Trauma has a profound effect on human beings. Human beings are not machines. They are not robots. They are vulnerable assemblages of skin, blood, organs and bone. Violence is done not only to our bodies but to our psyches. I have seen trauma in my own life but I have also seen tremendous trauma in other people. I have seen the burden this takes on people. We live in a sado-society where violence, cruelty and degradation are the norm. It is frightening when I think of how many people I know who have trauma and how many people I know who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. Contrary to popular belief, it is not only veterans who get PTSD. Some of us are soldiers of other kinds of battles and wars. I have many battle scars and I don’t even know the extent to which they have impacted me.

The death of a dog and two of my best friends have been incredibly traumatic. Severe bullying through most of K-12 has been extremely traumatic. I will go into these traumas in future posts. But right now I want to talk about how these make me feel.

Obviously, they contribute greatly to depression. I can’t tell you how sad I feel about the loss of innocence in my youth and the loss of stability in my adulthood. Fuck people who say this makes you stronger. In a better world, these things would not happen. This is not some kind of revolutionary utopianism. It is basic dignity and decency. I would give anything to not have to go through the mental torture that my multiple traumas have brought me.

I am triggered on a regular basis. Triggered by bullying, triggered by suicide, triggered by hospitalizations, triggered by transphobia. I never know when it is going to hit. I never know how severe it is going to be. I never know if a Klonopin or two is going to be enough to walk me off the ledge. What does triggering cause?

For me at least it causes anxiety. I become anxious when triggered, sometimes to the level of a full-on panic attack. These episodes of anxiety are terrifying. And of course there are the nightmares. Waking up from horrible dreams and feeling like you have lived the trauma all over again.

For me, trauma also causes dissociation. I rarely talk about this because it is so incredibly stigmatized. It is stigmatizing enough to have depression, anxiety and PTSD, but when you add dissociation to the mix people really think you are full-on “crazy.” I worry about the added stigma I will face from my multiple psych diagnoses. I worry about the added stigma I will face from my multiple targeted/oppressed identities intersecting with the mental illnesses. Trauma is a key element that binds the different diagnoses together and also affects my multiple identities like being trans, fat, crip, queer and low income.

Trauma can also cause problems with relationships and self-esteem. Loved ones in the circle of the trauma sufferer may not know how to react. They may not have the tools to help the trauma victim/survivor. This could cause misunderstandings and strained relationships. I think trauma hurts self-esteem. This is particularly true for childhood trauma. We are undermined at the very time in our life when our personhood is in development. I know that the bullies made me feel like shit. They still make me feel like shit, despite years of therapy. It is easy to say: “Don’t let them rob you of your happiness.” How about: they should not have abused you in the first place. My self-esteem has suffered dire consequences from my trauma. With the suicide of my best friend, it made me more susceptible to suicide. With the death of my other best friend from medical transphobia, it made me terrified of encounters with medical “professionals.”

According to the APA, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.”

The main point or take-away from this blog entry is that trauma is horrendous. The treatments for it are often limited and ineffective, at least the mainstream ones. I have suffered horribly as have many of my friends. Compassion is key, as is understanding. Realize that people with trauma will go through a range of physical, psychological and emotional symptoms. There is no cure and people should not be told to “just get over it.” It is a long-term struggle and people need to understand the impact. While emotions can be managed, they cannot be fully controlled. Patience, endurance, perseverance and strength are required to deal with trauma, and usually for a lifetime.

Psych Drugs

Remeron. Cymbalta. Paxil. Zoloft. Klonopin. Valium. Ativan. Nuvigil. Adderall. Vyvanse. Gabapentin. Effexor. Lexapro. Celexa. Buspar. Trazodone. Lamictal. Risperidone. Lithium. Hydroxyzine.

The preceding 20 medications are all psych meds that I am either currently taking or have taken at one time or another. They are the ones that I remember; there are more. I call psychiatry the medication roulette wheel. It is like a piece of spaghetti that is thrown at the wall: let’s see if it sticks. The efficacy of so many of these medications leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t think I have ever come across a more inexact arm of medicine than psychiatry.

