Looking Ahead After Holiday Depression

After 2 years of being full-time and a one foot in front of the other approach, I am still battling depression. The holidays didn’t help. In the new year, something needs to change.

In the first few weeks of the year, I found myself in a period of immense depression. In my State of Me: 2 Years Full Time post, I said that I was “spiraling into a dark place where I am isolated and lonely.” Unfortunately, I continued to tumble down that rabbit hole. I continued to talk to my therapist. I have reached out to friends. Some of them remind me how inspiring I have been to them. A few have reached out and told me I can call them any time. Still, as I wrote in State of Me, “the depressive feelings that could potentially lead to [suicide] are ever-present.” Why? Because the love of my life wants nothing to do with me, and I simply cannot shake her from my heart even though she shows every sign that she respects me less and less.

I tried my hardest to get into the Christmas spirit this year. I listened to Christmas songs at every turn. I decorated the Christmas tree as brightly as I ever have. As tradition has it, the children stayed up to help decorate the tree once the lights were on. My wife baked a ton of cookies. There was even a neighborhood Secret Santa. But no matter how much I tried to ignore the problems and the sadness, there was no joy in any of it.

Buying a present for my wife was hard. In the past, I have showered her with amazing gifts. Since beginning transition, those presents have not been as grand, but I continued to try to gift well. I still tried. I did not want to try this year. In the end, I gifted her some Disney earrings, which as usual, were a great gift for her. I think she wore one of those pairs every day from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day. In return, I received some earrings from Claire’s and a new skirt for work, which does not really fit my body shape. While we do not have lots of money to be buying presents, I kind of feel like she did not put a lot of effort into my gifts because her heart was not in it.

Christmas Day was awkward. There was no verve to get up and wake the kids to see what Santa had brought. Even Santa’s gifts were a family miracle. We received a last-minute donation of food & toys the week days before Christmas. Both children received brand new, assembled bicycles and assortment of smaller, cool toys. The adults received a food basket with an entire turkey and a bunch of canned food. I was incredibly grateful and humbled that we received such a blessing that truly save Christmas.

After the children opened presents, my father showed up for about an hour. In that time, he showed me pre-transition pictures of myself (at my heaviest weight, no less) and commented on my weight and hair length in the pictures. He then spent about 30 minutes talking to my wife about theology. While they both have progressive Christian philosophies, they are different enough to make for a strange conversation—and one I had very little interest in.

Once he left, we then proceeded to a hotel to visit my wife’s dad, stepmom, and their friends. For the second year in a row, we had Christmas dinner in a hotel room with people I barely know. These low-key gatherings are so much different from the Christmases I grew up with. We went home with overtired children and an underwhelming set of gatherings.

I was looking forward to the neighbors’ Secret Santa exchange a few days after Christmas, but even that was a sour point. I did not have a lot of time to shop with my busy schedule, so my wife helped me shop for gifts while I worked. That part worked out well (except for her telling people she did not know what to get my gift recipient). The person who drew my name really knew nothing about me. He arrived three hours late to the party, and then when I finally got my gift, I opened up a bottle of alcohol. For anyone else in that room, that would have been an OK hurried gift. However, I am not a big drinker. Anyone that even remotely knows me realizes I am only a social drinker at best. I am the last person to buy a 1/5 of anything—especially when the idea of the gift exchange was to give thoughtful gifts under $20. While I had fun at the party, I was very disappointed. The whole situation did not provide a silver lining to my downer of a Christmas.

After the holidays, I put out what amounted to cry for help to Facebook. While I acknowledged some of the positives that occurred this year (mainly FFS—despite the infection—and mostly successful vocal training), I also made mention how much this year has felt like an “unmitigated disaster.” Why? Because my support system is so weak. Yes, there are people I rely on and people who step into help me, but I can only rely on those people so much. I am not good at asking for help as it is, let alone going back to the well to people that have already assisted me. I do not want to be manipulative or overly-needy. I received a few nice responses to my post, but there was notable exception: my wife.

I know she has read the Facebook post because she reacted to one of the comments, but she did not mention it, comment on it, or reference it in any way to me. The same night I posted that message, I came home from work and had to endure her talking to her “friend” on the phone for nearly an hour. Rarely does she talk to him while I am around. This felt highly disrespectful. She knows how I feel about him. However, what does she care? She has her fantasy boyfriend, and I am a glorified babysitter and paycheck earner. This, even after I made the breakfast she requested earlier that morning.

She is tired with dealing with me and my emotions, even though I never complained when I helped her through her issues at the beginning of our relationship. I was there through every twist and turn. I drove her to group therapy meetings. I made sure she filled her prescriptions. For 12+ years, I have been there for her. Now that I need the help and support, I am apparently too much for her. I am not worth the effort. The romance is gone. The attraction is gone. If we did not have the kids, I might be subjugated to roommate status. Maybe we should set up a chore wheel.

