3 New Ways to View Living with Depression

My latest depression bout loitered in my life for months. I just got out of it. In bouts so long, whether I’m really low, scary low, or even feeling fine but haven’t yet shaken the bout, it’s easy to find the state of depression permanent.

For me, I even know and recognize the words “it gets better.” Even in the very worst moments I share with no one, I can remember “it gets better” and believe it. However, I do not find it comforting. My answer is always about how it will get better, but it will get worse again. My depression is chronic. I don’t know what would have to happen in order for me to shake it from my life–the only thing that has come to mind has been a brain transplant. Unfortunately they haven’t figured out that organ donor process yet.

SO, it gets better. It gets worse. It gets better. It gets worse. And that up-and-down, that promise of how I’ll be wanting to die again, that’s what makes me wanna go down that road.

My depression causes strain on my relationships, as you can imagine, and there’s usually a kind of debrief that my girlfriend and I do when a bout concludes. The debrief is usually inspired because I have not been a great partner in those times, and there’s some learning opportunity there. Well, this time, my gf asked me to write a list of things to try when I’m sad to help feel better. It feels impossible to do anything like that, especially at its peak, but she reminded me that having a list available will not hurt me, even if I never use it.

So I made my list today. It’s kind of a perfect day for it because the sun isn’t out, and I’ve been kinda melancholy all day, but I’m not deeply depressed so I can still think straight, including trying to think of ways to feel better.

I wrote the list on a small whiteboard I have in my bedroom. It has 7 ideas, all of which have proven useful in the past. With the extra room on the board, I wrote down three messages, and I’d like to tell you about them. I haven’t thought of depression in these ways before, so they represent a fresh perspective about living through my bouts. I distantly respect cliches when I’m doing well (there’s a reason they’re used so much – they’re familiar! And relatable to many! And they make idioms accessible to people who didn’t study literature! be nice!), but when I’m NOT doing well, someone says a cliche reminder of why I shouldn’t die and I recoil like a depressed asshole. These things feel less cliche to me.

Note: some of the things I say below get a little dark, so please note that I will talk about suicide and depression with more concrete detail than I usually do.

Here are 3 fresh ways I am looking at my chronic depression:

EVERYONE IS A BUS DRIVER

One of the things that always makes me feel better (but I’ve chosen to not add to my aforementioned list) when I’m suicidal is researching how I would go about it. I understand that may be difficult to hear. My therapist says that’s pretty common and gives suicidal people something they can DO and feel like they’re more in control.

A big reason I haven’t actually executed suicide (ha, is that a depression pun? wow, I’ve gone too far) is because there is not a good method that meets all the requirements I have. For example, it’d be ideal if it didn’t hurt a lot. Another example, most prevalent to this topic, is that there’s no method that will make the discovery of my body better for anyone else. Can you imagine walking in on someone’s death? Yeah. I won’t say anything else about that. I can’t think of a single way (and I’ve put far too much energy into this) that makes the moment of death/discovery of death easier on anyone else.

A method that will never be on my list of death options is jumping in front of a bus or a train. My empathy is too high, even when I’m insane, to consider jumping in front of a driver or conductor. They would be killing me by merely going to work, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They would never be the same, maybe live with understandable but completely undeserved guilt for the rest of their lives. I could never ever do that to someone because of my internal misery.

And my therapist is like, “ok that’s nice but any other method is the same. It wouldn’t just be the bus driver. It’d be everyone around you, whether they saw it happen or not. Trauma is widespread. You should know that better than anyone.” And she’s right. There is no method that lacks the trauma on someone else like that of a bus driver. The ‘bus driver reason’ when I’m at my worst feels so real, so tangible like nothing else. But, in the end, everyone is a bus driver.

DEPRESSION IS CAMPING, NOT TAKING OUT A MORTGAGE

Depression’s bouts have been compared to a few different things, I think the most common one being diabetes. You always have it, but it gets way worse once in a while, and sometimes there isn’t a clear reason why.

