“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through”

beach comparrison.jpgI wandered over to the beach this afternoon while waiting for my washing to finish its cycle in the launderette. The seafront in Eastbourne has seen me in many physical and mental states, drunk, stoned, lost, depressed and suicidal. Most recently though, it has seen me walking hand in hand with my new partner. Two men with faces fixed in matching ear to ear grins, glowing from the warm high of that new relationship buzz.

Once again, I am having one of those beautiful periods of time where I am overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for the life I have today. I look at this picture, which I shared for #transformationtuesday and I remember the pain I was in. I could never have imagined the life I have today. Which is different in every way possible, mostly thanks to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I remember sitting in my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and hearing, ‘The Promises’ read out.

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through…”

I am 7 years sober, I feel I have areas in my life that still need work. My gender transition and my career for example. My life isn’t perfect, I live hand to mouth, and my Mum is slowly and painfully being stolen from us by vascular dementia. However, despite these things, I have a wonderful life in which I am content and proud. I am not even halfway through, and yes, I am more than amazed.

In these seven years, I have discovered the man I am and stepped forward into that identity with clarity and grace. I have unashamedly embraced living an honest life, even when that honesty meant facing difficult facts about myself. Where once I would run from emotions, using alcohol to numb their razor-sharp edges, I now lay myself bare to even the most painful of emotions.

I have done this because every time I face something rather than run, I am rewarded with a new phase of development. A growth in self-knowledge, a deeper level of self-awareness, and an even more profound sense of contentment and faith in life’s process of unfolding.

Facing my doubts about my sexuality, and my fears about relationships have been a long and confusing road. I am now being rewarded with the arrival of a handsome man in my life who brings me so much joy. Alongside that, being with him has given me even greater confidence in my gender identity and a much deeper understanding of my sexual attraction.

To think I once feared change, and now I welcome it, even when those changes are the least expected. In fact, those changes are the best.

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The late bloomer. “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

InspirationalQuotes3.pngOne of the hardest things for me in recovery from addiction and mental health challenges, and in going through gender transition, is the deep grief felt at the wasted time.

I began my recovery from alcoholism at the age of 37.  Finally, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, I saw clearly how drinking had not served me well at all. I drank since the age of 13, this had stopped me pursuing a career, building a life, making proper relationships and even growing up.  It felt like I had slept my life away. In suddenly seeing how wonderful life could be, I wished so much that I hadn’t waited so long to get sober. If I had addressed it earlier my mental health issues wouldn’t have got as bad as they did. I would have realised I was transgender a lot earlier and I would have had many more years to enjoy this beautiful planet and to make something of my life.

Waking up at the age of 37 has made me a late bloomer in every aspect of my life. It is only now, in being sober, that I am able to return to study and make a career for myself. It’s only now, having learnt to identify and sit with the various emotions I feel rather than drinking on them, that I can develop healthy platonic and romantic relationships. Because I have also gone through gender transition, this adds additional new aspects to my life that most folk deal with when they are young.  I have had to rebuild my identity, discover who I am as a man, get to know my new body and discover my sexuality. I am 44 years old now and only just starting out in life. I am a pubescent boy in a man’s body!

With so much being still so new, there is so much I yet need to learn and whilst I am not old by any means, neither am I young. There is so much joy in this newfound life but also so much sadness at wishing this life could have started years ago. Of course, I realise that had things been different, then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have skills and qualities, only gained precisely because of the path my life has taken, but still, the grief needs to be acknowledged. It is both valid and understandable. Accepting the loss of time means that I can transform it into a determination to make the most of the time I have now.

Being such a late bloomer may well mean that I can’t do a lot of the things I wish I could. However, I can find other ways to fulfil those dreams, simply by adapting them. For example, I’ve recently accepted that I must shelve my plans to be a therapist. I have too much healing of my own to do first. The motivation underlying that career choice lay in my passion to help people, to make a difference to the world and to people lives.  Instead of giving up that dream, I can search for new ways to fulfil it. Moving instead into writing as a career, using my psychology studies and my personal experiences, mean that I still get to follow my passion and in fact may even make more of a difference by following this new path.

