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When I was a child, I was enamored of the babysitter. I wanted to be the babysitter. Specifically, I wanted to be a girl. I felt a strong affinity for the feminine. As I grew older, I learned to suppress this feeling. There was no way to change who I was, and I thought “nature doesn’t make mistakes like that”, and “you’re a boy, be happy being a boy.”

As I got older, the girls started changing and I was jealous of them. I hated my body. I rejected my body, first dressing in baggy sweatpants and sweatshirts to hide it. I was depressed. I had no idea why. I saw a child psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with seasonal depression. I’m sure there’s a seasonal component to it, but I was depressed all the time to some extent. Now I realize it is because I hated who I was – physically. I started to over-eat as a self-medication for the depression, but also because I hated my body. I was punishing the body I hated.

After college, I decided I needed to stop being depressed and overweight, and I started eating better and exercising. I lost 140 pounds. I started dating girls for the first time in my life. I started really loving my life. I felt good.

Fast forward 15 years… I’m married, I love my wife, I love my job, I love where we live and our life together.

But.. I had fallen back into a severe depression after a particularly traumatic job experience, and the horrifying and soul-crushing experience of losing my dad to cancer. I started dressing all in black, every day. A uniform of grief. I gained a bunch of weight again. I started vaping. And then the fucking Coronavirus hit. I needed to do something to kick myself out of my funk and get healthy again, so I started running again in March, 2020. Colorado is such a great place to run, there is sun nearly every day. Even in the winter, it doesn’t stay cloudy or cold for very long. I started running along the trails in our neighborhood, and started to feel happy again. I stopped vaping.

And then one day in April, I was running along the High Line Canal trail and started to remember my wish to be a gender other than the one I became. I thought, “maybe my name is Lisa.” I started wearing women’s running clothes, and I felt good in them. Outstanding, actually. Confident. Feminine. I started to think about other appearance changes. I cut my hair in a specific way, with the intent to grow it out. I started dying it – first, gray. Then gray and blue. Then all sorts of fun color combinations. I started wearing brighter colored clothing. Running further and faster every day.

I came out to my wife as genderfluid and non-binary. I was terrified of doing this, but I had to. I am extremely thankful that she took it quite well. I am definitely still attracted to women. I also am at least partly a woman!

I started painting my nails – this was a big deal for me, because you can kind of explain away hair color, but there are certain gender signifiers that are less easy to explain away, and makeup is one of those things. Painting my nails felt liberating. I felt closer to who I actually am. I am slowly coming out to people at work, and they have also all been supportive. I love where I work, and I love my colleagues. I started wearing eyeliner and mascara. I am not sure where it goes from here. I feel like a tomboy. I am athletic, I like camping, knives, motorcycles, shooting guns, but also makeup, and I’m starting to care a bit about fashion. This is quite a change for me, I always rejected fashion, much as I rejected my body. Now I’m rejecting less of myself, and I’m only sorry that it took me 40 years to get there.

Today, I went to Costco with painted nails and eye makeup. I got compliments. I have gotten probably 20 compliments from random people over the course of this journey so far. I think this is because I’m confident, and people see that. I never, not once, got a compliment about my appearance from anyone other than my wife or family in the preceding 40+ years of my life. This is interesting, and maybe it’s because I’m letting the real me be seen.

Pain, Depression and The Winter

I recently took a work trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, to attend a conference.  The trip, the conference, the people, were all great.  I enjoyed it, it was uneventful.  A number of people at the conference started to fall ill toward the end of the week.  The day after I returned home, a Saturday, I got a high fever and started to have flu-like symptoms.  I stayed in bed that weekend and the first two days of the next week.  The aches, pain and fever of the flu turned into a sort of general late-fall malaise that stuck with me the rest of the week.  By Friday afternoon, it was warmer weather (the 50s), but rainy.  I was so worn out I had to go and work from home – I could not be in the high energy environment of the office.

