Life · Trans

Mental Health Is Everything

Eldest child was recently taken off the wait list at our preferred therapist’s office. This is HUGE. Not just because a mental health care professional’s opinion is required to change one’s gender legally in the State of Connecticut, but also because Connecticut Children’s Medical Center would not even allow us an appointment in their Children’s Gender Program without the referral of a mental health professional in addition to the pediatrician’s referral already obtained. I know my child; he has been thriving as his true self for 18 months now–he showed signs long before that of who he really was–but evidence must be gathered, and it’s difficult to obtain mental health care. I know–I’ve navigated those waters myself.

Two years ago, I fell apart. But that wasn’t the first time. I have a long history of interventions, voluntary and not, going back to middle school. Back then, school counselors acted as, well, counselors for students, reaching out, if necessary, and offering a sympathetic ear. I thought that’s what they were for. Now? Instead, in the conversations I’ve had with the school counselor, she has (intentionally) misgendered my child–with me and with others. And when I asked about this kind of care for students, I was advised to find a therapist. Schools don’t offer those kind of services anymore. Our community sucks as far as support for LGBTQIA youth goes, anyway.

Mental health really is everything. If you’re not capable of coping, everything else will suffer. (School-) Work. Hygiene. Housekeeping. Relationships with others. It’s the foundation for just squeaking by. And it’s incredibly difficult to maintain in systems that work against you.

I’m hoping we’ve found a good fit. I have a really good feeling about her.

My son asked me what to expect at his first visit with the therapist. Luckily, I was equipped with extra copies of handouts I was given at my own CBT appointments–recipes for re-framing a life. Coping strategies. Breathing exercises. Boundary building. And journaling. Of all things, journaling is probably the one that has stayed with me the longest. And quite possibly, provided the most relief.

I’ve been journaling since I was 10 years old. On and off–mostly picking it up when I was having a difficult time dealing with life itself or particular people–my journals are a snapshot of the struggles I’ve successfully worked through. After all, I’m still here today.

Journals are my pensieve–my way for taking the thoughts out of my head that are going round and round and round, blocking my ability to do what needs to be done, and saving them for later, when I have more time and energy to process them. Sometimes, all I can manage is a feeling for the day. A 1-10 scale. A happy to sad face measurement, like you see in the doctor’s office for your pain level. At my best times, I used journals to focus on the things that are more easily overseen. Balancing rants about what’s on my mind with the good I may be denying. But I’m not always capable of being that disciplined.

I discovered a technique (most likely on Twitter, but I don’t recall the exact inspirational source) that proved very helpful a couple years ago: GLAD. You write something for each category: Gratitude, Learned, Achieved, and Delight. In addition to that, I started noting the things that weren’t wrong in my life. Beyond your usual “I’m grateful for a roof over my head,” at times, these could be as basic as “my dog lived through another day.” Yes, it’s important to get the shit out of my brain, but it’s also helpful to take stock of that other stuff, too, and use it to outweigh the shit.

My journals are private, only shared with my therapist, if I so choose. I reassured him that the same would be true for his journals. We all need a little space for what goes on in our heads, without the prying eyes of others. And we all could use a little tune up for our minds. I wish it were more readily available for all.

In the meantime, I’m trying to convince him to take the Art Journaling class at the Warner Theatre Center for Arts Education. He’s a creative guy and I think he would find the class quite beneficial. A multi-layered approach to processing his thoughts. But I also know he’s terribly shy and has a lot of anxiety about joining groups/classes where his friends are not already found. I get it.

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