It takes a lot to make me cry. Now that I’ve been in this field for seven years and counting and have seen and heard some of the worst things, I’m sometimes numb to the emotions. It’s not a good thing and it doesn’t mean that I don’t empathize with my patients because I obviously do. However, it just becomes second nature when you are constantly dealing with the same things and hearing the same awful stories every day. Abuse. Neglect. Rape. Suicide. Awful words that should never become just a normal part of your day.
But it is for me and it is for these kids.
Don’t get me wrong, I do cry. More than I’d like to admit, especially in the beginning of my career. I’ve had some patients who truly have changed me and the outlook I have on life. Nurses always say that their patients touch their lives just as much as we touch theirs and it is absolutely true in the mental health field.
It’s hard sometimes to separate work and your life in general, especially when dealing with cases like these. In the beginning, I couldn’t do it. I would go home and share every single part of my day with my husband. Thankfully he has always been such an amazing listening ear and one of my biggest supporters. He’s never once told me to stop talking about work or to stop bringing it home with me. I mean, how are you supposed to go to sleep at night knowing these kids are struggling? It isn’t easy.
Now though, I hate to say that it is a little easier, but it is. I’ve slowly learned to separate work and home. I know that I am doing the best I can and providing the best possible care when I’m with my patients and that it’s okay to go home and take care of myself and my family.
However, I have patients like this one who make it impossible to do so.
We will call him Chris.
I’m going to give you some background information here and if you have never heard these terms before, that’s okay. That is why I am doing this. I want to bring awareness to those who have no clue what actually goes on in the minds of these people whom others are so quick to judge. So until you’ve finished reading this or have been in these situations, you can keep your opinion to yourself.
And I’ll do my best to not get up on my soapbox and rant because, lord have mercy, this topic gets me fired up.
Do I think that people can be born into the wrong body? Sure. Do I believe that people truly feel trapped when they want to switch genders? Absolutely. Do I think that these people are still people who deserve to be loved and accepted and to live a normal life? DUH.
Being transgender is not a choice. Being gay is not a choice. It is who you are. I have seen it firsthand so many times and my heart breaks for those who do not feel loved because of who they truly are.
When teenagers or anyone really, feel confused about their sexual identity, sometimes they like to be referred to as “they” or “them” or “we” or “us” because they are unsure of who they want to be or who they are supposed to be. And that’s okay. Let me tell you why that’s okay: because they’re still a freaking human being who deserves the same things as everyone else!
Chris was born a girl.
Around age 2 his mom started noticing that he was playing with his brothers toys and not his own. He refused to wear dresses or bows. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? And at the age of two, most kids go through periods like this. My two year old daughter loves playing with race cars and firetrucks…boy toys! Does that mean she wants to be a boy? Obviously not. Does it make the fact that Chris hated girl toys irrelevant? Also no.
His mom said that around age 3, when potty training wasn’t going well, things started to get worse. Chris would scream and cry when it was time to go to the potty. His mom said he would say things like “I don’t like my vagina! Take it off.” She said she took Chris to the doctor who told her it was just a phase and not to worry about it.
By elementary school, Chris was wearing only boy clothes and playing with boys at school. He had no girl friends, hated girl toys, and cried every time his mom tried to do his hair. She said in fourth grade Chris decided to cut his hair on his own, which led to them having to go to the hair salon to get it fixed. It worked out just the way he wanted it to because he ended up getting a “boy haircut.” He was so excited!
His mom said that he would cry and cry anytime someone called him a girl and by sixth grade he was extremely depressed. He was starting to self-harm and had two suicide attempts. His mom said she just couldn’t handle it anymore and she turned to alcohol to self-medicate. It was shortly after that when she started becoming abusive to Chris. She said she wouldn’t remember it. She said she never remembered the time she threw Chris through his own bedroom door. She said she didn’t remember the time when she gave him a black eye when he said he had a girlfriend. Child protective services removed Chris from his mom when he was in the eighth grade. He had been placed into a foster home and then into another and then another. He had three more suicide attempts between eighth grade and junior year of high school. He continued to call himself a boy, wear boy clothes, keep his hair cut short, and wanted girlfriends. He put up with a huge amount of bullying at school from sixth grade until junior year when he ended up being admitted to the inpatient unit where I was working.
I’ve always been a firm believer that people come into your life for a reason. This child truly changed my life in more ways than one. He taught me to have more patience and understanding. He taught me to remember to always stand my ground and stand up for what I know is right. I’m holding back tears as I type this now because this child touched my heart and I truly pray that I made a difference in his life.
I had been his nurse four days in a row. The first day that he was my patient, the report I got from the other nurse was that he was refusing to do anything. Refusing group. Not coming out of his room. Not opening up to anyone about anything. She was frustrated that she had been his nurse for three days in a row with no headway at all.
I walked into this kids room and the anger in his eyes was gut-wrenching, but the sadness in his whole demeanor was worse.
“Get out,” he said in almost a whisper.
“Okay, but I’ll be back in ten minutes.” I walked out of the room to give him some time to wake up. I am not a morning person and never have been, probably never will be. So when a kid didn’t want to get up just yet, I gave them some time to do it on their own.
When I walked back into the room, he was sitting up on the bed.
“Go ahead,” he said as he handed me his arm to do his vitals. I did them quickly then sat down on the chair in the room. “Why are you sitting down?” He asked, irritably , but in a calm tone.
“I wanted to introduce myself since I’ll be your nurse this weekend and I wanted you to give me a little info as to why you are here.”
“Just read my chart.”
“I would rather hear it from you. Those charts don’t always paint a good picture of who someone actually is.” This caught him by surprise and shook his head no. I didn’t say anything for a minute and waited to see if he would talk at all.
