Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: VA

Depression and Writer’s Block

In a way, I don’t know where the past few weeks have gone, though I can tell you what I was doing for most of them since my last post here. The essential thing is that I’ve been in a depressive funk and struggling to do pretty much everything from rising every day to writing on anything to indulging in hobby activities like crocheting. I’m not out of the pit yet either.

What I’ve been doing is getting out of the house a lot. Between Christmas and the beginning of last week (the 7th). Most of the time, I’ve either been going to the offices where the Utah Pride Center moved their therapy services, or, even more often, to Oasis Games, which bought the pride center’s old building and fixed up the first floor. I’ve been going there mainly to read Dungeons and Dragons books; I finished reading the Player’s Handbook and have been making slow progress on reading the Dungeon Masters Guide since about the first week of January.

I’ve also been continuing crocheting. My primary project is now complete, and I’ll be giving it to my friend who I decided to give it to soon if I get an opportunity. To be honest, I’ve done most of the work on it at the pride center’s therapy offices.

But even with those things, I’ve been in a depressive funk. The main reason is because I received a decision from the VA on my Compensation claim. I’m not sure if I mentioned it last year, but I started the claim in order to try and connect my bipolar disorder to my Naval service. Well, they didn’t even bother opening a case; they simply denied it without investigating. I’m fairly certain that is what threw me into this depressive funk.

It’s still with me. And, unfortunately, it’s not a state of mind I’ve been able to simply write through. I’ve tried. The first 4 days of this month, I wrote at least 500 words a day. Managed to complete, I think, 2 scenes on Unwritten Letters. But I didn’t feel like writing. Even with plot cards, I had trouble grasping the ideas. I felt no joy in getting the words down. Even though the quality was up to my standards, I hated what I’d written because I’d written the words when I felt bad. Gah, talking about it is dragging me down again. Enough.

Anyway, I haven’t touched my writing to do more than read stuff since then. Most days, I haven’t even been able to read my writing. I will not go into detail about how that makes me feel—it’s even more depressing than my description of writing, and I really don’t want to get as bad as I was last weekend over it all.

So, I foolishly thought writer’s block was a myth. That people who had it were undisciplined and lacked initiative in their writing. Well, since September or October, I’ve seen what it’s like to be undisciplined and lack initiative. And now I’ve been treated to my own grand case of writer’s block thanks to this depression.

Let me go over this again, to make it clear. Reading my writing depresses me, primarily because I see all its potential and am not actively capitalizing on it. Writing on anything depresses me any more because it’s not THERE—the ideas are vague, no matter how well-prepared I am for writing, and I hate the act of writing, and having done so makes me feel horrible because I didn’t enjoy doing so and I think I should. So it’s easier to just not write. I’ve gotten to the point where I dread writing, and I figure when it’s that bad, there’s no point in torturing myself.

Oh, I won’t be this way forever. I have faith in that. Maybe I’ll tuck myself into the inpatient mental ward at the VA, maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll get by and this depression will pass. It’s already started to lift—a little—the past few days. I have a good long-distance friend I can chat about this with, and if that doesn’t help, I can always call the Veterans Crisis Line, and I’ve already notified my mental health care team about where I stand emotionally. All I need to do is stick it out long enough for the clouds to pass, and I’ve done that before and know I can do it again. In the meantime, I’m getting out, cuddling with my cat, and doing what I can to distract myself from my depression so I don’t do something stupid.

Dear VHA, An Open Letter

Dear Veterans’ Health Administration,

You know me as one of your patients. I won’t provide my real name, but I will say that I am a Transgender patient, and I have a bone to pick with you.

The VHA's boast

The VHA’s boast.

The picture above is something I’ve seen posted at my local VA Hospital’s outpatient mental health building. They move the sign about; sometimes it’s in the entryway, other times it’s positioned somewhere inside, where we can see it as we enter. I didn’t take a picture of the entire poster, because the only part that concerns me is the portion which I included. Allow me to write it here, just to be clear. Clarity is important here, at least for me.

“Excellent care has no boundaries. VHA is committed to serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Veterans.”

