Catching My Breath

(For future reference, this was written while listening to Mansionair – Easier)

Catching My Breath

It is absolutely amazing how only when faced with a horrible realization that I am once again able to find myself facing the future. For months now, I was living in the shadow of past circumstances. I had a horrible work situation where my trust was broken by people I regarded dearly, and I couldn’t shake that. The initial panic and subsequent hurt loomed over me. The resulting anxiety frequently left suffocating even during some of the most serene moments of my existence like bike riding, washing dishes or taking a shower.

There was little escape from that anxiety, but I coped. I survived through binge watching tv shows and playing video games. I submersed myself in fictitious universes, and while it worked, it cost me my academic success and damaged my relationships, some I fear beyond repair.

In the weeks that followed, my home and people I love were facing catastrophic hurricanes. There are defining moments in the wake of hurricane Irma that I believe will shape me forever. It felt like my life was moving in slow motion. When I saw Facebook live videos of Irma in progress, I remember feeling so broken and defeated. I just couldn’t handle the reality that my little sister could be in imminent danger, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do to save her. After the storm was over, all I could do was search every Facebook and weather channel video hoping to see just a glimpse of my little sister to know that she was alright.

Once again I felt like I was suffocating and no matter what I did, I just couldn’t catch a breath. When she texted me and called, it finally felt like I could breathe again, but I knew that the fear and anxiety was still looming over me. In the shower, while bike riding or washing dishes, I’d find myself suffocating in that grief and panic once again. My mind kept returning me to that moment on the couch crying just at the thought of losing what was dearest to me. However, I managed to cope focusing on maintaining contact and facilitating conversations between my little sister and mother.

In the week that followed, I was trying to get my life back together, and I focused on doing what I could to make up the time I had lost, but I still wasn’t willing to face myself, my grief and my pain. I ran away from it thinking that it was the easier thing to do, and maybe it was at that time.

I remember the morning I woke up to hear that Maria was now a category 3 hurricane, and thought nothing of it. I had lived through a category 3 in my house years ago, and it was nothing. That next morning, everything changed for the worse. I woke up to hear that a category 5 hurricane was in route to directly impact St. Croix, my home where my mother and grandmother would be forced to take shelter. I can still feel the intensity of that anxiety now. I had seen the devastation of Irma on St. Thomas, and I couldn’t believe that only weeks later St. Croix would be subject to that level of devastation as well.

There were these unrealistic feelings of guilt that I couldn’t shake. I felt like I should have been paying more attention to the weather channel and that it was somehow my fault. I felt like something I had done must have put the life of my mother and grandmother in danger. In the days that followed, I tried to focus on giving my mother as much information as possible to help her prepare. I warned her that our neighborhood was listed as a potential area for massive storm surge. I urged her to take the storm very seriously.

Once we lost contact, my fear, my anxiety and my panic that had only been looming up until that moment manifested. I felt like I was walking through the world as a zombie. I was just so afraid that I could lose my mother. It’s the fear that I’m not as vocal about compared to how openly I speak about my fear of losing my little sister. In a single parent household, the eldest is always raised to understand that they may one day have to grow up and assume responsibility in the event something should happen to the parent. I am and have always been that child, and it is the burden I bear. I understand that if something were to happen to my mother, my entire world would change in one moment. Even so, I have always just wanted to be old enough. Initially, I just wanted to be 18 and have a sense of control to manage everything, but now I want to have a footing. I am always so afraid that my life could change, and I wouldn’t be ready. I wouldn’t have the finances to be able to handle everything appropriately and fill the shoes of my mother.

After Maria, I had so many out of body experiences. My fear, anxiety and pain were manifesting profoundly. There is one moment in particular that I don’t believe I will ever forget. This was after Maria had hit and I still wasn’t able to make contact with my mother. An entire day had passed and I was able to make contact with every other member of my family. I was in class and my professor was going over a handout with us and I remember thinking that my mother could be dead at this very moment and I was in class. I felt like I was fading away, suffocating in the guilt that was eating me away. I judged myself for wasting time in class when I should be preparing to do my duty and fill my mother’s shoes. I couldn’t believe that I was disrespecting her memory by being in class when I should be honoring her life and the path that she walked. Even after telling myself that these fears were unsubstantiated, I still felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t find my way back to the classroom for minutes, and it bothered me that my classmate and professor noticed.

