Life Reassessment: Checking In On Your Life For the New Year

So here you are in the new year. Congratulations by the way. Regardless of anything else, you made it to 2019. The new year is a great time to really look at where you are in your life. I’m a huge supporter of people reflecting over their lives and taking stock some time to time. In psychotherapy, the therapist and client look over the client’s life approximately every 6 months, not just to see where the client is at, but also to make sure that what they are working on in therapy is still helpful. Taking that idea outside of therapy: this is a great time in the year to see if what you’ve been doing and what you have going on right now is still working for you. Are your coping skills still helping you or are they getting in the way? Are there other things you could be doing to improve your life? What things are working for you and what do you have on lock? In this piece, I want to show people how to do their own life reassessments so they can start to really look at where they are and then make moves to live their life with more intention, purpose, and satisfaction. These are open-ended questions for a reason. Answering them with 1 or 2 words isn’t really gonna get you much out of this. Answer the questions like you are having a conversation with someone. That should help you answer with enough detail to really make the best use of these kinds of questions. This is the kind of effort that really could set your new year off right.

(Important reassessment tool: Mindfulness strategies. Finding the techniques that best fit their needs can go a long way in helping people gain more self-knowledge and become more self-aware. Deeper, clearer awareness is priceless in a world that purposely tries to create confusion. This post here will help you find the right mindfulness strategy for your needs.)

Self and Identity

This section focuses on who you are as a person. Your inner self. How you see yourself and how you want the world to see you. And what it means to be you. Many people kind of coast through life, not really actively or intentionally thinking about who they are beyond who and what society and the people around them say they should be. While you’re reading the mindfulness post, I also really suggest checking out my piece on socialization here as a helpful starting point to learning what socialization is and how it influences each part of our lives.   

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your gender and gender presentation/expression (gender presentation/expression is how your gender looks on the outside by way of your clothes, body language, etc.)?

  • Do you have any gender-related concerns?

  • What are some of your strengths?

  • What are some things you would like to improve about yourself?
  • If you could wake up tomorrow, and all the barriers/obstacles are gone and there was nothing holding you back, what would you want going on in your life? How could you get closer to that point in this life?

  • What are 3 things you could do tomorrow to get you towards where you want to be?

Family/Home Life

This section focuses on your family (biological relatives and chosen family) and your life once you close and lock your front door. For many, one’s family is their foundation. It is your first set of relationships and, for many, your most long-lasting. It’s a good idea to reflect on what family means to you and the kind of family you want for yourself. Think about what would create a safe and satisfying home life for you and the people you care about.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your average day outside of work/school?

  • How would you describe your home life?

  • Who would you consider to be your family today? In sessions with clients, I’ve had clients document each person’s name, who they are to them, and the quality of the relationship with each person to get a better sense of the client’s family. Feel free to do the same with yourself while answering this question.

Your People

This section focuses on your squad, your social circle, your social support system, and the other people around you. It’s important to take an intentional look at the people and the relationships in your life. The people around you have a huge effect on your mental health, stress levels, sense of happiness, life satisfaction, and your decision making. A solid support system lifts each other up and creates safer spaces for each other in an oppressive world. Humans (with some rare exceptions) generally are social. Mental health wellness depends on some level on the kinds of people we keep around us.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What social supports do you have in your life? Include: family, friends, sexual, romantic, etc. partners, professional/school contacts, any trusted medical and mental health providers, your religious community, any social groups you are a part of, etc.

  • What are the significant relationships in your life? What about each relationship makes it important to you? What do you love about each relationship? What parts could be improved? How would you go about telling them this?

School/Job/Career

This section focuses on the time you spend at school, at work, caregiving, doing volunteer/charity work, and any other kind of work you do in your life. Including any and all the work you do, legal or otherwise, paid or unpaid, on and off the books, etc. Especially in this capitalistic society, the kinds of work we do become more than a title, they become part of our identity. Any unhappiness, lack of satisfaction, conflict, etc. in this area of your life can feel even worse because it is so tied up with our sense of who we are and our ability to eat, pay bills, and provide for our loved ones. And if everything is going well, celebrate that and look to your future. What are ways you can grow and improve in your work?

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What kind of student/worker are you?

  • How satisfied are you with where you are in this area of your life?

  • Any issues learning new information or managing your work load?
  • Any interpersonal issues with professors/bosses or fellow students/co-workers? If you are experiencing harassment at your workplace or school, check out my suggestions for documenting it and protecting your mental health in this piece here about deescalating conflict in White-dominated workplaces as a Black person.

  • How do you set and maintain firm boundaries at work/school?

  • Do you do any volunteer work? What kind of volunteer work would you be interested in?

  • Have you lost your job recently? Check out my piece here on making unemployment a time for personal growth and healing.

  • What are some new skills you want to learn? How else can you grow or add more love to the many kinds of work you do?

Health

This section focuses on your mental and physical health and overall wellness. In this “wake up and grind” kind of society, many people are constantly pushing themselves more and more without stopping to check in with their bodies and minds. This isn’t a solid longterm game plan and will get expensive eventually with the terrible healthcare we have in this country. Taking care of your body and mind as you go is working smart. Whether your goals include finishing school, paying your bills, and/or moving us closing to revolution and decolonization, it won’t be possible to achieve if you aren’t investing in yourself now.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How often do you go to a Dr for bloodwork and a checkup? When was your last appt?

  • How often do you get tested for sexually transmitted infections? When was your last appt?
  • How much do you sleep every night and what is the quality of your sleep (on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the best quality)?
  • What is your diet like? Take at the very least 5 days, maybe even a week or 2, and document what you eat everyday (as best as you can), and how you feel on a scale from 1-5, 5 being the highest. Are you happy with what you find? What would be your ideal eating habits?

  • Do you exercise? What does exercise look like for you? How long is each session? How many times a week?

  • Do you have a history of disordered eating, (including any binge eating and/or going without eating with the purpose of losing weight)? What techniques/strategies are you using to eat in a healthier way? Which techniques are working for you? Who do you call for support when under a lot of stress?

  • Are you prescribed medication? How often do you take it as prescribed?

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt sad, down, hopeless, not feeling pleasure in most things, and/or not interested in things you used to like/love doing? How often have these feelings stopped you from doing what you needed to do and/or have influenced your decision-making? Do you know the signs and symptoms of depression? See my depression piece here for more info.

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt anxious, keyed up, on edge, irritable, worried uncontrollably, etc.? On a scale from 1-5, with 5 being high? It might be helpful for you to track these feelings throughout the week: 1) day, 2) time, 3) brief description of the situation, 4) how you felt, and 5) the intensity from 1-5 with 5 being the most intense. How often have these feelings influenced your decision-making or affected your behavior or your ability to do what you need to do?

  • How often in the last 2 weeks have you felt angry, in a rage, tense/agitated, irritable, etc.? Again, this is something that might be useful to keep track of for at least a week: 1) day, 2) time, 3) brief description of the situation, 4) how you felt, and 5) the intensity from 1-5 with 5 being the most intense. How often have these feelings influenced your decision-making or otherwise affected your behavior or your relationships with the people around you?

  • What is your pain level today? And how has it been for the past week? On a scale from 1-5 with 5 being the most painful. How often has pain stopped you from going about your day?

Sex and Sexuality

This section focuses on sexuality and sexual awareness. The stigma and socialization built around sex and sexuality makes this area complicated for many people. There’s always the social expectation and pressures for everyone to play certain specific roles and play by certain rules in mandatory cisgender heterosexuality. Everyone is pushed to be cisgender, allosexual, and heterosexual. Any difference from that: people who are transgender, non-binary, intersex, asexual, gay, bisexual, queer, etc. is punished, held back from participating in various parts of society, killed, etc. And the people who are actually cishet are still forced to play by certain strict gender and sexual expectations for life to keep their privileges…or face their own consequences. Finding your true allosexual or asexual self is so hard in a world that tells you that anything different from what’s expected either doesn’t exist or isn’t even human. To live as you are is revolutionary. To begin to learn yourself and to unlearn socialization is life-changing.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • How would you describe your sexual orientation?

