Mental Health & Wellbeing

Category Archives: Mental Health & Wellbeing

Mental Health & Wellbeing

Kurt Cobain, RIP 23 years on; On Being Yourself and too much Empathy

Being Yourself by Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain - the Day the Music Died
Kurt Cobain – the Day the Music Died, 1994

Kurt Cobain, was born in 1967, and died 23 years ago today. He flitted between narcissism, empathy, love and pain, trying to enjoy his life and simply be himself, but not feeling it, instead feeling everything else instead. He’d have been 50 now, just a month older than me. 5 years ago, I also attempted suicide, after a lifelong struggle with identity and feeling too much.

Whilst Cobain is in nirvana now, where are we 20+ years on? Still struggling for identity, as individuals, and a generation? Cobain struggled with being seen as the voice of a generation. His band, Nirvana, was labelled “the flagship band” of Generation X, and Cobain himself proclaimed as “the spokesman of a generation”, something that did not sit well with him.

Faking it, Being Someone Else

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you are.” – Kurt Cobain

Cobain was trying to work out how to be himself amidst the pressures of fame, parental divorce, love and loss, and mental health conditions including bipolar mood swings between depression and mania, as described by his cousin, a nurse, who noted his childhood diagnosis of ADHD and as an adult Bipolar (unconfirmed?). Several relatives had also committed suicide in the same way. 

He struggled to feel what he thought he was meant to feel or enjoy. He couldn’t fake the enjoyment of fame, or life itself.

“I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it” – Kurt Cobain, suicide note

“The worst crime is faking it.” – Kurt Cobain

Empathy and Fame

Kurt Cobain suicide note
Kurt Cobain suicide note

He mentioned empathy four times in his suicide note, and the struggle between feeling too much and yet not feeling anything – or what he thought was the right thing, at all. 

“I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus, man, ‘Why don’t you just enjoy it?’ I don’t know!” – Kurt Cobain, suicide note

Nirvana sold over 25 million albums in the US, and over 75 million worldwide, but fame and success do not fill the void. He hated the fame, and was envious of Freddie Mercury and how he seemed to relish it.

“We’re so trendy we can’t even escape ourselves…I really miss being able to blend in with people.” – Kurt Cobain

Reading, Writing & Lyrics

Cobain “occasionally took refuge in the counter-cultural writings of authors such as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Samuel Beckett and Charles Bukowski”. Yet, described himself as having the “tongue of an experienced simpleton”, and hating the Freudian analysis that people subjected his lyrics to. Another reason, to explore him in his own words, not the interpretation of others.

“I’m not well-read, but when I read, I read well.” – Kurt Cobain

“I like to have strong opinions with nothing to back them up with besides my primal sincerity. I like sincerity. I lack sincerity.” – Kurt Cobain

Sexuality

Kurt Cobain was seemingly bisexual, though gave mixed interviews on that side of his personal life, calling himself “gay for a while” yet “more sexually attracted to women”. As a teen he was arrested and fined $180 for graffitiing “Homosex Rules” on a wall. He once said, “I started being really proud of the fact that I was gay even though I wasn’t.” It is not clear if he ever consummated this part of his persona, despite saying:

“If I wouldn’t have found Courtney, I probably would have carried on with a bisexual lifestyle.” – Kurt Cobain

Whilst Generation Y, born early 80s to 2000, followed Cobain’s Generation X, we are now on the Gen Z cohort, born since the Millennium. A group happy to be neither gay nor straight, to question gender and express it fluidly.

Women’s Rights

Cobain wrote about women’s rights in his songs, including concerning the rape of a 14yo girl after a concert (not one of his). 

“I definitely feel closer to the feminine side of the human being than I do the male – or the American idea of what a male is supposed to be.” – Kurt Cobain

“He was himself”

Canadian musician and writer, Dave Bidini, in an article for the National Post entitled “Kurt Cobain, who died 20 years ago today, wasn’t a hero, martyr or vampire. He was himself” ended with this comment:

“He looked like he didn’t care (because he didn’t) … His arms hang down and he turns sideways from the crowd, as if he’s trying not to be seen, even though 20 million people have their eyes trained on him. In a society where ‘bringing it’ and ‘all or nothing’ and ‘going for it’ are sicknesses pumped by fools who aspire to drive people apart rather than draw them together, Cobain’s sense of oblivion was, in a way, brave and confrontational, and that’s why he cracked even the hardest edifice and ate through misplaced pop culture like a creeping disease. In the end, he made an enormous impression for someone who wasn’t even there.”  – Dave Bidini, National Post

Cobain did escape, “Rather be dead than cool”, others need not take that route if they can follow his other wisdom, to be yourself and find someone you can be yourself with and talk to.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” – suicide note

Remember him alive though, here’s an awesome unplugged hour-long Kurt Cobain MTV concert in NYC November 1993 just months before his suicide, my favourite line of which was “like this is my third cup of tea already” – how Rock’n’Roll!

I will remember him, as much for the angst music of a tortured soul, as the desire to find and be himself, a journey I am also on, aren’t we all to a degree?

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” – Kurt Cobain

Mental Health & Wellbeing

RIP Carrie Fisher – Actor, Author, Mental Health Advocate, in her own words

Carrie Fisher, died 27 December 2016

Carrie Fisher will be mostly remembered for being Princess Leia in Star Wars as the Space Western princess with a gun and rapid riposte to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo when he needed a put-down. It didn’t stop them having a recently revealed off-screen romance. Also, off-screen was her battle with the darker forces of addiction and bipolar mental health. Her website records her in the way she’d prefer to be remembered as an “actor, author” and shamelessly, a “mental health advocate”, her site listed mental health resources, and she was active in promoting mental health awareness.

Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist (2016)
Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist (2016)

For the record, she starred in 44 films from Shampoo (1975) to Star Wars: Episode VIII (2017), wrote 7 books, and well over half-a-dozen plays, scripts and screenplays.More a signature action than her Leia buns and Avenger/Charlie’s Angels-style with

Even more a signature action than her Leia buns and Avengers/Charlie’s Angels-style gun-aloft pose, her middle finger was often shot up at the press. She was a hero for her honesty, humour and heart, the media needs to treat mental health better.

As someone who battles and “sur-thrives” with Bipolar Affective Disorder, aka manic depression, myself, I find so many echoes in her statements on mental health, and her activism in helping others through honesty and sheer guts – or clitzpah, female “courage bordering on arrogance”, as a friend puts it.

A fitting tribute is, therefore, to remember her in her own words:

Carrie Fisher Quotes – In Her Own Words

“I really love the internet. They say chat-rooms are the trailer park of the internet but I find it amazing.”

On Writing as Therapy

Carrie Fisher, Shockaholic (2011)
Carrie Fisher, Shockaholic (2011)

“I have a mess in my head sometimes, and there’s something very satisfying about putting it into words. Certainly it’s not something that you’re in charge of, necessarily, but writing about it, putting it into your words, can be a very powerful experience.”

“I always kept a diary – not a diary like, ‘Dear Diary, we got up at 5 A.M., and I wore the weird hair again and that white dress! Hi-yeee!’ I’d just write.”

“Writing is a very calming thing for me.” 

