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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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

I am a Survivor

As I do every morning now, I tie a black cloth to my wrist. I repeat my daily mantra,
BlackWristtaking deep breaths between each sentence, “I am a Survivor. It’s over now. My abusers can no longer hurt me.” I close my eyes and try to let it sink in before starting my day. I am coping with PTSD from childhood abuse and bullying, and this routine helps to keep my demons at bay. Throughout the day, as things get too heavy or I realize that I am taking life too seriously, I try to consciously look at my wrist. I walk away and repeat my mantra. I’ve left many conversations open-ended, projects unfinished, and chores incomplete.

I will not go into the details of the abuse in this post, but would rather prefer to share with you some of my experiences with PTSD. Maybe you are suffering or know someone who is. If nothing else, I hope to help remove the stigma around mental illness.

My day begins at around 1 am. I wake up once, sometimes twice a night with feelings of extreme Guilt, as if I have done something horrible. I have been moved to write apology emails, text messages, and many letters at this time of night. I have apologized for not greeting someone at a restaurant. I wake up with intense Fear, believing I would be evicted, the utilities would be turned off, we would run out of food, or that I would be run out of my neighborhood or killed. I also wake up with inexplicable Sadness and Pain. Waking up in tears or screaming and having no idea why, I have been moved to believe that everyone hated me and was going to leave me. For much of my life, this was normalized to such a degree, I had no idea why it was happening. Now when I wake up with these feelings, I journal about them and return to bed. It is still almost every night.

I tie a piece of black fabric to my wrist and remind myself that the bad times are over, that I’m a survivor. I continue on with my day. I am a perfectionist and have dealt with high anxiety. I believed the excuses and blamed myself rather then accept the fact that those who sought to break me were doing just that. As a result, I served impossible standards. It was my fault for being weak, being emotional, being frail, being different, etc. Years later, I’m still chasing the same demons. I’m still hunting myself down for being too weak, not good enough, not going the extra mile. Even when I deliver a perfect product and a customer is thrilled, it is a hollow victory. All I worry about is how could I have done better.

Like Pavlov’s bitch, I still react long after the stimulus has been removed. I flinch when telling people I’m trans or in crowded rooms. My social anxiety is off the charts. I repeatedly ask how I look before leaving the house, because I believe I am unable to dress appropriately. In certain circumstances, I seek approval. In other circumstances, I lash out knowing that if it is not good enough, we will all be found unworthy, be beaten, and/or deserted. I believe that at any moment, my family will walk out the door and leave me. I believe that if we become friends, you will abandon me. I believe I am completely unworthy of the people that surround me. I know how it all sounds.

I meditate. I have meditated for years. I make art, write, listen to music, do yoga, and drink tea. I have days where life is fine, and I go about things as normal as anyone else, I imagine. Then I have a day where I sit on the couch, cry, and journal all day long. The memories come flooding back, so I write them. I am overwhelmed by emotions. I cry, I laugh, I cry some more, and I write. Sometimes, a conversation brings back a memory, a television show, a commercial. I hear song lyrics and am reminded of something a bully once said or father’s words. The emotions are a tidal wave in my brain, and I am there, running for my life, alone, waiting for it to be over.

I now face an uncertain future as I cope with PTSD as a trans woman. I now take everything one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. I am receiving help in the form of a therapist, family, and friends. My transition has helped immensely. It has allowed me to deal with things, to move forward, and to finally begin the process of discarding my abusers’ truths so I could live as my own authentic self. My truth is that this bitch is a wolf, and that I’m a survivor. And that means learning to accept that it’s over, and it’s time to let go.

WolfbyTeo
Wolf by Teo

Love to you all,
River Sunfeather

If you know someone with depression, PTSD, or mental illness and is having a hard time, talk to them without judgment. Listen to their feelings. Ask them why they feel this way, and hear their story. If it is serious, get them help. Don’t ignore it. People with mental illness don’t need prayers and memes. They need the support of those around them without judgement. As a good friend put it, “Judge others less, love them more.”

Trans Lifeline – 877-565-8860
Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255
Further Reading: Book on Shadow Relationships

Throwing Out Expectations

It’s now been over a month and a half on HRT(hormone-replacement therapy). Many mundane, yet miraculous things have changed. My face has feminized so much, I am called “ma’am” at stores. My body shape has changed so much, I no longer fit into men’s clothing. My mood swings are mood roller-coasters. My breast development now requires the wearing of a bra. But something far deeper and more important happened. I let go of my expectations.

