Train Wreck, Coming Through:

When I couldn’t sleep, when I really couldn’t sleep, when I was wound up from worry or fear, I would get angry, first, and then I would cry.  And then I would feel better.  And then I would fall asleep.  By the time I feel asleep, I would usually only get a couple of hours, but they were good hours, deep hours, really restful hours, and I would feel ok when my alarm went off.  Sure, a little sad I couldn’t sleep for longer, as I was really enjoying the sleep I was in, but I at least felt like I got a little rest.  My eyes wouldn’t ache from the lack of rest, nor would I get that headache behind my temples and eyes I frequently associate with lack of sleep.  If I had a night where the neighbors were too loud, or my cat wouldn’t leave me alone, or my thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone, if by 3 or 4 or 5 a.m. I could just give up, dissolve into tears, and then pass out, it was a good night.

I still get those nights: like tonight.  I wanted to get to bed early, because I have been having trouble sleeping for weeks, and I thought if maybe I gave myself like, 11 hours before having to get up, maybe that would let me relax and not worry about not falling asleep.  So, I worried, naturally, that I wouldn’t be able to sleep.  I read, and got sleepy, but as I felt myself starting to drift off, I felt that falling feeling, and woke myself up.  I do this repeatedly.  Then I start thinking about all the things I have to be afraid of in my life: what if the testosterone is fucking up my liver?  When is the cancer going to come back?  I am losing my will to write, I am wasting my life, I am a huge disappointment.  I’m losing my vocabulary and passion for learning at an alarming rate.  What is wrong with my brain?  What if my cat falls out of one of our open (but screened in) windows in the middle of the night?  My chest feels tight, what if something is wrong with my heart?  I can’t save my mother, my root canal is probably infected and wrecking my jaw bone, I think there’s one of those creepy centipedes on my bedroom wall…

And after about an hour or two of this, this loop of self doubt and fear and anger, that’s when I just get so tired and mad I cry.  It’s an angry, quiet cry, one that is satisfying, but not one that would wake up K.  And then I forget, for just a moment or so, all the things to be upset about, and I fall asleep.

But I don’t seem to be able to cry anymore.  I try to force it, I get really upset, I dredge up all the worst shit, the worst outcomes and least possible scenarios, and then, nothing.  I just lay there, looking at the ceiling.  So I take out the ear plugs, and walk into the living room and turn on the computer and I don’t feel the same fear I used to, I mean, it’s still there but now it’s coupled with this new “I don’t give a fuck” sensation.  At first, it felt good, like I was growing emotionally or something: like I’m not crying like a little bitch, so this must be a better, more mature self loathing.  This is progress.  No.  I think maybe this is depression.  I’m sure the testosterone is having a lot to do with why I can’t seem to cry anymore.  It feels very much like I just can’t get over the falls, as it were, emotionally, enough to bawl.  I feel just as upset, but now I get angry at my sadness.  But I’m also just tired of being angry, so I don’t feel like taking the rage out on anything–it just dissipates.   But then the thoughts resurface, the emotions well up, and I start the whole ugly process all over again.

My sex drive seems to be residing in the pre-t range, and after some recent professional setbacks, well, I just feel like I’m tired of trying.  I’m tired of writing things that aren’t good enough, I’m tired of working for recognition that doesn’t materialize.  When I was younger, in school, I did good things, I was always on the top of the hill, as it were, winning awards and doing well and being recognized for it.  I had a community and a purpose and was learning interesting things.  I’m in a slump, obviously.  And I think, this must be what depression feels like.  It’s a bit different from anxiety: it’s not nearly as manic and physically painful, and so in that way it’s kind of relaxing.  But it ain’t great, either.  The idea of having depression is just another problem to worry about.  It’s like I’ve been stepping in dog shit for twenty years, when suddenly I notice I occasionally step in cat shit instead.

K and I had a chat about this mess tonight, and she had some helpful things to say.  As most troubles are, this issue is about perspective: I can’t keep judging myself based on a scale I no longer participate in or believe in, that is, I don’t actually believe there is anything wrong with working in a grocery store, reading for pleasure, and paying my bills on time.  Actually, that sounds like a pretty good life to me.  But to outsiders, I must look like a pretty big disappointment: hot shot grad school leads to the destruction of my self esteem and retail labor.  Nice job, dumbass.  But I do believe I am a disappointment, to myself.  All I wanted to do was be a fucking English teacher.  It’s not like I wanted the moon.  I just wanted to not get cancer when I was 29.  I just wanted to be born in the right body.  I don’t think I was aiming too high.  But I did get cancer when I was 29, I am transgender, and no, my chosen occupation didn’t want me.  And all that shit hurt.  It still hurts.  It keeps me up at night.