Earlier in the week, my wonderful and caring wife had left town for a conference of her own.  I was home alone, and started to feel really low.  On Saturday, it was cloudy, colder and gray.  I woke up with a terrible cough and took some cough syrup.  I started to get odd, sharp pains in my neck, back and left arm, very sharp and atypical for my normal migraine symptoms.  I thought I was having a bad reaction to the cough syrup.  The pain was so unusual, I did not identify it as migraine related pain.  The pains would last for 5-10 minutes, and recur every 30-45 minutes.  This was like the worst ice cream headache you can imagine, but behind my left ear and eye, and in a way that’s almost indescribable, simultaneously very distant and immediate, like it was happening to someone else and being transmitted from them to me.  The pain was metallic and so intense I could taste and smell it.  In the afternoon, the weather changed rapidly, the wind started blowing, and it snowed.  Finally, at about 10 p.m., the pain was so unbearable I decided it must be migraine related.  I took my migraine meds and fell quickly asleep.  My migraines have always been tied to weather, so far as I can tell.

Today, Sunday, I awoke feeling better – it was a clear day.  By 10 a.m., the wind had really picked up.  I started to feel dread and panic.  Not depressed- downright panic and fear.  I took some deep breaths and decided to take a drive across the valley to calm my mind down.  That actually worked until the sharp, odd, intermittent pain that I had the day before returned.  I went home and took more migraine medication.  I fell into a deep, dark depressive funk.  All my lifelong friends, and my parents, were in Iowa.  My wife was away and I needed a hug terribly.  I felt I had made a very bad mistake leaving home to come work in Pennsylvania.  I wanted to run but couldn’t because the pain was so intense.

I came to a sudden realization: This panic, depression, fear and anxiety were all related to my migraine.  It was a mental manifestation of some neurochemical cascade that was in progress in my brain.  While I could not control it, I could try to understand it.  I had experienced a panic attack before, and my friend Ryan had picked me up from work and drove me around and talked to me to calm me down.  While few things in life are as terrifying as a panic attack when you have no one around to help you through the fear in a rational way, I had succeeded at understanding this reality.

I still find it incredibly strange and unfair that specific combinations of sunlight or lack thereof, heat or cold, and changes in atmospheric pressure and wind can trigger such intense chemical reactions in my brain and the rest of my body.  At times, I am nearly powerless before the cruel tricks of serotonin and norepinephrine.  This realization gives me more tools to fight back, so long as I can remember: it’s the genetics talking, and it will go away if I give it time.

I’m looking forward, intensely, to Thanksgiving with my wife and her family in our house.  I’m looking forward to driving home in December and spending a couple weeks with my parents and wife, and seeing old friends.

The Part of Me That Could Cry

All text and images copyright (c) 2013 by Nicholas Roy. All rights reserved. No duplication or reuse without written consent of the author.

Gilbert Street, Iowa City, Summer
Gilbert Street, Iowa City, Summer

I remember crying easily as a child. When a grandparent or family friend died, I remember crying for a long time. In high school, I remember sobbing in the stairwell because I got a C. I had a long bout with depression between the ages of 8 and 22.

By the time I was 25, I was dangerously overweight, from eating, from the depression. I remember thinking: I’m going to kill the part of me that is sad. I don’t know how I did it, other than to say that through some force of will, I stopped being depressed, and I lost about 140 lbs. I have kept the weight off and have not been depressed for over 10 years now.

Evening summer sky above an Iowa prairie
Evening summer sky above an Iowa prairie

This afternoon, I came the closest I have since been to falling back into that despair. My wonderful wife is across the ocean doing her research. I have not been able to hug her in over two months, and there is more than a month left before she is back. I’m in a new place, with a new job. The new job is the hardest I have ever had. I’ve easily been able to think my way out of tough spots in jobs before, but this new one challenges me in ways I have never been challenged before. I miss my wife, my parents and my friends.

The sun sets over an Iowa tallgrass prairie
The sun sets over an Iowa tallgrass prairie

This afternoon, I missed Skyping my wife because of a dumb problem at work that really isn’t a problem. I haven’t Skyped with her in nearly a week. I missed her going to bed by 13 minutes. I know, because I have the Facebook chat record to show it. I was driving home when she messaged saying she was going to bed. I was so angry at myself for missing this chance to see her face. I was so angry and so sad. I felt the welcome point of a dark gray cone of despair1 puncture my sternum from the outside, the point pressing against my heart. I felt the tears well up inside. I let out a muted shriek of disgust and pity.

And then it was gone. I did not cry. I could not cry. I had killed that part of myself in order to save the rest of me.

My Parents' Garden
My Parents’ Garden

1 Dark gray cones of despair are about 8 inches long, with a vertex angle of roughly 10 degrees.  They are nicely Gouraud shaded.  Yes, I saw the cone.  It was a “Donnie Darko” moment.