Rethinking Self Care

CN: addiction, suicide

I’ve been sober from my primary addiction for 10 weeks and participating in addiction/psychodynamic counselling for 7 weeks, and this experience has been one of the most intense of my life. I’ve felt emotions that I have numbed pretty much all my life, I’ve experienced time in a way that I don’t ever remember experiencing due to actually being present in the moment, and for the first time ever I feel in control of myself and my life.

This experience has made me rethink everything that I’ve been told about self-care. When we talk about self-care, we speak of nurturing the self through physical acts of caring for our bodies. What we continue to neglect is the emotional self, which cannot be nurtured through physical acts if we are consumed in thoughts of shame, denial, negative self-talk and self-loathing, covered up with addictive behaviour.

Until I got sober, I was COMPLETELY unaware that underneath the layer of self-assuredness that I projected to the world was this inner world of self-hatred, from which I had been disconnected for so long that I wasn’t even conscious of the stream of negative self-talk that tainted every physical act of self-care with a little bit of poison.

In some ways, I am thankful for my addictions – if it weren’t for them, I would have ended my life a long time ago. However, I am even more thankful that I’m sober now.

I honestly never thought I would say that…

What I never used to be able to understand was why, no matter how much physical self-care I implemented, I still always felt like crap. Nothing ever seemed to be enough to make me feel good, and I felt that it must be a failing within myself that made me feel this way. This thinking led me to ignore my pain by increasing my addictive behaviour, and it turned into a self-perpetuating cycle. The issue was that I was unaware of my own emotions beyond the basics of deep depression, ecstatic happiness, unrelenting anger and obsessive love.

That’s not a great list. It’s not even a semi-healthy list. It’s extremes of highs and lows that you might expect from a baby. This is what my world had been reduced to over the last 18 months.

The first 6 weeks of getting sober were HELL. It wasn’t the physical addiction withdrawal so much, although that exacerbated everything, but the overpowering intensity of my emotions that I began experiencing for the first time since I was a child, that made me feel like I was actually going insane. Now I know why many people choose to get sober in rehab, away from society, friends, family and social media. I found myself feeling such intense emotions that I thought I was DROWNING in them.

The last 4 weeks have been much better. The physical and psychological cravings are still there – I actually find them harder to ignore now than I did during the first 6 weeks – but I have become slightly better at managing the intensity of my emotions, mostly thanks to counselling which helps me to understand where these emotions are coming from. With this increased ability to cope with my emotions, I have come to notice the internal dialogue that rolls constantly in my head like a never ending tape, stuck in Groundhog Day. I’ve realised how much I punish myself every single day.

At the centre of it all is my belief that I don’t deserve to feel good, ever. I constantly punish myself: I don’t allow myself to sleep (related to much deeper stuff, but I won’t go into that); I withhold pleasurable emotions from myself even when I have chosen to take part in enjoyable activities; I constantly compare myself negatively to others or negate praise when I receive it, especially when I have achieved something; and I hold myself accountable with words like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘have to’, ‘need to’.

At the moment I’m only scratching the surface, but all of this ‘soul searching’ (for lack of a better term) has led me to realise that the reason self-care never made me feel good was that I had this negative self-talk on repeat in the background, unaware of it consciously yet affecting my subconscious mind all the time. It makes me wonder how many other people are suffering in this way, especially within the trans community. We have such high suicide attempt rates that I believe that many others must also have this kind of dialogue repeating in their heads.

Right now, I don’t have an answer to the question of how we can improve self-care to actually help those for whom physical acts of self-care are not enough. I’m cautious of advising digging too deep into the psyche of the most vulnerable people, because if someone isn’t ready to deal with this level of self-awareness, it could send them over the edge into suicidal thoughts and/or acts. But perhaps there’s some emotional resilience training that we could start implementing alongside physical self-care.

If anyone has any thoughts on this, or knows of any good resources in building emotional resilience in vulnerable communities, please let me know! You can leave a message under this blog, tweet me @tirnanogender, email me at naomhanoc@gmail.com or message me on my facebook page Tirnanogender.

