Notes from the Crucible #2

Notes from the Crucible is a video diary from a particularly difficult part of my life in the latter half of 2016. These videos are un-rehearsed and un-edited. They are neither entertaining nor uplifting.

I am publishing them here in case someone out there finds them encouraging, or at least feels a little less alone after watching.

These videos are among the most personal material I've published, and as such I won't be opening public comments. If this video has helped you in some way, or if you just want to talk, I'd be happy to hear from you privately.

Clinging to the edge of the abyss

(Trigger warning: depression and suicide.)

People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

These are the words of  Leelah Alcorn, who killed herself a few days ago.

I remember feeling this way, and I didn’t have a tenth of the cause that Leelah did. I don’t think it ever even occurred to me at 16 to wonder what it would be like to also feel alien in my own skin on top of all the other trials of adolescence.

Could it have gotten better for her? Sure. I know enough successful transgender programmers to know that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel. Although it’s a hell of a long, steep, uphill tunnel.

We are failing transgender kids. We are failing gay kids. But I feel like in a larger sense we’re just failing kids, period.

If you’re on the fringes of society for any reason, the years between 13 and 21 are the worst, as Liz Lemon would say. You’re coming to terms with who you are and how you are different, and you feel everything 10x as keenly as you ever will again. And you have zero personal power to change anything about your life. And even if you do have a modicum of power, you don’t yet have the emotional tools to exert it in any kind of directed, constructive way.

Also, people are probably more horrible to you than they ever will be again.

In my mind I see adolescence as rope bridge over a deep chasm. For every generation that crosses it, a fraction of them step on a broken slat and find themselves clinging for their lives to a few strands of fraying rope. It can happen for any number of reasons. They watch, helpless, as the rest of their cohort walk on and disappear over the horizon.

If you’re one of those kids, you might know that “it gets better”. You might have heard that help is on the way… eventually. One of these minutes, one of these hours, people in orange jackets are going to appear and extend a lifeline to you, and you’ll be saved. Carried away, finally, to the land of relative stability and empowerment that is adulthood.

But it’s not enough to know that “it gets better”. Because the question is, will it get better soon enough? Your hands are numb; muscles are in agony, and your grip is slipping. What does it matter that it gets better, if you can’t hang on that long?

It felt endless and excruciating to me, and relatively speaking my emotional wounds were shallow. My legs were dangling through the rungs of the bridge. I wasn’t hanging on by a thread.

I made it; and it got better. And for a lot of other kids it got better. But my one of my best friends didn’t make it; he plummeted into the abyss before help could arrive.

It gets better. But they shouldn’t have to hang on so long.

It needs to get better faster.

 

Please be awesome

Today is starting out disappointing on several fronts, and I’m feeling beaten down. This seems like a good opportunity to talk about encouragement: what works for me, and what doesn’t. Obviously this is just about my peculiar psychology; your mileage will probably vary considerably. Here are some things that don’t really help me:

  • Generic internet hugs and words of comfort. I appreciate the sentiment, I really do. But they don’t tend to lift my mood.
  • Compliments. For whatever reason, when someone says “you’re amazing”, what I usually hear is: “you need to do even better in order to live up to what people think of you. Nothing is ever good enough.” Crazy, I know, but there it is. This kind of thing often leaves me feeling worse than before.
  • Distractions. Most of my anxiety and unhappiness usually stems from life situations that can only be address through hard, persistent work. Unless they come at the end of a long productive day, distractions are guilty pleasures at best, that then leave me feeling worse than before.
  • EDIT: Commiseration. Look, I’m not going to be a jerk and say “don’t tell me about your own troubles”. Because I do care. If you need to get something off your chest, do it. But please don’t feel compelled to share your own bad news just to make me feel like I’m not alone. I know I’m not alone, and it doesn’t help.

If I’m down, there’s one thing you can do for me: be awesome in your own life.

Comfort and compliments put the focus on the bad stuff going on in my head. I don’t need to spend more time and energy on that shit. What I need is to be inspired.

So go kick ass. And if you want to help me feel better, tell me how you’re kicking ass. Tell me about your new project. Tell me about your latest triumph. Tell me the thing you learned, and the thing you taught. Show me what you built. Show me the smiling faces of the people you helped. Tell me about the accomplishment that people said you’d never achieve, and you achieved it anyway.

So if I’m feeling bad, don’t feel bad for me. Be awesome for me. Or be awesome for you. Just be awesome.

Socialization

I have a complex relationship with socialization. I’m not the kind of introvert for whom socialization is like sunlight to a vampire. The best way I can think to describe it is like a kid from an uptight, conservative family going to college and trying alcohol for the first time. Only with less puking.

I don’t shy away from socializing. I like it. Heck, I love it. It gets me all giddy and keyed up. People are paying attention to me! Laughing at my jokes even! Look at me ma, I’m acting like a normal human! YOU ARE ALL MY NEW FRIENDS! OMG THIS IS THE BEST!

But just like a drug, while it might get my heart racing in the short term, socialization isn’t filling my tanks. It’s emptying them.

I know this. I can see the come-down on the horizon. And I don’t want it. So I start to crave more, to keep the buzz going. Sometimes I come home from conferences and want to go right back out, meet up with friends, go out on the town, go to a users group, do SOMETHING to stave off the inevitable.

But eventually I have to face the music, and usually that means a period of depression. I curl up in a ball and nurse my social withdrawal while also dealing with the emotional exhaustion brought on by all that interaction.

And then I’m back to my usual largely self-sufficient self, and I forget all about why I thought hanging out with other humans was so important.

Until the next conference.

Treading Water

I guess when you write publicly about being in a bad state there is a certain duty to post the occasional update.  I’m doing OK.  Not great.  I was better Tuesday.  I took the day off and my mom came back up to help out; she’s been an enourmous help throughout this process.  Sleeping well and eating well also did their part to perk me back up.

Now some personal stuff has sent me reeling again.  I feel like it’s just rapid-fire changes and stresses these past few weeks, and I can’t keep up.  I’m back to fighting through the listlessless and lethargy by sheer force of will.

All in all I guess I’m hanging in there, barely.  I don’t know if I still want help… I’ve never been great at asking for help, and right now I’m not even sure what kind of help I need.  With Stacey feeling much better, at least physically, I’m not quite as overloaded with wife-and-baby care.  There are things I probably need to talk out with a sympathetic listener; but right now I feel a lot more comfortable just withdrawing inward.
 

Sinking

I’m pretty sure I’m depressed. Not as in “sad” or “angsty”, but what headshrinks mean when they say “depressed”. I feel listless and deflated. I’m taking care of Stacey and the baby but I’m doing it like an automaton. it takes too much energy to smile. all I really want to do is sit and stare… or sleep. it’s not just a matter of fatigue; I’m getting sufficient rest. I can’t even be cheered by looking at Kashti, asleep in his sling.

I wonder, is there such a thing as male post-partum depression?