Now, I know this sign was approved somewhere in the hierarchy of the Veterans’ Administration, so that’s not at issue. What is a problem is the fact that, as of the date of this post, Transgender Veterans, whom you claim to serve without boundaries, do, in fact, have a major boundary in their health care through the VA system.

This boundary?

We have no access to surgical options for our health care. Specifically, Male-to-Female Transgender Veterans cannot have sex reassignment surgery to correct their condition, and Female-to-Male Veterans cannot receive mastectomies and whatever other surgery is available for correcting our condition.

As I said, a big boundary.

Now, I know, I know, this was posted in the outpatient mental health building. That, to me, means nothing, for two reasons. First, because of the claim of “no boundaries.” What about denying surgical options to Transgender Veterans translates to “no boundaries”? That’s like saying, “We care about you, but don’t really accept these specific needs you have.” Why can’t Transgender Veterans have sex reassignment surgery and mastectomies? You gave that option to Active Transgender members of the military a few months ago. When will we Transgender Veterans have this option? Why couldn’t you approve this option for us at the same time you gave the actively-serving members of the military this option?

This is hypocritical of you.

Second, the claim, in the statement, comes from the “VHA.” The Veterans’ Health Administration, not “Veteran’s Mental Health Administration”. That means it comes from the overall service, not just whatever branch there may be which oversees our mental health care, if things are so divided. So that means the VHA is actively denying what can be life-saving health care to Transgender Veterans. I’m pretty easy-going, but not all Transgender individuals can make themselves be as “comfortable” in their birth-bodies as I can make myself be. Add gender dysphoria on top of some other mental dysfunctions, and that’s a recipe for suicide for a Transgender Veteran.

This is hardly “Excellent” care. Truly excellent care would offer us the surgical option many of us require.

In short, I find your commitment to serving we Transgender Veterans to be deeply lacking. I also find it extremely hypocritical for the VHA to brag about the “Excellent care” and its “commitment to serving” us when we do not in fact receive that excellent care or have that commitment.

Signed,

An Unhappy Transgender Veteran

Veritigo

About three weeks ago, I awoke with the condition of vertigo. I was largely unconcerned with it at first because it was most prominent when I was rising from bed and laying down at night; it never lasted long, and the room usually righted itself within about 15-30 seconds after I settled on my feet or in my bed. Occasionally, I’d have a moment where the room tilted if I moved too suddenly, or if I held my head in a position looking down with my head tilted a bit to the side (I was unaware of just how often I did this until the vertigo came). It came upon me on Sunday or Monday, and when it didn’t clear up by the end of the week, I decided to go in to the VA’s ER on Saturday morning, as I’d risen earlier than usual and knew that getting in before 8:30AM was advisable, especially on a weekend.

So I checked in, they did the blood pressure/temperature/pulse/oxygenation readings, and left me in a familiar room near the entrance from the waiting room, around the corner from the doors. When the doc came to me, I explained my condition, and she performed a test to diagnose the condition. This test involved me laying down on my back with my head off the foot of the bed in another little exam room. Once on my back, she had me turn my head to the right, at which point the world spun. She then had me roll onto my left side until the vertigo went away, then helped me sit up again. She told me that if it had not passed so quickly, it would have indicated a stroke. Apparently, stroke victims suffer consistent vertigo from the time of onset. The fact that mine passed within a minute of the change of position of my head indicated it was more than likely something dislodged in my inner ear, and this was correctable.

As it was explained to me by the ER doc, there are crystals in the inner ear, and they can become misaligned, and this can cause intermittent vertigo. This was verified by the physical therapist I saw just this past Friday.

The ER doc gave me some Meclizine and sent me on my way after promising to put in a referral for me to see the physical therapist. On Wednesday, I received a letter inviting me to a walk-in clinic for the physical therapist regarding my vertigo, and I went in on, as I mentioned, Friday. Incidentally, I had an appointment for another visit regarding my arm at 1:00PM, this referred by my primary care doc after I contacted her regarding a few days of stiffness and excruciating pain to the point I couldn’t sleep; she never did send the medication she promised to put a scrip in for (LOL). Anyway, I went in early on Friday—around 11:00—and checked in to the walk in clinic for the vertigo.

