On Anxiety

I’ve talked before about how I’ve started studying Stoicism. I want to take a moment and discuss how and why it helps me.

The word stoic usually invokes the idea of someone unfeeling, disconnected from their emotions. Which isn’t really what Stoicism is about. What I’ve come to understand is that it’s really the study of impressions, and understanding how that affects what you can and cannot control.

You can not control anything except your mind. You can direct your body, but you can’t control what happens to it. You don’t choose whether or not to get sick, as an example. So if you’re only able to control your own thoughts, then the goal of life is to find acceptance of that fact.

You can’t control what others do, nor what they do to you, you can’t control the world around you in any meaningful way. You can attempt to change things, and it is indeed good to try and do good things, but ultimately you can not control how other people react to you.

Anxiety is an internal state generally caused by externals. It’s something I have had to come to live with. What I’ve had to learn to contend with is that ultimately. that anxiety is something that I’ve created.

That’s not to say it’s not from unfounded fears. There are people in this world who want me dead, there are people who want to see my life destroyed. There are people who hate that I exist and feel so strongly that I am ruining their life just by existing. So feeling anxious doesn’t inherently sound like a stretch.

What I have to hold on to is that whether or not those people think that, or even if they act on that. If I’m beaten and broken, or even killed. Those are all external to me. I can’t change their feelings, I can only live, and I can only find solace in my own rational mind.

Being anxious and nervous, letting that fear build up, limits all of the moments that I could have been enjoying. One of the weaknesses that I’ve discovered about myself is that I have a hard time with vulnerability. I have put a substantial amount of effort into independence and limiting the way in which that which is outside of my power can hurt me. Rather then bringing me peace, it only magnifies the vulnerability I feel from what’s outside of my control.

The net result being that the more control I feel I have in my life, the more anxious and concerned I am with what’s out of my control. Which explains why I’m bad at keeping my thoughts in order, and my mind clear. I put so much stock in becoming independent that the thought of being dependent or even having another’s decisions affect me scares me. For no other reason then the fact that I have grown up so afraid of what the world would do to me when they found out I was trans, I’m almost waiting for the riot in the streets.

So I’m really only hurting myself, and I think I have to come to terms with the fact that the world just doesn’t care that much. I need to live my life, and I need to do it accepting that the world can hurt me, I can’t prevent that pain, and I might even be surprised when it isn’t that bad after all.

 

Talking Down to Help Lift Up Trans Folk

I went to a pride event organized for professionals a little while ago. The event was a bit of a dud, and one of the things that bothered me was around a conversation about trans people.

The main event was a panel discussion on making workplaces more LGBTQ friendly, and better ways to achieve this then periodic sensitivity training. One of the most uncomfortable topics was around trans people, not because I think there needs to be less support for trans people in the work place. A lot of my discomfort was centered around the way the conversation unfolded. To be completely honest, it was quite obvious that the conversation was a condescending and shallow attempt by gay people, to try and discuss trans people.

The worst part, was that it was plainly obvious to the panelists that there wouldn’t be any trans people in the room. It was a room full of professionals right? So trans people wouldn’t be there, so why speak to us as if we deserve to be in the room.

I don’t know if anyone else in the room was trans, but I certainly was, and it’s likely that no one there expected a trans person to be present. Which makes the tone and conversation all the more uncomfortable.

I live in a small town, the queer community here is reasonably close knit. On a day to day basis I’m not used to experiencing the ‘hierarchy of privilege within the community. I’m not accustomed to being talked down to by gay men and lesbians. So when I went to this event in a nearby city. It was a bit jarring.

The panel itself was condescending around trans issues. That wasn’t the icing on the cake for me. At the little networking event afterwards, I overheard a student in attendance talking to a few people about wanting to get an internship in my field. So I decided to give the guy a chance, and I went and introduced myself. Complimented his rainbow bow tie, and tried to start a conversation. He looked me up and down, made a dismissive grunt and then walked away.

The first bit of irony is that I am likely the only person there that could have made an introduction to help him get what he wanted. But that complete dismissal of who I am based on my appearance, was disgusting. It’s just one more thing I now get to carry with me.

The only point I think I can try and make out of this, is that there is an incredible difference between working with a group of people and working at a group of people.

If you look at the history, the reason why trans folk are so marginalized is because we’ve usually been used as fuel and fodder by gay people in the community to achieve their aims, and when the trans community has gotten in the way they’ve seen fit to throw us to the wayside.

What I’m talking about today is just a continuation of that marginalization. The point of community is to work together, and I’ve discovered in some places, there’s some healing that needs to happen first.

Finding Motivation

Let’s talk about motivation, not specifically in the workplace, but generally. The desire to accomplish things.

One of the things I’ve had to give up since transitioning is any sort of recognition or material rewards.

My first full time job out of college five years ago, adjusted for inflation, paid better then what I make now. I’ve taken on bigger and better jobs, but that hasn’t turned into any sort of financial benefit.

