A few people recently asked me this. There is no one way I deal/t with dysphoria, it’s more of a combination of methods depending on the situation. Here are some ideas that came to mind.
Like a nagging and pesky fly, try to forget about it. For instance, I’ll shield myself from a stranger’s gender assumptions, brush it off, tell myself that it doesn’t matter and that it’s inconsequential. It’s not just saying it, it’s believing it: try hard to convince yourself of it; look at it objectively and notice the effects, such as “well, I’m all worked up, but nothing has really happened so far, guess it really doesn’t matter all that much” or “I’m never going to see that person again.” It especially helps if I go into a situation with the expectation that someone will (mis)gender me a certain way, or at least having realistic expectations of (mis)gendering, and not getting my hopes up. Regarding physical dysphoria, however, this is definitely much harder to do, but it’s still an applicable strategy if you learn to shift your focus onto something else (see next points).
“Time heals all wounds” also applies to the short term. If you are too busy to be sad or angry, you might not feel sad or angry or even remember why you felt that way. Take some time to cool off by doing something else, like watching TV, going for a walk, listening to music. This helps with the above (ignore) by moving your attention away from what is bothering you.
Humour is an excellent coping mechanism, and that is doubly true for me. Sometimes when you take a step back, what we are going through as trans* people is so unbelievable and ridiculous in the context of “normal” it’s hard not to find it funny, or at least awe-some. After all, who has the chance to live such a unique experience?
This one is a little dangerous in my opinion, because reading is very passive; you’re not often forced to think unless you consciously do it, so things can “get to you” without you realizing it or knowing why. Moreover, there can be a lot of negativity out there that will only make you feel worse (“everybody feels dysphoria all the time, it’s hopeless!”). That said, sometimes commiserating with someone who is going through the same thing oddly makes us feel better (“everyone feels dysphoria all the time, I’m not the only one and I’m not alone in this!”), and there is loads of positive and encouraging stuff too (hopefully this list!). Reading about other’s experiences reflects back and reshapes my own, and once in a while there’ll be a big epiphany and I start seeing things in a whole new light. Or, just read something that you know will make you feel better – somebody’s blog, a magazine, a book, a comic strip. It doesn’t have to be trans* or gender related.
This is probably my go-to strategy. If you have someone in your life that you trust, reach out and talk to them. Even if they don’t fully understand every nuance of your gender, having someone else’s support is invaluable at times like these. Also try contacting a therapist or counselor so you have a professional to turn to. It doesn’t have to be a specialized gender therapist, though that would help. After all, they are (usually) experts on how to deal with these kinds of inner conflicts, regardless of what they are about.
Write it out all, at that moment, instead of thinking and re-thinking it in your brain. Actually writing it down is a very important, conscious, and deliberate act, and forces you to concretize these thoughts and emotions swirling through you, to eventually make some sense of them. Even if I never show what I wrote to anyone, I will re-read it minutes later and be like “duh! How did I miss that?”, or days later, or months later, and come to new conclusions (the most common one is “wow, I had it all figured out months ago, why am I still doubting myself?”). With regards to gender, it can get confusing quick with various concepts and terminology and perspectives, so writing it down makes me organize my thoughts, put words and labels to vague desires or stressors. It also helps me brainstorm solutions, and is a good way to shift focus and funnel your energies into not stressing.
For me, understanding and rationalizing are a big part of making me feel better. For instance, “I got called she and suddenly got really upset” – analyze why you were called she or why you were particularly upset about it, and think up strategies to avoid it or deal with it in the future. Or “if only I had a flat chest, people would stop misgendering me” was a common thought I used to have. But when I really sat down to analyze it, I drew from my experiences of when I was binding vs not binding, and soon realized that having a flat chest or not was not a deciding factor in how people gendered me anyway. So, I was actually trying to solve a problem that wasn’t the problem, and was much less frustrated once I figured out why my “solutions” just weren’t working.
