Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

For those of you following this blog you might have noticed a gradual decline in posting frequency. The odd thing is, I really haven’t noticed it much. Which is to say, I haven’t missed it. Which is also to say, I don’t see this posting desert of a blog changing any time soon.

I speculated about ending Salad Bingo about a month ago. I’ve decided that’s not what I’m going to do. Every now and then I’m sure I’ll have a trans related essay pop out of my keyboard, and I’d hate to lack for a place to post it. So the blog will remain. But the posting will be – at least for the moment – on an extended hiatus.

But before I head off into the business of getting on with my life, I suppose a bit of a retrospective and some closing thoughts would be proper.

I started Salad Bingo a little over a year ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago. At that time I was looking forward to the beginning of my Real Life Experience, under the WPATH Standards of Care and the experience of coming out in my workplace. I had previously completed a couple of years of therapy in preparation for that point, but I was hardly “cured” yet.  I was still full of so much fear, doubt, and shame.

I was constantly battling expectations of total failure. With every step forward, I half expected to lose everything. But I had come to accept that standing still was no solution. Only the feeling of progress toward an authentic life held the demons of suicidal depression at bay. And so I rode the roller-coaster of emotion that came with each necessary but terrifying step. A lot of those emotions were the basis of my earlier posts here, but some were so intense I didn’t even try to give them words.

As the year progressed I broke down walls, coming out to friends and family alike. In the process a number of dormant relationships were rekindled rather than broken. And while I envied the support many others received from their parents, few others had a partner as consistently supportive of their transition as Ellen was for me. In the process our relationship – and our family – has grown stronger and closer than ever before. Over the same period of time my frosty relationship with my parents gradually warmed as well.

Coming out at work was a huge challenge for me – emotionally, professionally, and potentially financially. But I’d favorably compare the support and professionalism with which the matter was handled by my company to anyone’s. It went from the main issue dominating my life into normal and routine within a shockingly short period of time. The support of my colleagues and management never wavered a single time.

And so I reached a point this past spring where it became apparent to me that I had begun to experience life on the gentle downward slope of a successful transition. For the first time in my life the life I was living felt like it “fit.” The overwhelming sense of wrongness and gender dysphoria, which had once been so strong it almost killed me, had retreated to a couple of isolated areas which are well on their way to being corrected (e.g. “the surgery,” which is being planned in private rather than blogged about in public).

The main challenges I see looking ahead are no longer specifically transsexual challenges –  they’re human challenges. I have some serious catching up to do in learning to live a healthy and fulfilling life as a mom, spouse, sister, daughter, professional and friend. But I finally feel like I’m properly equipped for the task. As I confront these things I am finding the greatest insight and camaraderie by reading and interacting with non-trans people  – most often but not exclusively other women. In saying this I mean no disrespect to the trans community. In fact some of the friends I hope to keep with me moving forward in life come from that same community. But it won’t be our transsexual past that holds us together going forward so much as our shared humanity, finally unleashed from its transsexual prison.

In short, I have experienced a lot, shared a lot, and learned a lot in the preceding year. If my words have helped anyone else with their own struggles, I’m very pleased. I’m grateful to those who read my words, and especially those who took the opportunity to comment or e-mail as a result. Having people to interact with as I’ve gone through this challenging time has helped me quite a lot.

So that’s all for now. I may post again on occasion, but I’ll set no expectations around frequency. I’m not deleting anything. The old posts will remain. I’m still writing quite a lot, but not about the topic of this blog, so it won’t be posted here. If anyone feels the need to reach me, the e-mail address in the right side bar is your best bet.

As the saying goes, this is not adieu but au revoir.


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One of the things I have always enjoyed about writing is that it brings clarity to my thought process. The formality of writing something down – the decisions that go into word selection, word placement, punctuation, sequencing of ideas – forces me to think through things logically and coherently.

For this reason I can usually tell when something big is still in the process of coming together in my mind by the exercise of trying to write it out. If I can’t get it into words and yet the ideas are jumbling around all over my mind, that’s a sign that something major is brewing upstairs. I don’t necessarily know what it is, but I can tell when it’s over because I can write about it after the fact.

