AFS #2: Help with dissociation?

I’ve been kicking this one around for a good long time, so today’s question comes from r/asktransgender as of about three weeks ago. I’ll dig through my bookmarks and get a proper link up shortly. (Here it is. Turns out I was even slower about this than I thought – it was two months ago!) The ensuing rambling includes some rough anecdotes from my own experience, and has the following content warnings:

  • Self harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Child abuse
  • Graphic firsthand descriptions of mental illness

If you’d like to ask me a question and hear me overshare in response, you can do that too.

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The End of the World

The Bosnian Chick Magnet is warm and clicking against her back, like a sleeping animal.  Ava stands with her eyes closed, enjoying the quiet. It’s the only car left at the gas station, which is why she hears the mourning dove calling.

cooOOOO-hoooo-hoooo-hoooooo…. coooOOOO-hooo-hooo-hoooooo….

There are always mourning doves at the end of the world.

The thought ignites like a bomb in her brain, so swift and bright that it’s gone by the time the bird falls silent.  The sound throws her, spinning, down the years of her own life, as if the dove’s calling the name of another dove somewhere in the past they share, and she’s gone to find it.

Instead, Ava finds Ava, twelve years old, standing in her driveway in Tucson, Arizona, looking up at the sky.  The mourning dove is still calling, and now it’s not alone. Its plaintive coo cuts through the treble chatter around it, soft but impossible to miss.  For Ava it’s as much a piece of the desert, the city she’s growing up in, as the smell of creosote in the rain, the drone of cicadas, the murderous heat.

She loves it, that’s all, loves every goddamn part of it.  She’d never tell anyone – she hides the things she likes much more carefully than her fears and loathings.  But she feels a savage, atavistic love for this city, the valley it sprawls in, the miles of scruffy landscape on every side.  The sharp-edged mountains are etched in red and black at sunset, the sun is a screaming white ingot in a sky the burnished blue of molten metal, and even ten, twenty years later, she will still be able to close her eyes and draw both from memory.

Whether or not she happens to be grounded, taking the trash out in the evening is the one chore she always wants to do.  She makes sure to maintain the appropriate hangdog manner when asked, of course. Mom loves to sneer at what she calls “the teen look,” but any other expression just gets her interrogated, sometimes for hours.

“What’s that face for?  Don’t give me that look.”

“Did you just roll your eyes at me?”

“What’s that eyebrow about, huh?  Why you making that face?”

“Oh, you thought that was funny, huh?”

“Can you at least try to look like you’re having a nice time?”

No.  The truth is, she has tried.  She’s tried to construct a face that can survive their scrutiny and still be sweet and charming on command, and she can’t.  It will take her years to learn and then to vanish inside that trick.

So instead she finds safety in books, and she learns from history.  She reads about how the countries that resist occupation are put down, brain-drained, destroyed, and the ones that bend can survive, by pretending to obey and hiding their culture away inside their secret hearts.  This teaches her that there’s no shame in submitting the way she does, in trying to please the people who abuse her. She reads accounts from slaves, how they constructed a face to hide behind, a neutral expression their masters could project whatever they liked upon, and carefully does the same.  “The facade,” she calls it when talking to her best friend, the only person who sees her without it.

Settling her features into the facade is simple – a twitch of the nose and mouth that realigns her expression, the kind of thing you’d do to adjust your glasses.  It produces a fixed, dead-eyed look that she can sustain through hours of browbeating. There’s no joy in it, and no interest – the best her parents get from her most days is silent, sullen submission.  They try – they drag her out of her room regularly, sit her down in the living room, and stare at her with a greedy, demanding eye while she listens to something on the stereo. What frustrates her is that she does like most of their music.  She just never, ever likes it enough.  She doesn’t think it’s possible to like it enough.  It’s as if they expect her to transform after each song, to begin ringing in harmony with it maybe, or change color.

“Well?  Weren’t you listening?”

“I guess you think it’s all just bullshit, huh.”

“See if we ever try to include you in anything again, god.”

“Nah, you don’t give a shit, we’re just trying to share something with you, whatever, right?  Go be a teenager, go on, go pout in your fucking room. Aren’t you grounded?”