I can echo those thoughts, totally! Writing slows my racing pacing thoughts down, coming up with the language that accurately and emotional reflects my thoughts on myself, life, the universe and everything, is a process that is cathartic, creative, and better than CBT.

Her humour

Whether scripted stand-up comedy or unscripted ad-lib, Carrie was quick witted, sharp, funny and could turn the tables on an interviewer. A vital skill in the harsh world of Hollywood and media criticism.

“I brought along Gary” (Carrie Fisher’s dog) “because his tongue matches my sweater” … “I think in my mouth so I don’t lie” … “what music makes [weight loss] worthwhile?” Not to mention some beautiful flirting with “DNA jackpot” GMA’s Amy Robach!

The humour, the jokey OCD matching, the flirting, she was my kind of inappropriate unboundaried, humourous getting-into-trouble, woman.

“There’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed” via Twitter (2014)

“I googled myself without lubricant. I don’t I recommend it.” on David Letterman (2009)

“Sometimes I feel like I’ve got my nose pressed up against the window of a bakery, only I’m the bread” – Postcards from the Edge (1987)

“Pure lust is an oxymoron” via Twitter (2016)

On Life and Being Herself

“I am a spy in the house of me. I report back from the front lines of the battle that is me. I am somewhat nonplused by the event that is my life.”

“I don’t want my life to imitate art, I want my life to be art.”

Again, one feels like an actor in one’s own drama, there is sometimes a feeling of distance from the actions one takes, as if one were only playing a part, however grand a role.

On Body, Weight and Aging

“I don’t like looking at myself. I have such bad body dysmorphia.”

“I think of my body as a side effect of my mind.”

“I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say ‘Get younger,’ because that’s how easy it is.”

“There were days I could barely struggle into a size 46 or 48, months of larges and XXLs, and endless rounds of leggings with the elastic at the waist stretched to its limit and beyond – topped with the fashion equivalent of a tea cozy. And always black, because I was in mourning for my slimmer self.”

“…when I do lose the weight, I don’t like that it makes me feel good about myself. It’s not who I am.”

“Along with aging comes life experience, so in every way that is consistent with even being human.”

On Mental Health & Bipolar Mood State

Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (2008)
Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (2008)

“I’m very sane about how crazy I am.” – Wishful Drinking, (2008)

“I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?” – Wishful Drinking, (2008)

“Anything you can do in excess for the wrong reasons is exciting to me.”

“I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital.”

“Drugs made me feel more normal.”

“I went to a doctor and told him I felt normal on acid, that I was a light bulb in a world of moths. That is what the manic state is like.”

“I have two moods. One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs… Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.”

The manic mood ride that is Roy and the pessimistic panic that is Pam, is very familiar. I’ve not heard anyone else echo my experience of drugs making one feel normal. I tried weed, ecstasy and minor drugs like that, even smoking and drinking, but they didn’t do anything for me, indeed ecstasy made me responsible, hyper-sensible! 

On Surviving and Thriving

“Ive [sic] stopped trying to take things a day at a time. I now take 2 or 3 days at once—hoping it’ll cause a blur effect & I might look younger.” via Twitter (2015)

“I don’t want to be thought of as a survivor because you have to continue getting involved in difficult situations to show off that particular gift…”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That’s my word for it.”

Boundaries and Bad Judgements

“The world of manic depression is a world of bad judgment calls.”

“I’ll never be known for my work with boundaries.”

“Mistakes are a drag, because you get in the area of regret and self-pity.”

Fortunately, it’s not all bad boundaries and manic mistakes, and the following day come-down into reality and realisation that one has overstepped, overdrawn, overdone it, and occasionally overdosed. Manic can be fun, or at least hypomanic can, with just enough awareness to feel empowered, energied, extrovert and not yet into the territory of relationship, finance and employment self-destruction.  

“The manic end of is a lot of fun.”

On acting as if all is well

“One of the great things to pretend is that you’re not only alright, you’re in great shape. Now to have that come true – I’ve actually gone on stage depressed and that’s worked its magic on me, ’cause if I can convince you that I’m alright, then maybe I can convince me.”

“Stay afraid but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

“I’m fine, but I’m bipolar. I’m on seven medications, and I take medication three times a day. This constantly puts me in touch with the illness I have. I’m never quite allowed to be free of that for a day.”

She is free now, “drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra“. Whilst she was “nonplused” about her life, we are far from nonplused at her death and feel the disruption in the force in 2016, which has been a traumatic year of loss. RIP Carrie, Princess, Queen, General and very human being, “May the Force be with you.” 

Postscript: Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain, died aged 84 of a stroke within 24 hours of Carrie.

Mental Health & Wellbeing

International Mens Day, Mental Health and Male Suicide Rates

International Men’s Day, 19 Nov

Yesterday was #InternationalMensDay (IMD) – not a simple awareness retaliation day to Women’s Day but an acknowledgement, since 1999, that privilege and difference are often relative and contextual. Society does make it harder for men to talk, share, open up, acknowledge depression, career pressures etc. Men’s mental health is such that suicide can be their biggest killer, indeed, silence kills. Yes, feminists can argue that every day is men’s day, but in the particular sphere of suicide, there needs to be a spotlight on men and the fiscal and fragile crises that so often masculinity prefers to conceal. Similarly, whilst young LGBT people have high suicide risks, one group most prone to it is white men aged 85+ whose suicide rate in the US is six times the national average, closely followed by Native American males.

World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 Sep

Depressed manMen are more than 3 times as likely to take their lives as women (4 times in the USA), with rates of 16.8 per 100,000 for men and 5.2 per 100,000 for women in the UK. Women try suicide more than men, but male suicide methods are more likely to result in death.

The highest suicide rate in the UK in 2014 was for men aged 45-49 at 26.5 per 100,000 with the North East of England most vulnerable. Whilst the overall suicide rate fell 1981 to 2007, austerity and cuts to services have seen annual rises since with the male rate last year, the worst since 2001.

385 men-a-month take their own lives in the UK; it is even worse in the USA, at 2759, 1.5x more likely per capita. In Japan, it is the leading cause of death in men aged 20-44.

Even so, Japan is not the worst. Lithuania is twice as high at 51 per 100,000 and Guyana at 71 per 100k is ashamedly the world ‘leader’. The USA ranks #46 and the UK #101 for male suicide.

Not a laughing matter

World Toilet Day, access for all by 2030
World Toilet Day, access for all by 2030

Men’s mental health is not a joke. November 19 was also World Toilet Day, and whilst jokes about leaving the toilet seat up abounded on twitter – including by me, whilst not directly aimed at men’s health, sanitation and sanity are not laughing matters when one billion lack a toilet and half-a-million men each year die by suicide and many millions more try. Whilst depression and mental health issues account for the majority of cases, for men in particular, financial and career pressures are significant factors. Education, because it brings with it greater economic opportunities and perhaps better communication skills, is a reducing factor, except among certain professions whose jobs give them access to pharmaceutical drugs.

Learn to Talk & Listen

The old Second World War adage and poster campaign that “Careless talk costs lives” could be turned on its head – “Learn to talk and save lives”. Partners and friends of men in crisis, similarly, need to learn to listen and not diminish the pressures that drive them to drink, depression and suicide. Suicide, at one every 40 seconds and on the rise (predicted to be one every 20s by 2020) is preventable is we make it ok for everyone to talk about mental health, men in particular, and we also end the worst effects of austerity where health and welfare cuts are exacerbating the problem and denying access to solutions.