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been”.  It may just mean you need to adapt the way you go about achieving it.

 

I Am A Writer – The Ahhh Moment

 

2018-bright-celebrate-769525.jpgIf you are familiar with me across all my other social media platforms, then you may have noticed some changes happening. I’ve been fiddling about with header images, taglines, personal bio’s and generally spamming your news-feed with all these changes (sorry about that!). Lots of you have been asking, “What’s going on?”

Grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit and let me tell you.

I have recently experienced one of those glorious moments where, after months of feeling so utterly terrible, a flash of clarity suddenly appears. I love it when these arrive, it’s like having a thought orgasm, it fills you with a rush of, “Ahhhhhhh!” and, “Oh God!” Suddenly everything is warm and fuzzy, and you are pregnant with ideas.

This has been a long time coming, I have been stuck for months and thanks to this beautiful baby epiphany, the way forward is beginning to make sense.

Since I entered recovery from addiction seven years ago, my life has changed beyond all recognition. Once clean and sober, I was able to look beneath the surface, to the cause of a lifetime of mental health issues. This allowed me to realize I was transgender and to begin gender transition. It also enabled me to learn to better manage my mental health.

This incredible internal change, awoke a passion to pass it on to others. If I could come from such a dark place, then I knew others could too. I wanted to make a difference, to support and inspire people to find their own path to recovery, whatever that might be.

The most logical way to make a living doing this seemed to be by becoming a therapist. I hadn’t been able to work for several years, due to my severe mental health issues. I needed to start slowly, to not jeopardize my recovery. I decided to begin a psychology degree with the Open University. Alongside, I could gain experience by volunteering as a youth worker and support worker. This would allow me the flexibility I needed, to be able to work on my recovery and undergo gender transition.

Around the same time, I decided to create a YouTube channel, to share the process of my gender transition in a video diary. The channel evolved very quickly to include not only my transition but also my recovery from addiction and poor mental health.

Surprisingly, lots of people began to watch my videos and interact with me. People left comments about how inspiring my videos were, and how much difference they made to their lives. Before long, my subscriber count grew into the thousands. I suddenly found myself doing exactly what I hoped to do, to make a difference, to inspire others to find their own courage to change. YouTube became my passion. I have wished so much that I could do it full time as my main career but making a living from being a YouTuber is rare. I also faced the additional issue that pursuing a therapy practice would mean giving up sharing via YouTube. It would not be ethical to have my personal life online for clients to find.

As I get closer to my graduation next year, I find myself incredibly torn about what to do. The career I originally wanted, is what I am already doing via YouTube. It seems ridiculous that I will have to give up doing what I love in order to make a living. But I have to make a living. Over the last couple of years, I have been mulling over options to find a way forward. One idea has been to use my psychology degree to move into research rather than practice, where I will still be able to make a difference. Importantly, I would be able to continue the work I do via YouTube.

I have also been writing. After being told by many people that I should write a book, I finally began putting my memoir together. I hoped that perhaps having a book published may be a chance for a career break of some kind, allowing me to make a living from YouTube.

However, nothing is happening in any of the above-mentioned areas. I have looked at a few post-degree research options and as yet do not feel inspired. I have several thousand words of a memoir but just cannot seem to put them together properly. I haven’t progressed any further towards paid work, my mental health and transition surgeries keep preventing me from doing so.

My mental health is currently a rather big issue. Unsurprisingly, as the last 12 months have been challenging on many levels. I am beginning to realize though, that this current mental health crisis could actually be a blessing in disguise. It has awoken me to some truths which, as is the nature of sudden truths, I can’t believe I didn’t realize before. The counsellor I am seeing pointed out to me that, in the grand scheme of things, seven years is not a very long time. I’ve put this huge goal on myself to get clean and sober, mentally well, fully transitioned and qualified as a practicing therapist in those seven years. It’s a bit of a big ask, isn’t it!

