Taking Care

As many of you know, I am a huge advocate when it comes to seeking help from professionals.

Want to learn makeup? Schedule a lesson with a makeup artist.

Need to know your cup and band size? Get a bra fitting.

Asking for help in ANYTHING isn’t easy as it usually requires us to move out of our comfort zone. Getting professional counseling also is intimidating as we fear it may require us to confront and address parts of us that feel overwhelming or uncomfortable.

But it’s very important. I have been in therapy for much of the last twenty years with different counselors and professionals. Over the years I have received help with BIG issues but over the last decade or so it’s more about helping me maintain my mental health and managing the everyday stuff.

When I talk about… THINGS on my website I try to make it clear that my writing is mostly based on my perspective and experiences. That is to say I have no idea if I am close to the mark regarding, well, anything. When I get an email from someone saying that yes, this is how they feel too, I feel that maybe I am helping someone, somewhere.

I get emails from mental health professionals on occasion letting me know of resources that our community might find helpful. Sometimes I am told that they refer their patients to the MN T-Girls. This makes me happy and helps me think that what I write about or do is constructive.

Listen.

Based on emails I get from ya’ll it sounds like many of you feel talking to a therapist would be incredibly beneficial. Sometimes a girl wants to get some guidance on whether or not transitioning is right for them, or help when it comes to talking about this side of us to their wives, or just looking for someone to confide in. But the hesitation may come from the fear of being outed or not being able to find someone that can indeed help.

I get it. It’s easy to feel hopeless when it comes to this side of us. When I came out to my first girlfriend and it went… not so well I thought it was hopeless to be able to find someone in my life that would accept this side of me. Thank God I never gave up. At one point (actually, at many points) I thought it would be impossible to feel happy with how I looked en femme. But I never quit and I couldn’t be happier with the girl in my reflection.

Don’t give up. Don’t give up on anything. Especially not yourself.

I am honored to share with you a guest post from Jinger Thomas, an LPC (licensed professional counselor). Licensed professional counselors are licensed to work as mental health professionals. The LPC license allows them to render professional counseling services in private practice, hospitals, mental health clinics, and other counseling or a related mental health field.

I hope you take her words to heart and I hope that this helps those of us who need encouragement.

Love, Hannah

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Hannah’s post “It is what it is but not what it seems” regarding mental health and her experience going to therapy really hit home with me. The first reason being that I am bigender. I have worked for years to better understand myself, and find ways to integrate my “two sides” into my life in a healthy way. The second reason being that I am a mental health therapist, technically a licensed professional counselor. I have worked in a community mental health agency, an inpatient hospital setting for over 6 years, and I currently have a private practice. Mental health and how it impacts all parts of our lives is just beginning to be understood. Despite continuing to make strides in societal acceptance of mental health issues, a stigma surrounding receiving mental health care remains. Because of this we often try to ignore our problems, refuse to acknowledge them or we end up mismanaging them which can result in many different self-sabotaging behaviors. It is in our best interest to try to find a way to handle them in a way that does not create further issues for ourselves.

I often tell my clients that while I am not a “one trick pony” as a therapist, I am probably a “six trick pony.” This list contains a few more than six tricks (ideas) but not too many. I wanted to create a condensed version of what are some very important ideas that we as gender non-conforming individuals may need to focus on from time to time. In a lot of ways these ideas are universal, and can be applied to anyone. The concepts on this list sees a significant amount of discussion and application in my practice, and not just with my gender variant clients. You have likely heard some or maybe even all of this previously. I’m not necessarily breaking new ground. Some of it will sound like a reiteration of parts of Hannah’s post. I am of the opinion that a gentle reminder never hurts.

