If there’s one thing I’m grateful to have found during my transition, it’s my sense of self-worth. I now know what it’s like to feel good about myself — and more importantly, I now feel like I deserve to feel that way. Even so, like thousands of other transgender people, I struggle with mental health issues that are always trying to chip away at my hard-won happiness. Although everyone’s brain is different and my experience is far from universal, I’ve hit upon some self-care strategies for trans women that I think are worth sharing. So I spent five days documenting them. Here’s my gender-affirming self-care diary:
Day One: Throwing On A Fresh Coat Of Nail Polish
My body is a woman’s body — and it’s a cute one, to boot.
Gender dysphoria is a sense of conflict between one’s body and gender, and it can manifest in countless ways. When I feel dysphoric about my body, I tend to slip into a state of fatigue and aimlessness, obsessing over little details that make me feel awkward and masculine. In order to loosen dysphoria’s hold over me, I try to make time to appreciate my body. This can be something as minor as taking a few extra minutes in the shower to shave my legs, and then slathering my arms, legs, and face in moisturizer, focusing on how nice my smooth skin feels. Once I’m done, I can see dysphoria for the liar it is.
When I feel terrible enough not to get out of bed in the morning, it’s usually a sign I might start spiraling. And that’s what happened today, thanks to a case of strep throat that’s been with me since last week. So I made sure to set aside some time for beautification: I cued up a podcast, broke out my nail kit, and threw on a fresh coat of polish: bright matte pink, offset by a sparkly sea-foam blue on my ring fingers (“Pop the Bubbles” by L’Oreal, my favorite shade). The finished product looked a little sloppy, and I felt a little (or a lot) sick. But I also felt cuter and more comfortable with how I was presenting my gender to the world. It’s the little things!
Day Two: Eating A Pint Of Ice Cream
Sometimes, I eat my feelings. It’s an issue I’ve struggled with since childhood, when I discovered the majesty of fifty-cent donuts from the corner store. Unchecked binging is by no means healthy, but a strategically deployed snack can do wonders for my mood and motivation. And since estrogen can only work its magic if I eat at least some fat — these breasts have to come from somewhere — I’ve got a whole new set of reasons to treat myself.
I still felt crummy when I woke up today. It didn’t take long before sharp pains in my throat and persistent headaches had me in some kind of Mood. But a five-minute walk to the pharmacy yielded a hearty drum of chocolate ice cream, which subdued my physical and emotional irritation.
Day Three: Making Time For Meditation
Today I decided to carve out some time to meditate, restarting my lapsed practice. I was raised in a Zen Buddhist household, a fact that seems to take people by surprise. And since elementary school, I’ve strived to act mindfully in all things. But that’s hard to do when I’m fighting off intrusive thoughts.
Meditation isn’t just something with religious or spiritual value — the ancient practice also has tremendous value for people with mental health issues, especially mood disorders. And since mood disorders are disproportionately common among transgender people, meditation can be a much-needed soothing balm.
It’s simple: Just find a quiet place to sit, ideally on a cushion or chair, and focus on breathing for a while. (Don’t let anyone tell you you’re “doing it wrong.” If it works for you, it’s right!) I cleared out some space in my bedroom closet, knelt with a pillow under my bum, and concentrated on my breath for ten minutes. Sure, it was cramped in there — since I couldn’t move my hanging dresser or coats — but it still gave me the sense of calm I needed.
Day Four: Playing A Video Game
Sometimes, you’re too mad to be mindful. Today was one of those days: Bad news in my local trans community had me fuming. I responded by lashing out at strangers (and friends) online, which only made me feel worse. I needed an outlet, so I turned to one of my favorite video games: the cartoonishly violent Saints Row series, which lets you, in a sense, make your character a trans woman. So when I go out on crime sprees, I can pretend that I’m leading a queer anarchist cell on a mission to wipe out heteronormativity.
Sound silly? Maybe. But everyone needs an escape. After I settled down, I was able to take a step back and look at the source of my anger. Sure, I was livid with politicians and high-profile transphobes, but I was also frustrated by my own inability to effect large-scale change. Next time the fury strikes, I’ll be better equipped to take a step back before picking a pointless fight and making myself feel worse.
Day Five: Texting About My Feelings
The day was going great until I realized I’d missed my therapy appointment, despite setting up reminders in advance. I have a lot of issues with my memory, so this felt like a huge failure — especially since it meant my therapist would have to take me off her regular schedule. I could feel myself spiraling rapidly, and even worse, I didn’t really care. Thankfully, I have a wonderful support network of people who know how my brain likes to eat itself. Texting with two of my partners gave me the strength to regain my composure, take a hot shower, and forgive myself.
Leaning on other people for help can be incredibly hard for trans women (even mentally healthy ones). We often absorb toxic aspects of masculinity that punish us for talking about our feelings, as well as parts of culturally reinforced femininity that say our problems don’t matter and that we shouldn’t be a burden. Add depression or anxiety into the mix, and reaching out can seem like an impossible task. It’s important to know how to take care of your own mental health, but it’s just as vital to ask for help when you need it. Whatever self-care looks like for you, it’s something you deserve. Today, I needed and deserved support. Tomorrow might just call for more ice cream.