Sometimes, It’s Good to Get Lost…

As many who follow me on social media know, I took advantage of Labor Day Weekend and flew to East Tennessee to spend some time with my parents. This came at the perfect time, as everything tends to.

I’ve been stressed to the point of exhaustion for a long time. Nothing too major, or anything really to worry about. It just seemed that the normal day to day grind started to weigh more heavily on me than it usually does. Taking off to the peace that my hometown brings to me was just what the pretend doctor ordered. I had a wonderful time, not doing too much of anything. The three of us did go out on Sunday to Pigeon Forge, where we went to the always entertaining Dolly’s Stampede (seriously, did you think I’d go to Dolly’s hometown and not do something Dolly related? Nah bruh). Other than that, I didn’t do much of anything except sit on the back porch drinking beer and flip flop which dog I was showing love to at any given time. It was beautiful.

Every time I go to Seymour, if I’m flying, I fly into Atlanta and drive up from there. It takes a little bit of extra time, but it’s much more cost effective to fly in there than to fly into Knoxville, and I can get a direct flight from Boston. Even in the event that I need to rent a car to get me to or from the airport, it comes out less expensive in the end. And I don’t mind driving.

This trip was no different; I flew in on the first flight out on Saturday morning, and my parents were nice enough to come get me. For the trip home, I scheduled a rental from the airport in Knoxville. I didn’t want to put my parents out and make them go to work late, so I picked it up just after 8am. Since my flight wasn’t scheduled for departure until almost 8pm, that gave me roughly 11 hours to make my way down. I didn’t want to linger in Tennessee, so I decided I would make an adventure out of it; I got off the highway and just sort of followed my navigation app in the general southern direction.

At one point, even the “backroad” I was on was a 4 lane highway with a grass median, so I decided that was too urban for me. I pulled over and loosely planned a route that would still get me to Atlanta, but wouldn’t be the beaten path. I figured as long as I could check my map every now and again I’d be good. I’m fairly good with directions, so I decided to just go with it.

The problem with being in the mountains is that almost immediately after I got off the road I had been on, I lost all cell service. Since I am entirely reliant on my cell phone for pretty much everything, and had a rental vehicle, I didn’t have a paper map on me.. so I just sort of made it up as I went. I knew the general direction of the route I had chosen, but once I got a few turns in I honestly had no idea where I was or where I was headed. #whoops.

This actually turned into the best thing that could have happened today. I stopped several times up in the mountains and just sat in silence by a body of water. I sat next to a field for a while and watched some cows meander their way across it. I spent time away from the hustle and bustle and stress of “I need to get to point A now because I have roughly 8 billion things to do when I get there.” I was lost, but I was not stressed. Quite the opposite, in fact. I knew I was headed in the *general* direction of where I needed to be, and I knew that I had plenty of time to get there. Why stress myself out over something I couldn’t change now if I wanted to? I’d made my decision, now I needed to let that decision play out.

This is the route I took, with the towns I remember passing through. Even once I got out of the mountains, I ignored all major highways. What is normally a roughly 3.5 hour drive straight down 75 took me just about 8 with the stops I made along the way:

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I was “lost” for a few hours, but what I learned along the way was that sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to be lost. Sometimes, the universe provides you with exactly what you need.

Til next time, friends.

Summertime, and the Living is Easy..

.. or is it?

Let me tell you something about being a preop trans man in the summer: It’s pretty terrible.

Binding is without a doubt the worst part of my everyday life in regard to my transition. I deal with the general weirdness of second puberty while working an adult job full time and also making sure my very real responsibilities are taken care of. I deal with acne, mood swings, lack of attention span, and manic excitement/irritation over the smallest things. All of this is perfectly fine, and I (sort of) knew what I was getting into. Binding is a process I love for its ability to give me a reprieve from dysphoria, but hate for the reasons I’m about to talk about.