I’ve got that going on lately and it has severely limited the repertoire of trans-related things I am capable of writing about. Yet I don’t want this blog to be my stream-of-conscious dumping ground. It’s kind of got a theme, you know? It’s written right under the blog title: “Diana’s thoughts about navigating gender transition.” If I start writing about my favorite television shows, and work issues, and the kids’ latest illness it becomes… well it becomes Facebook. And I’ve already got a Facebook account.

So in lieu of my preferred, essay-like writing style, and yet still keeping to the blog theme, here’s a few brief thoughts on my mind.

  • When I see young trans people try to make sense of older trans people’s lives it’s apparent that they cannot conceive of a pre-internet world where information about trans topics was rare and specialized. They seem to think the only difference between the world then versus now was cultural tolerance, and that’s not even half the story. They literally cannot imagine what it was like to not have any information – not even the words – to make sense of your gender confusion. Nor can they conceive that information used to be so localized. Growing up trans before the internet age was hugely influenced by your geography in a way that just doesn’t apply in an age when Google is everywhere. Of course the opposite is just as true. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up trans with all this information around. What would that life look like? It’s so different from what I knew it’s like imagining the life of a completely different person. So yeah… the trans generational divide is fascinating to me. And I’m jealously admiring the green, green grass on the other side.
  • Ninety percent of the advice I’ve seen about transitioning in the workplace is horrible. I got a sense of this when I was planning my own workplace transition. But I see it a lot more clearly now. So I’d like to offer a few items of better advice to anyone still planning this:
  1. Pay attention to your own intuition. If you think your employer/co-workers seem likely to reject your transition, you’re probably right. Take this seriously into account in your transition plan (“seriously” does not equate to “hoping it all works out anyway”).
  2. Even if you do believe your employer will be cool, make a transition plan which includes the possibility that you’ll lose your job. Call it Plan B and feel free to hope you never have to use it, but don’t skimp on the planning.
  3. Hold yourself to a higher performance standard than any of your coworkers – before, during, and after transition. Most employers will be far more persuaded by your value to the business than personal feelings.
  4. Look for others of your target gender in similar positions at your workplace who are well respected (if you can’t find any, remember point #1). Study their habits and their manners of dress, speech, and communication. Use them as professional role models.
  5. Do not, under any circumstances, justify behavior that would be unprofessional in your former gender by assuming your new gender gives you the excuse.
  6. Do not assume anyone at your office has any good information about trans people or gender transition. Not your boss, not your friends, not your HR department. If you want them to know you’re not like the trans people they’ve seen on Jerry Springer, assume that you’ll need to educate them.
  • I am really tired of the constant attempts by some within the trans community to label others within the trans community (i.e. you’re not a trans-this, you’re just a trans-that. you don’t get to be called “her” you’re still just a “him,” etc. ad infinitum). Yes, it is important to discuss ideas about identity, sex, and gender, and in the process labels and categories get thrown around. But at the same time – jebus! I don’t care what the label de jour says about someone. People are not labels. They’re human beings with feelings, and doubts, and a lot more questions than answers. And if they’re battling with any form of the weirdness we call gender dysphoria they’re living through a bit of hell, or at least did at one time. Despite pretensions to the contrary, most of the other-labellers are not skilled theoreticians about all matters trans. They’re mostly just people trying to sort out their own place in the world and lashing out in frustration when others seem to get in the way.  Or sometimes they’re just being a**holes. In any case I wish they’d all stop it.

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Time for another barometer of life at the moment. Prior to going full time (a.k.a. starting my real life experience; a.a.k.a real life test) I used to think a lot about where I was at the moment compared to where I eventually hoped to be. These days I don’t consciously think in such terms very often. But it’s still an interesting reflection.

I now stand at a point roughly four months into life as Diana – and no one else. I haven’t bothered presenting myself as “male” to the world since the early part of September. I haven’t experienced the slightest inkling during all that time that I would like to do so.

I don’t believe I’m exaggerating by saying I wouldn’t know how to present myself that way any more. Most who knew me before have a hard time understanding this, but it never came naturally. I maintained it by rigid adherence to a set of habits. Don’t use your hands this way. Don’t walk that way. Don’t use that word. When you’re uncertain how you’re being perceived, do this. Stand like this. Pretend to be interested in those things. Ignore these other things. Feign distaste for that. Act aloof. Pretend not to notice emotions. Pretend not to care. Etc. etc. ad infinitum.

