Sunday, December 16, 2018

Out into the light...

CW:  Mental health issues, triggering events.

Two days ago I had what is called a triggering event. I don’t need to go into the details of exactly what the event was – but the result was my collapsing into a crying, panicked heap, followed by a total emotional shutdown. From the extreme of panic and fear to absolute emptiness.

The rest of the day I felt apart from myself and the world. I was along for the ride but not really present. If you interacted with me at all on Friday it was likely obvious that I was not myself. I probably seemed standoffish, quiet, maybe even grumpy. If you asked me how I was feeling I either didn’t answer or just said, “Mostly okay…”

When I am in this state of shut down I don’t actually know how I feel. I become like a void; a walking emptiness. I know this is a defense mechanism. That this comes from being in places where showing emotion was dangerous, or where being fully present resulted in more harm – disassociating and leaving myself is safer. It isn’t very practical. It interferes with my life and relationships. I don’t like it.

But I can manage these events. These two stages are, at least, predictable. I know that the emotions that spew out immediately will run their course and that shut down will last a few hours. I know that at some point I will start to feel again, but that is not really a relief, because then it gets worse.

What follows the collapse and the disassociation is two days to a week of panicked, obsessive thinking. Whatever emotions are attached to the triggering event start relentlessly swirling around in my brain. Because many of my issues center on abandonment, it becomes a firework display of rejection and self-loathing. It fills my mind’s sky horizon to horizon and is too loud to shut out or turn away from.

(BOOM!) See, it’s true. You are unloved.

(Sizzle…crackles) People only pretend to like you.

(BOOM! Boom! BOOM!) You should remove your horribleness from the world.*

(Whistle…swirl) Can’t you see you will never be good at anything?

(KA-BOOM! Pop. Pop. Pop.) You will never be wanted. You suck. You suck. You suck.

And then there are the nightmares. These tales spun by my subconscious appear a day or so later; in full color, with surround sound, even scents. Dreams in which I walk the world hearing people’s thoughts – and every imagined judgement. Another in which I discover that all the good in my life is a lie. There is a recurring one that due to some unknown offense I am shunned by the town I live in. I’m allowed to exist there but when I approach people turn away, and no matter how loud I yell or scream they ignore me. The worst part though is never being told what it was I did to make them reject me so.

This emotional barrage during both my waking and sleeping hours will last for a few days. I can distract myself from it; and as the days pass it becomes easier to do. I can zone out to Netflix, I can make art, I can find friends to hang out with, I can clean, but if I find myself in a quiet moment – it comes back – so I keep busy in whatever way I can. Eventually, with a few days and a lot of self-care (get up, make the bed, eat, drink water, move, write, rest, repeat) it will pass.

Then, when it has passed and I feel safe enough, I begin the deconstructing process. I ask the necessary questions:

What was the event that set this off? Why was it so bad? Was I already in a tender place when it happened? What event in my past is this trigger tied to? What plan can I put in place so that I can respond differently next time?

I remind myself that this is all process. That I am here now and that the original event that this trigger is tied to is long past. I get back to the work of rebuilding myself, shoring up my self-worth. Reminding myself that I am worthy of being here. That I will be okay.

The worst part of this I think are the other feelings that surround it. For me there is a lot of embarrassment, shame, and fear surrounding these events. I am embarrassed about feeling so out of control. There are feelings of shame about not being as good or together as other people seem. And there is a fear that others will not understand. That I will be rejected for my brokenness, and that my damage will be too much.

I often find I am quite literally unable to speak of these events; my body rebels and my vocal chords freeze up. This is why, when I am in crisis, I often have to text people for help because I become incapable of speech.  When I see my therapist and talk to her about these latest occurrence my voice will be a squeak and I will likely be hoarse for several days.

But I very much want to share them because it beats back those feelings of shame and embarrassment. Putting these feelings and events out there is the medicine I need. It brings them out of the into the light where I can see them, examine them and remove the fear surrounding them. And so, because I cannot speak of them, I write instead.

This is my work.

*A note on this – I don’t tend towards suicidal thoughts. I instead have fantasies of removing myself from the world. The most common story is one of quitting my life and moving far away, to some forgotten small town, where I work at a convenience store and fade away into obscurity. Everything in this fantasy is in shades of gray and sepia. It’s very drab, predictable, and comforting. So, when I say I want to remove myself from the world, I mean removing myself from my current place in it. I don’t mean death. 

