Transforming Lives - Map Our Mental Health

When we ran Transforming Lives in 2016, we focused on positive mental health for trans people. We wanted to start talking about our own mental health in a way that recognised the dual stigma of being trans and struggling with poor mental health. 

In 2017, we are trying to build on that work we did with ourselves and create connections that allow us to access more mainstream resources in our community. We want to create a map of these connections so in the future, when someone is looking for an organisation that has done some work with trans people, they can look at the map and see what there is in their area. 

Do you realise how many mental health groups there are in Ireland? I know I didn't until I started to look. There are groups like PleaseTalk in colleges, groups like GROW in the local community, Mental Health Ireland has associations in a number of towns nationwide and that is only the tip of the iceberg. 

So this March, to coincide with the Trans Day of Visibility, get connected. Find a local group and see if they'll meet with you. Be the person to test the waters and with our support develop a network of trans friendly organisations across the country. 


Ben Power: I'm still here

It’s ok not to be ok. This is a message that is starting to show up more and more frequently in social media circles as people start to talk more openly about their mental health issues. But what does it mean to not be ok? And what do we do when we find ourselves in that position? As I write this, it is 6:30am. I have been awake since 2:30 after having 3 and a half hours of sleep for the night; something which has become the norm for me over the last two years or so. During that time, the vast majority of my energy has been spent trying to actively ignore the little voice in my head that constantly tells me that I’m a failure, that I’m not and will never be good enough and that I should really just give up now and put myself out of my misery.

I have yet to find a reliable long-term method of banishing that voice completely so for now I make do with drowning it out. I guess it’s the mental health equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and yelling “Lalalalala I’m not listening to you!” For now, I take each day as it comes. I count the little victories like managing to do laundry or finishing a job application that’s taken me several weeks to write or even that I managed to get up and interact with the world for an hour before I had to retire to my bedroom again. When the voice gets particularly loud I distract myself by losing myself in a computer game or colouring book or a tv series binge on Netflix – whatever works best at the time.

I’m also learning how to ask for help. As someone who has found themselves in the role of supporter for most of their life, it has been extremely difficult for me to be able to reach out and ask when I’ve needed help. Something within me wouldn’t allow me to see myself as worthy of other people’s time and attention and too often I have chosen to stay silent and not ‘bother’ my friends with my own troubles. I still have a lot of work to do in that respect but I hope that I am getting better at it.

Finally, on the days when the voice is quieter, I take the opportunity to make plans. I arrange to do something with a friend in a few weeks’ time or make a commitment to do something for someone. This means that when things are darkest, I can tell myself “I can’t give up yet, I have to do this thing next week so I’ll hang on till after that”. I’m thankful for the people in my life who help me to do that and who have stayed by my side when I’ve needed them most.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t know how to fix myself, let alone others but that’s ok. Right now I’m getting from one end of the day to the other and I’m still here and still fighting so I guess that must mean I’m doing something right!

Harry Matthews: Tips for Managing your Mental Health

Mental health issues are personal struggle for myself - anxiety, dysphoria, depression. The list goes on and at times I sadly thought there was no way out, but I proved myself wrong.

How did I do this?

Along with attending different medical paths such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), I followed these 5 main steps:

  1. Think Positively – One major thing CBT helped me to realise that mental health was in my head therefore it was ME who was in control of it.
  2. Stay Active – My anxiety meant I stayed indoors feeling sorry for myself but all this did was feed the monster. By keeping yourself active it helps to not only distract you from the issue but also face it.
  3. Talk to others – No matter what you’re going through there’s always someone who will listen, friends, family or even your GP – there is someone.
  4. Focus on the Future – Setting goals helps to give you motivation on life. Some days I didn’t even see a future for myself, but by making plans this spurred me onward.
  5. Chill Out – Asides from keeping busy make sure to have time to relax! 

Harry Matthews is a Transman living in Dublin. He is a recent marketing graduate and keen YouTuber.

Source: https://thethoughtprovokinglifeofharry.wor...

Claire Farrell: Don't be afraid to pamper yourself

Everyone at one time or another struggles with their mental health, but these struggles are heightened when you are trans.  

Growing up I dealt with my struggle by keeping busy and being extremely active physically, all the while learning about who I was. I didn't know at the time I was struggling with my mental health, nobody talked about anything like that and so I got on with it as best I could. Looking back, I figure I unwittingly developed fairly good coping skills which stood me in good stead throughout my life.

Whenever I would be feeling down I would be kind to myself and would go shopping and find something nice like new clothes, lingerie or anything that took my fancy at the time. I still do it to this day - It works! 