  • If you have sex, how satisfied are you with your current sexual activity?

  • If you have sex, how satisfied are you with the quality of the sex you have?

  • If you have sex, do you experience any pain during sex?

  • If you have sex, have you experienced sexually compulsive behavior, meaning sexual behavior that is difficult to control and that has started to negatively affect other areas of your life like your health, your job, etc. (in ways that are not directly connected to the stigmatization of sexuality and/or bigotry)?

Substance Use

This section focuses on a very, very common coping skill for many people. Let’s be real and honest here. Drug use, legal or illegal, isn’t a problem by itself from a physical and mental point-of-view. Drug use only becomes a problem when your use starts to become chaotic and starts to negatively impact other areas of your life. If you want to learn a little more information about drugs, substance use, and how to know if it has become a problem for you, check out my Drugs 101 piece here.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What substances (legal and/or illegal) do you use at this time in your life?

  • When did you first start using each substance?

  • When was the last time you used each substance?

  • How do you ingest each substance (swallowing/eating/chewing/drinking, smoking, vaporizing, inhaling/snorting, injecting, through the skin via a patch/liquid, etc.)? Is there a healthier/safer/less damaging to your body way you could try using instead?

  • How much do you use of each drug? And how often a week?

Spirituality

 This section focuses on the place that spirituality has in your life. One’s spiritual beliefs and/or religious/spiritual community serve as an important coping strategy, social support, and source of deep connection for so many people. Your spiritual beliefs, assuming you have any, should lift you up and give you a sense of meaningful purpose. It would be concerning if your beliefs or community was becoming a negatively stressful part of your life. Like any other area of your life, it is worth reflecting to make sure that you are getting what you need.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • What kind of spiritual beliefs do you hold?

  • How satisfied are you with this area of your life?

  • Are there any struggles you have in this area of your life?

  • Any interpersonal issues with other members of your spiritual community?

  • Are you interested in any other spiritualities/religions? What kind would you be interested in?

Self Care 

This section focuses on your relationship with yourself. Self care is a word that’s becoming very popular on social media and in progressive spaces, but many people are not exactly clear on what self care really means and what it actually looks like for them in the real world. That’s how you have people drinking lemon water, but only getting 4 hours of sleep every night, for example. Self care is all the ways you can take care of your mental and physical health. For a deeper explanation of what self care is and how it can help you grow, check out my post on self care here.

Questions to Help You Reflect

  • When and how do you find time for yourself?

  • How do you nurture, grow, and maintain your relationship with yourself?
  • How do you set boundaries with others and with yourself to take care of your mental and physical health? Check out my intro to setting boundaries piece here for more basic information on what boundaries are and how to set them. Here is a 2-Part series on how to set boundaries with family members as a way to protect your mental/physical health from toxic relationships with loved ones (Part 1 here) and as a way to make your closest relationships even stronger and more fulfilling (Part 2 here).

  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • How do you relax?

Any time is a great time to take a fresh look at your life, but the start of a new year motivates a lot of people to take some time and reflect. I personally like to give myself space to check in on my life every 6 months. As y’all know by now, I am huge on self-awareness, self-reflection, and maintaining a healthy, solid relationship with yourself and those around you. Taking steps to live your life as intentionally as possible in a society that is constantly pushing you to check out and live only according to how we were all socialized is beyond a power move…it is life changing. Taking realistic and compassionate assessments your own needs and walking in the spirit of that truth is something I want for all of us.

Thanks for reading and thank you for reading for an entire year. It has been a pleasure to write for y’all. The next piece covers taking breaks between romantic relationships for personal growth.

Reader Request: Explaining Mental Health Status to Parents

This is a reader request (Thank you again, by the way). This post will cover 1)Doing some self-reflection to sort out what is making you want to talk to your parents about your mental health status, 2)Figuring out how safe the situation is for this, 3)Preparing for the talk, 4)Ways to go about having this kind of conversation with your parents, and 5)How to make your own safety plan in case things don’t go as well as you’d like. I want to make sure that whatever you decide to do, it is a decision that you thought all the way through, that was not made in a rush or impulsively, and that your safety and health is a priority.

#1: Self-Reflection  

What is making you want to tell your parents about your mental health status? This is a great time to reflect on what is motivating you to want to make this decision. It’s hard to figure out what to say if you don’t have a clear idea of what the end goal is here. Like writing an essay or making any persuasive argument, it’s always good to have your goal in mind from the very beginning. That will be your compass in navigating this whole thing. Are you telling your parents so they understand why you need money/financial assistance/health insurance (for medication, therapy, etc)? Or maybe because you need emotional support and/or to fit them into your social supports/safety planning? Or you want to tell them so you can set better boundaries with them? Whatever your reasons are and whatever your end goal is, you should hash that out 1st. Mindfulness techniques [101 post here] could be key here if you aren’t sure how to tap into yourself and figure out what your needs specifically are. Talk to your friends and other people you trust to get their perspective too if that will help you look at this situation from every angle possible.

#2: Assess the Situation 

How much do you rely on your parents? Are you a minor/dependent? Are they paying for your college or do you need them to fill out your FAFSA? Are you under their insurance? Do you live with them or rely on them for money? These kinds of things are what you are potentially risking if things don’t go exactly as you hope. This isn’t to scare you. This is to help you plan while looking at the pros and cons of each decision you make. The cons would be what you could be risking here by sharing your mental health status with your parents, who, depending on the situation, could have a lot of power over you. What are the realistic chances they will support you? How did they respond in similar situations in the past and what kind of support did they give you? How did you feel about the support they gave you back then? Do you have any worries that they might not support you or that they might try to harm you? My point here is to help you reflect on what they could probably do according to evidence based in what they have already said and done in their past…not what you hope they could do. 

#3: Prepping for the Talk 

Okay so you’re taking the time to do some self-reflection and you’re assessing your situation for risks and any safety concerns. Great. Now, it’s time to start getting ready for any response, including acceptance, rejection, gaslighting (A type of psychological abuse where someone manipulates another person until they start to question reality or their mental health. The word “gaslighting” was inspired by a 1938 play/1944 movie called “Gas Light”.), or silencing. Some things you can do to prepare for this talk (or any major talk) include:

  1. Safety planning: So what is the worst case scenario? No one likes to think about the worst case scenarios, but it’s important to plan for the worst (while hoping for the best). You’ve already assessed the situation and have a solid idea of the risks here. Now that you have that awareness, how can you protect yourself from those risks the best you can. Like wearing protective gear or like coming up with a Plan B in case things go left. In psychotherapy, therapists and clients work together on creating formal and informal safety plans whenever a client is in a risky situation. See my post on Suicide here for a more detailed description of a safety plan and for questions to get you started on creating your own plan. 

  2. Self Care. Self Care. Self Care. I don’t think y’all hearing me…SELF CARE. If you have not read my piece on self care here before this point, please time a couple mins to check it out. Definitely pay special attention to the reflection questions I asked in the 2nd half for help figuring out which self care strategies and habits work best for you. Self care is about being compassionate and loving to yourself in a harsh world. It is about taking the time to learn yourself and your needs and investing in yourself and in your future health. Not only is self care important for this talk, but it is key for your mental health and general life satisfaction.