What often happens to me is I fall into a mental anxiety trap, and I start thinking about the negative aspects of something in a loop. This is especially true of a lot of physical dysphoria, since it is not easily or immediately “fixable,” which only increases the immediate frustration. Tell your brain to shut up! and then schedule a time for purposeful reflection; this way you know you will get to sort out your anxieties and worries eventually, and knowing that will make it easier to put them aside the rest of the day. For instance, if you really dislike or are uncomfortable with a part of your body, take space to “self-vent,” but also limit that time so you aren’t burdening yourself with negative emotions all the time. This is also a good opportunity to explore it consciously and come to concrete solutions. In this example, you could perhaps discover that you really aren’t uncomfortable with this part of your body, it’s just the way it’s perceived by others that makes you uncomfortable.
One important thing to note is that dysphoria is a part of the process of transitioning. So when you are really set off by something, and you are “in the midst” of it all – be it anxiety, depression, a crying spell, anger – embrace it. Let it happen. Cry, be anxious for a little bit, be sad. But always remember that this is a part of transitioning, and that things will eventually change, and most likely get better with that change, because you are doing/planning/thinking of things to make it better.
Focus on the positive.
It sounds cliche, but if you make it a habit, it will make you feel better… eventually. This will probably not even seem to work, but you have to force yourself to first remember, then force yourself to actually think up, positive thoughts. Personally it makes me feel loads better to be constructive and “get somewhere” and focusing on possible solutions rather than the problem. A good exercise is to rehash positive past experiences you had and mentally bookmark them, or daydream of future plans you might have. Repeat it like a mantra, until it becomes default to think of these things when you are upset.
Share your ideas!
Hopefully these strategies can be applicable to many aspects of your day-to-day, not just dealing with dysphoria. I encourage anyone to share their ideas with us, so we can all learn from each other!
23 thoughts on “How do I deal with dysphoria?”
Suppress/ignore. Ayeee… nothing like simultaneously exploding and imploding in one’s forties (as I did.)
Implode/Explode – interesting ways of looking at it. Indeed longterm suppression, or longterm of any of these (avoidance, distraction, even analysis) isn’t very effective. I guess a combination of methods works best.
Great post, with lots of helpful ideas. Like you, I also find talking about dysphoria and reading about it to remind myself of my community, to be very beneficial.
I would expand on your section on embracing: When I get upset, or scared, or anxious, or angry, or any other negative emotion wells up I do a few things–
1. I breath. It’s funny how quickly we forget to do this when we are upset. So take a few breaths. Maybe give yourself some encouraging thoughts, just something simple practice of begin present in the moment helps.
2. I look at that negative emotion and acknowledge it. I know tho might sound silly but I say, “hello fear [for example]. Where did you come from? And I look for where it is coming from, and try to process that a little bit. Sometimes that mitigates the emotion. but if not, if I am too pissed or sad or whatever, I say, “ok, I will give you some space to just be here. I will give you some attention.” And then, like you said, I just let the emotion inhabit me, no judgment, just observation. And usually, that helps, and it leave of its own accord.
But of course, for every one time these methods work, there are ten times they don’t work. This kind of acceptance and patience with our emotional live take time and practice, practice, practice! But I have found the practice to be worth it. It allows me to love myself more, and be patient with myself, which is so necessary during a bout of dysphoria.
Great points: practice and patience, above all patience with yourself.
When I get misgendered as “she” I just tell myself it’s ‘cuz I’m pretty like Johnny Depp.
Nah I bet you’re prettier!
I’m waaaaaay better looking than that guy.
I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make a comment on your reply, Transman… But you made me laugh this very early Saturday morning…
That seems to be my purpose in life.
