Post-transition crash

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Finally, for the past three weeks I’ve been feeling better. Since January, I had been struggling something fierce.  Many days, I hated life.  The littlest things set me off. I didn’t know why.

The crazy thing is, I could have been told that finishing my transition might plunge me into depression.

I even could have figured it out for myself.

Letdowns are normal and natural

When I became a minister, a pastor warned me that the day after Easter I might feel a letdown, a depression for a few days. He said that it would be due to the busyness of Lent, which has Lutheran pastors writing two sermons a week and conducting extra services, with the big buildup toward Holy Week and its services on Thursday and Friday, and then the huge crowd on Easter. Easter afternoon would feel great—a successful completion to the seven week sprint—but, on Monday, with everything completed, the letdown likely would arrive.

Sure enough, it did. I was glad to be warned of it. Knowing it might come, I knew what it was. After a few days, I felt better.

I did not associate that with when I crashed hard in 2008. For two full years, I had been minister to two congregations, as the neighboring parish’s pastor had moved to another church.

I. Was. Busy.

In the middle of those two years, I had the heart trouble which resulted in my receiving two stents, and then the last of our four kids, the two boys, moved out. It was a hectic two years, filled with upheaval.

Soon after I was back to only serving one congregation, I was fit to be tied as to why I felt so lousy. As I told my brother pastors, I should have been happy now only serving my own church, yet I felt as if I had a part-time job. And I missed my boys something fierce as this new empty nest thing finally came home to roost in my heart.

I now understand that all of this dramatic change is what caused the deep angst and depression. If only someone would have told me to expect it. If only my brother pastors had been savvy enough to say, “What you are experiencing is a completely normal and natural letdown.” It was the post-Easter thing X 100.

A day or two after I had my sex reassignment/gender affirming surgery a year ago, I experienced a very strong “What did I do to myself?” I physically hurt so badly, and the recovery seemed positively daunting, and here I had gone and done this of my own volition.

At my first post-op appointment, I told Dr. Gallagher. She said, “I’ve heard this from all of my patients.” I don’t think I replied, “Why didn’t you warn me?” but, two weeks ago, at my final visit with her, I did. And more.

I told her how I had been struggling with myself the past three months, that I had experienced a wonderful high after my final surgery in November, that the euphoria lasted until early in the new year, and then I crashed into a nasty depression.

She replied that this is pretty common. It’s like we are unconsciously saying, “The long trek to transitioning is done. It’s time to move on,” but we’ve not prepared ourselves to move on.

I suggested to her that patients need to be told these things, that I found all of my surgeons, for my three surgeries, to have neglected key things about my recovery. I was pleased when she told me that her assistant had been gathering this kind of information and they now give the info to patients who are preparing for surgery.

Within days of seeing her, I saw my endocrinologist. Telling her of this difficult down period, she commented that she’s had patients describe this. A pattern was emerging. Finally, I recalled what happened in 2008, and the mini crashes after every Easter. My experiences have not been unusual, but to be expected. Or at least be aware that they are possibilities, and if they happen they are completely normal and natural.

Weird and unusual are hard to swallow. Normal and natural goes down nicely.

Get thee to a psychologist!

This year’s crash was so bad that, in late March, I engaged a psychologist. (Yes, wiseguys, at the encouragement of Julie. She remains the brains of the Eilers household.) I found a new therapist. I wanted someone who did not know me so that I would be heard with fresh ears, and one who does not specialize with transgender folks so that he might not be prone to only seeing me as a trans person. I found a man who is a tad older than I, with over thirty years in general practice. From the initial phone call, I was confident I had found a counselor who might be up to my task.

Last week, I had what might be the final of six visits with him. Indeed, I found him up to my task. He heard me. He asked good questions. When he suggested ideas, which he was assembling from our discussion, his thoughts about me made sense.

Though I have yet to change anything, I have been feeling better. After the first week with him, with two intense sessions, my load was feeling lighter. I have not had any days in which I feel completely out of sorts. Indeed, I once again feel hopeful about my life.

Happiness: three main ingredients

We talked a lot about how I might move forward. He told me his formula for a person having a happy life. It has three ingredients, which must be fairly consistent. They are meaningful work, love from family and friends, and fun.

We determined that I have pretty consistent portions of love and fun, but am lacking in meaningful work. Indeed, because I had been feeling so lousy, I had been struggling with being interested in writing, which has been my most meaningful work, so the problem was made worse by the crash.

He and I also spent a lot of time talking about my being transgender. Odd as it might sound because I did fully transition, I continue to struggle with being transgender. I wish I were not.

We talked a lot about a person’s worldview. In my worldview, which is that of a Christian who practices a traditional view of the Bible, along with my being highly conservative in every aspect of how I live and think, transgender does not fit.

Worse than putting a square peg into a round hole, my being transgender is like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle where every piece has been crammed into the wrong spot.

The depression lifting, hopefully the crash is over. It sure helps that spring is here. I have my garden started. I hope that is a metaphor for where I will plant myself, to find a job where I can be fruitful.

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Using the past to inform the present

I do not have all of the answers regarding gender dysphoria and being transgender.  I have learned that we have much to learn.

With this essay, I seek to present the past as instructor for the present, that we might remember that we have been wrong and ill-informed about many things over the years, and we have changed our position on many.

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I suspect that you know of this fellow, Copernicus.  My friend, Rick, does, and his referring to Copernicus to me provided an impetus to write about things of, pun intended, astronomical proportions.  Thank you, Rick!

Copernicus was that troublemaker, er, mathematician and astronomer who, in the 1500s, proposed that the earth revolves around the sun, when the accepted belief—and a biblically-quoted one at that—was the other way around.

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Some listened to Copernicus—even in the Church—and were favorable to learning from him.  Others were not.  It took others over the years—who doesn’t know of Galileo?—to promote Copernicus’ sun-centered idea and move it forward. Eventually, our abilities for observing the solar system, along with more people being willing to listen, combined with time for things to progress, got us to where we are, with full acceptance of how the planets and stars orbit.

How many things could we name, throughout history, which were rejected, considered foolishness and worse, because they were too unusual, even seemingly impossible to be anything different than the current accepted belief?

With gender dysphoria and a person’s transitioning sexes, I find us in this spot with many in society and, as is my especial concern, among Christians who hold a traditional reading of the Holy Bible, that one’s being transgender cannot possibly be different from the perspective which has always been held.

Recalling the maxim, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” I urge all to practice caution and remember the attitude of Copernicus’ day, who believe the case is settled regarding gender dysphoria and being transgender.  To further my cause, I present situations from far more recent history to help us see what we once believed and how we changed.

As recently as fifty years ago—the 1960s—depression, interracial marriage, and dramatic surgical procedures were viewed as differently as we once watched scratchy images on black and white TVs to where today we walk around viewing vividly high definition videos on our phones.

Depression

From antiquity, depression was not understood.  Even by fifty years ago, we did not know anywhere near what we now know of the physical nature of this awful malady.  People who are depressed do not simply have the blues.  Their problem is not laziness.  And, when they are Christians, theirs is not a case of not having enough faith.

(When, last year, I talked about this with some ministers, and commented that fifty years ago a pastor might tell his parishioner, “You need to have a stronger faith,” one of the ministers very soberly interjected, “Some pastors today would still say that.”)

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When depression was not understood, sufferers were not respected for the ailment which plagued them.  We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.  Today, finally, most of us who do not suffer depression can listen to others describe it, truly hear them as having the real, physical trouble they have, and have compassion for them rather than ridicule and disrespect them.

Because medical science worked to understand depression, we have learned a great deal about how  it works in us, even providing medicinal treatment to give relief to many sufferers, which was not possible for centuries.

Interracial marriage

In the 1960s, if a white man took a black woman’s hand in marriage, the couple very possibly would have been excommunicated from their Christian congregation.  These marriages were not legal in all fifty states until a US Supreme Court decision in 1967.

Is it against the Holy Bible for Christians of different colors and cultures to marry?  No.  In the Old Testament, it was forbidden for Israel to marry outside of Israel, but in the New Testament it is not forbidden for any Christian to marry another Christian whose skin color, culture, language, nationality, you name it, is different.

So, what was the problem for blacks and whites marrying?  In the USA, it was racial prejudice which influenced secular laws, and this flowed into the Church.

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Today, we have millions of mixed-culture couples in our country, and these couples marry and are members in good standing in our churches.  What changed?  The Holy Bible didn’t change.  The country and culture changed, and the Church changed in response to it.

Dramatic surgical procedures

It rings in my ears: “They’re playing God.”  I was a young kid and heart transplant surgery was in the news a lot.  “You can’t give one person’s heart to someone else.  That’s playing God.  It’s sinful.”  The “playing God” card has been tossed onto the table many times over the years in situations akin to heart transplants.

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Today?  I have never heard a minister say that receiving another person’s heart is playing God or is sinful.  When I was a minister, and a car accident left one of our members brain-dead, her heart was given to another person, who was given a renewed chance at good health.  There are a host of other similarly dramatic procedures that are carried out—even face transplants—and we Christians praise God for the good that is done for those who suffer.

Putting it together: medical, cultural, and church

I use these three examples to show where we were fifty years ago to where we are today, hoping all can see that it is easily imaginable that we are

  • only at the beginning of understanding gender dysphoria (the medical part),
  • finding transitioning acceptable (the cultural part),
  • and recognizing that a Christian (the church part) could transition, doing so as any person makes use of medical services, and not be sinning.

As for the past two years I have been making my appeal to all, and especially with my fellow Lutheran Christians, the singular wall which has been erected before me has been when people have decided they know all they need to know about one’s being transgender, yet they have done little to no study on the topic.  Sadly, my discussions with them continually show that they base their decision on long-held beliefs, and these beliefs do not allow for advancing in learning.

I appeal to all, both secular and in religion.  Let us do what we always say we want, but when it comes time to apply it so often fail: Let us put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes and say, “Wow, what a tough spot.  I know nothing of this, but I can imagine this is very hard for people with gender dysphoria and who have transitioned.  Well, I am not going to make it harder by assuming that I know anything.  I will remember the past, and how much we thought we knew, and how much learning has changed our thinking and our behavior on so many topics.”

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Silence Is Rusty #8

Post-op appointment day

Today is that day of the week
on which I hope I get to speak.
At what pitch will my voice peak?
Will I be allowed to talk a blue streak?

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As the days ticked down to the hours, I am filled with questions.

Will Dr. Parker begin by scoping my throat, to see how my stitches look?

If so, what will he find? Have my stitches held well?

If they have not, will he ask probing questions, accusing queries? “Did you follow my instructions, Gina? Have you been talking? Did you stay away from acidic foods? Did you sleep in a sitting position?”

It is my understanding that he will have me talk, but how much?

And then how much will I be allowed to talk over the coming days? I know that am far from healed; it is at least a six week process. As a friend suggested, if I am allowed to talk a little, that might be harder than not talking at all.

At what pitch will I register? Pre-surgery, I came in at a typically-male 115 vibrations per second. The speech therapist said that at 160 my voice should be taken as female. The surgeon suggested 180-200 would be a good level for me. So, what will he have achieved for me through surgery?

If my pitch is in the female range, will it feel right on me?

And what if it hasn’t changed? What if the surgery didn’t work? Whether it were that the stitches pulled apart, or the surgery simply did not affect the desired change, what if my pitch continues to register in the low 100s?

Have I become a worry wart?

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I offer the following section because the vast majority of people admit to being worriers. Yet, no one need be one. Being a worrier is not who you are as, say, being left handed or an American. And I want to help people to learn how to stop being worriers.

When I was a minister, worry came up so often that I asked people about it. Were they truly worrying, or did they really mean that they were concerned about something? In some cases, theirs was a case of concern. In most, it was worry.

Along the way, I came up with my definition for worry. Worry is concern that has gotten out of hand.

I am a former worrier. It ceased in my thirties. It wasn’t a conscience decision; I can’t take credit for it. I believe that important experiences and conquering huge fears is what did it, some of which were:

  • performing on stage;
  • becoming a manager and traveling for my job;
  • living through my son’s death;
  • growing in my trust in Jesus Christ;
  • especially, growing in my knowledge of who my Lord is and who I am in Him.

When I was young, all of my worries revolved around the same thing. Fear of the unknown. I was scared stiff of new things and I worried about things out of my control. After I lived through and conquered the hardest things for me, I knew that I never had to worry about them. That I could do it. I could succeed.

That meant that if something new and extremely challenging came to me—two great examples are officiating funerals for young people tragically killed and going out into the world as a female when I hardly look like one—I didn’t worry about it. I didn’t have to. Experience taught me that.

Did that make these huge challenges easier? While it did not alter them, it did make them easier in the sense that I was able to think them through with a clear head, allowing me to be properly prepared from them.

One of my favorite quotes is, “There are a lot of things to think about, but there is nothing to worry about.” Not only does worry do no good, it is destructive. Physically, it becomes a roadblock to rational thinking. Spiritually, it chips away at one’s faith. Emotionally, it eats at contentment. Relationally, it is a connection killer.

What I am is a thinker. And a pray-er. And a preparer. If something can be planned or mapped or figured out beforehand, I will work it out. You know, plan your work and work your plan—another favorite quote.

And another: Be prepared.

Yeah, I was a cub scout in my youth. I was the one at the pond faking that the frogs were too elusive to catch.

Nothing causes us to worry more than being a patient. I have known a number of people who did not see a doctor for years, who only finally would do so when they became so sick they could not go on. Fear is the foundation. Upon the fear foundation, worry builds the walls which imprisons them.

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Being a pastor was a great training ground for being a patient. I sat with far too many folks who had no questions for their doctors. Who let fear take over, instead of taking over so there would be no need to fear. “What if it’s something bad?” Who never prepared. “I didn’t know what to ask.” Who didn’t write anything down. “I forgot to ask.”

I learned to ask questions for them. Pastors get a wide and varied experience with ailments, diseases, surgeries, and treatments. I love cultivating information and retrieving it when it can be useful. So, if a doctor or nurse or therapist came to see one of my folks when I was visiting, and if I sensed there were things not being covered, that my member was not able to conjure questions, I was not shy to do so. I was confident when they were hoping I’d jump in and ask things that would never occur to them, because we discussed it before the professional entered their room.

When it comes to our health, pussyfooting around is no good for anyone. We have a lot of time and effort and money invested in our health.

Julie and I will have a lot of money invested in my surgeries. I need to get all the bang I can for our bucks.

So, if I am not worried, is there a different question to ask? Am I anxious?

I am more edgy than anxious. Pensive. The way most folks feel right before a big life event.

I know that it is not anxiety, because I have been anxious before. In 2007, at age fifty, after receiving two heart stents, I suffered my first anxiety attack. It was so bad that I thought it was the same chest pain which had landed me in the hospital two days earlier. I was readmitted. My heart was fine, but I was not.

I was not consciously worried, but my body did not allow me to relax. That’s a common form of anxiety. It is similar to being depressed. Depression is not feeling sorry for yourself, but is a real, physical problem in which the sufferer cannot consciously or logically break out of it, just as were the two brief episodes I suffered during these twelve days of silence.

Anxiety works the same way. You don’t go and get it; it comes and gets you.

In 2007, I suffered one bad anxiety attack. For a year after receiving the stents, I experienced a handful of smaller ones. My doctor prescribed Xanax. I asked him why the anxiety came on when I had never had an attack in my entire life. He said, “You can get along with a broken arm, but if your heart doesn’t work you die.”

I loved the logic of it.

Anxiety and depression are conditions which happen to us, not by us. Worry is a condition which happens by us, not to us. Understanding the difference is key. Taking appropriate action is vital.

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I am prepared for this afternoon. I have planned the visit and visited my plan. On my half-a-page of items are three questions.

  • When may I resume running?
  • When may I resume acidic foods?
  • When may I resume lying flat?

Julie will take time off work to be with me, which I always appreciate so much. Besides, I might need her to verbalize my list of questions and concerns.

More than edgy, I am excited. Julie and I are excited. This day was not only twelve days in the making, but many years.

Many years of starts and stops, of planning and mapping and preparing, of “this can never be” to “this needs to be.”

We have arrived.

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