Mental Health & Wellbeing

WLMHT to let go of Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic NOT to close it

Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic NOT closing

The West London Mental Health Trust (WLMHT) has issued a statement and then after mass trans patient panic (well a few of us!) has clarified it. The Gender Identity Clinic at Charing Cross Hospital (CX GIC) is not to close but to seek new NHS England oversight, preferably not under the auspices of mental health care. This is both unnerving for existing patients on the long waiting lists and potentially radical.

The Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic is, in their own words, “the largest and oldest clinic of its kind dating back to 1966”. The same year that Harry Benjamin published “The Transsexual Phenomenon“.

UPDATE: It has been confirmed that from April 2017 the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust will take over the management and funding of the Charing Cross GIC, without its location changing. The T&P NHS FT also run Tavistock GIDS, London (child and adolescent service).

Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust
Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

NHS Hospital Cuts

All this comes the same day the NHS has announced further cuts in a spiralling financial crisis – the biggest in its history, requiring the euphemistically named “sustainability and transformation” plans, in other words, “cuts”.

“We are seeing more and more pressures on staff trying to run harder and harder. We are reaching breaking point.” – Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers

West London Mental Health Trust statement

The Gender Identity Clinic at Charing Cross plays a leading role nationally and internationally in helping people experiencing gender dysphoria to feel more comfortable in their own bodies.

West London Mental Health Trust (WLMHT) is incredibly proud to have been at the forefront of developing gender identity services during a period in which societal attitudes and understanding of this issue has improved so vastly, and that the Charing Cross GIC and its staff have, since 1966, helped nearly 7500 people to lead happier, healthier lives.

Demand for gender identity services has risen sharply in recent years as society has grown more understanding and awareness of NHS services has developed. This has been challenging for the clinic and resulted in waiting times that are longer than we would like. However, the clinic’s staff have continued to invest huge amounts of energy and, working with NHS England, have made great strides in bringing these waiting times down while still providing a service which is rated highly by patients.

However, as WLMHT moves forward it is necessary to refocus the services that we provide. The Board has made a decision that the medium-term strategic focus for the Trust will be to develop mental health services, physical care and integration between the two.

As a result, the Trust has come to the conclusion that patients requiring gender identity services would be better served in the long term by another provider, and has therefore served notice on our contract to NHS England.

We know that many of the patients we see at the GIC are at difficult times in their lives and that this announcement may cause alarm; we would therefore like to offer the following reassurances:

  • This does not mean services are stopping now – we will continue to provide services as normal until such time as a new provider is able to take over; this is likely to be at least six months.
  • Patients from London and the South East will not be left without services or have to travel much further – NHS England as the commissioner for gender identity services will find a suitable alternative provider as quickly as possible.
  • Patients will not have to start their treatment all over again – continuity of care for our patients is the number one priority for clinic staff. GIC staff will work closely with NHS England and a new provider to ensure disruption to treatment is kept to an absolute minimum.
  • This does not mean we will let services deteriorate – WLMHT and the GIC will continue to deliver on plans we have developed with NHS England to improve access to and quality of services while it continues as the provider.
  • We will not reduce staffing levels – while we remain the provider of this service we have an obligation to ensure there are sufficient qualified staff to maintain and continue improvements in access and quality.
  • We will ensure a smooth handover to the new provider, working closely with our colleagues at the GIC and NHS England

Dr James Barrett, Lead Consultant at the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC), on behalf of GIC clinicians, later clarified:

The gender identity clinic is not closing. To clarify, we clinicians have long felt that West London Mental Health Trust is not a good fit for the unique and specific service we provide (the vast majority of those we see are not mentally ill).

“Increasingly, we feel our patients would be better served by us if we worked somewhere better able to support and develop a more tailored approach to gender.

“There are a number of options in terms of alternative providers. We would not make any move unless confident that patient care would be markedly improved.

“Until that point, current arrangements will still apply. Our aim is for any change to be a positive one, and any transition to be as seamless as possible.”

CX GIC psychiatrist, Dr Stuart Lorimer, sought to reassure people:

NHS Transgender Waiting Times

Waiting times for first appointments at the Charing Cross GIC are currently around 12 months from the initial referral but can often take 3-7 years in total, when you include surgery which only takes place after two psychiatric approvals and a pre-surgical assessment.

Referral times are not only a postcode lottery but constantly change – both up and down, according to staffing, and ever-increasing transgender service user demand. Norwich, alone, refers 50-60 adults a year not including the dozens of trans teens not yet in the adult system. It recently shifted its gender dysphoric population from Charing Cross to Nottingham GIC, having also, in the past, used Dr Richard Curtis’ TransHealth in London.

UK Trans Info has an excellent resource offering waiting times and estimated trans population surveys of all the GICs every three months. Last year Leeds were quoting 4 years for first appointments and Sheffield over 18 months! Nottingham’s 8 months has risen to 12 and now 18-19 months.

“Nottingham’s GIC saw the most marked growth, with a 2800% increase from 30 referrals in 2008 to 850 in 2015. More than 1000 are expected this year.” – Pink News

UK Trans Gender Identity Clinics

There are 7 adult and 1 adolescent-teen GICs in England, serving England and Wales – Wales has none of its own and London’s Charing Cross GIC also serves them.  The Tavistock and Portman is the sole young person clinic in England, based in London, but with clinics in Exeter and Leeds.

Scotland has 4 adult and 1 adolescent clinic. Belfast Health and Social Care Trust runs an adult and separate “Knowing Our Identity” (KOI) service for children and teens.

For a full list and contact details see GenderAgenda’s UK GICs page.

 

Mental Health & Wellbeing

International Transgender Day of Visibility #TDOV

Transgender Day of Visibility #TDOV

The last day of Women’s History Month, the day before April Fool’s, is the International Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV), 31 March. Since 2009, it has sought to celebrate transgender positivity in contrast to the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) events around 20 November that draw attention to the high levels of violence and murder that trans people suffer in some countries. Even where murder is less likely, bullying, harassment, and discrimination can be part of the transphobic package that can add to the likelihood of suicide, which some 40% of trans people attempt, and twice that number, consider.

TDOV is an opportunity to portray positive role models, to let the many trans just coming out know that “it gets better“. I’ve spent ten plus years ‘out’ and it’s been a rocky road, with the almost requisite marriage break-up, suicide attempts, looks in the street, and transphobic abuse online. But that need not be everyone’s experience and for many, it is getting easier, with better support and a more accepting society.

SuperTrans Coming Out Transgender Visibility
SuperTrans ‘Coming Out’

Ironically, many trans people don’t want to be visible, they’d rather not be noticed, hopefully passing as fellow human beings in a crowd. Inevitably, some of us stand out more than others, some by choice, some by fate. Don’t always assume a trans person wants to be recognised or feted as one, many would rather be seen as your common or garden variety man or woman. I’m of the louder and more visual variety, who’ll probably die still not conforming to gender stereotypes and expectations.