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Disconnection

Content Warning: suicide, depression, substance abuse. Continue reading

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Addiction Truths

I’ve been coming to the realisation, over the past several years, that I am an addict. I’m probably what one might call a ‘functioning addict,’ in that my addictions do not destroy my entire life and everyone in it, at least not in such a direct way. However, today is day 14 without cigarettes or weed (marijuana) and day 2 without alcohol. I’m also avoiding relationships and sex for the next while, because I have a tendency to use anything that works to distract myself, and before drugs, it was sex.

I made the decision to quit after a friend, who also quit smoking, gave me the self-belief and courage to do it myself. I quit ‘cold turkey,’ and the withdrawal from weed was particularly horrendous. At the start of week 3, I’m experiencing full blown insomnia and anxiety, and without drugs to distract me, I’m feeling it all and I hate it. Each day is a struggle, but I do feel better without, so I carry on. It helps to have a friend in the same boat, too.

I’m talking about this because it’s taken me SO long to admit to myself that my behaviour is harming me and those around me, perhaps not in such a direct way that is visible to outsiders, but in a more subtle manner that slowly erodes everything that I’m working so hard for. Acceptance is a really slow process. The main thing that forced me to admit this to myself is my new job. I LOVE my job, but I could see myself slowly sinking into an addiction spiral that was getting worse and worse every single day, and which ultimately would have affected my ability to do my job well.

I use drugs, alcohol and sex to distract me from pretty much everything. It allows me to completely disengage from life, including from the people around me, but it has finally got to the point that even my addictions weren’t helping me to feel better, or to escape from life. Literally nothing was working anymore, so, of course, I doubled and tripled my intake until I was more or less constantly in avoidance mode. I was running so far and so fast, but no matter how hard I ran, life kept catching up with me. I had a choice: turn and face my problems, or run so far that there would be no turning back.

With my addiction, I hide it so well (or I think I have) that the only people who know the full extent of my problems are my three best friends. I can’t really explain how it got this bad, but I suppose, with all things related to mental health, it just finally got to a point where I could no long pretend that my behaviour was functional.

I got Russell Brand’s book ‘Recovery’ because I find most self-help books to be quite preachy, I HATE being told what to do, and I despise it when people write from a morally superior standpoint. Whatever Russell Brand’s other faults, you can’t say that he wasn’t a total fuck-up at one point, and that allowed me to read his words without tearing the book in half. Although I may, perhaps, have to do some form of addiction recovery ‘path,’ I really dislike following rules, so I’m not intending to follow the 12 step programme. What I did get from his book (I stopped at Chapter 4 because it was too hard for me to read further) was one line that he suggests repeating to yourself: “is this going to make me feel better?” He suggests asking ourselves this when we feel the need to do something impulsive, or addictive. So far, it has (mostly, minus an alcohol incident last weekend) helped.

It’s really hard for me to follow this advice, because I really LOVE the feeling of being out of control. I love literally throwing myself off a bridge into the blissful abyss of not-caring. It’s a comforting, meaningless emptiness that allows me to do whatever I want without any thought for the consequences. Of course, the more often you do this, the more of a mess you leave behind you. As someone who has moved about a lot, I’ve always just run away from my problems, but somehow they manage to find me again.

Today, I’m also meeting a potential therapist who, if we get on well and decide that we can work together for my benefit, will hopefully begin to help me to sort out the myriad of issues that I’ve spent the last 17 years running from. I’m finally able to get this help because, with my job, I can now afford to pay privately for counselling. The NHS waiting list here is too long for me to wait, although I am going to get onto it just in case.

So there you have it. I’m an addict. I decided to write about this because I have avoided talking openly about it before, as to do so always felt like a social death sentence. I was afraid that I would forever be watched and monitored whenever I had a drink or took a drag of someone’s cigarette or joint. However, I’m finally ready to live with that because I don’t want to go back to my old habits unless I know for certain that I can control my intake. Past experiences tell me that this is false hope… but keep your fingers crossed for me, eh? I certainly don’t intend on giving up sex and relationships forever, but for the time being, I’ll be sticking to just me and my vibrator.

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Gender Rant

Do you ever feel so angry at the world that you want to scream? Sometimes I just want to sink into a hole of nothingness and forget that the world exists. Every single day feels like a fight. Every day is a fight. When I walk out the door of my house, I have to deal with how other people react to me based on their perception of my gender. Either I’m gendered incorrectly (as male or female) or I’m stared at while they try to figure it out.

