Remembering the whole picture

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Last week, the date of the 9th March, marked 5 years since I officially changed my name by deed poll to Finlay. I had entirely forgotten the anniversary until Facebook reminded me by posting an old picture of my very proud boyish looking face celebrating the event. Being prompted to remember brought with it a flood of memories and a huge smile. I need that, with all that has occurred lately in having a setback in my surgical journey, it was wonderful to be reminded of just how far I have come. I haven’t gone backwards at all, not in terms of the whole picture at least.

The picture of me that flashed up on my Facebook news feed, with such a knowing grin, proudly clutching my signed deed poll, symbolises far more than just an official change of name. It even symbolises more than the official start to my living my life as a man. It represents the birth of Finn but far more it represents the birth of my whole being.

Just a year prior to changing my name, I entered the rooms of Alcoholic Anonymous and started my journey of recovery after a lifetime of abuse of drugs and alcohol. I truly see myself as being born the day I put the drink and drugs down. My video diaries and writing may well be heavily focused on my being transgender and undergoing gender transition but in all actuality, I see my journey as about being sober and in being so, being finally able to find the truth of who I am. By this I mean that the discovery of my being transgender was a consequence of getting sober and the start of my gender transition was the result of finding the courage to face myself and make the changes I needed to make, thanks to the fellowship of AA.  In this way, my being transgender is a small part of a much bigger journey rather than being the journey itself.

It is for this reason that this picture symbolises far more than just the change of name. The grin I am wearing symbolises the relief in finally getting to the bottom of a lifetime of depression, anxiety, self-loathing and self-destruction. It symbolises an awakening, to myself and to life and an excitement in finally being able to live, rather than to simply survive. It symbolises hope and opportunity, possibility and adventure. It symbolises an eagerness to commit to the journey of continuing to peel off the layers to reveal the truth of who I am

It has been so wonderful to be reminded of this and the way I felt when that picture was taken and even more wonderful to be reminded that I still feel the exact same way, even with all the bumps in the road. Most importantly it has reminded me that my life is far more than just about my gender transition. It can be incredibly hard not to get lost in that one part when things are not going to plan. This has been and continues to be an incredible journey of exploration, discovery and self-development of which being trans is, in the grand scheme of things at least, just one small part of a much greater whole.

 

 

 

Perspective is everything

After being pulled back to my writing after a short hiatus, I have just re read my last few blog entries with a pang of sadness. My last post was a hugely positive post about hospitals and how for me they are a place of hope and to be honest, right now I feel very differently. My recent hospital experiences have been anything but positive and to be frank, have at times bordered on being traumatic.

The last 6 weeks have been incredibly difficult, both emotionally and physically. I unfortunately did not have the surgery I was expecting to have and in fact have had to return to hospital a second time after it was apparent that something had gone awry after the first surgery. This means it has turned out to not be the final surgery in my surgical transition after all and this has been and continues to be, overwhelmingly  difficult to come to terms with. This hasn’t been helped by poor hospital care and lack of communication from my consultant as to what exactly has gone wrong and how its been corrected. I am fully aware that this journey is a difficult one with bumps in the road and set backs on route but strength to deal with that comes, partly at least, by being able to trust those whose hands you are in the care of. To top it all off my best friend suddenly died, he was found in his bed, appearing to have died in his sleep and we still have no answers as to why.

All this has left me rather lacking in the ability to feel very positive about anything at all and reading my last post now is a strange experience considering how different I feel. I want to get back to that place but I am just not there yet. However, on re reading that post, it strikes me that its less about my views on hospitals but is more accurately about perspective and in fact a fair few of my writing pieces are. This is a fact that has just struck me but does not surprise me at all.

The reason for this is because I have undergone a huge change in perspective which happened to me quite suddenly beginning in the August of 2010.  I personally see it as an awakening, and as someone who leads a spiritual life I do in fact see it as a spiritual awaking. The trouble is that this conjures up a lot of eye brow raising for people who don’t have the same leanings so I stick with the term change in perspective because they really are, at least as I see them, one and the same. This perspective change was such a shift in how I viewed myself, the world and my response to it, that despite it being 6 years now since this happened, it still astounds me daily just how different I am. This is then why it’s not surprising that most of my writing is centred around this concept, even if it’s not explicit.

Re reading my last blog entries and being reminded of the importance of this perspective change, has made me realise that it is not positivity I need to concentrate on, or worry about, or try to conjure up. Positivity or negativity is the outcome of perspective and this fact has just this second dawned on me.

