keep-calm-and-man-up-5Leaving my therapist on Monday I was struck by the thought that I had inadvertently lied when answering one of her questions.  The lie was unintentional, and in the moment I had come to believe the lie so well that I believed I was telling her the truth.

She asked me if I had ever been depressed or suffered from depression.  She also included the typical signs of what my man suit would consider the calling cards of depression: suicidal, substance abuse problems, the inability to function, etc.  My answer, was,  “No, I don’t really get depressed.  Sometimes I might get the blahs, or feel a little down, but not depressed.”  In my answer, I had dropped Allie, and put back on the man suit to “Man Up” and downplay any suffering that I’ve endured in my life.

For all I know, she saw right through it.  I mean, she is good at what she does, and I’m sure I’m not the first girl in a man suit to sit down on her couch and downplay a personal struggle.  After all, boys are taught from a young age to toughen up, man up, rub some dirt on it, and carry on.  Men wear their scars with pride, and love to talk about how they earned them.  I’ve participated in such discussions on more than one occasion.  However, what men are taught about mental wounds and scars is a far different thing…You don’t talk about them…ever.  You downplay them, or as my father likes to joke, “Karate men cry on the inside.”

I took those lessons to heart as a child, and by the age of twenty I had learned to lock those feelings down tight.  Crying was to be fought at all costs, and if you got choked up, swallow that shit back down.  Even to this day, I find it very hard to cry.  I get choked up, I can want to cry, feel the need to, but a painful lump in the throat and a few tears is often all that I get to come out.  This is definitely an area I need help in.

As for mental health/depression?  Well, I definitely have depression, I just have never thought of it that way, but upon further reflection I have come to understand how mine presents, and there is no doubt it is real.

Let me be clear, I don’t have the kind of depression that leaves me incapable of action, or with thoughts of suicide.  I’ve never been addicted to substances, other than cigarettes (quit 5 years ago), and while I did dabble with drugs, it was purely recreational, and it’s been over 18 years since I last used.

My depression is more subtle, and I always thought of the way I dealt with it as a badge of honor.  I hit a major pocket of it at the beginning of the summer, and my wife would tell you that “I was there but I wasn’t there” all summer, as I hid away in my office at home.  Being alone is one major way in which I deal with depression.  Sitting here, I realize that I may still be suffering from it to some degree.  Many of the things I enjoy doing saw me lose interest this summer.  I just stopped caring if I did them.  This isn’t the first time this kind of behavior has come up, but just the most recent and best example.  I have often thought, “well, I just need alone time, at least I’m not depressed!”  No, bitch, you are depressed big time, and obviously this summer’s depression walked hand in hand with the realization and acceptance that I was transgender.

Wait!  You mean you weren’t excited to realize who you really are?  No, I was scared shitless!  Sure, I had moments where I’d start to daydream about how my life could change, but when you only come to realize who you are after forty years?  You can’t help but think about how much time you’ve missed, how hard it will be to transition, and what you might lose in the process?  It would take one cold mother fucker to not be scared.  Accepting and embracing my femininity requires me to be honest with myself in all things.  My man suit would never admit being scared, but the real me?  She’s still scared, and I don’t know when that fear will entirely go away.  I also don’t think it is entirely a bad thing to have a little fear along for the ride.

This summer’s depression was the result of the little girl in me crying about what all the changes that would have to occur might mean.  Would I ever pass?   Would I ever be able to find a female voice?  Would I lose my wife, my family, and my friends?  What will happen with my job?  How will I pay for surgeries?  My mind ran away with me, and started focusing on things that are months, if not years off in the future.  These things began to depress me, and having my father in law in my house still does.  I want to start to express, to feel free to talk, but I always have to keep an eye out for where he’s at.  Some would say, “Do it anyways!”  While, that’s a great sentiment, in many ways as I’ve already suggested, I’m a little girl.  I am uncertain, afraid of how I will be perceived, and how any changes, regardless of how subtle will be received by my wife.  As for my father in law, well his presence simply heightens my dysphoria as it reminds me that I constantly have to be “On”, and that I can never let down my mask.  It’s exhausting and depressing.