To me that’s not really helpful in the moment. Plus, I’m grateful to not have diabetes, so I cannot compare my depression experience to that very well. And while I’m at the lowest, it doesn’t seem to make me feel any better to be like, “ope, it’s worse and we don’t really know why and also I’ll have this forever.”

Something I thought of today is that depression bouts are much more like camping trips.

Camping trips are varied in distance from your home, intensity of ‘roughing it’ vs ‘glamping,’ how long it lasts, if it rains during your trip, and if you have enough firewood. You’re gone, you’re probably going to see too many spiders, and then you come home, shower off, find a new gratitude for running water, and go back to your life.

When I think of having depression all my life, I feel hopeless. If I get into a bout, and I can think of it as, “Oh, I am camping, and I have a State Park pass so this is how I get my money’s worth,” maybe it will be easier to see as temporary.

Depression and being suicidal is not taking out a mortgage. I already own the house, and it is me, and my mental illness is just when I get away from it.

LIVING IS AN ACT OF KINDNESS

I’ve resented ‘having to live’ when I’m sad. I’ve heard people say before that suicide is selfish, that the person doesn’t think of others when they take their own life, and they should be ashamed (if they were around to feel emotions).

I fuckin hate that judgment, and it’s been hard in the past to articulate exactly why I hate it so much. Cuz it’s like, yes, I’m thinking about myself a lot but usually through a lens of “my loved ones shouldn’t have to deal with me.” I’m thinking of bus drivers. I’m trying to think about what words I can say in a note I leave behind that will bring some comfort. (spoiler, there are none. but I do think of it).

And so I survive every bout, and it feels very unfair because why is my existence so hard when other people can exist without trying, and maybe even wanting to live 100% of the time? (I cannot comprehend that btw??) And I’m the selfish one if I fail?

So, I’m going to try and take the “suicide is selfish” thing and frame it to something that is actually helpful. Living through every bout of depression is an act of kindness. It is the peak selflessness, because although others will never understand the death you dodged from your own self, you still do it. And a lot of acts of kindness aren’t really all about recognition for your selflessness. If you want credit, take it up with spirituality, but you surviving your violent mind makes sure everyone around you avoids pain. Years of pain! And suicides often trigger other suicides. You’re somehow saving lives when you save your own. It’s a thing of incredible graciousness.

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How much does a chest weigh?

When I weighed myself after surgery, it was kind of hard to tell what was what. I was genuinely surprised that my weight wasn’t that different, but there were plenty of other variables–I had been laying around for two weeks, I was still kinda swollen, and it isn’t just a matter of chopping them off; it was about reshaping what was there, too.

My surgery was SIX MONTHS AGO on Tuesday. Half a year.

A lot of people asked me before and after the procedure: Aren’t you just like so excited???? And it’s like, yeah, but also that’s not the first thing I’d list when it comes to reactions. It was more like a combo of relief and peace. My chest today is something I’m a little shy about still–I have two thick scars snuggling my pecs-to-be, and I’m shy about my weight, and also when you’re told your whole life to never be shirtless unless you’re about to bang, it takes a second to remind yourself it’s socially acceptable now.

I’ve wanted to post photos but I can’t bring myself to do it. When I started testosterone I posted comparison pictures literally every week (and you kindly played along to validate how much change had(n’t) occurred since the week prior), but now I’m like, am I allowed? Are the pics gonna leak and be distributed to every employer in the tri-state area? Maybe that’s assuming I’m hot enough for Nudes-level-of-interest content.

My last phase of top surgery has two pieces: I want to feel good about my pecs. I am working out much, much more than ever before (a thing that is possible because of my surgery), and a lot of the reason why is because the surgeon sculpted me but if I even have a LITTLE definition, it will dramatically improve the look. The second piece is to wear a bro tank.

Wear a bro tank? can’t that be done by anyone, at any time? Sure can! But I have this vision of wearing a bro tank and I have a pretty specific idea of how I want to look in one. Stay tuned. I’m hoping I can meet my bro tank phase this summer! (my girlfriend bought me two bro tanks as a surgery present and it was the cutest, sweetest thing in the universe).

