The Awaiting Smoke

I pulled my house keys from the outer pocket of my ruck sack to put them into a safer pocket inside. They jangled in a way that I instantly knew they were my keys. I don’t know what it was, the quantity of keys, the size and material that made a particular recognisable finger print of a sound that I knew they were mine and that made me, briefly, a little home sick; which is odd as I never get home sick travelling to London.

Sat on the train the trees, bushes and electric rail pylons were a blur while the countryside of England moved by in sets of perspective. For some reason it felt rushed. One minute I was getting up and popping to the supermarket for petrol for the journey, the next I was at the railway station booking a ticket because the car had a problem.

There was no choice really. Appointments to the gender clinic are few and far between and in some ways I’ve never been more settled about this particular visit compared to the past. A latte bought on the station comforted me in my train seat and a baguette, bought in my home city, kept London lunch prices at bay.

The day was a bit grey and some rain had started to hit window of the platform shelter in my home village. The thought of a long drive to London in this weather didn’t quite appeal to me but the cost of the train can sometimes be a bit off-putting; the train is so much faster though. In no time I would be in the big smoke and grabbing a tube train to Hammersmith. No parking meters to worry about and the ticking time I remember from last time having to second guess how long I would be in the clinic.

Trying to find a parking space for a clinic that’s literally a few doors down from Charing Cross Hospital I’d expect it to be near impossible but despite how busy you would expect it to be I always found a space. But the traffic. Getting off the motorway and waiting on that roundabout. I remember one of my appointments they had phoned me while I was stuck in traffic, at the roundabout which is just down the road, “I’m literally around the corner, I won’t be long.” I wasn’t quite sure why they rang, it’s not like I was late at the time and given they would know I lived over 150 miles away that if I’d forgotten about my appointment then it would be a bit late to do anything about it. It’s not a complaint but there were times when the phone wasn’t answered when I would call that would drive me mad. Those days though seem to be gone. My call to confirm my appointment the day before, departing with lots of money for rail tickets, was answered quickly.

This brief home sickness, though, was not about going away from home it was about being away from comfort. It was the destination that was the lack of comfort zone. Going back to the clinic to talk about thegender thing, in some ways, I was wondering if I really needed to talk about it anymore. I suppose I felt a little unprepared in some ways but in other ways I was more prepared, comfortable and relaxed. A contradiction of thoughts as always.

They say that you don’t need to show your feminine self by the clothes you wear to these appointments and that is true in so many ways but there has been an undercurrent of it being part of the assessment. This was proved to me by the letter sent to my GP after the last appointment which included everything about me, what I had said and a full description of what I had been wearing like it was relevant. It’s a difficult one to decide whether it really should be mentioned.

This time it would be different though. I decided to attend wearing my running clothes. I might have a chance to have a run after the appointment but not just that, my running clothes have been the source of my wearing what I want over the last year or more and where I felt comfortable in my presentation and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to show that, even though it wasn’t important, it was part of the recipe.

I returned to that small triangle park just up the road from the clinic, that I’d written about some time ago, as I had arrived so early. It wasn’t the empty peaceful patch of land it once was, sitting landlocked in central multicultural Hammersmith, but filled with the machinery of a travelling fairground. I sat for a few minutes sorting my bag out and checking my phone but it wasn’t a place to sit and feel I could watch life go by and besides a waiting room would be warmer.

The clinic hadn’t changed much, the toilets were still underfunded with a dangerous slice across the seat but the inspirational large posters of ‘transgendered people’, which portrayed successful transitions, had disappeared off the corridor walls in reception and the first appointment waiting list was now “24 months”. I can’t imagine what a person with gender identity issues and depression would do in the mean time who had yet to get any support.

The update notice on reception continued “Number of referrals received in March 2019 : 283. An increase of 8.43%.” and “clinic appointment letters are subject to a backlog of 4 week” and “2 to 3 weeks for administrative letters.” May be things had changed more than I thought, the waiting list was certainly a lot worse, a whole year more than when I joined the waiting list.

