“I was alone, falling free…”

“I was alone, falling free…”

Content warning: mental illness, medication, substance use


Lamotrigine saved my life.

I didn’t think I’d ever say that, but let’s back up a bit and talk about what it took to get me here.

I’ve spent the last fifteen years being incredibly skeptical of the benefits of psychopharmaceuticals. I’d heard horror stories from friends; young women who’d never been able to orgasm, or mothers who’d lost all libido after being prescribed Prozac for postpartum depression. I’d hugged friends goodbye after not seeing them for a long time, and they confessed that while they knew they should have been sad to see me leave, Zoloft had flatlined them to the point of not being able to feel. I’d seen dear friends used as human beakers, pumping them full of The Newest and Latest™ experimental drug, then letting them come down when that didn’t work or they got worse, and then onto the next.

I weighed the pros and cons. I knew that whatever combination of depression and anxiety I had cooking, or whatever long-cycling highs and lows I experienced, it didn’t seem worth losing my connection to my sexuality (which was, at times, the only pleasure I derived from life) and being able to feel even very unpleasant emotions seemed like a good trade-off compared to not being able to feel at all. I promised myself that if things ever got too hard, I would seek out meds — but I saved it as a kind of “final straw” option.

My final straw came last summer. I was wading through the pain of an abusive and unsalvageable relationship, and embroiled in another sort-of-kind-of relationship with someone who really loved me, but lied about me to their partners, and generally kept me in a push-me-pull-you holding pattern for months. To make matters more complicated, this someone also has a significant trauma history, and our courtship happened to coincide with the anniversary of one of the most fucked up things that’s ever happened to them. In hindsight, there’s no way this could have been a healthy situation. I was focusing on their pain and trauma instead of dealing with my own. They were feeling neglected and unsupported by their partners and used me to grab their attention. I was at turns over the moon and completely miserable.

I spoke with a mentor of mine, and amid the stellar advice she gave me was this lifesaving gem: “Say YES to drugs!”

I’d read about Bipolar II years ago when I was trying to figure out what was up with me. I’d been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and even Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, and while I found shades of those maladaptive behaviors in myself, neither of them made complete sense. My mood had generally always been low, ever since my first major depression hit in high school. Since then, I know I can rely on one or two major depressive episodes a year, usually a few weeks in length. While I’m in the midst of them, I often feel like I’m looking down a very long tunnel, but the pinhole of light at the end feels impossibly far away. Sometimes, though, I’d have these spells of feeling on top of the world, even on top of the universe. It’s like being center stage in PJ Harvey’s “Good Fortune.” Last summer, I was simmering in one of those moods for months. I was laughing even when things weren’t funny. I couldn’t focus on anything. I was talking faster and more energetically than usual (and that’s saying something). For the first time in my life, I applied the word “manic” to this behavior.

Let me make this clear, feeling manic is fun. You can do anything. The world is yours for the taking. You’re the life of the party and any self doubt you might be feeling is gone. I’ve had people describe being on heroin like this before. Even hard things are fun… Dysfunctional relationships, for instance, become puzzles to solve, something you can fix! But eventually, it’s like being at a 6 hour rave that leaves you sore and spent the next day, only extrapolated over a period of days, weeks, maybe longer.

I eventually met with a clinician. She was skeptical at first of my Bipolar II as a diagnosis. I asked her to trust me, and to my astonishment, she did. She prescribed Lamotrigine, and I’ve been on it for over a year.

The verdict? I could never have predicted how much better my life would be after the addition of a single prescription. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch. But I’m better. The word that comes to mind is “normal.” I imagine this is what people who aren’t mentally interesting feel like most of the time. I don’t have the high of mania anymore, and I sometimes feel like a slackass for not getting as much done as I used to during those episodes. Plus I miss the high. As a friend said once, a 10 on drugs like ecstasy or heroin make a roller coaster feel like a 4. So I’m readjusting. But I also don’t feel like Atreyu’s horse getting sucked into a sludgey swamp of his own apathy.

atreyu

(Sorry for re-traumatizing an entire generation with that one.)

