Remembering The Summer Of 2018

Sometimes we let moments pass before us without thinking much of them then, before we know it, a whole season has passed and it’s easy to forget what was achieved during that time. Summer always seems to be chock-full of events, experiences and memories, probably by virtue of it being a long period of freedom from University, for me at least. In retrospect, things that happened have taken on a different perspective in my mind and I have come to realise that a lot of things which occurred this summer were either things that I should be proud of or memories I should treasure. So, I thought I would record some of the highlights of summer 2018 on here!

1. I saw my brother graduate from University

My brother is now officially making his way in the ‘real’ world. It was surreal hearing his name called-out and watching walk along the stage in his swishy gown that he was so embarrassed to wear. I thought of how much he had changed over the four years of his degree, the new passions he had taken-up whilst at University and all of the future opportunities waiting for him in the big wide world.

2. I visited America for the first time

I’ve grown-up watching American films and TV shows, listening to American music, reading American books and studying American literature and history, yet I had never been to the United States. So, this summer I went to the US for a whirlwind week of sightseeing and walking for miles and miles. I started off with two days in Washington DC, then I took an 8 hour train journey all the way up to Boston where I spent the rest of my week. Then, after flight delays, I started my flight back to the UK at just after midnight, arriving at 10 am UK time. Then I had half a day to pack my life into boxes and suitcases before moving into a new place for Uni to start again. So, when I say it was a whirlwind, it really was a whirlwind!

3. I prioritised my writing

Throughout the summer, I made sure that I valued the time I had to write. For once, it wasn’t just a few scrawled sentences at the end of the day. Instead, I set apart actual chunks of time for me to invest in my writing. From poetry to fiction to opinion pieces, I made my way through many pieces of paper and developed my craft along the way. Taking writing seriously rather than discarding it as frivolous past time was definitely something I now feel vindicated in doing.

4. I came out online as trans

This was the most nerve-wracking blog post I have ever written to date but it was also so worth it. The reaction and feelings of validation I got from publishing The Gender Tag  is still having an impact on my daily life to this day. Taking the step to come out online has given me the confidence I needed to return to University using my real name, Ryan, rather than my birth name. Now, when I assert my identity, I feel proud of myself rather than ashamed which was a process of emotional development started by that blog post.

5. I started learning to drive

My goodness, this was an experience! Every time I got behind that wheel I felt either like I was going to die or be physically sick (or both)! A year or even six months before I would not have believed anyone who would have told me that I would be cruising along a busy A roads at 60mph but I did it. Every moment of feeling scared out of my wits and like I just wanted to give-up was worth it for the pride I feel now knowing that I felt the fear but did it anyway. I proved to myself that I could be brave and that perseverance is the key to learning any new skill.

6. I began baking

An overarching theme of the summer was learning how to come to terms with my body. As a trans guy, my body is most often associated with self-loathing for me, so the process of starting to nourish it was both a trial and a milestone in my life. Baking myself healthy snacks and allowing myself the time to consider the different nutritional components my body needed went some way to shifting the relationship I have with my body even though this shift was only limited. Progress is progress.

 

CONTACT ME:

Twitter – @RyanBInNature

Instagram – @awalkwithnature00

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My Creative Addiction

It is when the pen is flowing,
The soft resistance of paper –
Teasing but yielding at your touch –
Is crazingly addictive.
When your hand tingles,
Fingertips itching to pour out your brain;
The satisfaction burns warm,
Glowing from your chest to flutter the heart.

This is the moment you come back to,
Where it seems insane that you would not turn,
Spin graspingly for your pen,
Regardless of time, day or pain
Because this is what you are:
The addiction you were born to submit to.

How I Rediscovered My Love Of Reading

During my childhood I was an avid reader, my mum jokes that as soon as I learnt how to read I would be found most often sat silently in a corner engrossed in a book. I have never been talkative, throughout my life I have shied away from social occasions, so where other people found solace or comfort in talking to others and meeting-up with people, I have always found my peace of mind in books. However, studying English in Higher Education really slashed my enthusiasm for reading. The magic of novels was decimated when we analysed their words to death in English lessons and plots were reduced to the tools used by authors to further their own messages. My teachers passed around hand-outs on the books we were reading as if they were maths equations that could be taken apart and looked at coldly like cogs in a machine.

Then I began to worry about what kind of books I should be reading outside of class. I would pick-up books in shops with a sense of excitement only to reluctantly place them back on their shelves because I resolved that these were not the kinds of books my teachers would approve of. I saw books through the eyes of my teachers and was sad to think that they would probably laugh scornfully at me for reading popular fiction rather than classics. Then, when it came to actually reading books outside of the classroom, I found that I could not enjoy them the same way I did when I was a child. When I was younger I read for the fun of it, because it was my time which could not be dictated by anyone else, I could disappear into stories and in my head there would live copious amounts of make-believe settings and scenarios which were generated by the books I read. However, studying English made me feel like I wasn’t doing my job properly if I wasn’t analysing books as I read them and second-guessing every other thing the author wrote. I simply could not enjoy reading or lose myself in books anymore.