For those who may not know: binding (or using a binder) is a process/garment for trans men to alleviate discomfort with their chests prior to top surgery. In short, my binder is a piece of clothing that will quite literally mash my body into submission so that I can walk out my door without dealing with the crippling dysphoria I’m plagued with.

Most days, the pros of binding far outweigh the cons; no matter how uncomfortable it is at times, it sure as hell beats the other option. I use option very loosely here, because the method I’m referring to would be to wear a bra or sports bra and I’m going to real here… that just can’t happen. Sorry, no, played that game for too many years.

It was 92 degrees outside today, and humid as hell. Most people don’t even want to wear a t-shirt that fits too tightly in weather like this, never mind one that clings to their body. Days like today, I have to take into careful consideration if I actually need to leave the house. That might seem extreme, but since these binders are pretty intentionally made not to have much give to them, staying home and not fighting to get it on can be very appealing.

Think of it like this: you have a tank top that is made of 70% nylon and 30% spandex, but it has been ordered roughly 2 sizes too small. Now put that tank top on and wear it for an entire 8 hour workday. Or go out on a weekend and spend upwards of 10-12 hours walking around a city in it. Add to that the need to layer clothing to help even out the lumps that a binder leaves behind under just a t-shirt. Doesn’t sound ideal, right? It’s not, nor is it overtly healthy. When I go outside on any given day, I am wearing at least two shirts (probably three) plus a binder. I am unable to take a true deep breath in because of the nature of the compression being applied to my torso. Physical activity isn’t only uncomfortable, it’s downright dangerous.

Unfortunately, the only way to alleviate the need to bind at this point is to have surgery, which just isn’t on the table right now. It’s not an inexpensive procedure, and I would need to take more time off of work than I ever have before. Eventually, I’ll get there. It will take some planning and a whole lot of saving, but I’ll get there. For this, I can be patient.

This is part of what I signed up for, but it’s also why I’m very cautious in accepting summer plans that involve being in the heat for too long. I love the heat and I love summer, but if I decline an invite somewhere, don’t hate me. I’m just trying not to put myself in a dangerous situation.

Stay cool, friends.

One Place to Rule Them All..

 

I talked in my last post about my depression and how that came a head in 2011. As I battled to keep myself alive, my anxiety slowly started to rise as well. In 2011, I didn’t realize that the constant state of fear I was living in was something not everyone goes through. I legitimately thought everyone else experienced the same debilitating panic that often presented itself to me at the most inocuous times.

In 2013, I was able to put together that the panic attacks and constant dread weren’t standard issue to everybody, so I went to see my doctor and was eventually diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. He prescribed me two different medications, and told me I would likely need them for the rest of my life in order to feel “normal.” I trusted his advice, and took them regularly for a couple of years. The problem was that I lost part of myself when I took those meds; when I was on them, I couldn’t show any emotion. Good, bad, or somewhere in between… I didn’t feel like I had the ability to express anything. I was in a perpetual fog. I didn’t panic, but that was because I couldn’t feel any emotion whatsoever.

In late 2015 I decided I didn’t want to take the meds anymore. I stopped taking them cold turkey, which is not something I recommend. My doctor told me not to do it that way, but what can I say? I’m not always great at following directions. I’d just had enough of feeling like a shell of myself and wasn’t patient enough to wean myself off of them like I should have. #whoops.

I’ve never looked back on that decision, though I should probably apologize to the people who were in my life at that point. I can’t imagine dealing with me as I detoxed from those meds was easy. I was an absolute mess for a long time. I’ve found other ways to deal since then: I write a lot, I found some breathing techniques to help bring my heart rate down when I start to panic, and fidget spinners and cubes are a godsend in my life when I can’t immediately escape a situation or release my nervous energy.

The funny thing about all of this is that only those who are closest to me seem to know just how anxious I am in my day to day life. I’ve been told more than once that I don’t -seem- anxious or like someone who panics at all, much less regularly. “You stay so calm under pressure! You can’t have anxiety!” Ha. If only they knew.