Ava learns what they want, over time.  They want the same thing the teachers at school want: “Restate the lesson in your own words.”  They want her to rapturously parrot whatever they say, but repeating word-for-word what she’s told gets her slapped – they say she’s mocking them.  So she becomes an expert at knowing what to say, capable of an extemporaneous rant that leaves strangers gaping and friends laughing, the girl who can talk any teacher or parent out of a rage – except her own, of course.

She can’t talk to them at all.  She feels it all the time, like a timer that begins ticking the moment she enters the visual range of her parents.  This timer goes down each second, but it also goes down an extra second for every word she speaks. Sometimes it goes down by chunks and jumps all on its own, for no reason she can see.  Sometimes it’s wrong. But it’s always, always there. And when the timer runs out, something bad happens.

They don’t like her face, and they don’t like her silence, but it protects her fragile things – the few things she lives for.  A few minutes a day, a place or a sound or a person, that frees her and gives her space. Like the sound of the mourning doves.  Like the smell of the creosote bushes after it rains. Like taking the trash out at night.

She carefully closes the screen door behind her – they don’t like slamming doors.  She keeps her head down, her shoulders tense, until she clears the back of her mother’s car, which blocks the view of the yard from the living room window.  There’s about ten feet of driveway that can’t be seen from the house, and she can see the sky from there. She sets the trash bag down and looks up.

cooOOOO-hoooo-hoooo-hoooooo…. coooOOOO-hooo-hooo-hoooooo….

The moon is white and flat like a paper plate, and the night is clear.  Ava tastes the air, cooler than the house, sweeter. It feels pure in her mouth, and she takes great gasping breaths for a moment as she lets her shoulders fall from around her ears.  Like she’s been drowning for hours. Sometimes tears cross her face. She stares at the moon, or the stars, and listens to the sound of traffic, and thinks about the other world that isn’t this place, a new world where she could be anyone at all, where she could disappear.  A world where for just a minute no one is watching and waiting for her to fuck up.

She doesn’t stay out there long.  Taking out the trash should take five minutes, and she can stretch it near to ten before anyone will trust their sense of time enough to question it.  Turning away from the road, the moonlight, the other world, she twitches her nose and mouth like a rabbit and the walls close around her again. The naked need falls out of her face so quickly it should shatter at her feet.  By the time she’s tossed the trash in the dumpster the tears are gone from her face. Her eyes never redden or swell – she’s spent so much time in the mirror with Clear-Eyes, practicing this emptiness, that now she can cry for whole minutes and you’d never know.

She walks back to the house slowly, and takes a deep breath before she goes back in.  Someday she won’t have to go back in. It’s a promise she’s been making to herself often, since she was very small.  She makes it again as the mourning dove calls her back into the sunshine, into her grown-up body, into the end of April, 2011, where she stands leaning against her car on the border of Kansas and Colorado.  Behind her are two states and the city they left yesterday, and her family, who made it clear that this willful flight was the final insult they’d take from their prodigal. You can’t quit, you’re fired!

In front of her is a stretch of hills that rises steadily and never stops until it reaches a sharp-edged, ferocious mountain range, the same one she remembers from a different angle.  Living in the plains makes her uncomfortable, agoraphobic, makes it hard to navigate. The light pours down the hills like paintings of very Elysium, and she feels a wild, leaping joy that makes her laugh and cry at the same time.  For the first time in twenty-six years, she feels free.

It’s the end of that world.  I never have to go back in.

She’s dashing the tears from her eyes when her boyfriend returns, holding out a sandwich.

“Are you okay?”

cooOOOO-hoooo-hoooo-hoooooo…. coooOOOO-hooo-hooo-hoooooo….

The dove calls out another spate of tears and she grins, squinting up at him through rainbow splinters of sun in her eyes.  “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks. Let’s go – I think we can make Denver before the sun sets, and I want to drive through that view.”

Desert Desires

In the morning:

I send a song to you. I choose it carefully.

There’s always a reason.

I’d tell you if you asked;

no one ever asks.

I only seem to do this for one person at a time –

it’s my way of courting.

Like leaving flowers at your door

A mouse corpse on your mat

I did not make it; I simply caught it.

Dead things say “I love you.”

 

Around 10 AM:

I light incense in two places around my apartment,

and I ponder rituals that could accompany this moment.

Like everything, I insist on doing this backwards.

I crave faith, conviction, a sense of meaning

I cherish catechism; my fingers naturally curl to count a rosary.