Once I found out my mother and grandmother were okay, my anxiety and fears went back to looming over me. At the most random of moments, I would find myself back at the height of my panic. Often, I would find myself hunching over bearing the brunt of it until it passed. Sometimes, I would grip my chest because it was suffocating me. Other times, I would just stop and fade away finding myself in an out-of-the-body experience which would interrupt any task that I was in the process of completing.

I tried to cope, but binge watching and video games just didn’t shake it to levels that I could cope with. This time, my video games and tv watching could be interrupted by a moment of panic. This time, there was no escape. To make things even worse, in the middle of all of this, I got extremely ill which only served to worsen the state of my mental health. I just couldn’t seem to get my life back together in the shadow of the past. Then, I failed my first test in graduate school.

Earlier, I spoke of how I feared dishonoring my mother’s memory. Well, academics is the legacy of my family. It is because of my mother having two master’s degrees that I pursue a Ph.D. and the possibility of shaming that legacy and turning my back on my dream were cause for considerable alarm, yet it was not what turned my life back around.

A few days ago, I finally figured out this medical issue that had been plaguing me for some time. I had been really worried about it, but I didn’t have the words for it. Rather than making a fool of myself in a doctor’s office trying to express something that I could barely conceive, I spent time every night trying to research it to no avail. It wasn’t until we came across the subject in class and the professor played a clip that I was able to realize what I had been experiencing. I remember saying out loud, “That’s what’s been happening to me.” Which while it is awful and definitely the worst thing I have ever faced medically it was so freeing to just finally know. I had the words for what was happening to me.

However, now that I know, I must act and it is hard because I fully understand that this is something that very likely will stand in the way of top surgery this December. But that pain, it wakes me up. I remember when I wrote ‘I must’ I said, “In fact [20 Caleb] was wrong. Tragedy doesn’t break us. It wakes us up. Tragedy pushes us to find a way to fix the world so that no one else has to suffer. That kind of resolve can only make us great.” Years ago, I said that with the utmost conviction.  I felt that resolve then, and I feel it again now.

I chose to study pharmaceutical sciences because I believed I could make a difference in my field. Now more than ever, I strongly believe that I can and will make a difference for people who live with my conditions. That is who I chose to be. That is the path that I must walk, and it’s a path that my fears, anxiety and panic can’t take. Walking this road, I am finally free. I have caught my breath.

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For the First Time

For the first time, I could see something in those dark brown eyes that stared back at me in the mirror. It was a curious glare asking me what exactly I wanted from life and charging me with having done nothing to try to achieve it.

It was also the first time that I looked back in the mirror and found myself focusing entirely on growth over the years. I noticed my bushy eyebrows, Tampa tan, testosterone induced acne, stache still hiding in the shadows, ever-growing stray chin hairs and ever-present worry lines.

For the first time, there was no longing, wanting, wondering, pulling or prodding, but just a graze of admiration over who I’ve become.

My Dream Me

Author’s Note: I am so excited to have written my first poem. I’ve been wanting to have this for years, and the day has finally arrived. So, here it is.

When I look at you, I see a future.
I see a happy marriage consummated with two beautiful children.
But, this man, I’m not exactly sure I know him.
He’s got my hair, he’s just quite a bit taller.
He has my hands, although his shoulders are much broader.
I know that lucky mole on his chest, but there’s no sign of him ever having breasts.
There’s no mistaking how much of me I see in how he walks, though I definitely don’t have the confidence that he does when he talks.
That’s my sincerity and conviction in his heart when he says “I love you”, except I couldn’t help bring those beautiful children into the world by making love with you.
I’m clueless and confused, and suddenly, I get it. I remember that I’m transgender.
This is the man who can give you all the things I know I could never.
He is the man you deserve, my dream girl,
Him, He, my dream me.

When Survival Becomes Suffocation

We get so much practice at surviving countless crises that the next must be unequivocally and exponentially worse to even qualify, and the lens still clouded by the lingering emotional distress left in the wake of the last crisis is the one through which we now navigate our broken lives.

Crises not only shatter lives once calm, stable and secure, but also distort the fundamentally intricate perception through which we define reality. Consequently, we blur lines in forbidden territories and find ourselves in unforeseeable misfortune and suffocating in the resulting misery.

I Must

Years ago, I stopped believing in happiness for myself. Months ago, I stopped trying to achieve it. Days ago, I began thinking about what it would mean if I was killed for walking through life as my authentic self.

If I died today, my story would end at its saddest, darkest and most depressing point. Yesterday, when I asked myself what could change the narrative, I instantly knew the answer. I knew that I needed to have top surgery. I understood that dying without ever getting to experience a life free from chest dysphoria would be my greatest misfortune.