What they don’t see is the exhausting amount of work I put into being the confident, outgoing human they seem to think I am. I work every day to make people believe that I know what I’m doing, and that I’m not internally screaming (spoiler alert: I’m -always- internally screaming). I worry constantly. I fear everything. Worst case scenarios are all my brain can fathom.

As you can likely imagine, this takes its toll on me. When I start to break down and can’t keep myself together any longer, I always find myself at the beach. It’s my happy place. The ocean is big, and it’s scary, and it’s full of all sorts of unknowns. But it’s also full of hope and the promise of new beginnings. It makes my biggest problems seem a little bit smaller. It’s the place I go when I need to calm my overly stressed brain. The sound of the waves crashing on the sand quiets the ever-racing thoughts in my head.

I’m not going to lie and say that everything is all fine and dandy right now. I’ve made more “emergency” visits to the beach in the last several months than I did all of last year. I will likely visit frequently in the next little bit, as I try and sort out the absolute mess that is my brain right now. I battle every day to be okay enough to do the most basic of things: get up, get dressed, go to work, etc. Daily tasks have started to feel like impossible mountains to climb. I don’t truly know why I am so anxious all the time right now. The changes I am dealing with currently aren’t even remotely as scary as transitioning was.. but I also don’t feel like I can talk about those changes yet, so maybe the feeling of unease comes from not being able to speak about it openly. I’m working on identifying the cause and until then, I’ll just continue through.

Last night I went to the ocean. I stood and watched the waves for fifteen minutes with some of my best friends nearby, and then we went home. The smallest bit of time worked wonders; I don’t feel quite as overwhelmed by life as I did yesterday, and I like to think that I’m in a better spot mentally as I start my morning. The mountains of struggle today feel a little more managable. Not smaller, necessarily, but as if I now have the right gear to climb the mountain. Where yesterday I was climbing with flippers and an inner tube, today I am climbing with hiking boots and a backpack full of supplies.

My advice is that you find the place that brings you back down to earth. Whether it’s the ocean, or a quiet spot in the woods, or a park in the middle of your town. Anywhere. Find a spot that calms you like no other place can, and hold onto it. Never let that feeling go. And most importantly, don’t give up.

It’s worth it to find the other side.

 

It’s Time..

It’s time to talk.

This will likely be a little long, but I won’t apologize. #sorrynotsorry.

I’m fairly candid about my struggles with mental health overall, but I don’t know how many people realize just how dire the situation got a few years back.

I wasn’t just an angsty teenager (21 actually- but who’s counting?). I was depressed and closer to making a permanent decision than I’ve ever been.. I got in my car, not knowing what else to do or where to turn. I didn’t know how to ask for help because I didn’t know what was wrong. I had come out as gay, and thought that was it.. but I’d fallen to a place even darker than before I’d come out. I drove for a bit, eventually stopping at a bridge just on the outside of the town I lived in. As I sat with the door open and figured out how to write on a napkin what was going through my head, Demi’s ‘Skyscraper’ came on the radio. I’d never heard it, or if I had, I’d never given it much thought. For whatever reason, on that night in October of 2011, it made me pause. I turned the volume as loud as it would go and just listened. It made me think about what I was doing, and how desperately I wanted to feel better. I closed my door. I put the napkin and pen down. I sat on the side of the road and I sobbed. I cried for the desperation I felt; I cried at the thought of being a disappointment; I cried for all the things I wished I could be. The song that played was one of resilience, of not letting outside factors win, and of never giving up. I took that with me as I pulled myself together, turned my car on, and drove home. I crawled into bed as if nothing had happened. As if moments before I hadn’t been literally teetering on the edge of taking my own life.

I won’t say that Demi is magic and I was immediately better.. I still struggled deeply with my depression, and my anxiety started to present around that same time. It took me another 5 years to finally find my answer, and those 5 years were some of the hardest of my life. I fought every day just to stay afloat. Even now, my depression and anxiety still rear their ugly heads to remind me that they are never fully gone. It never gets quite as bad- my worst days now are better than my best days back then.

