Family · Mental Health

Crossing Tracks

Yesterday I drove over railroad tracks that I go out of my way to avoid. It’s something I’ve been doing for four years and I’ve been pretty successful finding alternate routes that aren’t too far out of my way.

One morning four years ago I woke up to news that a pedestrian had been struck by a train. I didn’t know that I knew him until a few hours later. And it wasn’t until even later that his death was determined to be suicide. He left behind a wife and three young children.

The last time I saw him was a few months before his death and he had appeared to be the same as always- friendly, cheerful, upbeat, positive. At that time, I was still unfamiliar with the faces of mental illness.

Four years later I have gotten a much closer look at mental illness and the impact it has on the person, as well as their loved ones.

Like so many illnesses, it is not always visible to the casual observer. Sometimes it’s hard to see no matter how close you get to the person. Unlike other illnesses, mental illnesses carry a stigma that is hard to shake. While people are quick to understand the ravages of cancer, they are skeptical of the legitimacy of an illness that shows no easily identifiable symptoms. And the obvious signs- sadness in a person suffering from depression- is thought to be in the person’s own ability to control. Unlike other illnesses where, if neglected, a person will end hospitalized or at least, under a doctor’s care, a person suffering from a mental disorder might not reach that place until they attempt suicide. (And as I’ve found out, deny their intention and not accept a mental illness diagnosis.)

It’s sobering. eye opening. challenging. heartbreaking. sad. The following video, courtesy of NAMI- National Alliance on Mental Illness ,talks about the signs.

I know this isn’t in keeping with the holiday spirit we are all embracing these days but mental disorders do not take a holiday. The mom with three children, at least one too young to have memories of his father four years later, will have an empty space in their Christmas. When my family celebrates the day, there’s a good chance that mental illness will impact our day in some way, as it does every day of our lives.

For two years I’ve stayed mostly silent, vaguely referring to someone who was struggling. Yesterday I pulled up at the stop sign. I knew that just out of sight past the line of trees was the train track that I avoid. I could turn that way, which would be the quicker route, or go out of my way, adding at least ten minutes to my travel time. But I knew that it changed nothing if I took the long way. Either way, that pedestrian that I knew from that long ago news story was in my thoughts.

I turned toward the tracks, and as has always been my routine, I slowed down and looked both ways. I closed my eyes for a split second and sent up a prayer and heartfelt message that he knew that he would never be forgotten, that he had touched so many lives and continued to touch them, even in absence and that my hope continued to be that he had found peace.

As I continued down the road, I realized that not writing about this was no longer an option. It has taken my writing hostage and I have truly felt silenced.

Mental illness has come to our family.

We will be as supportive as we can. We will do what’s best for everyone. I’m sure we will continue to learn and grow.

And as we already learned through Kris’s gender identity journey, regardless of what we do, life goes on and so do we.

Much peace,

-Kat

 

 

Challenges · Family · Gender · Words to Live By

Breathe In, Breathe Out

breathe in

In honor of-

  • All the lives lost due to terrorist attacks, violence and suicide
  • And the loved ones that mourn their losses
  • Transgender Day of Remembrance

One quick word about this- there shouldn’t have to be a day or a week or tribute flags on profile pictures. I’m not against any of these things. I understand and support all of them. My point is that it shouldn’t take a horrific act of violence to get anyone’s attention.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is one day, this year on Friday, November 20th, to honor all transgender people who were taken from us too soon. This is a problem of epic proportions and we need more than a day to bring awareness. We need more than a week. Click on the link to find out more. You will see a list of people who were killed. Way too many lives have been lost.

Suicide doesn’t play favorites. Instead it can be found in all walks of life. Anyone from celebrities to ever day dads can  battle demons none of us can imagine. If you need help or want to help out, you can contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Trevor Project supports LGBTQ youth in crisis.

Please keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and prayers. But also, don’t forget. This isn’t something you think about for one day. Let’s keep this in our hearts and minds for longer than a day or a week. It’s up to the living to make a difference.

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will be as one.”  -Imagine, John Lennon

This post is working double time as part of Writer’s Quote Wednesday and BeWoW. If you are unfamiliar with these great challenges, click on the names to check them out!

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Family · Gender

5 Minutes

If you are familiar with the LGBT community, then you might have heard about the alarming statistics that accompany a person who falls in the T (Transgender) category. If you are unfamiliar with the T, the most basic definition is a person whose gender identity does not match their physical body. In my child’s case, Kris was born assigned female but does not identify as such.

Depending on the source, you’ll read that 40% (give or take a percent or two) of all transgender people will attempt to take their own life. It’s sobering. Especially when you consider that the national average is somewhere around 4%. It’s something that, as the parent of transgender person, remains in the back of my mind at all times. It lurks there in the darkest corner- the fear of losing my child. Each time I read one of those heartbreaking stories of a loss that no parent should ever experience, I can’t imagine being in that position.

