Friday, February 24, 2012

Seeing the light

Bulldog and I feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  DJ earned a "day off" from the eating disorders unit which she made use of to check in with her surgeon. This was a day long process since the surgeon is two states away. As result of the length of the trip and DJ's eating disorder, we had to plan the day pretty carefully.

Anorexia, or any eating disorder is way more complex than a person trying to be thin, or attempting to limit their caloric intake for the sake of looking good in a bathing suit.  I don't understand all the ins and outs yet, but there is way more to it than that.  And it's not something so simple as having control either.  There are social aspects to eating disorders that I am aware of, but do not understand.   For instance, DJ has incredible anxiety about eating in public, or with almost anyone.  This, apparently, is a fairly common phenomena in the eating disordered population.  Again, it's hard to comprehend, but I have to accept that it is a truth for people facing the disorder.

What motivates DJ more than anything is knowing that she must be healthy to withstand the rigors of gender reassignment surgery, which is not that far off and is still a "go" at this point. It seems that folks who have considerable experience with the transgender community understand that these kinds of issues often go hand in hand with living in the wrong body. This is not to say that most transgender people will struggle with anorexia, but it is very common for transgender people, particularly those who have lived as the gender identified on their birth certificates rather than the gender identified in their brains, to have other underlying issues or disorder to include anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders.  One doctor told us most transgender children who are struggling to conceal their true identities will suffer from tics, as well.

So, instead of looking at these kids as depressed or anxious individuals who just happen to be transgender, why don't we instead say, these are transgender people who are experiencing other difficulties like anxiety and depression because of the stress of living in the wrong body?  Or because of the stress of living in a world that denigrates them because of their condition?

There are folks who never even got a chance to live the life they envision in their heads-and not because they can't travel to the Bahamas every year, or drive a luxury car, but because they feel like the body they are inhabiting is foreign to who they are, and the gender with which they identify.  These folks had so many inhibiting factors in their lives, that overcoming them just wasn't possible.  Yet, they have somehow found a way to live with the incredible disparity between body and mind.  How, I ask, did they manage?

I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to cross paths (cyber paths) with folks who have shared details of their lives with me.  They applaud DJ's strength, which I appreciate.  But I am in awe of their strength, as well.  One person has done every step of her transition as a very young adult with no help, financial or emotional, from her family.  Another has managed to maintain a long, happy heterosexual marriage and raised a family and has still found a way to honor her feminine feelings when she travels for her job; another person has accepted the life that he leads now, in spite of feeling very strong feelings of being a woman.  I marvel at their strength because I see how my own strong and supported child still stumbled.

Her mistake, and ours, may have been overestimating the "acceptance" of her former friends.  DJ honestly believed they would stand by her, and when she returned to school full time, it took about three month before her expectations, and her feelings about herself, were crushed.  So, she resorted to some unhealthy methods to help her feel better about herself, or more in control-hell I still don't get all the ins and outs and whys of what has happened.   But I know my girl-she managed to stay strong for a decade before she came out.  I really think what crushed her was the disappointment of finding out that some of the people she loved and shared her childhood with wouldn't return her love.

Now she's learning to depend on herself for support.  She'll always have our support, but we can't be with her every second of every day.  She has to find a way to talk supportively to herself, and a way to listen to herself when she is being supportive.  Simultaneously, she must learn to not listen to her own "distorted thinking" that is common with eating disorders.  We're seeing more and more of the daughter we know and love.  It's been a long haul, and it's not over, but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.