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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Life

Fat Girl in a Little Shirt

The baggage about bodies that we bring into adulthood begins to accumulate in grade school. Little kids, just trying to do what kids do–learn, play, grow–are told they are too much. By classmates. By relatives. Even by parents. Most who write about fat positivity source their childhood as when they learned that the world expects proper bodies to restrain themselves. In the greater scheme of feminism, girls are told to be quieter, dumber, less opinionated, less than. In bodies, we’re convinced that we must fight them every day. The battle all women must take up in order to fit in. Diets. Aerobics. Shoes smaller than the feet being shoved into them. Grab your swords, girls–we’re going to war with nature! (Hopefully, your 800 calories a day will allow you to fit in the suit of armor…)

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when it was first recommended that I go on a diet. But I do remember my mom sweating to the oldies with Richard Simmons. Diet culture perpetuates in the most unintentional ways.

I also remember when it started to matter to me.

In 5th grade, I invested myself in pulling off one of those 80s movie plots by transforming myself from the nerdy girl who hung out with the smart guys and played Dungeons and Dragons to one of the popular girls. Everyone would see me appropriately attired and admired, proving I was worthy. I could do it.

I begged one of the mean girls to aid me in my plan. I don’t know why S decided I was a worthy project, but she actually agreed to share the secrets of the desired class with me. Most notably, she gave me a shopping list. Clothes I MUST wear in order to be socially acceptable. Essential to my very own Ugly Duckling metamorphosis.

My mom was less convinced that a 10-year-old who wore women’s size 6 should be squeezing into short skirts and crop tops, but she eventually humored me. And just as soon as the Bradlees layaway was paid off, they were all mine. That lavender skirt with the raw edge. That crop top with a duck. That collection of clothing proving that, while you can guide me on what I should buy, the real me will shine through with how I execute this advice. Ha.

The crop top? Never did make an appearance to dazzle the cool kids. They weren’t allowed in school. It was for the best, anyway, all things considered. My mom has some lovely photos of me pairing it with a long, ruffled skirt and a crepe paper flower parasol from Riverside Park, all while sporting headgear. I’m sure that’s exactly what S pictured when she took me under her wing. My life, surprisingly, was not a movie.

It became less and less acceptable, as I grew larger and larger, to wear crop tops in public. But in recent years, as I started to shed society’s rules for my body, I became more invested in the idea.

Somehow, bikinis were easier. Probably because people expect you to essentially be clad in underwear at the beach and pool. But what are the rules for shorter-than-usual tops? Are they okay for the coffee shop? What about theatre performances? Do you wear them at parent-teacher conferences? Work is probably a no… I could have used lessons on this. Where are you S?

It turns out that, like most other items of clothing, you wear crop tops wherever you damn well please. Fuck the rules.

I keep telling myself that, anyway.

I made a baby step, though. I wore a barely cropped cardigan to the coffee house a few months ago. If I moved just right, you could see centimeters of my flesh. I think 3 people might have witnessed it. At the theatre the other night, I also wore a long-sleeved black crop top. With a high-waisted skirt. So you couldn’t even tell, when I was sitting, that I was pushing back. A quiet kind of resistance, revealed when standing (and especially when raising my arms–oops). The world didn’t end.

I’m not sure that I’m quite there yet. But I’m dabbling. And you know what? If I want to walk around in a duck crop top with a long ruffled skirt and a crepe paper parasol, fuck it, I will. Because what anyone else thinks about it doesn’t really matter anyway.

(Side note: if you’re interested in that shirt in the Instagram post, you can find it in Mary Lambert‘s merch shop. I also highly recommend listening to her music and reading her poems, which feature fat positivity, queer love, being yourself, and just plain being awesome.)