“Well, I’m trans. I want to die. I have no family. Any other questions?” He asked.
“Well, I’m not trans but I love all people. You will not be dying on my watch. And you may not have a family, but now you have a friend. So lets get out of bed so I can sit with you while you eat breakfast,” I smiled.
To my surprise, he rolled his eyes, but got out of bed and followed me into the activity room for breakfast.
As the weekend went on, he continued to open up to me. He disclosed to me the abuse from him mom, allegations of sexual abuse by three of his moms boyfriends, the way he would kill himself when he discharged from the hospital.
Although every conversation I had with him almost brought me to tears, I stayed strong in front of him and continued to be a positive face throughout my shift.
On my fourth day as his nurse, something felt off. It was like he had taken three giant steps backwards from the day before. He didn’t want to talk to me or eat or come out of his room. So I brought his meals to his room and tried almost every half hour to get him to tell me what was wrong.
After I talked to the doctor, I was told that Chris would be going to a residential facility instead of into a foster home. He had too many suicide attempts and no foster family felt comfortable taking him.
Thankfully, working in residential, I could always talk it up and give the kids something positive out of a crappy situation.
When I walked back into Chris’s room, he was still in his bed. He covered his head with the blanket and told me to get out, but I didn’t. I sat on the chair in silence.
“I’m not fucking going to residential,” he finally screamed. He ran out of his room and somehow managed to find a piece of metal that he had been hiding in his room. He started to cut his arms with it and then put the metal into his mouth.
“Give me the metal,” I told him as he started to laugh. He sat down on a chair in the activity room, showing the other kids that he had the metal on his tongue.
“You cannot be sitting in here with that behavior,” another staff member said to him.
“Fine.” He marched out of the activity room and sat on one of the chairs near the hallway. He continued to play with the metal piece in his mouth. “Want me to swallow it?” He was laughing now.
“No. I need you to hand it to me, now,” I told him firmly as I sat down on the chair beside him.
“It’ll kill me if I swallow it.”
“Actually, no,” I told him. I didn’t tell him that I had seen kids swallow wayyyy worse with no damage: batteries, razor blades, glass.
“Then how do I kill myself in here?” He asked as he took the metal piece out of his mouth and sat it down on the chair. I grabbed my glove from my pocket and picked it up quickly. I gave it to a staff member to dispose of in the sharps bin.
“I already told you. I won’t let you do that under my watch.”
He started crying. I had not seen him do that before. I had seen him yell and scream and cuss. But cry, even when he told me of all the awful things that had happened to him in the past, never one tear.
“You don’t get it. I wake up every day and hate myself. I have to look at this body that makes me want to throw up. I want these boobs gone. Just thinking about it makes my stomach hurt. I feel like I can’t breathe when I see all my paperwork with the F for sex. I’m not a girl. I’m a boy. And if no one will let me be that, then I want to die!”
I can’t remember what I said to him. I hope it was something encouraging.
“My own mom punched me in the face because I want to be a boy. My foster families all treat me different and one of them refused to buy me boy clothes. They only bought me dresses and I had no other clothes so I had to wear them. That’s when I tried to kill myself twice in a week. Why doesn’t anyone love me? Why doesn’t anyone like me for who I know I am?”
Sometimes physical touch is frowned upon in the psych field. You have to use it very carefully and in the right situation with the right circumstances.
I felt like this counted as one of those times.
I placed my hand on top of his and squeezed really tight. He was having a panic attack at this point. I continued to squeeze then relax, squeeze then relax. He finally squeezed my hand back, in the same rhythm I was doing. His breathing settled, but the tears didn’t stop.
My heart was shattering as we continued to talk, as he slowly calmed down. How in the world could all of this: the self-harm, the suicidal ideation, the suicide attempts, the self-hate, the fear of being himself… all of this because he wanted to be a boy instead of a girl?!
You have got to be kidding me!!!
How in the world could any person, let alone a parent, abuse and abandon their own child because they weren’t comfortable in their own skin?!!!
When you have a child, that child becomes your life. You provide care for that child, support for that child, and love that child, even if you don’t always agree with their choices.
There are no guarantees when you have a child as to what that child will be; gay, straight, bipolar, an athlete, a writer, depressed, anxious, an actress, diabetic. That child could be/have anything and if you can’t handle that, then please, do not have children or give the child to someone who can do these things.
This child’s life was literally destroyed all because he wanted to be a boy instead of a girl. He was beat and abandoned, left trying to kill himself, with no hope for any future, because his own mother couldn’t love him for who he was.
Don’t agree with your child being transgender? Fine. You don’t have to agree with it to still love them!
The amount of time I spent with Chris that day and the amount of words of encouragement I said, I pray that they stuck in his mind. I pray that he hears me in the back of his head every time he thinks about wanting to end his life because he wants to be a boy instead of a girl.
I walked in the door that day to my house and went straight to the bathroom and cried. When I thought I had composed myself, I walked out of the bathroom door to hug my daughter and husband. I started crying again.
I looked at my daughter and all I could think was how in the hell does a mother stop loving her child? If my daughter came to me and said she wanted to be a purple alien then, my God, let’s go get some purple paint! There is nothing I wouldn’t do for that girl to let her know how loved she is by me.
I pray that Chris continues to find himself. I pray he succeeded through the residential program and realized that he was not alone. I hope that he is able to live his life to the fullest being the happiest boy he could possibly be.
If you are struggling with any LGBTQ issues, please know that you are not alone and you are so loved and supported by many. Please reach out if you have questions or need resources or a listening ear. You are never, ever alone. You will always have me.