Looking at this in a new light, I now realize why I still haven’t managed to progress from voluntary work into paid work. Seven years is not long enough to develop the mental and emotional stability needed to practice. I need longer. However, I’m 44 now. If I keep waiting to be well enough to practice, I’ll be retired before I embark! I’ve been doing a lot of honest reflection, and as much as it hurts to do this, it’s time to say out loud that I am not able to pursue a career as a therapist.

In addition to my counsellor’s comments, a few other chance events helped me to suddenly see the light. A friend sent me a link to a writing competition, calling for submissions on the theme of pride. At the time I saw it more of a way to motivate myself to write, as I was struggling with my memoir writing.  Having not written a fictional short story for a number of years, I sought out a book to help me. I picked up, The Easy Way to Write Short Stories That Sell’ by Rob Parnell. It turned out to not only be a book about short story writing but also about how to get yourself into the mindset of a writer. Importantly, this book made me realize that I could actually make a living from writing.

Having really enjoyed the mindset exercises to develop oneself as a writer, I looked for a similar book. I found, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)’ by Jeff Goins. This book is fantastic and has changed everything for me. The part which particularly resonated was about building a platform. Thanks to this book, for the first time, I can see how my YouTube channel and my writing can work together.

I feel like someone has just turned on a light and I can finally see a way forward. The reason I have been repeatedly declaring I am writing yet not making progress is not that I wasn’t sincere. I really did mean it, every time I said it. The trouble is I’ve been viewing writing and creating videos as a means to an end rather than the goal itself. It felt like a big dream and I should just wake up, sort myself out and get a real job, as I’m not going to make it as a writer and creator. You see the issue wasn’t that I didn’t mean it but rather that I didn’t believe it.

Isn’t it strange that when things make sense its so obvious that we feel silly even saying it because it is so obvious!

So, what has changed? Well, everything really. I am shelving the therapist path. I shall still finish my degree, I love the topic of psychology but for now, my path lies elsewhere. Now I’ve said that out loud I can fully concentrate on writing. The wonderful thing is that I can start now. I don’t have to wait to be well, writing can be worked around my mental health needs. I realize now that I can make a huge difference, not only with my memoir but also with short stories around the themes I am passionate about, change, recovery, gender, and sexuality. I’m pursuing all different kinds of writing and I am excited. My YouTube channel now feels like it has a proper place and purpose. I’m also seeing a fresh start for this WordPress site of mine too, once stagnant, now it can contain my writing process and progress, to supplement my YouTube updates.

This is why you have been seeing so many changes in all my social media platforms. I’ve been refocusing them, away from support work and towards writing and creating, streamlining them and tying them all together. At last, it feels like I have a direction.

I am a writer. I am a writer. I AM A WRITER. (Thank you Jeff).

I am incredibly excited to share this next phase of development with you all!

Much love and light

Finn

 

 

World Mental Health Day 2017

This year’s World Mental Health Day has the theme ‘in the workplace’. I am not in paid employment at the moment but I feel this theme is still very relevant to me.

I have had mental health issues since as far back as I can remember. My official diagnosis started in 1993 when l was sectioned after a suicide attempt.  At that time I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Not that l needed a label to tell me this but this label allowed me access to the mental health system, support and various modalities of treatment

In the years since then, my mental health became steadily worse. Unfortunately, the main way I dealt with my depression and anxiety was to numb it with food restriction, alcohol and drugs. Doing this also allowed me to keep working. If I was numb then l could blot out the anxiety and exhaustion that being around people caused and cope with the sickening feeling of nameless dread I experienced on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, living life like this was not manageable and soon, not only was l caught using cannabis and being drunk at work, but also being numb just was not masking the low mood and anxiety like it used to. I then moved from being, in the loosest possible term, a ‘functioning person with mental health issues’ to being completely non-functioning. My anxiety was at astronomical levels, to the point where I was constantly rocking and l had picked up self-harming as another futile coping tool.