I haven’t even talked about my life-long way of coping with depression/dysphoria (I see them hand in hand), which is obsessing on hobbies by spending lots of money on said hobbies.  Whether it’s needing a GoPro to film and edit my backpacking adventures, or the nine pairs of soccer cleats (can’t wear heels!) I’ve purchased in the last two years…this is a behavior that has been around in me forever.  Talking with other girls, I know what it is now, because many have similar stories of doing anything they could to distract from the feelings they had inside them.  I was doing this as well, and I have spent probably close to $20,000 over the years to keep trying to fill the hole in my soul, but nothing has ever been able to do so.

My first memories of this behavior was taking money from my dad to buy Dungeons and Dragons books.  Dungeons and Dragons was great, I could throw myself into the worlds, and role-playing was a way to ignore the storm inside of me.  Eventually, I would give up gaming for other hobbies such as video games, backpacking, writing, yoga, soccer, etc.  With each new hobby came the need for things I just had to have.  Fighting my inner female meant that I had to throw money at her, and for brief periods I would think I was ok, but then a new obsession would emerge and the cycle would repeat itself, until this summer.

This summer, I broke the cycle, because this summer I accepted who I am as a woman.  With no more misdirection, I couldn’t sink money into my depression, and so instead I withdrew, letting the anxiety and anger build until I finally started to share who I really was.  Sharing helped to alleviate and make me more aware of the my poor behaviors.  However, I’m also a work in progress, and I’m not entirely out of the woods yet.

My therapist convinced me to join her support group sessions, and I will attend my first tonight.  Aside from meeting others in my area, I also see it as a chance to be myself around others without fear of judgement, or being made fun of.  I’m not there with my wife yet, and it may be some time before I’m comfortable.  She knows I’m dealing, but I don’t think she is capable of seeing Allie yet.  Don’t get me wrong, she is handling this better than most wives from what I understand, but I haven’t changed much at home yet.  I have gotten a couple little comments which I feel further confirms she’s not seeing the real me, but I also admit I could be overly sensitive about things right now.  The reality is I don’t think my wife will be able to accept until I feel ready to begin physically presenting, which will mean several months of HRT.  I also can admit to myself that with issues currently facing my son right now, it is real easy for me to simply sit in dad mode.  My needs are important, but I’m a parent and can’t help but put my kid first.

I also accept that a little of my depression may be from unrealistic expectations.  I’ve shared with my wife that I may want to fully transition, that I have a female inside of me, but aside from an offer to talk if I want to, she has shown zero desire to engage on the issue, although we may go out and talk on Saturday night.  She hasn’t gotten the message that I think more like her than a man.  When she continues to speak to me, or to react to things as if I am a man, all I can do is sigh on the inside, and try and understand that it will take time.  My desire was that she would start to try and engage with me on a more female level, but realistically, can I expect that to happen overnight?  I have played the part of husband for eighteen years, and I’ve known her even longer than that.  Just as my process is my own, she has a right to hers as well.

My urge to spend money has dwindled to almost nothing at the moment, unless it has to do with transition.  I’m not interested in my hobbies right now, but I’m also not looking to find a new one either.  Accepting who I am, has finally forced me to stop running from my truth, and without the need to run, the need for new hobbies has also gone away.

Accepting that I have suffered from depression throughout my life is a big deal for me.  I have no more reasons to “Man Up” and power through.  It’s OK to admit I need help, and to ask for that help.  It’s even better to see my depression for what it is, and to begin to work on those parts of me that will help to make it go away.  I’m not saying I won’t ever be depressed again.  I’m almost certain with transition and dysphoria that there will definitely be moments of depression in my future.  However, I can deal with that knowledge, because I can now see that what I’m entering isn’t a cave, but rather a tunnel, and there is light on the other side of that tunnel.  I have to go through darkness to get there, but with help and one foot in front of the other I will emerge on the other side.