Climbing out of the Abyss – part 3b

Into the Abyss - Jeffrey S. Pearce

KAPOW!!! KAPOW!!! The next two cartoon sucker punches to my already reeling mind-body-spirit continuum came in quick succession in the middle of my first supervision session with my manager last week.

Regular readers will know that I am lucky to have a line-manager who has bent over backwards to make sure that I know I am supported. It was she who had coincidentally ‘been there’ in my moment of death-defying choice between self-anniliation or self-acceptance. Had she not been the wonderful, empathic and accepting human being she is, who knows where I would be right now?

Anyway, I’ve returned to work now – albeit I’ve finished my phased return and am using annual leave up to give me 3-day weeks up to the end of this month. I have reports allocated to me and young people and families to assess and prepare programmes of work for. I’m happy back at work, getting into the swing of things, doing what I enjoy which is working with children and young people who have been convicted of criminal offences.

The first KAPOW came when my boss told me I was the first transgendered person to come out in the city council I work for. People are scrabbling around updating policies and procedures and wanting to do the right thing by me – but I’m going to be the guinea pig it seems. I had no idea I would be the first. It took me back to my heady days after I had come out as a lesbian when I was 21 and at college. I had been elected Welfare Officer to our Student Union, and was the first out lesbian the SU had ever had as a Sabbatical Officer. And boy was I OUT!

There is a certain powerful rush of energy that comes with the liberatory feelings of self-acceptance and then coming out to others. It’s like a headrush of responsibility to know that you are blazing a trail for others along the way. I will not speak for other people unless I have been given permission or asked to advocate or elected to represent. I can only speak for myself. In the words of Che Guevara:

“I am not a liberator.

Liberators do not exist.

The people liberate themselves.”

Obviously I want to make sure that my experiencing transitioning is as positive as I can make it. I’m lucky that the council I work for is pro-active when they learn about a diversity issue that they have not had to deal with yet. I am also a Unison member and able to get support from the Unison LGBT Network and National Officer. I’m lucky that I am transitioning at a time when my trades union has already paved the way, learning from the experiences of others who have transitioned before me. Taken all together with the wonderful support I have had from my team-mates, my managers, my partner and family, and all the transgendered people I have been connecting with these last three months; I am one lucky guy!

The second KAPOW came straight after the first. Like I said before, I had been off work with a serious depression between August and December. I started back just before Christmas and have been on a roll ever since, getting into the swing of things. Then first week in January I get hit by the norovirus winter sickness virus that has spread through the residential care home where my Gran lives. She got this nasty bug on Christmas Day, bless her. Then in dashing to the loo with the bug I twisted and hurt my back, which all meant I was off bloody work again sick for a week. This has now triggered the Third Stage of the Sickness Policy at work so I will be having a meeting with my manager and someone from HR soon, actually the person who is whizzing around trying to get the transgender policies all up to speed!

In the course of the discussion I had about this with my manager, she mentioned that she had flagged up to HR that my depression might be considered under the Disability Discrimination Act….

KAPOW!!! I had never even considered that my lifelong struggle with depression would be counted as a disability. I have long been an active supporter of the disability rights movement and I understood very well how people with mental health problems face prejudice and discrimination as much as people with physical disabilities. But I had never considered this in relation to myself before. Ever.

It suddenly overwhelmed me quite how deep and pervasive my depression has been in my life, and how it is so closely intertwined with my gender identity issues that have been there for me in all likelihood since I was just a few cells attached to my mother’s womb. When it hits me like that I do one thing only and that is cry. So I had tears streaming down my face and my boss asking me if I wanted tissues – but if she went out she’d probably draw attention to me. I had to laugh – I’m such a blub sometimes when I get emotional. But it’s true it’s a big big thing to consider oneself disabled.

When I got home later I looked up the Disability Discrimination Act and how it relates to mental health problems. It’s true… my long-term problems with depression have been a disability for me, under the terms it is defined in the guidance I have seen on the MIND website http://www.mind.org.uk/help/rights_and_legislation/disability_discrimination

So I guess this will mean ANOTHER meeting soon!

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About Sam Feeney

I am a counsellor, trainer and LGBTQI community activist. I write about my journey through life as a someone who lives and breathes gender and sexual difference and who cares passionately about creating powerful and sustainable radical social and political change.
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