Trigger Warning: Trans*phobia, cissexism, assault, self-harm, suicide
Queer and trans* issues are the forefront of what I write about. These are huge factors in my life and my life goals, so it makes sense I spend a great deal of time talking about them and their impact on me and others. While I do not try to hide the fact I am mentally ill, I do not generally write or openly talk about it. I feel like I need to change this. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Some of you may have heard it from the news or TV shows, often in an extremely negative light. Those with my mental illness are portrayed as serial killers, mass murderers, criminals, and sociopaths. People with Borderline are almost never displayed in a good light. That is why I was through the roof when I found out that one of my trans* role models, Kate Bornstein, also had Borderline.
I often do not talk about my mental illness, especially in ways like this, because what I say will often be brushed off because of my illness. This is not unique to me either. People with mental illnesses are less likely to be taken seriously in all respects. This is something people experience in all areas of the medical profession, from doctors to mental health professionals. I am seen as less valid than someone who is not mentally ill the moment I mention my diagnosis.
Four years ago, my ex-husband brought me to the military hospital’s ER room in tears. He was due to deploy that night, however was so in fear of my life that he brought me to the ER. The weeks leading up to this I had become listless and depressed. I spent my days barely eating and having breakdown after emotional breakdown. My struggle with my illness does not begin four years ago though. My earliest memories are struggles with my illness, as well as my gender. When I was eight years old, I proclaimed I wanted to be a boy. When I was drilled by my parents on this, I lied and said it was so my biological father would like me better. In honesty, I had no idea why I wanted to become a boy, I just knew I did. That same year is the very year I remember trying to kill myself. I wasn’t very intelligent, being an eight year old child, and tried to strangle myself with a stuffed snake toy, one of those giant ones that you see in candy stores or in the jungle section of a toy store. This was something I repeated on a semi-monthly basis.
When I began middle school, that is when all proverbial hell broke loose. In fifth grade I learned the joys of cutting. I say joys because discovering cutting was a release for me. It was a way for me to release my problems onto myself. I often wore long sleeves and hoodies to cover my demolished arms. Anyone who saw the maze of scratches got the excuse it was from a cat. Middle school was the worst time of my life for me. I was trying to figure out how to deal with my mental issues, my gender identity, and my sexuality. Through the wonders of the internet, I found various trans* groups on Gaia Online. I met other people like me, people who society told them they were girls, but who knew themselves to be boys, or something else. I met several people who, like me, were rather effeminate and still believed themselves to be male. However, this was before non-binary people were more widely accepted. All the media portrayal of trans* people was extremely binary. I believed that to be a trans guy, you had to be masculine, which is something I’ve never really been. So, for awhile I thought I was a lesbian, or at least bisexual.
Closets are something I’ve never known much of. Even from a young age, I was an openly queer person. I came out as bisexual in sixth grade. My closest friends knew of my internal gender struggles as well. I was openly mocked and picked on due to my sexuality, as well as my odd demeanor. Kids would call me names; knock my things out of my hands or off my desk. They would bark and growl at me (since I was that kid who really liked wolves), call me a dog, a bitch, make allusions to all my friends being queer for hanging out with me. Clearly, no straight person would want to hang out with the open bisexual/lesbian. I even had teachers make openly mocking comments about my sexuality, in middle school. Cutting was a way to take out all the inner hatred I had towards myself and others, it was this time that I almost died for the first time, for real.
Due to issues in school, and my parents finding out about my online girlfriend, I lost my computer for several months. While this may not seem like a major problem to most, this was my support network. I lost access to fellow queer youth who understood me. I lost access to one of the few people who loved me for who I was (since I was not very out to my parents). I was also coming into my mental illness along with puberty. To say the least, I was not in my right mind. In a fit of hopelessness, I swallowed 22 generic brand Tylenol. This is a number that I will never forget. I swallowed 10 pills one day, and when nothing happened, I swallowed 12 the next. Telling my mother what I did was not exactly the easiest thing either. I spent several days in the ICU, vomiting stomach bile, and fighting for my life. My liver was failing and I was on the verge of needing a transplant to survive. Throughout this, I had a revolving door of psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists talking to me. I somehow convinced them that I was just a dumb kid who took too many on accident. Me, the straight A, accelerated, gifted student, just took too many for a headache. There was one doctor who didn’t believe me, and I wish that he had say.
After about a week, I was sent home on the promise my family would send me to therapy. They never did. I never got the therapy I needed until that night at the ER, four years ago. This was not my last episode either. I continued cutting, a practice I was not able to kick until about three years ago. My little stint in the ER got me back on my computer though. School and my identity continued to be hell. As seems to be the tendency with people with Borderline, I don’t really remember much and the things I do remember are highly emotional and tend to be negative.