I’ve since come to accept that this is just another awkward part of who I am. I’m crazy as a shit house rat, and that’s okay. This has meant dealing with my own internalized ableism, my loathing of the pharmaceutical industry, and my desire to have willpower win out. Because, you know, you can will away mental illness. Like how diabetics can will their diabetes away. Or alcoholics can just stop drinking. Right.

Needing help isn’t a bad thing, it’s not a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t make you lesser. If you’re like me, you’ve been holding the metaphorical glass of water for way too long — the longer you hold it and the more that gets added, the worse it gets. It’s okay to set it down, and if drugs will help you do it, take my mentor’s advice and say YES to drugs.*

If you’re struggle busing really hard, check out this guide: How to Be Seriously Mental Interesting

If you’re confused about diagnoses or meds or anything having to do with being a crazy person, check out this excellent resource: Crazy Meds

*My advice is based on my own b.s. opinions and obviously don’t replace the advice of a doctor. If you can’t afford a snazzy doctor, see someone on a sliding scale. Find a way to take care of you, cos you’re a magical glitter pony and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. ❤

Photo credit: Gregnilsen.comQuotesgram.com

“Seasons change and so did I…”

“Seasons change and so did I…”

CW: Intimate partner violence, sexual assault


You know how you do that thing where you start a blog, prep a few posts to be released in a timely fashion, then start a new job and completely run out of steam? Yeah, sorry rest-of-the-month-of-August-and-beginning-of-September.

I’m back to write about something that feels very important, something weighing heavily on my mind as this new season begins.

This time last year I was debating whether or not I should leave an abusive relationship. We tried couples therapy, we attempted to rebuild intimacy and trust, but ultimately we couldn’t make it work. My ex gave up all interest in trying to work things out, and I knew there was nowhere to go from there. Still, I was reluctant to leave the relationship. We’d been married for just shy of two years, and had moved into an apartment with friends last summer. I was in my final year of college and working on my thesis. It seemed impossible to end this relationship and pick up the slack by myself financially speaking. It all seemed too hard. Around the time I was contemplating all these hard choices, the #WhyIStayed hashtag was making the rounds, and it brought to light that situations like mine take place all over the world all of the time. Survivors of IPV feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, and finances are often a leading cause.

Completely distraught, I met with two of my mentors (to whom I will forever owe my gratitude and undying respect) and asked their advice. One gave me the kick in the ass I needed to move forward, and the other assured me my future was bright enough to stand on my own. I began the difficult process of extricating myself from this miserable relationship. As I recently wrote on the subject:

I had to face the fact that not only had my body been violated time and time again, but my belief in another person I once adored and with whom I’d planned to build a life and family had been completely eroded. I decided to get out in order to survive. Sleeping next to someone whose touch made me feel nauseated became too much to bear. I felt fraudulent, pretending to be content when instead I felt absolutely numb. It’s only more recently that I’ve been able to deal with the pain the actions of others caused me, and with complications stemming from the decisions I had to make as a result. Some of those decisions, particularly the ones where I opted to take care of and stand up for myself, resulted in estrangement from other relationships that either had to be temporarily suspended or walked away from completely. It’s been incredibly hard. The domino effect from these choices reverberates through me in countless other ways to this day. Things keep getting better, but slowly and often painstakingly.

