I used to know my personality, but now I can’t get my head around it

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so.

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so. Problem is, I couldn’t explain why in short sentences. I mentioned it had to do with anxiety and fear, but these feelings are only the result of something deeper.

Introversion

I am an introverted person. I have always been. It’s not the result of dysphoria, depression or any condition I may be in. It’s not a problem either. We can’t state that enough. Introversion is not something to be ashamed of, to try to conceal or beat yourself out of it, even if modern western societies are custom-made for extroverted people. It’s just a type of personality, and it’s a spectrum (like everything with personality). You may be very extroverted, very introverted, or somewhere in between. As soon as you figure out where you are in the spectrum, it’s easier to know what to look for in your social life.

For my part, I’m super introverted. I won’t say that I have one leg over the edge, but I’m pretty sure I fall outside the standard deviation. It took time for me to realise that, although, to be honest, it was painfully obvious. Socially, it has a huge implications. I can’t maintain a lot of relationships simultaneously, because I need to be deeply invested in the ones I have. If I don’t have deep relationships, I can go into depression. It has been a real struggle when I was living in Vancouver, since it was a real challenge to make any connection, let alone meaningful ones (and thanks Ashley and Bria for being there, you’ve made every moment spent with you worth it).

But one thing really changed since last year. You know it: I started a gender transition, and whereas before transition, I could easily judge how to position myself around people, now I am totally lost. And it was even worse in Vancouver, where people are really good at treating you with some kind of benevolent hypocrisy.

Making relationships through a different gender

It would be a lie to say that by observing how women live and by talking with them for years, I could be prepared to what was going to happen to me. But it is not even relevant, since people don’t behave around me like I’m a woman anyway. Of course, some try, because they want to be respectful, but in the end, they just behave like I am transgender. I know there is a difference because I spent many nights alone at bars and I have yet to get a free drink.

So not only I am not sure how people would react to me if they were seeing me as a woman, but it’s totally impossible to know how anyone would react out of the blue seeing that I am transgender (most people still only see a man with long hair). I don’t know if the person will be open-minded or a heartless bigot. Then, when I find a person who is nice enough to actually want to pursue a conversation, I realise that I don’t even know how I will react.

Neurocognitive studies have showed that mimicry and empathy are innate features helping people connect and share emotions. But I lost both to some extend. I used to be very good at understanding people and adapt to them when needed, but in the past year, I had to force myself to act differently, to erase years of conditioning, which caused interferences when interacting with people. Since I was around 20, I started to reinforce habits to counteract my dysphoric feelings (or however I thought about it back then), which caused me to become a person I really didn’t like. Now I feel stuck with those habits, and although I am working at erasing them from my behaviour, they tend to come back when I start feeling confident or close to someone. And it scares the hell out of me.

Dating with the fear of showing the wrong side of me

I stated above that we have as many sides as we have relationships, because we adapt our behaviour to our interlocutor, but it’s more like tweaking our personality to make our interaction seamless with one another (and we generally have a threshold until which we accept to malleable, after what we have an opposite reaction).

In that regard, I now have two sides of my personality: the shy woman who tries to get by in her new situation, and the douchy man who is getting murdered and left behind in a ditch, but who tends to make himself remembered at the worst moment, when things are getting serious. And my fear is just that. Having G. come in and reclaim the attention. And it happens. Often. If I am with a friend, after some time I go back again to the way I used to talk. If I end up in a party with many people, which happened a few days ago, I will have reactions that I totally hate because it reminds me of the person I used to be (1).

And since I am not stupid, I know it will happen during a date, and I just can’t take the chance.

A quick note on speed-dating

So, take all of that, the introversion, the transitioning, and the morphing personality, shake it thoroughly and splash it all on my face, and you will have an idea of how I will behave if I was thrown into the pit with countless women, as open-minded or inclusive as they may be. I think I would end up with a panic attack/nervous breakdown. I had some for less than that, some of which are even recorded on this website.

In these circumstances, speed dating is really not an option for me right now. It’s doesn’t help that I’m a very casual person, and going to a highly codified type of event is not really for my taste, even just for fun. I am much rather the kind of girl who like to meet up in a cool bar with some finger food and a drink, and have a chill and fun conversation. Maybe I will look very traditional by saying that I am rather looking at developing a friendship that can expand to something bigger, than jumping straight into bed.

