Sunday, 20 September 2015

Taking the plunge - Swimming

I appreciate that my postings are infrequent and is a reflection on how much less I need to write about. Many times I have mentioned about the difficulties I have faced with where I want to go with this blog. Life is slowly getting to a good state of normality and this means there is little I can write about that is not boring. Life is certainly not boring but there is much less I can write about that concerns transitioning. 

However, swimming is certainly one activity that seems beyond the reach of many trans individuals, especially pre-op. I am full of admiration for those that do manage to go swimming before their surgery but for me this was never going to happen. 

I was able to go swimming from the time my wounds were externally dry, probably sometime in early March. However it never really crossed my mind because I have never had any strong desire to partake in this activity. People often used to look at me blankly when I told them this, particularly in my past life, and I have had to examine why swimming was such a negative thing to me.

Before transitioning, one thing I never liked was displaying a bare chest. It always seemed wrong for me and as I discovered who I really was, it became clear why this was the case. There were a considerable number of years where I was in denial and didn't understand it myself let alone anyone around me. Men would parade around topless in the summer and yet I found it such a distasteful thing to do. Swimming required this nakedness so I found it very difficult and shied away from it all.

Of course, after my surgery, my physical dysphoria was no longer an issue. It would be possible to wear a bathing costume without any of the "wrong" lumps and bumps showing. However, because swimming was such a negative issue before, it took me a little while to get to the point of wanting to go.

Towards the end of March, I attended a disability discussion group and in that meeting, a representative of Taunton Deane Borough Council was there displaying the plans for a new swimming pool. I did ask at the meeting whether there were any plans to try to encourage trans people to swim. Surprise was expressed as to why there would even be problems with this and I had to explain that many trans people considered swimming out of their reach. They were thoughtful and I would be contacted further down the line with a possibility of discussing this further. Typically, I was not contacted but thoughts of going swimming myself were starting to increase and by mid-summer I had decided I would be going sometime soon.

The schools were to soon break up and I felt that it might be better to wait until the children went back to school. The idea of going swimming for the first time in many years with a pool full of screaming kids was not appealing. I decided I had waited long enough for the correct body for this and a few weeks more would not hurt. I vowed that by the end of September, I would face this gremlin.

Fate can be a cruel mistress but I also believe she can be kind as well. I have made a couple of new friendships very recently and one of those happened to enjoy swimming. She seemed quite surprised that I had not been yet when I spoke to her in August and I explained that it was on my list and that I was just waiting for the kids to go back to school. She said she had a spare bathing suit that might fit me and would I like her to come with me the first time? I had already decided I was going to do this anyway but to have someone accompany me the first time was a golden opportunity. The lumps and bumps might be gone but I was going to be displaying a lot of flesh in public.

The bathing suit was a good fit and we then looked at the timetable for the local pool in Taunton. Friday was the day we decided as it coincided with Mandy attending her day centre. 

We dropped her off and then had to wait out a couple of hours before the pool was available for the public. A little wander around town and a coffee got us to the right time and we returned to the car to collect our swimming gear. It was then that I discovered that I had forgotten to put a parking ticket on the car and miraculously I had not attracted a penalty. I then paid for one, thanking my luck.

In we went and paid our money. The changing room was a much different affair that the last time I had been there, probably more than ten years previous. In past times, they had male, female and family changing areas. Now it was all just one massive unisex area with cubicles to change in as well as shower and toilet areas. I found a cubicle and got myself undressed and into my swimwear.

I was surprised at how relaxed I was when I opened the door to the public whilst dressed in this small amount of clothing. Something I had built up to be a massive thing over all these years was actually quite a non-event. My friend had also gotten dressed and we deposited our stuff in the lockers and went out to the swimming pool. I sat on the edge, remembered how cold swimming pools can be and then got in. I thought to myself how easy that had been. 

We then swam to the far end and I found myself quite surprised at how much it made me out of breath. I often go out for very long runs, 9 miles or more but that 15-20 metre swim was hard work! We chatted a while whilst holding on to the edge, mostly about how I felt and then swam back. We continued this cycle for the next hour, talking and swimming and I found myself surprised at how sociable this activity could be. We eventually decided we had had enough and it was time to go. The showers were surprisingly warm and after changing back, we found the changing area even had hair-dryers!