So I’ve had to rethink my entire motivation system. I’m an out trans woman, I might as well have a tattoo across my forehead that says exploit me. Because the general sentiment I’ve experienced is that I’m lucky to have a job. Which is backed up with statistics. only 1/3 of trans folk work full time, I’m in the top quartile for earnings with my 40 odd thousand dollars a year salary. Compared to my straight cis peers I’m not doing great, but compared to other trans folk, I’ve experienced some substantial financial success.

So context is important, I have a full time job, I have a career I like, and I help people while doing it. On top of it I’m not close to the poverty line, so by most metrics of trans folk I’m incredibly successful. That took awhile to internalize. It’s hard not to compare yourself to your peers. it’s hard not to feel slighted by people you should trust, and it’s hard to not take it personally when people exploit you.

At the end of the day though, wallowing in that will only hurt you. I’ve felt so much hurt in the last year. So much pain. I’m trying to move past it all, and hold in my heart that in so many ways things are better then I’d ever imagined them being.

That is what you have to hold in your heart. That is what I try and focus on, and I’m generally not successful at it, but I keep trying. I have time to give back to my community, I have time to spend with my wife, I have time to give to friends and I still have time to mow my lawn. Which is my lawn that I’m paying for. So for me financial success is unreliable, and that’s a fact I’ve had to accept.

Motivation based on passion, motivation based on internal strength, motivation based on people, and most importantly, motivation based on a desire to make things better. That’s what drives me now, and it’s so much harder to hold on to, but it runs cleaner and feels healthier. Besides I’ve got to be able to keep myself motivated to build a world where I and those like me belong. We didn’t have the luxury of being born into one.

Having a Clear Goal

I’ve had loosely defined goals most of my career, I’ve wanted to help tackle financial illiteracy, I’ve wanted to help people out of avoidable situations, I’ve wanted to help make people better off and enjoy the lifestyle they currently have.

but I’ve never been able to concrete say, this is what I want to be doing, every day. This is what I want my career to be about.

Those loosely defined goals are still there, but I’ve been thinking about it, and in the last six months I feel like I’ve done more good then in the last ten years. What was the main difference? I had passion, because I’ve finally found a community that I feel a part of and that I want to serve.

I’ve volunteered since I was a teenager, and I’ve been agreeable while doing it, but I’ve never had that spark that propels you to something greater.

Which comes back to my career. I’m a financial planner. I want to do what I’m best at, and I want to serve my community. My most rewarding and effective meetings are with other members of my community. I want to help my community overcome that avoidance of the financial system. Because it’s historically disadvantaged us.

The concept of competency towards dealing with the LGBTQ+ community is in it’s infancy and is still largely centered around winning over business from well to do gay men. Not about improving the lives of the community.

I’m not sure what form this will all take, but I want to help make gay, and bi, and trans and any other folk under the rainbow realize their goals and dreams. I want to help us enrich ourselves, to better our community. To progress past the systemic discrimination and to achieve what we’re capable of, not just what we’re able to scrounge together.

I want us to have a bright future.

A New Normal

I’ve written before about this but I wanted to take a chance and continue the conversation. I’ve written about having to learn with being okay, with not being okay.

You can read the first post here: It’s Okay Not To Be Okay

It’s a theme that I’ve touched on through out these posts, and it’s something that holds itself in my head.

The world is heavy for me. I went from living a life pre-transition where my major sources of stress and anxiety were internal. I didn’t know myself, and therefore I struggled.

As I dealt with that whole trans thing and came to terms with myself, and was able to rest for a moment and realize that, I’d been held back a lot in life, and that I had to do a lot of work to learn to be myself, whoever that was. In a very unsafe place. When we talk about children growing up, we talk about how they make mistakes, and they learn, and they grow. It’s what that point of your life is for. To suddenly find yourself an adult, with this huge chasm where your mature person-hood should be, is terrifying.

It takes time to build yourself back up. All of the stopgaps and makeshift personalities you’ve littered around you like confetti to distract those around you from the fact that you’re not really a fully realized person stops very suddenly, In my head it looks like the day after a festival, you can tell there was something there, you’re not quite sure what it looked like, and it was definitely temporary and meant to get people away from the business of living their regular lives.

Except that was my regular life. So as the carnival comes crashing down around me. The reality that you have to carefully stitch yourself back together and start moving through your life is a huge weight.  Because there’s times that I’m messy, and I can’t help it. There are times that I wish I could just scream but I can’t. I’d love to throw my hands up and just give up sometimes, and everything would still be okay.

But I’m an adult with responsibilities and if I give up than there are consequences.

I guess what I’ve learned is how to persevere, and to start understanding a bit when I’m a mess, and have started to learn to cope with my messiness. I struggle at times not to impact others, because it’s not fair to them. At the same time I know I need that support. That sometimes, I’m just so out of my league and depth, and I’m so scared and lonely, that I just need a friend. But I hate that my friendship comes with a price to those I care about.