I should make a topic about it, but long story short, I need to build a trusting relationship before going any further, and from what you’ve just read about my personality, I am sure you understand by now that I can’t get to trust someone enough in 5 min to think ahead.

That’s it for now, but since you diligently read until here, I will share with you the song I was listening to while I was finishing writing this article:

 


(1) OMG! I even did a quick mansplaning (transplaining?) on someone who is 10 times smarter (at least) than I am. I’m so ashamed of that. When I realised a moment later, I wished life as we know it stopped. Yes, I’m over-dramatic like that.

Emotional Wasteland; how to tear down the stronghold defence

I’ve been living in an emotional wasteland for more than 15 years. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anything, it only means that I’ve been forbidding myself to let a particular set of negative feelings affect my life. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, I did feel a lot of stuffs, but by denying those feeling, I created a situation where I forgot how to recognise them.

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I’ve been living in an emotional wasteland for more than 15 years. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel anything, it only means that I’ve been forbidding myself to let a particular set of negative feelings affect my life. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, I did feel a lot of stuffs, but by denying those feeling, I created a situation where I forgot how to recognise them. And as I pointed out in my previous post, it becomes problematic when it builds up and I can’t see the threshold being atomised. I should be able to identify the early signs of distress and take preventive action, or at least prepare my defence. But to know why I have so much problems with this now, I have to come back years and years before.

When I was in middle school, I was quick to cry for any stupid thing. And when you grow up as a boy, your peers are quick to shame you for being so emotional. Heck, in the 90’s, even the girls were shaming you for that by calling you… a girl (not sure that changed actually, but I’m not in middle school anymore). After that, high school was a boring hell hole where every one but me was in a group, I started my college years with my first big “romantic” deception, I’ve been mugged a couple times, and by the time I was 20, I was fed up of being emotional and victimised. So, I basically decided to change all of that, trying to be more the person that people want you to be. But it turns out, when people want you to conform, they don’t mean that you should behave like a cold anti-social butthole.

After a few years of being like this, and refusing to feel anything, or to be vulnerable in front of someone, your body gradually accept the changes, and stop giving you any warning signs. You live like nothing can get to you. It’s boring, and lonely, but even that doesn’t feel as bad as it sounds, because your body stopped giving a rat’s ass about your feelings anyway. But, of course, it’s only illusion. If you have as much empathy as I do, you can understand how this wall is just a prank your mind loves to play on you, and all those feelings build up until the illusion crumbles and you as well.

And that’s where the weirdest thing happens. You would think that after a breakdown, you’d get a wake-up call and decide that all this was a terrible way to deal with your problem, and you should start working on it but no, you just go full 2nd amendment on it and you decide that you need more of your stupid idea to protect yourself. Mix it and shake it for a few years, and here you go, you built yourself a gigantic fortress full of cracks and, ironically, you end up an inmate in a prison you designed. And it’s the kind of prison where you can smuggle anything in, but nothing comes out. So you keep feeling, but to other people, you still look like a cold anti-social butthole.

Jump-cut to 2015: Crap! I’m transgender. I knew it already (1), but hey, now it’s messing with my sanity, so I really need to do something about it. My shrink tries to break into my defence, but she does that by finding workarounds. Bad luck, my wall is designed against that kind of evasive action. However I realise it fails in the face of direct action. Who would have known? I’ve always been honest, and somehow I was always waiting for someone to notice and reach out. So ask me a question bluntly, I will answer the same way, try to go around, I can play for hours, and we’ll both waste time.

So I realise that I need to let my guard down, but I have two problems: first I can’t just withdraw everything because, since I’ve now come out as transgender, I shifted in a particularly unsafe category of people, and I need to be careful. And second, I forgot what feelings feel. As I said, my body stopped warning me, so I have no idea what to let through, because I don’t receive relevant emotional inputs. I only know when it’s too late, and that puts me in annoying or embarrassing situations, to say the least.

So now I am trying to dismantle that wall, but it’s really complicated. It’s a piece-by-piece project. I need to really think about what constitutes a feeling and how it is supposed to trigger me. To give a bold example, when I experience something that is supposed to be sad, I have to tell myself that it is sad, and I know that an appropriate response to that feeling is crying. So I may try to force myself to cry. Think it’s messed up? I actually do it for real. I have some cues that gives me the tears right up. It’s kind of a cheap trick, but after learning some basic neuroscience, I realise that it’s a good way to reinforce a behaviour (2).

