1

A quick note to any trans people who may see this

As the trans community mourns the suicide of Leelah Alcorn today, I just want to send a quick message out to anyone who reads this.

If you ever need help or are scared or in a dark place, please please please reach out. You can comment here (and I can reply via email based on the address you enter), tweet at me, or message me via my Facebook page. I will always be here for you. And you can always contact the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (US) or  877-330-6366 (Canada). Whatever you do, please contact someone. You life matters and, no matter how hard it may sometimes be for you to see it, there is hope. You can be trans and you can thrive.

14

The very dark side of messing with your body’s hormones

Trigger warning for talking about suicide

As you can tell by the trigger warning, this post will touch on suicide a bit. I’ve written about this a few times before, but, while I know it won’t be the last time I write about it by any means, I’m always a little hesitant to write about it again. It always seems to raise concern with at least a few people. But, as I have written about before, being able to write about these kinds of things has always been helpful to me.

Two and a half months ago, I had my annual checkup with my doctor for my HRT (hormone replacement therapy). We went over my labs and discussed how things have progressed over my first year. One thing that came up, was my discontent with my breast development. I’ve hardly got anything going on. Since the main reason for transgender women to take progesterone is typically for breast development, I had planned on asking if it was even worth continuing with it, as it is likely partially to blame for my weight gain. Considering the plan was to only take it for a few years while things were developing, I wanted to know if maybe I should just stop taking it since I’m not getting anything out of it anyway. My doctor, instead, suggested doubling down. Literally. She suggested we try doubling my dose. She was confident it would help, but was very clear about the side effects of increased weight gain, depression, and possibly suicidal thoughts. I cautiously decided to at least give it a shot.

After a couple months on my increased dosage, the depression seems to be in full effect. I’ve been really struggling to deal with it at times and it’s around more often than it’s not now. The worst has been dealing with feeling suicidal much more than my normal baseline.

I’m no stranger to the feeling, it’s been a fairly constant background noise my whole life, but things had gotten a lot better for a while. Instead of it being a daily thing, it was maybe a couple times a week. I counted that as a huge win.

Unfortunately, it’s recently been back to every day and been triggered by the smallest things.

That’s sort of the thing about being someone who struggles with feeling suicidal, you really never can leave it completely behind you. Once you’ve been at a place where you’ve accepted it as a legitimate escape, there’s no reversing that. A few weeks back, I wrote a post on Tumblr, but never posted it. It’s been sitting in my drafts since then. This is what I wrote:

The thing most people don’t realize about suicide and feeling suicidal is that it’s rarely about the pain right now. The pain may suck, but, in many cases, you know you’ll get through today. You know tomorrow will be better and if it’s not then maybe next week will be better. You know what you’re feeling now isn’t going to be what you feel every moment of every day going forward. That’s not the problem. The problem is knowing relief from the pain is temporary. You know you’re always going to have to fight through something. You know the pain is immortal and, while it can be knocked down, it can’t be entirely defeated.

Sure, you can fight through today and you can fight through tomorrow, but you’re tired of fighting. Why do you always have to fight? Sometimes, you just want a break from fighting. 

People tell you things will get better and they’re right, but things don’t stay better, they get bad again. It’s a cycle and you know all the stages. When you feel good, you know it’s only temporary. The good sometimes feels so fleeting that it often seems entirely pointless to even let yourself feel good at all. 

The reason for not wanting to live isn’t what you feel, it’s knowing you’ll never escape what you feel. It’s feeling trapped. Suicide is escape from the trap. It’s freedom from ever feeling the pain again. It’s freedom from ever having to fight again. 

It’s not the present that makes you not want to live. It’s the future.

Once this place has been created in your head, there’s no destroying it. It always exists. The worst is that it becomes easier and easier to access. Actually, that’s not even the best way to say it. It’s more like you exist closer and closer to it after each visit. Smaller things will take you there for another visit. A minor tiff with your significant other? Frustration with a coworker? A feel-super-ugly day? All of these things are more than enough.

This has been my reality since somewhere early in high school, so it’s sort of my normal. What’s changed now, though, is that it’s not just what’s in my head that’s taking me there. It’s being assisted by my meds. The very same meds that have freed me from so much other unhappiness in my life. This makes it so much worse. There was never a silver bullet for getting myself out of the darkness, but I had gotten good enough at surviving it until I felt better. Now, just surviving it is getting harder. Each time I’m in that dark place, it seems to be even darker and the way out is more poorly lit than the last time. Not to mention how much more easily I end up in that place now. It’s been multiple times a day. Every day.

