Life Is A Bitch! Is It? Or Is It Not?
Emotional distress happens when anxiety, a depressive mood or of a conflict within the mind causes a person to live on the “last straw”, and when such mode of living has more or less become a person’s way of life.
What causes the mind to go into this state is as much the depth of emotional distress as its duration. The typical symptoms of emotional distress include recurring sleep disturbances, dramatic weigh fluctuations, unusual physical symptoms and short fuses, difficulty managing anger and one’s temper, compulsive and obsessive behaviors, chronic tiredness and fatigue, lack of energy, memory problems and shunning of social activity.
I can recognize and acknowledge the continued presence in my life of all but just three of these symptoms. And I believe it is my ailing marital life that is largely to blame, as are to lesser degree my struggle for gender-identity and my quest for purpose in life.
While a happy marriage is the one factor that can extend our life by over a decade, according to some statistics, it is a double-edged sword. Because there are not many more harmful detriments to human health than living a dysfunctional marriage. And I can testify to this.
During the 23 years that I’ve spent with my former partner, of which 17 as a married couple, I think at least 10 must have been filled with an ever-deepening sense of dissatisfaction. For an infinite amount of time I neither realized nor dared to admit how unhappy I felt living side by side with a person who just wasn’t made for me. And it is only now, after having recently left what once was my beloved but unsettling home, that I become slowly and painfully aware of the suffering that I experienced during these long years. And the principal source of this suffering has been a marked absence of love and fondness in my marriage, which in turn led to the slow but relentless emergence of negative emotional override between the two of us.
And it started really well…
Yes, it started really very well, as it does for every person that falls in love. Yes, these were memorable moments whereby, as a 17-year-old teenage boy, I felt regressing and merging with my beloved partner and when we united to experience a sense of omnipotence that made us both feel like we could conquer any obstacle. But what was truly exceptional about our initial encounter, and pursuing connection we developed, was how my distorted masculinity did not come in the way of our emerging relationship. Not realizing that I was a transgender person, yet feeling it in every fiber of my body, should’ve made me feel shy and ill-at-ease, as it had during the countless previous times when I forced myself to date a girl. Well, I guess my luck finally arrived, at least so it seemed at the time.
But I know now, being older and a notch wiser, that falling in love is not love, it is a nature’s trick to make people bond together. The chemical reaction in our brains, particularly the secretion of certain hormones such as oxytocin, is what makes those “in love” feel the way they do. This is most definitely a temporary experience, and invariably at some point we are bound to fall out of love…which is not to say that we stop loving. Quite the contrary, we’re just about to start loving if all goes well. What happens is that we drop temporarily the boundaries of our ego and this leads us to make commitments to other people. And from these commitments real love may begin. As such thus, falling in love is a part of the great and mysterious scheme of love.
Of course, all this begs the question about what love is…
What is love?
Well, this question has been on my mind for as long I can remember and finding a satisfying definition has been an elusive task. But at last, it is Scott Peck who, in his acclaimed book “The Road Ahead”, provided the answer, at least one I could relate to. He states that love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual growth. And this implies couple of things.
Firstly, love’s purpose is growth of another person, spiritual growth that is (and this is not meant to evoke religious connotations). It is about enlarging ourselves as persons, and extending our own limits in quest of the diamond that’s hidden in each and every one of us. It is about forging new patterns, and competences against the entropic forces of the universe, and our own laziness in particular.
Secondly, the act of loving is an act of self-evolution, when we enlarge ourselves, even if the purpose of the act is someone else’s growth. When we engage in the act of love of another, we receive the benefits that make us grow.
Thirdly, love includes self-love with love for the other, because we cannot love others unless we love ourselves.
Fourthly, the act of extending one’s limits implies an effort, we must in fact exceed our limits if we want to love. In other words, love is about walking an extra mile.
Finally, love is a willful act where we transcend our desires into action. When we exercise love, we choose to do so…it is not thus a plain desire but a desire followed by a willful action.
If this sounds abstract, think of how we feel about our kids. You want them to grow, to become smart, agile, disciplined, sensitive; you want them to be emotionally intelligent, and you dream for them to become great swimmers or gymnasts, etc. As a parent, you know how much work it all requires, and you’re more than willing to put it in. And as you do, you feel you grow as a person alongside your kids, you become better in some way. But you can only extend yourself towards your kids if you truly love yourself, for each and single of your insecurities and self-diminishing thoughts will interfere immensely with the depth of your love for them. It is for this reason that those parents who feel confident about themselves, who have a high level of self-acceptance and self-esteem, who enjoy life as it comes, will also love their kids infinitely more. Well, that’s what true love is, and that’s how I understand it after cracking my head over its meaning during the greater part of my life.