However it’s a very long process. It’s not a one-off thing. You don’t get it when you do it once. It’s like any other trained behaviour, it only reinforces when you do it enough times that it becomes natural (like driving, or flipping crèpes without folding them). And most often, you forget to do it because you’re too busy already to notice the stimulus. So I’m in for years and years of remediation. Hopefully, I’ll be prepared when Death comes knocking at my door. So when He says “I DON’T HAVE ALL DAY, ARE YOU READY YET?”, I can say proudly “I saw that coming!”

 

 

(1) Actually I knew since I was about 15, without really putting words onto it. But society puts so much pressure on you to conform that it’s really hard to accept it, or to find help. Especially back in the 90’s when Internet wasn’t yet the go-to place to find useful information. And as my friend Bria says: 

 

(2) There are some stimuli that have never failed to make me cry, and I think it’s because of some things I cared for when I was a kid, like the dog my family used to have. Shit, just writing about him gives me tears. And it actually makes me cry every time something sad happens to a pet (and that’s why I have a hard time with animal deaths in movies). So thinking about this when another supposedly sad stimuli comes up helps associate the response to the stimuli. And then it reinforces by itself, since crying when the stimuli happens makes me realise that the stimuli is something sad.

Getting an EMR certification: Two weeks of emotional roller coaster

The past two weeks have been hectic. I should include the two previous weeks too, when I had to work twice as much as usual while pre-studying for my paramedic course, so I wouldn’t have to worry about money during the course. But it was just busy, not especially emotionally charged. That’s why I wanna focus on the two weeks during which I was doing the actual course.

[…]

The past two weeks have been hectic. I should include the two previous weeks too, when I had to work twice as much as usual while pre-studying for my paramedic course, so I wouldn’t have to worry about money during the course. But it was just busy, not especially emotionally charged. That’s why I wanna focus on the two weeks during which I was doing the actual course.

And it was a hell of a ride!

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Both wonderful and horrible things happened. It’s also when I realised how fragile being transgender is in a social context, and how your confidence can be shattered by one unexpected event at the worst possible time.

Actually, the first week was pretty uneventful. It was more like the first climbing slope of a roller coaster. You reach the top very slowly but you can’t see what’s over the edge of the slope.

I had contacted the instructor early on to tell him that I was transgender and that I used a different name than my legal one. When we arrived on the first morning and he distributed the prop bags (tools we were about to use during the course), he handed mine with my chosen name written on it. I thought it was a nice touch and built up my confidence. Then, we had to introduce ourselves, but in a particular format. We were to first introduce to 2 other persons, who subsequently had to introduce us to the rest of the group. So I told my two follow classmates that I was transgender, and the guy who introduced me to the group used “she/her” pronouns right away and that was it. Except for the only person who didn’t get it and misgendered me quite a few time before I took him apart to make things straight, I didn’t have to complain about anything. It’s quite important to note, because that’s what was coming around to bite me at the end of the course.

So, the first week was quite uneventful. The most difficult things for me was to catch up every night with the study we had to do for the next day, because we received our books quite late and I couldn’t get ahead quickly enough while working twice as much as usual. Which was a problem later because I couldn’t stay after the class to practice the skills. And unlike the youngest persons in the group, I really can’t afford to skip sleep time, or I don’t function anymore, and I needed my brain fresh everyday if I wanted to remember the huge amount of stuff we were learning in a very small amount of time.

So here we are at the second week. Things start to be complicated.

Monday: the top of the slope. That the highest point in the track. You can contemplate everything from there. You have a wide view of the bottom and you may see the end of the track, but it’s kind of blurry. You’re just expecting the first descent, but also worried about how steep it is, because you still can’t see it yet.

Tuesday: It’s steep. Very steep. I crashed that day. I had a total mental breakdown. Everyday, after we had the lesson of the day, we were applying the new knowledge in role-playing-type scenarios. Everything we couldn’t do for real, we were stating them out loud, and the instructor, or the patient, was giving out the result. And I messed up big time. Like, I did everything wrong. I couldn’t asked the right question and I only took wrong decisions. I felt like I was so out of it, I went home completely depressed. And I couldn’t just decompress. I had to cram again for the next day. Maybe that’s what saved me somehow, because I didn’t have brain time to spiral into this depression. I had to stay on track. And I came back the next day, deciding to take it slowly but do all the required steps in order. Speed would come later with practice.

