2020: Locking Down My mental Health

Covid-19, Josie Quinn, Mental Health

A ‘Chronically Fabulous’ post by Josie Quinn

Addiction is sneaky like that; it reminds you of the brief rush you felt, not the days and weeks of regret and shame after, and definitely not the years of help and work it took to get to a stage where it finally felt under control. More than anything, that moment of temptation scared me and made me realise just how far I could backslide if I were to give up.

I remember saying, on New Year’s Eve last year, something along the lines of “2020 is going to be my year!” (Finished laughing yet?! Good). Having spent the last several years putting in a lot of work towards improving my mental health, I was determined to keep making progress. I was volunteering at an animal shelter whenever able, had joined a regular D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) game group in town, and was even cast as the Cheshire Cat in a local theatre company production. So all in all I was feeling pretty good about things for the first month or so of the year. Then March arrived.

the new york times newspaper

When lockdown first started, I’ll be the first to admit I did not cope well! My depression and anxiety seemed to be vying for my attention at all times, locked in a battle which left me constantly bouncing between two states: either I stayed in bed for days at a time, listless and crying, or I was in a state of absolute panic, terrified that the isolation was going to undo years of therapy and hard work.

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Not long into the pandemic, I caught myself, after a decade of not giving in to the urge to self-harm, looking at one of the knives in the kitchen and hearing that little voice once more, telling me how much better I would feel afterwards. Addiction is sneaky like that; it reminds you of the brief rush you felt, not the days and weeks of regret and shame after, and definitely not the years of help and work it took to get to a stage where it finally felt under control. More than anything, that moment of temptation scared me and made me realise just how far I could backslide if I were to give up. I needed to find ways to feel connected (and, subsequently, sane), and it turns out that my fear of regressing was exactly the fuel I needed to motivate myself to do just that.

Despite having been a member of a number of online groups for some time, with the exception of ‘liking’ the occasional post, and having attended precisely one Book Group meet-up, I had never been particularly active in any of them. The first thing I needed to do was narrow these groups down a little, in essence creating a shortlist of those which (A) didn’t have an overwhelming number of members, (B) seemed more friendly/welcoming than argumentative, and (C) where I had something in common with everyone in the group, be they LGBTQ+, cosplay enthusiasts or tabletop gamers.

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Next was practically forcing myself to start commenting on other people’s posts; even if that meant setting myself reminder alarms to do so, or drafting and rewriting the comment multiple times until I felt comfortable enough to submit it. Admittedly, there were days where my anxiety would get the better of me, and I’d rewrite a comment ten or twenty times, then delete it completely, feeling like an utter failure. But on those days where I did manage to engage with other people, it began to feel like I was really on the right track.

“A small step forward is better than any in the wrong direction.”

Beginning to join actual online events and video chats was a little more daunting. In pre-covid times I’d managed to attend one meeting of a local LGBTQ+ Book Group, so when I saw that they were still meeting via Zoom it seemed the perfect place to start, and hopefully build from. Though incredibly anxious in the build-up to the first group video call, once it started I soon began to feel much calmer, and afterwards was so happy that I hadn’t talked myself out of attending.

macbook pro displaying group of people

Ever since that first online meeting, things have just snowballed in the best possible way. Not only am I still attending the (now bi-monthly, and slightly expanded) Book, Film & Music Group, but also regular online D&D and board game nights; recently I’ve even helped set up a new group and have hosted some of our online game nights.

Somehow I have made more friends in the last six months than in the previous six years, and my diary is fuller now than it was before lockdown and social distancing began.

So maybe 2020 isn’t going to be the year of glowing progress I hoped it would, and that’s okay. In all honesty, I’m a little proud that I managed to make any headway whatsoever considering all that has happened in the world this year; a small step forward is better than any in the wrong direction.

Josie Quinn (she/her) is in her early thirties. She is a proud bisexual, disabled wheelchair-user and self-professed total geek! She worked as a Legal Executive before becoming too ‘Chronically Fabulous’ to continue, having been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Osteoporosis, CFS, Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD. In her spare time she’s an avid reader (sci-fi, fantasy & graphic novels especially), amateur cosplayer and burgeoning tattoo addict. Twitter.com/Bendy_NotBroken … Instagram.com/BendyNotBroken

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Sometimes I Look for the Love of My Life When I Pee … Illustrations by Odara Rumbol

Inspirational, motivational illustrations that make it just a little bit easier to be a woman.

Trans in Lockdown: Is Life Still Going On?

Covid-19, Gender, Transgender, Wendy Cole

By Wendy Cole

“Gender dysphoria alert! Childhood equated to me: a boy. Yet, how can that be true?  I am a woman; those memories should be of a girl. What had gone wrong? What would my father think if he knew? Was I dishonouring my father by not being the son he knew? The truth of the past jarred and fought the truth of today.”