But love in my marriage just didn’t get a chance to flourish…
As I think back of the time spent with my partner I cannot help thinking that we experienced true and real love in our relationship only for a relatively brief moment, probably the first 10 years that we spent together. I can only speculate as to why this was the case. And what springs to mind immediately is that we lacked a shared meaning or lost it along the way, and stopped sharing the same values, ambitions and dreams. Put differently, the differences between the two of us became too large in magnitude as the time passed by. And so, at some point we stopped extending ourselves towards each other. We initially dropped the boundaries of our egos, and kept them down until we no longer could. Yes, we made the effort to thin them out, but in the end were doomed to fail. Just as you should not mix lasagna and bananas, you should not mix two completely different souls. And this is what happened in our case, we felt in love, bonded together, extended ourselves towards each other, but were probably not supposed to.
About coach potatoes!
If I think of my partner then I must conclude that she has never had the urge to enlarge herself, and felt rather content about everything in life. The mistake I made was in trying to change her rather than let her grow. Not surprisingly, the harder I tried the harder she pushed back. I suppose my biggest mistake was that that I was deeply confrontational, if not to say contemptuous. My intentions were not pure, but rather self-serving, which explain the push-back. And while this was admittedly wrong, very much so in fact, it doesn’t change the fact that growth wasn’t welcome by my partner. I often joked sarcastically how comfortable she felt sitting on the banana tree, never coming down from it. She seldom opposed these statements, suggesting she was in full accord with my observation. And indeed, if this were possible, she could’ve spent her lifetime on a coach watching TV or reading romantic novels. And she’s read hundreds if not thousands of them throughout the years. OK, I exaggerate a bit…but hope the point is clear.
But if this weren’t enough, my wife expected me to occasionally join her on the couch, something I could just not pull myself to do. My deep desire to advance, and better myself in everything could not keep me on the couch for long. In my desire for self-love I was adamant to fight my negative karma, anger and impatience in particular. What’s more, I was keen to expand my spiritual life and through this to transcend my lesser ego. I wanted to take on a job that was satisfying and meaningful to me and to the society, and in doing so I quit my boring and totally meaningless corporate career. I insisted on hopping from country to country, this in my quest to find a place where we could both feel good (whatever this might mean). And then was my gender dysphoria, one that I fought all my life denying myself the opportunity for being my true self.
Well, hardly any of these ambitions fitted into my wife’s map of life. In her mind my spirituality made me mellow (and this isn’t meant to be positive). My quitting corporate career was irresponsible and risky. My entrepreneurial ventures were not thought-through, and hence doomed to fail. My fight with anger and impatience was seldom noticed, and neither was my hard work, be it at home or outside of it. In fact, the more I worked the more annoyed she felt it seems. The country-hopping was always enriching, but in retrospect only. And then came my gender transition, the one thing that really unnerved her for I no longer fitted into the picture of “Mr. and Mrs. Normal”.
It just seems to me that every single idea and dream I pursed just didn’t fly very well with her. She felt happy and fulfilled the way she was, nothing needed to change, it just was perfect for her. And the more ordinary the circumstances and existence, the safer life seemed to her. Not surprisingly, my quest for different and better was seldom welcomed by her, and it was almost never appreciated, even in hindsight. I could never comprehend how my partner did not realize that things change, and how they must change in the eternal cycle of renewal. For even the universe is in constant motion since 12 billion years, expanding its boundaries after the Big Bang – a phenomenon known as cosmic inflation.
But there was one notable exception to this all. My wife deeply longed to have children, as did I, and this was her biggest and possibly only ambition in life. Yes, life cannot be complete without children, this was the one thing we always unconditionally agreed on. But we had dramatically different views on many other things.
About the “mommy brain”
The differences between the two of us were not the only reason we failed in extending ourselves to nurture the other’s growth. If anything, I blame it on the emotional connection which we’ve lost along the way. In fact, I trace it back to the arrival of the kids and the emergence of my partner’s motherhood, the two events that made her change dramatically almost from one day to another.
Louann Brizendine writes in her celebrated book “The Female Brain” that “motherhood changes you forever”. Her elaborate book talks about motherhood changing a woman’s brain structurally and functionally, this under the influence of the female hormones. She calls it “the mommy brain” and compares it to the “invasion of the body snatchers”. These hormonal changes in the woman’s brain structure make her supposedly feel dramatically different and change her into an almost different person.