Non-Binary leads to inevitable visibility

I’ve found, indeed, that being non-binary is a better fit for me than the discrete categories of man or woman, male or female, boy or girl. I, personally, don’t mind whether anyone sees me as a “real woman” or not, I know basic biology, although mine is more complex and many people exist that makes one think again about binary sex default and gender constructs.

I am, however, also not a “real man”, that too is fine! Perhaps, as one of my godchildren once cheekily remarked to me upon opening the door, saying, “Half-ladies first”, I am a “Shim”, also his delightful invention. Other people should be respected, however they prefer to be addressed.

Beyond He or She Gender Time Magazine cover
Beyond He or She Gender Time Magazine cover, March 2017

Whilst 2014 has been regarded as the “Transgender tipping point”, 2016-17 seems to be the year of Non-Binary Genderqueer and Genderfluid. In January, National Geographic ran a “Gender Revolution” special issue, and this March, TIME Magazine ran with “Beyond He or She”. 

Half of young people now see gender as a spectrum and identify their own sexuality between gay and straight. Most now know someone who is trans and/or non-binary, and they are broadly accepting, the best it has ever been, teaching older adults the way to be around identity and expression. Whilst traditional feminists regard gender as a construct, it is young women who are most likely to see it as a spectrum, blurring the lines between gender and sex. Some 22% of young women identify as other than 100% female.

New Gender Honorific Titles on Bank Cards

Just this week, HSBC announced 10 new non-binary honorifics besides the usual Mr, Mrs, Ms etc,. Metro Bank and RBS NatWest already allowed Mx (as I have) or no title. HSBC customers can now choose from:

  • Ind (individual)
  • M
  • Mx (pron. “mix” or “mux”)
  • Misc (miscellaneous)
  • Mre (mystery)
  • Msr (mix of miss/sir)
  • Myr
  • Pr (pron. “per”, for person)
  • Sai (pron. “sigh”)
  • Ser (pron. “sair”)

A Most Reluctant Transsexual

To be honest, I haven’t had it too hard, people have been accepting, and although gender dysphoric, at times I’ve been euphoric to finally be myself. Even with some trials and tribulations, it has been worth it.

Katy Went Transgender Voices NHS NSFT photoshoot
Katy Went “Transgender Voices” NHS NSFT magazine photoshoot

My ten-year journey as Norfolk’s “most reluctant transsexual” – as my psychiatrist once called me, has recently closed one chapter and turned the page to another. After nearly 6 years on hormones my resistance towards surgery shattered and I went ahead with a version of GRS that suited my identity and needs. It has made me a happier, healthier person, with no regrets. Rather surprisingly, to myself at least, it has improved my other mental health condition, bipolar, for now at least, with just pockets of extreme downs, rarer hypomanic highs, and many more days of productivity and calm.

In going ahead with surgery I found my mind changed as much as my body. It really was life-changing, even saving, surgery. Whilst I had near constant doubts leading up to it, I’ve had none since that no-going-back day of 6 February 2016, and felt as much lighter between the ears as between the legs. I feel like a psycho-emotional brain tumour has been removed, I have more space in my head, in my thoughts and feelings, no longer obsessed and disturbed by gender identity. I feel no more female, just less encumbered and more myself. Oddly, I feel just as non-binary, non-conformist as ever, and, if anything, less gendered, though more comfortable in my body.

NSFT NHS Insight Magazine
NSFT NHS Insight Magazine

Prevalence of transgender people

I am but one of millions of trans people worldwide, more than a million in the USA alone, perhaps 300-600,000 in the UK or more. The NHS used to say that there were around 1-in-30,000 people born male (AMAB) transitioning to female (MTF) and 1-in-100,000 people born female (AFAB) transitioning to male (FTM). Those serious underestimates are reflected in the huge waiting lists of 1000s of people to access the handful of UK Gender Identity Clinics (GICs).

Given that the incidence of trans people seeking NHS help is now around 7,000 new referrals p.a., figures over an adult working lifetime would suggest a prevalence of 300,000-600,000 adults, around 0.5%-1% of the population, 1-in-200 or 1-in-100 people, perhaps more. In addition, For every trans person not seeking HRT or surgery there are four or five feeling and presenting as gender questioning or non-conforming. Recent surveys suggest 2.5% may identify as non-binary, 1.75% may be born intersex, and 2% may identify as trans or genderfluid. Overlap between these populations may suggest around 5% total, 1-in-20 people. This isn’t to conflate intersex with trans, just that some can be both, and it shows the degree of sex and/or gender atypicality in the population as a whole.

National Geographic, Gender Revolution
National Geographic, Gender Revolution, January 2017

Visible Trans Persons

In the UK we have many visible trans already such as the comedian, actor and now marathon-addict, Eddie Izzard. Other trans comedians include Bethany Black and Andrew O’Neill. Then there’s the arts writer and ceramicist, Turner Prize winning artist, Grayson Perry. In the world of journalism, there’s LGBT Pink List-topping radio and print journalist Paris Lees, along with several contributors to the Guardian newspaper such as Jane Fae, Juliet Jacques, and Roz Kaveney. In the field of law and diversity, Professor of Equalities Law at Manchester – Stephen Whittle, Christine Burns, formerly of Press for Change, Rachel Reese of the University of Law, law partner Clare Fielding, and barrister, Caroline Harrison, QC.

In sport, there’s recently-out boxing promoter, Kellie Maloney, and MMA fighter Roxeanne/Alex Reid. In business, there is Kate Craig-Wood, an entrepreneur and founder of one of the UK’s largest IT groups. Musicians like CN Lester, Thomas Dolby’s son Harper, and a magician, Fay Presto. In politics, there are several trans people who have stood as councillors or for election, across the political spectrum. On television, there are actors and a spate of reality TV stars. Among people who came out in the 1960s and 70s, there’s models April Ashley and Caroline Cossey, and writer, Jan Morris –  all well known British women with open transgender histories. I could go on as I know of hundreds of trans lawyers, doctors, activists in public life, here in the UK alone.

Time Magazine Transgender Tipping Point Laverne Cox
Time Magazine “The Transgender Tipping Point” Laverne Cox

In the USA, Janet Mock, among others have blazed the way by being out and public in their defence of being themselves, creating a tipping point of trans visibility, perhaps leading to the timing of former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.

Also, recently, we’ve seen big names like Lana and Lilly Wachowski of the Matrix films, Chelsea Manning of Wikileaks fame, Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me. Actors like Alexis Arquette, Candis Cayne (“Dirty Sexy Money”), Laverne Cox (“Orange is the New Black”) and Calpernia Addams. Nor are “Gender Outlaw” author Kate Bornstein or Jennifer Boylan to be forgotten. Dr Marci Bowers, is an American gynaecologist and surgeon and actually carries out gender/sex-reassignment surgery. There’s the US biologist and author of “Evolution’s Rainbow” Joan Roughgarden.

The names above are just a sprinkling of the probably tens of millions of trans and gender-variant people million worldwide.

For more information about the transgender spectrum visit www.genderagenda.net.