I can’t pretend I’ve been able to drop all my old habits so easily. But it’s been easier than I thought it would be. Until I lost the need for them I never realized how much constant effort it had required to keep up that facade. I honestly don’t think I could muster the effort needed to take that all on again. And the intense anxiety and violent visceral revulsion I feel at the mere prospect tells me I’d better not attempt to find out.

Odd things have changed about me without requiring any effort at all. My walk is different. I expected to need to re-learn how to walk in a more feminine way. I didn’t. I actually only needed to stop forcing myself to walk in a way that never actually felt natural. When walking through crowds I used to wonder why I walked faster than almost anyone else. Now I know. I was forcing it. Easier to hide a non-masculine gate if you were practically running. Another one of those habits adopted to hide the female within. When I stopped doing that my natural gate needed little further coaching.

I wish I could say my voice was similarly easy, but on the other hand it hasn’t been quite as difficult as I’d feared. I’ve been paying some attention to it, but not nearly as much as I expected I’d need. And yet in person I rarely if ever get “read” on the basis of my voice. On the phone it’s about 50/50 whether I get “ma’am” or “sir.” Having a cold, as in the past week, drops that a bit. However if I introduce myself as Diana, that seems cue enough to make the voice acceptable to whomever I might be dealing with.

Another strange discovery is that by nature I’m an optimistic person. A closeted life made me so pessimistic and cynical I’d truly forgotten. My outlook on life isn’t Polyannish, but it is definitely on the sunny side of realism. I see the good side in unpopular people, the silver lining in dark events; the hope inherent in the future regardless of the despair in the present.

Speaking of optimism, the most successful areas of life are the two I had been most pessimistic about going into transition: family and work. In both cases I’m now thoroughly integrated back into normal life as a woman. Each one has their own unique quirks, and I can’t pretend I’ve mastered them all. But doing so is now a matter of living rather than an explicit matter of transition.

The family aspect has been strange and wonderful. The kids were young enough when we told them about my transition that I hoped they would be able to roll with it and adjust. That has proven true. In fact they’ve said many times that they like how I’m so much happier and more involved in their lives now. And I truly am more involved. E has been gradually pulling me in to sharing the load of assisting with homework, shuttling them around to their various events, taking them to school, making plans with other parents. It’s hardly glamorous, but just feeling part of a functional family again has a wonderful quality all the same. And it’s something I never had before.

Work is a different matter. I spent a lot of time and effort achieving a very good professional reputation and I feared losing it. That has definitely not been the case. All the people who held me in high regard before do so now. If anything they were a bit impatient for all this transition stuff to be out of the way so I could keep doing the job they’d come to expect. This past week I got another stellar performance review, and have been assigned additional responsibilities (with no extra pay, but we don’t do pay adjustments until next quarter).

The relationship with E is something we both get asked about a lot. Yes, we’re still married. This is certainly so in the personal sense, even if it’s a bit of a legal gray area. But the nature of our relationship is evolving. Now that there are no gender-divided expectations for us, we’re free to negotiate what works for us. This is very much a work in progress, but it actually feels like progress. We’re sharing more, both objectively in terms of household and family responsibilities, and emotionally in that we communicate SO much better now. Socially we’re coming to terms with the fact that we’ll be perceived as a lesbian couple, and we’ve decided we’re okay with that. Getting the extended families to roll with that is another hurdle, but it’s one we’re undertaking together.

Overall life has changed quite a lot, and all for the better in my view. I went from being a checked-out, socially isolated, suicidally depressed loner to being an integrated member of society with a loving family and a rewarding career rather than just a paycheck.

I’m not a finished product yet. The need for confirmation surgery presses on my mind more and more the longer I wait. The financial impact of that event is going to be a burden of its own. E and my coming to terms with our new social identity as lesbians is one thing. Pretending society as a whole treats such people as full equals is something else. The damage done by my years of depression and social isolation has yet to be fully healed. I could use more friends and fewer “causes.”