But as with “falling in love”, the “mommy brain” is a nature’s trick, it’s a way to ensure the survival of the specie. The workings of the “mommy brain” start with an irresistible “baby lust”, or a deep-felt hunger for a child experienced after she’s cradled someone else’s warm, soft newborn. Then come the tranquilizing effects of progesterone and estrogen that protect her against stress during her pregnancy, which is why so many expecting mothers seem mellow and absent-minded as well as why they are so vigilant about their safety, nutrition, and surroundings and less attuned to making conference calls and organizing their daily schedules. A lot of other things seem to happen during and after the pregnancy, making her change into something rather unrecognizable. One way or another, the woman’s biology seems to hijack her. All of a sudden her priorities change dramatically, and so does life for her, and for everyone around her.
Yes, the above seems logical. And yet, I don’t think it’s as straightforward as saying it’s down to the hormones! Without realizing it, I think Mrs. Brizendine engages in intellectual complacency. I am convinced that the “mommy brain” is only to a limited extend the effect of the hormones and more so the effect of social conditioning which girls go through since their birth. Because for every time they’re told to dream of becoming a doctor or an astronaut they’re told ten times that they’re to be good mommies and that nothing else will fulfill them more. As a feminist I feel so angry about this, for there is nothing larger of a waste than a waste of human creativity and human potential. And this for the sake of procreation? Well, there are too many of us on this Planet, and our specie has become a deadly virus destroying everything on its path. The sooner we do something about the “mommy brain” the better it is for the Planet.
Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that motherhood is bad. Quite the contrary, it’s surely a wonderful experience. But as with many things in life, moderation is advised.
I myself experienced the parental sentiments, as well as many of the same symptoms that my wife did as her motherhood came to life. I looked forward to my babies just as much as she did. My feelings may have been not biologically imposed, but they were undoubtedly there. And when these little two babies of ours arrived, I cried from happiness, and cherished every day being their dad. I was in love with my babies, and this feeling has never left me.
But I must confess that along this exciting journey something imperceptible happened, something that had negative consequences on our marriage. Sadly, I realized this only several years later.
What happened is that following the birth of our first child my partner’s emotional attachment to me, my place in her life and her view of me as person changed dramatically. And so all of a sudden the things that meant so much to me started disappearing from my life, irreversibly so. I refer to the deep insights my wife and I so often shared, the lengthy intellectual discussions we so much enjoyed, the mutual infatuation we occasionally immersed ourselves in and the joint activities we so eagerly engaged in.
But that’s not all. There is one other tremendously important thing that truly felt different. With the arrival of children my partner started viewing her life as complete, it was at this moment that she must have concluded that the summit has been reached, perfection accomplished, dreams fulfilled. And nothing else counted in life. She proved her grandmas and aunts right, there’s nothing more fulfilling in life than being a mom, a good mom that is.
Unfortunately for me, I wanted to reach many other summits in life. I still hoped to find meaningful work and make our world a better place, to resolve my existential pains, to deal with my anger and frustrations, to rid of my lesser ego and of many other character traits that kept me imprisoned in the lower worlds, to improve my spiritual life, to explore my passion for photography and astronomy, to travel, and many other things.
But the “mommy brain” combined with my partner’s somewhat risk-averse, if not to say complacent, nature were not very fond of my ambitions. If anything, my drive, my desires and my dreams started threatening the stability of her perfect world, and of her summit camp. All of her sudden, my “freakish” ideas were like a snow blizzard, blowing relentlessly over her nest. Not surprisingly, conflict after conflict started to emerge. She felt threatened, and I felt distressed.
But things were to get even worse. When the “body snatchers” turned my wife’s rational brain into the “mommy brain” I was transformed from a once-beloved-partner-and-friend into a service provider of some sort. The beloved husband was put into oblivion and what was left was the house gardener, the cleaner, the guy-who-takes-garbage-out-on-Friday, the handy-man, the house accountant, the banker, the tax planner, and the guy who brings a lot of money home (not that it mattered to her).