  3. It’s also time to revisit the boundaries 101 piece here. I also suggest checking out Part 1 here of a 2-part boundaries 201 piece I wrote for the holidays: the setting boundaries with toxic loved ones. Just like self care, clear strong boundaries are so incredibly important for good whole body health and personal happiness. Like I’ve said before, learning how to set and maintain clear, firm boundaries is 1 of the most important skills to learn in life. Solid boundaries are armor/protection and they are permission/freedom to really be yourself with people in those relationships. Boundaries keep everyone on the same page, nurture the connection you have with them, and can bring you closer. Remember that you cannot control other people’s behavior, but you can control your behavior and, to different degrees, you can control what you tolerate in your life. Firm boundaries are an important part of self care and part of your safety plan. Regardless of how your parents react, your top priority is the protection of your mental health. And this is all easier said than done. It can be hard to set boundaries at home, especially when setting boundaries was never taught at home and/or your parents have fragile, vague boundaries themselves or even no boundaries at all. But this is worth it. Again, you are worth the effort.

  4. You could practice what you want to say and/or role-play with friends or any other trusted person in your life. This could be helpful to make sure that you are getting your point across in a clear, easy-to-understand way. In therapy, therapists and clients also role-play to help clients work through any anxiety they might feel leading up to a talk like this. Or practice by writing down everything you want to say in advance and reading it out loud and/or emailing it to a friend.

#4: The Conversation 

Ultimately, how you want to do this is up to you. No one knows your life like you do. You are an expert on your life and your situation. That’s why I put so much emphasis and went so hard on the importance of self-reflection, mindfulness, setting boundaries, talking/reflecting with people you trust, and self care earlier. Tapping into yourself and digging deeper is going show more revelations and pieces of wisdom than I think a lot of people would give themselves credit for. What I do want to cover here is some suggestions I have for when you are finally ready to have the first actual conversation with your parents about your mental health status:

When?

  • I’d suggest having a private conversation ideally when no one is in a rush to be somewhere else. You want as much of the focus and attention to be on you as possible.

  • If the person isn’t reasonably making time for you, that already says a lot about where their priorities are at (And if people tell you who they are…). That’s new information added to your situation right there. Assessing your situation is never a 1-time thing. Your plan, etc. can always be updated with any new information.

How?

  • You could write a letter/send an email or text. I personally prefer looking into someone’s eyes and seeing body language when having serious conversation, but I can definitely understand the necessity for other ways of communication, depending on the situation and your safety.

  • Another option is writing a letter/text/email as a kickstarter to the in-person conversation (“Read this when you get a chance. I wanna talk about it when we’re both free.”). Assuming the person reads it, this can be a great way to get your points across in an organized, lower pressure way with less chances of being interrupted.

  • Talk in person in private with talking points. Have an idea of what you want to say going into the conversation . This is where all that planning and possibly role-playing helps.

  • You don’t have to go it alone. Tell other people in your family who could help you have this conversation. Maybe, for whatever reason, this isn’t a 1-person job. That’s cool. Who are some allies you could get to help you break this down to your parents? I’m assuming these people were on your safety plan so maybe part of the support they could give you is help you speak to your parents in the moment. Try to find a balance between them helping you and them speaking for you. This is your conversation, not theirs. 

  • Talk in person with a medical/mental health provider in the room with you. The provider could help you explain the medical specifics if you personally have trouble with that. Or if your parents value and put a lot of trust in authority figures, you have someone like that in your corner. 

What?

  • Break down your symptoms in basic language and what it means for your everyday life. For example, “I’m dealing with this, that, and the third…and that is why you see me struggle with xyz or that’s why I’ve been doing abc”. The goal here is to help make your symptoms easier to explain, but also putting the focus on you, your health, and how they can support. 

  • Research and/or find supportive quotes from religious texts if you think your parents would be open to that.

  • Be specific about the kind of support you need from them. This is tied to knowing yourself and having clear communication and clear boundaries. If you don’t know what you really need, it’s hard to ask for help from others. 

The Blame Game: A quick note about blame. When dealing with shocking and/or upsetting news, it’s pretty common to cope with the situation by trying to find the first thing to blame.  Feeling out of control in the face of this new information, it’s very human to want to change the focus and energy on something else as a distraction and/or to feel more in control. Parents, the humans that they are, could react to the conversation by looking for someone or something to blame. Whether they chose to blame themselves, something you did or didn’t do, etc., it actually has nothing to do with you. It is how they’re deciding to cope with the update of your mental health status.  Putting it plainly: This is their mess. This isn’t you. This isn’t even for you. This is for THEIR comfort, not yours. The blame game distracts from the real focus of all this: your very real, life experiences and what you need from your parents here and now.

So, how are you feeling about all this? I know this is a lot to think about. I hope with this piece, you can begin to reflect on your situation and make informed decisions. By making time for self-reflection, taking a step back & looking at your situation closely, doing what you need to do to prep for the talk, including making a safety plan in case things aren’t ideal, setting firm boundaries, etc. you are making yourself and your health a high priority. Always weigh the pros and the cons. Study the benefits and the costs. Assess the risks. You are worth the effort.


Thanks for reading. The next piece will be Part 2 of the 2-Part Boundaries 201: Bringing the Skills Home series in time for the holiday season, focusing on using boundaries as tools to build and make all the relationships in your life even stronger on Sunday 12/23/18.

Detransitioning

This is a seriously misunderstood topic. I was inspired to write about detransitioning when I saw a tweet by a bigot spreading misinformation. Bigots love to pretend that the rare cases of people deciding to reverse the effects of social and medical transitioning are somehow a sign of an “agenda” forcing people to become transgender. For the record, this isn’t a trans 101 post. There are hundreds, if not thousands of trans 101 resources and websites out there for any “But what does transgender mean?” questions. Google is your friend. Or pay a trans person to explain it to you. Either way, that’s not what this post is for. The goal here is to explain the basics of transitioning, detransitioning, and how you, cisgender people, can support trans people regardless of the choices they make. I want to demystify detransitioning for y’all.

What is Transitioning?

Before I get into detransitioning, I’ll explain transitioning real quick. There are 2 types: social transitioning and medical transitioning. Social transitioning deals with how you engage with society and people. Examples of social transitioning would be coming out as trans (to friends, family, coworkers, classmates, doctors, etc. over and over again throughout your whole life), using different pronouns, changing your name and gender markers on IDs, and/or changing the clothes you wear. Medical transitioning includes the medical procedures/treatments that some trans people decide to do to ease dysphoria, to overcome the puberty they were forced to endure, etc. Hormone replacement therapy, hysterectomies, the multiple kinds of top and bottom surgeries, etc. are a few of the many examples of medical transitioning. Cis people, in their ignorance, think there is this 1 surgery, THE surgery, that does…who knows what…and that’s how trans people become trans…like baking a cake or something. Transitioning in general is not a 1 size fits all kind of deal. Some trans people socially transition, medically transition, or some combination of both. Not all trans people choose to transition the same way. Transitioning, like life, is unique to each person. It depends on what living their truth looks like for each person and what is realistically possible for them due to financial restrictions or society’s transmisia/transphobia. Some trans people do not socially or physically transition in any way for their own reasons.

Note: Transgender people do not transition for cisgender people’s pleasure, comfort, permission, etc. Trans people transition to live their truth. Trans people do NOT transition to look like or copy cis people. Trans people do NOT transition to attract or trap cis people. Trans people transition for their happiness, peace of mind, satisfaction, etc. The only time trans people factor cis people into their thinking is when they are worried cis people will harm/kill them or when discrimination leads to them losing jobs, access to healthcare, right to pee in public bathrooms, child custody, etc.

