CN: mentions of suicidal ideation, self-injurious ideation, abuse, trauma
When I first went back to therapy in spring of 2015, one of the things I had to do was gather resources from other mental health professionals that I had seen. As I was going through old files, I found the results from a 20 questions psychological measurement I was given at the age of 12. In it, I mention that I want to be a therapist or work with animals. When I saw this, it brought up a lot of complex emotions and memories that I needed to work through and process.
All my life, and through every iteration of career dreams and goals I had in childhood, my desire to be a writer was constant. Writing was the anchor that held me in a safe harbor as I grew up in an abusive and traumatic environment. I surrounded myself with books. I spent hours every day honing my craft. By the time I was 12, I was easily spending at least 3 hours a day working on my writing. For me, it was an escape from a life that was otherwise unbearable. But it was also magic. It was freedom. And in its own way, it was home.
Over time, it morphed into something else, became a burden rather than an escape. As I grew in my skill of writing, I learned to believe I had nothing else to offer, that I couldn’t succeed in any other career. I learned to see myself as a singular thing: a writer. What else did I have to offer? I didn’t know. I couldn’t see any other skills or qualities or traits in myself that would offer something valuable to the world and the people around me.
When I was 16 going on 17, I became involved in a dangerous and abusive relationship. I was in a Catholic school, had no access to accurate and comprehensive sex education, and was struggling to come to terms with my queer identity. In the wake of that relationship, and the danger that it quickly morphed into, I lost the only anchor I had ever had… my writing. I was living in a constant state of fear, could no longer sleep let alone feel joy. Writing was no longer a shelter or a home or an escape or freedom. It couldn’t be, not when I lived every moment looking behind me to see if I was safe. Soon, I lost my ability to feel writing as freedom, and it began to carry the weight of perfectionism.
But I went to college to study English Literature anyway, because I felt I had nothing else to offer. And though I had lost my passion for writing, I was desperately trying to awaken that part of myself that I had been so invested in, that I spent so many hours working to hone and create and bring into fruition. These early years were the years that my struggle with my mental health came to a peak. I could no longer write papers without wanting to harm myself. I was so anxious about making everything perfect, that the thought of even opening a word document on my computer to begin seemed such an insurmountable task. Writing carried the weight of failure. I was so burdened by my need to be perfect, to not fail, that the thought of writing anything often made me want to end my life.
So much of these years is lost to me. I was out of therapy, not taking medication that I needed, and struggling to perform even the most basic of self-care tasks. Though I had seen therapists and psychiatrists in the past, I had never been properly diagnosed, or gotten the treatment I needed.
In 2014, I went on a date with a trans woman. I had come out the year before as a lesbian, feeling that it was the label that most closely described my experiences. Though it wasn’t a great date by any means, it left me wondering and openly asking myself questions that I had long ago buried. A year later, I finally admitted to myself that I was trans, and I decided to see a therapist because I wanted to medically transition.
That first summer I spent working with my therapist was spent confronting the negative image I had of myself, the negative ways I had been taught by my trauma, by the people who hurt me and who were supposed to protect me, to see myself. Through the compassion and care that I received in therapy, I began to understand that I was a multi-faceted human being, that I was more than my failures, more than 1 skill or talent, and that I didn’t have to be a writer to have value or to contribute something good to the world.
I looked at that paper from my old psychologist, and I remembered the part of me that I most loved and was most proud of, the part of me that wanted to help others, that wanted to provide a space of healing, of comfort, and of compassion. And that summer, for the first time, I began to believe that I could be something more than a writer, that I could do something worthwhile and contribute something good to the world, to my community, to people who needed it.
For me, that was the start of my decision to go back and study psychology, to work towards becoming a clinician. There have been many moments in my recovery that have reaffirmed this desire. Navigating the healthcare system as someone who is openly queer and transgender, and knowing that I am more privileged than most trans people, I see the need for us to be a part of the conversation, for us to be a part of the decision-making process. So many of the problems trans people face in accessing competent healthcare is a result of trans people being left out of the conversation and decision-making processes.
In my own recovery and in my own navigation of the healthcare system, I have seen the harm that can be caused when healthcare providers are not educated. I have also seen what good can be done when marginalized individuals are a part of the conversation. I stand where I do today in large part because my therapist is gay. Because we share this identity, there is less I have to explain, less of a chasm to cross. And I know what it means to have a clinician that shares one’s identity, to have someone who understands on a personal level, and advocates for you.
This is what I want to provide. This is why I want to be a therapist. To be a voice at the table. To be a safe harbor in what can otherwise be a very difficult world for trans people and other marginalized groups. And I believe that with the right support and training, I will be able to do just that.
Moving forward in recovery and wellness together,
If you’d like to support Zach in his journey to become a clinician click here.