All this would’ve been perfectly OK if it wasn’t for the pervasive absence of strong emotional connection, fondness and appreciation – the things I longed for but could not find in my relationship. The absence of positive override was so striking that it defies belief. And the harder I worked for our family, the less I felt she noticed or appreciated my efforts. After a while I become convinced that my partner carried a sense of entitlement of some sort, and took me for granted at every level. She denies this vehemently to this day, so this leaves me thinking that she was just incredibly blinded by her motherhood, and her desire for a perfect family and nothing else. The feminist in me is roaring with anger…
At emotional level, it was her connection with our children that gave her all she needed. Yes, most women will cry out contemptuously saying that I was jealous. Well, I wasn’t. If anything, I felt emotionally connected and involved with my babies just as much as my wife was. And my feelings for her grew immensely stronger after the birth of our boys, but sadly, the were seldom returned.
The fate was rather cruel to us, for we did not find our way out of this maze, unfortunately not.
About shattered dreams
The importance of life-dreams is seldom realized, and yet we all have them. In fact, having dreams is about having ambition, and hope. We dream of staying healthy. We dream of feeling secure. We dream of living in a beautiful house. We dream of living purposeful lives. We dream of connecting with nature. We dream of a zillion things…
I’ve had so many dreams, and luckily I still hold on to them despite all the distress I’ve experienced throughout my marriage. And one particular dream I truly relished throughout the years was about the space around me, and my relation to it. This may sound strange, but you’d know how much space means to us once you’ve lost it, even if only temporarily. Think of how stressed or just uncomfortable you may feel in a crowded train, with people pushing you back and forth.
It is during my childhood that my relation with space developed, and when my sense of neatness and order set in for good. It is also during that period that I discovered how good I feel in vast outdoor spaces, and the mountains in particular. I saw the space as vast, open and uncluttered; filled only with the most indispensable objects needed for the living. But that’s not all! My sense of esthetics and beauty has always longed for decorative objects, the ones that create emotional connection with that space around me.
Which is why it pains me that, since the purchase of my first and only house, I could barely decorate or renovate it the way I always dreamed I would. It’s been a constant struggle to convince my partner that things could/should be changed in the house.
But what pains me even more is how my sense of space has been notoriously breached ever since I have got to know my partner. It is especially the constant and ever-present clutter and hoarding that restrained my freedom of movement throughout the years, and frustrated my sense of esthetics, organization and overall neatness.
My marriage meant that space all of a sudden become constrained, filled with countless objects, scattered haphazardly across the house, the floor, the stairs, the bathrooms, the tables, the corridors. And so, not surprisingly, the simplest living activities have become cumbersome for me.
Take cooking for example, it’s hard to prepare the food if the cooking area is occupied by something else. It’s even harder to dry your hair if the hair-dryer’s cord is entangled with all other appliances thrown randomly into the drawer. Neither is it easy to switch on the washing machine if one must first negotiate his way through the dirty laundry thrown all over the basement. And it is equally, if not more challenging, to hang up your jacket if one stumbles over the shoes lying on the floor (often all over the corridor and even the living room). And I will mention but not comment on the effect of the toys that are to be found in every corner of the house, and the books, and the leaflets, and the envelopes, and the pencils, and the socks…
But that’s not all! Beyond cluttered space it is the stains that have disturbed relentlessly my sense of neatness. For they were to be found on every surface of the house and nearly every object present in it, i.e. the windows, the doors, the tables, the coaches, the cutlery, or the glasses. No, I don’t need shining space, but there is just something deeply disturbing about the greasy or dirty stains on the objects of daily living. I could never comprehend how anyone can eat with a dirty fork, or drink from a dirty cup, or look into a mirror that just doesn’t reflect the light. And yet I’ve been unwillingly forced into this unpleasant experience.
Admittedly, things have gotten better over the years, but only after peaceful arguments turned into countless and never-ending battles. The change has happened, and space was freed which is not to suggest it’s clutter-free or stainless. And so, things got better, but nearly not fast enough. For the suffering, the frustration, and the shattered dreams have left me with deep emotional injuries. And they left my partner distressed as well, since my need for for uncluttered space restricted her own freedoms.
The boy-girl thing
Living on a thin-line of my troubled marriage became even harder when, to the shock of my wife, I decided to change my gender. It’s not that she wasn’t aware of my “weirdness”, but she did not know what a burden it was on me. This wasn’t a whim-decision, but rather a happy ending to a life-long struggle. Admittedly, not many people see it this way. I must go back several years.
When I hit 8 years old I started feeling rather awkward about my body, my gender to be precise. It started quite innocently, and I would have never imagined what a drama lied ahead of me.
I cannot tell when and how exactly it all started, but I have vivid recollections of venturing into my mom’s wardrobe, to discover and get fascinated with all the fluffy treasures that were hidden there. A hat. A bra. A pair of stockings. Skirts and dresses. All these things called out to me and begged to be worn. Well, you don’t turn down the beggar, do you?
