This is the first of two posts about the time coming to terms with being transgender and leading up to my transition.
Let me take you back two years to early 2014. Two years doesn’t seem like a long time, but so much has changed since then. I had to go back and look at past medical appointments and my calendar to piece a timeline together!
I came to CNN in June 2013. I’d been having sleep issues for years. Without medication, I woke several times a night and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was torturous. As a result, I’d been taking Ambien for several years, but wasn’t aware of the long term adverse effects the medication caused. It’s been linked to losses in short term memory and other issues. My doctor thought anxiety was the cause of my sleep issues, so referred me to a psychiatrist.
It took a month to get in to see the psychiatrist. She agreed with my primary care doc that it was likely anxiety causing me not to stay asleep at night. She prescribed anti-anxiety medication and referred me to a psychologist. It took another month to get an appointment with her.
A lot of people confuse psychiatrist and psychologist, so at the risk of insulting your intelligence, I’ll explain the difference. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes on the brain, and a psychologist, often called a psychotherapist, typically has a master’s degree or PhD in psychotherapy. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, whereas people typically see a psychologist for counseling and therapy.
During these two months, I began to think about all the things which caused me anxiety. As I’d moved up the ranks of journalism and into management, I’d taken on more and more stress. Coming from local news to a network added to my own pressure to live up to the high bars I set for myself. I’d experienced work conflicts with a few co workers in various newsrooms, and CNN was no exception. I was always wound up tight. Little things easily frustrated me, and it was easy for me to snap at people.
More than anything, one theme was constant. The anxiety about my gender. I was always aware of not feeling male, and went through decades of hiding my gender issues so I didn’t have to deal with it. Even though I had told select friends that I wasn’t male inside, I rarely used the word transgender. I had become like a pressure cooker, and I did everything I could to let just enough steam out so that I didn’t really have to come face-to-face with it. In the back of my head was a fear that if I dealt with it at all, a dam would break and I would be an out-of-control cork in a storm at sea.
For instance, I shaved my legs very few times over the years, and it was glorious! But each time I did, it was harder and harder to come back to the reality that there was nothing I could do about my gender. I made decisions each time to never allow myself that pleasure again, because it was torture trying to pull myself back to reality. Transgender people call this purging. Some people do it with clothing. They will dress in clothes that more closely resemble who they really are, but then throw them out when they feel they trapped. For many, it happens repeatedly.
From my early thirties on, I would have transitioned in a heartbeat if there wouldn’t have been consequences, but I could never see a path to where I am right now. When I tell people now, whom I didn’t know then, that I was living miserably, I know they can’t possibly grasp what I mean. I’m so different now. I’m much calmer and happier.
So when I was sitting in the waiting room at the psychologist’s office, I had spent weeks going over in my mind what I might say to her. I knew I had to tell her about my gender issues, but I thought that if I could gloss over that part just enough, maybe I wouldn’t have to confront the real reason I was there. I thought I would say something close to, “Being a journalist is stressful! Being at network only increases that; and by the way, I think I’m a girl — but I think the pressure at work is my real problem.” It didn’t happen that way when I was called back to her office.
Most of that session is honestly a blur to me. I recall being in there only a short time before the dam burst. Through sobs and sentences that were so fast I’m surprised she was able to keep up, I spilled my guts. Years of not dealing with the one thing in my life that had caused me so much pain, came spilling out like Niagara Falls. I remember her looking down at her notebook and asking, “So…am I seeing you for this or for sleep issues?” I nearly yelled back, “I DON’T KNOW!” I’m sure anyone near her office was probably concerned about her at that point. I don’t remember anything else about our session.
I had to come into work after that session, and I was still in shock. When I walked into the newsroom, my sweet friend Mary instantly knew something was wrong. I told her that I felt like the word QUEER was stamped onto my forehead. I was experiencing a full-blown panic attack. My heart was pounding, my breathing was shallow and fast, my peripheral vision was gone, I felt dizzy, and it was obvious to others around me. I think my boss suggested I take a walk to gather myself. In Mary’s words a year later, “Oh, you were a mess!”
I somehow made it through that day and a few more, until I had a second appointment with the psychologist. Each time I went, it was like another small burst of steam was released from the pressure cooker. I was still a mess, but each time I was a little less of a mess than the time before. I began to take my gender issues out of hiding and confront them. My psychologist began to gently challenge the notion that I was trapped. Before counseling, I felt I was too far along in life and no longer had the option of a transition. I had kids and responsibilities, and I would surely lose my job and end up homeless.
I know. It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it? It was for me too. It’s a good thing therapy sessions are only an hour! Too much of this would be…well, too much. So, I’ll save the rest for the next entry. Don’t worry. It won’t be too long before I post it.