It’s nearly a year since I came out as trans/NB, and about three years since I was diagnosed with depression. I’m much happier these days. Sometimes clichés are clichés because they’re true: it really does get better.
To mark world mental health day, which is today, I thought I’d scribble a quick piece about the importance of psychic self-defence. I’m writing this with trans people in mind but most of the points are relevant to everybody.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself: how to practice psychic self-defence
One of the things many trans people are pleasantly surprised to discover is that by and large, nobody cares whether you’re trans or not. Unfortunately the few people that do care have very loud voices, and it’s easy to end up feeling quite vulnerable as a result. That’s why it’s important to practice psychic self-defence.
First step: don’t Google “psychic self-defence”, because there’s a whole genre of books out there dedicated to the art of fighting paranormal attacks. I’m talking about something a bit less magical but just as effective, which is insulating yourself from toxic negativity. I call it psychic self-defence; others call it self care.
Don’t follow everyone
Social media can be brilliant for trans people. It enables us to find our kind of people, to learn from others’ experiences and to get support when we need it. However, social media can also be a toxic hellswamp where trans people are besieged by bigots, and if you’re seeing that daily then it’s going to make the world seem a much more wicked place.
The other danger of social media is people sharing anti-trans posts and articles they disagree with. Unfortunately by circulating such media the trans people are doing exactly what the authors want: sharing their views more widely. Again, it makes the world feel much smaller and nastier than it actually is.
Don’t read everything
Just because you’re trans doesn’t mean you need to stay up to date with everything being said or written about being trans. I’ve just cancelled my subscription to a newspaper after an uninterrupted seven day run of misleading anti-trans articles, partly because it meant I started seven consecutive days in a bad mood and partly because if they’re getting the facts wrong on a subject I know about, how do I know they’re reporting accurately on the subjects I don’t?
Turn off notifications
Chances are you have a smartphone, and chances are it notifies you of things you don’t need to be notified of: a new email, a mention on social media, an updated magazine. Very few of these things are worth interrupting what you’re doing, even if you’re doing nothing, and even the silent notifications can have a malevolent impact as the little red circle fills with ever higher numbers of things you haven’t looked at yet. Pare back notifications to things you actually need to know about immediately, turn the others off and enjoy the silence.
Choose your battles
If you wish, you can battle all day every day with people on the internet who want to argue with you – not just about trans issues, although God knows there’s no shortage of those arguments, but about anything at all. You’ll never win and it’ll just make you unhappy. As George Bernard Shaw reportedly put it: “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
Read the right things
Books are magical things, and even more magical when you’re trans: if you’re feeling pretty low, reading about the experiences of somebody who’s been there, done that and come out smiling really helps. For me that included The Gender Games by Juno Dawson, Trans Like Me by CN Lester and She’s Not There by Jenny Boylan, among many others. Other books that really helped me include Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive and Derren Brown’s Happy.
And of course, fiction provides much-needed escapism. Novels are portals to other worlds, and it’s always fun to travel.
Don’t fall for the beauty myth
By all means aspire to be a better version of yourself – if you aren’t happy with your weight, change what you eat; if you aren’t happy with your fitness, go for a run – but comparing yourself to some of the most beautiful people on the planet is a mug’s game largely perpetrated by people trying to sell you things you don’t need.
Don’t stay online
There’s a world beyond our phones and PCs, and it’s often a much nicer world. Just going out for a walk is good for your body and mind, and if you can combine that with meeting people who actually make your life better then that’s something you should do at every opportunity.
Be nice to yourself
Try to find things that make you happy. They needn’t be big things: a new book from the charity shop or a swim in the local pool can be just as rewarding as a PlayStation 4. My thing is gigs: I love the anticipation, the gig-day excitement and the joy of bouncing around like a loon in a room full of like-minded people. Think of these things as the cure for whatever makes you feel sad, an “In Case Of Emergency Break Glass” for your mental health.
Don’t let the big stuff frighten you
Time for another quote, this time from the Chinese philosopher Laozi in around 600 BC: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Sometimes the best way to deal with a terrifyingly big thing is to concentrate on just putting on foot in front of another. People are natural worriers and many trans people doubly so. Focus on what you can do or deal with right now and let the future take care of itself.
Find someone to talk to
Whether it’s online, a helpline or a real-life friend, it’s important to find people you can talk to when you need to. Friends don’t necessarily mean shoulders to cry on. Just being around people who make you feel happy is powerful magic. We humans are social animals, and friendship is an important factor in how we feel about ourselves. Look on meetup.com or on local noticeboards to find things you might want to do and where you might get to meet nice people.
Bin the booze
Self-medication – a polite way of saying “drinking too much” or “getting off your face on drugs” – is common among trans people, but if you’re already feeling a bit sad they’ll make things worse. It’s boring as hell, I know, but moderating substance use, eating well and doing a bit of exercise will all make huge differences to how you feel, and often how you look too. If you’re spending a fortune on skincare while eating crap or going to the gym to work off junk food you’re wasting your money, and your time.
Don’t waste time on people who aren’t worth it
Online or off, some people are emotional vampires who suck the joy out of everything – and unless they’re your conjoined twin, you don’t have to put up with that. Where possible, avoid spending time with people who’ll just drag you down. That’s harder with close family than with friends, of course, but if you come from a long line of emotional vampires you can still minimise the time you spend with them and do something less negative instead.
Get a dog, or borrow one, or invite a friend who has one over
Dogs are nature’s anti-depressants.
Take care of yourself
Whitney Houston was right. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you need help, ask for it. Being trans isn’t a mental illness, but many of us experience mental illnesses such as depression (as do many other people, of course).
Mental illness is no different to physical illness: you wouldn’t leave your arm hanging off for fear of being judged and you shouldn’t let embarrassment or stigma about mental illness prevent you from getting help. It might take a while to get the right help – different people have different solutions – but it is out there and it does work.
If you’re really struggling and need help right now, these numbers save lives:
Samaritans 116 123 / firstname.lastname@example.org
LGBT+ switchboard 0300 330 0630
Breathing Space 0800 83 85 87
It’s okay to say you’re not okay.