If you'd like to support my work and my healing journey, please consider joining my Patreon Page:  Joie Grandbois-Creatrix--  Thank you

Friday, December 7, 2018

My First Letter to Santa

By Unknown - Illustrated London News, Public Domain
I still believe in Santa.

Yes, you read that correctly. I never had that horrible childhood moment that so many people speak of when they learn that Santa is not a real person.

Like many of us Santa was a part of my childhood. We went through the rituals of pictures with Santa at the mall and leaving cookies and milk out on Christmas Eve (plus carrots for the reindeer). But there were some differences.

Our presents always came from people in our lives. They were from Mom & Dad, or Gramps, or my aunt, cousins, or friends. Our gifts did not appear on Christmas but were under the tree as soon as they were wrapped. At home we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve and went to my Grampy’s house on Christmas Day for a big dinner. We also never received over the top extravagant gifts, but what gifts were given were carefully chosen for each recipient. There was even one year that we were not going to do gifts at all because we were saving for a down payment on a house. That year my brother and I, thinking that our parents would be sad without presents, pooled our allowances to buy them each some gifts anyway.

I also don’t recall ever writing a letter to Santa, though I thought of him often.

For me Santa was this benevolent presence that permeated the season. Santa was the quiet hours in the living room, when the only light was from the fireplace and the Christmas tree lights. Santa was the pretty ice pictures that appeared on my window on cold mornings. Santa was the sound of the wind creaking the trees when I tromped alone through knee high snow in the woods behind the house, and he was the hot chocolate and the feeling of my tingling cold toes returning to life when I came back inside. Santa was there when I would sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to plug in the tree lights, pressing my face against the window so the reflection of the room would disappear, and I could see the snow sparkle with the soft lights of our tree.

As I became older Santa became the moment of joy on a friend’s face when a perfectly chosen gift was given. Santa was there for every middle of the night, snowy walk, when I had the luck to find streets not yet plowed, and the smile shared when my eyes would meet those of another bundled up adult out walking just because it was so beautiful. Santa was icicles in my cocktail when staying at a friend’s house and we found ourselves out of ice. Santa was the feeling of warmth inside my heart as I wrote out Christmas cards to far away friends, and the excited feeling in my belly each time I opened the mailbox and a card was inside.

When I imagine Santa, I see an old man who lives in a simple, though slightly cluttered, cottage deep in the woods. He looks like a typical Santa with a full head of bright white hair and a long beard. He is usually wearing a red plaid shirt, and you can see the collar of his long johns peeking up from where the top button is undone. My Santa wears jeans with suspenders and warm wool socks. He is sitting in a comfortable chair by a fire. He is sometimes reading a book, and there is always an orange tabby cat curled up on his lap. A steaming mug of something is nearby. He has everything he needs, and he is content.

At some point he looks up. He cocks his head to listen. The cat’s ears twitch. She looks up at him with a long slow blink before she rises, stretches, and jumps from his lap. He closes his book, setting it on the small table next to his chair, then makes his way to the door where he takes a heavy long coat from the rack on the wall. He puts it on followed by a fur lined cap, soft leather boots, and mittens. The cat winds around his feet purring.

In my Santa vision there is always snow piled high, and the light that spills out as he opens the door sparkles on the snow like the lights from my childhood Christmas tree. His boots crunch down the cottage steps and his breath makes clouds in the air. The cat stands in the doorway, preferring to keep her paws dry.

As he emerges snow begins to gently fall. He walks down the path a bit, just a few steps. He closes his eyes. In my mind he is taking a measurement of how much comfort the world needs. I imagine that because he is content, and has all he needs, his greatest desire is to give some of that comfort away.

He pauses and while taking a breath he opens his arms wide. And somehow, though he is still an old man standing alone in the snow, witnessed only by my mind and the eyes of his imagined cat, part of him begins to grow. It grows, and grows, beyond the wooded glen in which his cottage sits. It grows high above the trees. It grows high enough the lights from other houses, and nearby towns appear. It grows until the curve of the earth can be seen, and then like two great arms spreading wide it expands to all horizons until the whole world is covered. And with another breath, this great, expansive part of him settles over the earth, gently and almost unnoticed.