Had 2020 pursued its correct course, I would have:

Continued attending Evolve Trans. (my local trans group) face-to-face;

Spent a week or more visiting my recently widowed mother;

Written a good deal more poetry to work out a whole host of thoughts and feelings;

Turned the image of my throne that I had created during therapy into a sculpture and completed designing the rest of the room wherein that throne ought to reside;

Took that first major step: my first appointment with the Gender Identity Clinic (G.I.C.)  in July. 

But, as probably everybody knows, the biggest nuclear explosion (the Covid pandemic) shattered the world. One minute I was trying my best to enjoy my birthday (Can I really say ‘enjoy’? I cannot. It sounds heartless; feels guilty; as this was the first without my father), and the next I was being told to take my laptop with me and work from home.Whilst other colleagues struggled with balancing laptops on knees and even ironing-boards, I had an extra room that I could use as my study.  I had often worked from home since November.

My father had died in May 2019, so Yuletide 2019 was unbearable; I couldn’t mix with the frivolity of Christmas shoppers. Thoughts of Father constantly sent me back to my childhood; that childhood I was a boy.  I could not reconcile that with the woman I now am. Due to gender dysphoria and depression I couldn’t face people, so I worked at home. So, for me, when the world was suddenly turned upside down and put on hold, little had changed.

Or so I thought.

Trans in lockdown? Like this devastating plague, isolation had also mutated. When I needed it, isolation was reassurance. A pulling up of the drawbridge and curling up in that throne (or bed, if I ever get round to drawing it); close my eyes tight and view the mental image of me: the woman I am: much much shorter; slight of frame and long raven hair.

Isolation is nuanced now. It is sometimes a reassurance; other times a torture of a multitude of thoughts.

In lockdown, May 2020 was the first year’s anniversary of my father’s death; June the anniversary of his interment.

My sister, and a number of friends and colleagues say that I over-think things. I analyse something from its obvious black and white state, and instead find anxiety from the multitude of shades I seem to create.  Between May and long past June, that analysis focused on memories of childhood with my now-lost father. Gender dysphoria alert! Childhood equated to me: a boy. Yet, how can that be true?  I am a woman; those memories should be of a girl. What had gone wrong? What would my father think if he knew? Was I dishonouring my father by not being the son he knew? The truth of the past jarred and fought the truth of today.

But, due to past therapies and bereavement counselling (that I was now able to pursue on the telephone – which, I feel, was actually better; I tended to have to really focus hard), I have illumined confidence to say that was the past. It is not my present. I do not need to allow it to become my future.

Easier said than done, but the experience of presenting myself as the true woman I am at home (yes, full make-up even in lock-down) and in town, is the constant beacon that I am me only as a woman; so much confidence; ability to speak out. The beacon has a stable foundation: it is what others (not me) have said to me. Some call me Miss Sassy. 

Sassy.

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But, isolation causes me to overthink. Watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” makes me question: am I a male in drag? Oh, thank goodness and God bless Emily (Trans. Evolve) for her one-to-ones during lockdown. She put me straight (though I am still pan-romantic – there’s a joke there if you look for it, reader).  She emphasised that I  am a woman: clothes and make-up are skillfully placed to pass and not be noticed; not a panto-dame or drag.

Writing this, it is a year on from a hate crime that I experienced. And history repeats. Recently, in Tesco, I experienced it again. I was amazed at how resolute I was this time. (I wanted to ask sympathetically: “What is making you afraid?”). Sassy? No, now that incident gnaws away at me. Stepping outside, I am more anxious (though I know I will be great when I meet those who know me. Tesco staff call: “Hello, Wendy,” or “Are you making trouble again?” for example).

But I feel prevented from fully being me. It’s like in lockdown I – the real me – is locked away.  I cannot change my name, and the G.I.C. is on hold; that major step in becoming me is prevented. Also, nurture: to grow, I need to be around other women.

Check out Louise Clare Dalton’s performance of her poem, What They Told You

Finally, my mother. She does not know. My sister says not to tell, as mother is still frail over the death. I am a bad daughter as I do not telephone as much as I should. I am in tears after every banal chit-chat; forcing myself not to say what I need. And I totally despise myself for not being me. Horrible of me, I know, but I partially long for a second wave, so I cannot go home to mother. How can I endure even a single day in male drag? How can I say anything that is not real?

Not Sassy, but I am ‘sowing the ground’ of her realisation.  Recently, I suggested she watch ‘Glow up’; that I’d love to take a make-up course (she thinks it’s down to my theatre love). I told her I have dyed my hair red. We chatted briefly about “Sewing Bee” – though I couldn’t say how cute the male models were.

But it lays the groundwork.

The future is female.  

Wendy Cole spent four years in banking, thirteen years as a teacher and seven as a deputy head, before working for the government, but the real her is a poet, photographer, historian and chef. Kylie, Daniel Craig and Wendy have the same thing in common … they were born in the same year!

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