No longer functioning, my life began to shut down. My University faculty department suggested I take some time out of my University degree studies which I wasn’t managing at all. I approached my local GP for some support and was officially signed off from work. Later that year, I was admitted to a full time 18-month non-residential treatment at a therapeutic community in which I stayed for 23 months including assessment phase. There I was diagnosed with various personality disorders, to add to my already existing diagnosis

Although the therapeutic community addressed my drinking and using, it wasn’t enough to stop me completely. For the entire time, except the last month of therapy, I was free from using cannabis but I was still drinking alcohol. The communities approach to alcohol misuse was to use controlled drinking methods rather than abstinence and this allowed me to continue to drink and lie about the amount I was drinking. Once I finished the 18-month program in the April of 2010, l went out for a drink to celebrate and that party lasted 4 months.

Waking from a particularly wild night in early August 2010, for some reason I found myself for the first time really wanting off of the hamster wheel of it all. A series of chance events led me into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous where for the first time I was able to admit I was an alcoholic, stop drinking one day at a time and begin to take responsibility for my recovery and my life.  Not only am l now 7 years clean and sober but l am also managing my various mental health issues in healthy ways and am able to move forward in my life, despite them often making things more challenging

And this is where I return to how this year’s World Mental Health Days theme applies to me. I am still unable to return to paid work, although l am so much better than l was l am still unable to stay consistently well enough to withdraw from benefits into paid employment. On top of my mental health issues, I am also undergoing gender transition which currently involves a lot of medical treatment and surgery recovery. This in turn has an impact on my mental health and l have to be so careful to make sure I’m being balanced and taking care of myself. If l don’t stay self-aware and vigilant about my recovery and my mental health, I risk relapse and if that happens l could lose all. mental health progress I have made.

The worry and shame of being on benefits affects me every single day. I live in dread of the constant reassessment forms and medical assessments which are done by people who have never met me and make an assumption based on a small snapshot of my life. It’s an exhausting and humiliating process that you never get a break from for more than a few months at a time and always negatively effects my mental health.  As anyone with mental health issues knows, the benefit system, including the back to work team, are not clued up about how having long standing mental health diagnosis effects trying to find and keep employment. This means that many people with mental health issues fall into two categories. The first are those forced back into work due to inadequate mental health assessments deeming them fit for work by the benefits team. The second are those who are awarded benefit and then get stuck on it because they are too scared to move forward into work for fear that if they do and they find it negatively effects their mental health, they will then lose their benefits.

I am trying to develop a career for myself that allows me the flexibility I need to make my own income. I’m not lazy, l don’t want to be on sickness benefits, l am hard working, and driven but the current general pattern of work that employers ask for just do not suit my mental health needs. I need to be able to evaluate where i am on a daily basis and set my own hours according to my level of mental well being. I need to be able to simplify things when times are tough or take time off when my mental health is feeling too fragile. I have to put my mental health first or nothing else is possible. The way we work in our society does not allow for this flexibility in employment.

Surely there must be a better way. Can the benefit system and employers work together to provide a system whereby a person with long standing re occurring mental health issues, can be supported into work with flexible hours and the option to withdraw at times where their mental health is too severe without losing their money? This would be so fantastic and would also help in recovery as the self-esteem generated from managing to be productive and achieve something is so good for one’s mental health. Additionally, knowing that in times of need, some down time can be taken without fearing looking money, would also remove the shame or worry of having mental health issues and encourage better self-management. Until something like this is created, those attempting to make the transition from benefits to work will be failed by the system time and time again causing a cycle of constant relapse, shame and stigma.

 

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.