The Psych Ward

TRIGGER WARNING: passages about suicide, cutting, depression, and psych wards/mental hospital

“Fealtman,” calls the nurse. She is older, her brown hair tied back in a bun. With her white uniform and “take no shit” attitude, she is perfect for this job. She holds a tray with one hand and gestures to a stack of papers and pencils with the other. She calls a bit louder, “Fealtman!” She is a bit more resolute. I approach her to be handed a small plastic cup of pills. It’s just like the movies. You take them, and they ensure you swallowed. I take one of the papers off the stack and a pencil.

The paper reads like a pop quiz of “mental health.” It asks if I want to kill myself, if I hear voices, or if I feel like I’m being punished. Each question is answered on a scale of 1 to 5. I fill it out, with answers similar to yesterday’s but slightly less negative. I know that if I was truthful with this questionnaire, I wouldn’t be getting out of here for a long time, so I decide to slowly increase the mental health of my lie. If done slowly enough, I figure it would seem as if I was taking to therapy and meds. I hand the paper and pencil back in and go to the rec room. I stare out the barred window. I’m crushed, disillusioned, heartbroken, and utterly destroyed. And as much as I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to go home. I just want to be somewhere familiar. I came looking for help, and I would leave with the understanding that help doesn’t exist.

Let me back up. I was 15 with fresh cuts along both arms. I didn’t try to hard to conceal it. I was cutting in the morning, in class, and at night. When I was finally confronted by my parents and the school guidance counselor, I had been cutting in the very class they pulled me out of. When they asked me to roll up my sleeves, it tugged out the clots. I was immediately sent to a psychologist. During his preliminary questions, he asked if I thought I was a danger to myself or others. I rolled up my sleeves and held my arms in the air. The black-red stripes across my arms were my character witnesses. I asked with all the attitude of a 15 year old, “What do you think?” I was in the psych ward of the “old” Carlisle Hospital that night.

I wanted help. I always did. When I was 36 and slipping back into depression, feeling the pull to get a knife, wanting to feel it drag across my skin one more time, I reached out for help. As I began contemplating suicide, I asked my family doctor for antidepressants. My arms ached for the burn of cold steel again, a therapy for my pain. My thoughts gravitated for cuts much deeper and at an angle that would grant finality. I knew my depression was worsening. I knew it was affecting my wife and my daughters. There was a way out, release their burden, free them of their pain, and end my suffering all at once. Every time I took a bath, it was a struggle to leave the knife behind. “Next time,” I would always tell myself, “not today.” Like an echoed whisper from well so deep as to be immeasurable, my heart’s purest voice kept saying, “I have a family, a home, a community. I don’t want to die.

I finally received and took the antidepressants with surprising results. My thoughts raced so quickly, I split from reality. Walking to the beach to calm myself, I found myself in a fit. I could only rock back and forth and ramble to the ocean words that made no sense even to myself as I said them. When I came down, I thought of an old friend with schizophrenia. Fears regarding my brain seized my soul. The doctor then told me this reaction is typical of bipolar. Thinking on my past and realizing the cycles, I contacted my neurologist. We increased the dosage of two of my epilepsy meds. One is used as an anti-psychotic and mood-stabilizer. The other is used for depression and anxiety. Two birds, I thought. Within days, I was clearheaded again. A week later, I was normal person crazy instead of psych ward crazy.

I always found it easier to be crazy than to ask for help. I suppose that goes without saying, but insanity comes with company whereas reality is often very lonely. Released from the hospital at 15, I was on meds that did virtually nothing and was off of them within a year. But I was punished for seeking help. I was labeled “crazy” and “psycho” by my peers and ostracized. In my next manic episode, I would lash out and sear a path of self destruction. With it came instant popularity as people loved the show. This pattern was paralleled as an adult. When I told my priest I was going to take antidepressants, I was told with a huff, “you do what you believe you have to.” When informed I was bipolar and back on meds, I was told that it was fine for now until I got evened out, implying he wanted me off of them at some point. Many new age organizations have a “better without meds” philosophy. Even if it is only implied, “nature, herbs, and meditation” is the prescribed cure for everything now. It’s one of two reasons I left the church and new age scene. As it turns out, some of us actually need pills. It’s not just a ploy by “big pharma” and greedy doctors.

Having alarms on my phone to remind me to take my meds, Nurse Siri is always here to call my name and ensure I don’t go off the deep end again. Some days, I feel like I’ve never left. But I don’t have to lie any more. Strangely, many of my friends consider me boring. I enjoy being able to pay bills and repair things at home. Keeping up with responsibilities means I am able to keep up with them. I’m ok with being boring. My friends haven’t seen a psych ward, been on the verge of suicide, and tried to self destruct via alcohol, drugs, fights, and sex all at once. If the rest of my life is quietly housewifing and vacationing with my family, I’m good. I’ve got plenty of stories to tell.