It’s never easy to leave. This is particularly true if, like me, you are female assigned at birth and perceived as masculine of center. Though I identify as femme, my identity is fluid and over the years I’ve ID’d as butch, transmasculine, and mostly trans and genderqueer. I’m perceived as male about half the time now, and that comes with innumerable privileges, but also detriments. There are many reasons why FAAB trans, genderqueer, and masculine-of-center (MOC) folks might not report their abuse or seek out help. Some cite their abuse as emasculating — this is similar to why cisgender men don’t report abuse, but when you’re trans, other aspects of your identity can come into play. As survivor Joe Ippolito writes in his article on trans men/MOC folks and IPV:

[T]he trans men/MOC people I talked to seemed, like myself and many other trans people, particularly vulnerable to such abuse because the perpetrators would often use our trans identities against us to further assert power and control over our lives. Other trans-specific abusive tactics include, according to trans advocacy group FORGE: threatening to ‘out’ someone to their employer, friends, or family members; voicing anti-trans epithets and negative stereotypes; and utilizing knowledge of police abuse geared towards trans people to further discourage targets from seeking help.

Someone newly establishing their identity as masculine can be particularly vulnerable because our society teaches us that to be victimized is to be weak, and that only women are raped or abused. Masculinity leaves no room for victimization. Even if we know better it can be tough to overcome that stigma. Some of us might even ask for help but be denied, humiliated, or otherwise invalidated in our identities in the process. We might not be believed, because no one might think a MOC person can be raped or abused. But as this fact sheet on IPV in LGBT communities states, “Abuse is NOT about size, strength, or who is ‘butch’ or more masculine. Abuse is about using control to gain power and control regardless of a person’s gender or sexual identity.” In some cases, we might even fear being further traumatized — or worse. Ky Peterson, a black trans man who defeneded himself against his rapist, has spent the last three years in jail for involuntary manslaughter.*

When you are being abused by another trans or genderqueer person, especially someone male assigned at birth, there is the added pressure to not demonize or imprison a trans woman (or someone who is perceived as such). Similarly to abuse in cisgender lesbian communities discussed in the landmark piece Suffering In a Silent Vacuum, we might feel guilt for bringing more bad press to an already maligned community. But I firmly believe that we will only heal through truth-telling and acknowledging that there is nothing shameful in being abused, and that those of us who have been through it and those of us who perpetrate violence against others have the ability to recover.

Let me be clear: I believe in accountability and rehabilitation for those who cause harm to others. I believe a community can hold folks accountable through love and good faith effort. I know people who have been earnest in their desire to get better and have committed themselves to accountability — one such person put themselves through the process of their own accord and “outs” themselves on first dates as someone who has caused harm. However, when one refuses accountability, or continues to perpetrate harm, (as I learned my ex has,) I also firmly believe in the rights of survivor/victims to warn others and keep their communities safe. The missing stair analogy works well here, and I believe keeping one another from tripping is vital. If the “stair” can’t be fixed and the person who causes harm isn’t willing to get better, we as survivor/victims have every right to call bullshit. I also believe in the rights of survivor/victims to take care of themselves at all costs. For me this meant securing a protection from abuse, filing for divorce, and limiting my exposure to toxic relationships in order to give myself the chance to heal.

I also firmly believe we own our stories. Our stories are powerful. Every time I tell mine, other people share theirs. Sometimes the most powerful thing someone can say is, “yeah, me too.”

In that spirit, I will conclude this post (which turned out to be much, much longer than I thought it would be) with something I shared elsewhere:

If you’re struggling in an abusive relationship, do what you can to save and protect yourself. You deserve to prioritize yourself. If you have to avoid certain people and situations, that’s okay. Learn to trust your gut again. In all likelihood, you’ve been avoiding listening to that tiny voice inside of you for a really long time. You aren’t alone. The more and more I talk about this stuff, the more others open up to me that they’ve been through it, too. You’re not alone. You. are. not. alone. Whenever you feel like you’re completely isolated and wading through the day to day all by yourself feels too hard, take a little piece of me, maybe the words you’re reading now, and keep it with you. You’re strong enough to do what you need. I promise.

For more information on how to get help as a trans person experiencing IPV, check out this link: http://forge-forward.org/

*To learn more about Ky’s struggle, please visit https://freeingky.wordpress.com/

Photo credit: the author