Before we even begin: I’m not a medically trained professional, nor am I a licensed therapist. Today I’m all curled up in my duvet cover because I haven’t been able to sleep in two days, and maybe if I was a doctor I’d find the little parts of me that aren’t working and fix them so I could get out of bed. Unfortunately I’m just a kid with a binder and a lot of pronouns, and the world seems like a whole lotta sharp edges right now.
If you’ve never had body dysphoria, let me explain a little bit about how it makes me feel and why I have it. Body dysphoria feels like the worst-fitting outfit you’ve ever put together, but you can never take it off. Or sometimes it’s more like a pebble in your shoe, or a belt that digs into your side, or a tiny thing that is just noticeable enough to throw your day off. Some days I wake up and it’s just there. Some days it’s because I tried to fit my not-so-masculine body into my masculine clothes, and the parts that didn’t fit made me want to scream and disappear and puke up all my guts at the same time. It can grow into a scary place where I don’t know if my body belongs to me, and I feel like I’ve been detached from something essential and am about to wash out to sea. Maybe a picture makes me hate and fear the body I don’t have because it’s not the body I wish I had. Maybe I think that the someone I desire won’t desire me because I don’t look like all the handsome cisgendered men they probably grew up loving. Maybe it doesn’t make sense why I feel these things, but I still feel them and they still hurt, darn it.
My gender identity is a very slippery thing. I identify as queer in terms of sexuality and in terms of gender. I use “she”, and I don’t mind when people assume “she” because I have had the experience of girlhood and it’s an intrinsic part of who I am. I also use “they” because that same girlhood is something I found didn’t quite fit the being I became once I learned how to desire and exist and shove a fist at the world. I actually go by Kade, too, something Autostraddle may not know about me. You can call me either – I like being both! Most of the time, my gender is cocky grins and loaded statements and the smell of leather and balsam. I’m usually wearing a binder. The strands of stuff that make me up decided not to give me very much in the tits department, which was a curse until I was thirteen and realized I like it much better that way. The same bits and pieces of DNA decided I’d get child-bearing hips, though, and then added a smack of irony by making me PCOS-rated infertile. Those hips have made me cry in menswear dressing rooms across the Northeast. And if you’ve read my earlier pieces, you know I’m a masculine-presenting survivor who has a soft spot for femmes, and wrestles with all the complicated things that come with it.
On the days like today when I’m struggling under dysphoria and anxiety and a whole range of things that are tied to those words by tight red strings, it’s hard to remember that I am a person who deserves to take care of their wonderful self. Here are some self-care regiments that work for me. They might work for you, too, or you might have your own. I recommend making a list you can tape to your mirror or the inside of your favorite book so you don’t forget in the worst moments. Here are 25 things that might get you started.
1. Watch episodes of The X-Files because bodies can be alien, time-traveling, or capable of transforming themselves at will. Imagine your body as a slimy sacred thing that has come from another corner of the universe to save the world, even if it feels icky at times. Imagine Dana Scully having to examine said body, and then you make out.
2. Meditate until you forget you are inside of a body, or until your body becomes a welcome home.
3. Drink a glass of water and concentrate on what it feels like to have water in your mouth, running down the back of your throat and into your stomach. Make sure the water’s really cold so you can feel it. Pretend the water is someone’s love for you, and you can feel it going all the way in and making things clearer and better.
4. Take deep and long breaths like you’re inhaling smoke.
5. Run hard. Run until you’re sweating profusely, and the pain of your muscles has grown louder than the pain of having a body.
6. Go to a shelter and talk to all the animals.
7. Buy a fish who can listen when you’re not able to go to the shelter. Name it after your celebrity crush.
8. Talk to people who love you so they can remind you that you’re okay, and perfect, and allowed to feel this way. Everything they say is true! Please listen to them even when you tell yourself you don’t deserve to be the things they say you are.
9. Find a candle that smells incredible and burn it next to your bed. That way if you’re not getting out of bed today, you’ve got something really lovely to enjoy.
10. If you can leave your house, try to find a busy place like a park or a street with lots of shopping. Sit down and listen to the people around you. Listen to their little conversations, the things that are important to them or not important to them. If you’re anxious about that, bring a book or a phone so you feel a little more comfortable. When you’ve immersed yourself in other people for a while, you’ll find it a little easier to stand up and walk back into yourself.
11. Call or text or write a letter to your best friend.
12. Listen to the sexiest song you know and think about good things you would do while listening to that song. Or, listen to the happiest song you know and watch youtube videos of other people dancing to it. Make a mix that includes that song and send it to someone you really care about a whole lot. Sometimes sexiness or happiness are the best ways of forgetting dysphoria because you’re reminded, oh! I have a body that can do amazing things to another body, and oh! I have a body that can feel immense joy just from seeing a kitten!
13. Watch every ABCFamily Original Movie on Netflix Instant. They are all there, I swear.
14. Read the book that speaks to you more than any other book. See? You are not ever alone.
15. Cook something delicious. If you don’t feel like eating, bring it to your friend like a little offering. Smell and taste everything while you are cooking. Let your body be a house for the best possible sensations.
16. Use up all that leftover glitter to make crafts. It’s never too early to make valentines, you know.
17. Kiss people.
18. Order takeout! If you can’t afford takeout this month, find the most delicious thing in your fridge and consume it for dinner.
19. Modify your body on your own terms. Dye your hair, bleach your eyebrows, get something pierced. Have your friend come over and do a stick and poke. Or get that money you’ve saved up and go to a tattoo parlor. Temporary tattoos with Disney characters make a great half-sleeve, too.
20. Buy the fancy wine this time. Because why not?
21. Don’t answer calls from people who make you stressed. Don’t answer calls at all, if you want. Turn off your phone and play some music.
22. If you have a bit of spending money, buy yourself a present. You deserve that new harness or that neat little gadget.
23. Bedazzle your binder.
24. This is so important. So important. Put on your favorite outfit. You know the one. The one that makes you feel like one gazillion bucks. The one you want to wear for every webcam selfie. The one you wear when you know you look flawless. Wear that outfit even if you’re not going to leave your house today. Wear it to clean your kichen, or sit on your couch, or hang out with your pet. Take a picture of yourself in that outfit. Post it to tumblr or your facebook or your blog! Your followers and friends think you’re the cutest. You ARE the cutest.
25. Look at this little doodle by Marc Johns.
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.