Is #StayAlive ‘Nuf Said? (a Caitlin on . . . post)

18 September, 2011

[Note: I do not often tag my blog entries as I typically keep to a more intimate audience, but I felt this one needed to be more public as it concerns a topic I have seen posted cross-forum throughout the web. Transitioning, divorcing, and regenerating has made this a priority topic for me and I hope my thoughts on how to #StayAlive will help someone else]


Twitter and Kate Bornstein were my introduction to this hashtag. Kate’s book, my gender workbook, was a life-vest during a time I suffered tsunami force upheaval and change. I had spent time in the hospital being weaned off doctor prescribed medication that had built up to toxic levels in my system. I spent a week on the ward and my then wife only visited me once and she brought her brother along that one time. Don’t get me wrong, the concern from him was genuine and appreciated, but with my wife only visiting once I was feeling rather abandoned and I wish she had come to see me on her own before I was released. I am still sad about this, but I have also come to terms with her reasoning. I am sure it was hard for her to see the man she married, the person who is supposed to be the strong, resilient one, brought so low by a medication that was supposed to help. I also believe that she needed the time alone to solidify what she felt she was missing or needed and to determine if it was something she could get from a married relationship. Deep rooted feelings of isolation and a fear of abandonment resurfaced and lead to a serious state of despair in which I considered the long-term effects to ending my life. With the medicinal fog clearing from my mind I began to feel again and the primary feeling was misery. I had moments of happiness but they were increasingly distant from one another and in decreasing duration.

There were still a great many moments where I was happy; the majority of these were with my wife, but they were all moments where I wasn’t at home. Part of this was when we vacationed or took a trip I was also on med-holiday, there was no point to taking the Adderall to focus if I was in a situation that did not require focus. The larger part, however, was we were out of the stress of working and living, we could relax and be ourselves again. The stress of the day-to-day and the expectations of work, friends, family, and marriage were too much for us. It smothered our relationship and, I realized, it was smothering something inside me. The chasm between being the expectation on a full-time basis and being myself when away from life pressures put my home life inside that canyon in perspective. I was miserable because I couldn’t be who I was. I was stealing moments when my wife was gone (which had become more often than not) where I could be me, but they were transitory and sporadic; they couldn’t sustain me. I needed to find away to


I was seeing an analyst and a marital therapist and began discussing the problem of identity with them. I knew I had to tell my wife that I had repressed my personality and selfhood for thirty years and they were helping me prepare to tell her, but a week before I was ready to bring her to my analyst and lay my life bare before her, she discovered things on her own. The result was a meltdown between us. She was firmly against being in a married relationship with some who deviated from social acceptability. I had always felt like I was an embarrassment to her and this revelation capped those feelings. She wondered: How could she go somewhere with me? How could she visit her family with me? How could she sit in the same room alone with me? It was wrong. It was deviant. It was unacceptable. And my thoughts through this: Why doesn’t she love me? Why can’t she support me? Why doesn’t she want me to be happy again? These attitudes were knee-jerk reactions and have slowly faded over time. She sees I have more moments of peace now and that the reduction in stress has dramatically improved my health, but at that time, when combined with everything else she was feeling, who I am was a reason to end things that could be claimed as no one’s fault. Irreconcilable differences. A way out.

I share this with you because I want to make a point. When we separated we freed each other to pursue who we are and what we want. With this came a sense of selfhood, and a renewed interest in being alive. Searching for your desires and being yourself is a way to #StayAlive. But the story does not end there. This is life and happily ever after cannot be sustained for more than three hours before something creeps in and makes you question your commitment to


Released from a repressive situation I could search out my true self. This is a reason to #StayAlive, but it better not be the only reason because this is not a road paved with caviar and champagne; this journey follows an overgrown deer trail through a dark and deadly wood. It is as much an end to all things as it is a beginning and, sweetie, let me be honest with you, the endings are more intense in their low, persistent aches then the beginnings are in their euphoria. Reality, the ever-present bitch, is right there waiting to sucker punch you and now that you have reclaimed some of that lost joy the blow is going to hurt that much more.

When you first make a change it is a novelty for you and those around you. But as that novelty wears off and routine sets in, you will find the overwhelming support, the sudden new-found friendships, will slowly fade back into obscurity, and formerly close friends will see you as a stranger. Life, love, and your happiness require work to keep them buoyant. There is a reason folks call it the deadman’s float. If you are not actively treading water you are not going to


In my search for self I have confronted the realities of life: friends who have lives and personal quests of their own that keep them busy, discrimination and prejudice that make it difficult to carry out normal daily tasks like getting gas or going to the post office, active hate-fueled attacks and vandalism, the grind of carving out my new nook personally, professionally, economically, and legally, and my penchant for depression as I realize in spite of my drastic changes the world is still the same. Bills need to be paid, friends and family can still irritate, and the jerk behind the checkout counter is still a jerk. Only now, I have to deal with these things while coming to terms with what I have sacrificed in search of my reason to #StayAlive and the relationships and activities that used to sustain me through these blue periods are not always there any more or have changed too dramatically to ease the loneliness. There are times when I question why I chose to keep going and in those darker moments I need to call on new reasons to


My friendships took the hardest hit. I lost a number of friends when I transitioned and the majority of the ones who stayed have faded into the background. There is a new sense of awkwardness around who I am. Not that the transition is a problem for them, but it is coming to terms with this new person who has appeared, a person who simultaneously is and is not who they have always known. I have found that people who I hung out with are now awkward around me and constantly monitoring themselves and me for new or unusual reactions. We are getting to know each other all over again and most of them do not like the feeling. It is a lot like shoes. The ratty, well-worn, comfort of broken in sneakers has been replaced by the pinch, squeak, and discomfort of a new pair of heels. Most people do not have the time or energy to surmount this, so they gradually fall away. They call and write less and begin rescheduling and postponing engagements. Soon several months have gone by and we have not exchanged two words despite once seeing each other on a regular basis. This is where #StayAlive becomes difficult. I feel alone, I feel down, and the people who once were close are asking: I thought this was supposed to make you happy, how can you change and feel bad? Why don’t you give up and go back to how things were, when we were all more comfortable?

To #StayAlive we need to work at maintaining old friendships or put effort into developing to new ones. If we do not, we will not make it. I have been fortunate in this regard. I have several friends that I had not seen much of due to time issues, marriage, or distance. I have been able to build these relationships into something stronger primarily because there is less history between us, so the old comfortable sneakers feeling does not become an issue. I have also been blessed with a supportive family willing to work through the discomfort of new heels in order to break our new relationship in. They are reasons to


I still experience plenty of down days and mourn for what I lost, troubled by insecurities and the fears of being unloved and unloveable. This is normal human existence. You cannot be a thinking person without the requisite number if neuroses. The situation’s reality is this: the choice to #StayAlive is not a once-off decision, it is something you need to recommit to on a daily, or even an hourly, basis. It does not guarantee you happy days. It cannot mystically cure your life or your heartaches. When you are doing it right, it hurts more than the alternative, but if it did not it would not have to be something you choose. The decision is a commitment to actively maintaining the journey, it is a vow you make with yourself that you will continue in spite of the hardships you know are coming. In the face of this challenge we must remember what Joker said in Full Metal Jacket: The dead know only one thing, it is better to be alive.



One comment

  1. Hello, Sweetie. This is a terrific piece of writing—you brilliantly capture in just a few words the ongoing nature of transition (regeneration?). Now I want to read your book. Please do #stayalive and write it. Big love & respect, Kate

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