A New Name

As we approach ever deeper into summer, which doesn’t seem to express itself as such, the weather matches my thoughts as I go deeper into my transitioning journey.

But before I go into that, I do feel I owe you a small apology for leaving it so long since the last post. I do however have a good excuse. You might have looked around on my website and found a lot of changes. I have created a web shop called ‘Gif-shop‘ where I intend to sell my artwork on prints, mugs and even t-shirts. But this has had some unforeseen consequences, namely I have had to become a bit of an IT expert as all the big platforms (Google, Facebook, Instagram etc.) have extremely tight rules for small businesses like mine. Anyway, I spare you the details, I just wanted to let you know I haven’t been doing nothing!

So, as I was starting to say, my transitioning journey has been evolving a little since I cut my hair. My youngest child also has noticed and I have been thinking about other aspects of myself that I feel don’t fit anymore. One aspect is that I have been trying for some time now to lose weight. In 2014 I had my last big mental health crisis, after which I finally decided I had no other choice then start taking medication. I have always been anxious and apprehensive about taking any kind of medication, as it also is a means of control over people. Which as an old punk I really don’t like. But in 2006, after finally being diagnosed with EUPD and Dystymic Disorder I went through some very intense therapy, group therapies of all kinds, for over 2.5 years, without medication. That therapy has helped to get some normality back in my day-to-day life, but it did not touch any of the underlying issues and past trauma.

In my orange F1 Max Verstappen top 😉

Anyway, after that crisis in 2014 the mental health team put me on the highest dose of Mirtazipine over a period which frankly changed my life. I have not had another crisis since. But it did mean I gained 30kg until I weighed 115kg at my heaviest (I am 6 foot tall, 1m80). The positives far outweighed (pun!) the negatives cause it allowed me to work fulltime for 5 years as a lorry driver and get my confidence back after a horrendous separation and divorce.

But now, I have asked my psychiatrist to wean me off mirtazipine and instead I get another anti-depressant which doesn’t have the weight gain side-effect. So hopefully I will lose some of that weight. Sadly it doesn’t mean I can come off all the other stuff I’m on either, but hey, I can live with the rest. So that is one change which hopefully is going to make me feel better about myself.

There is something else I want to share with you all though. I have been thinking about changing my name. Mayola is a female name, and I really would like to have a more neutral-male sounding name. How difficult is that though, to think of a name for yourself at age 47 that truly reflects how you feel and expresses your identity! I wanted a cool name, maybe to honour a fellow artist/revolutionary and then I knew it, it is going to be…..Kahlo. In honour and respect for Frida Kahlo who I feel is a great role model and fellow revolutionary artist. But obviously Frida is too feminine, but Kahlo is different and rare, and kind of cool I think.

So, there it is. The big reveal! Haha. So, if you do want to get in touch, please do, and address me as Kahlo, with they/them pronouns. And another trans term you might not know about; my old name is my ‘dead name’. Thank you for reading! Catch you next time.

Why I wear black

Since I was a teenager my favourite colour has always been black. And this week I have been thinking about that. Why do I wear black? What is it that I like so much about that colour? I hear my 10 year old tell me, black is not a colour. No. It isn’t, because it absorbs all light. And the colour white reflects it.

Now, let’s think about that for a minute. I imagine what it would be like to always wear white. Immediately what comes to my mind is that it would attract attention, because it is more noticeable. That is the inevitable consequence of the reflection of light. Psychologically I think that is not what I want. Attract attention. I have a sense of feeling vulnerable, insecure and self-conscious because of my gender transitioning, because of having been victim of sexual predators and domestic violence, because of my mental-health conditions and how I am perceived. I don’t want to feel that, but it is always there, in my mind somewhere, even if I feel good. It feels like I have a big sign on my forehead saying I am a target, come hunt me down. Perhaps this is just paranoia, and it doesn’t really matter if it is or isn’t. That is how I feel, a lot.

