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!