We need to talk about trans mental health


 

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.

 

This post was originally published on Max Zachs site.

 

 

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8 thoughts on “We need to talk about trans mental health

  1. Sarah honey,
    what a great blog, I know exactly how you feel, I suffered from depression but now know why. I went 24/7 last July (thanks to yourself and the others on MTS), and am currently transitioning – I just wish people would understand (or at least try to) what we have to put up with and have to go through. You have been such an inspiration to me and other girls,Keep on spreading the word and hopefully one day life will be a little easier for us.

  2. Thanks for writing this piece Sarah, I needed to get me head together recently,. I was here and there, I was even a slightly different name, I was trying to do too much and was not concentrating on my transition.
    I’ve got a mental health problem on top of my gender dysphoria and I was misdiagnosed with everything before the doctors admitted it and apologized, they had got it wrong for nearly 20 years.
    By the time I came out, I had such anxiety, depression, paranoia, social phobia and anger, I thought it was impossible but then just being me happened and I live me life, a day at a time accepting life as I go.
    I’m happy, I’m lucky, I’m passionate and thankfully I’ve got friends to talk to and You, Paris, Natasha to share this journey with, Thank You and Everyone, together we all can do it.
    Peace, Love and Lippy, x

  3. Sarah, this is such a touching and telling confession. I do hope that others might benefit from reading it and know they are a) not alone and b) can get through it. Twice recently doctors have asked me, having been told that I’d finally dispensed with anti-depressants ” So What made the difference?” and the answer, quite spontaneously and honestly was ” Being honest with myself ” There was also the huge step “daring” to walk out of the flat openly, unashamed and ready to take rejection because now it would at least be ME who was being rejected. and yes, that means a certain amount of abuse and disdain but there is no substitute for feeling “good in your own skin” Moreover, once that step has been taken, you ind a whole lot of wonderful friends and allies, people who like/love you for who you really are. Best of all is liking yourself. The experiences you describe are so familiar ( I m too embarrassed or too much of a coward to describe my own.) I still get help from a super counsellor but I hope my need for pharmacological props has gone forever. To anyone reading this who feels in despair, please take heart from what Sarah has written. Get help and support from anywhere you can . Reject nothing out of hand ( not even pills, they can help, but not as a panacea) Do talk to your gP, get counselling, join support groups and networks ( The Clare Project and LGBT helpline were SO important to getting me through) And when you can confide in family and loved ones. They might be taken aback, they might be hurt and /or angry, they will almost certainly be confused ( and you might get a couple of ” Oh now that makes sense” responses) but you may well yourself be surprised at the amount of warm support and love that comes your way.

  4. Dear Sarah and Alice if I could give you both a great big Motherly Hug I would if only bloody Society would get it through their thick heads not everyone is the same and learn to appreciate People for their Hearts and feelings we would be much better off as the Mother of a Young Teen Suicide it breaks my heart the bullying and nastiness that is out there for our Young so Take Care Ladies and stay strong you deserve wonderful happy rewarding Life’s from a caring Mum in Oz.

  5. Sarah, you are amazing, simply amazing! You are such a gorgeous lady. Never, ever forget that!!! And remember, any kind of abuse that you may experience says more about the abuser and their issues. It probably doesn’t even really have anything to do with you, even though you suffer the fallout.
    I have no idea what you have had to face, being a female who was lucky enough to have been born female. However, I have battled the ‘black dog’ most of my life and it is a formidable foe.
    Sarah, what you have accomplished in the past 18 months is remarkable, and it’s all down you YOU!. You made it happen. And you serve as a true inspiration to others who are dealing with any kind of challenge, whether it be transitioning or dealing with mental health issues.
    I, along with many, many others, are so thankful that the alcohol and drugs didn’t win. Sadly, self medication (which is what alcohol and drugs are really all about) just covers up or blurs the issues. Thank goodness you managed to fight your way out of that self-medicating, to be such a great inspiration to others. I think you have found your calling in life 🙂
    If you ever make it out to Australia, or I get over to Britain again, I’d love to meet you, simply to give you a big motherly hug!!! I loved MTS, but for me, of everyone on the show – you just touched something in my heart. Yes, you will still face tough days and face-off with that ‘black dog’ again – but know you are not alone!! Ever!! I am just an email away, and you have so many others who are there for you, you only need to reach out for some understanding and support.
    Mental illness is finally starting to be recognised for being able to affect anyone and is a lot more prevalent than anyone could ever imagine – and that is because we have started to talk about it. Let’s never stop! The more understanding there is, the better the outcome is likely for those who deal with this major issue.
    Take care Sarah, and keep on keeping on. And hey, F1 is back on!!!
    Hugs
    Avril…