Gender and sexuality continued to be an issue for me. In high school I continued to be the weird queer kid. My sophomore year I had to defend myself against two girls, larger than me, in the gym locker room. We had recently gotten a Chinese foreign exchange student who didn’t speak much English. My friends and I decided we would befriend her since she was in our gym class. We took it upon ourselves to try and include her in our group despite the language barrier. We were all the outcast kids and we knew what it was like to be ignored. These girls decided that because I was openly bisexual, I was trying to get into her pants and wanted to get back at me for it. Apparently, I could not be friends with a girl while being openly queer. Apparently in my struggle to push one of the girls away from me, since they had me pinned against my locker, I touched her breast. Whether or not this actually happened, I have no idea. I do not remember it happening, and still believe she was lying to further make me look bad. They were not punished for this. No detention, no suspension, nothing. I had to go to gym class every day wondering if they would do it again.
It was also this year I started dating my now ex-husband. Or it was my Junior year. As I said, when it comes to timelines, I’m not the greatest. I started becoming slightly stable, emotionally at least. I came out to my parents as trans*, but was laughed back into the closet. They didn’t take me seriously. My at the time boyfriend was deployed in Iraq. I felt alone. I felt scared. I was confused. I didn’t know what to do. It became too much and my boyfriend called the cops on me because he was terrified I was going to hurt myself. This happened while he was back from his deployment. An ambulance came and picked me up, and I was held at the ER until my parents came and got me. Once again, they promised the staff and my boyfriend, that they would get me help. My step dad even worked above a psychologist. It never happened.
I graduated high school, moved to Kansas, and got married. Not in that order either. I got married a week after I turned 18. I graduated high school two months later and moved to Kansas soon after. My husband was stationed there. The possibility he was going to deploy again was there, but we ignored it, for awhile. It was during this before time that one of my most expressive, hilarious, yet borderline experiences happened.
We had adopted two dogs and had hard wood floors in our tiny house. Sweeping was something that needed to be done, frequently. I had just swept the day before and was annoyed with all the dog hair that had accumulated in a day. I started sweeping again. That’s when it happened; I had an emotional breakdown, over sweeping. I started freaking out. My husband laughed and said I could either sweep often or let the dog hair just tumbleweed and accumulate. Obviously, to me, neither of these were options. Both were wrong. I hated both options. At this point, I was furious. I slammed the broom down, declaring my defeat, and stomped off to the room. I curled up in bed and started cry, depressed with my actions and myself. I was a terrible housewife who couldn’t even keep the house clean. I was horrible. I wasn’t worth anything. I cut myself. I left the room a little bit later and was laughing in the car with my husband as we went to pick up food. This all happened in about 30 minutes.
My whirlwind of emotions over something so trivial shows how bad my mental illness really was. I was an emotional glass cannon, ready to go off at any little trigger. I had no control over my emotions that were wild, crazy, and prone to change at a moment’s notice. This only got worse as my husband’s deployment drew closer. As I mentioned, I grew listless and depressed. My husband worried I would do serious harm to myself if he left me alone. I was placed under his care and went to therapy daily for a bit. It was during this time I was diagnosed with severe Borderline Personality Disorder, mild to severe depression, and mild general anxiety disorder. I was placed on and off medications until finding one that worked for me, since therapy alone was not enough.
Things happened in my life. I got a divorce, and I moved to Massachusetts. During this time I decided to transition as well. I had a new partner who was supportive of my identity as well. This was my first run-in with issues involving my Borderline diagnosis. I had seen a gender counselor in Kansas and received my letter stating I was mentally sound to start hormones. I brought this letter to my endocrinologist, since she said I would be fine. My letter, sadly, mentioned my history of Borderline which became problematic. Suddenly I had to get a second letter stating I was going to a therapist. I need to provide proof in my follow-up visits that I was also seeing a counselor. I reached out to the community and everyone who had experience with this endo. Turns out, this was the first time she had ever done this. Simply because I had a mental disorder, I was being made to jump through extra hoops. If my letter had simply left out my borderline, I would not have been delayed the two months that I was. A small amount of time to wait, but something I should not have experienced.
My second experience was with this counselor. Upon learning about my history of Borderline, she wanted to drop it all together. She explained to me that there are therapists who do not wish to work with ‘lost causes’ such as those with personality disorders like Borderline. She mentioned that doctors will discriminate against people with Borderline, and that I will get a double whammy for being trans* and having a personality disorder like Borderline. She wanted to drop a diagnosis that had previously helped me because of how problematic in society it is. However, as with medical documents, once a label is applied it is hard to remove. I also did not want to drop it on a personal basis. My personality disorder was a part of me, whether I wanted it to be there or not. It was something that shaped my history, even though how negatively. After years of struggling to get even basic recognition of having an issue, she wanted to drop it due to the biases on others.
This is one of the reasons I realize I am hypocritical for being so silent on my history with Borderline. I am a proud queer person. I refuse to be silent on my queer identity. I realize how important it is to be visible. Why should it be any different for my mental illness? This is part of who I am and part of my history. Queer people are more likely to experience mental illness, especially trans* people. Why should I try to hide this part of me? Mental illness is still widely wrongfully perceived, both in and outside of the medical community. Education on issues surrounding mental health are just as important as those surrounding queer people, people of color, and other social issues. Too often people are silent of the issues they face because they are mentally ill. The intersectionality of queer identity and mental health problems cannot be ignored either. No longer will I be silent on my history with mental illness.