I’m fully aware that I have many privileges. I’m white, I’m physically able to get about without chronic pain or having to navigate a world designed for non-disabled people (although I am partially deaf and live with chronic depression/anxiety with an annual half year of hypomania thrown in), and I don’t have to fight for my right to live on the European continent, to list a few.

What I don’t have is legal recognition from the British OR Irish government. Every day, I have to choose “male or female” – using public toilets, making bookings or buying anything online, being served in a cafe… the list goes on. I think SO many people, trans and cis, think it’s something “extra” that I could live without, that somehow being recognised as non-binary isn’t the be-all and end-all for me. But it is.

I’ve been told that having an X marker on my ID could make my life difficult, or more difficult. It would complicate the system that we already have. It would confuse people, or that I, myself, am confused and need to pick a side. I feel like I’m SCREAMING from the inside because my very identity is dismissed even by people from within my own community.

The review board of the Irish Gender Recognition Bill doesn’t include a SINGLE non-binary person. The British government thinks that there is no detriment to my life if they refuse to recognise my gender legally. SCREAMING.

I’m sick of fighting for my right to be seen, to exist legally. I’m sick of being told that my existence is “difficult for people to understand”, that I have to “give it time”, that I’d “better be ready to be in it for the long haul” when I talk about fighting the Irish government on their refusal to recognise my gender legally.

Most of all, I’m sick of pretending that I’m ok with all of this, that somehow this fight isn’t taking its toll on me. It is. It’s draining me, this constant fighting. The only time I relax is when I’m alone because I cannot be misgendered. But even alone, I’m consumed by the injustice of it all. Not just injustice towards me, but towards everyone who is simply fighting for their right to exist in this world without having to defend themselves, to fight for their rights, to argue against the system.

I’d love to stop fighting, but I know if I do I’ll stop wanting to live. I’ve been there before, and I don’t want to go there again. I’m writing this mostly to get out some of the anger inside me. I get asked “why are you so angry all the time?” To those of you who wondered, this is why.

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Mental Health: request for advice!

I haven’t written for quite a while, particularly about my mental health, and I think it’s about time I change that.

I’ve had a whirlwind of a year. I got my first paid trans activist job, I lived in Berlin twice and now I’m back living in Belfast and I’m working for a fantastic global trans organisation which allows me the freedom to work from home.

But I’m also depressed. Im anxious. I’m an addict. There’s something very wrong with me and I don’t know what it is. For the past year I’ve been throwing myself into work and running away from my problems. This is me trying to face them.

I just finished watching the most recent episode of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, which is a series on Netflix that talks really honestly about mental illness. I think it’s exactly what I needed to see. Just like the protagonist in the series, I spend my life running away from myself and never accepting help, so this me reaching out.

I’m looking for some form of talking therapy that will help me to understand why I use addiction to cope, and I also want to work out who the hell I am. I’ve always struggled with issues of identity, so I want to be able to talk about this and try to “fix” this, for lack of a better word. I’ve tried CBT and various forms of counselling, but I need something more permanent and something that allows me to look at what started my issues. I’m don’t know if psychotherapy is the solution, but I’m considering it. I’m just really concerned that whoever I see will just make it all about me being trans, and I know it’s not that simple. I’m happy with my gender so I don’t want someone messing that up for me.

So: advice! What sort of therapy should I seek, and any advice on getting round the transphobia/lack of education about trans people issue?

Comment below or message me on Facebook 🙂

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Infinite Gender

astroblend

I don’t really know how to explain this, so bear with me…

As a non-binary person, I’ve always known that I am neither male nor female. I suppose some might call this agender, but I don’t feel like I exist without a gender, more that my gender is something different to male/female, like a third gender. I also feel that the more comfortable I have become in my skin since getting top surgery and developing secondary sex characteristics from testosterone, the less I connect with the binary gender system.

