When self-love fails

CW: Discussion around depression, severe dysphoria and negative body image, self-harm and suicidality.

 

I’ve spoken before about how body positivity is not a simple thing for trans people. And there’s a lot of pressure on us from all sides to feel good about ourselves – body positivity, sex positivity, self-care. These are buzzwords in this day and age – the Holy Grail to solving life’s problems. And the theory is kind of sound, if you break it down, I suppose – don’t let other people’s (mis)perceptions bring you down, don’t subject yourself to judgments, and take care of yourself when no-one else will.

sethink / Pixabay

But it’s easier said than done. And it’s a one-size-fits-all, formulaic approach. I have a friend who speaks a lot about the concept of “Pinterest self-care” – and it’s a real thing. It’s that mass-market, pseudo-philosophical, superficial feel-good stuff that we’re supposed to find fulfilment in. And like I’ve suggested, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad – in fact, I think sometimes those reminders and flowcharts and diagrams can do a lot of good.

And certainly, I believe in self-care.

But what happens when you just can’t do it?

So here’s the bit where I come out. Because coming out is something that I’ll never be done with in life. There’s always more of it to do. And there’s always that tinge of anxiety; even if it lessens over time, it never goes away.

I’m a bad role model.

I’m no superheroine.

I’m not brave, or courageous, or strong.

And I’m not a good inspiration.

Instead, I’m flawed. I’m weak. I’m afraid. I’m insecure. I’m unsure.

And I have failed, utterly, at self-care and body positivity and managing depression and anxiety and dysphoria and all of those things.

I feel a lot of pressure sometimes to be those things. Because I’m visible, because I’m vocal, because I’m an activist. Because some people do see me as a role model, of sorts. But I also have to be honest. I also have to give fair representation to the parts that aren’t good. I also have to remind everyone – and especially myself – that I am human.

I’ve been through dark times in my life, but this has been one of the darkest. Because even though I’m better for having transitioned, and I’ve learned, and I’ve grown, and my coping mechanisms have become stronger and healthier, the challenges that I’m facing have grown too. And it’s been an assault on every front. The specifics are not really germane, except insofar as to say that a lot of the adversity, and a lot of the rejection, and a lot of the loss has been directly attributable to being trans.

Let me be clear about something though. If I weren’t trans, I wouldn’t have these particular problems. But I am trans. And I am never going to not be trans, because life doesn’t work that way. I couldn’t have avoided any of this by not transitioning – because that road was not compatible with survival. I couldn’t have delayed it, or set myself up better, because transitioning was the only chance I had to carry on.

We always have a choice, but sometimes it’s not much of a choice at all. That’s what transition was for me.

So, I am faced with a reality where I have missed out on opportunities, and suffered great losses, and endured a bucket-load of pain. And there’s no end in sight. And it affects multiple facets of my life. And it feels like there’s no escape, and no way out. And so much of it is beyond my control.

And it’s all because I’m trans.

Devanath / Pixabay

It’s all because of this body. This body that is a battleground. This body that I have struggled so hard to love. This body that, even when coaxed into cooperation, still continues to betray me. Any sense of peace or comfort is a knife’s edge – a balance that can give way at any moment. And I’ve been lulled into false security before, thinking that we had some understanding or some truce, this body and I. And I’ve felt the anguish that accompanies dysphoria’s unexpected return, shattering that peace and sending me into turmoil.

Where, in all that, is the room for body positivity? In amongst the betrayal and the pain and the ever-raw wounds?

I still shave in the mornings. The hair isn’t visible any more, but I can feel it, and that’s unbearable to me. So I continue to shave, and will do so until the last trace of it has been removed by laser or electrolysis or whatever other means necessary. And I shave with an old-fashioned safety razor, the kind that takes a naked double-edged blade.

Every morning, I hold that blade against my throat, not even an inch away from the rhythmic pulsation visible under the skin, beneath the angle of my jaw.

I’m a liar if I say that there are not mornings when I wonder what would happen if I let the blade “slip”. Of course, it takes more than a slip. It takes will and determination, sufficient to overcome that most powerful of human instincts – self preservation. But the thought is there – it would all be so easy.

