Like many children, I too sometimes daydreamed of a cloak of invisibility and while wearing this cloak, I would pretend to save the damsel in distress from a monster or villain or both. Little did I know that I would be wearing such a cloak throughout the rest of my life.
With hindsight I now realize that I had been living with depression since my teens. The confusion and anxiety of not being able to find a labeled box for myself, intensified in my early adult years. It seems as if everybody had a niche – a spouse, a lover, babies, loving family, a circle of good friends… Just not me. I stood aside, alone, ever the watcher, never the participator.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” (An aunt I had not seen in a long time).
“When are you getting married?
I want to walk you down the aisle!” (My cousin, 22 years my senior, wanting to stand in for my deceased father).
“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.”
I tugged my maverick cloak of invisibility tighter around my shoulders.
I tried sharing my depression.
“No! You can’t have depression. You are always cracking a joke!” (A colleague).
“I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Anyway the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me, to me.”
I felt the cloak of mental disorder descend.
I endured year after stress-laden year under a control freak of a manager, until I physically began to feel like the grasshopper in the Biblical parable, dragging myself through one exhausting day after another. My depression intensified correspondingly, but in the 1980’s you simply did not just consult with a therapist. With the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest still fresh in memories, “seeing a shrink” was admitting to be “cuckoo”. I knew I could not function at work, but I had to, I had a family to support, so I sought refuge with my general practitioner. With visit after visit to him, I was starting to feel like a hypochondriac with varying symptoms, but he referred me to a colleague, who himself had been stricken by a “disease” with similar symptoms to what I was presenting. This doctor thankfully was able to name my by-then-ever-constant companion: Fibromyalgia (FM).
At last I could tell people that I had a chronic disease, a medical condition that explained why I was absence from work so often, I thought and hoped.
Ha. “But you don’t look sick, you look just fine!” (A colleague).
“Oh, Fibromyalgia is just a label for creating illness behaviour and disability, causing individuals to take on a “sick role” and behave as if they are ill.” (A skeptic).
How do you convince these skeptics that you might look fine, but that you really feel everything but? And that chronic psychological distress causes chronic physical illness, and vice versa?
“Too late, my time has come,
Sent shivers down my spine,
Body’s aching all the time.
You take refuge with the cloak of chronic illness’ invisibility draped around you.
With my hearing deteriorating, I experienced all the stages of grief, finally accepting that I would have to wear hearing aids for the rest of my life or till I become deaf. The depression stayed, however.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were deaf. I did not see your hearing aids.” (A colleague).
“But you wear hearing aids, you should be able to hear perfectly now.” (A manager).
“He’s just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity”
I don the cloak. Colour me hearing invisible.
When at last I did consult a therapist and came to the realization that I am transgender, I felt the cloak billow in the wind – could the real me dare to expose myself? Or will I stay a little silhouette of a man under my burgundy transgender cloak?
“I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me.
“Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters – nothing really matters to me
Anyway the wind blows…”