  1. First and foremost: You are not broken. Broken implies that something needs to be fixed. Gender is one of the first things that we are taught, and it is how we are divided as small children. The majority of us have grown up with strict gender roles. People who did not behave within what was expected were often not accepted by others, and were told that they were weird, bad or wrong. Being told this, and even just witnessing others that we have found commonality with be mistreated adds to these feelings of being “broken.” Many of us may have been told so directly. Viewing ourselves as broken creates a strong sense of negative self worth. When you are told something repeatedly, or witness it enough in society it starts to seem factual. This then feeds our depression, anxiety and anger, and we can get sucked into an “emotional vortex of doom.” What we have to remember is that when someone says something to us or judges us, that is their opinion, not a fact. “Your opinion of me is none of my business.” is is a quote by clinical social worker and author Judy Ford. This statement is a two way street. We do not need to ask someone’s opinion of us, and they do not need to offer it. 
  1. We need to strive for authenticity. This is often problematic because we can’t always be open about what we are feeling or experiencing. However, attempting to behave in ways that do not feel natural or real creates an internal incongruence. Feelings of being unbalanced and unfulfilled can lead to increased anxiety and depression. When this occurs, the natural response is to try to make the negative feelings go away. Unfortunately this can lead to problematic behaviors in an attempt to “fill the void.” This can be things like eating or drinking too much, excessive shopping , or making poor personal choices that can negatively impact our relationships and our daily lives. Working to accept and incorporate your true self can alleviate a significant amount of the anxiety and depression we want to avoid. There are a number of ways that this can be achieved, but we have to be proactive by practicing some self-acceptance. When we are okay with who we are, it allows us to grow and change in the most authentic and organic way possible. On the wall in my office is a framed quote from Carl Rogers, the father of client-centered therapy. Rogers stated “What I am is already enough, if only I would allow myself to be it openly.” This idea is something that we all can work towards. There are times when we have to wear the mask, but when we are able to put it aside we will likely feel better and more connected to those around us. Authenticity and self acceptance can carry us through a lot of troubling times.
  2. It is absolutely okay if you don’t know exactly what label you want to fall under. It is important to allow yourself to explore where you feel you best fit. Humans are not able to be defined by just one thing, though there are times that we get lumped into categories by others and occasionally by ourselves. When we take stock of who we are and want to be it is unlikely that we are going to fit into a single category. This does not only apply to those of us that fall into  some variety of being transgender, but to people who are trying to find and understand their true self . We choose labels for ourselves because it is an attempt to understand the self and hopefully gain insight into why we operate the way we do. This translates to some labeling being beneficial. However, often when we label ourselves we may feel that we have to conform to the label, or that we have to fit into just one box. On a recent rare night out, I had a conversation with a young woman at the performance I attended. She originally thought that I was Jinger full time, but later in the conversation said “Oh, you’re more like gender fluid.” I told her that I typically use bigender, due to only spending about 5 percent of my time presenting as female. This interaction made me wonder why I feel the need to use any label at all. What I really want is to just be myself, whoever and whatever that is. This was a nice reminder to me that we do not need to put ourselves into any category. We can “just be.” This sounds great on paper, but it takes a significant amount of work to make it our reality. I see this as a life-long project.
  3. Feelings are not facts. They are moments, and moments change. That being said, we should try to listen to our feelings because they indicate what our immediate needs are. When these needs are not met, they will often turn to feelings of sadness and anger. By acknowledging what we feel we can hopefully learn to manage our feelings in a more appropriate manner. A concept that is important to understand and practice within this is distress tolerance. There are times that we have to just accept our situation and figure out how to live within it the best that we can. The other framed quote on my office wall is by Viktor Frankl, who you may know as the author of Man’s Search for Meaning (definitely worth the read). The quote is “When we are no longer able to change our situation we are challenged to change ourselves.” This takes time and it takes perseverance to make it happen. We have all heard sat some point “Just get over it!” From this therapist’s perspective, that advice is not helpful in the slightest. If it were truly that simple we would all hear it once and then do it from that point on, but that is not the way we work. To move past anything we first have to accept that this is our current reality and address how we feel about it. By doing that, we now have a platform from which we can grow and evolve. This helps us by allowing our negative feelings to run their course and eventually go away.
  4. Patience is not as much a virtue as it is an uphill battle. We live in a “right now” society. It can be difficult to be patient once you have opened up to others about your true self. The genie does not want to go back into the bottle once she has been out. We often try to force this side of ourselves into our relationships with our family and friends. When someone learns something new about us, they may need time to process this information. We have to be able to allow them the space they need, which means we need to be patient. Often when we end up in the dreaded “pink fog” we make choices that end up being detrimental for us. We want to go from 0 to 100 with our femme selves, and often expect those around us to be able to do so as well. I use this analogy in sessions quite often: If I sit on you and force feed you brussels sprouts, it is not likely you will ever learn to like brussels sprouts on your own. We need to give those around us time to understand and hopefully accept us when we have decided to disclose this side of ourselves. Work on patience, and allow the people we have confided in to figure out how they feel. Accepting unexpected change can be difficult. Remember that having open and honest communication will make things go easier, but it may not make them truly easy. Give it time.
  1. Learn to let go of guilt and shame. These terms are not interchangeable though we often use them as such. From some perspectives, guilt in the proper amounts and the proper circumstances can be helpful. We can learn what to do or what not to do based on our experiences. Once we have identified the root of our guilt we should address it to the best of our abilities (apologies, changing behaviors, making amends, reaching out to others etc). Doing so creates a space for us to move past the guilt. Shame on the other hand is something we need to try let go of as soon as we are capable. There are not a lot of good things that can be learned from shame. This is not to say that letting go of shame is an easy thing to do. Where guilt is a manifestation of negative feelings about something we did or did not do, shame is something that tells us “I am bad.” Many of us struggle with our self image due to experiencing shame. This is often because we internalize what others say to us and about us (obvious repeating theme here…). Take time to process these feelings and when you are ready, let them leave. 
  2. Self care is real, and it works. Many times people think of self care as going to get a massage or getting your nails done. While these things can definitely fall into the category of self care (I absolutely love getting a mani-pedi with my wife!), they are certainly not the only options. Self care can be anything that you do that you enjoy or provides feelings of fulfillment that does not negatively affect you or anyone else. It can be spending time with friends, exercise, reading, meditation, making sure you get enough sleep, watching a movie or any number of other positive things. I recommend to my clients that they do an internet search for self care and coping skills. There are innumerable things that we can do to practice self care, we just have to find which ones work for us. Much like getting a good night’s sleep prepares us for a challenging day, regularly practicing self care helps us be in a place where we can more easily handle problems or conflicts when they come our way.
  1. Do not be afraid to seek out a mental health professional. Everyone has problems that we need help with at times. I am lucky because I have seen the same therapist for a bit over a decade. We “clicked” immediately, partially because she is wonderful at her job, and partially because I was ready to make some serious personal changes. I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to be open to being helped, and it definitely changed my life for the better. I have a number of clients who have shared feeling similarly about working with me. It is wonderful when you are able to connect with someone in that first session. Unfortunately the client-therapist relationship does not always go this well. Before I found my current therapist I saw three other therapists that were not a good fit for me. There were multiple reasons I felt this way including that two of them simply did not know much about gender non-conforming people, and did not seem too interested in learning more. This left me with a sour taste for the entire concept of therapy for many years. But it did not have to. I could have tried again, and I likely should have. If you decide to see someone keep in mind that they are not your only choice. If you feel that they are not a good fit for you or even if you just don’t like them, please do not give up on therapy. Find a different therapist. There are tens of thousands of practicing mental health professionals. You may have to kiss a few frogs along the way to find your prince or princess. There is someone out there who will be a good fit for you, but it may take some trial and error to find them. 
  2. There are more resources now than ever before that are focused on our community. If you or someone you know needs mental health help, please take the time to research what is available in your area. If you cannot find something available near you, there are national resources that can point you in the right direction. I have included some that may be a good place to start. 