To a by-stander my cross-dressing may have seemed like a mental disorder of some sort, one that had sexual connotations. And yet, cross-dressing is a way of expressing your identity, which explains why transgender people engage in it. Put differently, dressing in women’s clothing is the easiest and most accessible way to “transform” yourself into the butterfly you so desperately want to be.
As time passed by, I continued my irresistible attraction with my mom’s clothing. And let’s be clear, I did it in total and utter secrecy for shame and fear of disapproval lurked around each corner. And as adolescence and puberty kicked in, these feelings intensified, infinitely so. And this pattern only continued, making my early adulthood a period of deep frustration, filled with grief, confusion and sadness. But the word “transgender” did not appear in my vocabulary until I was 25 years old, nearly two decades into my gender identity struggle.
It’s really hard to tell how it feels to be in a wrong body. But imagine you’re taken away from home, on a long voyage, leaving behind everything you hold dear and being told you can never go back. It is a daunting realization, isn’t it, at least if you can imagine it. That’s a bit how it feels being transgender. You long for home, and for what’s familiar and recognizable. You feel a deep regret of missing out on what could be. And you don’t like the voyage for you simply don’t belong there.
Turn the clock 15 years forward and you would have found a broken, disheartened, sad, unhappy, lonely, abandoned and outcasted person whose mind is filled with shame, guilt, regret, and fear. It is the reality where there’s no future, where the clock no longer ticks forward. It is the reality where you don’t ever seem to wake up, and yet you have troubles falling asleep. It is the reality where tears never seem to stop flowing. It is the reality where suffering and despair take away the remaining shreds of freedom. It is the reality where the only impulse you seem to experience is to destroy yourself and everything around you.
It’s a tough one, isn’t it?
Fortunately, I realized that I could NOT continue living the life full of lies, trapped in the body I never wanted and never tapping into what I could become. Put differently, I became home-sick and decided to jump off the ship to swim across the vast ocean of gender transition. And this vast ocean was bigger and deeper than anything I could’ve ever imagined. And this is not least because I needed the confidence and resilience to swim on against the tall waves but rather beause I dragged on the burden of what I had to leave behind.
And so, when I took this gigantic decision, I left some people stunned, flabbergasted and even angry. And my wife was one of those people, angered more than anyone. Her immediate reaction was to grow even more emotionally detached from me. And when she did, the marital problems we’ve had for so long surfaced with vengeance. And when they did, they were conveniently blamed on my gender transition.
To make things worse, from once-beloved husband, through service provider and a guy-with-dangerous-dreams-and-ambitions, I become the destroyer of my partner’s perfect world. Her girlfriends, her family, and other ill-advisors started suggesting that I abandoned my family . Ouch, this really hurt…
But what also hurt, and what has distressed me enormously since my decision to transition, is how the meaning I had in my partner’s life, my value to her if you can put it that way, was so strongly linked to my masculine gender.
Yes, God said “…therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”. I will not dispute that it takes a man and a woman to have babies, but beyond this gender is rather irrelevant which is not to say it is not important. And yet, our society so much needs this artificial bi-polarity, whereby we divide everything into two opposing sides without noticing how much there is in-between. Yes, I was on one side of this bi-polar spectra. I was a man, and a husband, but behind this convenient label, an outer shell if you want, there was a person with a soul and essence, whose gender is totally irrelevant. And yet, this deep inner-self, and what really makes me who I am, got overlooked, or perhaps was never noticed, not just by my wife but so many others who stand by her. And this really, really hurts.
The learnings from it all
Well, I could say that my life has been in many ways a true bitch. And yet, I will not say this. I have been blessed in many ways, and cannot count the good fortunes that have been extended to me.
My marital problems have been awful, unbearably so, but they offered me the learnings I would have otherwise never gained. My quest for gender identity is probably the biggest bitch I had in my life. But without these tremendously negative influences in my life I would not be who I am today, full of self-love and love for others. So, I am grateful for the wounds and know that they will heal one day.
But the journey is not over. It never really ends. But when things are bad, they can only get better. And that’s how I look at it. Armored with wisdom found in the past I am ready to forge ahead into the future. I am ready to find again the friendship I once had with my beloved wife, admittedly a dangerous and risky path. And above everything else, I am so ready to be her and not him, regardless of who thinks what of me. For life happens here and now, and not there and tomorrow. And it’s my life, mine and only mine.