—————————————————-

24 hours ago-

I glanced at my Facebook notifications, scanning the list, my eyes stopping at a message that my middle child, Kris, had updated his status. I clicked on the notification, idly wondering what was on his mind. With Kris, one never knew what to expect. As the page loaded, my mind did a quick recall of our last text conversation (our most common form of communication while he’s away at school), thinking that I don’t remember him responding. Before I could reach for my phone for confirmation, my eyes skimmed the status (that had finally loaded).

Two words jumped out at me- “dead” and “revived”.

That got my attention.

It was at this point that I became aware of how many tasks your mind can perform in the space of a few minutes because I went into auto pilot. For the next 5 minutes, I felt like an observer as several things happened in a short period of time.

While I was reading the response of a friend-

“Are you okay? Call me!”

I was reaching for my phone to find out when I had last heard from Kris. I was comparing the time of the last text to the time of his post. I was reading his entire post, trying to determine the meaning and validity of my rising panic.

I then asked my husband when he had last heard from Kris and his answer of “a few hours ago” was not accurate enough for me.

While I was talking to him, I had texted Kris and his brothers. To Kris I was asking what was up. Michael and Andrew received messages telling them to text Kris anything that would get a response and let me know when they heard back.

By this time, I was aware of a numbness that spread throughout me. Every few seconds a determined thought would try to break through my consciousness only to be shoved into the background by the part of my mind that was clearly taking the lead on this.

Although my mind was hard at work, it became apparent that nothing else was functioning. I was frozen. My heart wasn’t feeling a thing- only the warm cocoon of being wrapped up and swaddled safe from harm. The only physical action I seemed capable of was checking my phone and giving short terse comments to my husband. And I heard one word echoing through my mind- “Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.”

So that’s what I did. Or at least I tried to. I forced myself to breathe in and out and that simple act, one that we mostly take for granted, was really difficult and painful.

While I was reading the Facebook status to my husband, he shot out a text to Kris. Then he shared the last text conversation he had with Kris, which had taken place a few minutes before that scary status.

Kris had apparently been having an emotionally draining day and due to a few unforeseen mishaps, was feeling exhausted both physically and mentally.

As I listened to the text exchange, I was able to get a feeling for Kris’s state of mind.

And before he reached the end, where Kris proclaimed that he was dead tired and couldn’t wait to get back to his room so he could drop, I heard from him. And his brothers reported immediate responses.

I could feel the binding surrounding my heart begin to loosen, my breath came easier and my mind quieted and slowed down.

Those persistent thoughts pushed their way through the protective barriers, my heart stinging with each panicked but unrealized thought. There was no crisis. Just a huge- “what if?”

As I thought over the those last 5 minutes, I questioned my judgment. Had I overreacted? Was I unable to separate a real threat from an innocuous post? My mind swirled with thoughts of the utter panic I had fought to deny.

And then Kris sent a text

“OMG Campus security just came knocking on my door and making me open the door. My friend called them because she could not reach me.”

In that second I knew that in the midst of those thoughts that were shoved down and silenced were ones wondering if it was time for me to be making that call, looking for Kris’s address to have on hand…. And I told Kris that I was seconds away from doing the same.

————————————————————————–

I’ve had time to think about that 5 minutes. I learned a few things. I did not overreact. I know that there were even more pesky, terrifying thoughts that couldn’t even reach the surface to try to poke through. And I know that my mind was seconds away from “releasing the hounds” and letting them through so I would/could take action.

But, I also got confirmation that I’m not alone. Whether it’s that faithful friend on Facebook who reacted quickly or my other sons, who did not question me- just picked up their phones and texted, I’m not alone and Kris is not alone. I hope that this experience serves as a reminder to Kris that he does have people who care about him.

Was/Is Kris suicidal? I really hope not. But after him telling me for years that he would never take his own life, I heard him tell his psychiatrist that he was STILL having thoughts of suicide and I’m aware that not all people who attempt it, talk about it.

This episode served as a reminder to me to keep my phone close at hand and keep in touch. Regardless of the actual statistics, they are too damn high and I’m not willing to risk my child’s life.

 

If you need help, it is available: 

Trans Life Line or call US (877)565-8860 /Canada (877)330-6366

It Gets Better Project This page will give you many resources, including The Trevor Project and the GLBT National Help Center.

Source: Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults 

 

Family · Friday Fuzz · Gender

#HisNameWas #HerNameWas

As I was preparing to write a post about this article Not One More: Protect and Empower Trans Youth  that was shared in one of the parent Facebook groups, I saw it. Another one. Rest in Power Sam Taub 15 years old. Gone.

Do you remember 15? I sure do. I had a million secret crushes. My walls were plastered with my favorite heart throbs- Shaun Cassidy, Scott Baio, Leif Garrett.  I spent hours on the phone with my best friend analyzing if the way some guy said hi or looked at one of us meant anything. I listened to the radio, played my cassettes and records. I read my favorite books over and over again. I hoped that maybe someday I would look more like a girl and less like a stick figure. I agonized over that first kiss, which would not happen for 2 more years. I thought being 15 was so hard.

I had it easy.

Transgender people, no matter what their age, don’t always have it that easy. Their worries at 15, 18, 22 are much different than your average young person at that same age.