It isn’t just those aspects of myself I just mentioned, it literally is my whole being. Let me explain. Physically I don’t fit in the norm, I am 6 foot 1, assigned female at birth (AFAB), I have a thick Dutch accent, so anyone I talk to knows immediately I am an immigrant, I am big and muscular (well, just overweight actually, lol), I am very direct which in the UK means people think I am aggressive. I am diagnosed with EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder), the label already feels like a massive threat and one of the symptoms is paranoia. I also have a mood disorder (Dystymic Disorder) which makes me depressed most of the time, which also includes irritability, and massive mood swings. Luckily I am medicated which have largely made my life better and stabilised most of these. Still, all this has made me a recluse. I struggle to make lasting and meaningful relationships, friendships let alone romantic relationships. I am at home 23 hours a day, 1 hour to walk my dog. That’s it. Strangely I feel very comfortable living like this. I know it is unhealthy, but it feels good.

Wearing black enhances these aspects. It absorbs my feelings, and it is like a protective shield almost. But another aspect of me that is different is my political views. I am a Marxist and Trotskyist and a proud member of the Socialist Party. I am a revolutionary. That is not exactly mainstream. A part of my political views is that it comes with a responsibility. In order to truly be a revolutionary I am obliged to be open about it, and live it in an active way. Hiding this aspect of me would be betrayal of myself, and what I stand for. I have to actively carry out being a revolutionary socialist, and recruit, fundraise, campaign and show solidarity to my class. Unfortunately this is in complete contradiction to my overwhelming urge to isolate and be alone. I have not found a way to merge the two or overcome this. But I do what I can. And wearing black helps me.

Wearing Black

Another thing I was pondering is, maybe it is also an expression of anger and resistance to what the colour of my skin stands for, still. I am white. As I mentioned in earlier episodes of this blog, racism is in my family, my country, my culture, my education, everything I experienced growing up. And from a very young age I rejected it because I could see the immense injustice, discrimination and suffering black & ethnic minority communities endure. I can’t stand it. So in a way, to me wearing black is an act of solidarity with anyone suffering adversity and discrimination.

Black is inclusive, absorbing, all encompassing, enveloping, safety, peace, rest, withdrawal of people, inward, calm and accepting.

I love what Johnny Cash sang in his song ‘Man in Black‘:

“Well, there’s things that never will be right I know
And things need changing everywhere you go
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s okay
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
‘Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black”

And then further down in the song:

“Well, there’s things that never will be right I know
And things need changing everywhere you go
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right You’ll never see me wear a suit of white

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s okay
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
‘Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black”

I think it is about time white people do their bit to set the record of imperialism, plunder, looting and enslaving whole continents straight and redefine the words ‘white’ and ‘black’. Cause how sickening is it to claim the word ‘black’ for everything bad, dirty and evil, and ‘white’ for everything clean, divine and right? When we look at the world today I can only conclude that that is false and we need to redefine those words, and redefine their meaning. For starters. I believe every white person today has the responsibility to do what they can to actively live this change.

For me the only way to change all this is by changing the system of inequality, greed, exploitation and oppression. That is a big task. But if we all talk to our family, neighbours, friends, collegues we will. It starts by not accepting it, calling it out, protesting and asking others to join you.

Goliath

I locked myself away

My safe place

Where I could be alone

But then Covid lockdown came

Everybody home

I saved you from the race

You saved me from the space

Around me fog

You took me out

And trained me

I got about

And let you be

A dog

Domestic Violence (Trigger Warning)

In my 46 years I have encountered and experienced a lot of domestic violence and sexual abuse. As a child by my parents and later by men, who often called themselves ‘friends’ or ‘boyfriends’ and later ‘partner’ and ‘husband’. I don’t want you to think as me as a victim, because I haven’t always turned the other cheek, I fought back, I tried to defend myself and my kids and I know I have hurt some people who never deserved it.