Over the course of 2018 though, I have rediscovered my love of reading. I made reading a priority of mine and ensured that I left myself time to read books that had nothing to do with my University course or whatever I was studying at the time. Once I stopped agonising over what sort of books people expected me to read, I gave myself a new sense of freedom when it came to choosing books. Since then I haven’t limited myself to books which require me to read them slavishly and labour over the same paragraph multiple times to decipher its Old English meanings. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to read classics which were written in traditional English but only in small doses. I haven’t put barriers up between me and the author and their plot since I have abandoned the boring cynicism which A-Level English instilled in me that authors only construct plots so that they can slide in their own messages in the subtext, as if they are conspiratorially tricking us into a false sense of security. Nowadays I give myself over to the books I read with a sense of indulgement, I allow myself to live with the characters rather than view them sceptically from afar.

I have also discovered a new love of mine; non-fiction. When I was younger I resolutely avoided non-fiction and stood with the conviction that it must be terribly boring, like reading my science textbooks from school. I thought that the style of non-fiction would be dry and hard-going and that reading those books would feel like a chore because you could not escape into them like you could with fiction books. Again, I emphasise that I thought all of these things without actually bothering to experiment and read a non-fiction book, so I was basing these judgements on absolutely nothing. However, a family friend recommended ‘The Psychopath Test’ by Jon Ronson to me, which in hindsight could be viewed as a bit of an offensive book title to recommend, I don’t know what they were trying to imply… I eyed it across my room wearily for a few weeks before deciding to take the plunge and I loved it. I laughed my head off like a maniac throughout reading it like an addict, devouring every word hungrily, essentially unable to put the book down. That book opened new doors for me. I now refuse to limit what I read whatsoever. Whenever I feel myself forming an assumption about whether a certain book is ‘for me’ or not, I stop myself because my interests surprise me sometimes and you only grow by testing your boundaries, so reading something which seems out of character may not be such an awful thing after all.

Essentially, I am proud of myself for the progress I made with reading this year. So far I have read 16 books which have all been diverse and many of them I would never have expected myself to enjoy. Along the way I have learnt new things, laughed like a drain into Jon Ronson books and found my solace again in reading.

“A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

RECOVERY

QUESTION: is the idea of ‘recovery’ helpful?

I have mixed feelings about recovery. Whether it is a help or a hindrance when so many people present it as an ideal which feels distant and unattainable to people who are in the midst of any type of illness. Sometimes when people reference recovery or being recovered, it just makes me feel more lost and hopeless than I was before. However, other times it can inspire me and give me the courage to keep moving forward with the comfort that others have weathered similar storms.

What is probably most frustrating to me about the idea of recovery is that it is so vague by virtue that it is subjective and hard to pin down in what it means to each of us individually. There is no specific route or journey that will lead you straight to recovery, the same steps and challenges do not work for anyone. Recovery does not look the same for everyone either, leaving me in the strange position of never being entirely certain of what I am aiming or working towards, meaning that my motivation begins to dwindle behind my uncertain mind.

Whenever counsellors or therapists have mentioned recovery to me I have felt myself recoil into my seat. Even the word seems so intimidating and far off in the distance. Also, I find the use of the term frustrating because who has the right or the knowledge to determine exactly what recovery is, what it looks like and what the time period for recovery should be? However much I want there to be a finish line I also do not know who I am without mental illness because I have let my mental health define me for so long. How do I separate myself from the characteristics of my illnesses and how will I know when this process is complete and I have recovered?

This post is a mess of rhetorical questions and abstract thoughts but what I have learnt from it is that I need to narrow down the specifics of what I am striving towards and what progress I will be satisfied with so that I could call myself recovered. Abstract and vague goals only lead to more frustration and motivation leaving me like a deflated balloon.

“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.” – ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ by John Green

PROGRESS ISN’T STRAIGHT FORWARD

Progress isn’t always linear. There’s not always a finish line in sight. Things that we labour at in life don’t necessarily work-out mathematically, we can’t time ourselves and set concrete targets for when to hit our next milestones. Some things just have to take as long as they take which is probably why the intangible frustrates the human brain so much.

Neither my anxiety nor my depression can be measured. I can’t draw a pencil line on the wall to set my bench mark and then keep drawing lines until I flourish to the point of blooming five feet above my initial line. Wouldn’t that be quaint? Instead the journey with mental illness often seems a lonely and meandering one in which fog fills-up my mind so frequently that I become disorientated and wonder whether I actually have a final destination to keep moving forwards to. My illnesses aren’t visible, so cannot be judged on their reduction of prominence over time. Instead, they are confusing swathes of thoughts and feelings which ebb and flow in how much they cover and suffocate my mind and body. Sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward then three steps back.

Today the pessimistic route presented itself as the easy one to take. Time has felt like sand slipping through my fingers recently and the hum of everyone moving past me, their progress whistling in my ears, only felt louder the more I pushed towards the positive route. Today and writing this blog post reminded me of the importance of having goals and a picture of where you want to be, not just in one or two year’s time, but tomorrow and the day after that. When the possibility of progress seems to be so distantly set in the faraway future, it is difficult to find the motivation to continue onwards on the right path. So, I set myself short-term goals, literally for the next day, like waking-up and telling myself that it will be a good day, getting to my seminar a couple of minutes early, smiling at whoever I sit next to in class, holding the door open for someone or managing to get myself to say even just a couple of words to whoever will be near me in my lecture hall (this is the most ambitious as my words dry-up in my mouth when I am around people). These things may seem silly and inconsequential but I need the reassurance that work can always be done on some aspect of my mental health and the route which will take me looping backwards to my darkest place isn’t the only one available to me.