I actually participated in a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) group 1.5 years ago, and that’s helped a lot too. It kind of combines the forgetting with embracing with breathing with…well, tons of things. I’d add Mindfulness to the list, because when practiced consistently it really helps dysphoria to just sit down and breathe, and recognize and embrace the feelings you’re having without getting worked up over them. And that helps with forming different habits related to dysphoria. So instead of getting worked about about it in the future, you might instead instantly switch to Mindfulness mode and that can definitely help decrease dysphoria, in my experiences.
I have found that, for me at least, massive bouts of dysphoria are often linked to semi-dissociation, so I find it helps me to do something physical that grounds me, and makes me feel like I am part of my body. Not focusing on the parts of it, but just… present. There. Like my arms belong to me, and my legs.
Interesting, for me the opposite worked yesterday. I had a very bad attack of dysphoria and body repulsion and I just couldn’t ground myself, I was always repelled by the reality of my body. So in the end I consciously dissociated and told myself “this body is not me” and it helped somewhat with the awful feelings…
I remind myself that there are some very important parts of my body- my essential inside bits, most parts of my brain, my sensory organs. These are the parts of my body that help inform my identity, or help support my Being Alive.
To deal with dysphoria, I do something to celebrate those parts of me- cook a delicious and healthy meal, (or eat some really expensive amazing chocolate,) listen to some music that makes me feel great, go to a museum or gallery or performance. Lose myself in coffee and (non-body) conversation with a friend. And for good measure, i always carry Bach’s Rescue Spray and lavender oil with me for moments of high anxiety.
Indeed, giving thanks for what we do have, or focusing on a part of ourselves we do like, or celebrating the little things (and a little self-pampering) can all go a long way.
That actually makes a lot of sense. I recently completed a gigantic tattoo on my back and shoulders, and I’ve found lately that when I’m dysphoric I remind myself of those parts of my body that I’m creating into my own, such as my tattoo. And then I do whatever else I need to to help my body feel as comfortable to me as possible. And think about how eventually my body will be my own. But yeah, totally get what you’re saying. Or I suppose music is another way I cope; playing guitar has really helped a lot. Just not singing… >_<
The best thing I ever found was to step out of reality via music. I bought myself some really good in-ear style earphones – the rubbery kind that go in deep and block out nearly all external noise, and then I’d start up a soundtrack, something I associated with being powerful and brave and happy. Somehow just switching off one sense made the whole world seem more abstract, almost as if I were watching a movie. It all became less emotionally impactful because I felt less there. Sometimes I’d just listen to an hour long recording of thunder and rain. A calm quiet place.
But that doesn’t work so well for awkward social situations – I never found a good way to deal with those.
I like this! It really works for me, especially the feeling of “watching a movie” as the world goes by.
As for awkward social situations, I’ve learned to put on my pretend headphones and tune out the surrounding noise in my head.
I have a variety of coping mechanisms. Mostly I adjust my clothing to how I feel – if I feel too feminine, I clearly won’t be comfortable in heels. Flannel and boots happen on those days instead. Likewise, I have days when my beard is just going to make me crawl out of my own skin. If I absolutely have to present as feminine when I don’t want to, I have a specific set of “girly” plaid with appliques I can toss over jeans and cowboy boots. Just changing my clothes can make me so much more comfortable with myself.
I also acknowledge the feeling, like someone said above. It’s not a part of me, really. Dysphoria is from outside of me. It comes to visit sometimes and it will leave when I make the house inhospitable enough – and what is inhospitable to dysphoria is finding ways to be comfortable with myself. Whether I need to be more present in my body or dissociate from it, that’s okay. And if all else fails I go out into the forest, because trees don’t care about your body.
I experience body/gender dysphoria periodically (as I am right now) particularly with my breasts, but I don’t consider myself trans. There are many times when I feel like cutting off my breasts with a meat cleaver, but there are other times when I can completely accept my breasts’ existence, and on rare occasions I actually like them.
I can’t really identify with femininity, but since I can’t identify with masculinity either I just go with it, trying to distract myself until the dysphoria subsides.