This is Why You Must Survive

I have been told that this blog is so depressing that some people have stopped reading it, which seems almost funny to me because if anything I soft-pedal how unrelentingly bleak my life can be. For instance, I have not mentioned my habit of telling myself, as many as a dozen times a day, that I am a bad person and that I am stupid. I do this as a reflex when I do something sub-optimal, or worse when I remember doing something sub-optimal, especially if it was of a social nature. That’s the background radiation of my life; that’s what happens to me on a good day. Some mornings, it is a real fight to get out of bed.

Things are looking up, though. For the first time in a long time, I have a real path forward to something better. Even after the euphoria died down, I still kept writing. Now I’m at 56,000 words. I should have a complete manuscript by the end of the year. More importantly, a friend of mine wants to write a intro to PHP book with me. He’s a pretty good programmer, and I’m a pretty good writer, and together we should make a pretty good book. The best part is that I’ll be able to use it as a portfolio piece, and hopefully start picking up some technical writing jobs. Once I have some professional credits and references to my name, I’ll have the start of an honest-to-Goddess career on my hands. There’s something even bigger and better in the pipe, but I can’t talk about it because I don’t know what I can say without jeopardizing things and I’d rather err on the side of discretion.

Socially, things are…choppy. I lost a good friend. She’ll stay lost until she can realize what she did wrong, and why her “apology” didn’t cut it. That might make for some strain with my other two main hangout friends, but I’ve got a third who might be developing in that same circle, and I think I can branch out to find more, as well. It feels a little mercenary and gross to be evaluating friendships for their potential contributions to my mental health and stability, but that’s part of my life now. If I lose a friend, I have to be on the lookout to pick up others or grow closer to ones I already have, or else I could enter a tail spin and have a hard time pulling out. I will die in the dark if I let myself be alone.

So I don’t let myself be alone.

I’m not long for Beaverton, anyhow. One way or another, I’m leaving next year. The Portland area is where I plan to retire; I can’t stand to live here in my youth. Or maybe I’m just restless. Last year I hopped from place to place, constantly in flux. My housing situation was unstable for the vast bulk of the year, only settling out in November. Life changing decisions had to be made regularly, sometimes in a matter of hours. It was survival living, hand to mouth. Maybe I acclimated to it. Stability, at least up here in Beaverton, doesn’t agree with me.

Or didn’t, at least. The restlessness is fading. I feel like I could fall into a rut here. That scares me. Is it because I’ve made the decision to move, or is it because I’m re-acclimating to stability? (Is stability banality? Should I fear it as much as I think I do?)

I am in a liminal space. Not the desperately scrambling “I’ll try (almost) anything” way that I was at the depth of my homelessness, when I was seriously looking for a time and place to experiment with drugs because hey, what’s the worst that’s gonna happen: I end up homeless? This is a more prolonged, and perhaps somewhat more penetrating, evolution. It’s not just new experiences I’m searching for. I’m thinking about where I’m going to be in five years. Who I am going to be. My career is on the runway. My social life is in turmoil but not exactly falling apart. Geographically, things will change in a big way soon. Everything is shifting, some parts faster than others.

I feel good to be alive, even despite all the shit. This is what I survived for. I know I made the right choice in refusing to die. If I’d let myself go, nothing would have changed. My life would have ended in such poor conditions. You don’t stay alive because things are guaranteed to turn out well–although things are up from where they were last year, everything could still fall apart for me, and get even worse this time. You stay alive because if you die, nothing will ever get better for you. How you died in the end, that will be it. But if you survive, you retain the blessings of uncertainty, and of potential.

When things are at their darkest, remember, this is why you must survive: not for false hope. Simply to see if things will change.

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It Gets Worse From Here

As my transition ticks along smoothly, I find myself more and more drawn to thinking about topics for this blog that are not strictly transition related. I’m beginning to think of this period not just as my transition, but as the time when I become the person I’ll be for the rest of my life.

A quarter century old is a little late to come of age, but that seems to be what’s happening. I feel like the time between graduating from UCSC and now is just a void, lost time. That’s not true, of course. I’ve had three jobs, started transition, earned most of a Master’s degree, lost more than 20,000 dollars to a haze of despair, depression, and bad decisions. And I’ve nearly killed myself four times. Yet I’m only now waking up. I feel old and young at the same time. Old because I’m tired. Old because I’ve lost that sense of boundless future where everything’s possible. Young because of how ignorant I realize I will always be. Young, because I’m insecure, weak, and despite it all, still untested. I know now why people are willing to settle for mediocrity. Why they’d be desperate for it, really.

I’ve still got some growing up to do. Before I get too old.