And as he nods his head and turns to make his way back to his cozy home, somewhere a little girl is sitting in a living room gazing at the magical light of her family’s tree; some stranger catches the eye of another and takes a moment to smile; a young man out walking in the middle of the night sheds a bit of a happy tear when the crunch of snow beneath his boots turns his mind to a childhood memory; a friend gives another friend the gift of a listening ear and a hug; and maybe somewhere else a few more people decide to reach out to forgotten friends, or give a little more of themselves to help another person in need, or takes a moment to sit in the quiet of nature.

For me Santa has never been about the things that surround the season. He is instead about those very small, almost unnoticeable moments that we recognize the humanity of another person. He is the essence of those times when we stand in awe of the world around us and find that we feel both small, and deeply connected at the same time. For me he is in the small comforts that cost us almost nothing to give but help another person to feel seen.

And this year I feel like we need him more than we ever have, at least in my lifetime. So, for the first time in my life I’m penning him a letter…maybe it is more of a prayer.

Dear Santa,

I don’t think I’ve ever written a letter to you before. Perhaps I have but so much time has passed that I’ve forgotten. I do think of you every year though.

But if you are there, if you are listening, I’m asking that you help each of us bring a little more love into the world. Please help us to remember that we are all in this together.

And if you do live only in my imagination, if your cozy cottage in the woods exists only in my mind, then I ask that whatever part of me is you, to help me to be a little more forgiving, a little more generous, and a little more loving towards myself and others. The world needs that right now.

That is all I need this year, or ever really.

Thank you,


PS. Please give your beautiful kitty a few scritches behind the ears from me.

Happy Holidays to all of you. May Santa touch all our hearts this year.



If you'd like to support my work and my healing journey, please consider joining my Patreon Page:  Joie Grandbois-Creatrix--  Thank you

Monday, December 3, 2018

Non-binary at 46

I remember when I was first exposed to the idea of gender being a culturally imposed idea. It was 1993 and I was taking an introduction to women's studies course at USM. That one’s gender was not the same thing as one’s biological sex kind of blew my mind. 

I recall having that ah-ha feeling that comes when something you couldn’t quite define before suddenly starts to make sense, "Well that explains a lot of why I don't feel like I always fit in with the idea of what is feminine or woman." At the same time, despite my lifelong beard envy, I didn't feel exactly masculine or male either.  But despite the topic being raised, the discussion 25 years ago still only assumed two genders - man or woman - non-binary or androgyny were not mentioned.

So, I went on with my life assuming that my discomfort with my identity as a woman had to do with how our culture not only defines but also treats women.  That I didn’t like being one because women were not something our culture valued.  I felt like it was pretty unfair that I had little say in who the world said I was or what my life would be. 

I was in my mid-twenties when I came out as bisexual. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone, but it was the first time I named it publicly and it left me with a feeling of being a bit more at home with myself.  I thought maybe this was the thing I’d been needing to say, that naming this might help resolve the issues around who I felt I was. 

Through my thirties and into my forties I began to perform, and the stage gave me a chance to do something I’d not felt comfortable doing often in my daily life, explore dressing as a man and presenting the less feminine side of my self to the world.  The character I became, P.J. Buster, felt like putting on a new but familiar skin.  I often felt more at home as him than I did has myself. 

Occasionally, I started exploring expressing this off stage too.  One day I might be in a skirt and makeup, the next my hair pinned back, with a hat, button down shirt and a tie. Other times I was somewhere in between. The more I did it the more comfortable I felt until it just became part of who I was. Even so, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I first heard the term non-binary. When I did, despite feeling like it made absolute sense to me, despite that same ‘ah-ha’ feeling, I didn’t claim the term as my own. 

To be honest I felt like I was too old.  While many of my younger friends defined their gender in whatever way felt right for them, it seemed to me that, being in my mid-40s, it was a bit too late in the game to say I was something other than what the world assumed I was for 40+ years.  I felt had the option been presented to me at 20, I would have said yes, wholeheartedly, but now?  It felt like it was 20 something years too late.

