An Anniversary12 March, 2012
Trigger Warning: Coming Out, Psych Facilities
One year ago today my life took a dramatic detour. The road I was on lead to the patriarchy’s promise of a wife, a career, financial security, oh and also a degenerative disease and an ever-increasing pressure to play the role of man and husband as defined by everyone else. The detour was marked by a tremendous, looming road sign that read: Psych Ward.
This side trip started out as a medication balancing one or two-day visit. Just long enough to change the medication I was on (Adderall) for something less “intense” (Strattera). It became a one week stay, where I was forced to confront my gender issues. This was hard to do in a facility that had no traditional group therapy sessions, you only saw your psychiatrist once or twice a week, and the staff stayed locked inside a sound proof office, monitoring us through the large window running the office’s circumference. They gave me a packet with some forms to fill out. One for drug abuse/addiction, which I didn’t need because that wasn’t why I was there, and another for gender identification. The second one seemed quite advanced to me at the time, but since I have researched things in greater earnest this past year, it is amazing how simplistic and binary reinforcing the packet was.
Without visitors and without any real staff guidance, the only people left to talk to about my issues were the patients. I was lucky enough to share group time with a woman who is the mother of a trans man. In conversation I learned that the feelings I had were similar to the ones he had and that there was no running from them. Well, there was, but it was leading me down a self-destructive path. I had developed the symptoms of early onset Parkinson’s—symptoms that went into remission after transitioning; stress?—and an increasingly crippling hatred of myself that I now recognise as dysphoria. I began identifying as female when we talked, and soon I was identifying as female full-time, while in the ward.
Now, don’t misunderstand, this was not some Hollywood picture full of self-discovery and wise mental patients. The ward was intended for those with chemical addictions. Some of these people were good people who had hit a few rough bumps, others were mentally fried from the drugs they had been numbing themselves with. My roommate—always a male—changed every night. There were nights where I was afraid to go to sleep for fear of being attacked or molested by the man sharing my living space—identifying as trans in a psych ward is not the safest way to start the journey—but the meds they were giving me made it impossible to stay awake. It was at once a frightening place and place of self-discovery. Perhaps the best of places are both. Forcing you to deal with the world even as you hide from it.
The thing that got me through those days was writing. The first day there I got some blank sheets and a pen that I kept tucked inside an old calendar I used as a folder. They were a bit reluctant about giving me the pen and paper. Afraid of what I might write, I guess. A suicide note or an exposé? I am tempted to write an exposé on the place. There was a lot of not good that should be exposed, though there were a few staff members who were very good people doing the best they could with limited resources and help. I worked a lot of what I was feeling out in my writing. I had written a lot before that stay, but it was always about other people or fictional characters, never about myself. I realize now I could not write about myself because I was denying who I was. That was the best and scariest part of my stay; I had to face myself.
Part of me would like to go back to that ward. To see some of the women I befriended while I was in there, though I hope they are no longer there. The bonds you forge when staying at a ward are not like bonds forged in the real world. They are strange friendships born of like-brokenness that fade away after leaving the facility, but they never fully fade out. They leave traces behind. Those traces get in your blood and impact your actions every time they come circulating through your brain. Sometimes they are positive and bolstering; other times, a lot of times, they leave you feeling inadequate to the tasks still ahead of you. That’s the danger of being on a psych ward. You are tainted afterward and there is always the temptation to go back. To go back to a place where the problems were smaller and there was someone to wipe away the mess if your royally fucked things up.