I had all of these grand ideas about how transition would go, what kind of woman I would be, and what I would look like. Not watching reality television, I was not lured by glamor or beauty. Instead, I had done a lot of research into feminism, women’s rights, and gender constructs. I would not be the stereotypical woman, overly emotional and concerned with fashion. I would not give into the pressure to “look good.” I would be conscientious to prove I was hardworking and concerned with the things that matter most: the environment, helping others, and of course, women’s rights. I would refuse to be oversexualized, put people with male privilege in their place, and would never settle for anything less than equality.

Right…. LOL!!!

While I believe we do get to choose our Path, I also believe our Path also chooses us. I have two daughters, who are probably more emotionally stable that I am right now. I am moved to tears by the word “kittens” and or even thinking “happy thoughts.” I’m also the most fashion-minded one in the house. I have heard the women in my life make terrible comments about their bodies. Body acceptance isn’t easy, but I feel it is crucial. Feeling comfortable and taking a little care in how you look is such a huge confidence booster. I’m still interested in things like the environment. Whether it’s making a purse out of an old jacket, a skirt from tattered bandannas, or a standing garden table out of an old box spring, I love to reuse things. It cuts down on waste.

I still do what I can do help others, but I’ve become so involved with transition that I honestly have become somewhat self-absorbed at times. I have found that it is typically better to wait until someone asks for help, and so that is what I do. I’m too busy trying to fix me. And though I still consider myself a feminist, it is for very different reasons than going in. I just want equality and realize I am now on the outside looking in, asking for/demanding it. I can now see male privilege in certain people. And when I try to point it out, I see male guilt. The situation is way more complex that I ever could have realized, and I am only just learning.

Things are so far different, I think I have become my own Shadow. The only emotion that has stuck with me, through it all is gratitude. I am grateful to be here. I am grateful for my supportive wife and her guidance. I am grateful for my bewilderment, for my disappointment, and for my letting go of who I was. I am grateful for the fact that I am still changing, and I have no idea who I will end up next. It’s time to throw out expectations like an old pair of ill-fitting jeans and embrace the new individual in the mirror.

Love and blessings,
River

MensWomensJeansSizeConversion

HRT Begins…

I have known for a while that hormone-replacement therapy(HRT) is something that I wanted as part of my transition. The wait time to get see this particular endocrinologist was many months. After research, emotional and psychological work, I got myself into position to see her. She is one of the few endocrinologists who specializes in transgender hormone-replacement therapy in North Carolina. Finally on Monday, the 10th of April, I went to my first endo appointment.

My family and I drove several hours to her office. It was an emotional journey for everyone. I had a thorough discussion with the doctor about what the therapy entailed and the risks and benefits of the medications. I would be placed on a testosterone blocker as well as estrogen. Labs would be taken frequently and dosages would be adjusted until I was in the normal range for a typical female. I would also be tested for other things to ensure my safety.

What surprised was a comment about my life expectancy. She cited a few studies about introducing estrogen to post-menopausal women, but noted that there were no studies yet on trans women, as no one has really been doing this long enough or with enough numbers to know how it will impact life expectancy. Having a similar mentality to mine, she mentioned I “could be hit by a bus tomorrow. We just don’t know.” The quantity of life is completely irrelevant if the quality is crap. If you are depressed all the time and hate a major part of your life, good health is not something to be grateful for.

The hormones would slowly change certain aspects of my body. We went over what some of these changes would be. We also spent a good bit of time on what would not be changing. There are certain traits that I could eliminate through other options if I needed to pass or if those traits caused dysphoria. The entire appointment gave me a lot to think about and was quite a learning experience. It really gave me something to think over.

During the course of the conversation, she mention I would begin to see more colors as the shape of my eye changed. I decided to do some research into this and found the shape of the eye is different between men and women, allowing for a completely different perception of the world. If not only has my body been male, but an essential part of my nervous system, then perhaps being transgender is actually a miracle. All of the input I have been receiving about my body and even the world around me has been coming in through male filters, yet something deep within has still said, “No, I’m not listening. This is not who I am.” I feel like being trans is kind of like having evidence of the soul. And as I continue on my journey, I gain more confirmation…and acceptance of who I truly am.