  6. Hi Sarah
    You are doing really well and at a similar stage to me. I think most of us go through the same experiences in our lives. I attempted suicide twice due to failed relationships, caused by my TS issues. i tried to lead a normal stereo typical male life. During my time in the forces i was very successful in my career, but something was always pulling me back. I finally snapped in 1996 and tried suicide twice. Although I saw psychiatrists and psychologists, I was never honest with them about why I was suffering so much. If i had been, I would have been an outcast and thrown out of the forces with nothing. I stuck it out for another 2 years and was medically discharged due to war injuries. Why oh why did I ever put myself there? Because I felt pressured to prove to others I was ‘normal’ that which was expected of me and yes it nearly killed me too, both psychologically and physically.
    I think we all reach a time in our lives that we realise, we are not living our own lives but that which some others, like friends and family, see as normal or expected. It is then that we MUST change ourselves and become the person we really are.
    I am happier now than I have ever been in my life. I have some wonderful friends and most of my family are supportive. I have had to make some very difficult sacrifices but I remain convinced that I must transition for me and my well being. The longer i live as Helen the more normal I feel and all the fears of going out and being ‘Read’ have completely disappeared, partly due to the hormones changing the I look, but mostly down to confidence. I am a tall girl at six foot and over here in France, I am exceptionally tall but I walk tall with confidence and show off my long legs with pride.
    Be happy Sarah and stay confident and don’t let those bigots get you down. Don’t worry too much about psychiatrists as most are full of it and are miserable gits too. I have a great relationship with my psychologists and they have both been fabulous and worked very hard to help me to the stage I am at. I have a way to go but I am hoping for my GRS between October this year and March next year.
    Take care Sarah and thank you so much for the fabulous work you are doing for the Trans community and please pass on my thanks to your MTS friends Drew, Lewis etc for their hard work too.
    Love and Hugs
    Helen
    xx

  7. “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.”

    It almost felt as if you were talking about me! Caught in a horrible life, identity all not what it should be, everything all wrong. I don’t know what to do anymore. It seems utterly hopeless. Grew up in a closed military community in a foreign country with parents that were basically hardliners concerning sexuality and identity. After a life of complete obedience to everyone else’s mind numbing dominance, the failure has been utter and completely miserable. If I could peel my face off and throw it into the garbage, I would do so immediately. At 53 years of age, people just mock me, nothing but mock me now. All these years it’s been denial and stone faces. No one wanted to ever talk about it and they still don’t want to talk about it. Not good enough for a tag of any kind. Male sex, yes they love that one, but beyond the facade of what one is not, no one wants to talk about it at all, they don’t want to talk about it ever. Closed doors, closed shutters and empty buildings. Betrayed by everyone I ever knew in my whole entire life, because I by being what I am, by basically being myself have broken that sacred taboo. After you’ve done that, your status has been degraded to that of less than a clown, a flesh show for both the males and the females that view life of the trans-ident-person as being one of a sexual travesty, a fetish for their sick humor. I am destroyed and don’t know if I can hang onto life knowing that others are being antagonized and enduring the self-same fate. I don’t know what to do anymore, it’s all one big fat fabrication, one big fat and ugly enduring mind numbing hatred filled lie. I am destroyed!

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