Transgender youth are at a scary high percentage for being at risk of attempting suicide – 41%. And then in the article about Sam Taub I was introduced to a new stat- that it is estimated that 62% of reported trans suicides were boys between the ages of 15-24. GULP

As the mother of a trans guy who falls in that age range, my heart seizes. I can’t breathe. I panic. Once again, as is often the case when I hear of another transgender person lost, I want to hold onto Kris and never let him go.

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is to support transgender youth -actually ALL trans people.

If you click on just 2 links as you read posts of other bloggers today, please make them these 2! I could cut and paste all the relevant parts but that would be the entirety of both articles. There are similarities between the two, as there should be. They both talk about transgender youth and suicide.

Not One More: Protect and Empower Trans Youth

Rest in Power Sam Taub

And if for whatever reason, you can’t, this is what stands out to me-

From Not One More

“Supporting transgender and gender non-conforming youth in our communities can help prevent suicides. These young people aren’t taking their lives because they’re weak, or selfish, or because they are attention seeking. Many youth could have simply run out of resources. Perhaps they aren’t killing themselves because they’re transgender — they’re doing it because they are being treated as sub human, and because other people’s ignorance has made day to day life can be too painful to bear.”

And-

“A recent Pew study found that only 8 percent of people have ever (knowingly) met a transgender person. And sadly, society has a very thinly veiled repugnance for many aspects of being transgender, and what they assume we must be like. There is an obsession with our genitalia, and what we have or haven’t done surgically. We are accused of mutilating our bodies, we’re interrogated about how we experience sex and sexuality, and it seems no question is off limits when people talk to and about us. We are vilified by society for simply wanting to relieve ourselves in the bathroom we feel safe in, and are painted as rapists, child predators, exhibitionists, etc. Transgender people are still working hard just to be seen as human beings to much of society, and until this is achieved, the most vulnerable among us are at constant risk.”

So, what can you do to support a transgender person? The following tips are a combination from both articles.

1. Listen with an open mind and a loving heart.

2. Provide them with a safe place to express themselves.

3. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS respect their preferred name and gender pronouns and demand that same respect from others.

4. Support their transition.

5. Enlist professional support from experienced in transgender care- both medical and emotional.

6. Do NOT out them to others or suggest they not identify themselves as their true selves.

7. Do not judge their decisions. This is their life, not yours.

ADVOCATE

LOBBY

EDUCATE

Be a TRUE ALLY! There’s a good chance you are saving a life!

The transgender community has chosen to remember those lost with a # campaign- #HerNameWas/#HisNameWas.

Don’t let another transgender person become the latest on this list of #HisNameWas #Her NameWas.

If you are a transgender or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

Friday Fuzz · Gender

Friday Fuzz- Sadness

“Every human walks around with a certain kind of sadness. They may not wear it on their sleeves, but it’s there if you look deep.” -Taraji P. Henson
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A transgender teenager threw himself in front of a train. If you know the right people, have liked the right pages on Facebook or follow the right people on Twitter, you have heard about him. It’s a tragedy. Any time a person takes their own life, it’s devastating. That a child who had his entire life ahead of him felt like he had no other choice breaks my heart. As a teenager he was out of options. He felt he had nowhere to turn.

I have encountered his story in news articles, in Facebook groups and even here in blogs. I’ve read commentaries made by parents of transgender children. I’ve read articles written by people who are not familiar with transgender people. In some, the parents are quoted. And in some they are not. Sometimes the correct pronouns are used. Sometimes they are not. It’s driving me crazy!

Here’s what we know- a transgender teenager killed himself by stepping in front of a speeding train and now he is gone. He was obviously suffering greatly.

Are his parents to blame? I don’t know. I don’t have anything to go on. I don’t know how long his parents knew that their child was transgender. I don’t know if they were supportive or not. I don’t know if they were truly trying or not. I don’t know what they knew about being transgender or if they even understood what it meant. I don’t know if they turned their backs on him. I don’t know if they truly believed he was transgender or suicidal or what.

Was his extended family supportive? Did they know? What was his support system like? Did he have one? I don’t know any of these things.

People are passing judgment on his parents. People are looking for someone to blame. People are trying to cope. I get that.

As a parent of a transgender child, it makes me feel scared and angry and helpless. Whether transgender or not, it is very terrifying to hear that your child has thought about suicide. Your blood runs cold. Your heart seizes up. You suddenly cannot swallow the huge boulder of a lump in your throat. In your paralyzing fear, you are trying to get your limbs to move- to race to your child and hold him in your arms and keep him safe.

I know this because 8 months ago I sat in a psychiatrist’s office and heard him ask Kris, “Do you still have thoughts of suicide?”  Wait, what, STILL??? His answer- “Yes.” I won’t share any of the conversation that followed his admission. I will never forget it.

And so, someone’s child is gone. He will never know the full potential of who he could have been. He barely experienced his life at all. And he had a mere few seconds of living in the gender he knew he was. We will never know the great things he could have done, the awesome man he was going to grow into being. It’s his loss. The world’s loss. And regardless of where his parents, family and friends fell in the equation- their loss.

I can’t sit here and judge who failed and where the blame lays. I can only grieve for a child who is gone much too soon.

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