Stay crazy. Ask for help. And never judge another’s mental illness.

Love and blessings,
River Sunfeather

If you’re considering suicide, please stick around a bit longer. You never know when something interesting might happen.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255

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Stop Asking About The Surgery

The surgery. Nearly everyone with a trans friend or family member has broached the subject. It is usually done whilst discussing one’s transition, their personal journey crossing emotional, legal, physical, social lines to move from one perceived gender to another. “Are you having the surgery?” “Have you had the surgery?” Sometimes though, it is touched upon during heated arguments, especially when coming out to an unenthusiastic family member or friend. “What about risks and/or costs of having the surgery?” “You realize the surgery is mutilating your body and what nature/God gave you?” So often trans people are reduced to one question. Transition can take 2-4 years for basic aspects, such as passing but 6-10 years for a person to really feel comfortable. And as many of us find, we are forever works-in-progress. We learn so many lessons about life, culture, and ourselves, but our lessons go for naught. Our 6-10 years worth of therapy, fighting state and federal government red tape, hormones, new emotions, unresolved conflicts coming to light, more therapy, tears, doctor’s visits, potentially other surgeries, changing relationships with the world and loved ones, failing to meet our own expectations, letting go of those expectations, heartache, surrender, and even more therapy are boiled down to one question. And that one question applies to only a fraction of us and is in regards to body parts the asker will never see.

SRS(sex reassignment surgery) aka GRS(genital reconstructive surgery) aka “bottom surgery” is supposed to be a personal milestone. It is something akin to coming out, passing for the first time, getting a corrected birth certificate, or beginning HRT(hormone-replacement therapy). And just like any personal milestone –be it getting married, having kids, finding a career, or traveling across seas– for some, it is in the mix and for others, it simply isn’t. Corrected birth certificates, hormones, and “passing” happens for some trans folk but not for others. So not every trans person has the surgery. It doesn’t mean they are incomplete or unfinished. It may mean that they are pleased with the equipment they have or are unhappy with the risks and costs of major surgery. There are so many unforeseen factors. Bottom surgery is not a measurement of one’s transition or trans-ness.

This last statement is important, and deserves repeating for emphasis. Sex reassignment surgery is not a measurement of one’s transition or trans-ness. More and more state and federal government agencies are putting policies in place regarding trans people. But they are, knowingly or not, trying to measure the “gender” of someone. They are putting expectations of one’s transition in place. (After all, we have to be a country with some semblance of rules, right? What kind of world would this be if people walked around with their free-thinking minds to govern them instead of arbitrary* rules. In a place where robots do what they’re told without question, it would be anarchy for sure.) Even with newer awareness, these expectations are still based upon the old antiquated ones. When no one asks and “your physician determines what is clinically appropriate,” the language thinly veils what is implied. Either you are “just beginning” and are on hormones, or you have the tenacity to be a serious transgender by having the surgery.

Living in North Carolina, I have been asked about surgery and my genitalia no less than six times in four visits to the DMV. When it comes to government mandated surgery, it is nothing less than genital normalization surgery and nothing more. If cis(non trans) men walked into the DMV to renew their driver’s licenses and were asked if they had surgery to ensure their penis is of certain size range and they have two testicles, state employees would be getting hazard pay. If in the process of correcting typos on birth certificates and social security cards, cis women were asked about the size of the labia, lawsuits and sexual harassment complaints would be taking up the majority of the government’s time. And government employees would be getting hazard pay. But sexual harassment of trans people isn’t just legal, it’s policy. I had a state official call me from Raleigh to ask me about surgery and lecture me on the importance of genitals. He then followed it up with an email. This is all legal in the name of ensuring one is actually trans. The bizarre part is that until my last visit, I never spoke of what was in my pants. I merely asked why they were using such criteria to discriminate against trans people and the legality. (Sidenote: Don’t threaten the authority of a white cis male, especially in the South. And especially if you’re a “tranny.”)

It is my sincere hope that trans people get to reclaim bottom surgery as theirs again as government agencies at all levels release language that would even imply surgery or a completeness to a lifelong process. And as we move forward, people gather a greater awareness and cease asking their trans friends and family members about it, focusing on support and just being there. Please, hear our stories, listen to our struggles, and rejoice in our victories. I would apologize for this post being so angry, especially since this topic is something so sacred, but life is about having mixed emotions. The tears must come with the clenched fists, and even those must be followed by laughter.

