Thursday, September 20, 2007

Before the Crash

How Life Fell Apart

I wrote earlier about how it was I came to Faith. In that essay is the story of that first sermon I heard from Rev. Sue Thorne, "Paying Attention to the Signs God Puts Before You". Now I had never been one to believe in God's Plan for me. I didn't believe in Fate, though I didn't totally dismiss it either - I guess I was more amused at how somethings just happened to occur. Were there "signs" before that Sunday morning on August 21st, 2005? Yes. Oh my goodness, Yes.

By 2002, I had fully embraced my goal of transitioning from male to female, it was now just a function of logistics...not emotional acceptance. One hurdle was my job as the color announcer of the Portland Winter Hawks hockey team. I had made my broadcasting career on two traits - being versatile, and being reliable. As a result, the transition would have to occur after the hockey season was over - I didn't want to leave my wonderful broadcasting partner in the lurch.

Another hurdle was my regular job as Operations Director of AllClassical 89.9 radio in Portland. While Portland and Multnomah County had protective laws for transgenders in the workplace - in other words I couldn't be fired by simply transitioning - I was also well aware that it would have been fairly easy to get around that particular law given the very subjective nature of "performance" in the radio field. Still, I had taken some steps to cover that possibility as well. I had heard of others who had lost their jobs and were then economically handcuffed from fully proceeding. I didn't want to be "stuck".

The last, and biggest hurdle, was my parents. I had told many family members and many friends as well. My parents would literally be the "last to know". Both of my parents were in poor health. My father had been on oxygen for years, had Parkinson's and had experienced some "mini-strokes" over the past decade. While most in my family had the most concern for my Dad, my Mom's situation was less apparent. She had high blood pressure, she could be forgetful (we would often have the same exact conversation about something only a few days or a week or so apart) and she was slowly losing weight. I knew - and as it turned out accurately so - that they would have difficulty accepting me as their only daughter. I had a lot of admiration for them, I did not want to add to their difficulties as they neared the end of their days.

All transgenders, especially transwomen, go through a phase I call The Dual Life. Most of my time I had to live in my male presentation (i.e. be Ron) - work, hockey, family events, etc. So my time to be present female (i.e. be Donna), was relegated to weekends and rare evenings. Some economic pressures had stalled my immediate plans of Female By Fifty - that would include the surgery as well. I then stopped visiting my therapist and stopped visiting my electrologist. As the financial situation brightened, my resolve to face my parents had sagged. 2003 became a nightmare. I not only wasn't proceeding with transitioning...but my opportunities to be Donna grew further and further apart. Indeed, there were many times when I had hoped to "be Donna" that got canceled at the last minute. This was incredibly emotionally devastating.

It should be no surprise then that I got into an emotional quagmire. Sometime that late spring, I began to think about the other option - suicide. Suicide is rife among transgenders. Depression prior to transitioning is nearly universal, and almost every transgender I've ever asked has acknowledged either intense, prolong suicidal ideations....or attempts. If repressed feelings are damaging to one's mental health...try re-repressed feelings!

Juxtaposed with this horrific internal conflict was a lot of external "joy". My wife and I purchased our first home. My youngest daughter graduated from college with the party held at my house - it would be the last time my entire family was together (Mom and Dad, my two Brothers and kids, my eldest Daughter, my two Aunts and my Cousin). I got to meet my Mother-in-Law and Joe from Pennsylvania, who visited just as we moved into the new house. That first day we had an empty house except for several bar stools and our barbecue. My parents joined us for a nice "house-warming" dinner. And our financial situation had improved. Everything is coming up roses - so it would seem.

In September, I wrote an explanatory letter to my parents, explaining to them what I needed to do. I never sent it. And while it was written about the future, it was also intended as the "note" of goodbye. In October, I reconnected with a therapist. My original counselor had moved away. I felt sad that Julie was no longer available - I felt very comfortable with her. I was happy to locate Heather, however. We talked about building the confidence I felt I needed to finally face my parents. And I wanted an established therapeutic relationship in case (as expected) things fell apart with them.

But October also brought even more difficulty in finding time to be Me. And by early November things grew worse. I'd planned, once again, to be Me and had to withdraw at the last minute. Frustrated with my lack of progress, devastated by the fact I could not express my true self yet again, I declared "Donna is Dead". I thought...and that should read thought...I could muster up the will to simply live as Ron, after all, I had done so for over 50 years.

The thoughts of suicide grew more frequent. I had been spending many a sleepless night "writing" my notes to my daughters - at least in my head. My wife would know, my parents had essentially abandoned me, it would be only my daughters to whom I needed to explain why I had left. With little resolve to live, the ability to cope with any negativity drained from me. So it was only a matter of time.

We had been tasked with baking the pumpkin pies for our family Thanksgiving that would held at my parents home. I still don't accurately remember what happened, but I stormed out of the kitchen, stomped down the stairs, went through the garage, grabbed a utility knife on the way out to the backyard....and tried. The knife was one that I had used a couple of years earlier to trim roofing tabs at my old house. The blade was coated with tar, dulled from slicing through the grit of the tiles. The lock was fouled as well and didn't always work. It was with this implement that I took to my wrist. It made a scratch, but little more. And I probably underestimated - or was subconsciously unwilling to use - the force needed to incur a serious wound.

My wife opened the back door and found me in my attempt. We struggled and there was no way I wanted to hurt her, so I hurled the knife somewhere into the back corner of our lot. And she dialed 9-1-1. With that the police arrived, three of them. I really didn't need that and was, frankly, rather combative and rude. I was taken outside the house (a common procedure for police who try to isolate the individual from any potential weapons that may be used against them or the person themselves) and I was asked to show my wrist. Yep, there's a scratch, I hurt it baking pies. The lead officer didn't buy that. He also said that, because of my wife's phone call - and the conversation another officer was having with her - they had a basis to tackle me to the ground and take me to a mental health facility for 72 hours. I became a little more cooperative.

The pies!!!! Oh, wait...we have to go back inside, I have pies in the oven. At first, the officer didn't seem too keen on that idea, but when I mentioned that we would need the fire department if we didn't remove them - and I promised, promised not to do anything. We got there just in time to remove them just as the timer went off. Whew! Four pies, all ready for tomorrow night's feast. But was I ready?

It was then explained to me that I had a choice: I could be hauled away now and placed on a 72 hour "hold"....or.....I could have a "voluntary" evaluation done by my HMO. I "wisely" chose the latter option. After nearly four hours, the therapist who performed the emergency room evaluation let me return home. She originally was going to order hospitalization, but changed her mind - thankfully - allowing me to cling to the few strands of self I had left. Oh...according to that HMO, there are nine symptoms of major depressive disorder. I scored positively on eight of them. Hospitalization is usually indicated if someone scores on only three.

I spent the next day at the family dinner vacillating between "I'm glad I'm not in the hospital" and "I should be in the hospital". As ordered, I saw my regular therapist the next week and through her guidance I would finally seek more in depth assistance. It was now that the signs began.

Part Two: Those Signs

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