Many trans siblings of mine have, and many still will, in this hostile world. And even those I didn’t know personally, I still mourn. Because many of us are young, and smart, and generous, and wonderful. There is so much for us in this world. Or, there could be. I don’t blame them, not one of them, not for a moment. To want release from the suffering is not shameful, even at such a cost.

Of course, if I did, that would make me a bad role model. And a bad friend. And a bad daughter and a bad sister. What would it do to those I left behind? I already feel like I’m responsible for enough suffering of those around me; I don’t want to exacerbate that.

I also worry, that if that blade did slip, that the identity I’ve fought so hard to claim would be disrespected. That without my papers formalised and signed and sealed, I’d be deadnamed and misgendered. It’s ironic that the same bureaucratic delays that have made the past 11+ months so unbearable are, in themselves, a twisted incentive to carry on.

And I worry, of course, that my story might be used as a weapon against my trans siblings. As proof that transition does more damage than it fixes. When the wrongs are not because of transition, but rather because of how we treat those who have transitioned. Or just those who are trans.

And of course, I’m tempted to think, “well it could be worse”. And, of course, it could. But that’s utterly irrelevant. Because these are the challenges that I am facing now, these are the adversities in front of me. And what matters is whether they exhaust my ability to cope and to compensate and to survive; whether they could be worse yet makes no difference.

And then, I think that there is so much for which I should be thankful. But again – this is besides the point. Because make no mistake, I am thankful. I am so appreciative for all the good things, for all the inner strength I’ve found, for all the mountains I’ve climbed, and for all the opportunities. But none of that cancels out the hardship. It’s possible to be grateful and, at the same time, to be angry or bitter or sad or resentful.

It wasn’t my throat, and it wasn’t a suicide attempt. Thankfully.

I have failed at self-care and body-positivity. Right now, this body revolts me. It has been a week since I have been able to eat. Because even the thought of putting food in my mouth, of feeding this traitorous body disgusts me. I don’t want to care for it. I don’t want to look after it. For all the suffering that it’s caused me, I want to punish it. I want it to hurt and to starve and to bleed before my eyes.

Because that is within my control. The testosterone that it used to produce, and the terrors that dreadful molecule wrought on me – those are beyond my control. The hatred that other people feel for me – that is beyond my control. The rejection that I face, because despite all my virtues, I am still trans – that is beyond my control. All of the loss is beyond my control.

And yes, I can acknowledge that these ills are others’, and not mine. Their internalised prejudice. Their misconceptions. Their judgments. Theirs. Theirs. Theirs.

But it’s me who suffers for that. I bear the brunt. I face the consequences.

And if it weren’t for this body, then I wouldn’t.

The internalised transphobia doesn’t help. Because although I see it in myself, and  I fight against it, I am still subject to that conditioning. Sometimes I do wonder if I’ll ever be anything but a freak, or an imitation, some poor facsimile of what I am meant to be. Even though I know it to be untrue, I know it to be a demon – it’s still lying there, under the surface. Because I was taught to think that trans is wrong or that trans is lesser – and that was beyond my control.

But a blade in my hand – that belongs to me. What I do or don’t eat – that belongs to me.

And sometimes tangible, practical, localised pain is preferable to ethereal, inescapable, ubiquitous pain.

I’m not acting out. I’m not seeking attention. I’m not being resistant or infantile or uncooperative, or any of the other accusations that are often levelled at those who face depression or severe dysphoria. My relationship with my body is complex. I long to be able to love it unconditionally – but sometimes, I cannot help but hate and resent it. I have insight – I know that, as far as coping strategies go, these are unhealthy. But they are the healthiest that I can muster right now. And besides, the term is relative. If it lets me see another sunrise, is it really that unhealthy?

And you know what? I’m so fucking good. I know it. Intellectually, I know it all. I’m pretty, and I’m smart as a whip, and I’ve got the biggest damn heart on the planet, and I’m funny, and I’m generous, and I care, and I have so much compassion and consideration. I know all these things. But in spite of that, somehow, I still feel not-good-enough. I feel never-good-enough. I want to love myself again. I want it desperately. But it’s just so damned hard right now.