I suppose I’ve always seen myself as an effeminite male-presenting person. I’ve always abhorred social constructs around masculinity, such as aggression, lack of control, and inability to communicate openly/emotionally. However, it is these exact characteristics that are most present in me when I try to explain my gender identity on a binary spectrum. I have come to believe that my personal experience of gender is too far outside the capabilities of current language for me to explain accurately. So instead, I will explain it by referring to current terms that we use to to talk about gender, in our binary system.

Imagine you are sitting on an island. Across a stretch of water are two other islands, and all three islands are equidistant from each other. This is how I imagine third gender to be. For the binary system, just take away one island. However, my experience of gender is not something that I do, or am; rather it is something that happens to me. When I envisage gender, it is a like an infinity of stars and darkness, and it is, at once, all the colours and the very absence of colour itself. For me, gender is freedom from the social restrictions that our understanding of ‘gender = sex’ places upon us. Gender is the freedom to both go through a second ‘male’ puberty while also embracing femininity. It is the freedom to be both butch and camp. It is seeing social interactions playing out in front of you like an elaborate interactive theatre experience, one in which you cannot help but take part. It is the embracing of masculinity and femininity at the same time, while also rejecting both.

Gender, for me, is not linear or controlled, it is expansive and explosive, it flows like water through cracks and it tears apart the rigid rules within which we constrain ourselves. It is human nature to classify things, to separate into boxes, to divide and conquer. This is what we have done to gender. With the growing trans activist movement, and increasing awareness of the binary system in which we have classified gender, people are slowly starting to become more aware that gender does not have to be restricted, or controlled. Society is starting to colour outside the lines, and with it, I hope, comes a deeper understanding of gender and the complexity of the human condition.

Children, before they become aware of social norms, are unrestricted by gender, in their expression, in their play, in their interaction. This is how I have always felt. I think, somehow, I never lost my naivety when it comes to gender. I think this is partly because my hearing loss led me to miss out on social cues that would have otherwise altered my behaviour. I have always been the token weirdo in the room. I’ve always been the different one amongst much more ‘normal’ people. Partly, I was drawn to this, drawn to being the one who is different, because it made me feel special. But it also made me feel isolated, and alone. Nowadays, I avoid ‘normality’, instead being drawn to others who refuse to conform to social restrictions. These can be many different acts of defiance – refusal to conform to gender ‘norms’, refusal to behave extroverted in social situations, refusal to engage in ‘socially accepted’ ways of socialising – but each act is, intentionally or unintentionally, a demonstration of freedom from social rules and restrictions.

I think that we place too many constraints on ourselves in order to control our lives. I have always embraced the chaos, not because I always chose to, but because it is how I cope with life. I think of it as the difference between being an addict, or being a control-freak. They’re both reactions to the same thing – the sense of panic that we feel whenever we realise how insignificant our lives really are – but one is self-constructive, while the other is self-destructive. And in writing this, I realise that, in my explanation of this, I have done exactly that which I claim to resist, the human drive to classify and divide. So perhaps it’s all far more complicated than I have explained here, but essentially, gender is everything. I don’t think that gender is also nothing, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve never felt gender as an absence of feeling, but as the coming together of all experiences and emotions at the same time. Gender makes me feel full to bursting, and it’s a great feeling. Or maybe this is just what life feels like when you feel good in yourself. Who knows?

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Nothing About Us Without Us

Today, TENI – Transgender Equality Network of Ireland announced their new CEO. He is a white cisgender man. While there is no doubt that his CV is impressive, I am personally incredibly disappointed that the board of TENI have appointed Stephen O’Hare. I’m incredibly upset that the only trans organisation in Ireland that receives funding is being led by a cis man. Trans people experience unemployment at 3x the rate of the general population (1) and perpetrators of transphobic violence are more than 2x likely to be cis men (2). I believe that the trans community should be led by a trans person. To have a cis man representing the Irish trans community at the highest political, economic and social levels sends out the message that we cannot be trusted to lead our own communities in our own fights for rights, equality and acceptance.

I will be attending TENI’s General Assembly on Saturday 7th October from 3-5pm at the Chocolate Factory in Dublin to put some really hard question to the TENI board. ___________________

(1) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/08/transgender-survey-suicide-poverty-unemployment-mental-health

(2) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/transphobic-hate-crime-statistics-violence-transgender-uk-police-a7159026.html

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