To attempt to explain, I am someone who talks a lot about positive thinking, but I always qualify it by saying that positive thinking isn’t about sticking a false smile on your face and pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. I always say that positive thinking is about acknowledging the difficulty you are facing, allowing yourself to feel it, whilst at the same time focusing on what you can do about it, even if all you can do at the time is accept that the difficulty is there. In this way, you are presenting yourself with a choice, to fall solidly on the side of the difficulty, allow yourself to sink into the negative feelings of life being bad and it all being hopeless, or to fall on the side of, as in the example above, having to just accept the difficulty is how it is at this moment. Accepting in this way is active not passive and so presents a more positive approach. This choice of two options is perspective, you are giving yourself a different option from which to choose and in doing so, by deciding your perspective, this then has the potential to lead to the outcome of either negativity of positivity.

I believe you can always choose your perspective, but of course you first need to be aware of different views, to then have different perspectives to choose from. My initial perspective change was one I still cannot fully explain, it came to me as a result of engaging with a 12-step recovery program. I have a feeling it was in connecting to a deeper, unconscious aspect to myself, (which again for fear of alienating some readers I am going to attribute to finding a spiritual connection to a Higher Power) that paved the way. The perspective changes since have then snowballed due to actively working on my self – development and self-awareness and purposely seeking out different ways of relating to my emotions, to people and to the world.

Life is one of many ups and downs, happiness and hardship come and go and we cannot choose which one we get at any time. However, we can choose how we respond to each of these when they arrive which in turn then determines how we feel. The fact is that now I can choose my perspective and do so often, which is what has helped me to deal with difficulty, respond to events rather than react and to keep a largely positive way of living. With everything that has happened recently I think I forgot this fact, or maybe I chose to forget as I felt a bit sorry for myself and wanted a bit of wallowing time. I am not going to berate myself about that as it has been such a tough time and so is not surprising. Either way, it is time to stop worrying about my lack of positivity and instead concentrate on where my perspective lies.

This whole situation, in terms of my surgical transition journey, requires an active seeking out of different perspectives so that I have some to choose between. I think its likely that I had become so blinkered by my excitement at being so close to the finish line that I’d forgotten other less favourable outcomes were possible. And of course, although I wouldn’t want to choose the less favourable outcomes, accepting their existence is vital in approaching this surgery as it is an incredibly complex surgery with multiple potential risks and problems.

Initially in my surgery journey I was focusing on one stage at a time, I purposefully didn’t look ahead to the final surgical result as I knew that was too much of a leap ahead being that this surgery can take a few years to complete and would ultimately make the journey feel too daunting. I think this is a useful perspective to return to after all these recent complications with my surgery. My perspective choices now are that I can either look at it that my surgical journey was almost finished and I’m now a few steps backwards and needing extra surgery before my final stage, which is unbearably painful. Or I can choose to hold in mind that of course the ultimate goal is to be finished but right now I’m working towards a correction of the currently presenting issue so that the final surgery can be completed in a manner that will ensure good long term functioning. By choosing the second of these perspectives, It means I can find a way to see this recent surgery, and the extra unexpected one I will now need in a couple of months’ time, as positive ones as they are step forward in correcting the issues I currently have.

Even today I am seeing the benefits of remembering the value and power in choosing ones’ perspective, I have felt more at peace with all that has happened and have also surprisingly found things I feel positive about. I know that all this doesn’t mean I am now suddenly going to be OK, I have had a succession of high stress events, my mental and physical health have suffered, I will have to make a lot of changes to my plans and dreams for this year and its going to take some time to recover from all this but that’s where the balance I spoke about earlier comes into play. I am not trying to pretend everything is OK, I am not trying to force the positivity, I instead am working to accept that this is where I am right now and then look at small ways I can begin to choose a different perspective in order to be able to allow the positivity to return in its own good time

#JuJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 13th – ‘Hospital’

This blog entry takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan

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Todays prompt is highly appropriate for me as I am currently sat in hospital, wearing my rather fetching open backed gown, accessorised with compression stockings and super sexy paper pants. Today, as long as all goes well, will be the final stage in my gender affirmation surgery journey.

I find myself to be very emotionally reflective , which isn’t surprising really as today marks the possible completion of a journey that at one time I thought I could not find the courage to face. It seems unbelievable that almost five years has passed since I came out publically as transgender and began living as the man I knew myself to be.

Perspective is a funny thing, time moved so painfully slow in early days of my transition, the wait for assessments and access to treatment was a hugely long and tedious haul. At times I felt I couldn’t breathe, the focus it took to remain patient and mentally well was exhausting and overwhelming. However, once given the go ahead for hormones and then surgery, time began spilling through my fingers like grains of sand and I now look back on my second puberty and my growth into manhood with nostalgia.

The same skewed perspective exists for me in attending hospitals. For most people, the hospital is a place of fear and dread, but for me the very opposite is true. Whilst I am of course nervous about the procedure itself and not looking forward to yet another recovery of which this will be my fourth, the outcome for me is one I am very excited for.