But though I make the moves on hands and knees,

though I see things and hear voices,

though I go through all the motions of the martyr,

I never pull the trigger

because I still don’t feel a thing.

 
Around 1995:

Religion was like any other fantasy world when I was a child

Jesus was a hero but not as brave as Ged,

A lot whinier than Frodo.

No cool powers.

Woo, he makes fish appear and walks on water?

So he’s a shitty Aquaman, is what you’re saying.

No one divided the Bible from Bradley and Bradbury

So it just seemed like it had too few dragons to me.

My first memory blinds me — the sun on the water in a copper bucket

that also contained me.

The bucket was just big enough for me, and the water

and the infinite light of the sun.

I could never see how this world needed God.

 

Every day since sixth grade:

I loved her all wrong, then and now —

Far too close in all the wrong places.

Like tongue-kissing a goddess

Like bringing frankincense and myrrh to McDonalds

Like living all my life on my knees

Before the sixteen-year-old girls we were.

Over time it’s become a genre

A color I paint in

One of the shapes that shows up again and again.

If you knew her, you could never miss it —

She’s in every drawing, every story — or something like her,

the pieces of her I stole, and kept, and tended

in my dirt-floor basement heart.

The garden I grew there spawns each day

mycorrhizal homunculi with her eyes.

They tug at my arms, whisper in my ears

Beg to be drawn, to be cherished, to be beautified

To be loved, forever.

To always be loved.

At the Miracle Sausage Factory

I haven’t had a lot to show you this week, but it’s not that I haven’t been writing – there are a lot of words in a few drafts here, they’re just sprawling and unfocused and I can’t toss up any kind of conclusion.  I’m having a hard time right now if you want to know the truth.  A lot of stressful, expensive life shit coming up, but also the journey to mental health isn’t a straight line, as they say, and sometimes you fall in the Well again.

Last weekend I stumbled, because the previous week was too good.  Yep.  That’s the exciting world of trauma.

“Hey, so I see you got a gig.  Seems like somebody thinks your work is good.  I see you went on a date.  Someone wants to be your friend.  Of course… you know what’s going to happen, don’t you? 

Of course you do. 

You’ll show them that you’re utterly worthless and they were foolish even to offer an opportunity, and they will be angry at you for wasting their time by continuing to exist while not matching their exact specifications. 

That person you went on a date with will discover any moment that you’re too broken to be a good friend, can’t offer anything to anybody, and then they’ll be hurt because you were so callous and stupid as to accept their offer of friendship.

You should have known better than to accept any of those things; look at you, you’re going to drop them any minute, and then everyone will find out how worthless you really are.  It’ll happen sooner or later.  Why not speed up the inevitable?”

I know I sound like I’m being dramatic here.  I wish I could say that this isn’t exactly what happens inside me every time I’m offered any kind of opportunity.  Any kind of help.  Any kind of reward beyond the barest minimum I’ve earned.  But this is it, the bottom of the Well.  This is where I’ve lived for a very long time.  I’m just starting to get out of it now.  Last few weeks have been a little setback.

electrified steaks with legs and hats

But I am getting out.  What’s interesting about that is… the first time, it was instantaneous.  A bit of a mind flip.  I’ve tried to write about this, and that’s one of the huge, sprawling drafts I’m failing to finish, because it’s very simple and yet very complex to explain.  The short version is, I saw it one way, and then I found the right words to look at it another way, and suddenly my perspective shifted.  I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, and that was part of my certainty that if I ever fell down again, I would never get back up.  How could I?  How can you reproduce an epiphany?

It turns out that an epiphany is like anything else: if you slow it down enough, you can see that it’s composed of many different parts.  Like anything else, it’s a chemical process, because that’s what we are, arrogant sacks of protoplasm, electrified steaks with legs and hats.  Everything is chemicals, including all our emotions, and all the physical responses they create in our meat machines.

pick the miracle apart

How do I get back up again, when finding any kind of self-worth the first time was so hard that it felt like a miracle?  Walk through the miracle again, slowly.  Slower than that.  Pick the miracle apart.  Yes, this will diminish its glory.  No, it doesn’t matter, because there are more miracles ahead, and this one you must know how to execute in your sleep.

