke the spirit of the womanly presence within me… which was always just an extension or cloudy part of what I considered ‘me’ that I ignored or couldn’t perceive well. Still, I worked on myself further and further by developing a love for wearing more extravagant, brilliant colors and designs which ultimately put me in a category that someone in my family described in a negative context as ‘hyper-unique’. One part of me finally felt a great sense of completion and manifestation of her sense of style and confirmation of her presence, but only for a handful of years while always tentatively keeping my head up in public. Sadly, such limitations and concealment of my body could only do so much for a side of me that wanted to feel less conspicuous and more, maybe someday, appealing. All the while, the other part of me felt a regretfully isolating effect that was hard to deal with while contending with the unwanted attention and criticism. The last thing I wanted was to receive that kind of treatment from this group. and since last year, I still continue to regret the inception of this whole retro façade I created for myself to placate impulses that I hopelessly misunderstood and couldn’t begin to comprehend without utilizing imaginative thought at a desperate time in my life. Ironically, here I came to seek support strongly feeling that I would still be outcasted by the very people that I now identify with completely, and I just couldn’t overcome the crippling fear, the undisputable doubt this inspired. If I couldn’t fit in with them, when would I ever finally fit in anywhere?

    I knew I’d had it. I knew that I needed something more, something deeper, something with more permanence to rip myself away from the pitiable life of terror and depression that has plagued and confused me for years by constantly being something that I felt extremely out of sync with. Since I moved about half a year ago, I’ve literally shunned almost my entire wardrobe fed up with the pretense that has confounded onlookers and family yet, conversely, fascinated many friends and some others. It wasn’t really me though, and I knew that now. I didn’t want to be perceived as something outlandish or tacky any longer. Breathing out steamy air now through chattering teeth, I had lost all confidence in being understood even by this group considering the tangled mess of identity that I continued contemplating. Balled up in my newly-acquired bright yellow paisley jeans (if you can imagine that) I felt like a dandelion in the midst of an urban hurricane with no chance of surviving the wintry storm. I was and have always been truly too delicate inside, and I didn’t want this experience to crush what I felt may be the only hope for my survival. Here, I have been, for over an entire year, literally trying to re-define myself in private whilst avoiding flamboyancy and yet I come dressed, flowery as I was (as it is a favorite color), in hopes of understanding? At the outset, I thought that these people should be, more or less, like family so why should I feel any differently? Then I realized… that I’ve never, never once presented myself to anyone in such an extremely feminine fashion. That was it. I wasn’t ready for groups or sharing this dialogue with anyone in person yet. At this point, I just wanted to see the therapist alone and keep everything private, for now. Trust me when I admit to how detrimental staying in the habit of hiding probably is, but rushing into such a group atmosphere doesn’t constitute taking this all step-by-step, and I need that… to take it at a slower pace lest I want to hyperventilate or faint at some point. Deep down, I know I need to feel that type of acceptance though. Meeting the smiling faces, embracing the entirety of myself, feeling that sense of community. Someday perhaps, but not on that morose night. After briefly materializing through the stormy night to the therapist… I was on my way, not without a taste of despondency and regret for having presented myself as a coward.