There are pros and cons to having gender dysphoria be a medical diagnosis. In some ways, it’s like, I’m not sick!! There’s nothing WRONG with me. And since gender is up in the brain, it’s almost like it’s considered a mental illness, which we know isn’t something we respect in society.

(Tangent: then some white guy shoots up a school and then everyones like ‘wow we need to do something about the mental illness in this country,’ as if the only way someone can shoot someone is if they’re mentally ill. that couldn’t be further from the truth, but we are unable to believe that people can be mentally well but outright evil. we are all capable of evil regardless of our PTSD, depression or any other mental illness. That’s why banning AR-15s might be a good idea just sayin)

On the other hand, having transgender stuff be a medical condition helps protect me. My health insurance covered my surgery. It was doctor-ordered, even though I wanted it. If that makes sense.

And it was doctor-ordered because of the way we feel after we get it. I can’t measure it–it’s not like my blood pressure is down or my x-ray looks a little less fractured. It’s related to my anxiety and depression but it’s not. It’s its own thing. And I still have really bad days but I can also consistently get up in the morning and know I’m more in alignment. Being trans isn’t ~who I am~, but it’s one of the scales of my life. I need to be balanced, and if my trans scale isn’t, there is more weight on me again.

In the end, I’d say my chest was 7 pounds. But I think we both know it’s a bit more sPECial than that.

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How to write a 2017 Christmas letter when you aren’t into glossy paint

I used to be very proud of my Christmas letters. My sister, step-mom and dad and I would each have a paragraph dedicated to us with an enthusiastic summary of how our year went. It was something I loved, an assignment. And I got like a strange amount of positive feedback about these letters, just saying it was very well written and engaging. I recall a time in July (read: 7 months later) when an extended family member brought up the prior December’s letter. What the hell. “They aren’t THAT amazing,” I’d say, privately beaming.

But I haven’t written a single Christmas letter since I flew from the parents’ nest. Who has time/energy to pretend they aren’t kept down with debilitating depression, write this letter, gather some addresses, afford the stamps to send them, AND do all this during finals week? Yeah. No.

And maybe one might argue they wouldn’t have to pretend to not be depressed. I hope not. I dunno about you, but when I picture someone reading a Christmas letter, I imagine huge smiles, maybe the whole family gathered around in their Christmas sweaters by the fireplace, laughing a lot or something, reading a Christmas letter from a family who’s doing AMAZING and had SUCH a FABULOUS year, and everyone is happy, tis the season, etc.

Maybe that’s a bit of a narrative that’s my fault. What else is new.

So anyway, I decided this year I’d take the plunge. If anything, it sounds like a good writing exercise, which I clearly need more of based on the fact 2017 was the least prolific year I’ve had in my life since I started writing (12 years). Three poems and hardly any blog posts. Nothing else.¬† So then I opened my lil Google Doc, cracked my knuckles, and everything is bad. How many letters do I have to write before I can squeeze somethin’ good?

And you know, when I was 15 and I was writing a Christmas letter about my fam, I was excited and honored that my family let me write on behalf of them. (Did I force myself into that role? idk maybe I can’t remember. so probably.) It felt like a noble¬†duty to write a year summary, almost like doing a mini-feature on each member of the family. (It is no surprise that writing features at work is like my fave kind of writing).

So how do I, now almost 25, navigate the fact that I’m writing on behalf of just me, that some cool shit happened this year but overall I’m very scared for the future, and it’s not even 100% driven by my depression and PTSD this time? How do I churn out a Christmas letter that doesn’t make people feel like they need to drink some wine to forget about it later? Maybe I could put a disclaimer:

DON’T READ IF JOLLY.

I think I’ll figure it out. Maybe I could write a fictional Christmas letter from the perspective of someone else, and it’s a game, where people have to guess who it is??? Then I can avoid talking about my concerns about the future of people I love, my true year overview. OR! I could write one version on the front and one on the back, upside down.

Thank you. You’ve helped #inspire me.

Btw let me know if you want one. It’s sure to be a winner, clearly.

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