Given the problems with psychiatry, you might wonder: why even go on these drugs? The answer is simple: so I don’t die. I have severe major depressive disorder along with anxiety, PTSD and a few other diagnoses. Suicidal ideation is something that I live with on a regular basis. Although both talk therapy and psychiatry are extremely disappointing, they are the main things we are offered as solutions and the main things that are covered by insurance. And so I try them and hope that they keep me alive.

What has amazed me is how many I have tried and how many have not worked. Or they slightly work and bump your mood up just a little bit. Although I think the regimen I am on now is one of the best in my own history, it certainly hasn’t wiped out my depression. If they have developed a drug to do that I haven’t heard of it. And I definitely would have heard of it because it would be raking in billions upon billions of dollars. Like talk therapy and psychiatry, I wish that psychotropic drugs worked better. I wish that they worked quicker and more consistently. Some of them have a habit of “pooping out” over time and then are no longer effective.

There are definitely times I wish I could take every last bottle and go and throw them in the dumpster and quit seeing a psychiatrist. I grow tired of the lack of effectiveness and the annoying side effects that go with these drugs. I don’t want to go into the specifics, but some of the side effects can be highly unpleasant, uncomfortable and frustrating. I do wonder about the risk-benefit ratio a lot. But what I generally come back to is that I do better on them than off of them. There could come a time when that is not true, but now is not that time.

When you take a good, honest look at the world, you have to ask: how can we NOT be depressed? Things in the world are absolutely horrible right now! We are hurtling towards global destruction and major catastrophe. I believe depression is chemical AND situational. I do not agree that mental illness is a “myth.” But I do see the limitations of our current system, which tend to individualize problems that are actually, at least in part, sociocultural. Like so many problems in society, we are all looking for the quick fix, the magic bullet. It is easier for a GP or PCP to just write a script for an SSRI than really deconstruct the patient’s problem in a much more complex and nuanced manner.

I understand those who rail against psychiatry and against big pharma. To some degree I agree with them. But obviously my actions don’t follow those beliefs because I see a psychiatrist and I take psych meds. It’s because I don’t have other alternatives and need to do SOMETHING to try to improve my mood. I hope that science improves rapidly and helps to proffer more creative and less medical solutions to those of us suffering terribly from mental illness. If you suffer from depression, I wish you good luck in your journey towards wellness.


There is a whole academic area in the humanities about memory. I don’t have that many profound things to say about it except that I have a poor one.

One of my life goals is to write a memoir. The problem with writing a memoir is that you need to remember your life events. While I am not saying I can’t remember any of them, I have forgot about a lot of them and others are quite hazy. Some things I don’t want to remember. It’s like how our mind will make us forget our dreams as a protective mechanism. I think some things I don’t remember or don’t remember well because my psyche is trying to protect me from negative or even traumatic memories.

But what I would like to say about memory is that it is always already filtered. Unless there is a videotaped copy, our memories always exist within particular limitations. Even if it is videotaped, there is no pureness when it comes to interpretation. Memory, to my mind, is unstable, incoherent and socially constructed. Although memory is unframed, people purposely try to put a frame around a particular memory. Often this is to make it more positive or to take some of the grit or trauma right out of it.

From an early age, I was taught “show don’t tell” when it comes to writing. When I write my memoir, I will be doing very little “showing.” I just don’t have that kind of strong memory. I don’t see anything wrong with telling. It still can be interesting even if it is not as finely detailed. It also brings to me the question of the line between a novel and a memoir. Obviously they are different genres and I don’t mean to render them identical at all. But they are closer than many of us think. To put it bluntly, people lie. Or to put it slightly more softly, people fib. Often they don’t even mean to. Memory is filtered and sometimes people remember what they want to remember rather than what actually happened. Even what “actually happened” can change based on different people’s reports or vantage points. There have been some high-profile cases of people who wrote “non-fiction” that turned out to be wholly or largely fabricated. “Creative” non-fiction is well named because the creative aspect often means a stretching of the truth. Sometimes a novel can be more truthful than an autobiography.