But then I attended a storytelling event where a woman shared the story of her 80-year old father who finally told the world, “I am a woman and will live the rest of my life as one.”  And I began to wonder if there were non-binary folks who came to this decision later in life.  I did what I always do when I find I’m facing a question I don’t have answer too…I googled it. 

Gender in midlife.

I came across many stories of people transitioning from male to female in midlife.  There were fewer stories of women transitioning to being men, but they were there.  All were about people who felt they’d finally come home to themselves and their stories were told in an uplifting and loving way.  But I didn’t find much mention of non-binary people, so I decided to get more specific.

Non-binary at midlife

 A list of articles came up: Coming Out as Gender Queer at 50 and I photograph trans and nonbinary kids. It’s made me rethink my own gender both discussed the same issue I was facing. Could one come out as non-binary at 40, 50, or later?  What is it like to do so?  I identified greatly with Annie Tritt’s words when describing the feelings that came up when she pondered the possibility of how things might have been different had the non-binary identity been available:

“I can’t say how my sense of identity, and my life, would be different if I had grown up in this generation. But I know I wouldn’t be pondering the question. Kids nowadays don’t feel like it’s a big deal to explore your gender. For people of my generation, doing so is much more fraught with anxiety.”

In the end she was unsure about claiming that identity.  And wasn’t sure that the leap could be made. 

I am not in that place.  For me stating that I am non-binary feels comfortable.  It feels like I finally have a word that encompasses what I am.  It feels right, and it feels necessary.   I changed it on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.  It isn’t one of those changes that Facebook announces so no one really noticed.  I told a couple of friends.

I wondered how to tell the rest of the world and decided on this blog post because writing has always been a far more comfortable medium for me.  So here you go. 

I’m Joie.  I’m non-binary.  I’m still unsure on the pronoun thing. 

In the end the most important part for me is what I feel inside when I think of my identity.  It finally feels right. 


If you'd like to support my work and my healing journey, please consider joining my Patreon Page:  Joie Grandbois-Creatrix--  Thank you.,

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Truth About My Art...

"I think it's amazing that you make your living as an artist."

I cringe a little when I hear those words.  I am an artist - that much is true.  But...the rest of the  truth is that I don't "make a living" making art.  I am not a successful artist, at least not in the way you think I am.

The truth is that I have two part-time day jobs - one as a paralegal, and the other as a research assistant. Neither pays me a glamorous amount of money but they are in subject areas that matter to me and to which I am happy to give my time.

The truth is that because of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues I manage to work about 25 hours a week total. And that most months I make just enough to cover my bills. And this year most months I've actually ended up in the hole.

The truth is that my art barely pays for itself. I don't generally make any money after studio fees, gas, teaching insurance, and all the other things that go along with creating and teaching.  I hope to change that, but the truth is (again) that when faced with marketing a class/show, or doing what I need to stay out of The Wallow – wallow prevention wins.  It has to...

The truth is that the small amount a few faithful Patreon subscribers send me each month has been my grocery and cat food money more than once.  I can’t express how grateful I am for all three of them (yup, there are only three). 

The truth is that I write about my art, talk about my art, share pictures of my art, A LOT because it is my art that keeps me from falling completely into a pit of depression and despair. And maybe because I write a lot about it so much and share it so much people assume I must be making a living at it...

The truth is my art is like air to me.  Without it I'm not sure what I'd do...

The truth is that art has saved my life more than once - just as being able to write is giving me this outlet right now – it has given me a place to put my feelings.  To express things I can’t express anywhere else or by any other means.  

It is in this way that I am a successful artist.

And I am successful at a few other things. 

I am successful at is sharing myself honestly. 

I am successful at providing spaces for those who want to explore.

I am successful at making art the moves people.  That speaks to them in some way. 

I am successful at connecting people. 

I am successful at keeping my head above water though I don’t always understand how. 

I must be successful at being alive because I’m still here.

I am becoming more and more successful at doing the work to heal myself.  And  I do believe that one day, I will be together enough that I will be a more conventionally successful artist.  

Right now my most important creation is myself.  


If you'd like to support my work and my healing journey, please considering joining my Patreon Page:  Joie Grandbois-Creatrix  --  Thank you.