 

Mental Health & Wellbeing

World Bipolar Day, Bipolar Mood Scale, Vincent van Gogh & Manic Creativity

World Bipolar Day

Today and everyday is bipolar day for 2-3% of the population who have a Mood Affective Disorder including Cyclothymia and Bipolar I & II. A day to recognise the issues, struggles, and occasional joys and spurts of creativity – sometimes manic, experienced by people with bipolar, was created to coincide with Vincent van Gogh’s birthday, 30 March, since he was posthumously believed to have had a bipolar type condition. World Bipolar Day aims to:

“bring world awareness to bipolar disorders and eliminate social stigma.” – International Society for Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar Incidence & Prevalence

Whilst 1-in-100 or 2.6% are commonly cited figures, some studies have shown wide variations, ranging from 2.6 to 20.0 per 100,000 per year, in the incidence of bipolar affective disorder (Lloyd & Jones, 2002). These variations have been e.g., regional, SE London is twice that of Nottingham and Bristol, or by ethnicity, by socio-economic class, by childhood intelligence – especially high verbal IQ, or by hormones and gender – some studies show a much higher incidence in the female population.

“estrogen fluctuations may be an important factor in the etiology of bipolar disorder and it is obvious that more research on this topic is needed to clarify the role of estrogen in women with bipolar disorder…Why is it that rapid cycling occurs more often in women?” – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23510130

It also alleged that among artistic and creative types there is a higher incidence of bipolar mood disorders, that may be genetic. Indeed, as many as 40x the national incidence, among a group of 30 American authors, studied over 15 years:

“43 per cent of them had bipolar disorder compared to only 10 per cent of the control group and 1 per cent of the general population.” – Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

A further survey of 47 British authors and visual artists from the British Royal Academy found that 38% had been treated for a mood disorder.

“A recent study carried out at Stanford University by Santosa and colleagues found that people with bipolar disorder and creative discipline controls scored significantly more highly than healthy controls on a measure of creativity called the Barron-Welsh Art Scale. In a related study the same authors sought to identify temperamental traits that people with bipolar disorder and creative people have in common. They found that both shared tendencies for mild elation and depression with gradual shifts from one to the other, openness, irritability, and neuroticism (roughly speaking, a combination of anxiety and perfectionism).” – Bipolar Disorder and Creativity

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh The Starry Night Google Art Project
Vincent Van Gogh, “The Starry Night”, 1889, MOMA, NYC via  Google Art Project

The famous Dutch post-Impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh suffered quite wild swings in his mental health and many paintings were produced from his asylum room. Van Gogh is thought to have shot himself, after struggling with declining mental health in his mid-30s. He had spent most of the last 18-months of his life in an asylum, but two months later was dead as the result of a presumably, though not proven, self-induced shooting incident or suicide attempt.

Ironically, it was a period when he produced many iconic paintings, some en plein air. His famous image titled ‘The Starry Night’ was a pre-sunrise nocturne as seen from his East-facing asylum window, but finished in the asylum studio, as he was only allowed to draw in his room, not paint. Van Gogh’s beautiful and happier ‘Village Street and Steps in Auvers’ was painted just days after release from the asylum:

Vincent van Gogh Village Street and Steps in Auvers
Vincent van Gogh, “Dorfstraße undTreppe in Auvers mit Figuren” – ‘Village Street and Steps in Auvers’, 1890

Barely weeks later, and days before his death, he was painting several large wheat fields canvases and in a letter to his brother Theo, he wrote:

“I have painted three more large canvases. They are vast stretches of corn under troubled skies, and I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness….I’m fairly sure that these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside.” – Vincent van Gogh, Letter to Theo van Gogh, 10 July 1890

His late paintings demonstrate an artist at the height of his talent, yet also the depths of his troubles, for whom art and the outdoor landscape was creative catharsis and therapy. What would the art world have witnessed had he lived on?

Bipolar Mood Scale Diary

It is typical for a bipolar diagnosis to take a decade and work through several misdiagnoses en route. I was first diagnosed with Cyclothymia over 4 years ago, but subsequently told it was Mood Affective Disorder and then Bipolar II, along with rapid cycling and mixed mode variations. CBT – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, helped my management, but so did self-knowledge, awareness, and diarying. I enjoy my hypomanic periods, less so the depressions which I’ve fought for 12 years or so. Finding balance when you only exist at the poles is a tricky act to accomplish and may involve staying in when you feel like going out and going out when you feel like staying in!

Risks, when hypomanic, for me include inappropriate conversation, loss of impulse control, manic spending, flirting, obsessional behaviours, risk seeking. Yet, the benefits when high are hyperactive stamina and energy, stream of consciousness ideas flooding, huge reading and writing output, charismatic and entertaining confidence and loquaciousness.

“I managed to rack up £300k of credit, hardly average! I was, and indeed am, very convincing when hypomanic, it made me a good salesperson, deal-maker, innovator, public speaker but terrible at time and money management.”May 2013

Having been in a balanced mood state for nearly 3 months now, a rare occurrence, possibly due to recent endocrine changes, I miss the hyper states. I also realise, however, how destructive they could be to life, economics, and relationships, whilst at the same time being a creative buzz. I don’t miss the lethargic, inactive, hopeless depressive episodes at all, although they were a great way of avoid life and its stresses.

The best advice I was given was to monitor my mood on a daily basis, as I was already doing with my insomnia diary and general personal diary. The catharsis of writing and recording also came with the recognition that moods, highs, lows, sleeplessness all came in phases, that changed – they got better, and they got worse. Unlike, when I suffered with depression for 6-8 years as that felt like nothing would ever get better. The Bipolar Mood Scale diary has helped me to hold out for the good days, and to manage my moods better.

Bipolar Mood Scale

Mania
10Total loss of judgement, exorbitant spending, religious delusions and hallucinations.
9Lost touch with reality, incoherent, no sleep, paranoid and vindictive, reckless behaviour.
Hypomania
8Inflated self-esteem, rapid thoughts and speech, counter-productive simultaneous tasks.
7Very productive, everything to excess (phone calls, writing, smoking, tea), charming and talkative.)
Balanced Mood (Euthymia)
6Self-esteem good, optimistic, sociable and articulate, good decisions and get work done.
5Mood in balance, no symptoms of depression or mania. Life is going well and the outlook is good.
4Slight withdrawal from social situations, concentration less than usual, slight agitation.
Mild to Moderate Depression
3Feelings of panic and anxiety, concentration difficult and memory poor, some comfort in routine.
2Slow thinking, no appetite, need to be alone, sleep excessive or difficult, everything a struggle.
Severe Depression
1Feelings of hopelessness and guilt, thoughts of suicide, little movement, impossible to do anything.
0Endless suicidal thoughts, no way out, no movement, everything is bleak and it will always be like this.
0-10 Scale of mood from depression to mania

Being or having bipolar – people’s attitudes to which verb to use varies, should not be romanticised. It is both a blessing and a curse, and for some is very hard to live with. I’ve made friends with mine, though it is still unpredictable. I’ve come to appreciate the moment, mindful that it can change, but I take the rough with the smooth now. Hopefully, I can look back on past suicide attempts as distant memories, and seize the creative periods to be productive and expressive, whilst trying to rein it in when it tips into hypomania.