Being trans can be a lonely place at times and it's important to be aware of those moments and to do something that we know will give us a lift. Sometimes for me it means taking a walk by the sea or a trip to the mountains.  It always clears the head and allows me continue on my way once again. Having a nice meal with good wine as is evident by my rotund body has always been a favourite pastime of mine - not that I'm suggesting that for everyone!

I guess the message is: don't be afraid to pamper yourself and if you are really low, talk to someone you are comfortable with or seek counselling.  There's help out there: if you need it, use it!

Claire Farrell is Vice Chairperson of TENI. She is 72 years of age and has devoted most of her life to helping other trans people.  She loves travelling and dogs 😊

Toryn Glavin: Love each other

Being trans is difficult. There’s no denying that it adds a certain bit of complication to what may otherwise be an uneventful life. But it’s also beautiful.

Trans people have this fantastic innate sense of who they are and what they believe in. We don’t always agree and of course have different views - and that’s okay. We’re a community but we’re also individuals.

One big fear for trans people coming out is the idea that they need to fit a certain norm to be a member of the community. That just isn’t true. The community is an open and accepting one and going forward I hope we continue to embrace the diversity of our community.

My mental health has been built from nothing by this fantastic community. I’ve been reminded time and again that I am worthwhile and that I have something to offer to the world. I’ve been told time and time again that I deserve to be loved, that I am and that I will be.

My tip for positive mental health is to treat each other this way! Love each other. Sometimes loving yourself can be hard so let others love you and love in return.

Toryn Glavin is a 22 year old trans woman with the style of a 40 year old mother. She is the Administrative Officer of TENI, a position which she loves dearly.

Vanessa Lacey: There is hope and you are loved

When I was growing up, I wasn't aware that I was struggling with mental health issues - 'mental health' was not even a term in the bad old days.

As a chid, I struggled, and I developed good coping skills. Otherwise, I wouldn't have survived. Physical exercise helped my mind from overthinking: I'd always try to stay on the go. I'd run and run and run, and I played lots of football. Sports saved me. Sports helped me to fit in; I know now that they boosted my serotonin, and they also exhausted me. But when I went to bed, and I was still, the thoughts would come back, like an elastic band. 

I presented a façade for decades, and in terms of becoming an adult and going into relationships, the way I coped wasn't ideal. I worked really hard during the week, and drank at the weekends. It wasn't a great coping strategy: it was like being out on the open ocean on a lilo - you're not really going anywhere, but at least you're not drowning.

There were times after I came out that were devastatingly low. I contemplated suicide. My children were the meaning of my life. Their smiles and hugs helped me cope. Their love helped me cope.

Nowadays I have much more awareness of mental health and the challenges to my mental health. When I notice it's slipping, I look to whether it could be a chemical or biological interaction: have I been not sleeping, eating poorly, not interacting. I can identify the causes now, and I know when to put the brakes on and offer myself a bit of self love and self care.

A short term solution involves a nice bottle of red wine: I light the candles, get out a lovely blanket and choose a nice film that I know I'll bawl my eyes out at. I have pent up emotions from the week, and this helps relieve it.

In the medium to long term, I try to eat healthier. And counselling has been a huge support for me - like my gym for my mental health. It's like the way you'd treat a car: you bring it in for a service, give it good oil, clean it. Nobody can see your mental health, and only you can know what it's like. You need to constantly maintain it. And if you maintain it, then just like a car, it will bring you where you want to go.  

I love travelling. When I lost my extended family, I substituted them with travelling. Each year I go to Spain, which feels to me like coming home. There's brightness and sunlight; it's warm and bright and different. I work hard to make sure that I can get that break. 

And there's lots of good things in daily life. Music is really important to me: the first thing I do in the morning is put on music. Whatever feeling I have, I can put on that music – Blues, rock, classical, reggae, AC/DC. So that helps me not keep anything pent up. And I adore going to the beach on my own. It's so mindful for me to walk along and be present, listening to the waves and the birds. I sing to myself (if the beach is empty). I sing my heart out. That for me is spirituality. I have good, meaningful friendships where we support each other and have the craic.  And being aware of the humanity of all of us - the connectedness - I really love meeting different people and hearing their stories. 

For people out there who may be struggling, I'd say this: find someone to talk to. Whether it's a friend or Pieta House or The Samaritans - there is support and help and knowledge out there. It might help you, just to take one step.

You are not alone.

You're not the only person who has ever felt this way. 

You’re valued as a human being.

