That Was The Year That Was

That Was The Year That Was

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Beardy Thinky Man

I started 2013 as Ben, the man in black: long-haired, bearded with black jeans and a black leather biker jacket. I was often feeling uncomfortable when out socially, my relationship with my wife was rocky, and I was getting drunk regularly.

On the bright side work was going well: I continued to be happy in my job as a software developer. I was organizing darts competitions in my local pub.

But on a personal level the cracks were showing. By the middle of the year tensions at home were very evident and I had been contemplating separation. My wife told me several times that I wasn’t the person she had married: I had changed.

I guess I was aware of this subconsciously as a kind of dissatisfaction with my life, a feeling that things used to be better. If I could only go back to those happier, more innocent days… I was spending more and more time in introspection, analyzing myself, trying to figure out what was out of balance in the machinery of my mind.

I finally took steps to seek help with one of my problems: anxiety. I underwent a course of CBT to help me handle some of the situations where my anxiety was seriously affecting my ability to function. It helped with one small area of my life but I recognized that I had other problems and was suffering deeper and more frequent bouts of depression.

I started writing about more emotionally difficult subjects, trying to exorcise the demons of my past. Maybe some of this acted as a trigger, maybe it was just the build-up of stress, but I began to break down. I was feeling scared, sad, lonely, tired and trapped. My marriage appeared to be beyond salvation and my wife and I were at each others’ throats.

I ran away for a few days, staying with friends. I took time off work. I wrote a post that was as close to an admission of my true feelings as I had been able to come so far in my life. I saw my doctor and started treatment for depression. And finally I revealed to my wife a secret that I had held for about thirty years.

And over a few weeks, through a combination of my new-found openness — no more secrecy, no more pretending to be somebody I am not — and medication, I started to feel better. My relationship with my wife not only improved but became stronger than ever.

As this year draws to a close I am, at last, happy and optimistic about the future. It has been an exhausting journey and there is still a long way to go in terms of changing my body to match my gender identity. But I have had such support from my friends and especially from my wife that I truly feel accepted and loved.

So I’m finishing the year as Alexandra and I feel a long way removed from the person I was twelve months ago. After so many years — decades — I can be myself openly.

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Look, no makeup 😉

 

Breakdown Timebomb

Breakdown Timebomb

Handling strong emotions is extraordinarily difficult. Trying to keep them under control – rein them in – is like trying to close a suitcase packed with so many clothes that they threaten to burst out from every side.

I am caught in the currents of my feelings, one minute floating calmly and the next being pulled under by the rip tide or whirled around in a maelstrom of despair before sinking down in darkness. The illusion of control lies shattered around me as I huddle fetus-like in the middle of an barren landscape, no feature to break the monotonous emptiness fading to the horizon in every direction. Out here there is only loneliness. No sound. No breeze. Nothing moves, not even me. Yet within my mind nothing is still: huge, demanding thoughts and emotions slug it out in a battle for my attention while I struggle to avoid being overwhelmed.

And then, as softly sudden as the bursting of a soap bubble, the turmoil subsides and I experience a period of relative calm.

I feel the need to escape – a basic animal instinct to flee from threat. But there is no path to the place that draws me because it exists only in my memories, in the past. An illusory golden history, a carefree time of happiness. An amalgam of times and places synthesized into idyllic fantasy. Such a temptation!… to slip away into this perfect dream world.

A number of factors have likely contributed to my current state of mind but they all boil down to one thing: change. Too much has changed and is changing in too short a space of time and it all pushes me out of my comfortable routine existence into an unstable, unpredictable, disorientating state of uncertainty and confusion. I’ve not been sleeping well as a result, compounding the problem with tiredness – I feel tattered, ragged, frayed, worn out.

Please, somebody stop the world. I want to get off – I’ve had enough of this ride.

A Change of Plans Causes Issues

A Change of Plans Causes Issues

I don’t know about anybody else but I have a big problem when events fail to turn out the way I expect. It’s one reason I try not to plan what I’m going to do in advance. Take what happened yesterday for example – I knew there was mince in the fridge that needed using along with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and carrots. So I thought, “Pasta sauce!”

And then I got home and my wife had somehow managed to cook me a chilli despite her feeling so ill. Did I react with gratitude? I’m sorry to say I didn’t. I was knocked off-balance because some of the ingredients I had been going to use for my pasta sauce had been used instead to make this chilli. I managed not to get angry or melt down – took some self-control – but I did complain. I knew my reaction was upsetting my wife but I couldn’t stop myself. I tried to explain that it was the fact that my plan had been scuppered that had stressed me but the damage had been done.

I must say that I ate the chilli and enjoyed it very much. But. It. Wasn’t. Pasta. Sauce! How do you explain this kind of feeling to somebody who can handle change? That despite appreciating the effort she had gone to, I was unable to get past this clash – this discrepancy with my mental image of myself cooking a different dish. It’s my normal reaction to change – I try not to respond in this way because it hurts or offends people I care about but it causes me stress and I find it very difficult to hide. That would be the same as lying which I also find very difficult, even to save people’s feelings.

In this case I got over the worst of the feeling quite quickly and apologised – this kind of thing has happened numerous times before so my long-suffering wife is sadly used to it by now – but I’ve still got a little lingering disquiet that things didn’t happen as I expected. And I feel bad about not showing my gratitude from the outset. I know it’s a shabby way to treat somebody who’s made an effort to do something for me but I really don’t know how to get past the intense disappointment and stress I feel in these situations – the feeling is so intense that it swamps any other, more rational, thoughts I may have.