But overall, life now feels like something worth living. I can now envision a future with me in it. I’ll have challenges to get there, but who doesn’t?

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The Need for Makeup

Looking at the blog lately, I realize I’m not keeping very close to my mission statement. Ostensibly this is a blog about my thoughts about “navigating gender transition.” The last few posts have gotten a bit off the mark from that. I suppose it’s time to tap into my inner Juliet Jaques and dish on some of my ugly, awkward transition related details. Today’s topic… makeup.

It took me a long time to understand makeup.

Before I had my facial hair removed, makeup had the singular purpose of covering my disgusting beard shadow. In order to do that I applied a heavy foundation dolloped on with a virtual trowel. The end result was a face so overly caked up that it might belong to a figure in a wax museum. It looked and felt terribly unnatural, and I hated it.

I hated it so much that I didn’t really bother with makeup for years. Of course this meant I didn’t go out and socialize as a woman either. But I didn’t feel like I had another option. I refused to trowel on makeup like a drag queen just to go shopping or to have coffee with a friend. There was so much I needed to fix before I should even begin to worry about makeup, I told myself.

Then came the time for my real life transition and I realized I didn’t know what I was doing. I no longer had a beard to hide (yay!), but then what the heck was the purpose of makeup now? Why do women feel the need to make themselves up when they obviously “pass” as female without it? This may sound like I’m making a joke, but it was a serious problem I needed to face at that point. Before this point I needed makeup in order to have any chance to be seen as female in public. But now my need was much subtler.

And it was a real need, not simply a want. Women in my profession routinely wear makeup into the office – it’s a matter of everyday professional appearance. I may not need makeup at home, but the office was another matter. Mission number one for my workplace transition was to blend in, not to rebel against the conventions of beauty. I was going to be under enough of a microscope anyway. Others would find it easier to respect me if I could at least look like I knew what I was doing as a “normal” woman.

So at the age of… um… let’s just say at an age well beyond the norm for a woman, I found myself trying to learn how to apply makeup in an everyday manner. Much like any late-blooming girl I was doing this as a purely defensive act – I didn’t want to get laughed at for not knowing. And like any late-blooming girl I felt completely overwhelmed by the variety of products available, but embarrassed to ask for help.

I’ll skip past the gory details of how I learned to do things. But in essence I learned a few important lessons.

  1. Good skin equals less need for makeup.
  2. You don’t need a lot of different products for an everyday professional look.
  3. You don’t need to spend a fortune for an everyday professional look.
  4. Makeup looks best when it’s not obvious that you’re wearing it.
  5. It’s okay to be confused about the more elaborate (and optional in the everyday sense)  styles of makeup – most other women are just as confused.

But there was one other lesson I learned that was more important than all of those. I learned that makeup, like any other aspect of a woman’s appearance, relies upon a large component of being yourself. On the surface that may sound like a contradiction but it’s not. For example I have a friend of similar age who spends quite a lot of time and money on her everyday makeup and she looks fabulous. If I did the same I would look weird. It doesn’t suit my personal style.

Some people may laugh about someone “being themselves” with makeup. After all, isn’t makeup about making yourself look better than you really do? Yes, but so is clothing and we don’t walk around naked all day.

Anyway I still have loads to learn about makeup… just like I still have loads to learn about myself and my personal style. But at its heart I discovered that the basic need for makeup is easily conquered by taking ownership of my own appearance. After that the options are truly endless, and the only person who knows which of those options I personally need is myself.

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I suppose it’s about time to update the blog with something about how my workplace transition has gone. I certainly expected to have plenty to say about it in the weeks leading up to the big event. But the problem is that there really isn’t much to report.

I left work. They announced my transition. I returned to work as Diana. And really, once past the initial shock – mostly mine, not theirs – it was back to a fairly normal work routine. The milestones I’m achieving now are mostly negative milestones, by which I mean nothing of note happened in particular times and places when I thought something might.

The big “bathroom shift” is a perfect example. I had no special anxiety about using the women’s restroom for its own sake. But I was incredibly anxious that other women might freak out upon seeing me there. That social anxiety stayed with me for a few days. But you know what? I just don’t have time to stay anxious about such a routine event. No one has been the least bit weird about me being in there yet, so what’s the use of worrying about it any more? That’s a negative milestone.