The medical health and mental health needs/concerns of transgender people are not taught in med school/psych programs and there are so few in depth trainings available. Most cisgender professionals don’t know anything and don’t have the training to provide care to trans ppl. And most of them don’t even know how to help people process their own feelings about gender. Most professionals don’t know how to help anyone determine for themselves whether they are transgender or a cisgender person with gender-related concerns. So it is rare, but possible that a cisgender therapist with no proper training could encourage a another cisgender person with gender role/gender presentation concerns to transition. That’s SO rare because usually cisgender people go out of their way to do whatever it takes to stop people from gender transitions. Despite what most cis people seem to think, nobody is passing out hormones, etc. to transgender people like candy. It can take months at minimum to receive clearance for any kind of trans-related care, assuming you have insurance that will cover anything.

Though transgender people have always been around, trans people are becoming more visible in mainstream society so, as a result, more and more people see that being trans (and transitioning) is possible. At the end of the day, the rare cases of detransitioning that result from cis people mistakenly transitioning speaks more to systemic transmisia/transphobia in the healthcare field AND the desperate need for medical providers who are properly trained in transgender healthcare and working with gender-related concerns in general. Mental health professionals and doctors/nurses should be trained by trans people (a great way to create jobs) to be able to provide quality care and to be able to help all people process any gender-related feelings without judgment and/or bias.

What is Detransitioning?

[CW: I’m going to talk about detransitioning, putting it into the context of living in a transmisic/transphobic society. This may be hard to read and/or dysphoric for trans people. Self care, y’all.]

So I want to make it clear in this section that when I’m talking about detransitioning here, I am referring to transgender people who detransition. I already talked about cis people who mistakenly transition earlier. Again, the rest of this piece will cover only transgender people who detransition. Detransitioning could be social and/or physical. It’s usually due to systemic transmisia/transphobia (living in a society that is pound for pound stacked against you and wants you dead/disappeared) and a lack of social supports. Systemic bigotry and individual experiences with transmisia/transphobia can cause or exaggerate mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, and/or trauma reactions. In addition to making physical health symptoms worse because the mind and body are connected. Exposure to other kinds of bigotry like racism and misogyny does the exact same thing so if you are a transgender person of color and/or a trans woman of color, you are dealing with even more burdens and stresses on your mind and body all the time at the same time. Detransitioning then can become a survival tactic in a bigoted, violent world that wants you dead.

Imagine being forced to cosplay as another gender for most of your life, with society constantly making jokes about trans people (trans women in particular) and killing them on a regular basis. Comedians make whole comedy specials about these murders. You then realize that you’re actually 1 of those people you’re taught to think is weird/disgusting/worthy of dying. Living your truth as a trans person is not a breeze, contrary to what a lot of cis people seem to think. This is an uphill battle: people you thought you trusted will abandon you and possibly actively try to harm you. Support can be hard to find depending on where you live. In many states, changing your name and gender marker on IDs is made purposefully too expensive for many people with mandatory doctor visits and/or surgery requirements. Really think about that. Think about being forced to have surgery (an expensive surgery you might not have really wanted) that you could die from because there’s a risk of dying in any kind of surgical procedure…and/or because your medical providers and/or case workers might have little to no experience working with actual trans people and/or might have anti-trans views. There have been many cases of medical providers refusing to treat trans people and/or letting trans people die on the operating table. This seriously happens. This is something that many trans people on some level worry about especially if you don’t live in an area that has quality transgender-specific care.

Let’s keep imagining here though: you need money to pay for your transition expenses, but no one will hire you to make that money because job discrimination against trans people is legal in most states. But any delay in transitioning could lead to more mental and emotional symptoms because there’s a serious risk of violence from cis people who routinely attack anyone who doesn’t look like them. And honestly that’s not even close to everything that trans people deal with. It’s draining to be trans in this society. It’s literally traumatic because bigots make it that way. And if you have other marginalized identities: being queer, asexual, intersex, Black or another POC, disabled, etc., it’s even more complicated. It can wear someone down to deal with all that bigotry stacked on top of each other alone for years. And with all of that, detransitioning can seem like the only option to find some peace. How messed up is that: Being forced away from living your truth and then dealing with all the psychological/emotional pain of that becomes the way to avoid society’s constant torture.

The most common reasons I have ever heard for a trans person detransitioning are for safety, a stable job/income, and/or to avoid being alone. I’ll never forget: in 1 of my old jobs, a coworker had a Black trans woman client who lived in a SRO (single room occupancy) building. I remember her coming down to see him in “boy-mode” suddenly one day. She told me casually that she decided to detransition over the weekend because she was terrified and tired of cis men attacking her basically every night. She was trying to find her own apartment and a job, but she couldn’t if she was constantly healing from these assaults. After almost a month, she started taking HRT again. When I saw her, she told me she started HRT again because (I’m paraphrasing) she had to do her regardless. I had so many mixed emotions in that moment. On 1 hand, it’s powerful as hell, but it shouldn’t have to cost her so much power and so much energy just to go to the corner store. Despite detransitioning being so rare, she isn’t the only one dealing with this.

I decided to ask transgender people on Twitter back in April the following questions: “What was happening in your life when you made the decision to detransition?” and “Is there anything else you want me to know/understand about this?”. 2 people graciously reached out to me to tell me their experiences with detransitioning. 1 person, a trans man made the decision to detransition in order to become financially stable. Due to job discrimination against trans people being very legal in this country, in order to receive “a serious paying job”, he made the choice to detransition. To put it blankly, he knew that “if I had walked into the interview binding with a shaved head I wouldn’t have been hired”. I’m using the word “choice” loosely here. Decisions made in coercive situations aren’t the same thing as decisions made when you have freedom. Having to choose between being yourself and being able to eat and keep a roof over your head is a symptom of larger problems in society. Suffer psychologically and emotionally and keep a job or be homeless and financially unstable. That’s not a real choice. And that’s a man-made problem that can easily be solved.

The 2nd person to share their story with me on Twitter was a non-binary trans POC who came out as trans 5 years ago and was isolated from their family for 4 years as a result. They decided to detransition because they are “in dire need of community”. They described the trans community at the school they are attending as “racist” and after being alone for so long, they said they are “in the process of detransitioning to talk to my parents again”. Humans have many different kinds of survival needs: shelter, clothing, food, stability, and a sense of belonging/community are some of them. Many marginalized/oppressed people are forced to trade some needs for others and have to figure out how to exist without fully being allowed to live. It’s painful. It’s messed up. Again, it’s a man-made problem. Many bigots will point to trans people who detransition as evidence that their trans experience and their gender was never real. One thing that this 2nd trans person wanted to make clear was that being forced by their situation to detransition was “very painful” and did not make them any less trans: “I guess I’d like you to know that I’m still trans”. This sentence reminded me of that Black trans woman approaching me to tell me that she’s still trans. I really felt that. Cisgender bigots try to capitalize on the rare detransitioning cases because they want to pretend that transgender people are accidents, signs of mental illness, a recent fad, and something that can be reversed with enough hate and abuse. But transgender people are still here. They have always been here and there’s nothing cis people can do to change that. If anything, detransitioning is a sign of a cisgender agenda: an agenda designed to prop up white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy, etc. that traumatizes and kills children and adults, whole human beings, everyday.

What Can Cisgender People Do To Support Trans People?

This is why it’s so important for you to challenge transmisia/transphobia in yourself and the people in your life. Look into yourself. If you are a person of color and would want white people and other POCs to speak up if someone ever said some racist mess about your culture, you’d be a hypocrite if you wouldn’t do the same for an oppression that isn’t yours. This society makes being transgender so damn hard. Deadly actually. Especially if the trans person is also Black, queer, disabled, etc. There are trans people in your communities that you have abandoned to be as bigoted as colonizers. You can’t be a leader in a revolution with all that hate/disgust/aversion in your heart for your own people. You can’t be a leader and a leading cause of death at the time same time.

