As a young child in elementary school, I was a crafty and resourceful young soul. I had to be. Protection was the name of the game and the players were the many bullies that would make school difficult, everyday. My resourcefulness paid off in the way of escapism from my bullies’ relentless attacks. I had mapped out the entire school yard. Everything was colour-coded, even the trees and neighboring houses. Strongly depicted were my ‘safe zones’. They were the places I would run to when the recess bell rang - and run I did.
These past couple of years have been a time of great fluctuation and change. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about those early days - when I learned how to survive against discrimination and violence. Since my younger years, I had perfected the art of escapism. For a long while, I had been the type of person who was always looking toward my next safe landing strip. It was a process of avoidance. You see, I had gotten into heaps of trouble when I was younger. The bullies seemed to dissipate in their numbers. I did not want to deal with the challenges of life.
Or am I being fair to myself? I was hit with a lot in my life, all that was capstoned by my positive HIV results and my bipolar diagnosis. It was not so much about escapism then. My brick wall had been found. I could not jump the wall, nor could I go around it. I had to break through. My challenges had to be opportunities for growth.
My HIV and bipolar diagnoses caused me to look at my own personal health, for the very first time. I started to go to the gym, prepared more healthy meals, took up running and cycling. I even became certified in teaching yoga. I felt that there was so much about my own health that was out of my control, so I had to do whatever I could that was within my control to work towards vitality. I was no longer avoiding my challenges, but I was beginning to forge a new path toward wellness.
This would be an important lesson, one that would be more deeply understood in years to come.
"As a child I searched for a hiding place, whereas now I search for space to simply be. It is a wonderful and beautiful thing."
Escapism evolved from fervent survival and into a balanced sense of self-care. I had to put the effort in, though. In the beginning, my understanding of self-care was segmented into several parts: nutrition, exercise and meditation. At the baseline, these things were what kept me grounded in times of change. In fact, I understood change better because I brought self-care into the equation.
Time can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It is all about perspective. When it comes to taking care of yourself, I believe the best place to start is to stop thinking so far into the future and deeply into the past; stay in the present moment. Stop and become aware of what is happening right now. My experience has taught me that life becomes more enjoyable when I do this.
From the launching pad of concentrating on the present, I have been able to listen to myself and understand what I needed.
When I initially came out as a transgendered woman I was hit with a boatload of challenges. Those challenges most definitely revealed important life lessons. I lost male privilege. I was subjected to street harassment and discrimination. Housing became an issue. To say that I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
But I came through it all. It took effort but I learned valuable life skills. I learned the true value of interdependence: to rely upon my support network when needed and to stand tall and firm on my own in other areas. There was no escapism anymore.
The most important lesson that became a capstone for both my childhood and my gender transition was the value of self-care. Now I know the true value of taking care of myself and what that means. As a child I searched for a hiding place, whereas now I search for space to simply be. It is a wonderful and beautiful thing.
Today, self-care encompasses many things for me. Firstly, it starts with nutrition. I will admit I haven’t been the greatest in this area, as I am currently underhoused and most of my belongings are packed up. I commute a long way to work, ergo - lots of takeout.
The second piece is exercise. Exercise can be anything: running, cycling and yoga are my faves. I believe in doing something physical that you enjoy. Exercise is as much for the soul as it is for any physical benefit that would develop. The last piece of self care is mental health. One could argue that good mental health contains the above (quite true), but I believe it can also mean other things.
My practice of taking care of my mind includes therapy, psychiatry and seeing my trans health coordinator regularly. Moreover, I take care of my mind and spirit by doing nice things for myself. My favourite thing to do is to take myself out on a date. This usually involves a sushi dinner at my favourite AYCE sushi resto, combined with a film. I believe that the better we treat ourselves, the better we are able to treat others.
To fully realize the importance of self-care, we need to go through a set of challenges that test our armour. This does not necessarily need to be a traumatic event, but just something that presents a new problem where we must draw upon our mental skill set to solve and become more self-aware. It is then that we see how putting ourselves first is one of the best things we do for ourselves.
My therapist recently remarked to me that he could tell I prefer a simple life, free of excessive stress or lots of activity. Odd for an extrovert, one could say. But while I enjoy being the life of the party, this girl also needs to put of her feet and read a good book once and awhile. It’s just so good for the soul.