Last Friday was probably the darkest it’s been in a very long time. I was at work and a couple things were frustrating me, then I was reminded about a few things that were causing me a lot of dysphoria earlier in the week and how crappily running has been going lately. Somehow, these things all really spiraled out of control and I was in bad shape. All will to live was completely taken from me. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, I didn’t, but I just REALLY didn’t want to live anymore. As I’ve mentioned, this is sort of normal for me, but things got to a level much worse than I normally deal with. The point that scared me the most was when I, while sitting at work, opened an incognito Chrome window and Googled “least painful ways to kill yourself.” I’ve never done this before. I even started thinking very seriously about what to write in a suicide note. I started drafting it in my head, but I didn’t quite get to a point where I actually started writing it down.

In the end, what snapped me out of it was my willingness to allow myself to be snapped out of it. It was actually my reply to a tweet that made me giggle to myself. That smile was just enough to calm myself and I felt everything just melt away.

Without this tweet, I don’t know what would have snapped me out of it. Something would have, but who knows what it would have been. And, this may be the scariest thing from Friday, it took something entirely unrelated and random. What if nothing happened that did the trick? What if the situation was different and I was at home and alone? How dark would things have gotten? What else might I have done?

Sitting here, typing this, I’m completely into the idea of not being dead. I’m in an entirely different headspace. A headspace I prefer a lot more! Typically, I wouldn’t even think twice about a single episode of suicidalness, but Friday was particularly intense and it came on really quick. The one thing that makes me feel okay about it is knowing it almost definitely wouldn’t have happened if not for my increased progesterone dosage. I don’t know how long it’ll be until I reduce my dosage or even stop taking it, but I know this dosage is for a finite timeframe. And, if this happens again, I can choose to stop and things should go back to the way they were.

Ugh.

PS: As I mentioned at the top, this topic often causes people to get worried and stuff. As much as it may seem really bad, I don’t want to worry anyone. My actually posting this should serve as evidence that everything is fine.

8

Suicidal / Sluricidal

Trigger warning for talk about suicide and slurs.

I woke up yesterday morning and followed my typical work-from-home routine. I went straight from bed to the kitchen to feed the cats and get the coffee going. As I walked back upstairs to login to the work VPN and get set up to start working, I thought about how much I wanted to finish the blog post I started last week about finding acceptance. A wonderful dinner with my family for my birthday the other night–which included witnessing my mom get drunk for the “first time in her life”–reinforced how lucky I have been through my transition and this seemed like the perfect cap to my drafted post.

Then, reality hit me. I may not constantly think about suicide anymore like I used to, but I am not cured from such thoughts. Yesterday quickly took a turn from a face full of smiles to a bitter fight with a head full of suicidal thinking. It seems like it always comes back to this. I get overwhelmed by regular life because my normal baseline is too high and there isn’t enough room to handle the other stressors. Some days, a single bad interaction or having too many things on my plate sends me over the edge. I feel alone, unwanted, and unnecessary.

In my head, I have this place I go in retreat when I’m not having a good day. I don’t go there willfully, but I blink and there I am with no way out. It’s dark and unfriendly, but it offers an easy escape from my problems. I used to spend a lot of time in this place and its solution was enticingly easy and complete. For close to two decades, I had a reason to fight through it and not accept the offer. I didn’t want to be remembered as a man and I didn’t want to die without getting to live my life as me. That would have been worse than living was. If not for this, I can’t say with any level of certainty that I’d have seen 20.

In hindsight, this should have been more than enough indication that I needed to transition. It wasn’t. Life is complicated and as unfriendly as the world is to trans people now, it was much, much worse then. I had never seen a positive representation of a transgender person until midway through college and I had never seen any representation that I even remotely identified with. It was always “tr*nny” this and “sh*male” that. “They’re a man!” These words were thrown around with such hate and disgust. I didn’t know what I was, but I knew I wasn’t disgusting and I didn’t want be a freak. I felt alone and alienated. How could I chose this path while feeling that way?