Some Basic Ways Cis People Can Help:
  1. Introduce yourself with your name and pronouns to everyone, even if you think you know their gender. If anyone asks, say you’re just being polite: You wouldn’t like people to assume anything about you and you don’t like assuming things about people.
  2. Use whatever name and pronouns you are given. With practice, like anything you put effort towards, pronouns are easy.
  3. Don’t let anti-trans jokes fly without challenging them. If it makes people uncomfortable and feel like they can’t make those kinds of jokes around me anymore, good. I didn’t want it anyway and I made the area a better place.
  4. Stand against laws and policies that hurt trans ppl because it creates a safer world for everyone. Creating laws where medical providers can turn away trans people for religious beliefs creates loopholes so doctors could reject cis people for wanting birth control, being Black, having an undocumented immigration status, etc.
  5. If you don’t understand something, google it. If you can’t find the answer after googling, ask a trans person if you can give them some money in exchange for them taking the reasonable amount of time and labor to educate you.
  6. If you have some extra money, donate directly to a trans person.

Transphobic cisgender people love to jump on detransitioning stories as evidence of a “transgender agenda”, but if cis people let other people live their lives freely, there would be no need for detransitioning. Being real and true, the real agenda is assuming everyone is cisgender and heterosexual and then forcing everyone who is different to pretend for the rest of their lives…unless they want to risk housing discrimination, job discrimination, terrible medical care, not being able to get custody of their children, etc. On some: be like us or we won’t let you be a full member of society…assuming you survive all this. Staying silent doesn’t make you a witness. It at best means you’re an accomplice, holding the torturer’s beer. Trans people aren’t aliens. There are Black transgender people, Latinx transgender people, etc. There are trans people in your communities that you could be supporting. There are trans people in your hood you could be looking out for. Because bet money throughout history when one of us was killed and a march needed to happen and/or hashtags needed to be shared, your transgender community members were out in the streets. But who stands up for the trans people in your community?

 

Thanks for reading. The next post on Sunday 10/28/18 will be covering suicide: what it is, the difference between thinking about suicide and being at risk of actually doing it, bodily autonomy, and suicide prevention.

Deescalation And Conflict In White-Dominated Workplaces

Conflict can be hard to deal with for many people. Especially when the conflict happens at work, the source of your livelihood. Nobody wants to mess up their bag and work conflicts can be the perfect storm. Keeping a roof over your head is so ridiculously difficult in this country and so many people are living paycheck to paycheck. And for people of color, there are even more risks to getting into a work conflict with another coworker or worse, a boss, and are trying to figure out how to deal with it without losing your job. The combination of job discrimination/systemic racism, white people’s fear and implicit biases towards us have a huge impact on many people’s ability to make rent. This post will explain how to deescalate conflict in a general situation, the effects of systemic racism and personal experiences with racism, and finally, share professional suggestions as to what resolution can look like for us in these situations.

What is Deescalation?

Deescalation is bringing a high-emotion/energy situation down to neutral. We deescalate situations all the time in our personal lives: “You at a whole 12 and I’ma need you to bring it down to 4, fam. We in public and nobody got bail.” In general, deescalating a situation is about maintaining safety of everyone in the area while respecting the upset person’s agency/humanity. The key is to balance keeping a level of order so that no one is hurt while not treating the person who is upset like an animal. Once you start seeing the upset/agitated person like an animal that needs to managed and contained, you’ve lost ethical control of the situation and the decisions that come after probably aren’t going to be the best.

So what does deescalation look like once conflict starts? Ideally, deescalation involves:

  1. Making eye contact and talking to them in a calm voice. Speak to them calmly until they are able to talk to you about what’s going on for them). It’s important here to be respectful (regardless of how you might feel in the moment) and treat the person with the same empathy you’d want if you were upset.

  2. Dealing with the person who’s upset/angry, etc. 1-on-1. If possible, bring the person to the side and speak to them personally. Don’t gang up on someone because that will probably escalate the situation and the person could become more upset.

  3. Actively listening to what the person is saying. Not putting words in their mouth. Not just waiting for them to stop talking so you can talk. Actually listen to what their needs are. Many times people are upset because they feel no one is hearing them and their concerns are being ignored. So hear them out in all seriousness.

  4. Setting reasonable, realistic boundaries to maintain the safety and peace of the space. For example, reminding the person of the rules of the space i.e. not fighting here or yelling in the waiting area. Or setting personal boundaries like: “It’s hard for me to focus when you ___, would you mind sitting down to talk, etc.?” (Reminder that boundaries are not about setting limits on or controlling other people’s behaviors. Boundaries are ultimately for you, not for other people, as guidelines so you can figure out what’s best for you in each situation. In this case, you are setting boundaries also to maintain physical and emotional safety for everyone in the space. See my intro to boundaries piece for more here.)

  5. Collaborating with the upset/agitated person on other realistic options to this behavior/situation like taking a walk, having a snack/going on lunch, and/or going into another room to talk to someone, etc. This helps you continue to see the person as a human with reasonable concerns and someone who can help come up with solutions to the issue.

How Does Race and Racism Affect How Conflict Is Handled At Work?

I described an ideal situation: all things and people being equal. But what happens when the playing field isn’t fair and 1 person has more power/privilege than the other? Personal experiences with racism and systemic racism in the workspace set the scene for how people approach each conflict. Since my intended audience is mainly Black people (and other POCs), I don’t think I should have to explain how racism and white supremacy affects how people are seen and treated. Who gets listened to vs. presumed to be lying? Who is assumed to be aggressive vs. who gets to be the victim? I think most POC in America have had moments when their fate was decided totally based on white tears, anger, etc. at some point in their work life. It can be a seriously scary moment when your job and ability to live hangs is up in the air to be decided by someone’s whims. What does deescalation even look like when the person doesn’t see you as fully human? The agitated person doesn’t want to reason with you or if you are the upset one, people around you are acting like you’re a wild animal. Often in the workplace, Black people are expected to perform extra happiness for the comfort of white coworkers and employers. A neutral face or any emotion that isn’t joy is often seen as threatening. At best, white people feeling threatened by you existing leads to multiple private meetings and pressures to change yourself and perform whatever person they want you to be for their comfort (extra emotional labor with no extra money to go with it). Or worse, you could be harassed and deal with gaslighting for months or longer before you give up and leave, are pressured to resign, or fired.

And it isn’t like it’s easy to find a job nowadays. Wider systemic racism affects job market and job discrimination is very, very, VERY real, especially if you are a person of color with many different marginalized identities at once. It’s 1 thing to be a cis Black man, looking for work and dealing with racial job discrimination. It’s a whole other thing to be a Black trans woman and dealing with racism, sexism, transmisogny, etc. all at once.  And without generational wealth, possibly being the one that takes care of family members, etc., we are often in a no-win situation. Many of us stay and deal with a toxic workspace (if we have that choice to stay) rather than be forced out into the unknown. If this sounds like abuse to you, it is because this is abusive. Your life and your ability to survive is tied up in the whims of privileged individuals and in the system. It’s no surprise that many Black people take the “clock in, do my job, and clock out” approach to work.