I guess what I am trying to get at is that there is no mechanism to represent absolute truth. As I approach my memoir, I do want to be as truthful as possible. I will not be making things up out of whole cloth. But I will also be very upfront in the beginning that this is a series of events from my own, limited vantage point and that absolute “truth” is irretrievable. Different people may well see it differently. I am limited by my own memory. There will be gaps in the story simply because they are things I don’t recall or things I see as uninteresting or unnecessary. Memory is an interesting thing. It will be something I will greatly rely on to write my memoir. But I will also rely on my analytical and critical skills because my “memoir” will be very political because that is how my brain works!

We need to re-think memory. The memory is not a computer. It is a fragile and vulnerable mechanism that is, above all, human and subject to human error, interpretation and intentional revision. Since memory is not a mere recorder, I don’t see this as a problem, but as something that makes memory infinitely more interesting and complex.


During my 20s, I was a binge drinker. I mostly drank hard liquor. My favorites were rum, vodka and gin mixed with various sodas and juices. I understand that this is a time when many people engage in binge drinking. But I did it to a rather extreme point. In addition, I would regularly mix psychotropic drugs with the alcohol, which of course is very dangerous. I can remember times when I would basically be passed out for 12 hours straight.

As a former binge drinker, I struggle with the question: am I an alcoholic? I am kind of in a double bind. If you say no, there will be people who immediately say you are in denial. If you say yes, there my be people who say you don’t have the proper symptoms/ characteristics to be a proper alcoholic. Whether I am a “true” alcoholic or not [whatever that even means], I identify as a person in recovery. I used alcohol to numb the pain. I used it carelessly and even dangerously. I passed out and blacked out several times.

Being a part of the LGBTQ community, I feel that alcohol use was subtly or overtly encouraged. From house parties to gay bars to pride parades, alcohol use [and drug use] is a common feature within the LGBTQ community. I do feel I had a number of friends that encouraged my use of alcohol. I don’t think their intentions were in any way malicious. I think they liked when I was able to loosen up and they liked to have a drinking buddy. It was quickly very easy to get into a routine of drinking on a regular basis. The problem was that I could not stop at one drink. The goal for me was to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible.

Now I never drink hard liquor. I don’t like beer in the least. I do like wine and drink it on occasion. I was worried that if I drank anything at all, I would quickly move to excess. During my drinking days I would buy boxes of wine and drink large tumbler after large tumbler of the stuff. Now I can drink a glass or two of wine, put the bottle back in the fridge and it goes bad because I don’t desire to drink the rest. Once again the double bind looms: some would say if you are an alcoholic you should never drink so much as one sip of alcohol, even avoiding wine at church communion. Others would say that since I can drink “socially” or in small amounts, I was never an alcoholic to begin with. Again, I have decided to side-step the issue of whether I am an alcoholic as I see myself as an “in-betweenie.” But the “in recovery” part is important because I know the excess alcohol I was drinking was very bad for my health and safety and that it had a hold over me. I was using it to self-medicate and avoid pain. The REASON for the drinking is what was the problem and makes me know I am now in recovery from the booze. Unfortunately, I now self-medicate with food, so the addiction has simply transferred to something else.

Drinking can be a great pleasure and quite relaxing. For some of us, it is easy to over-do it. I am glad I am at a place where I drink very little now, as it is better for me given my history of over-consumption. Plus the hangovers were sheer hell!


Oh, psychiatry. I wish I had better things to say about you. I have been involved with you since age 18, over 25 years. I’ve probably had around 10 psychiatrists in my lifetime. Here are a couple of negative situations.

I was going to a community mental health center that also had people prescribing psych meds. She was a physician’s assistant who was off the rails. One day she took a bag of sample medications and literally threw them in my face, all while yelling “We try to help people here!” Apparently, my complaints about the side effects and lack of efficacy of the medication did not please her. Needless to say I never went back and I felt traumatized by the whole encounter. I told her my level of educational attainment and she seemed confused why somebody at that level would be so depressed! Her blithering ignorance was stunning. I didn’t even bring up being transgender because I got a bad vibe from her about accepting LGBTQ people. Upon googling her name, I see she is still a PA and that she is gainfully employed including in behavioral health. This just goes to show how low the bar is for people who work in the mental health care area.