Many people think I’m just a random fanboy of Demi, but the truth is, I literally owe her my life. My sheer love for her comes out of gratitude, because if that song hadn’t come on that night, I can tell you with 100% certainty that I would not be around today. Every time she comes this way on tour, I go see her play. Until tonight, she always played that song, and I always cried. Tonight was the first time since 2011 she didn’t put Skyscraper on her set list. Tonight was also the first time that I have acknowledged that it’s okay to talk about my experience. I have told parts of this story to exactly 5 people in the almost 7 years since it took place. Only one of those people knew me in those days, and we weren’t nearly as close then as we are now. I was always fairly vague with the details; I didn’t talk about this before because I was ashamed. I didn’t want to admit that I had very nearly given in. I didn’t want my family to know, and to worry. **For my mom and dad, if you’re reading this: I’m sorry that you’re just finding this out. I am okay now. I promise you, I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not going anywhere.**

It’s taken me until now to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to struggle. It’s important to know in those times of desperation that things will get better. I’m living proof of that, thanks to Demi Lovato.

 

This is Me..

Another round of bullets hits my skin, well fire away ‘cause today I won’t let the shame sink in. 

It’s funny how shame doesn’t need to be brought on by another human in order to have a negative effect. Sometimes, it is brought on by situations out of our control.

In my time in the “out and proud” trans world, I haven’t seen very many people talk about what I’m about to talk about; I think it’s because just experiencing it brings on a certain amount of shame. It certainly brings on dysphoria, if nothing else. For any people reading this who may also be trans men, be warned: this may trigger dysphoria.

I spent most of my weekend this weekend curled up in the fetal position, experiencing what I’ve come to describe as “phantom shark week.” That is to say, I suffered from fairly extreme cramping that is remnicient of the days when I would bleed once a month.

This is not something I’ve experienced in almost a year, as shark week hasn’t occurred since my first month on testosterone. I thought I had escaped it for good.

I tried looking up some information on it, mostly to be sure I wasn’t dying (I am very dramatic and immediately assume the worst when something is off).. but I didn’t come up with much. There were a couple of posts in some forums that said they were experiencing the same thing I am. Each one said the same thing:

“I feel like dudes don’t talk about this because they’re ashamed of it.”

Or, “I debated on whether to post this; I feel like I’m the only one going through it.”

I’m only one trans man, so I can’t speak for the entire community here.. but shark week for me brings on the worst of my dysphoria. It’s one of the only things that will literally and figuratively bring me to my knees. I suffered through it for about 13 years, somehow surviving it but battling severe depression every time. At the time, of course, I thought everyone who had a period felt this way. I know now that feeling so disproportionately off is not a “normal” experience. So when I got rid of it, I was elated.

Why is it so taboo in the transmasculine community to discuss that we struggle with this? Why does everyone seem to want to keep quiet about a seemingly shared experience?

I know for me, experiencing this kind of pain makes me feel less like the man I am. I haven’t wanted to talk about it before right now because acknowledging the kind of pain it was would mean outwardly saying “I am experiencing something that ‘real’ men don’t have to go through.”

That’s bullshit, for lack of a better phrase. This doesn’t make me any less of a man. My path to manhood may be different, and it may come with struggles that cis men don’t have to face.. but that only gives me the opportunity to fight through it and come out on the other side knowing that I fought hard to be where I’m at.

We should be able to talk about the struggles we face, because 9.5/10 times I can guarantee we aren’t alike in what we’re feeling. The problem is building the strength and courage to be completely open about our experiences.

I will come out on the other side of this fine. Phantom shark week will disappear, and I will be back to my normal self. For today, though, I will allow myself to not feel 100%. It’s okay not to be on top of my game all the time. I’ll get to the other side of this hill, I just have to work at it.

I wont lie, most days I’m okay with the whole trans thing. I wasn’t given anything in my life that I can’t handle, and most days I’m okay with the battles I face. But it would be nice now and again to feel like I belong.