Dealing with Conflict In White Spaces

What does conflict resolution look like for Black ppl & other POCs in white-dominated workplaces? And I’m defining white-dominated as who ultimately holds the influence/power, not in terms of population size. The first thing I’d ask y’all to remember is that HR serves the interests of your company, not the rights/ethical concerns of employees. Basically, HR ain’t for you, fam. They don’t have YOUR best interests at heart and will throw you under the bus to save the company in a second. Never forget that. As a person of color in a white dominated space, it can seem like you are constantly deescalating and trying to prevent potential conflicts on a regular, especially the darker your skin is. On some level, everything about us is policed so we end up eventually policing ourselves: our body language, tone, how we word our emails, the way we laugh, our resting face…all of that needs to be adjusted if you make it a priority to make your white coworkers and bosses feel comfortable with you (and your Otherness). If you’ve worked in these kinds of places for awhile, it may be easier for you to navigate everything. Being able to work in a white-dominated workplace is not a sign of being better or worse. Your ability to co-switch and act in ways that make white people comfortable is not a sign of intellect. It’s a survival tool, sure. And like other tools, not all of us can use them. It just means that person needs to find a different tool that fits them.

If you are being harassed, document everything. Keep emails and send them to your personal email. Audio record meetings. Get verbally recorded or in writing confirmation of as much of the harassment as you can. See if you have trusted witnesses. Get a pro bono lawyer. Don’t brag about yourself making these moves. You are in a toxic situation with your abusive employer. These moves help to protect your livelihood. Unfortunately, there are times when conflict resolution isn’t enough. Always have a Plan B.

As a psychotherapist, I am going to put emphasis on the need to protect your mental health. It’s one thing to be able to survive and even thrive at the job, but do you have the mental and/or emotional energy for the other parts of your life? It’s important to find that balance so you can survive/thrive for as long as you need to while also being at peace with how you live your life in general. Find a balance between making those unfortunately  necessary for now sacrifices and setting boundaries for your mental and physical health. We all remember how drained about grandparents and parents were after coming home from jobs where they had to coddle white people at work all day for the sake of keeping a roof. Self-awareness is a way to make sure that you are being fulfilled and finding meaning/purpose in other areas of your life. That job is important because it pays bills, but it doesn’t have to be the most important thing in your life. Again, check out my post on how to set boundaries for some more information. It’s easier to maintain a solid work/life balance if you make some time for self care (Self care 101 post here and if you take the time to know yourself. You could also try different Mindfulness techniques (see post here] until you find the right one(s) for you. Mindfulness techniques are useful for checking in with yourself, managing anger, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and cravings, etc. Sometimes there are going to be no-win situations where staying is not an options. Part of having firm boundaries, taking care of yourself, and being more mindful of yourself is knowing when to leave a toxic situation at the point where the it hurts more than it’s helping. At the end of the day, it’s about how not only doing good for yourself now, but also keeping this same energy years from now. Sustaining yourself. Growing yourself, not the company.

Deescalating a heated and/or tense situation at work is hard enough as it is. Adding in racial dynamics can make work feel like a life or death chess match or survival strategy game everyday. And that can be draining. Figuring out how to set the right boundaries, doing some self care and mindfulness techniques, and having a life outside of work goes a long way in protecting yourself from the potential damages of working in a less than affirming work environment. Taking care of your health and mental health is priceless.The only way you’ll be able to survive and/or truly thrive in the long run is if you make yourself a top priority.

Thanks for reading. The next post will cover the phenomenon of detransitioning and the reasons that trans people might decide to detransition, and what you can do to support them in whatever actions they take.

What Is Socialization?

It’s everywhere. Every. Where. But most people aren’t aware of the effects it has on how they think, act, and what they see as possible. I see people not knowing what socialization is and how they are affected by it everyday. Whether we are talking about sex and dating (“It’s just a preference.”) or systems of oppression like racism (Black people seen as especially angry/dangerous) or transphobia/transmisia (Thinking there are only 2 genders). Socialization is there setting the scene for your life. Even in this society where we are taught to be “mavericks” and achieve our individual American dreams (these are all examples of socialization by the way), we are all living our lives by scripts and rules set out for us. And those who actually go against the grain in ways that capitalism can’t make money off of are socially punished at best. Many have also been abandoned, killed or imprisoned. This post will focus on explaining what socialization is and how it affects every part of our lives with the goal of helping people become more aware. I am constantly taking about the importance of self-reflection and awareness. Self-awareness and awareness of the various kinds of socializations is the first step to freedom.

So what is socialization? Socialization is the process of learning the social agenda and everyone’s place in society. It is a learning process that starts from the moment we are born that we can’t opt out of and we can’t avoid it. And no one is immune to it. Nobody is above the power of socialization. It starts from birth and you are already living according to what you’ve learned from it years before you are old enough to start to becoming aware of it. Learning in socialization happens on many levels: at home with parents/guardians, in extended families, at school, with friends/peers, in church/places of worship, in the community, in the media, etc. Learning the social rules and agenda in a society can happen verbally, in body language, reading between the lines in implied situations, etc. We are constantly learning ideal, morals, ethics, values, and rules for how to behave that determine all the choices we make. We are all directly and indirectly punished/rewarded for certain traits/behaviors. We’ve also watched others get gathered for things they did. We saw the consequences of their actions and switched up our behavior in response. That kind of learning literally changes our brains and affects what we think is possible to be and do in the world.

Socialization is how you learned to believe that poor people aren’t working hard enough or that “boys will be boys” when cis men engage in violent behavior. It’s how you learn that having dark skin is ugly/animalistic or how you learn that to be feminine is to be weak. Socialization is what encourages people socialized as women/femmes to stay with toxic men because they see the potential of who he might become while encouraging cishet and cis masculine men to leave the moment they are unhappy. If life is a board game, the game is rigged and everyone’s roles and destiny was pre-decided by a handful of people who cheated and stole to get that power. They wanna keep most of the winnings to themselves so they set up the game so people like them always win…as long as everyone plays their part. Socialization is the game rules and everyone is told that if they keep to the script, they might win something in the end. But anyone really paying attention can see that, like gambling, the House always wins. These rules are not natural law. This ain’t ordained by god or whatever other justification they use for being greedy and bigoted. Because socialization is taught from the moment we are born, it’s easy to believe that social problems can’t be changed. Poverty, racism, colorism, rape culture, etc. are man-made problems, not natural disasters that we can throw our “thoughts and prayers” at. That’s why it’s so interesting that people (usually people defending their position of power/privilege) love to talk about the “agendas” of marginalized people like ”The Gay Agenda,” for example. They snitch on themselves with this. Pay attention: any different ways of thinking and/or existing in the world directly stand against the socialization game rules and the agenda THEY set up to benefit them. If you act differently, you mess with their bag. They have an agenda that they want to protect at other people’s expense.

To complicate things, someone can be both privileged and oppressed in different ways. Somebody can be oppressed for being Black and gay, but have cisgender, abled, and masculine male privilege. This person could definitely experience systemic racism (job discrimination for being Black) and have individual experiences with homophobia (abandoned by his family and communities and forced to figure out life on his own). That said, he also benefits from living in a society that rewards and gives priority to able-bodied masculine men and holds back, oppresses, punishes, and/or kills people who are feminine and/or not cisgender. Because people often can be both marginalized and oppressed, many people often focus only on the oppressions they deal with and ignore the suffering of other people. Especially if they can enjoy some level of power over those other people. This society encourages people to not have empathy for others so everyone can keep playing the game. It’s exploitation on so many levels.