And, eventually I became myself a perpetrator. Yes, unfortunately I have hurt others, including my children. I have to own up to that, and I am ashamed and I have felt very guilty for a long time. But fortunately, I have looked and found help. In my case Social Services have really helped me, probably because I was so self aware, and willing to look critically at my own actions and in-actions. Also, I decided if there was anything I would do right in my parenting it was going to be protecting my kids.

My parents have always put their relationship with each other over us children, and have never stopped the abuse, called Social Services or the police. I have vowed to myself and my children that I will never do that. Their welfare comes before my own, although I am aware I need to look after myself first, before I can look after them properly. That sounds contradictory but really, it isn’t.

I’ll give you an example: a year ago I started to notice my mental health was really going down hill. I felt exhausted, depressed and I started to experience psychotic symptoms. I also had an excruciating pain in my neck, shoulders and lower back that didn’t go away. I was working 45 hours a week, I only saw my children 2 hours a day. My daughter was really suffering from anxiety and the school started to notice she was not feeling good and was afraid of me. I wasn’t coping.

So, I decided to stop working and look for help. When I got into a skills group at my local mental health team, I mentioned my daughter was suffering. They called Social Services. And now I am a year on and things are much, much better. I have changed medication, and gone through lots of support with Social Services, my daughter’s school, and really worked on my wellbeing and my relationship with my daughter. I adopted a greyhound and he literally got me fitter, I lost weight and my back is much better because I walk an hour a day with him. Plus our dog helps my daughter with her anxiety and gives her lots of cuddles and play, and me and her bond over him.

I still have a long way to go, but I am on my way. And that is all because I am willing to own up to my demons and bad deeds and invest in positive change. And it does involve admitting to my 10 year old I have behaved badly and treated her wrong. That is hard. But I am sure it is nothing compared to losing her altogether.

What I have struggled with the most though, is that I have got 2 cautions. One because I couldn’t deal with my alcoholic husband, an overactive thyroid, my mental health conditions and breastfeeding a 3-year old. And a 10-year old struggling with school. One day, my ex-husband was taunting me whilst drunk, I told him several times to stop and go for a walk but he kept harassing me verbally. I just snapped. He was holding our daughter, and I slapped him on the cheek, once. His head bumped my daughter’s head, she started crying and he just went mad. He put her down in the hallway in the buggy and kicked and beat me through the kitchen. He nearly strangled me. Eventually he pinned me to the floor and sat on top of me. He then let go and I walked straight to the phone and called the police. They came. And arrested me, because I was the one who started. He never faced any consequences whatsoever. And I was the one being taken, in front of my children, in handcuffs to the police station and held overnight. I didn’t dare to press charges against him, because I was really worried he’d make sure the children would be taken away from me and what else he’d do to me.

Then 2 years later, something happened again. This time my ex-husband had just been made homeless by me, because his drinking was so bad that Social Services basically said that if I didn’t safeguard my children from him, they’d be taken away from me. He was staying in a room a few streets down and his mother was visiting and staying with me over Christmas. I started telling her about how hard it was living with her son, drinking so much and really causing all sorts of mayhem. But she did not want to hear of it. She was defending him and basically I was the crazy one, being violent etc. I felt so so upset and angry. I felt so alone with it all. I felt I started to lose control over my emotions, so I put my shoes and coat on and wanted to leave the house to walk it off and calm down. I couldn’t speak, I was so on edge. But when I tried to step over the doorstep my mother-in-law grabbed me by my arm and tried to stop me from going. I think she thought I would go to her son and do something to him. But that touch by her was too much, I lost it and pushed her with both hands by the throat. She stumbled backward and fell over. I turned around and ran away.

That resulted in a second caution. But the effect it had on me was enormous. I felt so unsafe to be around people, even my own family. For the next few years I didn’t allow anyone to stay overnight in my house and I isolated myself. I felt I was a danger to others and I felt very guilty and angry at the same time. I felt nobody was acknowledging my side of the story, and the fact that I had no help or support from anyone.