988

–This is the national suicide hotline, and can be utilized by anyone in the United States to be connected with a mental health professional. 

Psychologytoday.com

– Allows you to search for mental health professionals by area, specialties and insurance. This is a great place to start your search for a therapist.

Thetrevorproject.org

– crisis intervention and counseling for LGBTQ+ youth.

GLAAD.org

– GLAAD has a really good list of resources for people somewhere on the transgender spectrum. It is a great place to start when looking for help, for connection to others and for connection to organizations.

These are just a starting point. There are many, many more out there. I truly hope this info will be beneficial for some of you. Times are hard right now. Remember that you genuinely matter!

Please take good care of yourself, and of those around you. 

-Jinger Thomas, LPC

2 thoughts on “Taking Care

  1. Hi Hannah – terrific column. i consider myself very lucky as i was able to find an amazing therapist who is an enormous source of clarity and insight. i remember one of the first things she said “so you are a cross dresser, what type of cross dresser would you like to be?”. Talk about wonderful 🙂 Stephanie is at https://losgatossextherapy.com/ lots of love from Oakland, Ca – bri

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  2. Hi Hannah.
    Happy Holidays to all.
    I think I became happier when I started to allow myself to be me. I finally did things I had always wanted to do but hadn’t for many reasons. Simple things, such as, wearing nail polish 24/7. Now over a decade with painted toes and about 5 years with painted fingers. Some things not so simple.
    Clinically this might be called ‘living your authentic self.’

    Cali

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