It’s an incredibly bleak time to become an adult, and I feel like I’m starting even later than the rest of my famously tardy cohort. The kids who come behind me have an advantage: they saw me and my friends get the shit kicked out of us, so they’re coming into the game with their eyes open. Me? I have a Lit degree. Almost a half decade into my working life and I’m getting paid less than 22 grand a year. I have no idea how that stacks up (inflation adjusted) with how my parents did, but it’s the best money I’ve ever had and it’s about as much money as I expect to be paid for the foreseeable future. Forget saving up to buy a house. I’m saving up to buy shoes.

Gothe said, “Life’s dangers are infinite, and among them is safety.” Christ, what an asshole. For the first time in almost a year, I am safe and in that safety, I’ve had enough time to glance down and see how badly I’ve been broken this whole time. Part of me liked it better when I was too busy surviving to pay attention to how fucked up I am. I could pretend that I was making progress, that I was toughening up. That someday I’d come out of it as a stronger person, just by surviving long enough. But now, I’ve got a job, a place to stay, and a new circle of friends I see every week and there’s no hiding from it anymore.

I still hate myself.

I think that it is inevitable that this blog will eventually come to be as much about my struggles with my depression and self-loathing as it is with my gender. It might stigmatize my future employment prospects, but fuck it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year is that next year happens next year, and rent is due in a week. I have to talk about this, if only to be honest about what transitioning is. You can’t divorce trans issues from the rest of it. To dig deep enough to resolve gender stuff in any kind of a satisfactory level demands that you also dig up everything else, too. Otherwise you’re just patching over the difficult parts with convenient lies, and if you start doing that, then what the fuck’s the point of transitioning?

So I guess what I mean to say is, that stuff I mentioned earlier, about making sure this blog to won’t be a blighted wasteland?

Total fucking lie. It gets worse from here.

Falling Down Again

So it turns out that spending a year being homeless and on the edge of suicide isn’t an effective therapy mode. I know, I was shocked too, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one. On Wednesday, I went in to meet with two of my professors in their office hours. The first meeting went well; I updated/reminded my adviser where I was in the process, got some clarity about how to proceed with the rest of the quarter.

Then I had a nervous breakdown. A full scale sobbing, keening, wailing, slamming-my-head-into-the-wall-over-and-over-again breakdown, right there in the bathroom. I ended up curled up in the corner of the large handicap stall, doing my best to fit in some quality hyperventilation with the sobbing. Somebody comes into the bathroom and I shut up, hold my breath, watch the feet walk to the urinal and hope they don’t know I’m here. Standing in front of the mirror a few minutes later, I practice looking like I’m not a shattered wreck of a person and hey, it looks pretty good. It lasts until about four minutes into the meeting with my second professor, where I admit that I wasn’t able to do the work I said I would, and begin sobbing right there in front of him. He suggests that I should consider pulling out of my classes and focusing on getting healthy before I try graduate school again. He’s right. I can’t do this yet. My relief is unspeakable.

An hour later I find myself standing in line with a pair jumbo pot noodles (low quality carbohydrates, it’s what’s for dinner) thinking What does it say about me that I feel best about myself when I’m running away?

Now I’m not inclined to believe in God sending me signs, but I am inclined to believe that the Universe revolves around me, so when later that day Portland got hit with two inches of rain and hail in the space of an hour and a half, I figured that of course it was some kind of cosmic reflection of my state of mind. I felt wonderful and terrible. I hadn’t really wanted to go back to school, but it had seemed like the thing to do. Get back on the horse, and all that shit. I loved my class, it was the first truly exciting intellectual experience I’d had in years, but I hated and feared my workload. This post isn’t maudlin enough yet, so I’ll go ahead and say it: it was like the rain washed away my anxiety, while reflecting my grief at my defeat. (Yes! High score! Nobody does overwrought like a tranny. Nobody.)
On Thursday, I went back to school to drop my classes. It was the right thing to do. I wanted to do it. And when I got to the page in the web portal that drops classes, I couldn’t bring myself to do it for a half hour. I came home, truly sad and feeling deflated. The enormity of what I’d done, of giving up, pressing me down.

There was a box on my doorstep. My friends had mailed me a blender. When I finished wandering around my apartment, laughing and sobbing deliriously, I made myself a smoothie.

I have the best friends.

