Big Day Tomorrow

Well, hello there, friends.  It’s been longer than planned, as it always seems to be.  But no matter, I’m still here, still typing, which is better than nothing, right?  Or maybe not.  Oh well.

So.  Best news first.  I’m having top surgery tomorrow.  I’ve been meaning to update here earlier, but I had my pre-op assessment on Thursday last week, and I’m due for admission for bilateral mastectomy tomorrow at 11am.  Cue dramatic music.

I’m less nervous than I thought I’d be.  Even in the pre-op assessment, when they had to do all kinds of tests and swabs and things, and I had to see several different people for several different things, but I panicked no more than any other time I’m outside.  And the parts about tomorrow that worry me most are the interactive bits.  I’ve been told that there will be people galore coming and going and lots of chaos, albeit in an organised way, and the fact that people will have to be trusted completely, when I’m unconscious, to Do Their Thing despite my existence as a strange little lump of confused humanity (and thus, of course, worthy of nothing other than ridicule and pain, according to the angry little bastard inside my phobic brain cells).

The procedure itself worries me far less, amusingly, even though it turned out that I need the double incision despite my initial sort-of-flat-chestedness (Mr Yelland, my surgeon, took his first look and said “too much skin”).  Ditto for the recovery.  Uni starts up again on Monday, and I have computer lab sessions that day which I don’t intend to miss.  I guess that makes a point about how easily my phobey brain can take over most things with its own selfish agenda: panic, and lots of it.  Just not about the logical things.  Anyway.

I’ve got some packing to do (these people will be seeing me sans clothes, which is terrifying, but I will fill my bags with everything soft for post-operative comfort purposes, the thought of which makes up for it somewhat), so I’ll stop typing there.

Updates to come when I’m back.  Hopefully.

Posted in Gender, Updates | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Sanity: Sapped

This little interlude of a post is yet another hi-I’m-still-here-don’t-forget-meeee one, I’m afraid.  I’m still reading, and my thoughts are with you all, even if my comments aren’t (yet).

My mind’s playing games, and I’m losing.  Whatever that means.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

In Which He Loses His Mind

And now for the mental health update.  This might be even more fun than the last update, if that’s even possible.  This one’s been a long time in the making, due in part to laziness and also the fact that it’s sodding hard to spend too long on this topic without overthinking in a less-than-positive way, so I’ve been trying to do it in bursts.

Before I start, I’m putting out a general trigger warning for mental health problems, food issues, self harm and suicide.

So, uni forced me to acknowledge that I’m struggling more than others seem to, partly because of the Asperger’s, and partly because my mental health made it damn hard, if not impossible, to do important parts of the course, and so I was having to work harder to keep up.

After a particularly frustrating conversation, the details of which I don’t have the energy to type out – and I’m sure you don’t have interest in reading anyway – I had one of my most productive slumps to date, and typed out almost 2000 words in an application form to Student Psychological Services, the university counselling people.  I’m far better in print than in speech – which says painful amounts about my verbal communication skills – so I thought if I was ever going to get Proper Help, it would come from something I’d written.

Anyway, they said they would analyse the forms and get back to you with an appointment time within two weeks, but it was only two days later that they had an appointment for me.  I went for my assessment – which was an ordeal in itself because of all the buzzers for entry and the announcing myself and all that jazz – and they suggested continuing appointments of CBT (that’s cognitive behavioural therapy, for those blessed enough not to have come across it before).  I was, however, warned that they only do short-term sessions – a maximum of six – and would have to refer me on if I wasn’t cured within six weeks.  So, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t hopeful.  Maybe that was the problem.  I don’t know.

CBT Adventures
So, after an encouragingly good start, in which I started to believe I was being heard for what I was actually saying, and not what they wanted to hear for ease of treatment, things went downhill quickly.  Well, it would have to be quick, I guess, within only six sessions, but still.

We identified goals – shopping was the main focus, seemingly whether I liked it or not – and built up a hierarchy of difficulty; we went out together early on as she’d forced the issue.  The whole time, she was asking me (loudly) about my anxiety levels, drawing attention to the problems I was having and – given that we’d agreed on a set amount of tasks to attempt – she extended the excursion much more than she was supposed to, cue freakout early on.  We didn’t do that again.

There was a fair amount of drawing things out and faffing about with expressing rather obvious “revelations” on paper, when we could have been working on actually combating the problematic parts instead of highlighting them over and over again as if the key to “curing” my lifelong avoidance issues would be – gasp – knowing they’re there.