Admittedly, that’s my anger coming through, but it is hard not to feel the way I do. No matter what I do, I am still the one taking care of the finances, making things work as best as possible for us as a family. ‘Family’: That word has taken on a weird context lately. There has to be a more appropriate word than that to describe what we have going here. Because families love each other, do anything for each other, respect one another. That’s not happening here, and it repeatedly breaks my heart. My heart is so shattered that is difficult for me to put one foot in front of the other. I have been plodding along, but I am tired of going it alone. I am tired of bearing all of the stress of trying. Trying to love. Trying to feel good about myself. Trying to be a good worker. Trying to be a good mother. I can’t bear it alone.

On New Year’s Day, we sat down and talked for about an hour while the kids played in a park. During that conversation, she admitted to pulling away from me. She also said that she was upset because she felt she was having to do everything by herself—the same complaint I have had. Clearly, we are at an impasse if we both feel we are doing “everything” without the other’s help. This is a broken family (or whatever we are), and how we keep sane without continuing to upset each other is a Herculean task.

When I officially reached my 2-year full-time anniversary, I made it a point for myself to celebrate even in some small way. I did not make a big deal about it. I was kind of curious to see if my wife was going to acknowledge it in any way. It was even written on the large family calendar in the living room. For her, it was a work day, which meant I was responsible for the kids. Before we picked her up at the end of the night, I put on my tiara (which my daughter loved) and went to the grocery store to buy myself a Boston cream pie. When we picked her up, she asked, “Were you wearing that all day?” I answered, “No, but why might I be wearing my tiara today?” She paused, then responded, “Oh, is that today?” quietly adding, “Happy Non-Birthday.” Later, I shared cake and Martinelli’s with her after the kids went to bed, but honestly, had I not chosen to celebrate this milestone myself, it probably would have gone unnoticed and uncelebrated.

I am trying so hard to propel myself forward and keep up the one foot in front of the other approach I’ve been plodding along since I started my transition, but after 3+ years of grinding through life, I am so tired. I am tired if feeling like I am working towards a goal that I cannot define. Don’t get me wrong: That goal has nothing to do with transition. I am living the authentic me, and that’s a huge thing. I just don’t have vision for the rest of my life.

Despite the incessant pressures I faced in 2017, I was able to accomplish my face and voice goals. In my best effort to move forward, I feel I need to set some goals for 2018. While the odds of me getting GRS in the upcoming year are slim, I need to accelerate that process. To that end, I have a friend helping me create a GoFundMe page to crowdfund for the surgeon’s required deposit and to start needed electrolysis. As I get that long-term ball rolling, in the short-term, I need to learn to live for myself. I need to dream again. I have to find a way to separate myself from my wife without further injuring my heart. To that end, financial security is a must for myself and my children. I seek new, better paying employment. I also must solve the housing dilemma. Depression or not, I must find a way through, to keep my will strong and positive, or I may not make it through 2018.

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Love & Family at Christmastime Through the Years

Growing up, I have had a long and varied history when it comes to Christmas. From big celebrations to quiet dinners and everything in between, one theme has always been constant: Love and family. This year, as my world continues to change in the shadow of my transition, I approach a Christmas unlike any other, as the instability of my family and the resolve of my heart balance on a razor-thin wire.

My parents divorced when I was two, and so my earliest Christmas memories frequently involve waking up on Christmas morning to a wide range of presents that my single mom (and Santa) had placed under and around our tree. Not that I appreciated it as a young child, but my mom tried so hard to make each of my Christmases special. She overcompensated and spent money she did not really have to make my holiday special because we were by ourselves. One of my earliest Christmas memories was waking up in our small cottage to a living room full of gifts, all for little old 5-year-old me. A Big Wheel was my big gift that year. What I did not realize at the time was that she was not just showering me with gifts because I was her only child. She did that to make my Christmas memorable at a time when we had very little to celebrate. This demonstration was likely her way of trying to show me how much she loved me despite a lack of resources.

My mom and I were incredibly close. So, when she went to New York by herself for Christmas when I was 8-years-old, I was crushed. I stayed at a friend’s house for 2 weeks, and it was like being in a whole new world. The first night I stayed at his house, we were supposed to sleep in bunk beds in my friend’s room, but I cried because I missed my mom. We relocated to the living room, where I was given the couch, and my friend slept on the living room floor. This calmed me because the living room had a large bay window. Every night, I would stare out the window in to the night and look at the stars. I would think about how my mom was looking at the same stars in New York, and we were somehow connected that way. In this way, I was with my mom for Christmas. To this day, I still wish upon stars when I am separated from close friends and family and blow kisses into the night sky hoping they will travel through the stars to those I am separated from.

On another Christmas when I was about 9, we traveled to my mom’s sister’s house in a remote Northern California town near Mt. Shasta. I always enjoyed spending time with my cousins. However, that Christmas, Santa left me a note saying my presents were waiting for me at home. Also, both my mom and I were gifted with an ugly illness which forced us home and drugged out on a half codeine-half cough syrup prescription watching rented movies while laying miserably in my mom’s bed. In mutual agony, we made the best of a bad situation, and I still remember the post-Christmas movie marathon to this day.