I want very much to learn how to give myself a break.  I want to look at the clock on the computer and see it is 1:04 and be ok with that.  I want to stop judging myself and stop creating these self fulfilling sleepless nights.  I want to unclinch my jaw and believe my body is healthy.  I want to take a cue from my cat and my girlfriend and sleep for more than four hours at a time.  I want to learn how to let go.  I want to be able to watch my breathing for more than an inhale before I forget it and retreat back into my brain.

I want to blame all this on the testosterone, but I know better than that.  I think the testosterone is exacerbating trouble that has been brewing under the surface for a long time.  And in that way, presumably among other ways, it is healing me.  Testosterone is forcing me to look at things I have been ignoring for a long time.  A sleepless night won’t kill me.  And look, I actually wrote something, too.  Guess I’ll go back to bed and think about global warming.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

30 thoughts on “Train Wreck, Coming Through:

  1. Fuck.

    I’m sorry, Allen, that you’re feeling waterlogged from the suffocating downward swirl of self-doubt. I’m no
    stranger to that little sucker myself, but here’s something: You sure appear to have the smarts and swagger that you had the decade+ ago we first met. Yours is a captivating wit and perspective: Have faith, my friend, that your divine idiosyncrasy and grace will occur to you again and propel you toward whatever you want next.

  2. I hope I don’t sound irritating or didactic, but… What you’re describing is something called “intrusive thoughts”. They’re common in people with OCD, BDD, ADHD (and others). I recognize it because I have the same thing. I’ve had it since late childhood. You have to realize that these thought processes aren’t really rational or helpful to you.
    In the great scheme of things, in life, we’re actually quite fortunate. We weren’t born in Afghanistan. We haven’t lived through war or hunger. We’re not in abusive relationships; And we’re young enough to change things in our life if we want to. It’s very easy to get stuck reviewing, and re-reviewing, and re-re-reviewing everything that hasn’t gone to plan. But all you accomplish is psychological self-harm.
    If what you want to do is teach, there are many ways of approaching it. Have you considered TEFL? That’s a field where teachers are always in demand. If you want changes, then let’s plan some changes, and then we just keep trying and pushing until you get where you want to be 😉

  3. Oh, and I forgot to say that my doctor explained to me that although some doctors like to define intrusive thoughts in a very narrow way, the important factor isn’t the object of the thought (memories, aggression, sex etc.), but the actual thought process focusing on negative aspects of life. You can have intrusive thoughts about unimportant things, important things, things that will never happen and so forth. Mine tend to be bad memories.

    • Ed,

      Thanks so much for your really thoughtful comment. Although I’m not a big fan of the “you weren’t born in a war zone, so you have no right to your negative feelings” approach I often hear thrown around in the developed world, I am with you on everything else.

      It’s this depression thing that has me hung up: I have no motivation to change my situation. Scratch that, I have little motivation, and the things I have tried lately have been squashed.

      And I guess I am being too picky: I don’t want to teach in China, so I have not approached the TOEFL test. I’ve done my research on that. And while I’m not willing to bend on the country I live in, I am willing to bend on the amount I am paid. That is, I would rather lead a workshop, for free, for queer kids here in Chicago than get paid in Asia.

      Now, I’m off to take this test!

      • I didn’t mean to delegitimise your negative feelings. Some of us are dealt are really tough hand in life and I understand yours is a very hard road. I also know how irritating it is to hear what I’ve said, because it was often said to me. At the time it meant nothing because my inclination to depression meant I was only able to focus on the negatives. I allocated an obscene amount of time to thinking about what was wrong with me, my choices, my life- while practically ignoring any of the positive aspects. In cognitive behavioural therapy I was trained to recognize which thought patterns were self-destructive or just destructive. That’s made a huge difference in everyday life. It’s still very hard to do because when I look at anything, my instinct is to try to find what’s wrong with it; But now (it doesn’t always work) I force myself to allocate a certain amount of time every day to positive things/activities. I ‘have to’ do an hour of gardening p/ day. At 6pm I have to put on music and have a glass of something alcoholic. Every other day I plan and cook a more sophisticated dinner.
        I’m not going to lie and tell you that there’s a magical fix to the problem. Our brains are wired and shaped to react to the set of conditions we’ve faced throughout life. That’s very hard to change. I know I’m never going to be one of those cheerful, smiley people; But at the same time I do think it’s possible to stop torturing one’s self on a regular basis. You could start by adding something you enjoy doing regularly to your routine.
        On the TEFL thing, lots of colleges offer courses to immigrants in the USA. Usually in the evenings. It’s not highly paid, but worth looking into. It’s an interesting crowd because they’re very eager to learn. I did it for a year while I was at university.