Generally, the whole set of sessions went badly, where I ended up avoiding more than ever before, and adding a new Avoidance Area – namely CBT sessions – to my list.  Actually, to be fair, I didn’t miss any sessions, but my opinion about further treatment was quite radically affected for such a short-term fix.  I felt patronised throughout; in fact, it was my Personal Tutor at uni who’s come closest to understanding this out loud, in terms of intelligence and insight and MH professionals’ expectations of service users.  And here comes the rant…

I had worries about starting the most intense set of labs at the end of the second term, and during the session that we focused on that, we made a list of the things that could and could not be controlled, respectively.

This seemed logical enough to me, the List Maker from Hell, right up until I was cut off before I could list many of the “Could” items.  From then on, the focus was on the “Could Not” items, which is fair for the purposes of, but then she tried to use the comparison between the length of the lists as reasoning to Let Go.  Cue lots of dramatic argumentative points swirling around my brain – goodbye concentration on the present – and, of course, a complete inability to articulate them.

Then she suggested that I “don’t focus on the things you can’t control”.  Round of applause for the Blindingly Obvious please.  So I prompted her.  “How?”

“You just accept you can’t control them.”  Well, I’d never thought about just accepting before.  Give that woman a banana*.


I never got an answer.

I’m hoping that my short experience of CBT was negative not because of the (validity of the) technique itself, but rather how well (or otherwise) it was practiced.

By the end of the sessions, she suggested I get on medication, and asked if I would be happy to be referred on for more treatment – this time longer-term, and on the NHS.  I said yes, purely because I didn’t know what else I could do, and I had a first appointment with the New People a month later.

Psychiatric Referral
OK, this one was a one-off for transition-related purposes, but I’m including it because it ended up sort of splitting itself between gender and panic while I was there.

I had help finding the place and announcing myself (from an Awesome Person who continues to be awesome in my direction, Christ knows why I deserve such awesomeness, but I’m not complaining), and then I was led into a room by the most stereotypical psychiatrist I’ve come across so far.  And that’s saying something.

NHS clinical rooms are just as depressing as you’d expect.  More so, if you have the stomach to imagine it.

We did the usual routine questions, blah blah blah, and I misheard him – to my cringing amusement – several times, also routine for me, before we did The Gender History all over again.  I think I’ll have it memorised soon enough.

Then it was social anxiety.  Very quick-fire questions, to my surprise, seemed all that was necessary for an official diagnosis.  Usually that would have made me nervous in itself, but I already had the answers ready – partly because the symptoms I was having to describe were right there, poking me, as I was talking about them.  I don’t know if I already had a diagnosis of social anxiety, because the way it seems to work here is that each professional draws their own conclusions and says fuck all to their actual patients about it – not to mention therapists’ peculiar downplaying technique (depression = “low mood”; panic attack = “worrying” or similar) which I can only assume is meant to reassure the patient.  Sure as hell doesn’t work for me.

Moving on.  He said that social anxiety of that extent needs much more “intense” treatment, which equated in his mind to at least 18 sessions of CBT and at least 200mg sertraline (that’s Zoloft, by the way, an entertaining word to find excuses to say out loud if there ever was one) daily.  And when I asked what I should do if none of it helps, he said they have a specialist unit that I can be referred to, and there are other options.  Which I’d genuinely not heard before.  By most standards, it seems to be CBT Or Nothing, which is of little comfort to someone who doesn’t think much of it.

Long story short, he said I was fine to be referred on, but it was only a month ago that I found out he hadn’t sent it when he was supposed to – in March – so my GP chased it up, and it’s finally now underway.

Although, a word of warning to anyone going through similar adventures, if you’re at all prone to self-consciousness or reaction to criticism, don’t read psychiatric reports about yourself.

[For me, it was both dysphoria-inducing (there was a section where my height – or lack thereof – acne and facial features were discussed; apparently I was “feminine, particularly around the eyes, but otherwise presented as a man”.  Slightly concerning that most people he would be seeing on this basis wouldn’t have started T yet, and so their “presentation” being based on their natural bodily features rather than less permanent things is not exactly comforting, but still) and physically hard to stomach (the way these things are written have a tendency to make me feel ill, partly because they’re writing about me, partly because there will be others reading about me, and partly the sort of sterile form of writing used is often painfully abrasive).  Just to add, ‘n’ all.]

I’m going to continue this in a separate post to save on brainspace and patience, and I’ll queue it to give you all a break.  More gender updates also on their way.

*as my former German teacher would say.  (She was awesome, just in case you wanted to know.)