My dad was not entirely absent. He lived about 20 miles away, and in later years, I began to spend the first half of my winter breaks with him. That side of my family was a stark contrast to the relatively isolated world of my mom and I. My father was adopted into an Italian family, and like any Italian family, holidays were an event. Christmas was no different. They were loud, boisterous, crowded… and fun. My grandma and grandpa hosted about 20 family members each year, and we all crowded in to a tiny kitchen and living room in their apartment. The family would play seemingly neverending games of 31, my unfiltered aunts & uncles would comment on my appearance and my life, and my half-brother (who lived with my dad and whom I have always just referred to as my brother) would tease me like any older brother would. We would gorge on a huge spread of home cooked food. Typical Italian Christmas.

What ties the two sides of my family together were love and family. With my mom, we had an extremely tight-knit bond full of love and respect. For 18 years, she was my world until I went off to college. She celebrated me in times of achievement; she cried with me in times of great sadness. And while that seems like par for the course for a mother, she brought intangibles to the table that are too extensive for me to get into here. Suffice to say, she shaped my early experience like no other. She was my immediate family. With my dad, I had the extended family. We did not share the same emotional bond that I had with mom, but he showed me the importance of family in the greater sense. The experiences I had—especially at the holidays—could not have been more diametrically opposed, but together, they helped me balance the importance of love and family.

In my later years, the world shifted. I have lost my mom. My dad has moved several hours away. I no longer have any living grandparents, and the days of the loud Italian Christmases faded when grandpa passed away. Despite the fracturing and loss of my family, the ideas I have revolving around love and family have continued to be important to me. I have had many a sad Christmas, especially in my early to mid 20s, when I did not have a lot of direction in my life and I was struggling with school. However, when I met the person who would become my wife, my connection with love and family found a new home with her.

As a romantic and with our nearly instant connection, I loved my wife with all of my heart. Our first Christmas together came just two months after our first date. That year, I have memories of taking her to see The Nutcracker after an epic night of finals, and going to a performance Cirque du Soleil on a cold December night in San Francisco. We spent that Christmas apart, but early on, her family embraced me as a member of their family. By the following Christmas, I once again had a large table to sit at my wife’s mom & stepdad’s house. On her dad’s side, her aunt would later conspire with me to arrange a surprise honeymoon which involved crashing at her house in Florida even though she had never physically met me prior to our wedding. Later that year, we spent that Christmas in Florida with both of my wife’s aunts.

My wife and I began to build our own Christmas traditions. Up until last year, we made it a point to make crêpes each Christmas for breakfast. We always select and decorate our tree as a family. We frequently take a holiday photo together. And when our daughter was born just days before Christmas, we were lucky enough to wake up as a family of four on Christmas morning instead of being stuck in a hospital. I have a really cute photo of my 2-day old daughter sleeping in a stocking that I will always remember.

My wife and I have been together for 11 years. We have had many a Christmas where we have had to travel to sick family members. We have traveled to other family members’ dinners. We have had quiet Christmases at home. What ties them altogether is the love we have shared for each other and the fact that no matter the hardships, we have been together as family. With my transition, the last two Christmases have been the most challenging of them all. Two years ago, there was plenty of raw anger still present in the house. Last year, I was on the verge of coming out to the world as transgender. In fact, I came out to my kids just shy of the new year. In spite of the polarized emotions of the last two Christmases, we held it together as a family, and we continued to celebrate with most of our traditions and provided the children with the best experiences we could provide. Much like my mom did, I want the best for my children, and while we have to get creative to make it work, I want my children’s Christmas experiences to be as positive as possible while hiding the problems in the background.

This year, I do not know what to expect. As Christmas approaches this year, my heart and mind are strained. My wife and I have come a long way in rebuilding our friendship and our overall relationship, but huge questions still loom over us. Just this week, we had a discussion on the uncertainty that faces us. On one hand, we need freedom and space from each other. On the other, we are still family, and at least for me, there will always be love in my heart for her. I told her I loved her in a birthday card I wrote for her this week. Even if and when we go our separate ways, that is not a feeling I can just ignore. She will always be a part of my heart, and she will always be family. We continue treating this holiday like any other (except for the complication of Christmas falling on a Sunday this year). We will continue the tradition of buying and decorating a tree together. We will celebrate our daughter’s birthday ahead of and separate from Christmas. We will exchange thoughtful gifts. Sadly, crêpes probably won’t happen. (I was sad when that tradition was broken.)

My Christmases past have been wildly uneven, but love and family continue to be central themes in my life, even in the face of uncertainty. I do my best as a mother to provide a memorable Christmas for my children. I do my best as a wife (as long as I am one) to celebrate as much as I my partner is emotionally accepting of my love. For myself, I must remind myself that even though I have changed many things about my life, there are some things that remain the same. I am still a loving person with a big heart. I am still worthy of both giving and receiving love and warmth. In good Christmases and bad, those have always been there. As a child, my mom was a shining example of these traits, and even in trying times, she did her best. She taught me well. Even as my family situation becomes more fluid and my heart’s resolve is challenged, my core beliefs of the importance of love and family remain, and I will do my best to enjoy this Christmas season, even if I do cry every now and then.