Wednesday and Thursday: Going with the flow. Turns after turns, loops, rolls, you just readjust your arse on your seat knowing something else is coming next. In a martial arts flick, it’s when the hero gets back on their feet and start again from the basic, and prepares for the incoming battle. It’s a reborn. And that’s what happened: I went back to the basics, reaffirmed my knowledge of the protocol and carefully asked the right questions to get to the right conclusion and provide the best treatment, while absorbing the constant flow of knowledge dumped on us. So I was prepared for the grand finale, the battle of the chosen.

Friday: And I lost! The villain cheated, as all villains do to undermine the hero. More seriously, the examiner who came that day, rounded up everyone to explain how it was going to happen and… outed me, in front of everyone. For some people, it’s probably not a big deal, or maybe it happens so often that they are used to it. For me, it was the first time. And it came after two weeks of being around people who were too busy with their own learning to actually give a fuck about whether I was transgender. So, for my whole session, she kept misgendering me and every time I needed a result, I had to insist several times because she was too busy looking at her phone. I was completely disoriented and made critical mistakes. So she failed me.

I can back home in shambles. It was a disaster. I had spent so much money and effort into this, and for what result? I couldn’t think straight. I had a choice: either to retake the next day, risking to fail again and definitively, or spend more time in practice and retake at the next course exam. For the past two weeks, even in my sleep, all I could think about was scenarios and protocols, but that day, when I came home, and all night, I was thinking about how I could get my money back. I talked with one of my classmate, who tried to encourage me to go right away, saying I knew the stuff and I could do it. But my confidence was utterly shattered. Still I went early to bed, and though I did not sleep well, I decided to pop up at the exam, and to decide then whether to retake it again.

Saturday: An emotional victory. When I arrived in the morning, there was a new examiner. He was obviously way more professional and I felt more confident in my abilities. I also came mentally prepared to be misgendered, and I actually didn’t tell him I was a woman, I just gave him my legal name right away, which cut the need for explanation and let him use male pronouns. Only my friend let him know at the end of the exam (mainly because I had to play the patient once and my follow classmates kept referring me as a woman, which must have surprised him somehow). I still did a few mistakes, but not critical ones, and I was a bit too slow, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t cutting any corner.

When the examiner called me in to give me the result, and showed me the green paper, all my body suddenly relaxed and I almost cried in front of him. I had been gradually stressed for two weeks, at a point where I completely burst, and then I found myself in a spot where I didn’t have anything more to do.

But I learnt a lot more than a skill. I learnt that the stress of being transgender in a social undertaking exacerbates any other stress that you may currently be subjected to. It is something that I have to be careful of, and I need to be able to identify it before it becomes a problem (I shall write an article about that later). And I also learnt that I can totally pass as a woman (1). Which amazed me, to be honest.

 

(1) I didn’t expand on that because it’s already a long article, and it was not the main point, so I’m doing this side note to talk about it but it’s totally not necessary to read it to understand the article.

So, as I said, no one but the instructor and two classmates was told that I was transgender. I basically spent two weeks assuming that everybody knew but played along, not giving a fuck (although I had to tell one guy especially, whom I heard talking about me to another person later on). Therefore it came as a surprise, on Friday, after the examiner asked for my *legal name* in front of everyone, that a classmate asked me if I was going by my middle name (my legal name may sound a bit like a female name for English-speaking people, so she wasn’t surprised). When I told her later that I was upset about being outed in front of everyone, she didn’t understand. She genuinely thought I was a cis-woman, and that was a huge comfort at the end of a horrific day.

So I am really wondering if people knew I was transgender, and who actually knew. Also, I had to use the women’s washroom, and it was quite stressful, because I didn’t know, if I ran into someone else (not someone taking the course), would they complain about it and rat me out. I was always timing my exit depending on people coming in or going out. I ran into an employee only once (I didn’t hear her coming), but she didn’t say anything. We just smiled at each other while I was stepping out of my cabin.

I can say that these two weeks have been weird on several accounts. Now it feels like a dream. I just woke up in the real life, but I still want this to have happened, I can’t believe it was all just a dream. And it wasn’t, because I have my certificate that proves it.