With every hospital admittance, another aspect of my true self is revealed and a new sense of freedom is born. For me, hospitals are a time portal into a new, brighter and more comfortable world. Its just a little painful walking through the door.

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#JusJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 8th – ‘Mongrel’

This post takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan

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The word Mongrel immediately brings to mind the song by Baha Men, ‘who let the dogs out’, especially the line, “come back you flea infested mongrel”. That’s the association with the word ‘mongrel’ I suppose isn’t it? As something impure, unclean, tainted or ‘less than’. I can remember as a child having discussion about a dog and being told it was a mongrel. I remember feeling that to me, a mongrel sounded far better than a pure breed. A mongrel felt ‘on my level’, authentic, relatable.

Looking at the dictionary definition, mongrel is defined as “a dog of no definable type or breed”,any animal resulting from the crossing of different breeds or types” or “a person of mixed descent” [offensive term]

Why does crossing breeds or having no definable breed have such negative connotations? Is this just my perception of the word mongrel or is its negativity a common assumption? Maybe my perceptions of the word speak more about myself and my moral standpoint than the word itself.

I am a person who does not like to follow the herd, although that’s not always been entirely true. As a child I felt pushed away from the herd as I didn’t fit, therefore I was  angry and resentful of the herd, I so desperately wanted to fit but I simply could not, no matter how hard I tried. Maybe this is where my initial sense of relation with the word mongrel comes from; I could empathise with the dogs labelled as such. In growing up, I have learnt to embrace living outside the herd and now to me, having no definable type and being a cross of different types is something I embrace.

My gender is male and my body has been changed to reflect that, but my biology will always show the female history, I will be forever a mix; I cannot ever be a pure breed. The closest I can get to being a “definable type” is in being transgender but I don’t relate to that ‘type’. I use it for ease in explaining my situation but I choose to define myself differently, I am a man with a trans history. Transition is the state of moving from one thing to something else and as such, gender wise I have never moved, I have always been male. Physically I have moved my body has changed from looking female to now, approaching my final surgery, looking completely male. Once this surgery is complete I will, for want of a better word, be “post transition” .Therefore to me, I am a man with a trans history.

However you look at it I am a mix, a crossing of types. I am a man but on digging below the surface you will see that I have no truly definable type, I am a mongrel through and through. Writing this makes me smile; I have always related and felt love for mongrels, now I understand why. Who wants to follow the herd anyway? What is so special about being of one definable type? I actually think that’s very limiting and to be frank, rather dull!

Here’s’ to all the mongrels out there, WOOF!

 

#JusJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 3rd – ‘Warning’

This post takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan 

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I, and others that know me, used to joke that I should come with a warning label. I thought this was an amusing and lovingly assigned description of my character but in truth it was because I was a complete pain in the neck and at the end of my drinking days there was nothing amusing about me at all.

Today I am unrecognisable as that person, when people describe me now; ‘warning’ is the last label I would be assigned. People remark on my calm nature, yes I can be very excitable and hyper, the new born child in me is very evident, but I am a person in control of myself and a person you can trust yourself to be safe around. I still find this an astonishing change in just six short years of mental health and addiction recovery.

In order to develop this calmer nature, I have had to create a robust and sensitive early warning system, an inner lighthouse to alert me when a storm is arriving or when the sea may threaten to thrash me towards the jagged rocks of mental illness. I have had to become acutely aware of the various things that threaten my wellness and very good at noticing the early warning signs and to this affect, the inner lighthouse will change from shades of yellow through to amber and red depending on the threat of the situation

The last month or so I have been inundated with warning signs, my inner lighthouse had been brightly lit  as a solid amber, but due to Christmas obligations, I haven’t had much choice other than to just ride the waves as safely as I can with mindfulness. However, today the lighthouse switched on to full red warning alert as I attended my medical assessment for my sickness benefit.

Attending these assessments, as anyone who’s had them will attest, is never easy, but then add being transgender into the mix and the whole thing turns into a cringe making, anger inducing mess. I sat there bewildered as the assessor first got confused that I was a man about to change to living as a woman. After correcting him and after he had picked his jaw back up from the desk he then remarked that I made for, “a very convincing transition” and that he, “had seen other people who were not as convincing and I must be very pleased”, He went on to then ask me if I would like to be referred to as he.