 

 

 

Mental Health & Wellbeing

UN International Day of Happiness – its pursuit as a human right or goal

United Nations International Day of Happiness

Firstly, I did not know there was a UN resolution for me to be happy today on the International Day of Happiness, nor that there was an International Society of Happiness Professionals! Perhaps their job is to help me pursue it, attaining it is another matter, a goal, not a right. However, in a UN Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 28 June 2012 it decreed:

“Recalling its resolution 65/309 of 19 July 2011, which invites Member States to pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies, conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives, recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples, decides to proclaim 20 March the International Day of Happiness!” – United Nations

The Pursuit of Happiness

But as Benjamin Franklin once said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” Although some would argue that the more you pursue it, the more it runs from you – I’m inclined to agree. It’s a state of being not chasing. Whatever the American Declaration of Independence granted “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as an inalienable right, pursuit is no guarantee of capture:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” – American Declaration of Independence

Revolution to bring about change, overturn a government, to better “effect…safety and happiness” now that’s radical!

The 17th century English philosopher and liberal John Locke, said to have influenced the US Constitution, wrote in his ‘Essay Concerning Human Understanding‘ that “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:

“The pursuit of happiness lies at the core of human endeavors. People around the world aspire to lead happy and fulfilling lives free from fear and want.”

Does pursuing happiness annoyingly aid its very escape, making it elusive rather than an elementary state that can be taught and caught?

Happiness – All in the Mind?

Yes, we would all like lives free from fear and want, but in this world, is that any time soon? Or can we follow the optimists and Abe Lincoln and think ourselves happy, despite outward circumstances:

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” – Abraham Lincoln

Will a positive outlook overcome those fears and wants? It certainly won’t feed us, unless we believe in some kind of positive law of attraction that by being happy we will attract to ourselves good things.

Is it as simple as clicking on www.wikihow.com/Be-Happy and following the simple steps for “How to Be Happy”? I certainly wouldn’t suggest it to anyone who has suffered from depression as I have, yet paradoxically, I have also felt an inner happiness even amidst the powerlessness and chemical low of depression. So is happiness about acceptance, contentment – even in poverty, insecurity, and challenges to mental wellbeing?

“in my darkest depression and suicidal, I, also, ceased being an optimist. Indeed, as someone who suffers from a bipolar disorder…it is all I can do to stay on top of my mood swings, and near impossible to influence them, just manage them. I do believe that, at times, one can think oneself happy – or content, at least, despite the surrounding circumstances. For, whatever may be done to the body, the mind is our last refuge and sometimes the greatest place of anxiety and attack. Yet, if we can calm that, then we may find peace amidst the storm, and internal/eternal sunshine in the darkest winter.”

Wealth and/or Happiness?

Studies suggest that a certain minimum level of wealth aids happiness but wears off with future income increments (hedonic adaptation) and lottery wins do not a happy person make. Indeed, with both wealth and poverty comes worry, worry you’ll never have it and worry you might lose it. To have money without worry would be nice. Whether you are rich or poor, being compassionate and generous can make one happier and the poor often give more than the rich, proportionately.

“Making $60,000 more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night.“, according to psychology professor Norbert Schwarz.  Similarly, “differences in reported sleep quality are associated with a very large difference in reported enjoyment during episodes at home.” – Having been both in chronic eviction-worthy debt and suffered for 44 years from insomnia, clearly I was not worried about money at 5 but I was at 45. I’m still an insomniac, but $60k might reduce anxiety further.

Just be Grateful

It is commonly suggested that being grateful can help, it puts things in perspective, and allows you to focus on the positive amidst the doom and gloom, and may lift you and turn your vision outwards and upwards. All happiness and depression can be relative. Relative to another’s better or worse condition. But the words are just words and often of little comfort when told at least you have your health, when your lack of wealth means you are fighting off debt collectors or losing your job or relationship. Indeed, your health may ungratefully quickly follow the loss of other things.

Be Yourself

Albert Camus said, “To be happy we must not be too concerned with others”, constant comparison, pressure to conform, following the crowd, keeping up with the Joneses. Being yourself takes less energy and improves your sense of happiness.

“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Albert Camus

Can Happiness be Measured in an Index?

Today may be the International Day of Happiness but the reality of that is hugely personal, cannot be dictated from on high, whether by religion or politics – the UK government even attempts to measure a happiness index but there are many ways to measure it. Whilst it cannot, to my mind, be enumerated, feeling and experiencing it, are of immeasurable worth.

Mental Health & Wellbeing

January Blues? National Hug Day may offer an Oxytocin rich cuddling cure

National Hug Day combats January Blues

National Hug Day was an idea put forward by one Kevin Zaborney in 1986. Whilst January 21 was not overly significant it fell halfway between New Year’s and Valentines. Zaborney thought US society was “embarrassed to show feelings in public” and hoped a National Hugging Day would help change that, but actually didn’t hold out much hope that it would catch on. Well it did, and nearly 20 years on, folk are still hugging. (If you want more cuddling cats then read to the end!)

Free Hugs Campaign

Across several continents, during public demonstrations or random acts of kindness, one can often witness people offering “FREE HUGS”. A phenomenon that began in Australia around ten years ago and has since taken off everywhere.

Over 77 million people have watched this “Free Hugs” video:

I’ve participated in Free Hug events, even a public mixed-sex kiss-in to challenge public perceptions of same-sex displays of affection and homophobia. I’ve also done cuddle workshops, had cuddle buddies, and queued for hours to hug with Amma, the 34-million-people-hugged queen of hugging. Amma, or Mata Amritanandamayi, says her only religion is love. Hate and war aren’t working, so perhaps we need a revival of 1960s-70s peace and love.

Monkey hugs - National Hug Day
Monkey hugs – why so glum?

As an atypically unreserved Brit, I can safely say that most of us consider our American cousins overly huggy, not me I can’t get enough of them – giving or receiving. That said, research has also shown that many European nations, such as the French or Spanish, spend even more time hugging or kissing.

In the midst of the Ferguson riots and response to the Michael Brown shooting one good news story emerged at a Portland demo, that of a kid offering hugs, even to a policeman. Devonte Hart was photographed hugging Sergeant Brett Barnum. According to the original Oregonian article, Hart was holding a “free hugs” sign. Barnum called him over and they talked about the demonstration, school, life and art. Afterwards, Barnum pointed at his sign and asked: “Do I get one of those?”

Commercial Cuddles by the hour

One woman in America has seen her cuddle-by-the-hour at $60 a time therapy business take-off with 10,000 enquiries in the first week! The www.CuddleUpToMe.com site, aka Samantha Hess, offers safeguards and various non-sexual options. She describes herself as a “professional cuddler” and offers to be the “big spoon or the little spoon”, although she is a petite 5ft tall, height is barely relevant when lying down.

Even in the usually reserved and private UK there are cuddle meetups, parties, and workshops, to be found.  Bastion of poking fun, The Daily Mail actually has a healthy write up about one. Anna Shekory of Cuddle Workshop and Tom Fortes Mayer of FreeMind are involved in the UK workshops and meetups.

“Cuddle Workshop is not affiliated with Cuddle Parties in the USA. We are similar yet different from Cuddle Party. Like them, we offer a safe boundaried space to explore nurturing non-sexual touch.”