I’ve never felt like gender-radar had been so solidly switched off. I probably only saw 3 patients in reception. It was hard to tell where they were on their time line and which direction they’re going. I suppose I would be the same to them. I sat waiting feeling a bit bored. Collecting my thoughts. Mentally dismantling the reception desk trying to work out how it was put together with that round wooden wall thing. I thought to myself how I was less caring about being there and how I wanted to get on with my day. But I also realised all I wanted was to discuss where I was and what I’d done. Those were the thoughts I’d collected. Thinking about what made me happen and not what I thought should make me happy.

Eventually the psychiatrist, who I’d never met previously, appeared from the corridor and called me to the room. The door shut and she asked me to take a seat.

– ❤ –

I grabbed the hand rail in the tube train and held onto that moment. I suddenly realised I was enjoying the excitement of London, the bustle and rush; but I had to go though. It didn’t matter how much the train rocked or the lights flickered I had to get off at the next stop and catch that train. It was time to move on.

I had been pleasantly surprised by the psychiatrist. She was warm and tailored the session to me. To some extent they always did but for some reason it didn’t just feel like a box-ticking exercise. I felt it was about me and my situation, my concerns and my lack of confidence. I actually felt like I came away with something positive and things to get on with. I came away with a bunch of support leaflets that actually gave me information that was useful and that would help me both physically and mentally; I didn’t have to just rely on my memory trying to remember exactly what she said as it would fade over the next hour.

I stood on the busy Southern express train that I had caught with just minutes to spare. Suits and commutes filled the seats and the only guarantee of a window were the doors. I pulled my mobile phone from my pocket and quickly noted down the key points from my session. All the things she felt I should address – in fact, all the things wefelt I should address. It would be so easy to think I could remember those important points and go home and realise I’d forgotten something important and end up not moving forward.

I came away feeling I’d regained some confidence that had slipped away almost unnoticeable since the last time I visited Charing Cross. I’d drifted from what I really wanted to do and got comfortable. That’s not to undermine the progress that I had made and still feel great about. I had also found a psychiatrist that I felt I bonded with and had my best interests. The two previous psychiatrists had both left for private practice. She asked if I wanted to see her again next time or whether I wanted someone else. It was a resounding“Yes”from me. If you ever find a doctor that you bond with well and can discuss things with openly and feel they are working for you then do everything you can to keep them.

Opposite me in the train carriage were three women discussing something that came into focus. “You can’t pretend to be someone else, you are who you are and then I know who you are.” said the women in the centre, five years older than me, which I know because she said so later on. Whatever they were discussing it seemed to fit but proverbs are to be taken with a pinch salt anyway. For a start it could be interpreted either way. Are you the person you are born, or the person on the inside that wants to change the outside. The view is yours.

It was funny to hear it though. Their conversation continued, “you don’t have to be lazy, you spend the time with the people you want to.” The little group of three sat in the vestibule of the train home were having a good chat about friendship and it was so nice to hear.

It’s a short life, just get on with it.” said the one with the long dark hair leaning against the side of the toilet cubical.
“Life is short so either spend it wallowing…” It was crazy. It was like some fait thing said, ‘Let’s just make sure Hannah remembers a few things about her situation.’ I didn’t need it but it did make me smile for a moment. It had got more relevant by the word.

Taking in the scenery of rolling English hills I finally got a seat as people departed en mass at one of the major towns. Waiting for the people to depart a young boy eagerly tried to move past me for a seat, his mother putting her caring hand on his shoulder and said “wait a minute, let the lady go first.”

Until next time.

Hannah x

5 thoughts on “The Awaiting Smoke

  1. I’m so happy for you, Hannah. “It’s a short life, just get on with it.” So easy for me to say and so impossible in my complicated life to comply. I do hope you can.

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