In my junior year of college, I actually learned the word “transgender” and experienced positive representations of trans people. It wasn’t trans people in the wild though, it was in a sociology of gender and sexuality class. Still, it was the exact opposite of “tr*nny,” Jerry Springer, and Ace Ventura. Trans people were real people and not freaks. I thought I had found what I needed. I thought maybe, just maybe, transition was a real thing that actually happened and something could do too. I felt hope and saw a bright light cutting through the darkness. There was freedom from feeling suicidal all the time.

I took to the internet to learn more and find out how one actually starts living as a woman. What I found was a world shaped by people like Andrea James and Calpernia Adams. A world where trans women were “transsexuals” and sites like tsroadmap were the supposed havens for people like me. Where there were cookie-cutter paths and ways to live if you wanted to transition. A single representation of trans, but no representation of me. And in this world, the aforementioned slurs were acceptable. It all read like a “How to be on Springer” guide. None of this was for me. This wasn’t what I felt at all. I felt more alienated than ever. The one path to not hating myself I had always hoped for had turned out to be purely academic. I wanted to die again.

I built a world of lies to live in to convince myself what I felt either wasn’t real or wasn’t real enough and what I wished for was impossible. I spent another almost ten years living in this fragile web of lies. I was miserable inside. I thought I could be cured by falling in love and that would be enough to make me happy. I fell in love, real love, but it didn’t fix me. Marrying my wife didn’t make it all go away, it couldn’t. I thought about suicide every day. I was living a wonderful life that I loved, but I wasn’t me. I was a lie. I hated myself. I wanted to die, but I was constantly saved by the same things that always saved me, not wanting to be remembered as a man and the fear of never experiencing my real self.

Eventually, I found what I needed to make transition possible. I found people whose experiences I identified with. I found representations of trans people and trans lives that represented me too. I found people who were living what I wanted to live. I learned it was possible to be trans well outside of the cookie-cutter molds which would have provided me with nothing more than trading one lie for another. This time, I did it. I went through with transition. I now live my life as Amelia and as a real person. As me.

The constant haze of thinking about suicide cleared. I got to actually face my dysphoria, gender, and me head-on and work on things. As I got to let more of myself out and discover the reality of transition and what was possible, I started thinking about suicide less and less. With each day, I grew to love myself more. I was finally just happy to be alive. 

But as I led all of this off with, I’m not cured and some days are a reminder of this. Over the last couple of weeks the fight over transphobic slurs has boiled over to a whole new level. The details are not the subject of this post, but the rift mainly centers around the use of the words “sh*male” and “tr*nny” and the same Calpernia Adams and Andrea James who nearly killed me ten years ago.

These words are among the things that turned me away and alienated me a decade ago and they are the words that terrify me today. Thankfully, I have never had any issue being trans in public, but I fear each and every day when I leave the house and go anywhere in public. When I am in public, I am never relaxed. I try to tune out the world and keep my eyes forward, but I am listening. I am listening for words like “tr*nny” and “sh*male.” I am listening because if I hear these words I know it’s time to make a quick exit. I know my safety may be in danger. These are not good words and they are often an early sign that your physical self may no longer be safe. These are words that scare me. These are words that make me extremely glad that I’m a marathon runner.

All of this is a reminder that I’m still different. I’m not just another woman in the world. Yes, I live openly transgender by choice, but that does not mean I want to feel separated from the rest of society.

This is the baseline of what’s in my head. I no longer hate me, but I’m often reminded that most of the world hates me. Those who fight for these slurs and think it’s infringing their freedom of speech to be told they can’t say them, this is what they’re fighting for, to be able to remind people like me how different we are. How we are less than everyone else. How maybe we should kill ourselves. Daily reminders of this push my baseline higher and higher.

This argument flaring up has left me little mental capacity for anything else right now. This is what made my morning so ruinable yesterday and threw me into self-care mode. This is what makes dealing with the rest of my life difficult. This is why just a slightly annoying or rough day at work makes me want to exit this universe. This is why a every little disagreement with my wife becomes an existential crisis. We all have our own things to deal with, this is mine. This is my baseline. When people say trans people are being “oversensitive” and “they’re just words,” what they’re really saying is they care more about their own entertainment and humor than they do about whether or not they’re making other people’s lives harder. It really is that simple.

I started writing this as a simple attempt at catharsis and opening up more about still feeling suicidal sometimes, but this is where it went because these things cannot be separated for me. And I am not alone. And I am not special. And I am not unique.