Until next time.

 

I’m Not a Joke…

I had the unfortunate experience today of being the punchline of someone’s joke.

There was more to this story than just the following statement, of course, but to give you a small taste (I changed the names he used to avoid any sort of issue): “It was funny because Bob was so confused when we told him, ‘well yeah, but you know that *Justin* used to be *Justine*’ and he was just so confused! We had him really going.”

The person telling this anecdote thought it was funny, and the people he was telling the story to certainly laughed. I immediately went silent as I pondered whether or not to say anything. In the end I kept my mouth firmly shut, swallowed all statements, and just went about my business. I’m not confident enough in my ability to remain calm in these situations yet, so it ended up being better that I refrained from comment.

I am not a joke. Being trans is not a joke. Making a joke out of anyone’s sexuality, gender, gender identity, race, religion, or whatever else it is that makes them different is not appropriate or entertaining in any way. If people laugh, it’s either because they’re as small-minded as you are or because they’re uncomfortable with what you’ve just said. Don’t mistake their laughter for entertainment, because it likely wasn’t.

I try to just let these things go. I try to just let it roll off my back and acknowledge that the person likely had no ill intent when a) joking with whoever he was joking with in the story and b) telling the story in the setting that he did. But this person is well aware of my situation, and where I come from. He is well aware (or should be) how seemingly insignificant comments like this can affect someone. This is not the first time I’ve had this conversation. Unfortunately, I also know that it will not be the last time I have a conversation such as this, or write a blog post about it. That is a sacrifice I make each and every day.

I have worked hard to build safe spaces for myself throughout my transition whether that be my home, my workplace, or the public spaces I frequent; each and every space I occupy regularly must be a place I feel safe and included. That was taken away from me today, at least in part. It wasn’t intentional and it wasn’t directed at me, but it happened nonetheless. Casual transphobia is real and it is hurtful. It doesn’t matter if he “meant” to be transphobic or not, the fact remains that it was.

I implore each of you to think very carefully about what you speak of and to whom you’re speaking. All it takes is one misplaced comment and you could truly tear someone’s world apart.

Until next time.

 

 

A Year In…

It’s now been going on a year since I transitioned socially, and has been just over a year since I finally came out to the final (and arguably most important) people in my life.

As it seems to happen with me, December tends to be a month filled with reflection. I take time throughout the month to think about where I was last year, and where my journey has brought me in the previous 365 days.

This year is no exception, although this year might make all previous years in my existence look trivial. I have come so far in the last 12 months. From new best friends, to physical changes, to the absolute and powerful shift in my mental health, I truly have come into myself.

“Of course you have, look at what you chose to do!” I had someone say to me a week or two ago. I think that’s a fairly common misconception in my world: people still tend to think that I chose to transition. That I woke up one day and decided to be a boy, and followed that path because I wanted to be different. What I don’t think people realize is that the only thing I chose to do was give myself the chance to live. I chose the option that saw me live past the age of 28. I didn’t do it for any sort of glory, or “to be different.” I did it because it was that or I died. It truly is as simple as that.

As depressing as my last statement may seem, I don’t want this to be a negative post. Quite the contrary, I want to celebrate. I want to celebrate my successes, and evaluate my failures. I want to celebrate starting T, changing my name legally, and navigating second puberty as gracefully as I could have hoped. I want to celebrate that I have made it through the first year without many instances of opposition. I want to celebrate that in spite of the overwhelming odds against me, I made it through.

It is a wonderful feeling, to look at 2018 with nothing but optimism. For the first time, I am not overwhelmingly terrified of what the next year will entail for me. Instead, I am thrilled because I am living Lucas, every single day.

This will likely be the last post here this year, so for that reason I am passing along my well wishes now. I hope that everyone reading this has a wonderful holiday season and end to 2017. May 2018 bring each of you happiness, tranquility, and success.

Until next time.