I mentioned before that socialization affects how you see the world. This can look like white people calling the cops on Native youth for going on a college campus tour because “they don’t belong”. Dig deep there: why don’t they belong? Why don’t non-white youth belong in school? That’s racism and socialization: racism is taught to us and is a part of how we are socialized. Internalized racism, homophobia, misogyny, etc. is also socialization. Even sexual preferences that y’all love to pretend are objective and not affected by anything. Sexual preferences and your ideals of attractiveness are strongly influenced by socialization. We are all taught who is attractive, who is worth dating and loving, and who is worth just having sex with in private. None of that is natural law. And I know what many of y’all are going to wanna say at this point: “I’m my own person. I just like what I like. I believe what I believe. And that’s that on that”. Yeah, you have an inner self. You are you, but this you is filtered through and shaped by the society we live in. If you weren’t socialized into believing that some people are less equal than others through racism, misogyny, homophobia/homomisia, transphobia/transmisia, ableism, colorism, etc., then you would have different values and be a different person. Like that Black Mirror episode: “Men Against Fire” with the Roaches [SPOILER]. Think of socialization as the MASS implant given to soldiers to hide the true identities of the people being killed. The implants created the circumstances where the soldiers could dehumanize people and see them as “roaches” in order to participate in genocide and basically their systemic removal from society. [END SPOILER] That’s what socialization does. Changing how you see the world so you can participate in society according to the rules. If you were socialized to see transgender people as equal human beings like you, you would be disgusted at how often people joke about killing them or how medical providers will leave trans people to die because healing them is against their religion. If you were socialized to see dark-skinned Black women as people, you wouldn’t call them “unrapeable” and “roaches”. It’s easy to separate children from their parents and then “lose” them if you see them as “animals”. And again, 1 of the goals of socialization, like the implants, is to systemically remove certain people or make them invisible in society. These are physical, psychological, and social genocides.

You don’t have to keep playing the game with the rules you have been given. Socialization can be unlearned. For example, people of color expect white people to unlearn the racism they were socialized into. And the Me Too movement is about asking people to unlearn the socialization around rape culture. Taking apart your assumptions is hard work, but it’s definitely possible. It’s something to work on everyday while being open to being corrected on your mess. Fostering awareness of yourself (1 way is through Mindfulness techniques. Check out my piece here) is the start to unpacking socialization’s baggage. Freedom isn’t something that passively happens. Ain’t nobody gonna just free us. We have to free ourselves and it starts in our minds.

Thanks for reading. The next post will be about dealing conflict and deescalating situations as a person of color in a white-dominated workplace.

The Psychological Impact Of Drug War On Black Communities

This post is gonna be HEAVY, y’all. It would probably be helpful to read my Drug Use: When Is It A Problem post to get a sense of my professional stance on drug use before we get into this. If we aren’t on the same page about things like harm reduction, what makes people use drugs, the different types of relationships to drugs that people have, etc., you might get a little lost.

I’ve spent the last few years of my life working clinically with mainly Black and Latinx people from ages 12 to 80 with histories of drug use and that’s not even counting the years of non-counseling jobs/positions I’ve had where I’ve worked with people from this background. I personally have had to unpack a lot of my own biases, my assumptions, and the myths that society teaches us about drug use and the kinds of people who use drugs. We’ve all been socialized and fooled into believing straight out lies and myths. But now the climate is changing with this recent opioid epidemic. Now, there’s the performance of compassion in the media, in the government, and by some medical professionals. Suddenly everyone is expected to ditch all that socialization and all those lies about “addicts” that we were taught. The script is now publicly changing. It made me reflect on how Black people (and other POCs, but this is about Black people and our communities) were treated while our communities were/are ravaged by chaotic substance use and the messages we internalized because of it. We are blamed for a lack of morals and are punished for “weakness” through drug laws, arrests, prison, ineffective treatment programs that shame people and swipe their insurance cards instead of helping them heal, etc. And we as a people internalized this message while so many of our own have been abandoned. The jig is up though. This post is not about the intentions of the government or analyzing why things are the way they are. That’s not my lane. This post is a letter to Black people reflecting on some of the psychological effects that the War on Drugs has had on our communities and how we can unlearn the lies we’ve been taught by White supremacy in order to make our communities stronger.

What’s Going On?

Now, Black people, I know I don’t have to explain the stigma/judgment around crack and heroin in our communities, right? Y’all peeped that already? There’s no way you haven’t. We’ve all heard “crackhead” and “dope fiend” jokes. What’s so wild to me is that we know the government put crack in our communities to destabilize us. We know the War on Drugs was a set up and an attack on our communities, but we still crack jokes, disrespect people, judge them, etc. for having a drug use that got out of control. It’s cruel as hell and doesn’t make any kind of sense to blame the people who got caught up instead of the ones who set the trap. Especially when we all got at least 1 person in our families who got caught up in the War on Drugs on some level at some point. It’s a straight numbers game at this point. Local and federal governments treat Black people who struggle with chaotic use of drugs any kinda way with bigoted policies and we as a people let it happen because we generally don’t think they deserve better. Drug laws and policies are already known to have racist roots and the laws are enforced differently depending on the color of your skin. We all know white people get away with using and selling drugs in ways that would get us locked up forever. We don’t need research and news articles to tell us what we see with our own eyes. And it has changed how we think about and treat people in our own communities. Suddenly, he’s not your uncle or your neighbor. He’s dehumanized and turned into a “dope fiend” in your eyes. We’ve been fooled as a people by White supremacy to abandon whole people and forget about them. In my work, I’ve seen clients abandoned by their families: sometimes living right down the street and being outright ignored or some people never seeing their relatives again. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking chaotic substance use is a sign of moral failure or a sickness that means the lives of those Black people don’t matter anymore. The lack of community support is deadly for so many people because these kinds of social services for our own are usually 1 of first to get cut.

And because life ain’t simple, all this stigma is added by other types of bigotry. Many of the Black people who our communities have abandoned for chaotic drug use also happen to be LGBTQAI and/or are living with HIV. This isn’t a coincidence. We are all spoon-fed homophobia/homomisia from a young age. And the sex education in this country is made terrible on purpose. The same people in power who want you to think Black people are criminals and gay people ruin families also want you to be uneducated about sex and sexual health. It shocks me on the regular how many people don’t know the 4 body fluids that transmit HIV or don’t know what a “window period” is. But will seriously think you can get HIV from drinking a cup, sharing a bathroom, or that only gay people get HIV. Just loud and wrong. There is a reason they want you misinformed. Misinformation and racist laws/policies are DEADASS killing our communities. If we all actually knew the truth and used this knowledge to make informed decisions, we’d be stronger as a people. We are struggling as a people when we are willing to let each other die off some “Say No to Drugs” nonsense. Again, we are for real listening to values and policies created by the people who put drugs in our communities in the first place instead of healing ourselves.

The struggles that come with living with HIV and/or being LGBTQAI in a bigoted, ableist society adds to the burden of being Black. Not only are you dealing with a system that is killing you (if racist individuals don’t get to you first), many of your own people don’t even see you as a part of the community or as human. When someone tells you the same thing over and over again, you eventually believe them. If people are being told that they’re dirty, useless, sinners, lazy, will always be an addict, etc. over and over again, eventually they internalize that mess. There have been so many of my former clients who believe using drugs and having a history of “chaotic use” (again check my Drug Use post for a definition) means they “deserve” whatever people do to them or whatever dangerous policies/laws are passed. This sets up the environment for a cycle of poor mental health. Depressive, anxiety, trauma, etc. symptoms can be triggered and made worse by being exposed to bigotry and being abandoned by their families/communities. Living with systemic discrimination and prejudices can lead many people to cope with those psychological burdens with substance use. And that’s not even counting the lack of consistent quality medical care, systemic racism in medical and mental health spaces throughout history and now, and the lack of public health education/awareness available for many Black people. Ultimately, many Black people slip through the cracks and our communities are weaker for it. We talk about revolution, but how can we get free if so many in our communities are being left behind?