Love and blessings,
~River

PS For those interested in changing your NC documents, your physician’s letter MUST read “has had appropriate clinical treatment” or “has had all appropriate clinical treatment.” If you are interested in fighting for the rights of trans people in NC, don’t give money to Lambda Legal or the ACLU of NC. They do nothing for us here.

Bereft

The tears form their rivers,
A procession for my sorrows.
I am cold but lack the shivers,
As I bury my dreamy tomorrows.

Drops fall when my heart breaks,
Taken aback by hospitality.
Do you know the sound rain makes?
Would you see my new mentality?

Regrets fall, one by one.
You were here, but now you’ve left.
My light is gone, yet I’m not done.
I simply am, and I am bereft.

 

© 2018 River Sunfeather

Facing Divinity Within

One of my teachers said that inside each of us is magnificent divine creature, worthy of love and compassion. According to her, our “higher selves” look like angels and are powerful enough to conquer any fear. They do this by giving unconditional compassion to all. She taught her students that though we must put boundaries down in our lives, ensuring we get enough sleep, food, and time to recharge, we must tap into that compassionate divine self. My mentor of many years taught a similar but slightly different spiritual truth. Inside each of us a “spiritual warrior,” capable of manifesting our desires and healing ourselves from trauma. Through this manifesting and healing, we are able to learn what is necessary to move forward and then, teach others those lessons.

After years of daily meditation, epiphany after ah-ha moment, change after shed layer, always searching deeper within, I finally came to that place of “Higher Self” or “Deity Within.” I expected, from my teachings, that I would find some Goddess or Deity that had helped me manifest all I had been grateful for and would help me achieve that which I still sought. I had hoped to find something capable of giving and receiving divine grace and love.I did not find something powerful or beautiful. What I found was a Goddess far more broken than I could ever have imagined. I came face to face with a Goddess of Pain, of Tragedy, of Sorrow, and Death. She was a Goddess of Mourning. She grew up in an abusive household, where appearances mattered more than content. Live a lie long enough, and you begin to forget who you really are. By the age of 30, she had lost all four grandparents, her father, her son, and half of her friends. She had watched as many of her friends were lost to suicide, murder, drug addiction, illness, and car accidents. It was a mighty bitter pill to swallow. How the f*ck was this the answer to feeling powerful, worthy, and healing my wounds??

I believe that the Universe is a giant clockwork. Imagine a giant Steampunk Clockwork with cogs, levers, springs, pistons, and a few steam engines working in sync. That is the how I believe the Universe works, each of us representing one tiny part of this intricate mechanical complexity. One person might a spring that is always under pressure, while another is a fast-moving cog. It would explain why each of us has a different perspective and a different truth to tell, but no one seems to be able to figure out the whole picture. It would also serve to explain why some work better under pressure, and others need the pressure taken off. It deals with our purpose in the Universe. I also believe that sometimes you need to try being a spring, a lever, a steam engine, and a piston, before figuring out through process of elimination to understand and accept what part you play. That’s what happened to me. You need to experiment, make mistakes, and eventually go back to your roots with a new understanding of why you do what you do so well.

It was tough to accept that my part in the Universe was sorrow and mourning. Though once I had, I found a kind of peace. There was less struggle in my life. I stopped caring about what others thought. Things stopped being about proving myself. I found more meaning in all that I did, from being a housewife to making art, from helping to clean up a local cemetery to putting on my black lipstick. Once you know your place in the world, everything makes sense and all you do has purpose. Happiness, as defined by fairy tale endings, is overrated and usually fictional. Those kinds of things are short-lived. But peace can last indefinitely. It is something that lasts through the ups and downs. To summarize things then, just because you haven’t found your place yet doesn’t mean you won’t. And even more importantly, don’t be afraid of what you find. One doesn’t have to be saving the world or “all-powerful” in order to be content or at peace with who they are. Some of us are meant to teach the world strength and light, while others are meant to teach it vulnerability and Shadow.

Love and blessings,
River Sunfeather

Old Habits

When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I began to have strange dreams. Many had occult symbolism; others showed me a figure I associated with Death. Between the dreams and traumas I had already survived, I had issues relating to my peers. One of my dreams set me off in search of a local cemetery. I found a sense of calm there that seemed to be lackingCemetery1 in my turbulent life as an adolescent. I tried explaining to my parents the dreams and the cemetery, but it only served to make my existence even more difficult. I found it easier not to inform them of the frequency of my visits to the cemetery or the durations.

