One of the problems with gender dysphoria is that it's an enormously nebulous thing. Reading up on it you tend to find dozens of 'symptoms', a ton of descriptions and varying terms, concepts and ideas that may or may not apply to you at all.
But if I've figured one thing out talking to both professionals and the increasing number of trans friends I have, it's that dysphoria is different for everyone.
It's sometimes described (and I tend to think of it) as having a multitude of possible feelings and effects that, broadly, exist in two categories: social and physical.
Social effects might include the uncomfortable feeling that when people are divided up by gender for whatever reason (including having to use gendered bathrooms) that you're in the wrong place, and have an uncomfortable feeling that you'll be "found out", or similar.
Physical effects might include a profound discomfort in your own body. It might result in having no ability to ever see yourself as physically attractive, stop you from appreciating or using your body in the way "other people do", or might even trigger panic attacks when your body becomes the focus of anyone's attention.
More and more often when I talk to other trans people I see a huge variance in which issues are key for individual people. For some people intense social issues are the primary concern, others (like myself) it is mostly a physical issue, and, of course, the majority have concerns that sit across both sides of the spectrum.
But either way, dysphoria is a complicated thing, and it can be very tough to identify or admit you have it, even in an age where trans issues are more and more public and awareness is even becoming taught in some schools.
I mention all this in summary because of something I read this morning:
As a therapist, lemme just say: almost every trauma survivor I've ever had has at some point said "But I didn't have it as bad as some people" and then talk about how other types of trauma are worse.
The quote goes on, but it occurred to me that this is a common thing I've heard from people with depression or anxiety, too. Beyond mental illness, I've come to realise it also applies to many of us with gender dissonance.
I can cope is a phrase I've heard repeatedly, and realise I was telling myself.
Even several years ago, when I began to recognise that what I was experiencing was almost certainly gender dysphoria and that for damn certain I had gender dissonance, some part of me refused to accept that I was, well... worthy of help. That "others surely have it worse". Effectively? "I'm not trans enough. I should just suck it up."
But, most often, I told myself, "It's okay. I can cope."
Gender dysphoria hasn't been classified as a mental illness for some time, and that's an incredibly good thing. Because those of us with a dissonance between our assigned genders and that assigned to us at birth aren't sick. It's more complex than that, and it's not something you can treat in the same way you can with the various forms of anxiety and depression. That isn't to dismiss what those with mental illnesses go through - just that it IS a different thing to deal with.
There's no way to treat dysphoria chemically.
How you make your life comfortable and bearable tends to be a combination of social and even physical changes, some very expensive and uncomfortable.
And, like dysphoria itself, it varies enormously depending on the person.
But the first hurdle seems to be finding a way to rationally judge what you need to do in order to be comfortable - or even genuinely happy (and a lot of trans people, despite media portrayal of us, don't just become happier, but become genuinely happy people after we transition).
If I could give advice to past-me, or others in a similar place to where I was some years ago, it'd be this:
Just because you think you can cope doesn't mean you need to suffer.
I couldn't and would never tell people they should transition. It's not for everyone, and even if you do so, the nature of your transition if you do is always going to be enormously personal and unique to you.
But it's hard to make hard decisions about what you need to do in your life if you're stuck thinking like I did - that you "can cope", and therefore you should.
Those two things are never true.
If I had to venture a guess as to what caused my own internal insistence with myself that I could deal with it and so I should, I'd be guessing that it was out of fear. I refused to face my demons because I was sure that I couldn't handle what I'd have to do to fix my life.
I was wrong, as are so many people in similar situations.
Your life can always be improved. How tough it is to make this happen may be wildly different for each of us, but it's still an option.