It’s been a while since I posted a more “old school” blog post about how things are going! My life has changed so drastically in the last month that it finally feels necessary to share.
So let’s chat!
The photo on the left is a photo of me, one year and three months on testosterone. I was on such a low dose in the beginning that I haven’t made as much progress as I’d like. But so far, I’ve really enjoyed the changes – minus the ridiculous acne and hair loss, which are a little annoying to say the least.
Once upon a time, I wrote about being denied top surgery due to my mental health status. I finally feel safe enough to announce that I’m breezing through the clinical interviews and don’t anticipate being denied again. It’s hard to say when the actual surgery would happen, but I feel hopeful that it’s going to be sooner rather than later.
Speaking of mental health status, things could not be more different than they were before. If my last blog was any indication, you can probably guess that I’m doing really well. But I want to flesh out exactly what’s changed – and what this means for my writing moving forward.
Two months ago, I was hospitalized again.
I was struggling with a depressive episode that I genuinely believed I wouldn’t recover from. I can’t tell you how despondent I was, especially since my previous hospitalization was under a year ago. It was difficult to accept that after everything I went through the first time, I still had not recovered.
This hospitalization was a wakeup call – what I was doing wasn’t working. I had to step away from my editorial role at Everyday Feminism, which was a painful decision for me (and still is). I put my writing on hold, cancelled my speaking gigs, passed up a book deal, and made the decision to commit to my recovery full-time, even if it meant sacrificing my dream job and a lot of the opportunities I worked so hard for.
After the hospitalization, I entered an intensive recovery program, and am now in the process of transitioning into a DBT program. I built a clinical team of therapists and a totally bomb psychiatrist that helped me reassess my diagnoses and treatments.
All of my original diagnoses – bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and OCPD – were completely scrapped and replaced with new labels and new treatments.
I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (which explains the misdiagnosis of bipolar, and it’s something I hope to write about soon), a mood disorder of some sort (I’m going to hazard a guess and say it’s just depression), ADHD (which, when finally treated, completely changed my life), and obsessive traits of some kind (potentially OCD, the jury is still out on that one).
We’re also exploring C-PTSD and my therapy has shifted to become more trauma-informed – a trauma history I’ve actually written very little about, because it’s been hard for me to come to terms with it. Incorporating a trauma lens has helped to create a clearer picture of what I’m up against.
It’s a lot, I know. But it also feels a lot more true than what I started with.
I’ve tried to distance myself from being overly-invested in these labels, and refer to the ones that are most useful when I need them. As is often the case with psychiatry, the labels we acquire at the beginning of our journey are not always the ones that stick around – and clinicians can disagree amongst themselves, which has happened to me quite a bit.
But the language actually matters very much from a treatment perspective – the medications I’m being prescribed are radically different from the ones I used to be on for bipolar disorder.
When they stopped treating me for what I don’t have, and started treating me for what I do have, the transformation was like night and day.
We’re no longer sedating the hell out of me. For the first time, I’m being given meds that are also activating – which means my issues with things like depression and ADHD are finally being addressed with amazing results.
For the first time in my life, being cheerful and calm is my default. I’m relentlessly optimistic. I can focus on my work and get things done without the constant hyperactivity and distraction. Obsessions don’t consume 95% of my thoughts.
Agoraphobia no longer confines me to my apartment (I leave every day, sometimes multiple times a day – whereas before I might leave once every two weeks if I was lucky). I’m not suicidal or despairing. I bounce back from stressful situations with ease.
People in my life have remarked on how I seem exactly like myself, and yet totally different in every way.
I even keep a gratitude journal now and I meditate every day – it feels a little gross, to be honest.
I don’t think I realized, when mental illness had a complete hold over my life, how hard I was working to just survive. I didn’t realize how low my quality of life really was. I wasn’t fully conscious of how weighed down I was.
The biggest shock to my system came when we added Wellbutrin to my medication regimen. Suddenly, I could get out of bed. I could go outside. I could get my work done. And I could actually feel excitement, joy, and enthusiasm.
Wellbutrin made me feel fully and totally alive for the first time. I didn’t move through the world with a death wish, passively hoping some freak accident would end it all. I now carried with me a boundless hope and a deep appreciation for myself and my life.
Death used to cross my mind every day. Now, if it ever appears, it’s always an oddity and a visitor, not a permanent fixture.
Before the new diagnoses and medications, I considered myself a shadowy figure trying to nurture a tiny flame. I felt that the gloom and doom was who I was, and that little light within me was my survival instinct, always on the brink of being extinguished.
And then suddenly, I woke up and my world was inverted, flipped inside-out. I was a bright and impossible light. And carefully nestled within me, I was protecting what little darkness was left – holding it carefully, like a small keepsake, to remind me that the darkness will always be a part of me.
Never in my entire life have I felt this way before. I didn’t even know it was possible.
And knowing now that it is, I’m more determined than ever to do this work. I’m committed to mental health advocacy and writing, sharing my story with more urgency than ever, with the hope that my light might make the path a little clearer and the possibilities a little brighter.
And maybe together, we can build a world for mentally ill people that is so bright, we can always find our way back from the darkness.
So now, I rebuild my life into something better, something more sustainable. Hopefully a new job will present itself, the timing being right this time (need to hire a writer or editor? I know a kid, wink wink).
In the meantime, I’ve been writing some of my best work and publishing in new places (I’ll post on Facebook and Twitter as these articles go live!).
I’m making new connections, taking risks, going on adventures, writing my heart out, and most importantly, holding myself in compassion as I discover what it means to be truly living.
I don’t know what’s next. But for the first time, I’m so excited to find out – and whatever it is, good or bad, I know I can handle it. I always knew that I was strong, but this time around, I can actually feel it.