Retrospective

Today marks six months since my cardiac event and my life has changed more in the last six months than it ever has.  What I thought was a bad case of acid reflux turned into something much more serious when the doctor at the urgent care facility told me that I needed to go to the emergency room immediately.  Chest pain combined with an abnormal EKG isn’t what anyone wants to hear, especially exactly one week after their 31st birthday.  As my wife was driving our van with our two daughters in the back, I broke down into tears like I never had in my entire life.  Why was this happening?  Would I survive?  It was not my time to go – I had two daughters to walk down the church aisle at their wedding – and a wife to grow old and cranky with.  This could not be happening to me – I know I’m a little overweight, but nothing like the people you see in the extreme reality shows on television.  No, the doctor had to have been wrong about it.

As I arrived in the ER and was being checked in and examined, things started looking up – my oxygen stats were good, my blood pressure was below normal, my pulse was even a little low.  I was amazingly calm and relaxed after my meltdown in the car.  All seemed well for a little while, they took some blood and sent it down to pathology.  In the interim, I was administered a high dose of an anti-acid and almost immediately started feeling better.  I was ready to go home – and they were ready to let me go – just waiting on those pesky labs.

But all was not well with my heart after all.  The bloodwork showed that my creatine and troponin levels were high and my HDL cholesterol was low – they were calling in a cardiologist.  After a brief differential, he said that I was having a non-ST elevated myocardial infarction – in other words, albeit minor, a heart attack.  Because I was stable, a cardiac catherization was scheduled for the next morning and I was admitted to the cardiac unit of the hospital for a two night stay.  Fortunately, the catherization showed only a minor blockage which could be reduced through medication, so no stints or open heart surgery was required – only had to stay another 24 hours to make sure that procedure wouldn’t set off another heart attack or stroke.

While I was in the hospital, I had a lot of time to think.  I do remember my friends and family visiting and just about every detail of what happened (when I was lucid).  But my mind was going a million miles a minute the entire time.  I was thinking to myself – I got lucky, I dodged a major bullet, I can’t let this happen again, I won’t let this happen again.  It was time to get my life in order – at every single level.

Over these short six months, there have been a whirlwind of changes in my life.  The day of my catherization, I was supposed to be starting a new job, one that was hopefully less stressful, a little more money, and in an environment that I could excel at and really utilize my talent.  Fortunately, that has all come true.  People that I had only met once during my interview have told me since that when they heard what happened, they were worried sick about me.  I got lucky and found myself with some wonderful people and where the work – medical simulation – actually made a difference in the world.  And while a less stressful and more rewarding job was something I desperately needed, it wasn’t all.

I knew I had to lose weight in order to get my HDL cholesterol up.  Though I have a sedentary job, I didn’t pay the least bit of attention to my diet or lack of exercise.  Yeah, I knew I had gained weight – but it was a very slow increase – it happened over years and years I thought.  But now, I had to do this because my life depended on it.  Through the help of friends and even some of those new coworkers, I set out to start exercising and get on a diet that worked for me.  Though I still have trouble staying on that diet and exercise plan at times, I’ve managed to lose over 20 pounds since March.  They say exercise releases endorphins and supposedly make you happier, and yes, there were times while I was exercising that I was pumped up – those feelings quickly fell once I was done for the day and rested.

No, there was one more change I needed to make, and I knew exactly what it was.  It was the one issue that had brought me the most pain, heartache, anxiety, discomfort, but also joy and happiness in my life.  It was the one issue that I didn’t want, that caused me to constantly be at war with myself, and the one that caused me to put a gun in my mouth more than once, but never allowed me to pull the trigger.  It was the one issue that hung over my life like a dark cloud that no matter what I did would not go away until I dealt with it.  It is my own transsexualism.

My entire life, I had always felt different – inhuman at times – because I felt that I was never able to connect with another human being on an emotional level.  The few times I tried to honestly react to something and show any emotion other than a fake smile or pure anger – I was either admonished or ridiculed by those around me.  I learned at an early age to take my real wants, desires, and feelings and shove them into the deepest, darkest parts of my soul.  I was a boy and it was drilled in my head that boys are stronger than that or don’t do things like that.

But I didn’t feel that way.  I always felt that I had some sort of unexplainable, illogical connection to the girls.  I was always envious of them in every way – what they did, how they looked, what they wore, how they were treated, and who they were.  Now I know what that connection is/was, but still can’t explain to you why I am the way I am.

During high school, I started coming out of my shell and told some of my closest friends how I felt.  Some were accepting and loving, while others became vindictive or scared.  I started dressing as a girl and going out when I was 17, but a year later, I ran into another half-drunk teenager looking to score – and when he found out I was a guy, he raped at beat me.  So, I ran back into the closet.  I experimented with cross-dressing in private the next few years.  Friends of mine bought me clothes and allowed me to experience some sort of happiness within the confines of their home or mine.

But even the thought of being different scared me – so I sought out a therapist who could help those feelings go away.  Over the next two years, she helped me realize that it was okay and that I needed to be who I really was.  But admitting you have a problem and then doing something about it are two very different things.  I continued to cross-dress and occasionally go out, but I really didn’t attempt transition until I was 29.  It was then, after we had our first child and after I had lost a very good job, that I sought out (and got) a job as a woman.  For the first few months, it went okay – but as the stressful days at that job went on, it got harder and harder.  It wasn’t that it didn’t feel right anymore – it’s that I was unsure if I was making the right decision or not.  So I “de-transitioned” to a man – which, ironically, was more stressful than transitioning to a woman.