Wow, warning light on full flashing red mode, sirens, bells, whistles, the whole shebang.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to sob, I wanted to just fall on the floor in a heap, curl up into the foetal position and let my whole body convulse with reckless emotional abandon, but I can’t cry, I just don’t, it doesn’t come out and I am not one to indulge in dramatic emotional displays, at least I am not today but six years ago I may well have done.  I’ve had enough at the moment, Christmas has been incredibly tough being my first one single after a really messy breakup, add to the mix having to sit with a total stranger and explain my entire mental health history, my entire addiction history and then intimate details of my dysphoria and gender transition, all crammed into less than 40mins, to someone that had the tact and sensitivity of an array of hedgehogs.

However, the painfully crafted warning system served me well, one of the skills I have learnt in recovery is knowing which battles to pick and this one just wasn’t worth it. I spend a lot of my time educating people and this chap needed it but today had to be about first things first, my mental health, and so I  took a deep breath, answered as politely as I could and just got through it.

Thank goodness for my inner lighthouse and its warning signs, for lighting the way so that I can choose the path of least resistance and just make sure I kept myself safe. Now though,i t’s time to drop anchor, hunker down for a while and wait for the storm to pass.

#JusJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 2nd – Time

 

This post takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan

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The word ‘time’ conjures up so many thoughts and emotions for me. Most significantly with the phrase “one day at a time”, which is a mantra I live by, given to me by my twelve step recovery program. Time is also a bitter sweet experience for me, I have wasted so much of it in my life, hiding from the world and from myself and I always wished it away. Now, with a sudden and dramatic shift in perspective since beginning recovery 6 years ago, there is suddenly not enough time.  Time has changed from being a slow lumbering painful enemy to a precious fleeting dancing fairy. I dance with it daily, living on the edge of sadness for the time lost, but turning my focus away from that so as not to waste any more of it exquisiteness.

As a transman going through transition, which takes an extraordinary amount of time, dancing with the time fairy in this way has been a challenge. Transition is a time of painful waiting, for appointments, for psychiatric approvals, for hormones, for surgery, for recovery, for my body to change and for my inner and outer social worlds to adapt. This means I have to work very hard to balance my view and my use of time, it’s too valuable to want to rush through having already wasted so much, but at the same time I am just so eager for the physical transition part of my life to be over so that I can simply get on with my life as the man I have always known myself to be.

I now mark in time the next ten days, when, on the 13th of January, I will have the final stage of my surgery and I will no longer be a slave to time but instead a dancing partner.

 

 

Happy New Year! – 2016 in review

2016, in many respects, has not been the greatest of years, both in my own personal life and in the world at large. It has been a very mixed bag of a year. Being as public as l am, most people are aware of my personal circumstances this year, however, only a small handful know the full details of the exact goings on. In my recovery I have learnt some valuable tools, the most helpful one being to keep my side of the street clean, which l try very much to live by. It’s been tough, because I’ve felt at times that being nice often doesn’t get you as far as you like, but what it does get me is peace of mind and the knowledge that I’ve done the next right thing.

Not making the full goings on public has also meant that I have truly discovered who my most trusted and loyal friends are. l work hard to keep upbeat, which is essential for my ability to stay sober and clean and maintain my recovery, but it’s not been easy. I’ve been the closest to a drink in this year than I have for a few years now and Christmas turned out to be tougher than l initially thought it would be. However, the special people in my life noticed this without me having to say so and have been my rock, you know who you are and l am so grateful for you in my life.

It certainly is true that you find out who your true friends are when disaster strikes and this has been the case for me. The love and support shown to me by my friends both nearby and online, has moved me to tears at many times throughout this year. I survived the most difficult of tests to my sobriety and mental health because of the many ways you expressed your love and support for me and there are not enough words to convey how much that means to me.

My own journey and the hard hitting loss of so many big names in 2016, has really hammered home what’s important in life, to cherish every moment and to spend time and energy on people and things that matter and walk away with love from those that don’t. l have an open heart and welcome warmly those who want to be in my life and want me in theirs, those that live by mutual respect, support and understanding and find as much joy in my life as I do in theirs. I will no longer waste my time on people that don’t live this way, I do not judge you, l simply am judging what I need in my life and what’s good for me.

It really has been one of those years of transformation and opportunity emerging from some very painful events. Moving to a new part of the UK was definitely not on my 2016 agenda but it has been the best move I have ever made and I have begun to make some wonderful friends here in Devon who have made the move so much easier and helped me to feel welcome and at home.  So while it has been a hard year, the fruits of good things have sprouted from it which l hope will go on to fully flower in 2017. Thank you to all my friends, for the encouragement in all the new adventures that have begun to happen this year. I’ve begun to believe in myself and  most importantly, I’ve begun to feel  able to say that out loud because of the special people that have reminded me of and  championed my abilities and  talents

Thank you to my wonderful friends who are such a blessing in my life, who walk this journey of life with me and allow me to walk in theirs.  l hope 2017 brings you happiness, love and  all the wonderful things you deserve.

Love and light

Finn