      • “I allocated an obscene amount of time to thinking about what was wrong with me, my choices, my life- while practically ignoring any of the positive aspects.”

        Yes, I have been doing that. And I am going to take your advice and start making more of a concerted effort to give myself an hour a day to doing something I enjoy. And you are so right about the ESL learners: very eager, and it’s rewarding in that way. Thanks for the head’s up–I’ll look into it.

    • Thanks Ed. I have taken that test, the first time I found the site, and watched the video at the end of it as well. Important, helpful stuff. Good things for the perspective of the problem. I’m definitely going to bring up intrusive thoughts in my next therapy session.

      Thanks, buddy.


  4. It’s posts like this that make me want to fly across the country and give you a great big hug.

    I’ve been on estrogen and T-blockers for the last two years, and I’ve noticed that I’m far more likely to cry now than before when I only had T in my system. It’s probably an important part of the problem for you. But not all of it, as blocking T and taking E weren’t the only reasons I was upset a lot of the time.

    If I only hadn’t been trans, I’d still be happily married and my family would live all in one place. I’d be able to get a date as I’d be one or the other, instead of a woman with a penis.

    I can relate.

    Hang in there Eli. You are loved.


    • Connie,

      You’re always so sweet to me! Yeah, this in between time is the pits, I feel that, although I’m not considering bottom surgery, and I know transitions is never really “over,” there will be days ahead when I am more comfortable with ebing trans, and the hormones will settle a bit.

      Thanks for the encouragement, and if I’m ever across the country, I’m taking you up on that hug!


  5. Eli, hang in there. There is more to being a success than having a career, and it is difficult to see it when you are in the throes of depression.
    The ones that I see (as an unbiased reader) are that you are authentic to yourself, you are dealing with an abusive past, you are in a relationship with someone who clearly loves you, and you write an excellent blog. I am tempted to give you advice, but anything I’d suggest you’ve probably thought of and I hate getting advice which should have taught me to stop giving it.

  6. I don’t have any super encouraging words, but I totally share your feelings–we’ve got some similar things on our journeys. I know I should be more thankful and excited about my job because it’s a job and so many people don’t have anything right now. But … I feel like I wasted a lot of time and money going to grad school. The academic job market is structured in a such a way that I don’t know that I want to keep trying. I’m a little too old to keep starting over, plus having kids in tow makes it a lot harder to take on those 1-2 year teaching gigs that never actually pan out into a real permanent job. Seeing friends who went through the program with me publishing books and landing tenure track jobs can be a bummer.

    But, then I think at least I am living as my true self. I have my kids. I got all of us out of a not-so-great situation. I’m keeping us fed, if not exactly high on the hog. And so on.

    I hope you can find those little things that balance out some of the disappointment and self-doubt. I wish you could see yourself the way others do and see the wit, the smarts, the talent.

    • TPG,

      Thanks pal. I know you’re a writer, too, and it is of some solace that you’re in a similar situation. But then it pisses me off, too, that we live in a country that so effectively devalues education, teachers, and the arts. Ugh. I love this place, but fuck this place! Ugh, I hate my position, but hate more that so many people are in it!

      So, ahem, I do know I can spin a tale or two, and am not too terrible on the eyes. And I got a cute line or two that makes my girl smile. So yeah, I suppose things aren’t so bad. 🙂


      PS: Is there something I can call you besides the initials to your blog?

      • You can call me Garrett. And I totally agree with your sentiments. It is disheartening that the U.S. greatly undervalues education.

        Sometimes I wish I had the courage to start a business or at least move to a different part of the country where things might be a little more friendly in several senses.

      • You can call me Garrett. And I totally agree with your sentiments. It is disheartening that the U.S. greatly undervalues education.

        Sometimes I wish I had the courage to start a business or at least move to a different part of the country where things might be a little more friendly in several senses.

  7. I’m right there with you. I wasn’t good at crying before T, and now I’m downright terrible at it. I’m also reading this from my couch at 1am because I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t get my brain to shut up. I don’t have any good advice, but know you’re not alone.