I’m moving forward, and I’m finding some center and calm. I’m learning to be me, and coming to terms with what I am and what I am not. Which is so rewarding. I feel, oh how I feel! The highs and lows are dizzying, the depth is rich. The palette of feelings is so varied and interesting ,and even in times of pain and sorrow. I relish that I have an outlet for that now. I’m not limited to just bottling it all up until it all melts into rage.

I love that I can love things. Even the warmness of a hug doesn’t elude me anymore. I can feel that reciprocation of expressions now. Beyond knowing what to feel, in a very artificial and intellectual way. I care deeply, but there’s so much more passion now. It’s an incredible and mind boggling experience.

Life ain’t easy, and that’s my new normal.

 

The Value of Stories

I’ve always had an interest in history. One of the greatest joys, and heartaches I’ve found over the last six months is discovering queer and trans history.

The stories are empowering and give me life. The fortitude and endurance that has been required to move our community to this point is astounding to me. It gives me hope, and it supports me when I’m feeling down.

I want to talk about a profoundly moving moment I had a few weeks ago. Even though it’s not based on a real story, the relevance of it spoke to me. I was watching the new Tales of the City, and we got to a certain episode set in the sixties.

The episode centers around Compton’s Cafeteria, and what happened that fateful night. What struck me, and it struck me hard. Was to see this dramatization of these deep rooted fears, and to see presented, and then validated, those deep deep, to the core of my being fears around being an out trans woman.

I’m not that old, but I still grew up thinking that the best I could hope for, was to not hope for anything at all. To be able to see, just a sliver of the faceless amorphous terror that still haunts me, gave me an opportunity to deal with it. To see it for what it was, I knew it was fear, but it was the fear of an isolated little girl living in a world that didn’t make any sense, forced into a life that didn’t fit. All of the years of running and hiding away, trying to build a life that I could call my own. It all made sense why I’d felt that incredible pressure, why I’d felt like I didn’t belong in the world.

So it was also so powerful to see that turned on its head, and see that there was still a future and that I’m part of something bigger then myself, and to feel it, and to feel connected to this whole history, as rough and bloody and awful as it might be. I belong in this world, and that I’m made of some pretty tough stuff.

On those days that I just wanted to scream ‘why don’t you love me world! Why don’t you want me!’ I understand now, Not in a thinking rational way, I’ve had that for awhile. On an emotional level, to the core of my being there’s now a sliver of light because I know that I’m not alone in feeling that, and if I’m not alone then there’s love in this world, and if there’s love and acceptance somewhere, then I need to keep that light for the next, and the next, and the next. Until we all feel welcome.

In and among the whole sobbing mess that I’d made of myself, and I cried for a solid hour. The pain and anger, and then the realization, and then the laughter and joy. All at once at times. Just letting that all pour out of me.

I walked down my hall and looked in the mirror. In the mirror looking back at me was this hysterical, sobbing, snotty woman.

It was the first time I’d looked in the mirror and seen a woman. Known that the woman I was looking at was me. Not a woman that needed to be looked through a lens, or squinted to see, not a woman with conditions or explanations. I saw myself, the woman I always knew that I was looking back to me. The messy crying disaster of a woman that I am. Smiling like an idiot back at myself.

and I laughed, and I felt changed in that moment. I felt a wholeness of spirit that I hadn’t felt before. I felt good, and felt good about myself. I’ve had other fulfilling moments before that, but that was so powerful. To just feel at peace with myself and what I am.

I am a woman, and I’m going to be okay.

 

Trying not to Wallow

I have always been one to wallow in self pity.

Not usually openly. In my own head.

I often times find myself thinking, “well what if they knew the whole story.” “If only they knew what they were doing,” and many others. The point is, I am often the victim in my own story. Internally, in my own head, I think of myself as the underdog. I have a hard time appreciating the good things, I have an easy time focusing on negativity.

The last six months have exposed that. I have come to openly pity myself. I have become the source of my own woe. Things have happened that are unfortunate. Things have been done to me by others that are incredibly damaging and hurtful. I’ve had my worldview rocked, a lot in the last year. There are certain lessons I’ve learned that will have consequences for a long time.

Those are all facts though, those events happened. You can’t choose if someone will doing something negative to you. You choose to perceive it negatively.

I was trying to claw back my innocence. I was trying to undo the damage that had been done to my perception of reality. It is one thing to know how the world works, it’s another to experience a world that doesn’t want you.

You can’t undo pain, you can’t undo hate. You can’t undo the shitty and awful things that people will do to you. You can only refuse to accept it as a negative or a positive. It is merely something that happens.

It is incredibly hard for me to look at any of the events I’ve talked about here, and not feel the sadness, and loss that each of those caused me. The isolation, and differentiation. We are social creatures, we crave acceptance and love. Being denied it, feels negative. I can’t afford the luxury of continuing to feel sorry for myself.

there is no transgression that will ever teach the perpetrator their lesson. Nor is their a final accounting of any wrong. Not everything is balanced, not everything works the way we wish it did. Ultimately, the only thing we are responsible for is yourself, and how we perceive the world.

So I’m going to do my damnedest to act positively for my own sake. While also accepting that which I can’t control can’t control me. I will be free in my own soul.