Walk through all the steps we took again.  We started with self-care.  Eating food.  Remember food?  Drinking water, not just Coke.  Man cannot live on caffeine alone.  You slip on this stuff, not a lot, just a little over time.  Usually when things are going well.  Your good mood doesn’t feel as precarious, so you don’t stress too much when you forget to eat a time or three – this is different, you’re busy, you’re feeling better.  And then it all crumbles away under your feet in an instant, and you’re right back where you started.

Remember the words we said.  The things that really mattered, that expressed what we needed to say.  Say them again.  It feels so much stupider the second time, and it felt stupid as hell the first time, but grit your teeth harder if you have to, okay?  Do it when nobody else is home.  Take it seriously one more time for me.  Just one more time, say the stupid words out loud.

I love you.  I am right here beside you.  I will never, ever leave you.

You’ve said that to a girlfriend or two, right?  A child, maybe?  Probably more than one.  You can’t say it to yourself?  I know, you’re rolling your eyes, what’s the point, that’s dumb.  Sure, okay, if it’s dumb then why wouldn’t you just do it?  Just do it for me, because I asked you to, and it’s dumb and it doesn’t matter, right?  Why can’t you look yourself in the fucking face and say what you said to at least four girls in your twenties?

I love you.  I believe in you. 

I will not abandon you, no matter how many mistakes you make.

You are worth it.  You are worth anything.  You are worth the whole world to me.

If it makes you cry when you say it, that’s a sign that you need to say it more.

If you really, really don’t want to, if you’re ostentatiously not giving a shit, if you’re still rolling your eyes at me?  That’s a sign too.  You can ignore them as long as you like.  Recovery isn’t a straight line, as I said, and I’m gonna mix my metaphors here, it’s like riding a bike.  Sure, sure, with the falling and getting back up again business, that’s part of it.

What I mean is, when you’re learning to ride a bike, there’s this moment when you’re going, it’s working, you’re pedaling, and you get excited.  You’re doing it!  You’re really doing it!  And you look back to see if your parents are watching – and turning around makes you wobble and crash.  That crash is bad, the first fall where you had any kind of speed built up behind it, and it feels like you never want to try again.  And when you do, you hesitate – you know what it feels like to fall now, how much it hurts, and you don’t want to feel that again.  But when you hesitate, the bike wobbles.  You have to pedal fast to stay up.  So your fear makes you more likely to fall.

You’re going to fail at getting better again and again, and it’ll make you want to hesitate, make you scared to trust yourself.  It’ll make the steps you took feel stupid and trite.  You’ll doubt, you’ll look back, and when you look back, like Orpheus, you’re lost.

Go through it all again.  Don’t just go through the motions – do it like a priest going through a ritual, a doctor doing their pre-surgery wash.  You’ve done it a thousand times, and each time you do it carefully, lovingly, mindfully.  Not because every time is important, but because that’s the kind of person you are.  Because it’s important to you, not to anyone else, and what’s important to you matters.

“If you find yourself at the edge of a cliff and you’re wondering whether or not to jump… try jumping.”

John Lennon

What can you hope to gain if you scoff your way through everything you do?  That’s the thing about magic they’ve been telling us since the beginning, right?  It only works if you truly believe that it will.  Step forward with surety when you’re at your most unsure.  If you’re headed at the cliff anyway, don’t walk off the cliff, god damn it, leap.  Because it’s only exciting when you commit.  Because it’s only fun when you try.

This is the thing.  It’s not that every single day is going to be worth your time.  It’s not that every single person is going to be good to you.  It’s not that every single occasion is really worth putting on pants and getting all styled up for.

It’s that you are.  You are worth doing those things, and a thousand things more.

Be honest with yourself.  When you say, “Is it worth it?  Should I bother?  Should I ask for what I need?  Should I insist on being treated well?  Should I put effort into this thing that matters only to me?”

What you’re asking is, “Am I worth it?”

Start from the baseline assumption that you are.  That’s your rock.  You are worth any amount of effort… to you.  You are worth any trouble, any amount of time spent making you happy… to you.  This really shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but for a lot of us, it is.  The idea that we have a right to prioritize self-care, the authority to decide what that looks like… the society we live in would like very much to squash that idea.  It would like very much to decide what your self-care should look like, so that it can sell it back to you at bargain summer prices.

That means that self-care is a radical act.  So stick it to the man.