    I wasn’t that hurt, you know. That’s how it’s always been, really. After having slowly grown up as the smaller and less capable child physically and academically, I became the adult, if you can call it that, with the current disposition and challenges that I have now. Evasive, fragile, conflicted, analytical, naïve. I think I might have a gender problem, too. (kidding) Despite the past, I believe that any dysphoria existed independently along side the development of these isolating tendencies. The difference was I was still happier and much less reclusive back then. I wasn’t really thinking about that on the long way home though. It had been night for over a few hours and was thickly darker than normal darkness driving through the country. The frigid cold air had my heat running most of the way home. I thought about my compulsion to go so far with this, out of town, out of the way of my daily routine, strangely apart from the norm anyone left in my life must’ve thought about my innocently eccentric personality. I had really made the effort. That was important to me. Going on trips out of town always takes a lot out of me. There always seems to be a competitive aggressiveness among drivers that just is draining. This deeply personal trip was something different though because I really had no idea how to imagine what I was heading into. On the way back though, I felt a stinging sense of defeat and a lesser pang of bewildered shame. When facing difficulty in other similarly unusual situations, a lot of the time I submit to my fears, doubts, or insecurity. Other times, it’s easier to yield to the counsel of my intuition when I’m a little more clear-headed, but this time I really fought as hard as I could against that terror. I resisted, wrestled, manipulated, and contended but it was like a Rubik’s cube with changing colors that infinitely bested me at every turn. The resistance took on so many forms, and I was surprised at how devious it could be. Perhaps I was in some form of shock stepping further into the new life, the new hope. It reminded me of how anxious I would get before recitals. It reminded me of the days where anxiety would keep me home from college. It reminded me of how I just felt like going to sleep and never waking up. One thing about me though, in my feebly gentle way, is that I always persist. Out of stubbornness or after having minimally recovered or after having grasped a wisp of temporary strength though, I can’t be sure. I can’t ever seem to feel deserving of anything that I work for, and as much as it hurts to simply keep trying to better myself or my little life with an abundant lack of ego, I somehow manage to move forward a bit at a time. I’m more of a tortoise in that department than I am the hare as, by contrast, others don’t struggle as much with even the lightest degree of selfishness. When I feel self-serving even in terms of my own survival, I feel like I’m doing something wrong or trying to take more than I deserve or away from someone else. Without a doubt, my upbringing had everything to do with that. I do not allow it to influence my decision to persevere here though. To me, it is a personal healing experience for body and soul that I can’t live without…

    And so, I am damaged goods in a number of ways, none of which friends, family, or exes ever truly knew the full extent and breadth of or may ever know, let alone imagine. That’s all I could really think. It took a long time to understand much about myself which made it even more important to me to meet those who were capable of empathizing, but I planned to try again soon. As it turned out, my career plans took a different turn since then, and I’m now looking to make an even bigger move further south to a market that would be more hospitable for my career and personal growth. It has inspired even more hope to look forward to being in a place where we are more accepted in society as people with feelings, dreams, and thoughts of our own. I had uncovered some concrete evidence that career prospects for my degree at the original destination were dispersed to other states a few years ago. Plus, the laws and general perception regarding us were, to say the least, extremely unwelcoming and frankly unfair in a biased, misguided sort of way. After a few communications with the therapist, a subsequent meeting could not be arranged at this time, and I had to refocus my attention on other things that were becoming far too neglected.

    I never write about myself here for the sake of inspiring pity or as a vehicle for complaint. I do, however, observe and analyze my own experiences and personality from a perspective so detached and dissociated that it’s hard not to find what I do and who I am compelling. When I’m in a more subjective frame of mind, I have a tendency to feel that who I’ve been has been distasteful. Trying to find that balance is the key, and that’s what this missive is all about. I may learn more about myself by reflecting upon my thoughts sometime in the future and reading entries like this one. If the support group out of town were to have consisted of the friends that I had met here, you can rest assured that it wouldn’t have been such a cold night spent in hiding shivering away, and I would’ve most certainly come away from the experience a little less empty-handed or marginally dispirited. Next time, I’ll do better. I promise.


Comments

4 comments
  • Briana Q likes this
  • Donna V
    Donna V Hi Dana,Many of us at GS have been to that" cold place in a car", having arranged everything.It is common to spend a lot of time and effort internalizing an analysing after going around a cycle, go up the hill ,quickly fall of start over again.Its disorie...  more
    March 2 - 1 likes this
  • Briana Q
    Briana Q Dana - I pick 'like' for the courage, energy, and effort at the journey you have gone through and are on for yourself - the great part is that you are here today and can as you note reflect and resolve for yet another go at it. The best of hopes, wishes, ...  more
    March 2
  • Donna V
    Donna V Hi Dana,You mention dealing with the common "How are You?".Yes many of us sympathise,and have the experience of resentment whilst saying "Fine ,I am Okay".This is what I felt.I found I could deal with it by thinking I really am fine in the circumstances ...  more
    March 3
  • Dana L.
    Dana L. Yes, it was very disconcerting to say the least. I thought it was just me, not anyone else, who may have had to face that level of internal pressure, so I find both of your comments very reassuring, as always. I can always count on you both, as well as ma...  more
    March 7