Oxytocin the oxygen of happiness

Call it human comfort, closeness, community, or what you will but one chemical name it goes by is Oxytocin, the cuddle compound, hug hormone, and slightly more doubtfully, the moral molecule.

Oxytocin is my drug of choice. Oxytocin is a very potent and powerful hormone. When we hug, kiss, or share closer intimacies our oxytocin levels shoot up. Half-a-minute’s hugs can raise oxytocin levels and maintain them throughout the day. Hugs have been shown to act an as anti-inflammatory healer, pain relief, mood relief, counter stress and anxiety, increase generosity, trust, ease PTSD, aid social bonding in autism, relieve heart pressure and more!

More oxytocin means less stress, mental and cardiovascular, and an improved immune system. According to Dr Zak, author of “The Moral Molecule“, even hugging strangers releases the oxytocin sense of wellbeing, so long as the hug is permitted and welcomed, I would hasten to add, nor an excuse for a fondle or grope.

Neuroeconomist Zak, or “Dr Love”, calls oxytocin our “social glue” and according to one interviewer has all the appearance of “having been constructed in a laboratory charged with creating the ideal deliverer of TED talks”.

Zak encouraged skeptical New Yorkers at an event called Love Night to embrace each other, “If it works on 500 random New Yorkers, it’ll work for you,” Zak says.

TV and Social Media can be good for you

Feelgood movies can lead to a 47% surge in oxytocin levels. Television can actually be good for you! Especially, if watched whilst cuddled up in bed or on the sofa with another warm human being.

Even Facebook is good for you, or can be when used for positive social interactions in the absence of face-to-face possibilities.

“Social media is often heralded as the end to meaningful interaction” but science can demonstrate a different story. “While studying people’s oxytocin levels after using Facebook and Twitter, Dr. Zak saw oxytocin release in every participant…Though in-person interactions are much richer, he says, there’s room for the Internet.” Commenting on a Twitter experiment, Zak says:

“Your brain interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for, E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection.”

It is also showing up as a drug to aid against obesity, act an as anti-inflammatory healer, pain relief, mood relief, counter stress, increase generosity, trust, and more. Indeed, “oxytocin is proving to be a crucial ingredient to what makes us human”.

Studies are showing that it may be effective in treating debilitating shyness, or to help people with social anxieties and mood disorders. It’s also thought that oxytocin could help people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, given that autism is essentially a social communication disorder, it’s being considered as a way of helping people on the spectrum as well. And lastly, oxytocin, through its trust-building actions, can help heal the wounds of a damaged relationship — another example of how the mind gets its plasticity.”

The realists and skeptics out there may need to read something more balancing, such as this piece by Ed Yong who kicks oxytocin and Dr Zak back into touch. Further pointing out that for some the benefits may only enhance your pre-existing mindset. One study showed that oxytocin actually caused less trust and cooperation among people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Amanda Palmer in the Guardian writes that if she “were queen for a day, cuddles would be mandatory. I would counter the epidemic of human encounterlessness with cuddle centres for those who never get a proper hug.”

If you are one of the 7-8 million single people or third of the UK that will be living alone as we age, then if the encounter with a cuddle party, meetup or professional cuddler, is just way beyond your British reserve or shyness, what can you do?

If cuddling is out of bounds, try petting

Cat cuddles
Cat cuddles

Clinical psychologist Dr Glenn ­Wilson suggests that “getting a kitten and petting it might have a similar soporific, calming effect.”

That may explain the equal rise of cat cafes and the opportunity to go and cuddle a kitty, or some other furry, if you live alone in rented accommodation that bans pets. People with pets apparently recover faster from illness and find their stress levels reduced. It may also be easier to maintain one’s boundaries with a cat!

Hugs on prescription?

Okay so they may not bring about world peace just yet but they can comfort or console what they can’t cure! So have a hug or pet a cat on me today!

Mental Health & Wellbeing

Safe Alcohol guidelines from Nanny State unlikely to change my Wine intake

New Safer Alcohol Guidelines

New “safe” alcohol guidelines from Nanny State have been drawn up, where “safe” means none, like a nun, more abstinence than absinthe. Beer takes a battering and wine is to be watered down. Livers up and down the country are leaping for joy!

Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse and Grill
Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse, as opposed to rarely drinking

I’ve always been a wine-drinker, but with food at the dinner table from an early age. It created a responsible drinking habit – again with the nun references!

I did try teetotalism for three months at University and pigged out on pizza instead. My partner is more into total-tea-ism.

I actually, never get drunk, well extremely rarely and unintentionally. I drink for pleasure and only with food, never to get drunk. I prefer to stay in control and able to appreciate the taste.

Tongue in Cheek Comment

Actually, all of this is tongue in cheek, wine sloshed around the palate stuff – I just hate being told what to do. Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer recommends a cup of tea instead of a glass of wine so expect a tax on tea sometime soon. Tea duty! Perhaps we should have a Boston Wine Party or a new political movement like the American Tea Party movement, the British Wine Party movement!

It all seems to be part of the austerity cuts and equalities agenda. Men’s drinking has been cut to the levels of women as it turns out male livers and female livers were not gendered at all and after several female livers took the UK Government to the European Court of Humourous Rights the Government out of spite decided to reduce men’s limits rather than raise female limits to an equal level.

Furthermore, the hypocrisy continues as Parliament is choosing to keep its bars open to serve more than the daily drinking allowance to MPs drunk on their own power.

It’s all clearly an anti-LGBT ploy (or conceivably out of concern for our health and wellbeing – which is an anagram of “binge well”) since it turns out LGBT people are nearly twice as likely to binge drink compared to the more sober hetero/cis population!

A History of Safe Drinking Limits

1984 was a positive drinking utopia compared to now. That year saw the first guidance on gendered drinking produced in a pamphlet called That’s the Limit. Safe limits were defined as 18 “standard drinks” a week for men and 9 for women. At least we now have drinking equality! One standard drink was defined as one alcohol unit – a concept that would be introduced in the next edition. The pamphlet also defined “too much” alcohol as 56 standard drinks a week for men and 35 for women. 1987 saw these limits revised down to familiar 21 units a week for men and 14 for women, with “too much” defined as 36 units for men and 22 for women. That is until today where it has been revised down to zero units for safe drinking and 14 as a recommended maximum should you still feel the need.

BBC Booze Nationality Calculator

The BBC website has devoted public money to shaming us further with their online booze nationality calculator which clearly makes no allowance for sexuality as a factor.

French wine drinker - new alcohol guidelines
French wine drinker – new alcohol guidelines

You drink like you’re from France, which is the joint 18th heaviest-drinking country in the world…You are on course to drink about 20.7 litres of pure alcohol over the year, which is 25% more than the average for men in the United Kingdom, and 200% more than the average for women.”

It turns out either I’m French or a bisexual/lesbian British woman but not a gay man.

A Choice between Risk and Pleasure

Drinking more than 14 units *may* increase your risk of dying from an alcohol-related condition by about 1%. That compares to more risky behaviour like a bacon sandwich or watching television for an hour!

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said:

“These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition. So should we feel OK about risks of this level? An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health. In contrast, an average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.”

Another tempting pleasure might be the latest research from Harvard and the UEA  suggesting that a high intake of blackcurrants and a few glasses of red wine could be “sexual superfoods“.