It took me years to get over that. And to be honest, I am still very wary of others, I don’t trust anyone and I still isolate myself, because I feel unsafe. I feel I might attract the wrong people, and endanger them or myself and my children. I was very worried I might kill someone. And that feeling has always stayed with me, that if I get in the wrong situation with someone I might hurt that person, or I will get hurt. And if it happens again, I will go to prison and my children will go into care or live with my ex-husband.

And now, it is 7 years since the last incident and I feel a lot better. But what has remained is that fear of attracting the wrong person. I have been so afraid that I even tried accepting staying single and alone. I haven’t been in a serious relationship since, and I am trying to figure out how I could change the people I attract and who I am attracted to. But I have no idea.

I just hope by writing my blog, doing my art and study and my weekly therapy sessions to get to grip with this. I want to find a way, I want to be loved and love another. Cause there is no greater thing in life than experiencing love.

Borderline

After decades of chaos and self destruction, failed careers, sickness and substance abuse I finally got diagnosed in 2006. My diagnosis was Emotional Unstable Personality Disorder (formerly known as Borderline Personality Disorder) and Dysthymic Disorder.

EUPD is characterised by 9 features. If you experience 1-5 you have EUPD traits, if you have 7 or more you are likely to experience the full disorder. If you experience any of these symptoms please ask your GP to refer you to your local mental health team to get a proper diagnosis.

The following nine features are taken from Wikipedia:

Overall, the most distinguishing symptoms of BPD are marked sensitivity to minor rejection or criticism;[13] alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation, along with varying moods and difficulty regulating strong emotional reactions. Dangerous and impulsive behaviour are also correlated with the disorder.

Other symptoms may include feeling unsure of one’s personal identity, morals, and values; having paranoid thoughts when feeling stressed; depersonalization; and, in moderate to severe cases, stress-induced breaks with reality or psychotic episodes.

The above text was taken from the Wikipedia page about Borderline which you can visit here.

My second diagnosis is Dysthymic Disorder which is a mood disorder. It is also called Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) which manifests itself in the same symptoms as Depression but longer lasting. You can read more about it here.

It was a relief to me to finally know why my life was so chaotic and that there is a name to it. It felt like I got at least recognition and that there was something I could do to try and make my life a little more bearable. But as I was about to find out, there was a long way to go and it was bloody hard work!

The next 2 and a half years I spend doing therapy with the aim to get my day-to-day life back to a relatively ‘normal’ (I hate that word!) way. I mean at the start I couldn’t look after my son who was only 4, which meant he lived with my parents for 6 months. If you have read my second post you can imagine how hard that was! But I really didn’t have a choice, I barely could keep myself alive, let alone a young boy.

The dozen different faces of me

I learned a lot in that time, about myself and how to steer my mind away from the dark. But I think the best thing was that I recognised then that I had a disability. And that meant I needed to stick to a few very strict rules if I wanted to get healthier and more resilient. The rules I have set over the years for myself are:

  • No drugs or alcohol
  • No repeated late nights of reduced or no sleep
  • A routine
  • Exercise
  • No romantic relationships
  • No team work, care jobs or customer facing roles
  • Limited responsibility (don’t take on too much)
  • Say no
  • For big decisions, take your time and speak to trusted friend first
  • Take medication religiously

Since then I have refined those rules, and sometimes tighten them up a bit. In the last 2 years I have found my mental health deteriorate again, together with my chronic back pain. It got so bad that I got sacked from my job (I was a lorry mounted crane operator) and a few months later stopped working altogether because I could hardly get out of bed.

I got a MRI scan but except two worn discs in my spine they couldn’t see why I had such excruciating pain. So my conclusion is that it probably goes hand in hand with my mental health deteriorating and the stress of working 45 hours a week. After about a year of unemployment my back pain did subside somewhat, but I will always suffer when put under pressure and the lower back pain is chronic anyway.