I owe it to my younger self, the person who kept getting back up after every single challenge knocked him down. I owe it to the person who learned to live with celiac disease, depression, anxiety, wanting to die, minority stress, gender dysphoria, etc. I can no longer idly sit behind the two brick walls twice as high as the ones I climbed over before labelled, Cholinergic Urticaria and Grief. I’ve decided to take the trip west and hope that I’ll eventually find path that goes north of the wall, or maybe on my path west, I will find enough strength to push through those walls.

I’m determined, but so very scarred and scared. My failed last attempt severely damaged my faith. I tell myself that I need this, but there’s a part of me that says I don’t deserve it. Many voices are echoing doubt inside my heart.

Did you forget what happened last time? Are you sure you are ready to put your heart on the line again? What if this is the ultimate downfall of your health? How can you be sure you won’t break if you fail? Must you keep doing these things to yourself? Should you? Could you? Will you?

But I must. I want. I need. I must. I keep holding on to a positive image of who 24 Caleb could become. To affect the world in a positive way, I must free him from chest dysphoria. After that, his potential would exponentially increase. I must. I must. I must.

I’m going to save 20 Caleb. As much as he would hate to admit it, he can be saved. In fact, he was wrong. Tragedy doesn’t break us. It wakes us up. Tragedy pushes us to find a way to fix this world so no one else has to suffer. That resolve can only make us great. This is going to be the part of the story where 20 Caleb realizes how wrong he was, and it’ll be the best thing that ever happened to him.

I must, and I will.

If I Had a Choice

I am always amazed by how confident adults are when they tell me that I should be grateful for being brought into this world, but I don’t always bother to tell them just how wrong they are. The truth is that if I had been able to say no to life, I would have.

I can’t forgive this world for turning me into the heartless, ruthless and self-hating person that I am today. The version of me today does not honor the kind, caring and selfless child that I once was.  As a child, traumatic experiences didn’t diminish my appreciation of life, but it was understanding true pain, hurt, and loss as a teenager and the exponentially increasing pain that I continue to feel by walking my destined path of life. For example, I am certain that there will come a day when I lose someone dear to me, and that loss will make me someone that I could never recognize as myself. That kind of grief will make a monster, and I don’t want that for myself.

I was never cut out for this world, and I don’t want to ever be.  In this world, I cannot be kind without being taken advantage of. Experiencing sympathy and empathy leads to it being exploited. Loving means living constantly fearing that my heart will be ripped out of me. I can’t be a go-getter because I can’t stop thinking about the opportunity that I might have stopped someone else from getting. I can’t live the “American dream” without experiencing guilt knowing that there are so many people who are starving or homeless. In this world, I will never be able to live up to my core ideals. I will never reach true selflessness, empathy or peak consciousness. I would rather 24 Caleb wither away than become a monstrosity that brings new cycles of negativity into this world. Of course, I know my dreams are nothing more than ammunition to be used against me because hope, love, ideals are weaknesses in this world.

Ultimately, as unfortunate as it is, I am alive. Consequently, I have responsibilities and duties to the communities to which I belong. Therefore, I continue to live awaiting the bittersweet ending to my story.

Learning my Dream Skill as an Adult

As a child, I couldn’t understand why adults would act like it was impossible for them to try to learn their dream skill.

I understand why now. My limited childhood consciousness gave me the ignorance necessary to be unburdened by stressors that could potentially hinder my learning.

I feel them now. I’m weighed down by the jealousy, shame and paranoia that I feel when I try to learn.

As I try to focus on the task at hand, insecurities stemming from an understanding that there are so many people, even children, who are better than me begin to overwhelm me. I can’t stop wishing that I was better, and I ache to be someone else. I want that person’s skill, and that powerful of an emotion rooted in selfishness, a emotion counter to my ideological selflessness, is deeply troubling and unsettling.

Then quickly, my jealously morphs into the shame that I force myself to never feel, and it beings to overtake me. The tides of shame violently gush through the widening cracks in my soul. In that moment, all I can think about is how I need to stop and rebuild those walls in an effort to prevent the cracks from dramatically increasing in size, but I push through.

I thought it was only shame behind those walls, but I start to feel the droplets of paranoia that ultimately accumulate and develop into a panic attack. I worry about who can see me in my shame. I think about all the times in the past that people have witnesses my shame, even if unknowingly for them. I imagine people laughing at my pathetic attempts behind my back, and it kills the last of my resolve.

I have to stop. I shouldn’t go on. I can’t work through it. I am unable learn my dream skill.