Posted in Life | 4 Comments

(Attempts At) Productivity

After a day of surprising productivity, I’ve got a fully-functioning CV.  I haven’t had one of them since we were prodded into making them at school, at which time we were expected to show our “skills” by referencing things like “I started a club” or “I did this project in class”.  And there’s not much difference between now and then, so it turns out.

I’ve got two weeks’ work experience, thanks to school pressure to set it up ourselves, after GCSEs finished, and several months’ worth of voluntary work as part of a scheme from two years earlier still.

And that’s it.

There’s a massive gap, filled only by A Levels and uni, which won’t easily be explained away.  Interviews, if I can even get to them, will be additionally difficult if I have to admit that the gap’s there “because people made me panic, and they still do now, but it was worse then so I couldn’t do things because everything involves people”.  And since I can’t even use the phone now, I’m not expecting that time to come any time soon, in which case that gap will only get wider.

This was meant to be a positive post.  Sorry about that.  I’ve now got a CV, which is the point, and tomorrow will be spent researching – because I was losing hope in things, but I reached a conclusion that involved, erm, not giving up, basically – options, to give hope to a good friend, with any luck.

So, the aim is to keep myself doing things and moving forward, and hopefully ending this reactive slump for the foreseeable future.

Watch this space.

Posted in Life, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

12 Months On Testosterone

This is a miniature post to announce that I’ve been on T for 12 months today.  That is, 12 cycles of 28 days, 48 weeks, and not a full year, but I’ve been measuring by injections, so it feels like a Big Milestone nonetheless.

Changes ‘n’ things have been recorded here, in case anyone’s interested.  That’s all for today.

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And The Second Year Ends

That’s right, friends.  The time has come.  That six-month black hole of blogging is about to be filled.

This will not be a fun post.

So, the point where I went off digi-grid was in the Christmas holiday.  I has tests to revise for and an essay that drove me bonkers in the attempt to finish it in time.  No January exams this time, but it was far from a relaxed break.

The next term was much the same as the previous one, full of frustrations and poor organisation, pointless and time-consuming meeting with my Personal Tutor, and much more besides.  It’s not really interesting enough to blog about, especially given that I’m not in the mood to try and make it more entertaining than it is, so I’m not going to.  I spent much of the time angry, anxious, despairing, made all the worse because it was caused by others and could have easily been avoided if they’d just put a bit of thought into what they’re doing.

Then we had the Easter *break*, in which there were five sets of coursework and some lab work to finish, as well as revision for the exams coming afterwards.  I didn’t get to a single tutorial through the year – and my Personal Tutor’s opinion fluctuated wildly from week to week, from “well, if they’ll make you so anxious you won’t learn anything anyway, it’s not worth it” to “it’s really vital that you go, or else you’ll be screwed forever” – because of the anxiety, but I didn’t fail despite that fact, which I guess I should be pleased about.

And then there were the exams.  Cue dramatic music.

I can’t say I handled them well.  I sort of shrivelled.  Hallucinations were part and parcel of my exam experience, because I’d lost so much sleep, and I was pacing up and down in my room for up to 14 hours a day.

I did get through them, but in so doing, I became the neediest human being ever to walk the Earth.  Not something I’m proud of, but at least I did the exams and didn’t splat at the last minute.

And then, of course, when the exams finished (and, for some, while exams were still going on), we had a third-year lab module to finish off the year, because presumably the third year isn’t long enough to fit in all the material, so part of the second year has to give way to allow for it.  I was doing computational chemistry, so I didn’t have long hours in the lab like most, instead spending much of my time sitting in front of a computer, battling with UNIX – and my own stupidity.

Little did I know that computational chemistry was such a social module.  There was very little actual time available to do this module, but they wanted us to fit in a set of individual questions, plus group work (research project) and a presentation.  So, erm, that went well.

I didn’t do the presentation, I was utterly useless at the “group” part of the group work, and for such a short space of time actually spent doing the damn stuff, I was in a ridiculously bad headspace.  That coincided with my latest injection failure, which didn’t surprise me massively; exams were bad, but this was worse by far.  Anxiety shat all over this module, but it actually did help in a weird and twisted way, as it provided enough motivation for me to finally get some Proper Help.

(Except, of course, I spent all year chasing people and doing Massively Uncomfortable Things in order to set up this support system and therapy and medication and all-round progress stuff, which is probably going to end up null and void because to get those things – at least without having to start the process all over again, thus delaying actual help for another year or so – I need to be in the right area to receive said help.)

And now I’ve moved out of Halls, I’m back home, doing very little and resenting very much, needing to sort out more Things than my brain has space for.

This was a Public Pessimistic Announcement.  Coming up next: an in-depth description of my sadly-entertaining experience of the adult mental health services.  As always, run and hide while you still can.