Drinking and Cancer

If wine is so bad for you, presumably most of Europe is dying of cancer, as opposed to stress and anxiety and other smoking and eating habits contributing to poor health outcomes. Other studies into the flavonoids, resveratrol and polyphenols in red grapes have shown wine’s heart protective benefits.

Actually, the Danes and French (big smokers) do unenviously top the cancer league however Portugal (36th) and Spain (34th) who drink more than Britain (23rd) come lower down the table. My plan is to drink more Malbec as the Argentinians come 49th. Clearly, other lifestyle factors are at work.

For women breast cancer risk from all factors but including increased drinking does rise from 10.9% to 12.6% (up to 14 units/week) to 15.3% (14-35 units). Similarly, bowel cancer rises for men and women by around 30% to 7-8% risk once 14 units are exceeded.

Allegedly, there are still health benefits if you are a woman over 55, I’ve never looked forward to ageing so much before! New #alcoholguidelines suck! I need a drink!

Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt
Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt
Mental Health & Wellbeing

New Year’s Resolution – Don’t be afraid, Take a Walk on the Wild Side!

Overcoming Fear and Being Yourself

There is so much one could say about fear, one could write a book about it, indeed one is. So often fear runs, if not ruins, our lives. It did mine for 40 years. Learning to embrace fear, take the risks anyway, and have a walk on the wild side, was in part down to being ‘outed’ and then choosing to stay ‘out’ rather than retreat back into the closet of fear and self-loathing. I’ve been told I was lucky to be outed rather than face the fear of coming out! You learn to swim or run quickly when thrown to the sharks or wolves.

“fear is not something that I let rule my life, but gratitude is.” – Lana Wachowski

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

Feel the fear and do it anyway, Susan Jeffers
“Feel the fear and do it anyway”, Susan Jeffers

One of the most powerful books I’ve never read was the above titled volume by Susan Jeffers. Well I got as far as reading the front cover and never looked back. Nine years ago, in therapy, I paid approximately £15 a word to hear from my therapist at the end of each hour the two words, “Why not?” I spent each hour in fear and not a small amount of self-loathing, she responded, in essence, with “do it anyway”. Feed the fear – and you’ll end up paralysed and do nothing at all.

“The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear.” – William Jennings Bryan

The Power of Now

Eckhart Tolle’s book was also influential and similarly unfinished-unread. My ‘now’ took years to find and only a moment to nearly kill off. It took all my courage to attempt suicide nearly 4 years ago. I was “in the moment” and exhausted of surviving not thriving. Each day it took all my energy just to keep going. Albert Camus wrote that:

“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Albert Camus

I’d given up trying to be normal, I had no energy left for the mask, vulnerability was easy, I had no defences left, and only one last resort.

Walk on the Wild Side

In 2015 Lou Reed was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a second time as a solo artist, the first time was as part of Velvet Underground. It was also the year that the “he [who] was a she” from his most well known Grammy Hall of Fame song -“Walk on the Wild Side“, Holly Woodlawn, died. From the appropriately named album, Transformer (1972), produced by David Bowie the song literally walked on the wild side, risking public outcry and censorship by referring to taboo topics such as transsexuality, male prostitution, colour and oral sex. Whilst British censors missed the references or ignored them, the US released an edited version of the single minus the oral sex reference. I want to live an unedited life!

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side’

Candy came from out on the island
In the backroom she was everybody’s darlin’
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’

The lyrics describe several of the colourful individuals who frequented Andy Warhol’s New York studio including transwomen and actresses Holly Woodlawn (who died this month after appearing as Vivian in two episodes of the Amazon television drama series Transparent about a family with a transgender father), Candy Darling (d.1974 aged 29), and Jackie Curtis (d.1985 aged 38). Warhol was an inspiration and mentor to Reed.

A Walk on the Wild Side, Nelson Algren
A Walk on the Wild Side, Nelson Algren

The title “Walk on the Wild Side” comes from a 1956 novel by Nelson Algren of which, he remarked:

“The book asks why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives.”

The New York Times Book Review said of it: “His hell burns with passion for heaven.” It was also the source of Algren’s “three rules of life“:

“Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom’s. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own.”

Rules to live by: Don’t be afraid of anyone

Lou Reed’s widow of a 21-year relationship and musician in her own right, Laurie Anderson, gave a speech on his behalf this year and quoted their three rules to live by:

  1. Don’t be afraid of anyone
  2. Get a good bullshit detector
  3. Be really tender

“One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.”

The Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss

Be who you are, Dr Seuss, Cat in the Hat
Be who you are, Dr Seuss, Cat in the Hat

So much irreverent wisdom comes from Dr Seuss, not the least of which is this:

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss

The most important bit of which is “be who you are“, sometimes “saying what you feel” can be worth some discretion and discernment. A past girlfriend taught me a lot about authenticity and learning to be myself has been the best journey of my life, and I’ve travelled extensively, and not without the odd international incident in the Middle East and Africa!

[It is disputed whether this is an authentic Dr Seuss quote]

Life begins at 49

Whilst mid-life crises often afflict us in our forties, it is said that life begins at fifty. “A massive 92% of women in their 50s say they’re happier than they’ve ever been“. At 50, we’re over halfway and have learned hopefully to let go of the things that held us back thus far. For me, having led a double life until 40, it feels like I’m having a second bite of the cherry. If football is a game of two halves, then I’m in the mid-match break about to kick-off the second half.

“What would you be like if you were the only person in the world? If you want to be truly happy you must be that person.” – Quentin Crisp

New Year’s Resolution, New Me

I turn 49 in 2016, I’ll have been on female hormones (my male ones never worked anyway) for 6 years and I’ve finally plucked up the courage to go under the knife (6 Feb 2016) for what some would erroneously call cosmetic surgery – for many trans people, it’s life saving surgery. It’s actually a labioplasty not the usually requested vaginoplasty, and it’s probably not for the reasons one may suspect.

It’s more about a letting go of something than gaining anything new. But it’s the letting go, that was holding me back, leaving me in a literal “no man’s land” limbo the last decade.

One of my several psychiatrists (I’ve been married to one, and had four, along with a couple of psychologists) once said to me:

“You are the most reluctant transsexual I’ve ever met!”

I’ve tried everything from Christian deliverance and healing, denial, suicide, to sex and body workshops, self-development work, and yet more therapy and therapists, to avoid being me. I’m not expecting surgery to change me, rather to free myself up from some unnecessary encumbrances, literally! I dealt with the emotional baggage some time ago, now for the physical baggage. I expect to be travelling lighter from now on.

3 Rules of Life: Be Real, Be You, Be Free

“Sorry for being me but I have great difficulty being anybody else” – Spike Milligan

As Oscar Wilde never said, instead it appears to have been some millennial advertising slogan, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. What Oscar did say was:

“One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead” (1882)

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” (1890)

Well, I tried the mask and he lied. Dropping the public persona and allowing the vulnerable inner me to step out and lead my real life. It has been undeniably scary but a ride nonetheless, and the journey is only just beginning. 2015 feels like it is the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end of my old life. 2016 will allow me to move forward with a bit less of my body and a whole lot more of me.