As time went on, I would adopt many of the trappings of those who typically hang out in cemeteries. I began wearing more and more black, which was another source of contention with my parents. Eventually, my parents accepted the black clothing, but it reinforced the idea that it was far more burdensome to fight for the acceptance of my truth than merely conceal it. By 15, I had bought my first spiked leather collar. We didn’t exactly have a shop for gothic fashion in our area, so it was purchased at a pet store. I began wearing black lipstick and matching eye make up soon after. My sophomore year of high school, my parents were my transportation back and forth to school. I used the time in the morning to switch into black clothing and put on makeup. After school let out, I would switch back into more “acceptable” attire.

So many years later, I was finally able to begin my transition. It’s a reality my teenage self never considered possible. Now I work to reclaim those other forgotten parts of my soul, those bits I found that resonated but surrendered along the way. GroCemetery3wing up is hard, and we often sacrifice far more of ourselves than necessary in pursuit of the “rat race.” Paying the bills can be done in so many ways, and fitting in is often a matter of finding one’s place in the world. Why is it that we tend to be open-minded toward others, yet we become so unimaginative and judgmental when it comes to our own lives? After many realizations and epiphanies,  I’m back to wearing studded collars and dark makeup. And like an echo that returns to the source, I’ve come home to a cemetery. There is a local cemetery where I meditate, read, and journal. I also work to clear some old paths and debris. If we all do a little, no one must do a lot. And for me, it is a labor of love.

I’ve grown up as a restless individual. Maybe it’s because I’m a Gemini rising. Perhaps it’s because I felt alone for so long. It’s possible that the trauma and years of distrust has been sown into my very being. Whatever the cause, my longing for tranquility is so strong, it can onlyCemetery4 be found in a cemetery. While other company brings politics, gossip, and small talk, the dead offer no trivial prattle or idle words. They are silent reminders that are time is finite and must be used wisely. It is easy to see which stones are for those who accomplished great wealth in their lifetime. It is even easier to see who was actually well loved. Their graves have fresh flowers and other offerings long after the date of passing. I am always moved by flowers or some other token left at an older grave, still remembered. To me, that is love. Love is facing the pain and discomfort associated with loss and death just to honor how someone impacted your life. So if you wish to connect with your past, see your future, or simply get your priorities in order, stop by your local graveyard. Just prepare for your world to come to a complete halt as you face the most grounding encounter in all of human experience: your own mortality.

Love and blessings from the Beach Gothme-10months2,
River Sunfeather

Discrimination and Motor Vehicles

On Friday, December 15, I went to update my driver’s license. I had my legal name change. I had a physician’s letter, stating I was in transition. Unfortunately, North Carolina only accepts letters stating surgery has taken place, but I had a trump card: a corrected and valid birth certificate. Because of a lot of transphobic policy-making and legislation, the law of the land in North Carolina has become “one’s gender is what is on their birth certificate.” According to HB2, we were to use the bathroom and locker facilities associated with our birth certificate. Now, I got to use it to my advantage. I had also updated my name and gender with social security, which means the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services would soon be listing me as female if not already. With the new SS card in hand, I had all the necessary documents and walked in for a new license.

There was only one teller at the driver’s licensing office that day. He immediately made it clear he was not going to change the gender on my license. As soon as I sat down and informed him why I was there, the reply was “I can change your name without a problem, but…” He said this before even looking over the details of the documents. He combed over the legal name change as if he were a lawyer. I was then informed I would need a court order that stated surgery had taken place. He phoned his boss and mentioned the name change and letter. He omitted social security and the birth certificate. He then repeated what he had told me before. We had a lengthy conversation, but it was if I was speaking to a brick wall. He was probably used to being debated by student driver’s and learned to tone people out.

I am not sure if this an actual policy or because we are in the middle of nowhere. I am not sure if it is just Pennsylvania birth certificates or just Pennsylvania birth certificates of trans folk. I have no idea why I am female with the part of the state that deals with human bodies but listed as male with the part of the state that deals with cars. There seems to be a rather large discrepancy. I have no idea where this will end up. It could end this week when I call customer service. It could end in several years with litigation and national press coverage. By the gods, I hope not. I’m not looking for a fight. I’m tired. The discrimination, the fighting, being treated like a second-class citizen wears on you. I’m tired from jumping through hurdles and everything being a struggle. The last thing I want is a fight. But NCDOT, what the actual eff??

Love and blessing,
River

A brat’s Musings

The Mistress is truly more beautiful than any other lass.
Emblazoned upon my beating heart is a view of that ass.

She has what many could only hope to aspire.
And She fills many others’ lusty dream and desire.

When we meet, my heart rings as a church bell,
Knowing it will find heaven as my body finds hell.

With love in my heart, I am as free as the bat.
Trusting in Mistress night, and serving as Her brat.