A dark cave with a spotlight shining in from above

A year to change my life

I’m in a hole. It’s at least three times my height and wide enough for me to pace anxiously around in circles. The walls are made of dry, crumbling soil. On a good day I can get a footing and a handhold, and climb towards the blue sky. On a bad day the soil crumbles beneath my fingertips and toes, sending me sliding downward towards the damp ground below.

The hole is in my head of course, just a way for me to explain to you how I feel. But the darkness it casts is real. Dad died in January. I didn’t expect it to be this hard. That’s not true — I didn’t expect anything. I’m making it up as I go along. If that were the only thing I was coping with, perhaps the hole wouldn’t be so deep. Except I have obsessive compulsive disorder, which was on a familiar steep sliding slope by the end of last year and came crashing down around me when Dad went. Then there’s the not insignificant matter of me going through a gender transition.

I feel a responsibility towards Mum. We’re close. She’s going through the hell of losing her partner of 45 years. But she also suffers from debilitating arthritis in her back, which has become all the more debilitating without Dad and his car. Layered on that is the challenge of living with someone with OCD. I moved back here when my mental health was last at its worst, and a decade on I haven’t recovered enough to move. I’m here to support Mum emotionally when I’m not screaming the place down, but when it comes to practical support I can barely support myself.

On Monday I sat on the edge of my hole eating mango, bathing in the bank holiday sunshine. In reality, the edge of the hole was a wall in Asda’s car park. Practising putting myself and my bag on that particular bird-shit covered wall is one of many new routines I rehearse as part of my therapy. Success. But I still baby-wiped the plastic mango container before opening it. The moment was glorious nonetheless and offered a taste of the freedom that recovery brings.

On other days I frantically scramble up the sides of the hole, trying to catch a glimpse of the outside world beyond. I make enough progress to see the sun over the horizon but not to feel its warmth. Then the earth gives way and I slide down, kicking and lashing out until I get a hold on something secure. I’ve dropped enough to make me question whether the day’s climb happened at all, or if it was in my imagination.

My sense of self is all over the place. It took the last couple of years for me to slowly come out to myself and accept that I’m transgender. I had to collect up lots of the things that I — and the people who love me — take for granted about me, throw them up in the air and see which ones land back at my feet and which ones I’d rather walk away from. I’ve been gathering up the parts of the new me, the one I want to spend the rest of my life loving. The OCD seems to have other plans though, and takes away much of what makes me feel like myself; what makes me feel human. Independence. Friends. Work. Fun.

I talk about the OCD as if it’s an autonomous being, taking over my mind. Yet it’s inextricably part of me: a creation of my subconscious that gets nurtured by my conscious mind. I’m simultaneously in a fight with a disorder and a fight with myself. I crave a future free from the painful claustrophobic restrictions of obsessive thought and compulsive behaviour. Yet the lure of complying with the OCD somehow feels so comfortable and safe. My hole feels familiar.

It’s not enough for me though, living in this darkness. I’ve learned who I am and I know the life I want to live. I told myself this summer I’m going to take a year to change my life and another year to make it the life I dream of. I’m going to write myself to health and recovery. I’m going to write the new version of myself into existence. I hope you’ll join me.

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Header photo: Jez Timms/Unsplash

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