Solstice to solstice: Reflections on madness, identity and writing

It is winter solstice, exactly six months since I left my job. At the time, a year and a half of toxic work-related stress had taken its toll. Had been taking its toll for months. But by the time I managed to pull enough awareness together to face the harsh reality that the mental illness I imagined to be long stabilized had resurfaced in full manic glory, irretrievable damage had been done.

I left in shame. A shame that can not be absolved. I have been shut out, I have no idea what my relationship with my employer is, or if I have any income going forward. When I can eventually return to work I wonder where I will go. And so I enter the shortest day of the year reflecting on what I have learned and looking ahead.

Copyright JM Schreiber, 2012
Copyright JM Schreiber, 2012

I loved my job. I managed a small agency supporting survivors of acquired brain injury. I worked with a wide range of remarkable people and their families, walking beside them as they struggled to recover and rebuild their lives, to regain independence, to battle their own challenges and demons. It gave me refuge from the demands of single parenthood, provided human and social contact against my tendency to isolate, and confirmed my value as a man. But the price I paid was huge. I believed it was enough in itself and had not imagined it would end.

Suddenly I was tragically alone in the world. My closest friends were far away. In a city of over a million, there was no one I could call. No one to have coffee with, no place to go, no arms to lie in.

How had I managed that? Well temperament in part. But much more critically I began a transition from an externally female existence, to a more true, coherent identity as male at 40. I built my career in social services after that process began.

In transition I did not move from my neighbourhood, I remained actively engaged in ensuring that the schools my children attended were open and diverse, and experienced no rejection from my family. However to create a whole and consistent space in which I could live where no one knew my past, I guarded my history closely at the workplace. Over time I constructed walls, mastered the ambiguous answer whenever asked about my life, and even managed to successfully neuter and closet myself years after originally coming out.

Somehow this practice bled into my engagement with the community. Fourteen years on it came to colour my identity in the world.

This extended time of reflection from solstice to solstice, aided by a wonderful therapist, has been a time of learning to open and reclaim my identity. To understand how trans, gay and queer relate to me. To put it out in the world. To own it and to write it into being.

As the days grow longer I face an uncertain future financially. Yet slowly I feel the fire of anxiety and agitation that have marked this recovery from my breakdown losing some of its intensity. I have been filling notebooks with writing hoping that maybe some gems might emerge, for the sake of catharsis if nothing else.

Copyright JM Schreiber, 2012
Copyright JM Schreiber, 2012

So more than New Year’s Day, solstice holds the resonance of new beginnings for me this year. Happy solstice – winter to those of us in the the north, summer to my friends in South Africa and Australia.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

18 thoughts on “Solstice to solstice: Reflections on madness, identity and writing”

  1. Is this the first time you’ve told us this rough ghosts? If it isn’t I apologise for not having picked it up before. Anyhow, I’ve heard it now, and I say what a brave thing to do out here in cyberspace.

    I once, many many years ago, had a young staff member who transitioned from male Larry to female Lesley. She started the process (living as a female) with us, but didn’t finish it with us, partly because the middle-aged European migrant women couldn’t cope with her sharing the ladies toilets (as we call restrooms in Australia) with them. This was the early 1980s. It was a sad and difficult time but she was lovely – open and generous. Not long after I moved overseas (to the US in fact) on a posting with my husband, and I lost contact. I often wonder about her. We also have a high profile trans woman in the Army here, Colonel Cate McGregor. (She’s in Wikipedia, and was featured in a program called Australian Story here, though you may not be able to find it online anymore). Her story is inspiring but it has been a very hard and painful road for her. Luckily she had the wonderful support of her army superior. (I don’t know her, personally). Not sure why I’m saying all this except to say that I appreciate what a tough situation it is and I do hope you manage to reconnect with your community, find good work again, and be happy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind response. Although I identify myself if appropriate in response to comments on the blogs of others, it has not been my intention to have a trans specific blog myself (but then I didn’t expect mental health issues to hijack my blog either). However, learning to be more open is critical because I am quite invisible in so much of my life but, unlike transwomen, transgendered men have the advantage of the power of testosterone and the disadvantage of expensive and questionable surgical options. I am aware in mid-life that this has added to my tendency to self isolate. The LGBT community is not necessarily cohesive and inclusive. But I realize that you can’t break down barriers if you are not willing to speak to your experience. I grew up in the 60s and 70s with no frame of reference for my feelings. My children’s generation have had an entirely different experience (and of course they had me for a parent).

      Fortunately I have a great therapist, I am making progress getting out in the world and hopefully in the end I will see this as a pivotal experience. You know that one door closing, another door opening adage…

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I read it before actually, but too fast and I missed your lovely closing comments. And the first photo especially.

    The various strands of your blog make it what it is (beautiful): photos, books, bipolar, trans, canada … it balances itself well too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks my friend. I started this blog just as my mania was ramping into high gear and I was on an unstoppable trajectory. I hope I am finding a good balance with all the baggage the breakdown kicked up.


      1. I wrote press releases for a trans ngo for a while. Did some interviews too. And then a wiki for a trans friend who’s a well known fine arts photographer here. I’ve had a few lessons in language 😉 Also, every ftm I meet fairly immediately says something like – let’s get the t and then watch an action film. But more usually – so when are you gonna transition, dude? Haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We do, and obviously some things (like gender change in ID books) happen fine, but the realities are frequently harsh and make our oh so amazing constitution into a bunch of crap. For all lgbtqi. Plus traditional leaders oppose it all almost tight across the board. Plus a history of hell during apartheid. South africa has cptsd at the very least.


      3. Of course, I realize that your realities are harsher on all levels and that the post apartheid reality has not been a magical transformation. Those ID marker changes are critical though. I was not born in Canada so changing my birth certificate is too much trouble but I was glad to finally get a passport this year with an M. Our government has a strong social conservative bent and some very neolithic attitudes still exist.


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