So Transitioning Isn’t Going to Solve All My Problems After All

“Laying awake at night.” That’s what they call it. When the world is still and your mind races. The blank screen of your bedroom ceiling now flickers with the dim, shuttery pictures of your own exquisite horror film. Tomorrow’s problems and today’s regrets loom. Desperate plans and hopeless fantasies war, and goddamnit there is work tomorrow get to sleep or you’ll never make it to the end of the shift. Safe in bed and yet falling, falling…

I owe all of my money. By the time my next paycheck rolls around, I will have had to make a choice between being late on my student loan payments, or not eating. Today I had to take a chunk out of my food budget to buy a towel so I can take baths; I can’t afford showers because I can’t afford a shower curtain. I think to myself, why did I buy that stupid fucking hat? It was overpriced, and the damn thing ripped the second day I had it. But the hat is just an emblem of my problem: I am sick and fucking tired of living like a pauper, and sometimes I forget that I still am one. I want to buy a blender so I can make fruit smoothies for breakfast, a healthier and hopefully cheaper alternative to hitting up a fast  food joint on the way to work. I can’t afford a blender. I can’t afford food, literally cannot afford it, if I want to pay my bills on time. It’s because earlier this week I blew a hundred bucks on senseless luxuries like a pan to cook things in, and a spatula with which to cook. And that fucking hat.

Not being satisfied with shooting myself in one foot, I find myself taking careful aim at the other. I’ve got a graduate class I’m taking. There’s a lot of reading, but it’s manageable. Then I’ve also got two other classes I’m trying to clean up from last quarter, classes I catastrophically fucked up because of my endless endless self-sabotage. My shrink called it an adjustment disorder. My mom called it dawdling. They’re both right. And now I feel it happening again, because I spent 10 bucks today–remember that affording food is something I only aspire to–on a book that I’m going to want to read way more than about the European Union. I’ve got a paper outline due next week about the disconnect between accountability and obligation of the member-states of the EU, and I don’t even know what the governing structures of the EU are. All I have to say on the subject is that somebody, somewhere fucked up. This paper is for one of the best, but most demanding, professors in the department. On top of that, I’m taking a course for the other best-most-demanding professor in the department. I know these men won’t cut me slack, and that even if they did, I wouldn’t respect the degree I earned from it. It’s a struggle to get myself to focus on my work, even the parts of it I enjoy. I’ve got Impostor Syndrome so bad I can’t even bring myself to decently fail.

And so I stay awake to the thrumming realization, an epiphany exploding over and over again, that I’m still trying to kill myself, but now I’m just taking my time about it. It’s a good thing I don’t own a gun.

Endure

Whenever I come out of a sharp bout of suicidal ideation, I get into a mood where the basic truths of suffering and endurance, of meaning and survival, become profound and sacred. Even knowing that my elders and betters understand this more thoroughly than I do does not make me feel ashamed for treating this knowledge as a sublime new discovery because it is knowledge I have suffered for and that I have earned.

I will endure. Not for false promises that things will improve, because they may not. It does not always look better in the morning. It does not always look better with friends to help. It does not always look better after a shot of rum. And if it does look better, that may be an illusion, setting me up for an even greater fall. There is no certainty, no promise of a better future, no guarantee that life will ever be better than the utter misery I find myself in whenever this mood strikes me. There is nothing I can do to change this, to bring confidence into my life.

So I endure to avoid certainty. Because if I die, it will never look better.

Resilience

[note: parts of this post were written yesterday, in case you care about that sort of thing]

I have left Pasadena again. Every time I leave that town, I swear I will never be back. Walking around the area is torturous nostalgia. In a way, I came of age there. I hate it there. So many memories, fond and rotten, tied to places that won’t stay the same.

I left because I hate it there. I left because living with Mom was not working. I left because I had no realistic prospects of self-sufficiency in the LA area without a car. I left so that I wouldn’t kill myself.

I’m much safer now. I’m also much less comfortable. I’m living at a place called Thrillhouse, a punk record shop in San Francisco. My friend lives in a bedroom upstairs, and she’s convinced the roommates to allow me to crash on their couch until I can get on my feet. The kitchen is the stuff of horrors, the fridge smells like something died in it (no joke), and a dozen or more people I don’t know come and go through the house according to a pattern that, if I comprehended it, would surely shatter my mind in an appropriately Lovecraftian manner.  I also feel better than I have in months. Making the decision to get out there and try another shot at life has given me a new sense of confidence. I have no guarantee of success,  but now I feel like I have a shot.

If I’m honest with myself, I was too comfortable in Pasadena. It was too easy to simply lay and wallow. Maybe I needed that for a bit, but I’m glad to be past that now. Thrillhouse is terrible place to live if you care about things like sanitation, so being here has really lit a fire under my ass to get out there and start seeking solutions. Today I registered for food stamps and learned about a job seeker’s group that meets every Wednesday at the LBGT center. Tomorrow I’m going to find a shrink and endocrinologist, and in 10 days time I’ll be able to apply for cash assistance from San Fransisco county. In the meantime I’ve got a job fair prep session to go to on Thursday, and will apply to 5 more employment agencies over the next few days. I’ve got a daily goal of at least two craigslist replies a day, too.  I also need to update my Monster page and find similar places to put my resume online.