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s time for us to look in the mirror. It’s time for us to start to heal as a community and unlearn all the lies. We gotta rebuild the bridges burnt down by believing in white supremacist lies about drug use. What can we all do to make sure people aren’t forgotten? Beyond laws and relying on people outside of our communities to make policy changes for us. Y’all know good and well that we can’t rely on this current political climate. So what can we do?

Some Suggestions:
  • Unlearn myths and stigmas about people who struggle with their drug use (Again, my intro to drug use piece is a great place to start).Where do those “crackhead” jokes come from? What values are they based in? Who taught you that? Are those values worth keeping? Once it really hits you that we as a society shame these victims of the War on Drugs while the ones who instigated it are still in power…the jokes are a lot less funny.

  • Give money, food, clothes, etc. to people who ask for help in real life and on crowdfunding apps. Why donate to companies when you can give directly to people?

  • Pro Bono services/volunteering – what skills do you have or what services you could provide for free to members of your community who need it?

  • Maybe you could reach out to abandoned family members and see what’s good with them (Again, boundaries and self care are important here).

It’s been so wild watching the media suddenly seem to find all this compassion for white people struggling with chaotic use of opioids. It’s a clear slap to the face after years of criminalization, judgment, and abandonment of our people. We need to let go of the biases and the lies we were told about drug use and people who have chaotic substance use. Leaving our own people behind because they use drugs to cope with whatever they’re going through is cruel. Black people have always been denied the same compassion and access to support and we have suffered as a result. We don’t get access to the same treatment professionals, methods or programs. Most of the time, we have to make due with barely the bare minimum. Now, imagine doing that when even other Black people don’t consider you to be fully human. When you’re not factored into the “coming together” or into the revolution plans. That stigma, on top of others like I mentioned before, leaves so many of our own incredibly vulnerable. We as a people will be stronger if we pushed the lies aside and had more compassion for people in our communities who are going through it. This is part of community building and part of revolutionary work.

Thanks for reading. The next post will be about socialization: what it is, and how it affects how people see themselves, other people, and the world.

How to Set Boundaries

Boundaries are the limits a person can set on what they will accept and how people treat them. Knowing how to set boundaries for yourself is one of the most important life skills to learn. In an ideal situation, your parents and/or the other adults in your life showed you how to set boundaries through their actions and words. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, this doesn’t happen. And setting boundaries becomes a skill that people spend most, if not all of their lives trying to figure out on their own. Basically like playing the same video game level over and over again, trying to learn this same lesson. Setting boundaries can be hard or even feel impossible. Especially if you are used to your boundaries being laughed at, ignored, pushed aside, or not even acknowledged (this is common in child emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse, child neglect, intimate partner violence/domestic violence, systemic racism, etc.). People in these situations learn to live with the fear that if they set boundaries, even really small ones (like needing alone time or a safe space), they will be punished for it. In the face of danger and/or fear, people mainly talk about fight and flight, but another common response is not resisting. The person begins to belief that no resistance = no pain. This also happens on a society-level. Society sees marginalized people setting boundaries as rude. Having no boundaries allows people full access to you and oppressors feel entitled to the bodies, cultures, etc. of others. That’s why setting a boundary like kneeling for the National Anthem can cause so much outrage. Laws and society’s expectations respect the boundaries of certain people while dehumanizing others to many different degrees depending on race, gender, ability, etc. In this post, I’m going to talk about what boundaries do and how to start setting solid personal boundaries. Firm solid boundaries are so necessary for good mental and physical health, for interacting with the people in your life, and for community-building.

What Do Boundaries Do?

Setting boundaries is a way to take care of yourself and your emotional/psychological needs (Check out this post explaining self care). Firm boundaries protect people from emotional harm, burn out, feeling drained, etc. Like how the skin, skulls, rib cages, etc. protects important organs in our body. Setting boundaries is a part of having good mental health and living a more satisfying life. Making solid boundaries gives everyone involved the opportunity to make sure their emotional needs are taken care of and to continue to enthusiastically consent to dealing with a given person/situation. When you trust other people to respect your boundaries, there’s a freedom there. You feel more comfortable being relaxed and being yourself because you don’t need to worry about any threats. Also boundaries are not hard and fast rules. They change as you change and as your needs and the situation in your life changes. Boundaries are not about setting limits on other people’s behaviors. You can’t control other people. You can only change and control yourself. Boundaries are ultimately for you, not for other people. They are guidelines for yourself so you can figure out what’s best for you in each situation.

Examples of Phrases Used to Set Boundaries:

  • I already said No. I’m not repeating myself.
  • I don’t want to talk about this right now. Give me an hour.
  • If you keep doing this, I am going to leave/block you.

Notice that these boundaries focus on what you can do for yourself and your own behaviors. Again, boundaries aren’t about other people’s actions. Boundaries aren’t “You can’t say that so stop it”. That’s trying to control someone else’s behavior. What you can do is separate yourself from people: block them, stop doing business with them, stop giving them money, etc. Setting boundaries requires a realistic awareness of yourself and compassion towards your own psychological/emotional needs.

Some people have a hard time with setting boundaries due to feeling guilty or anxious. Like I mentioned before, someone feeling guilt and/or anxiety when setting boundaries could come from trauma and/or multiple experiences of people and society telling you that you don’t get to have respected boundaries. That right there is definitely grounds for self-reflection and/or working that out in therapy. Like I mentioned in the self-care post, taking care of mental and physical health is not selfish. You will be a stronger and happier person in the long run if you protect your whole body and self. And on the other hand, if you think other people setting boundaries is rude, it really says A LOT more about you than it does about the person setting the boundary. Self-reflection is important here. What is making you feel like you deserve access to this person in this way? Who are you really? Check that entitlement.

Setting Boundaries

I’ve noticed that many conflicts and issues come up because at the end of the day, many people don’t know how to set clear, firm personal boundaries. It can be hard for many people to know where to start. I’ll help.

Some tips for setting boundaries:
Start To Own It:

One place to start is coming to a place where you internalize and truly believe that you have just as much of a right to boundaries as anyone else. Trauma, etc. could have you feeling like you don’t need or deserve protection, but everybody will burn out after awhile without taking care of themselves. Wearing a coat in cold weather doesn’t make someone weak, lazy, or selfish and neither does taking care of your mental and emotional health.

Self-Reflection: 

Know yourself and your limitations. If you don’t know yourself, you’re not gonna be able to communicate that to someone else. For the record, having limits isn’t a bad thing. It’s a human thing. Nobody is limitless and knowing your personal limits is another way of taking care of yourself, prioritizing yourself, and helping yourself grow.

Try Mindfulness:

Being more mindful of yourself is very helpful in learning how to set firm boundaries. Finding the right mindfulness technique(s) for you can increase self-awareness, help you manage anger and/or cravings, make it easier to understand your own emotions, etc. Check out my post here on mindfulness for more information.

Ask For Help:

Individual or group therapy could help you work through the deeper things possibly going on for you. It isn’t wrong to need professional help with figuring out how to make setting clear, strong boundaries easier and managing any related emotions, thoughts, and/or traumas that may come along. People need backup. That’s real.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a situation turn sour between people because of paper-thin boundaries, my rent in NYC would be covered forever. For many people setting clear, firm boundaries is something that was never really taught. Boundaries don’t always feel nice, but they’re always necessary. Getting to a place where you really believe your mental, emotional, and physical health deserves to be protected and that you’re not weak, rude, etc. for setting boundaries is a struggle for many. Using self-reflection, mindfulness techniques, and/or therapy can help you learn your personal boundaries and be able to communicate them clearly to other people. Firm, clear boundaries will completely change your life and the way you engage with people at school, work, home, etc. And you will be in less and less complicated, vague situations if that’s not what you actually want.

 

Thanks for reading. The next post will be about the psychological impact of the War on Drugs on our communities.