I hadn’t long to wait. The physical therapist came out and I went back to a little exam room with him. I’ve forgotten his name, but he explained what caused my vertigo and did a test to verify I had vertigo. This involved laying down on my back on the exam bed with my head off the end and him observing my eyes for something he called “tapping,” if I remember right (I could be misremembering, but I’ll call it “tapping” for the time being). First he had me look to the left, and he didn’t see this indicator of vertigo. When, however, he had me turn my head to the right, everything whirled, and he saw the “tapping.” He helped me sit up, said the ER doc’s diagnosis of it being caused by issues in my right ear was correct, then had me move to a chair so he could give me instructions on how to correct the condition, demonstrating as he explained. Since we weren’t in his office, and he didn’t have access to the printouts he usually would have had—and he told me it would be clearer if he demonstrated—he told me to take a video of him, which I did.

Basically, for this exercise, I’m to sit at the middle point on the side of my bed. First, I’m to look up to the left, let the vertigo (if any) pass and wait 30 seconds, then lay down to the right, keeping my head in that position, let vertigo (if any) pass, and stay that way for 30 more seconds. Then I sit up. Next, I look up to the right, let vertigo pass, wait 30 seconds, and lay down on my left, let vertigo pass, wait 30 seconds, and sit up. That’s one time. I’m to do this 5 times twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, for two weeks. He was very clear on the fact that, like with antibiotics, I must do this for the prescribed number of days, even if I feel better, to ensure the misalignment in the inner ear is fully corrected.

I’ve already noticed a change just since my visit, as if some of what he had me do put things back into alignment. Still, I’m following his instructions and doing the exercise for the next two weeks.

School: Difficulties and Progress

I saw my therapist today, and one of the things I discussed with her was the difficulty I’ve been having with kicking things with school into gear. Part of my difficulty has to do with anxiety. Some of it is from my bipolar getting in the way. The rest is just plain not knowing what the heck to do.

The major problem has been that last one, and it’s something that fuels the anxiety. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve sat down and considered what needs to be done and tried to work on it. So far, all I’ve done is decide on my course of study and get into contact with the Social Security Administration. Thus far, I’ve had little success.

I’m trying to find out from Social Security what, if anything, will happen to my income from them if I go to school. Though I looked everywhere I could on the SSA site, and entered every variation of words requesting this information on my various searches, SSA proved not to have this information available. I contacted them via their contact form, and they sent me an email telling me to call the SSA with the best times to do so.

I explained this to my therapist today, and also my difficulties with researching what I need to do to enroll at school on Salt Lake Community College’s website. See, I’ve been using a direct link that someone sent me to the site, so I haven’t been able to find the enrollment procedure. My therapist did a different thing: she Googled the site and the enrollment procedure came up on the search.

Also while I was with my therapist, I saw the Voc Rehab specialist on my psych team at the VA. She said that since it seems like I am eligible for the GI Bill, I could apply for that, but that I’d be doing everything on my own, whereas if I use the VA’s Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, I’ll have people pointing the way and to help. I applied for that on the spot, since I like the idea of having people help me navigate the enrollment process. Lucy, the Voc Rehab specialist, told me it’s good I’ve researched the course I want to take at SLCC, and that I should make it clear to the people I’ll see with Chapter 31 that I’ve done the research so they know I’m serious about this—it’ll look good to them and indicate my determination to develop a long career with the education I’m seeking. She also suggested that if I can’t find any information regarding my Social Security income on my own, to see if the Chapter 31 people can. Lucy gave me a contact number to call if the Chapter 31 people don’t get back to me in about two weeks.

Anne, my therapist, helped me come up with a To Do list, which should help. Yes, I needed help to come up with it. Trying to on my own was driving up my anxiety. She also taught me a breathing exercise to do when I’m feeling more anxious. I’ll be going back in two weeks to give her an update on what’s going on with the school stuff.

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