There is hope and you are loved.

Vanessa is a parent from Waterford who loves life ;-)

Sam Blanckensee: What to do when your brain is being annoying...

I've been conscious of my mental health for a while. When I was in school - trying to figure out my sexuality and gender identity - I experienced a lot of depression and anxiety. It was very difficult to cope with. I felt isolated - very different, very alone. It was really debilitating at times, but because of it I've put a lot of effort into noticing what helps me feel stronger and happier.

Spending time with my dog Obi was such a support to me. Often we would go for a long walk along the beach, which was a wonderful way for me to relax. We recently lost Obi - he was 11 years old - the most stupid dog ever and such a sweetheart. It's a massive loss. I'm lucky to have Pippin - a 4 month old puppy. All she wants to do is snuggle! 

I sing a lot to help let my emotions out. I get into the car and put on music. I have a range of songs about different emotions - really upbeat songs for when I'm feeling happy, and sad songs that I can pour my heart out to.

And I love dancing. I don’t drink, so I’d rarely go to a club, but there's nothing I like better than cheesey old fashioned wedding music playing on a dance floor. At the TransparenCI Xmas ball last year, I was on the dance floor all night! It's something I could never do before I transitioned. It was at my debs - the night when I was being me for the first time - that I started to dance. Turns out it was fun to express myself quite flamboyantly!

Quiet helps me as well. I love scuba diving - when you're 6m underwater, you're in a completely different world. You hear things differently, see things in a different light. It's very peaceful. I'm also a scout leader, so I hike a lot, which feels good - and it connects me with the scouting community.

I've been involved with wider LGBT community since I was 16. It is a real refuge for me. I remember when I was 16, feeling this sense of belonging. Finding like-minded people made me realise I wasn't on my own. And my differences were completely celebrated. I can’t recommend that enough – whether it's online or in person, find people who get what you’re going through and help you navigate so you’re not going through it on your own. For me, that involvement grew into activism and work - I get an immense sense of fulfillment from my work within the trans community. There's so much talent and strength and resilience within the trans community - it's very inspiring.


Getting professional help was great for me - I've seen a few people over the years who have really helped. With one counsellor, I didn't have to explain my gender identity. That was an amazing start, not having to explain!

When I'm thinking depressed or anxious thoughts, I get in touch with a friend to share what's going on. They remind me that I'm not on my own. It's fantastic to touch base with someone who can disagree with the thoughts that are in your head.

"My brain is being annoying," I say.

 "Well, your brain is wrong!"

Sam Blanckensee is a non-binary trans masculine person from Wicklow. They are TENI's National Development Officer and a Harry Potter fanatic!

Broden Giambrone: The power of reconnecting

I had severe struggles with mental health issues in my teens and early 20s. For years, I remember not being able to conceive of a future - I certainly couldn’t have imagined being alive at aged 30. 

Over time, aspects of my life changed that moved me to a healthier place. Transitioning helped me to feel more comfortable in my own skin. I found a community of people who listened and accepted me completely - that was really important. My family came around (not overnight) and having that base of support really helped. Also getting involved in trans activism - I had a drive to make the world a better place and create a space for me. It was about a connection to something bigger than myself. 

Mental health isn’t something that you just get cured of and never have to think about it again. It can come up at any time. I think sometimes people look at me and think ‘he's never had to struggle’ but there are dark days. I know that there may be a mental health issue around the corner: there's that looming possibility.


There are a few ways I try to take care of my mental health. I like to go places that give me a sense of space. I enjoy heading out to Howth and walking along that cliff walk, breath in the clean air and be close to the vastness of the sea. That helps with a sense of perspective - I get to reconnect, and I feel more myself.

I know exercise is good for me. My job involves long hours and a lot of rushing and drinking all of the coffee in the world. Exercise is hard for me to do, but it clears my mind. Once I get myself to the gym, it’s better. 

I'm learning to choose my battles. Lots of things in the world can seem overwhelming: transphobia, Syria, Trump - the world can appear bleak at times. I'm careful about the critical or anxious voice in me - either could bring me down.

I’m kinder to myself these days. I know I’m not perfect. I have my faults, and some I’m working on and some I just accept as who I am right now. I have things I’m good at and things I’m less good at, and that’s okay. I don't want to be my harshest critic.

I know I'm lucky with the friends in my life. They know me really well, and whether they're teasing me or supporting me, I know they have my back. I can be vulnerable and open with them. And they keep me grounded. 

Broden Giambrone is a Canadian trans man living in Dublin. He is Chief Executive of TENI and puffin lover.