Love and blessings to you all,
River

ButterflyBelieve

A Lost Rite of Passage: Earning Your Name

In many tribal and ancient cultures, people faced a rite of passage into adulthood. One aspect was being given a name at birth by a person’s parents. One carried this name during their childhood. They were allowed to make mistakes, to learn, to discover who they were and what they wanted to be. They would spend time being raised by every mother in the tribe and learning a bit about each path as they grew. They were allowed to play and make time for themselves, be as children are.

Finally, a time would come when they would have to face a great rite of passage. After the rite, they would be failures and face meditation and more lessons, or they would enter into adulthood and full accountability for their actions. Along with that, they would be expected to contribute to the tribe/village. There would be no more time of questioning and wondering, as they would now know who they were as a person, who they were in the tribe, and who they were going to be in the world.

In some cultures, part of this trial included a new name. The individual would choose or find their name. This was a symbolic way of stepping out of your parents’ shadow. Our parents do not decide our fate, what we do with our lives, nor do they choose who we are to become. One’s path rests between the individual and the Universe; that is their own contract with whatever energy or karma they may believe in.

After much meditation, the name River Bastet Morrigan Sunfeather-Fealtman was chosen. It represents many things and one thing all at the same time. It is the elements, it is dual-natured Truth, it is forever just River, and the emotional chaos. As I looked into changing my name in North Carolina, I found that it would be quite an ordeal. While some states required a form or two, the great state of North Carolina required four separate affidavits, two of which require character witnesses, a large filing fee, background checks, and more. This was to be a rite of passage.

During this rite, I learned much about friendship. I realized who I could and could not count on. I also learned that many individuals support what I am doing. I have the backing of my community. I was able to raise the filing fee myself, independent of anyone else. There were more lessons than I can list here, many deeply personal. But I have finally stepped from my parents’ shadow and claimed my own self. It is time to make my own way in the world now as the individual I was meant to be.

Love and blessings,
River

Of Warriors and Faeries

Bravery does not feel like being courageous. It feels like being terrified.

I have reached that awkward stage in my transition. I am doing things that are “traditionally” female, yet I have a body that is still recognizably male. This makes many of those around me, especially those with traditional values, uncomfortable. By being open about my transition and talking about transgender issues, I can alleviate some of their fears and worries. I will not lie. Every time I speak on the issue, I feel a tinge of my own fear rise up.

When I first came out to my closest friends, I was terrified. I expected to lose them. I expected to be judged and ridiculed. When I told my family, I expected the same. Though there was some pushback from family members, my being transgender has not cost me friends or family members. I have been lucky. Though it has put some distance in certain relationships, it has brought others closer. I am aware that many trans individuals are mistreated and many have sacrificed to get us to this point. I am under no illusions I also take a certain amount of risk, and I am grateful for everything I have. But it was not my awareness of other trans folks and their sacrifices that made me afraid but my awareness of gender constructs. It was the social programming from friends, family members, and even complete strangers. All my life, I had been told, “be a man” and been made keenly aware of the consequences of letting people down in that regard.

To me, one of the greatest battles we fight is not the one where we fight for our rights or even the one for normalcy. Though those battles are important and must be fought, it is in my opinion, a far more important battle that is waged in the mind of a trans individual. For us, one of the greatest trials is overcome simply anytime we tell someone. It is the battle we win every time we explain what we do and the details of our transition and our life. If someone comes out to you, they just won a major conflict. Be supportive. Show encouragement. Thank them for sharing this part of themselves with you. And if you know someone who isn’t out yet, do not shame that person. You have no idea what kind of demons that person may face every day of their life.

I believe the ultimate battle that anyone must face is for self-acceptance. That initial knowing and accepting of oneself is crucial. One must face their darkest fears and find self-love deep inside. Either one accepts themselves for who they are, and they are willing to fight, OR they give up, saying something or someone else is in the way. But contrary to what we learned in English, “accountability” begins with the letter “I” and accepts no excuses. This life is about you and no one else. Are you and your dream worth it? Are you willing to fight to make your own wishes come true? It is never too late.

Blessings,
River ♥
May all your wishes come true.

blue-fairy