Say it.  Once more, with feeling:

My needs and boundaries do not make me unreasonable or crazy.

I can and will defend my self-care ferociously.

I am entitled to decide what constitutes self-care, and to change that definition as I see fit.

When I disregard self-care for even a few days, I quite literally risk my own life.

I am worth the trouble.

Why I Don’t Answer the Phone

I got into a conversation today about why abuse survivors feel like a burden on others.  This feeling has led me to a pretty suicidal realm at times, because it dovetails all too neatly with my other neuroses, but most people with trauma feel this way to some extent.

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This is the meme that started the discussion.

Some of it is projection – we tend to assume that people think like we do, unless we actively work to look beyond that.  So if we’re unhappy with ourselves, we assume that dissatisfaction is universal.  The bad qualities we perceive in ourselves must be tattooed on our foreheads, and the fact that these people tolerate us just shows how amazing they are by comparison.

I think there’s a larger factor here, though, and it’s that people raised by narcissists learn an adversarial game of love.  I believe that until you unlearn this game, you can’t gain energy from loving company, can’t be empowered and soothed by the company of the people you love – it will always be taxing to some degree.

an adversarial game of love

Part of being a kid is getting saddled with your parents’ values.  This just comes with the package – your parents can’t avoid expressing what they believe subconsciously, even if they’re careful about what they say and do in your presence.  So until you’re at a point where you can begin to question these things – and remember that trauma stunts emotional development, pushing that point further and further away with every blow – these things are just part of how you see the world.  These are your “received values.”

When you’re raised by a narcissist, you receive the values through a megaphone, because a narcissist makes the outside world responsible for their self-worth.  What does a narcissist value?  Only one thing: supply, or emotional sustenance.  It’s not quite the same thing as when you spend time with a friend and you feel better – that, hopefully, is a symbiotic thing, you and your friend supporting one another and giving one another energy in different ways that aren’t deleterious to either of you.

Narcissistic supply, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be positive.  Supply is provided any time the narcissist can feel that they are central to others’ lives.  Their centrality, the extent to which they feel important and focused on, is the extent to which they feel worthy.  If they’re feeling neglected, they will act out to increase the flow of supply, of attention and emotional energy, directed their way, whether this means asserting dominance, provoking others, or demanding their love and devotion.

you are valuable to the extent that you forget who you are

So the narcissist wants supply.  Their emotional state, their relationships, their worldview and view of themselves as a person are all dependent on the level of that supply gauge.  Which means that if you’re a narcissist’s child, what your parent taught you is that you are valuable to the extent you provide supply.  To the extent you make your parent feel central to your life and identity, you are loved.  In a very literal way, you are valuable to the extent that you forget who you are.

The problem with this – well, another one – is that narcissistic supply isn’t the same thing as emotional support.  It’s like living on nothing but popcorn.  It fills you up, but it’s mostly air – you’ll need more in ten minutes.  So you might learn to supply your abuser with what they need, but as soon as it becomes routine – or the wind shifts – the demands will change.  This makes every interaction an adversarial game: can you divine the way the wind’s blowing, and assume the appropriate position in time, or will you make a mistake?  In a way, it doesn’t matter – either outcome provides narcissistic supply.  Either they get you to scramble and attend to their needs, or they get to excoriate you for not doing so.  Either one reinforces their starring role in your life.

manipulate me for my comfort, but don’t you care let me catch you at it

So if you grow up being told that this is love, how is interacting going to feel to you?  Interaction isn’t a source of solace, or support – it’s like being in the room with a hungry animal, something unpredictable that you must nonetheless predict in order to be safe.  And when you try out the dubious skills you’ve learned on people outside the family, they call you passive-aggressive and manipulative.  That’s how it works.  That’s the narcissist’s edict: Manipulate me for my comfort, but don’t you dare let me catch you at it.

You learn a lot from this, growing up.  A lot of things that later you’ll have to unlearn, things like:

  • All interactions involve layer upon layer of emotional sparring that you will be punished for winning or losing.
  • All interactions are one person trying to get supply from the other, trying to drain their emotional energy.  At best, every conversation is a negotiation.
  • Your value to others is the amount of selfless energy you can provide them.
  • No one is ever being dishonest or emotionally manipulative except you. We have no idea where you learned that.
  • No one is interested in anything but themselves.
  • As a result, every second you spend expressing yourself in another person’s presence, rather than reflecting on and attending to them, is a drag and a drain.
  • Your inability to manage this situation with eagerness and enthusiasm is a disease that we need to cure for you to be normal and therefore loved.