    • Joe! None of us can sleep! We should start an online chat room (do those still exists? “Chat” rooms?) For trans people with insomnia. 🙂

      Thanks for chiming in, buddy.


      • I found out very recently that they DO still exist! The unfortunate part of my West Coast locale is that by the time I can’t sleep, everyone else has either finally fallen asleep or given up and started their day.

  8. Most people still believe that gender is determined by XY or XX chromosomes when its all in the hormones and.I can easily confirm you self-diagnosis by my own experience that the loss of the ability to cry is a good candidate for being one of the side effects of re-balancing your hormone levels from FtM because I have had the opposite effect in rebalancing my hormone levels MtF.. As to sleeping, even before I started transition and taking estrogen and anti-androgens, I don’t think I have had a normal nights sleep for three years. . Part of that time it was from the pain I experienced because of having a negligible amount of cartilage in my hip joints which then were replaced by titanium, bionic hips if you will but after better sleep cycles for a while until I began to think I was hallucinating when this female entity within who told me her name was Deanna and eventually the old me just de-ceased as Deanna took over my body, mind and heart for good at three am on the morning of November 27, 2011. I have celebrated the anniversary in 2012 and plan to celebrate the birth of Deanna for the rest of my life. I had a horoscope cast for that day and time and Deanna is so much more a Sagittarian than a Cancer as my astrologer has attested. . When I read where you talk about it being 1:04 am I glanced down to the lower right corner to see it was 2:04 am. As far as laughing and crying, i have been unable to do either for as long as I can remember but after taking estrogen and anti-androgens for a while I began crying at the drop of a hat, a lot for my late wife who died last October but for other things and I have just recently been able to laugh spontaneously which I haven’t been able to as long as I can remember. I don’t know but maybe its the new “normal.”
    Be well and happy Eli. I believe you to be there already.
    Deanna Joy, 201 days to post-op in Bangkok Thailand on February 20, 2014.

    • Deanna,

      Thanks for your input here. I am a bit glad to be rid of the crying, as it lets me get angry without going to pieces. And for that I am happy. I really only miss the tears when they would help me sleep.

      What an interesting and spiritual story you have–that your identity came to you in this particular fashion is compelling. I hope to read your story someday. I get glimpses of it in your blog, but would love to hear more…

      I see you’re in Thailand, now–I hope the sale of your house went smoothly!


  9. Hi Eli..I read your Train Wreck Coming Through last night and it brought back all the anxieties I was going through when I was 46, [my change of life]…I think you covered every aspect of my emotions and how physically drained I became…

    At the time I didn’t know what was happening…It just came on all of a sudden and lasted for 3 very hard days …I felt so insignificant, why was I even here…All my dreams, hard work, efforts were for not…I couldn’t share my feelings with anyone, not even Jim…

    After a week I got to the “I don’t give a F…K piss on it all” phase…Only then was I able to talk with Jim and others about my frustrations…..I became aware that I was having the dreadful “Change of Life” experience that we all go through….What a relief..I wasn’t going nuts!

    I began to enjoy the simple things like go to work, come home, kick off my shoes and relax because it’s my time now …I realized my dreams didn’t have to come true nor did I really want them as dreams anymore….I could make new dreams as I see fit….

    The chat you and K had the other day was going in the right direction….I truly believe your frustration lies in too much emphasis on what you presume to be failures rather then acknowledging them as learning experiences….

    There are lots of sayings that are very helpful..
    You Must Fail First In Order To Succeed
    Remember, failures are not failures, they are the best learning experiences.
    The more failure we have the greater success we will be? … Fail often so you can succeed sooner…The list goes on…

    But the most important question is, “Do I want to be successful in business or do I want to be happy in what I do?…

    I Hope you are feeling so much better and learning to relax…. I know you’re body has gone through many changes and will face more to come…That plays a big part in what you are feeling and another problem which hinders you is that Our Family Members have always struggled with depression and the feeling of inadequacy too …. You will work this out Eli but I want to give you heads up…When you get to be around 65, Toot Toot, Here comes the Train Again!

    You got some really caring People looking after you and giving Great replies …Love.. Cathy and Jim

    • Cathy,

      Only just now, after seeing new comments on this post, did I see your detailed and thoughtful reply. My apologies for responding so much later–usually WordPress sends me an email when someone comments on a post–for whatever reason I didn’t get notification of this!

      Obviously I’m in a much better place now, but I thank you very much for sharing your experience and being so supportive of me. Our family has a lot of problems, yes, but you have always been a rock for all of us. Thank you for that and so much more. 🙂


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