Simultaneous offloading doing the job I loved

Whilst going through this process of searching I decided it was time I really started looking at all the underlying issues. So I got help. I thought I just try all angles and started with my GP. I asked for a referral to the mental health team who started me on a skills group, once a week. I did that, and it just got me thinking and gave me a new perspective also because of the input of the other group members. I have to add that this process took about a year before I actually got help, because at first they didn’t take me seriously, and there was a huge waiting list.

Then I looked for more psychological help to deal with the trauma and I am now getting 1 hr sessions (by phone) with a psychologist from a charity who deals with sexual abuse victims. Yes, a charity. I think this is outrageous, all mental health services should come under the NHS and should be properly funded in line with the demand.

Another point I want to make is that I have often been offered i-talk by my GP. This is in my opinion a way to fob people off, reduce costs and make them believe they should be helping themselves by practising well-being techniques and not clog up the proper mental health services. On their FAQ page though, you will find a line that says:

“If you have been diagnosed with a severe and enduring mental health condition such as bipolar, schizophrenia or personality disorder, speak to your GP about your support options. IAPT services like i-talk are unable to treat patients with these conditions”.

So to end I want to say, if you suffer, demand help and if you don’t feel able to ask a friend, a family member or loved one to do the talking and be by your side when you see your GP and mental health team.

By Gif – 17/10/2020

Mental Health

My mental health deteriorated rapidly as soon as I hit puberty. Looking back now I know the emotional neglect and witnessing constant physical abuse by my mother towards my sister has damaged me. In combination with taking up a parenting role for my mother as well as my sister even as a young child put enormous pressure on me I couldn’t deal with off course. My father was another source of incompetence. He told me and my sister 30 years on after he suddenly experienced really horrific nightmares that when my sister was a baby he tried to strangle her twice. He then advised my sister to go see a doctor in case she might have brain damage.

My reaction to this phone call was anger. He basically ‘forgot’ all about this for 30 years, suddenly started getting nightmares about it and remembered it. Then felt so guilty he didn’t know what to do with himself, told my mother who apparently also did not know. And then concluded he should tell us because we ‘had a right to know’. And then had the audacity to advise my sister to go see a doctor about it! Well, I think he just felt the need to offload his guilt on us, cause he couldn’t live with this guilt. I bet there was never a thought in his mind how this knowledge would impact us in any way and if it might possibly be more beneficial to us not to know. And also, if it might not be better to after 30 years finally step up as a father and protect us. No. He had to tell us.

You can imagine that the tiny slither of trust I had left in him was well and truly gone by then. Cause you might wonder where he was and what he did to prevent my mother from harming us when we were kids. Well, he was at work or playing tennis or volunteering for, I kid you not, a charity called Wereld Kinderen (Children of the World). Both my parents did development work in 3rd world countries and ran an adoption program. They were both heavily involved in this and went to India every year to pick up 10 kids to hand them over to their adoptive parents in the Netherlands.

Me and my sister age around 6 or 7 on our way to school

In the meantime they totally neglected and abused their own children. My father always sided with my mother. He never stood up for us, called the police, called children services or even just blamed my mother. And strangely enough none of my aunts or uncles, neighbours or school took action and saved us. I am convinced that if somebody had interfered we would be taken away from my parents and maybe the harm wouldn’t have been so great. So you can imagine my trust in people is minimal.

Recently I have cut off all contact with my parents after my sister told me my mother continuously verbally abuses her and my 12 year old niece. I decided I can’t have a relationship with them without betraying my sister and I want to take a stand in solidarity with her. Also, I want to build my relationship with her as for twenty years we lost contact. All the abuse has driven us apart and against each other because off course my parents called upon my loyalty towards them, and gave so many mixed messages.

I am going to leave it there for today, but tomorrow I will explain in more detail what EUPD and dysthymic disorder is, and what it means to me.

By Gif / Friday 16/10/2020