My second story deals with a man that worked at another community mental health center. It is in an old, dilapidated house. As soon as you walk in, there is an admin who says a curt “hi” and then literally asks you for your co-pay. Not “how are you?” or even basic chit-chat. Just down to get the money. Then you wait in the ugly waiting room until he comes out. Basically, this operation is like a psychiatric factory. This particular psychiatrist almost never looked me in the eye. From the time I entered until almost the time I left, he was typing away on his laptop. The appointment was 15 minutes, if that. Apparently he was typing because he didn’t have time to write clinical notes later so he just wrote them during the session. I would not be surprised if he saw 32 clients a day. It was always: how are the meds working? Who are your symptoms? And how are the side effects? Holistic was not in this man’s vocabulary. Then he would print out the scripts and send you on your way. Every time I came out of there I felt worse than when I went in. In fact, it triggered another mental health challenge that I will talk about in a future blog entry. The sad part is that I learned that out of the four or so psychiatrists there he was one of the better ones!

I am currently seeing a psychiatrist that is better than the previous two. I still generally do not look forward to the appointments because it is a fight over the meds, which ones are working, which ones aren’t and which different ones I should try. Like most psychiatrists she is “conservative” about meds but apparently less concerned with efficacy. Psychiatry is like a medication roulette wheel. It is like throwing a strand of spaghetti to the wall and seeing if it sticks. It is the most inexact science within all of medicine. Like therapy, I wish it worked better. Having depression is like living on a cliff and always being afraid that you are going to fall off the edge. Talk therapy and psychiatry are the tools that are available to you and they are incredibly ineffective, at least for me.

I could write a whole entry about people who identify as psychiatric survivors or ex-patients as they had such horrific experiences with psychiatrists. This is, after all, the “science” that came up with such great accomplishments as the lobotomy. Sorry to sound so cynical, but I really feel like I have been put through the ringer as far as psychiatry. I have no easy wrap-up except to say: be brutally honest with your psychiatrist. Let them know what’s going on for you and how and why you are dissatisfied. We need massive changes to our entire mental health care industries and that includes psychiatry. I wish I was more optimistic about change but it seems to come very slowly, if at all.




I have been in therapy for most of my life. I first started therapy in high school. Luckily it was free and I went for all four years, having one therapist the first year and another the last three years. Then I went in college and in graduate school and have seen several therapists in private practice in the years I have not been in school. I am in counseling now with a therapist I have had for five years or so. Most of my therapists have been good at what they do and very compassionate and empathetic.

With that said, I wish therapy worked better. I have been in therapy forever and I can’t say whether or not it has actually improved my mental health. It has kept me alive. I think it has kept me treading water rather than drowning. But is that really enough?

Western talk therapy is severely limited. It provides a space to talk about one’s problems, but seldom is it a place to actively solve problems. Therapists rarely give direct advice and I understand why. They want us to have insight into our problems. They want us to come up with our own solutions. But if I could come up with my own solutions, why would I be in therapy?

The holy duo of talk therapy and medication is what is supposed to fix us. The “talking cure” and psychotropic drugs leave a lot to be desired. I have had major depressive illness since I was 14 years old and it has largely been unrelenting for 30 years. Sometimes I am surprised I have made it to 44 given how serious depression for me has been, leading to a suicide attempt, suicidal ideation and hospitalizations.

Going to therapy makes me feel better in the immediate aftermath of a session. But it doesn’t last much beyond a few hours or a day. Then I am back to stage one and trying to survive.

The talking cure is very Western-based and not necessarily the way mental health challenges are dealt with around the globe. I think we could take a cue from developing nations and see how they deal with mental illness. Clearly what we are doing in the U.S. with talking therapy and medication is not working. We need to think about much more creative solutions and multiple modalities. We need to demand that insurance cover all mental health for FREE [with no co-pays] and that it also cover alternative forms of therapy like Reiki, Acupuncture, Hypnosis, Biofeedback, etc.

