My Disappearing Act
Warning: This is a post about depression and the various life and body consequences that spin out from depression. Some of it might be triggering.
I’ve spent the last year disappearing by degrees. First, I disappeared from tumblr. Maybe you noticed that one. I couldn’t completely explain what the feeling was that took me away from blogging; I know a lot of people leave tumblr because they get fed up with the environment, but that wasn’t it for me. I alternated between feeling as though I had nothing to say and feeling as though I had no way to say what I did have to say. Even this post has had hundreds of iterations in my head, and as I’m writing it I feel the same white noise of anxiety pushing me away from the keys. I’ve been in therapy for two years now and I think my therapist is fantastic and one of the things she’s helped me realize is that I don’t allow myself to feel difficult, complicated, or painful feelings. I don’t know what I’m blocking, but something in my unconscious does not want what I’m trying to say expressed. Numbness is preferable to catharsis, apparently. I’m trying to fix that.
As I was disappearing from an internet presence I really did cherish, I was also relinquishing a physical presence I had come to use as a safety blanket. I perfunctorily documented here my process of cutting off the colorful hair that was my trademark and of learning to move through the world not being stared at all the time. I also, almost accidentally, masculinized my style of dress out of pure laziness. I didn’t have the energy to dress myself in anything that didn’t feel like pajamas or to put on makeup or style myself in any way that projected the parts of me that had been so important to make sure the world saw. In some ways, this was me learning to relax, to trust myself to be interesting, engaging, and most importantly myself regardless of how I looked. In other ways, it further sapped me of my energy and my vibrancy.
I began to disappear from activist work and then from community spaces, from social settings, from friendships, and finally from romantic relationships. I have always found maintaining correspondence and to a lesser extent interpersonal connections to be a nerve-inducing task. As someone who has spent their life in an unacknowledged haze of depression, I have always popped in and out of people’s lives. Throughout middle and high school I would take months-long absences from my friends without explanation and return suddenly with the hope that we could pick up like no time had passed. Sometimes we could, sometimes we couldn’t. When I started dating, romances became my primary mode of interpersonal connection and the necessarily temporary nature of relationships at my age meant that I didn’t have to face up to my need to disappear. Eventually something would crumble. A friend recently suggested to me that I sabotage my relationships when things are too good. That seems true: this year it cost me one of the most amazing relationships I’ve ever been in. It was also the longest, and I guess it showed no signs of stopping on its own. I understand that not everyone can wait around for you to have the emotional latitude to respond to a text message or to get back to a place where you can focus on someone else’s needs long enough to support them through a rough day. When I can feel pain again, I’ll have a lot to reckon with, but for now all I can do is acknowledge that my depression makes me someone who does not treat people the way they deserve to be treated.
The anxiety that comes with knowing I have mistreated someone makes it harder for me to fix this issue. Instead, I think about running away and starting over where no one needs anything from me and never allowing anyone to expect anything from me ever again. In the most intense moments, I think about disappearing from life entirely. I don’t worry too much about these thoughts (and you shouldn’t either) because they are always an impulse and the moment I actually acknowledge them I know it’s not what I want. I morbidly joke that I know it won’t happen because if I’m too averse to the idea of people thinking I killed myself over gender shit to not leave a note explaining that being trans has nothing to do with it, but by the time I wrote a note I’d have come to my senses.
I’ve disappeared from my body, too. With the help of some really amazing friends and the one lover who was physically close enough to me to escape the impact of my escape act, I usually managed to eat a meal a day. Combined with testosterone, the effect on my shape has been dramatic. The people in contact with my daily life knew and diligently invited me to meals and cajoled me to eat and tried to suggest foods I might want and were generally stellar, but even when I was able to connect to my hunger, the thought of preparing, seeking out, or even thinking too hard about food made my throat feel like it was going to close up. Super markets often leave me feeling nauseous and on the verge of tears. You can tell I’m depressed as I walk up to the checkout with some burger meat I intend to eat raw, some spinach I intend to eat raw, some cookie dough I intend to eat raw, a carton of lemonade, 3 packs of rice cakes, and some luna bars.
At first I didn’t want to talk about the fact that I’ve hardly been eating. Because I’m taking T and it’s obvious, people want to talk to me about my body changes all the time. They shouldn’t, but they do. And when they want to ask about how much my hips have disappeared or how small my chest has gotten and is that the T? I don’t know what to tell them. It may be the T, but more likely it’s the fact that I’ve diminished in size so much that pants I could barely button now hang off me, and that’s not something I want anyone to think I did on purpose. That’s not something I want praise for and I don’t want to be asked if I’m satisfied with the results and if someone wants to see it as a positive thing I want them to know exactly how worryingly negative it actually is.
Moreover, I can’t be silent about my depression any more. I speak to so many queers, badasses, and activists who tell me that they wish we were all talking about this, about how many of us go through this and how we can support one another. And I think I’m figuring out how people can support me: let me disappear. I need it right now. More than anything, I have spent so much of my life trying to exist, trying to be stable and reliable, exhausting myself with the effort or never quite managing this seemingly necessary act. Right now I’m trying not to fight myself. I need to be fluid and free.
But there are different ways of letting a wanderer like me disappear. Be the place I can disappear to; Be the place I know I can come back to when I’m ready; Reach out to me but don’t take it personally if I don’t reach back; Invite me to a meal and choose the place so I don’t have to think about what I want to eat; If I don’t respond to your attempts to get in touch or hang out, wait a few days and give it another try; please don’t make me feel like I’m failing you or slighting you.
I have always had difficulty imagining the future. The closest I come is when I desperately hope there will be a time in my life when I will be able to feel relaxed in a way that isn’t just a mask for my massive anxiety. This summer has the potential to be that time for me, as long as I actually let myself disappear.