Little over eighteen months ago I was still living as a male, I was broke, living in my car and at the bottom of a deep dark hole. In the years leading up to this point I had become extremely depressed, I had self harmed since I was a young teenager, struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, pulled away from my friends and have even attempted suicide in the past. I was addicted to escapism, anything to stop the incredible sense of dread I felt from having to live as someone who I was not. I knew I did not have the strength to begin transition on my home island of Jersey so when a stranger I’d met on an internet chat room asked me to come and live with her I grabbed the opportunity with both hands, I was desperate. When I arrived at her house it quickly became clear she had not been honest with me and she had her own problems with alcohol. My lowest point was having to return to Jersey, knowing I was effectively turning my back on transitioning but I knew more than anything that I could not go back to my old ways of escapism.
I honestly didn’t care if I lived or died, living a lie was slowly but surely killing me. If you had been able to see statistics for trans people’s mental health I wouldn’t have registered on them because the medical establishment didn’t see me as ‘trans’ anything, they saw me as a male. I had asked my local health authority for help with transitioning and was fobbed off, given a prescription for some happy pills and told that the reason I wanted to transition was because I was depressed and I just needed to keep my mind occupied on something else.
My experiences are not unique, a recent study undertaken by the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (www.teni.ie) showed that 44% of trans respondents had self harmed and 40% had attempted suicide in their life while almost 4/5ths had thought about ending their life. This compares with 4% of attempted suicides in heterosexual, cis-gendered people. (http://www.livescience.com/13755-homosexual-lgb-teen-suicide-rates-environments.html )
The pressure that comes with being transgendered is huge. I have lost friends and family because I decided that my only other option other than death was to transition, I gave up my home, my job and every day that I leave my flat I take the chance of being abused by some bigoted member of society who does not understand why I have to live like I do. With the sheer amount of social stigma surrounding us, it’s no wonder that so many trans folk suffer from mental health problems, the deck is stacked against us. Added to this is the fact that the medical community still doesn’t fully understand what causes Gender Identity issues. The World Health Organisation still describes being transgendered as a mental illness despite studies showing otherwise.
What the medical establishment failed to see was that my depression was a symptom of being transsexual, not the cause. This is of huge importance for the trans community, if we can get doctors to understand that a trans persons mental health if far more likely to improve during and after confronting and solving their gender identity issues then treatment for us can only get better.
The more I tried to live as a male, the worse my mental health became. Since I have started my transition, started being true to myself and gaining acceptance from my friends and society as female my mental heath has improved significantly, I feel happier, more complete and able to see myself as a valid member of society. Don’t get me wrong, I still have ‘down’ days and know enough about depression and mental health illnesses that my road to recovery will not happen overnight but for the first time in a very long time I have a positive view for the future.
Over the years I have learnt coping strategies to help deal with the mental health problems that I have faced. Keeping a good circle of friends around me has helped no end, they have been there for me through thick and thin, some of them I’ve never even met as we correspond via internet and phone but I feel support from them nonetheless. Keeping physically active has also helped, it’s such a clichéd thing to say to someone with depression but sometimes for me getting out of the house for a good walk with nature has lifted my spirits and put things in perspective, even when I’ve forced myself into it. The thing that has made the biggest difference is simply confronting and dealing with my gender identity issues, I’m not saying it’s a magical ‘fix all’ but by no longer ignoring the elephant in the room my mind is clearer and I am more able to cope with what life throws at me.
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