Reaching out for help is difficult. For all of us. But often, even more so if you’re trans. Because the stakes are higher, and because the people from whom we seek help often don’t understand. Because this is not about my gender; this is about what the world has been conditioned to think about people like me. Seeking help requires vulnerability, and with vulnerability there is inherent risk. And when someone is in crisis, sometimes that risk is just untenable. When you’re already balanced on a knife’s edge, one bad experience can be all that it takes to spawn catastrophe.

Our lives are not easy. Transition is not easy. Living in this unfriendly world is not easy. Self-care and self-love are not easy. Not when you’re trans. Not when you’re me, or someone like me.

To those friends, family, allies and others who are reading: if someone you know is going through this, I understand that it can be frustrating for you to watch. You might not know what to do. You might become impatient or frustrated. What I will tell you is that blaming them, or becoming angry, or lashing out at that person is not going to help. All you’re doing is reaffirming those insecurities and feeding those demons. I know it’s hard for you to understand what we face, but try find enough compassion to not think the worst of us. We’re not spiteful or malicious. We’re doing the best we can. And I promise you, it hurts us more than it hurts you. And we don’t want to hurt. No one does. But it’s so much more complicated than just “getting help”. If you can’t understand or at least accept that, then you’re harming more than you are helping.

This is not a cry for help, or a plea for sympathy – please understand that. I’m not seeking recommendations, and I don’t want to hear about how brave I am, for enduring or for sharing or for anything. These posts are written in advance, even – so by the time you read this, know that the events I’m talking about are already well in the past.

The reason for this post is this: it’s difficult. Even for me. Even Anastacia-fucking-Tomson (#AFT, right?) has her bad days, and even she struggles with self-love and self-care and healthy coping strategies. Even she has those moments, more than she’d like to admit, where she doesn’t want to carry on.

And also, because I am not unaffected by stigma or prejudice. I’ve never judged anyone for coping in objectively unhealthy ways, and I’ve always had sympathy. But I didn’t think I was one of those people. And that’s a sign of stigma. So it was a shock, when I realised the extent to which I’d decompensated. And to try not to perceive it as weakness or a failing – which is difficult, because on some level, I’m conditioned to think that it is.

I have double standards, of course. Because I ask myself, “How would I react if it were my best friend going through this, instead of me?” And, of course, I’d react with much more compassion and understanding than I have been showing myself. And that’s part of the problem. Judgment, be it others’ or our own. It doesn’t make anything better. It doesn’t help with recovery. If anything, it just compounds the self-loathing.

I’ve been through dark times – but yes, these now have been darker than anything that has come before. And I’m working on being okay with where I am, and how I’ve coped (or not coped). And I’m working on not blaming myself.

So if you’re feeling like you’ve failed at self-care, and self-love, and body-positivity, if you’re stuck in a cycle of resentment and loathing and bitterness, if you feel like you’re a disappointment and a failure… then this post is to tell you that you’re not alone.

This post is to tell you that you shouldn’t feel ashamed. That sometimes you will blame yourself, and sometimes you will feel guilty, and sometimes you will hate who you are.

And that can be okay.

This post is to tell you that survival is unparalleled in its importance. That one more sunrise is worth just about anything else we can conceive of.

That whatever it takes to get you there, do it.

I hope you will find the capacity to look after yourself. I hope you will find the support when you need it, and that you will feel safe in asking. I hope that you will be able to thrive, instead of just survive.

But this post is to tell you that it’s okay. And, while I’m at it, a reminder – that I still love you, even if you don’t.

3 thoughts on “When self-love fails

  • *big hugs*
    I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know what you’re going through. It too came a shock to me when, a few days ago, I realized that the thoughts I’d been having of just wanting to disappear from existence were really not very far from those of ending my life, and it scared me, and it still scares me. I’m doing better now, thankfully, but just knowing that those dark times can come again is a big burden to carry.
    And yet, we do it, because we have to, and because we know deep down there are better days coming.
    Thank you for writing this. I too have forgotten how to love myself, and I hope, someday, both of us can find it in ourselves once again.

    Lots of love Staci!

  • This great piece was brought to our attention at Chayn (http://chayn.co/) by one of our volunteers – thank you so much for writing it! We’re working on a new LGBTQ initiative called Queer Chayn and knowledge like this is seriously helpful.

    Much love!

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