I am thankful for most of my therapists and counselors. They have a difficult and stressful job in trying to help people who are often living on the edge. However, the system itself needs to change. There needs to be better mental health access across the board and there needs to be more options available beyond talk therapy and medication that are covered by insurance. I would not wish the depression I have had to contend with on my worst enemy. I hope that in my lifetime treatment vastly improves and that one day I can be free of this debilitating illness.


The Search for Meaning

What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? These questions are lofty and enormous. They may even seem slightly absurd. They may be totally impossible to ever answer. But I would argue they are incredibly important and vital questions. The answer to them is not as important as the search for them. Everyday we think: what is the greater purpose for my existence? We go through school and work and some days seem utterly mundane. We wonder what the point of it all is. I once heard a song called “Birth, School, Work, Death.” Cynical? Sure, but I think many of us have thought the same thing at various time.

So what is the purpose of life? I think many of us think the purpose of life is to be happy. So often you will hear parents, for instance, exclaim: “I just want you to be HAPPY.” And it is no surprise that happiness is such a powerful pull. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel alive. It fills us with joy, enthusiasm, positivity and hope. So let me be clear: I ain’t got nothin’ against happiness! I just don’t happen to believe it is the purpose of life, or at least not the primary one, nor is it the most important thing to attain.

For me the meaning of life is the search for meaning. I wish I could take credit for this idea. But it comes from a well known book, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor. Frankl details his horrific experiences in concentration camps. He also writes a lot about trying to make sense of this experience. While we place enormous emphasis on happiness and success, Frankl puts the emphasis on the search for meaning. “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning…” I am someone who has suffered a lot during my 44 years of existence. I have to believe that this was not just suffering for suffering’s sake. I believe that all the suffering I have experienced has produced meaning. Sometimes I am better at listening for this meaning than others. Sometimes I am so wrapped up in the pain that I don’t hear the lessons of meaning that are trying to come through. But time elapsing can sometimes be a great teacher. The suffering I have endured has made me the person I am and has made me wiser and more introspective.

Another great quote: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” What will we choose to do in the space between stimulus and response? This to me is very empowering. This is where we can use our agency. This is where, even in the space of victimization, we can choose a response that furthers our own survival and our own humanity. This can be a very deliberate space. Sometimes we go with an automatic response and we end up regretting it. This, too, is part of our learning. But being intentional in our deliberation can help us to improve in our response to various stimuli. My hope is that as I get older my response will be less reactive and more pro-active. It will be less chastising and more compassionate. In our search for why we are here, we can continue to think about our responses, especially our responses to difficult circumstances, to situations when we are triggered, to times when we feel weary or exhausted. I want to have self-compassion AND I want to do better in my human responses to other people and situations.

Human’s “search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.” There is meaning to your life and there is meaning to my life. I like how he talks about “inner tension” in a positive light. Too often in contemporary psychology, it seems like the goal is to get rid of “inner tension” and have total calm and tranquility. While calm and tranquility are certainly a beautiful part of life, they are neither permanent nor particularly commonplace. Life is filled with tension. It is not the goal of life to get rid of tension but to learn how to live with it. One way of learning how to live with it is to give it meaning. We give our suffering meaning and realize it is in service to something greater, including our own growth and expansion as human beings.

To sum up, happiness is great, but the search for meaning, the finding of meaning in our own lives, is infinitely better. Happiness comes and goes, but a belief in our lives having meaning is persistent or even permanent. We must not lose sight of the path we are on and the reasons for the good and bad things that happen to us. Frankl writes that a human being’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to find meaning in their life. As someone with depression, I am often not happy. I can’t help it, as depression is not something that you can turn on or off like a light switch. But even in the darkest of moments, there is something I can do. I can ask: Why is this happening? How can I make meaning out of it? How can I think about the source of the pain and the reaction I have to it? How can I think about how this makes me a stronger person and a more unique person? I wish you well in your own search for meaning, and in the blessings it brings into your life.