And here we are.  If this is what a conversation feels like to you, even with people you care about, why would you want to interact at all?  Why wouldn’t you count the cost of it every second when you do?  Why wouldn’t you be certain those around you are doing the same, and why wouldn’t you, each and every time, come up short in that calculation?  You always have before.

do what the narcissist can’t

To get out of this life-sucking trap, where every notification makes you twitch and every phone call gives you a sick feeling of fear and shame as you stare at the phone, still not answering...  To get out of this state, you have to do what the narcissist can’t: you have to find self-worth that doesn’t rely on another person to survive.  I think self-worth, strangely enough, is a thing you build from the edges in, like a puzzle.  It’s going to be a very long time before you can envision the face of the person you’d like to be, the person who doesn’t live in this trap, the person who can love and be loved without counting the cost.

But you don’t have to envision their face.  Start with the edges.  Learn who that person is by watching their effect on the world.  You can’t help acting out your values, any more than your parents could, and I think you’ll find that yours are not simply the ones you were given, no matter how much effort was spent to indoctrinate you.  I think you’ll find that when you felt supported, when you felt safe, when you were able to act instead of react… your choices reflected the person you want to be.  What does that person seem to value?  How do they treat people?  Do they make others responsible for their pain, or do they strive to give more than they take, even if they don’t always succeed?

I’m going to bet that person is worthy of love.  I bet if you saw another person making the choices you’ve made, you wouldn’t even question whether that person was worthy.  Start from that value – you are worthy of love.  No one can diminish your value, and no one can increase it.  You are not required to bleed for those you love.  That’s not what we preach here.

love isn’t something you give or take… it’s something you do

Love can be painful, it can be stressful, but it is not adversarial.  They say all relationships are work, and they kick that one around the internet arguing whether it should or shouldn’t be so.  I’m gonna clarify it by generalizing like hell: everything in the world is work, unless you’re a sponge.  When the person next to you has the same goal in mind and is helping, work goes fast and doesn’t feel like work.  When the person next to you isn’t helping, or is working in a different direction, it will feel like every slogging, unproductive step is on you.

It’s not, though.  Love isn’t something you give or take – it’s something you do.  Do it for yourself first, and then if someone ain’t doing it for you, don’t do it back.

Character Select: M F [Cancel]

I don’t know what my body is supposed to look like, but it’s not this.

Right now, that’s all I know. I look at page after page of pictures under the “androgyny” tag, and I see what I wish my body looked like.  Sure is surprisingly racist up in this aesthetic.  They are all white, they are all thin, they are all delicate and fragile. Their tits are small, their hips are narrow, their faces have jaws and cheekbones that could cut glass. Their eyes are huge and deep, ageless. They look like elves or angels, and I want to look like them, and I never, ever will.

That’s not self-loathing, that’s not pessimism, that’s straight-up fucking biology. I am five-ten and burly – not six-two and willowy, not five-four and curvy. I am 190 pounds of soft muscle and hard fat. I have never broken a bone because my bones are as thick as tree limbs, my wrists too large to grip in one hand. My ass is big and firm but not shapely. My thighs are horselike with no gap in between, my arms are strong but too soft for any muscle definition. My tits are big but partly because my chest is thick, barrel-like – it gives me a deep voice and makes me pop buttons on shirts when I breathe, in a way that is not sexy and scandalous but just embarrassing and expensive.

Looking at these pictures makes me feel exactly how I’ve felt all my life – slow, clumsy, misshapen, as if I’m interacting with the world through a spacesuit. Most days it feels like I can’t truly touch anything, like every motion is a fumbling approximation of what I intended, like every sense is dull and muffled. When I look in the mirror I can see myself in the eyes – well, not in them, but behind them. The eyes aren’t shaped right, they’re not the right color, they’re not mine, but behind the face I don’t recognize I see my own fear looking out. That’s been the same all my life. I can’t ever remember seeing a face in the mirror that looked like mine.