Posted in Chemistry, Life, Mental Health, University | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Did Things. I Was Proud.

So, an… optimistic little interlude before the bulk updates come spilling. Run for your lives, before it’s too late.

I’ve not been doing too well, as I said in my last post.  We’re all quite used to it at home now; my parents have all but adopted cajoling me into doing basic self-caring tasks as part of their own everyday routine. And today was no different in that respect, just amplified, because I had an additional task.  An Everest of concentration.  I had to return something to uni.

See, that involves getting up – early – and washing and eating and dressing and breathing – on purpose – and, evil of evils, commuting during morning rush hour, preferably without dying in the process.  And, given that I’m me and all, it also involves walking home from the train station, uphill, for 40 minutes, because it’s too much of a panic-inducing effort on top of everything else to get a bus.

I did it.  Sort of.

Sleep eludes me, and has been doing so for months; last night was no different.  I lay awake, drenched in a cold sweat, for hours before I needed to get up, because it was that night – of all nights – that my brain decided I wasn’t allowed to power down when there were Issues to think-and-panic-but-ultimately-come-to-no-conclusions-whatsoever about.

Still, I got up, swallowed something resembling food at points, did my required splashings and brushings (and, a relatively new but welcome addition, shavings) and the like, and got to the train station without collapsing out of exhaustion.

Quite an achievement, I’m pathetically pleased to announce.

I got stuck trying to pass someone on the platform.  Apparently my voice is not loud enough to politely get people to move the hell out of the way, so I come out looking like a rude and moody (can’t really argue with that one though) twit – not to mention the “must be on drugs or hallucinating or something” part, which admittedly might have been more justifiable than “not a good day today” from my behaviour at the time.

I got into uni, still without collapsing, still proud – although it was slow, plodding and resentful – and went to return the Thing, a mobile broadband device I was testing for a friend.

It turned out that I’d come in especially… only to forget the cable to charge the damn thing.

She tolerated my presence, or lack thereof, for three hours, bought me hot chocolate and exchanged stories with me (read: ranted maniacally and then listened while I did the same).  She got angry when I needed her to, “aww”ed in all the right places – well, to be completely accurate, she “oh shit“ed in the right places – and, more importantly, helped me with things I couldn’t face on my own.  She reassured me that she didn’t need the cable if I couldn’t face bringing it in, but I said I’d bring it in on Friday.  I might regret that, but we shall see.

And then I went to get my grades.  We only get the chemistry grades, and only letter grades – we have to wait until the end of July for the numbers – but I was disappointed.  I’m not going to be second in the year this time.  I’ve got As in everything but one unit, which was a B, and I won’t know how bad the B is, in relative terms, for a couple of months.

Call it perfectionism (which it is), but it feels like a blemish.  Although I know that’s only because I’ve been hassling them for help and telling them I’m struggling – with the badly-organised piling-on of work, not the difficulty level – all year long.  Anyway.  That’s a side note.

Then I went home.  Trust me to have so many issues that teleportation would be the only acceptable option.  Sadly, that’s not, erm, possible (yet…?) so an uphill walk was the lesser of All Evils.

Believe me, walking uphill on Depressive Lead Legs and zero sleep is no mean feat.  And another thing I’ve noticed is how dangerous everything becomes when you’re in, erm, certain states of mind; it’s kind of hard to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, or breathing, or whatever when you’re so busy envisioning how you could kill yourself with a cardboard coaster.  (Side note: the other thing I’ve noticed is how my imagination actually peaks in productivity during times like this; doesn’t say much for my personality, does it?)

And then I get home.  I manage to fail to unlock and open my front door the first time around, and my legs give way almost as soon as I succeed in my door-opening endeavours.

My mum phones from work to check I’ve got home without throwing myself in front of a car or something (I had to use my last energy reserves trying to stay on the damn pavement/platforms today; rarely do I feel like becoming housebound by choice is such a good idea), and thanks to the wonders of caller ID (a service which we’ve only recently added), I answer.  She can’t hear me, because my voice doesn’t work beyond a sort of Morse code of shaped breaths.  She suggests I lie down for a while, because being miserable for no good reason is such an exhausting task, and I resolve to ignore it.

And then I spend the rest of the day as still as possible (typing, of course, doesn’t count), albeit sitting up, just to be difficult.

This is probably the most productive thing I’ve done all day.  And with that happy revelation, I’ll try and sleep now.  Until things beyond my control (naturally) actively change, though, I’m not holding out much hope.

Wow, I’m a right little optimist today, aren’t I?

Posted in Life, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments