Get it Together!

Post Transition Blues

Yes, it’s a thing. I see it often. In fact, I can expect to see a client who’s “done with transition” about 6 months later, usually after Gender Corrective Surgery (GCS), and most of the time it’s in my MTF (male to female) clients.

If you’ve ever known someone going through a gender transition then you’ve probably witnessed what I refer to as “trans glow.. It’s like a state of euphoria. The person is elated because they finally see the changes they want, reaffirming that they’ve made the right decision. They’re excited because they are finally taking action on an issue that they’ve been hiding behind for years.

This is where the person becomes like a horse in a race with blinders on, seeing nothing but the finish line. This metaphorical “race” lasts about a year. There’s a lot to do within that year: coming out – to family, friends, partners, work, and school. There’s HRT, surgeries, getting surgeries scheduled, figuring out how to pay for them. A transition takes up a lot of time and energy.

Once the person has been “just living” as male or female, “real life” sets in and the person realizes that the transition was never going to solve all the problems of life and make everything look like rainbows and kittens in top hats. The excitement of the transition has turned into complacency which often turns into a whole new type of depression.

I liken it to the “post party blues.” You’ve had a great time with all your friends in one place, listening to music, playing board games, having a few drinks. Then the next morning everyone’s gone and there’s a lot of mess to clean up. This is what the person “done with transition” often feels like.

Usually people come in under the guise of something else, not realizing what’s going on. The client might report that she’s just not been herself lately, or her partner noticed she wasn’t herself and wanted her to come back in to see me.

I’ll do my usual assessment on depression: changes in sleeping patterns, changes in appetite, feeling lethargic or hopeless, lack of motivation, sadness, etc. The symptoms will be there but the client can’t pinpoint what the trigger was. It started occurring to me a few years ago that the “post transition blues” was actually a thing.

When I mention it to the client, at first they seem puzzled. Then when I explain it, I can almost see the lightbulb go off over their head. Then it all comes together. It’s not that the client’s life is worse, it’s just normal, boring, everyday life.

Dr. David gives a whole presentation on this very topic. He compares the experience to when he was getting his PhD. For years and years, he ate, slept, and breathed his work on the PhD. When he finished his final presentation to the panel of professors, left and made his way down the hall, one of the professors popped out and addressed him as “Doctor Baker-Hargrove” and he realized he had done it. And he explains feeling super elated for about a day and then experiencing months of depression.

He realized he needed to take on some other big projects that he felt passionate about to consume his time and energy.

I don’t even look at it as “depression” as much as it’s a weird kind of “boredom.” The person still has all this energy but now has to find somewhere to direct it. I let clients know early on in transition to make sure that they have other goals in their lives to work on besides transition.

Hope this helps!


Gaslighting: The Stockholm Syndrome of Emotional Abuse and Manipulation

Gaslighting is a traumatic form of abuse by a psychopath, sociopath, or narcissist initially disguising themselves as a dear friend, a doting partner, a loving family member, or a supportive co-worker or supervisor. The main goals are to take away your power (usually with the hope of gaining it for themselves) and to deflect from their own issues and project them onto you.

The gaslighter might be a supervisor that thinks you’re gunning for their job, a partner or parent who wants to exhibit control over you, a friend who’s jealous of you, or a co-worker who thinks s/he’s in competition with you. They feel insecure and powerless and divert others’ attention from their own problems by focusing on, and exacerbating, yours.

Oftentimes, this makes them look like “the hero” because they “saved” you or have to “put up” with you and, over time, this gives the abuser more power and control. They’ll say things like, “It’s a good thing you’ve got me around looking out for you” or “What would you do without me?” It starts out seeming supportive and caring and the criticisms are very subtle.

The subtlety and impression of caring are what remind me of Stockholm Syndrome, because the victim not only doesn’t see it for the longest time, but can’t bring him/herself to think for a minute that the abuser would ever do anything to hurt them – let alone go to the extremes that they do. In fact, in most cases, the victim can’t imagine their lives without that person.

The abuser then begins to drop little hints here and there, saying, “Hmm…your partner has been running late an awful lot lately. I wonder why that is.” Or maybe something along the lines of, “Well, that presentation for work might not have gone that well but you’ll do better next time.” Only, you weren’t actually complaining (or noticing) that your partner was running late recently and you had felt your presentation was amazing.

Concern for you becomes the main focus, only the concern is imagined, or more likely created, by the other person to make you doubt yourself. The abuser will use a series of orchestrations to turn their allegations into “truths” to make the victim feel that s/he is the one imagining things, and that they’re “misinformed”, not remembering things correctly, not that bright, or even paranoid, delusional, or crazy.

So how do you know if this is happening to you?

1) You constantly second-guess yourself.
2) You find wedges between yourself and others you used to be really close to, yet you have no idea why.
3) You know that something is definitely wrong, but can’t pinpoint what or why.
4) You feel confused, hopeless, and joyless all the time.
5) You feel as though you can never do anything right.
6) You start to suspect the abuser is intentionally hurting you and are told by him/her that you are “imagining things” that are very clear and obvious.

If you think this is happening to you, it’s helpful to document the behaviors and activities. Keep a log of the things they say that seem degrading or dismissive or just don’t make sense. Look at the frequency and significance of the events and in what areas of your life they seem to be targeting, such as your relationship, your friendships, or your job.

Should you discover that you are a victim, immediately begin to break off ties. People who gaslight are either not aware that they’re doing it or have been doing it for so long, it’s become “normal” behavior to them. Most of the time, they don’t care and cannot be reasoned with. Don’t engage with them any longer and, when in doubt, review the documentation to reassure yourself that you are not going mad and that you are now back in control and aware of the situation.

Healing from abuse takes time. You can’t beat yourself up over it or take it personally. When this person is done with you, they will happily move onto someone else. You can’t blame yourself; they’ve done it before you came along. Therapy can help. Try your best to surround yourself with people who love and support you 100% unconditionally and activities that bring you joy.

Start Somewhere

As 2016 came to an end, an audible sigh of relief could be heard on social media. All of the shootings, the political chaos, the loss of so many beloved musicians and actors – left us feeling like we’d spent the last year in a hornets’ nest. Our community in Orlando, particularly the LGBT, is still reeling from this past year.

In many ways, we are all hurting. We are all affected. Even if you’re someone who has been managing your depression, anxiety, or stress, it can still be a challenge to keep your head above water in such trying times. So what do you do if you find yourself in that position?

To start, think about where you are right now and take it from there. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory commonly presented in the shape of a pyramid. It helps determine what a person’s needs are based on physiology/basic needs, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Those placed in basic needs or safety, like many after the year of 2016, are in what is known as “survival mode.

Physiology/basic needs include food, water, warmth, and rest/sleep. If you’re not eating or are losing significant amounts of sleep, you need to start there. For loss of appetite, try eating smaller amounts of food, more times a day. I like to keep foods around that are easily accessible. I think about my friends who have young children and how they often keep snack bags in their purse with Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, or breakfast bars. It’s more realistic that you’ll eat whatever it is if it’s not something you have to prepare or go somewhere to get it.

For issues with sleep, try thinking about what you might be doing (or not doing) to contribute to that. Electronics are stimulants. Engaging with your phone, tablet, or laptop before bed could cause you to lose sleep. Watching TV in bed or drinking lots of caffeine can interrupt sleep as well. Try trading out coffee and soft drinks with warm decaf tea with milk. Instead of catching up on your favorite show, try reading a book before bed.

Another consideration is whether or not you are being safe. Some people in crisis mode turn to self-harming behaviors such as cutting, drinking too much, or turning to drugs. Some can even become dissociative, blacking out while driving or not remembering whole hours. At this point, you will want to build a strong support system and seek professional help.

Lastly, remember that you are not alone. We’ve all been there at some point. Take this time to reach out to your friends. Think about simple things like taking a hot bath or going on a long walk. At Two Spirit, we have a medical and mental health clinic, set in a friendly and relaxing environment, here to help you. Healing takes time so you have to be patient with yourself, understand that it is a process, and just do SOMETHING. Start Somewhere.

Your Relationship With Your Depression

I often ask people what their relationship is with their depression and they usually look at me like my head is on fire. I explain that, when my depression was at its worst, I looked at it like a comfortable old slipper. If I got into an argument with my boyfriend at the time, I would throw my hands in the air, retire to my bedroom, dim all the lights, put The Cure’s “Disintegration” on repeat, and lay in bed, possibly for a whole weekend which “freed” me from having to deal with his nonsense. If I had a project due for school, forget about it. I now had a valid excuse to not have to go out to parties and be social. I looked at my depression like a long, lost friend coming into town for the night. You know shenanigans will ensue. It will be fun while it lasts, but there will be hell to pay later with the consequences.

At some point, though, I realized that I wanted to have a good relationship. I wanted to have friends and enjoy my time with them. I wanted to do well in school and get my degree. My depression was actually robbing me of all those things I claimed to want. That’s when I learned that I had to change my relationship status with my depression from “It’s Complicated” to “Divorced.

Whether you realize it or not, you have an actual relationship with your depression. Is it part of your identity? Are you comfortable with it? In love with it? If so, that’s a huge part of the problem.

I used to look at it as an ugly head that popped out of my shoulder saying things like “You’ll never be good enough,” “You can’t do that,” etc. The ugly head is still there but now it more comes out of the ground and I stifle somewhat effortlessly with my foot. Depression usually doesn’t go away or get “cured.” Mine hasn’t. But instead of EMBRACING it, I MANAGE it.

You have to be very careful with how you identify with your diagnoses. I talk to a lot of people who feel like it’s just their burden to carry and it’s never going away. If that’s your perspective, then that will be your reality.

Getting to a point where you are managing it is possible, but not easy. It requires work. A lot of people don’t want to do that work and get stuck in their diagnosis. They feel like it will never get better. Two things are required from the beginning to get through it: Hope and Belief.  You have to allow yourself to hope to get better and then believe that you can.

My journey started with changing my “relationship status,” working diligently on positive thinking and changing my mindset. I used to be a very pessimistic person and considered the glass “half empty.” I would have told you that I was just being realistic, but now I am optimistic. Your “reality” is what you choose to FOCUS on.

Hope this helps!

What Your Communication Says About You

I’ve often heard the comment, “You train people how to treat you.” I never understood it until the last few years. If you find that people quit talking to you for reasons they never explained, don’t respond to your texts, or that you get frustrated with others easily, there might be a very good reason for that.

YOU might be doing something wrong.

There are a few things that have popped up in therapy lately that have stuck with me: people who complain a lot, those who take on others’ emotions, and people who talk negatively about others often. No one ever seems to realize that they’re doing it, until it’s too late.

You might not notice that you complain a lot, but think about it. What’s your world view? Is the glass half full or half empty? If, for example, your boss notices that you complain about your relationship, your friendships, family, landlord, vet, local grocery store, or whatever, s/he can be pretty sure that you complain about your work. Naturally, this produces a lack of trust and effects your work environment in a negative way.

In addition, there’s a difference between venting and complaining. Sometimes someone just needs to get something out of their system and that’s fine as long as it’s someone with whom they’re close. However, if the person is “venting” under the guise of looking for a solution but then gives you more reasons as to why your suggestions won’t work, that’s complaining. The other person becomes wary and tired of this and no longer wants to hear it. Often, people don’t pick up on that cue and end up losing a friend or potential partner.

People who take on others’ emotions are truly in trouble. Pretty much all day, every day, the average person is surrounded by what they perceive to be “stupid,” “frustrating,” “lacking awareness” etc. You are always going to be around people like this and the best thing you can do is be careful not to absorb it, engage in it, or become party to it. You never know what another person’s story is. They might be functioning the best they can. They might have completely different life experiences than you do. You can’t place the expectations and standards you have for yourself on others.

As for those who never have a nice thing to say about anyone, my mom had an old rule of thumb that I think makes a lot of sense:  “Don’t ever write or say anything about another person that you wouldn’t mind that person reading or saying.” Everyone has “that friend” that talks badly about everyone he or she knows. You can assume that person speaks badly of you. Again, that creates a lack of trust. My mom always had 2 other sayings that I try to live by: “Do unto others as you would have done to you” and “Think before you speak.” All in all, I have to say my mom was right.

Hope this helps!

How to Get Unstuck: Changing Your Mindset

You’ve heard the terms: Negative Nancy. Debbie Downer. And you know the sayings: “If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have none at all.” “If it can go wrong, it will.” None of us like being around this person, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that they are indeed this person.

Those used to be my mottos before I went to grad school and learned how, and why, to be more optimistic. A professor of mine taught us how to do “positive thinking,” in which you counter every 1 negative thought with 3 positive ones. It changed my life. I wrote a whole blog on that, if you would like more details about that practice, but here are some other tips I’ve picked up on along the way.

Think about the words you use and how it effects your actions and beliefs. Be aware of when you say “I can’t” do something. If you say that to yourself long enough, you’ll start to believe it. Also be conscious of when you say words like “always” and “never.” I heard this statement today from a transgender client: “People ‘always’ react badly when I come out to them.” I find that hard to believe since I know hundreds of trans people and they’ve had mostly good reactions. Another example is: “My husband ‘never’ takes out the trash.” Realize that what you’re saying is your husband has literally never taken out the trash a single day in his life.

Notice what you’re noticing. I heard about a seminar in which the speaker had everyone look around the room and look for how many brown things they see. Most noticed about 10. Then the audience was asked to close their eyes and make a list of how many red things they had seen. On average, people could only list 1-2 things whereas the speaker had purposely placed 15 red things in the room that were very noticeable.

You get what you’re looking for and you get what you expect. If you expect that your next date is going to suck, you’ll probably make sure that comes true. If you expect that a visit from your in-laws this weekend is going to go differently and everyone will have fun, you’ll feel more motivated to make that happen. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful – it’s all there. Your reality is no more than what you expect and notice about it.

I use the example of green traffic lights. No one ever notices them. But the red one, the one that stops us from getting where we need to go, is the one most of us focus on. I used to go through 7 traffic lights on the way to work and I made it a point to count the green ones and, most days, it was 4-5 out of 7. But I was looking for green lights and, sure enough, I found them. Hmmm. Go figure.

Hope this helps!

Setting Positive Boundaries

It never fails to amaze me how people don’t understand boundaries. It comes up in sessions all the time: an overbearing mother using guilt, a significant other being co-dependent, or a pushy friend who’s involved more than you want them to be. These are just some examples of poor boundaries.

In order to create healthy boundaries, you first have to determine if you do too much for the person in question. When they ask you to do something, you have to ask 3 questions: Would they do it for me? How motivated am I do this? How much does it put me out?

I use this example: A friend asks me to take her to the airport at 5 in the morning on a weekday.

  • Would she do it for me?

Maybe, if there was no such thing as Uber and it were something important like a death in the family.

  • How motivated am I to do this?

Not at all! I’m not a morning person and this time doesn’t fit my schedule.

  • How much will it put me out?

Very much! My work day starts at 11 so this would have me out of bed 6-7 hours earlier than normal. Once I wake up I can’t go back to sleep. So, I would then be tired the rest of the day and that’s not good for me or my clients.

Two out of three “no’s” gives me my answer. This is not something I’m going to be doing for that friend.

Also, we train people how to treat us. I often amaze people when I tell them that I can’t remember the last time someone yelled at me, cursed at me, called me a name, or even raised their voice to me. It’s because I don’t allow it.

Any time I’m interacting with another person it’s coming from a place of love. I’m either trying to help that person or understand them better. I don’t get into “Who’s right?” conversations. If it starts to become that, I simply say, “This is getting heated. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree.” I’ve yet to encounter anyone having an issue with that.

If someone comes at me sideways with a raised voice or a threatening tone, I point that out to them. It is completely possible that the person is not aware. I might say,“You sound like you’re getting upset. What’s wrong?” This gives them an opportunity to manage their tone and/or be aware that’s how they’re coming across.

If the situation continues to escalate, I disengage in it. That doesn’t mean I walk away without an explanation, I let the person know that they are clearly upset and that’s not a good time to have a conversation. And then I give a general time when it can be revisited.

Following these simple rules will help you build better boundaries with the people in your life. Trust me. This will make your life a lot better, easier, and calmer.

Hope this helps!

Managing Disappointment and Anger

This subject has been coming up a lot lately so I figured the universe must be compelling me to write about it. A lot of us feel disappointed or angered by others. We often don’t understand that a lot of the disappointment is not on other people, as much as it’s on ourselves.

Managing expectations of others is paramount. I once had a friend who always cancelled plans at the last minute. At one point, I voiced my issue with her. She flippantly apologized and I realized her behavior was not going to change. I then had a decision of whether or not I wanted to keep her as a friend. I weighed all the factors and determined that she was worth keeping as a friend. I then decided that when I made plans with her, to include other people so that if she cancelled I wouldn’t be missing out on anything.

Another piece is not taking it personally. My friend has poor time management and gets overwhelmed easily. She tries to take it all in and do everything. When it comes down to it, having drinks or going to a movie isn’t a priority. It’s not ABOUT me and it’s not JUST me, she does it with everyone.

Something else interesting that I’ve learned about anger is that when I’m angry with someone and start to dissect why, I realize the person I’m really angry at, is myself. Years ago I had an acquaintance with whom I used to work. One night, long after we no longer worked together, she texted me: “Hey, do you want to go to the clubs tonight?” This was very bizarre to me because I’ve never been a “club” person. We barely knew each other. My response was “I’d love to but I have to work tomorrow”. She then began trying to help me come up with excuses to get out of work the next day.

I found myself getting so angry and at some point I asked myself: Why? She’s lonely. She doesn’t have that many friends. She was just trying to connect with me and wanted to go out and have a good time. Why should I be mad about that?

The truth is I was angry at myself because I wasn’t handling the situation well. What I should have said, from the very beginning, was this: “No thank you. That’s not my cup of tea. But I hope you have fun and let’s get together this weekend for a drink”. I’ve told her no, flat and simple. I didn’t make up excuses or lie. And I gave her an alternative to let her know it wasn’t because I didn’t like her. Problem solved.

When either of these emotions creep up in your life, ask these questions:
1) If the person isn’t going to change the behavior, do you still want them in your life?
2) Is this person doing this to anger or disappoint me?
3) At whom am I really angry?

Hope this helps!

Nature vs. Nurture

Being adopted, I’ve spent my whole life wondering what makes us tick. Do we get more from biological parents (nature) or do we adapt our behavior according to who’s around us (nurture)?All I know about my biological mother is that we eachlove cats, enjoy creative writing, suck at math, and are artistic.

She was 15 years old when I was born and had been hospitalized for depression the year prior. When I was inquiring after her at the age of 20, I learned that she had never married nor had children at 35. I believe that her parents were going through a divorce at the time I was born and was told that her father was an alcoholic.

My adoptive parents were in their 40’s and 50’s when I was born and by that point were financially sound and married for over 20 years. I don’t even want to think about how I might have turned out, had I been raised by a 15 year old girl working through depression in lieu of my parents who gave me everything I needed and enough of what I wanted without being spoiled. I was always quite precarious and a bit of a rebel, especially in my younger years.

While I don’t know my biological mother, I imagine we are similar. My adoptive mother will tell you that one of her favorite things about me is that I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum. I’m pretty sure I get that from my bio mom. Much like her (nature) I’m 40 years old and have never wanted to have kids. Because I’m not religious, being married has never been that important to me; however, most everyone in my adoptive family got married in their 20’s and have at least 2 kids.

Like my biological mother, I began suffering from depression in my early teens (the early 90’s) and myadoptive parents didn’t understand it. It came from the “nature” side and was something neither of them had ever experienced. It’s something I still deal with, but have learned to manage. I hope she has, too.

Like my adoptive parents, there are many things we share in common. My mom and I both love a glass of red wine (or 2) at the end of the day. I keep boxes of Kleenex in every room, despite the fact that I am seldom sick and rarely cry. I love to laugh at everything, especially myself. My dad and I often have moments when we zone out with our thoughts. We don’t really get mad often but, when either of us do, watch out! These similarities lend strongly to the nurture impact on my life.

I’ve not come to any major epiphanies or conclusions, but I am certain that a person’s development stems from both sides, nature and nurture. It would make perfect sense to me; however, that a person tends to mirror what they see growing up. And, as a therapist, I know for a fact that people are extremely affected by their relationships with their parents, but a little mystery is always nice.

Eat Right: Vegan for a Week

A lot of people have expressed to me an interest in going vegan. People are under the impression that it’s really hard to do and very expensive. It’s actually neither if you just plan ahead, have some staple ingredients, and prepare things in advance.

Eating a more whole foods, plant based diet can help you lose weight, feel better, and live a healthier life. I try to think of things I’m ADDING to my diet (vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, and seeds), rather than what I’m LOSING. Many of the meat substitutes (with some brands being better than others, but you must try to get your favorite) taste like the real deal and when you compare the calories, sodium, and fat, you would be amazed at the difference.

I’m not a fan of eating big meals so I mostly “graze” throughout the day. The following is an example of 2 weeks in which I buy certain items from the grocery store and use them up throughout the course of the week, along with a list of those items:

Grocery Store:
Multi-grain sandwich rounds
Portabello mushrooms
Eggless egg noodles (or whole wheat fettucini)
Frozen spinach
Chickenless chicken
Tofurkey Turkey Deli Slices
Beefless Beef Tips

*Everything that’s in bold represents staples that I keep around at the house and office.

Breakfast: ½ a sandwich round folded over with peanut butter; ½ a banana (Freeze the other half)
Snack: Cantaloupe
Lunch: Sandwich (sandwich rounds, your choice of condiments, Tofurkey deli slices, tomato, lettuce, onion); Dill Pickle; Black Bean Soup
Snack: Wasabi peas
Dinner: Portabello Mushroom Stroganoff

Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins, the other half of the banana from yesterday (frozen)
Snack: Watermelon
Lunch: Salad with your choice of dressing (tomatoes, onions, peppers, green olives, banana peppers); ½ a baked potato with vegan butter and sour cream
Snack: Pretzels with peanut butter
Dinner: “Chicken” Fajitas with peppers and onions (Add rice and black beans if you want, or have refried beans as a side)

Breakfast: ½ a sandwich round peanut butter sandwich, ½ a banana
Snack: Canteloupe
Lunch: Sandwich (hummus, Tofurkey, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and salad dressing); lentil soup
Snack: Wasabi peas
Dinner: “Chicken” Salad; ½ a sandwich round, toasted with vegan butter and garlic powder; canteloupe

Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins; ½ a banana
Snack: Watermelon
Lunch: Salad and ½ baked potato
Snack: Cashews
Dinner: Beefless beef tips with peppers, onion, rice, and Amino Acids

Breakfast: ½ a sandwich round with peanut butter and ½ a banana
Snack: Pretzels
Lunch: Leftover “chicken” salad sandwich; Dill Pickle
Snack: Watermelon
Dinner: Portabello Mushroom Burger with peppers and onions

Try this for a couple of weeks and see if you feel any better. Going vegan helped me to feel a lot better, mentally and physically. I lost 20 pounds within the first month and have kept it off for over 2 years. In 2 months I’ll be 40 years old and I’m at the same weight I was my senior year in high school. I’ve been told that my skin looks better. I also feel like I have more energy. When I used to eat lunch, I’d feel very sleepy afterwards, but not when I’m eating vegan and smaller meals throughout the day.

Add exercise to this lifestyle to ultimately boost your energy levels. Some yoga or pilates, walking or swimming, would be a great way to stay fit and feel more energetic. A 30 minute walk a day would do wonders, especially if you’re walking somewhere scenic like downtown. You can go on Youtube and find 30 minute yoga or pilates workouts.

Hope this helps!