The lights have come out all over town, in the department stores, on the city lampposts, and in homes and yards across the country. How I used to love those lights, along with everything else that made the holidays festive: annoying dinners with family, shopping in crowded stores, and watching memorized Christmas specials… but it was still special. Even as annoying and stressful as the holidays can be, it’s the intimate time with family that makes it worthwhile.
Unfortunately for some, the holidays are not a time of intimate family connection, many in the LGBTQ community have little to no family at all, creating a completely different holiday experience. For some, the holidays are a lonely and difficult time, this is my experience.
After I came out to my family as a transgender woman my family disowned me and stopped talking to me, all but my sister and one aunt. My wife of 23 years divorced me and even my children refuse to see or speak to me, my daughter has since given birth and has never even told me that I now have a grandson, I had to find out by other means. It’s a very painful reality that I and many like me live with, making every single day a painful experience, but the holidays are so much more difficult than any other time.
This year was especially hard for me, see, two weeks before Christmas I was sitting in my doctor’s office when suddenly in walked my former in-laws. They didn’t recognize me and had no idea I was there when they sat right next me with an empty seat between us. They talked between themselves about the baby, how he loved to play and was growing so big, then they began talking about how my kids looked nothing like me and how good it was that I was gone out of their lives. I listened in excruciating silence and said nothing, I didn’t want them to recognize me or know that I was there. Then something happened that I was completely unprepared for… my ex-wife walked in with my grandson and sat in the empty seat directly next to me. She also didn’t recognize me as she played with my grandson that I’m not supposed to see or know about. I thought I was in hell. I didn’t know what to do, I wanted so badly to just leave, I wanted to talk to her but I was terrified of the possible (and probable) rejection. I sat in agony pretending to look at my phone while cutting my eyes to watch her play with the baby debating with myself about what I should do, when her parents were called back to see the doctor. Suddenly I was sitting there alone with my ex-wife and I saw my opportunity open, this was my only chance if I was ever going to have one so I swallowed my fear and turned towards her and said hello. She turned towards me with a smile and said “Excuse me?” When our eyes met she recognized who I was and her smile disappeared, I asked how she and the kids were doing and she told me everyone was doing well and happy, I took that to mean that they were happy in my absence. Then I was called back to see the doctor, I told her that it was good to see her and that was the end of our conversation, I was never allowed to hold my grandson for even a moment.
I then sank into a terrible and deep depression for the following weeks, I slept and drank my way through Christmas, disengaging from my advocacy work, not talking to friends or answering my phone, I stopped eating and lost over ten pounds in two weeks, I missed a few doses of my meds, and I sincerely analyzed my desire to continue living. So much of my work went undone, I wanted to write a blog about my experience at the Biomedical Conference in Los Angeles earlier in December, or a blog reviewing the amazing year I had had in 2018, but not a word was written. I needed to study for a presentation that I’m expected to deliver later in January, I needed to attend conference calls, I needed to clean my house and cook for my girlfriend and her kids, but I felt emotionally paralyzed, so I slept.
Then came the new year, marking the end of the season and the beginning of something new. I knew it was time to shake myself off and get back to living, as difficult as that may be. So today I’m climbing back in the saddle and I’m beginning with a blog, this blog. This isn’t the first time I’ve been through a bout of severe depression, I’ve lived with it most of my life, and it won’t be the last, this I know all too well. We all get knocked on our ass from time to time, and some of those times are worse than others, for me this was one of the worst times I’ve ever experienced, I just really miss my kids, but we have to rise above the hard times, even during the hardest of times. There’s nothing shameful about stepping away for a moment to heal, it’s absolutely crucial, but then you get back up and back in the saddle again.
It’s not the falling down that defines us, we all fall at some point, it’s whether we get back up or not. Though it’s not easy, though the pain still exists, the sun continues to rise and so must we, life goes on and we must engage in it or be left behind, and the latter is not an option, because there’s people who need us, our lives touch so many others, whether we realize it or not, we must be strong for them. Being strong doesn’t mean that we don’t fall. We may fall a hundred times, but that just means we get up a hundred and one. So, whatever you may be facing I hope that you never give up, do what you need to do to heal yourself as necessary and for the sake of those who love and need you, get back in the saddle again.