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Following Through, From Mental Illness to Finding My Identity

Trigger Warning: This story contains descriptions and information about suicidal ideation, which may be triggering to survivors or to the family and/or friends of victims. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please text HOME to 741741 to connect to Crisis Text Line or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24-hours a day at 1-800-273-8255 for assistance.

I have dealt with mental illness since 2009 but had my first encounter with “the system” in 2018. I had just started a new job. I worried about messing up and making people mad. I tried pushing through but anxiety and depression kicked in, resulting in suicidal ideation. So I quit my job.

That following Monday, life changed forever. I woke up depressed and immediately wanted to end my life. I felt like a failure. After thinking of a plan to end my life, I knew I was in danger. I told my dad, “I need to go to the emergency room. I don’t want to live anymore.” I was put on a 72-hour hold. In the hospital, I was quiet and scared. I just wanted to disappear. There were truly scary moments, and I cried constantly. I was prescribed a new medication and diagnosed with Social Anxiety. By discharge, I felt like I was on track to recovery.

Two and a half months later, my mental health declined. I was depressed and laid on the couch constantly. My doctor prescribed a new medication. A couple of days later, the suicidal ideation came on strong. All I could think about was ending my life. I was in the darkness of my own mind and the light was nowhere to be seen.

I told my therapist that if I did try to end my life, it would be spontaneous. I was put on another 72-hour hold! I felt like a waste of life. I was hospitalized for five days. At discharge, I was scared to go back into the world. Fortunately, I was referred to an outpatient program.

Upon completing the program, I started hanging out with friends and felt like I could figure things out. I attended a Young Adult Therapy Group. There I met a transgender male. This was reassuring because I was struggling with my own identity. I did not understand who I was or my purpose in life.

I turned 26 a few months later which meant I had to find new health insurance! As I got closer to losing my insurance, my anxiety and depression started creeping back. I started experiencing suicidal ideation and told my dad, “I’m done fighting this depression. I’m tired of being tired. I can’t keep doing this.” We ended up back at the emergency room. I explained to the doctor that I was tired of fighting depression and wanted to die. To make things worse, I no longer had insurance and was transferred to the County Hospital. I was placed on a 72-hour hold and hospitalized for eight days. During my stay, I learned about Putnam Clubhouse and something awoke inside me. I was determined to get involved so I became a member.

My psychiatrist told me to think about anything that I was not addressing in my life. I realized I still did not know who I was. I thought I might be gay but that felt inaccurate. I started smaller. I began listening to KPOP, one of my now favorite music genres. I made positive comments on the performers’ outfits and dance styles, which showed that I was coming out of my shell. At this point, I started accepting that I am a transgender woman. I acknowledged what I had been suppressing for such a long time, what my subconscious was trying to tell me. It felt freeing.

I told my psychiatrist and therapist that I believed I was transgender. I knew that to be happy and honest, I had to start right then. What I didn’t know was that I would have to educate them on what transgender meant. On September 6, 1992, I was born Parker Taylor Johnson, male. Today, I identify as Paige Madison Taylor, a transgender woman. To be transgender means that a person does not identify with their gender assigned at birth. It took me 26 years to accept that. Since I was a small child, I knew that I was different. I knew I did not fit in with boys. Every birthday wish was to wake up the next morning a girl. Every Christmas wish was the same. Wishing on shootings stars, also the same. As a child who did not know what it meant to be transgender, wishful thinking and prayers were all I had.

I am the first transgender woman to have started the process of transition while participating at Putnam Clubhouse. I have made my voice heard by this. I attended Putnam Clubhouse for one year before I started telling Clubhouse staff. I told staff before coming out publicly because I did not know how the Clubhouse community would react. I wanted staff to be aware so that if something happened, Staff could support me. In late January 2020, I came out publicly to the Clubhouse community and the world.

A lot of people tell me that I am brave for doing what I do and my only thought to them is: I do this because it is who I am and I need to do it to survive. The courage to come out publicly was due largely in part to the support of Putnam Clubhouse. Without that, I would probably have been rehospitalized. I have survived and thrived two years without returning to the hospital which is something that few understand. I have learned to advocate for others, build my self-esteem and start living my true life. I have become a Leader, Young Adult Coordinator, Facilitator and Coordinator of Putnam Clubhouse’s very first LGBTQ+ group, and just recently became a member of the Board!

Because of my experiences with mental health and finding my identity, I am alive and pursuing life as I see fit. I live with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety topped off with being transgender, but even with all that, I have proven to myself that recovery is possible.

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