I didn’t realize that what I had been missing all along was my self-confidence, or as I call it, the “I don’t give a damn anymore what anybody else thinks”.  I got that on March 20, 2011 as I was lying in the hospital bed contemplating my life.  I was tired of living with regret – being overweight, not being happy, not being the person I wanted to be – the person I was inside.   Even with a new found attitude towards life, it wasn’t easy.

I went back to my therapist after a year (or two) hiatus.  I knew what I needed to focus on this time – giving myself permission to be myself.  So, I started dressing again – and it felt right this time.  I felt confident in my appearance.  But, I took the new job as a man, so I knew I was going to have to go through transition at work, again.  I was worried sick.  First I came out to a co-worker I was close with.  Okay, that went well.  Next I came out to my manager.  Okay, that went well too.  Next, I discussed my transition plan with my CEO.  That day I tried to drink a beer for the first time in over a decade, because I felt that I needed some liquid courage.  Though some odd words were said and the timeline I had wanted was shortened by three months, it still went over quite well.  But he was going to out me to each of my twelve other coworkers, individually and quietly.  Over the next two weeks, I was on edge – I had no idea of what was actually being said or how people were reacting to the news.  But, it was something that had to be done.  While it went over well, something else was coming to the surface.

I started having minor chest pains that would only last a few minutes then go away.  My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.  I couldn’t sleep – and at times, literally felt that I would die if I fell asleep.  Yep, I had panic attacks.  I was tearing down the walls of shame and fear that I had built up over the last 31 years.  I felt emotionally raw – like I had no defense mechanisms left.  I felt like I was the very first one to ever transition.  And though I could see the panic attacks coming and realized what they were after the fact, there was nothing I could do to stop them from happening.  I had at least one minor one per day, but I kept them very well hidden.  After a visit to a doctor, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and given something to help me through the attacks.  It was and still is to this day, something I need to work on more.

Finally, my day of transition at work came.  It was also the day that we started working in a new office building.  I got a pep-talk that morning from my therapist and took some meds on top of that, because as you can imagine, I was worried sick about how people would react.  But a funny thing happened – they didn’t react at all.  At first, I thought this was a bad thing – but as I asked some of them what they thought, they replied that they respected me and only wanted to see me happy, whoever or whatever that meant.  Sure, they got name and pronouns wrong for a little while, but as the days went on, it was like I had worked there as a woman the entire time.  And in fact, my personal and professional relationships with my coworkers continue to blossom to this day.  Another thing happened at work too – because I was able to stop thinking about becoming a woman every spare instant I had, because I was effectively one – combined with the fact that my coworkers were being far more supportive than I could have ever imagined – I’ve been able to really focus on my work and become extremely productive.  No matter what problem arises, I don’t get worked up and stressed out about it – I just fix it and move on to the next thing.

But even though those around me were being supportive, I still longed for a connection to other transgender and transsexual people who knew what I was going through.  I had been active in the GLBT community in the past – even so far as running a transsexual support group at one point – and I was starting to miss that.  The opportunity to reconnect with that group came when a rally protesting the amendment to the state constitution to forbid same-sex marriage.  Not only did that rally give me the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones, but it also re-energized the little activist in me and supporter of the transgender community as a whole.  After all, if I ever do have surgery, this issue affects me, my wife, and my children.  I felt wonderful after the rally – so much so, I couldn’t sleep that night.

Then something incredible happened two days later.  I received a message via Facebook from someone who I never had met, but knew me.  Many years ago, when I was sort of sure I was transgender and talking about transition, I was on a panel with two other transsexuals and my wife, speaking about the issues we faced to the GLBT student union at a local university.  I had remembered that panel and thought it went over fairly well.  But this person had heard my story, my struggles, and my successes – thus far – and it gave them the courage to face their own fears and struggles in life.  They had come out as transgender and were in the process of transition – and they were happy and free to be themself.  That night, the four of us made a positive impact on a person’s life and showed them that even when things look their darkest, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Maybe it’s because it’s only been a few days, but every time I read that note, my eyes well up with tears of joy.  Knowing that I was part of changing someone’s life for the better is an absolutely incredible feeling.  And now I draw strength from them and their words.  I know that it’s alright to be who I am and no matter what anyone says, thinks, or does – they will not ever make me second-guess myself or tear me down like I allowed them to in the past.

Sure, things now aren’t perfect.  There are still some family issues to deal with.  I’m still going to be stressed out from time to time or have panic attacks.   There will be good days and bad days.  But now that I have the tools, will power, and love that I’ve needed my whole life, I can take on anything – and come out the other side a victor and better person.

So, in the end, the moral of my story is this.   No matter how dark things look, no matter how deep that hole is, we all have the power to turn things around and heal ourselves.  Find your inner being – your inner strength – and change it for the better.  And if you can’t find it, then look to those around you and draw on their strength, whether it’s a true friend who will stick with you no matter what or a total stranger who has or is dealing with those same personal demons.

My heart truly aches for those who have dealt with the issues that I have over the last 31 years – or for that matter, any personal issues in their life.  I hope that I can be a better friend and offer the same amount of understanding, compassion, and support that my family, friends, and coworkers have shown me over the last few months as I work through the darkest event of my life.  Know that you can do it and I will be there to support anyone who needs it, no matter what it may be.

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