It was a reflective time afterwards, this was such a big issue for me and it turned out to be so easy. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt so much enjoyable than it ever had in my life. Perhaps by being so comfortable with myself, I was able to relax properly and partake in the activity. I had always puzzled why people enjoyed swimming so much and perhaps now I can relate a little better to this. I also think that this is perhaps the last thing I had to do for myself since transitioning. There is such a big list of firsts when you set out on this journey and I can't think of much else that is left. This was the final tick-box so to speak! In fact I will be back tomorrow, on my own this time.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Finishing therapy

I looked back to refer to other blog posts about the CBT I have been having and found none, realising that I had not written anything about it since I started in mid June.

I wrote back in April in my post Mind Matters about how I had referred myself to the local mental health team and it was decided that I had PTSD in a mild way due to a traumatic incident during my transitioning. The aftermath of the incident was that it had led to anxious and worrying tendencies and it was hopeful that a short course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) would help me deal with these issues.

I started back in mid June and my therapist discussed my issues in depth. My main two behaviours that were causing me the most problems were negative rumination (regurgitation and reliving of past memories in a negative way) and catastrophisation (always thinking the worst it going to happen). This process of therapy requires a level of self-criticism and it is not easy to admit that you have these problems. I was determined though and accepted this was where I was going wrong. We talked about how I worried about things and whether these worries were practical or hypothetical. Practical worry solutions relied heavily on making plans to solve them because those worries often stemmed from real problems which could be fixed. Hypothetical worries were different to deal with because they were often non-existent in reality; they were often about things that had yet to happen. Typically, hypothetical worries were my problem and I was told that hypothetical worriers rarely have practical worries because they often find problem solving very easy.

It initially relied heavily on homework which was mainly in the form of keeping a diary, a worry diary to be exact. Every time I found myself worried or anxious, I had to write it down along with a classification of hypothetical or practical and a score of 1-10 in severity. I did this for a fortnight and we examined what was going on. I do not think there was a single practical worry in any of it. I also had had a few very busy days in that fortnight and worrying was very low on those days. It seemed I was worrying more when I was less busy, when my mind had more time to wander.

We moved on to dealing with the worries and this was done with the aid of "worry time". I was to write down my worries and then put them to one side. At a certain time of the day, I would go somewhere quiet and worry about them for a set period of time. The theory sounded good but I did not actually pursue this part of the treatment. 

I seemed to enter a new phase of my life at around this point. A few things had clicked into place outside of all of this, my mind seemed to slowly settling down properly since my surgery and I was starting to really enjoy my new-found voluntary work. My past trauma that had caused all of these issues seemed much less important and I finally felt for the first time that I could let go of it. I returned to my next session, explained all of this and how I was feeling. My therapist decided I had made progress although not in the conventional sense. I was given some other guidance, relaxation tips and pointers on mindfulness and asked to return in a fortnight to see how things had been going. If the anxiety did return, then try the exercises.

The anxiety did not return and I was starting to move to an even more comfortable place in my mind. When I returned, we discussed it all in depth and decided that we would wait for six weeks and if I did not relapse, then we would discharge me.

The very next day saw me attacked in a hate motivated incident. This had the potential to completely derail everything we had achieved and it did lead to a few weeks of extremely low mood. I did draw on everything I had learned and discussed and found myself slipping back into old ways a few times but always managing to realise what I was doing and correct it. When I wrote about the aftermath of the attack, I discovered as I was writing, that I was going down dark paths and actually describing what might have happened had things been different. When the physical element of the attack was described, I started proposing how I could have been seriously hurt. I quickly realised as I was doing this that I was catastrophising and stopped myself. I went back and deleted everything I had written that was not fact.

In the end I picked myself up from this attack and moved on from the whole affair. The closure I had last week helped and today saw me visit my therapist for the final time. I showed her my scores on my test sheets (a series of questions to quantify mental health) and mentioned that I had Mandy verify them because they seemed so good. We talked about the attack, how I had picked up on the catastrophisation and generally how I got through the event. We talked about my past trauma and that I felt I was ready to let all that go now. I told her how I have found myself much better at reflection and know the difference between that and rumination.

We also talked about my work, what it was doing for me and how I was making serious plans for my future, possibly in a similar line of work that she did herself. Was I ready for discharge? We both felt it was definitely time and with a shake of the hands, we parted company with a proposition that we might meet in a different capacity in the future. That would be very satisfying indeed.