All of this seems to be linked to a new kind of confidence I have found in myself. When my life in Portland melted down and I ended up living with my mother again, I wasn’t just sad, I was disgusted with myself. I felt like even though I’d had such an easy life, I still managed to fuck it up. I heard stories about people who were in tougher spots than me, and whose achievements surpassed my own, and felt worthless. For instance, I’ve got a friend from high school who got his girlfriend pregnant and married her while they were either still in, or just out of high school. At one point he was crushing boxes behind a supermarket to try and make ends meet, but he just couldn’t get enough cash. So what did he do? He joined the Army and went to fucking war. I felt like I could never measure up to that kind of toughness. I’d had a soft life, softer than his, and still I couldn’t even keep my shit together.

Recently, I’ve reevaluated that opinion. Perhaps my life hasn’t been so easy. Perhaps I’ve done better than I give myself credit for. When I was 9, my mother lost her job. We had to sell the house, and a year later, we left Ashland and moved down to Glendale to live with my grandmother. I lost every friend I’d ever known in one weekend, and the dog, too. We spent the next six months living at my grandmother’s house, where I had to live by strange rules I wasn’t accustomed to, and went to a public school for the first time. Prior to fleeing Ashland, I’d gone to a Waldorf school, so the culture shock was significant. Just as I finally made friends, Mom got a job and we were able to move to South Pasadena, where I had to start over again.

After that, I had two years of hell that I don’t want to talk about.

Then high school, which was actually pretty fun once I got the hang of it, and later college. There was a period at UCSC where I was really depressed, but for the most part it was a good experience. I graduated and moved to Portland.

Then two more years of hell. I got fired during the crash of 2008, and couldn’t find a job for the next year. It was during this time that I became suicidal for the first time, due to romantic troubles. The rest of the year consisted of mnths upon months of watching my savings, so carefully tended over the course of my life, melt away. I was forced to beg for money from my grandparents. I ate my stock portfolio that had been gifted to me by my great grandmother. All the while, feeling more and more useless, losing more and more confidence. I managed to enter graduate school and almost immediately had a panic attack over the workload; I ended up stabbing myself with a carrot peeler.

And on, and on. My life has lurched from one crisis situation to another for almost three years now. I’ve been almost killed by one roommate, and have been scared of two others. I’ve been seriously suicidal twice. I have completely run out of money, and my credit card is all but maxed out. I’m essentially homeless and on food stamps.

This is an abridged list. I haven’t included details of the family troubles, or the messy breakup at the end of my first relationship, nor the two separate shrinks who so thoroughly failed me that I gave up on therapy for more than a year, despite my history of mental illness.

So yeah, things have been rough. The last three years have been truly special in that regard. There have been good times, too, even during the darkest years. There always are. I used to only focus on those, pretend that my life was only the easy parts, and then hate myself for the damage I incurred during the rough parts. Didn’t I know that there are HIV positive child soldiers starving in Africa?! Compared to that, how dare I consider any part of my life to be less than perfect!

I’m not going to do that anymore.

I can also give myself credit for what hasn’t happened. I haven’t killed myself. That’s the big one. I haven’t fallen to drugs. I haven’t become a criminal. I’m not malicious, and in fact I have gained a new appreciation of empathy. And while I’m technically homeless, and thus at my lowest point materially, I now feel stronger and more optimistic about my future than I have in years. Life hasn’t been too good to me, and I’m still here. I may not be in the place in life that I wish I was, but I’ve managed to survive a hostile set of circumstances. In acknowledging that, I feel stronger. I feel like I can continue to survive.

I’m going to need that strength because it’s probably going to get tougher as I go. Right now, I still pass as cis. A cis man, sure, but cis. Once I transition, and get into that space where I’m visibly trans before (hopefully) making it through to the other side, things might get tough. Even in San Francisco, there might be people who will give me shit or discriminate against me.

Whatever happens, I’ll get through it. I always do.

In Which Things Do Not Go As Planned

Walking by the pool in the courtyard of the condo building I live in, I think to myself that I could just wade in, duck under and take two deep breaths. The water rushes in and takes me away. In my imagination, it’s a cool flowing sensation, gentle and kind. I purposely forget for the moment that I know that drowning hurts; my lungs have been filled with liquid before and it is excruciating. Lungs are attached to the inside of your chest by several ligaments (Sinews? I don’t know the right word) and when they become filled with fluid they get heavy, and start to yank on those connections. It’s exactly like if someone was trying to rip your lungs out. But for the moment, I don’t know that. The water is lit blue and enticing and I’m sure it’d feel great. And afterwards…release. Freedom. Calm. Step one of the plan that pops into my head is to take my cell phone out of my pocket. I don’t want to get it wet.

In other words, it hasn’t been a good day.