Right now, it feels like it’s the having of a face at all that I resent. I spent today looking up local ordinances on the wearing of masks in public. I’d like to assemble a collection of beautiful masks, all different, that I could choose from when I go out and wear all day. I hate the feeling that participating in daily life requires taking a stand on who I am as a person. I would like to go out in a voluminous robe and a mask, so that what I say and do is just what I say and do, not what a WOMAN says and does, not what a MAN says and does… I do not want to be assigned a category and I don’t want to prop one up by existing. But it seems that I don’t have a choice. There is no way to opt out of people looking at you and assigning you a role based on the first fucking characteristic they see.

Thirty years of first-person gaming and silent protagonists have taught me that the essential ME is in my hands. They’re the only part of myself I like. They’re the only parts of me that look exactly like they should, the only parts I enjoy watching do what they do. They’re neither masculine nor feminine, and they’re not pretty – I bite my nails and chew my fingertips until they bleed. But none of that matters when they’re writing, or cooking, or drawing. All that matters is that they’re sure and strong and they’ve never failed to do as I asked.

I’ve always talked to people best when we walk side-by-side, not looking at each other. I’ve always done best online, in text, where my voice doesn’t interfere with what I have to say. I don’t want to have a face. I don’t want to have a voice. I just want to bring the quest item and turn it in, and be judged on the basis of how well I did the thing.

It’s hard to see a way out of dysphoria right now. I can’t think of any shape within my physical capacities that I would like better than the one I have. I love having long hair and I love having tits, but I could take or leave the bottom system if I’m honest. I want to have a baby and do mom things. I want to be a knight, too, but I’m not sure if it’s for the sense of purpose or the armor. I want to be maximally female and maximally male at the same time, and that doesn’t seem to be an option.

Death and Other Distractions

I visualize the depths of depression as a well. Maybe your personal hell looks different. For me the important characteristics are:

1) It’s dark

2) It’s physically uncomfortable in myriad small ways

3) I can’t see anything but the Well when I’m in it

That last part is critical. It’s what makes possible situations like me sitting in a park under a tree, in a summer scene so bucolic and tranquil it would make a hobbit shit, and numbly wishing I could believe the sunshine was real. Dissociation, they call that, or so psychiatrists have told me. That summer I was three months from telling a doctor, “I think about puncturing my own skull with a variety of objects on a stunningly regular basis.”

Of course, I didn’t say it like that. That’s the kind of stuff no one wants to hear, even doctors whose business is hearing the bad shit. It’s murderously funny when a therapist winces at you. You know that they’re human, that you can’t hold it against a person to have a reaction… but you wish you hadn’t seen it. You wish you hadn’t been waiting to see it.

I’ve let that wince silence me my whole life. I’ve pulled the lid over the Well every goddamn time, performed health as well as I could, because that’s what I was taught. I’ve now come to the point where I can no longer even talk to psychiatrists. I ghosted the last three who tried to help me after a few sessions, and the only reason I see the one I have now is to keep the SSRIs flowing. He doesn’t ask me about my past. He keeps his inquiries confined to my reactions to whatever I’m currently taking, and checks the appropriate boxes. It’s a good relationship. It’s a holding pattern.

There are a lot of reasons I’m in this holding pattern, but they don’t matter. It’s an artifact of magical thinking, my perpetual belief that the right doctor, or the right drug, or the right self-improvement regimen will come along, and I will be better. I will be able to unburden myself. I will be whatever it was I was supposed to be all along.

I’m here to tell you I’m not waiting anymore.

There’s no one I feel comfortable telling this shit to. So, because I’m ridden by the Imp of the Perverse, I’m going to tell all of you. We gotta give the Speaker for the Dead something real to work with, right? Maybe my personal Well looks something like yours. Maybe I mapped a part of it we have in common. Maybe you did. Maybe all this will do is frighten my loved ones and infuriate my family. I hope not. If you don’t like what you see here, please don’t burden yourself with it. I will not defend or justify my memories or my younger self. I won’t fight you over it. I’m just going to tell you what it looks like from where I am, for what worth that perspective has. It’s the only one I’ve got, and I don’t seem to be able to express it in any other way.

The stories in this series involve me being unusually frank and graphic about some fucked-up stuff, and therefore have the following blanket content warnings:

  • Child abuse
  • Self-harm and suicide
  • Violence
  • Drug abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • A shit-ton of swears

Here endeth the disclaimers. On with the farce.

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