Jackson

Age at interview: 27
Age at diagnosis: 14
Gender: Male
Outline:

Jackson, 27, experienced childhood abuse, father’s suicide and mother’s imprisonment. Diagnosed at 14 with depression and PTSD, he used and stopped medication. Therapy, self-care and coming out as a transgender male have healed Jackson’s depression.

Background:

Jackson works in customer service and lives in a rented house with a roommate and a cat. Ethnic background is Fijian Indian.

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Jackson has been severely depressed most of his life. His “super depression”, diagnosed at age 14, faded away a couple years ago after he came out as a trans-gender male. Being raised as a non-white Jehovah’s Witness in a “pretty rough” rural environment and having a “complicated history with trauma” was the foundation for Jackson’s self-described “heart wounds”. While “dad was a pretty good person, mom was very abusive and attracted people into our family’s life that were abusive”. Jackson experienced “a lot of repeated physical, emotional and sexual abuse”; he “became invisible” and “attempted suicide many times”. When Jackson was 13, his father died from an “overdose of prescription medicine”, that was “probably suicide”. Later that year Jackson’s “mother went to prison—a blessing” he says, “because she was a very horrible person”. Jackson was then “tossed around between family members” and experienced even more abuse. Life between age 14 and 16 was meaningless until “my older brother reconnected” and said, “Let’s let’s live together. We’ll let you finish high school”. Still “very severely depressed”, Jackson says “strangely identifying as a lesbian kept me going. … ‘I’m a one-person parade, hoorah. No one can stop me. ‘Damn all of you for you trying to stop me from being who I want to be’”.

Jackson tried a number of strategies and eventually the heart wounds and depression healed. First was the required counseling while in high school after his mother went to prison. “It was and it wasn’t helpful. … I could tell that they were very affected by what I was going through. [But] I felt dead inside and I just wasn’t really receptive to what they had to say”.

Second was medication, which Jackson describes as good, but too effective, “I wasn’t able to experience or even really feeling joy or excitement. … An intuitive part of me felt like I …needed to experience my emotions”. After being on meds for a couple of years, Jackson decided to taper off them, “My severe depression seemed directly linked and influenced by the situation in my environment, not so much of just my inherent state”. Going off meds, “was pretty scary, to put it lightly, but I think it was the best thing I could have done for myself”. Jackson also notes that, “My brother was a great support.” And without that support, “it would have been a very ill-advised thing to do”. Third was education. “I threw myself into school. It was the only thing I could do to remain sane”. This paid off in really good grades. “People can just be so amazing”, Jackson says. “My teachers knew about my problems and that I was barely holding on. And they worked together to get me a full ride to the University”.

Fourth was Jackson’s young adult journey from lesbian to transgender male. When arriving at college, Jackson had serious PTSD and wondered if “I had a future”. Struggling with coursework and making friends “for the sake of curiosity”, Jackson decided to keep going, to creep out of a depression cycle where “I would have three months where I’ll be like, OK life is good…the sun is shining. And then I would … suddenly revert back to this deep sadness”. Studying abroad was a sunny time. “What was so profound…was that people in other countries…are living completely different lives. But also there’s this very strong common thread between humans. … I felt accepted by strangers. It gave me hope, but also reminded me of that sadness that I had. It was a great wake up call.” Returning home, engulfed by the traumas of parents and abuse, Jackson realized, “I need some help … to give meaning to these feelings, or give meaning to my life, find meaning. Working with “an amazing counselor”, Jackson says, “completely changed my life”. During a Reiki massage session Jackson had a “vision of ‘I think I’m a trans– I’m think I’m trans.’ …I didn’t know what it meant and started reading about people experience and I was like, oh my God, that was like everything I’ve always felt and, and I’ve felt … another weight was lifted”. Jackson felt safe “to explore my transgender identity” after moving to a LBGTQ-tolerant city with a “lot of great resources” and “a lot of great people”. Jackson says, “I still have a lot of moments of like sadness when I reflect on some of my past experiences but it doesn’t– it doesn’t overcome me…anymore”.

 

Finally coming out as transgender allowed Jackson to begin moving past depression.

Finally coming out as transgender allowed Jackson to begin moving past depression.

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Yeah well like, I feel like for a lot of people who come out as trans, it’s always the opposite. Like, you know, they lose their families or communities. They lose that support. They’re depressed or they try to kill themselves. And I have had the exact opposite experience I think because like, I don’t, I don’t know, I’ve always felt that burden and then I also don’t really have a secure family structure that I am influenced by or that I depend on or feel a part of. And so, yeah, and so I felt like wow, I can actually come into my own with no pressure and I can finally– I can finally be myself without, I don’t know being attacked by those that I care about. I can choose. I can choose to live a life I want to live. And, yeah, and so I, I feel like coming out as trans like has helped solidify that, that belief of like I can make choices and I can, I can change if I want or not.

 

Jackson attributes his 'heart wounds' to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse perpetrated by an abusive mother and her associates.

Jackson attributes his 'heart wounds' to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse perpetrated by an abusive mother and her associates.

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My mom was a very abusive person and tend to attract other people into our family’s life that were abusive as well. And, so I experienced a lot of repeated physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. And so I think that was kind of … That set up the foundation for my, my heart wounds and my depression, and just my outlook on life. And, and then I was also questioning. I started to feel different, sexually, like with my sexuality, as a preteen. And so that was, that was, kind of dangerous, it felt very dangerous. I wanted to ex— like, I was curious about it. No one ever talked about it. You know, no one ever talked about what it meant to be gay. Except that, it was a very sinful thing. And then, like, for me, school was a safe place, but even going to school and, and like I had, a friend of mine who was kind of coming out, too, as a young gay man, and like he was automatically a target for ridicule and physical abuse. And so, so, I, I became invisible and suicidal for many years and attempted many times.

 

When Jackson went public with his depression, friends pressured him to take medication.

When Jackson went public with his depression, friends pressured him to take medication.

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Like, “Oh that’s too bad. OK, now this is becoming awkward. OK now, you need to go on medication, because it’s making me uncomfortable.” And, and so, like, one of my best friends in college — we’re not friends anymore – but, like she, like often pressured me to get on medication, because I made, it made her uncomfortable, for me to be sad in front of her. Not projecting, but, sad in front of her. And I understand that’s really hard. It’s really hard to be around someone that, you’re not sure how to help 

 

For Jackson, depression was deeply connected to being in an environment where he could not be his authentic self.

For Jackson, depression was deeply connected to being in an environment where he could not be his authentic self.

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As a child growing up, I was, like I said diagnosed with severe depression when I was 14. And it continued until about two, maybe three years ago. It started to, started to lessen actually when I came to the realization that I was trans. That really alleviated a lot of it.

 

Jackson discusses how finding a therapist that was flexible with his needs changed his life.

Jackson discusses how finding a therapist that was flexible with his needs changed his life.

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I, it completely change my life, yeah, she was an amazing counselor, she was able to, because I felt like I, like I’ve been through counselors just like on and off, like mostly because it is required or out of desperation and this was the first time I found a counselor that was like, you need to feel these things but also like, you need to give it context and look forward. And, and that medication is an option but depending on where you are, maybe not the best or we could try it, you know, or not, it’s not required. So I just found someone who is really flexible with, with my needs and willing to be very organic about it, and that really help me move through a lot of emotions and I mean I, I still feel sad. I wouldn’t say I feel depressed now anymore though because of working with that person. I think mainly I just, I was able to learn how to let go of a lot of judgment and shame. And, and then like, and then I realized that I was trans, like I didn’t know that was a thing, [Laughter] Yeah, that was random.