Pronouns are still tripping people up at times, but not in any kind of malicious way. I never realized before, but it’s apparently a lot harder to think of someone with new pronouns than it is to think of them with a new name. At least that’s what my experience suggests. No one ever calls me by my old name these days, but the occasional “he” or “him” still slips out when people are hurried. On the flip side it’s no longer very novel or notable when people use female pronouns with me. Another negative milestone there.

I had worried a lot about my voice, never having paid the time or attention I had originally intended to making it better. I’m continually striving to identify and correct any special male-sounding verbal tics. But most of the time now I just don’t think about it. I’m too busy, and talk to far too many people to keep up that kind of effort. I just talk, and it hasn’t proven to be an issue. My previous panic over not sounding feminine enough now seems a little silly to me. Negative milestone.

And they go on like that. I haven’t lost friends – I’ve even made a few new ones. I’m still invited places as often as before. The most salient water cooler topics are still the same as they’ve always been (i.e. mostly about family and television shows), and I’m included as much in them as ever.

If you told me a year ago that a workplace transition could be such a non-event, I would never have believed it. But so far, that’s really how it seems to be. The bigger deal in our lives these days is about the kids starting back to school and E starting back to work. Now that’s an impactful transition. Changing gender presentation at work? Meh. No biggie.

Of course I’m being facetious. I’m fully aware that a great deal of the reason the work transition has gone so well is because I worked long and hard personally, with my supervisor, and with my HR department to make it so. Another great factor, which I can appreciate more by hearing others’ less-than-ideal work situations, is that I work for a terrific company for which diversity and tolerance are more than empty rhetoric. I’m most likely also benefiting in that – height aside – I’m not cursed with an especially masculine appearance (speaking of… I finally posted a picture on the About page, fyi).

But there is another factor I believe to be at play here which may factor greater than all of these. It seems to me the culture is starting to shift in our direction. I know of four other trans women roughly my age who all live in the Minneapolis area and transitioned on their jobs within the past two years. We’re all in slightly different industries, but in all cases things have gone similarly well. For reasons well beyond my control it seems we’re finding more acceptance out there in general. Granted this isn’t true for everyone, everywhere. But it seems to be much more common than it used to be. To the extent that’s so, it’s a negative milestone well worth celebrating.

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Yesterday I awoke already exhausted, which is not the best way to start a work day. I barely moved quickly enough to get out the door in time to get the kids to school and catch my train. I made it, but feeling very out of sorts.

I wasn’t sure if the stress level of the previous week had worn me out or if I was coming down with something, but I tried to ignore it and focus upon getting in to work. Unlike a couple of days ago I really didn’t care what anyone else on the train thought about me as I boarded. I was annoyed by the many rude people who had positioned themselves and their bags in such a way as to deny the seat next to them to anyone else. But I didn’t have the energy to make an issue of it so I just plopped down in the nearest empty seat I saw, staring straight ahead barely aware of my surroundings.

By the time I got off the train to transfer to the light rail the vision around the corners of my eyes had started swimming. This concerned me a little bit. But not nearly as much as the wind which was whipping my hair around, making it almost impossible to keep it from the front of my face. When the light rail pulled up, I was the first one into the car, grabbing a window seat and trying to use my reflection to put my hair back into some semblance of presentability. And that’s when I noticed the sparkly zig-zag lights popping up in the center of my field of vision and slowly migrating out to the edges where the world now looked as if it was made of water.

I walked from my station to my office beginning to really worry that something was wrong to me. I tried to remember the early warning signs of pulmonary thrombosis my doctor had warned me about as a potential risk of my estrogen supplements. This visual stuff didn’t seem to fit, but I wasn’t convinced. Something was definitely wrong. Between the lights and the swimming one of my eyes could now barely see at all, and the other seemed to be headed in that direction. I felt trapped by my commuting choice. Had I driven into work I would have turned around and gone home before I came to this point. But by now I realized I couldn’t trust myself to drive in any case until the vision cleared up, so it was all the same.

I made it to my desk without incident. I paused to check e-mail briefly willing my vision to clear. Slowly it started to do so. I grabbed a cup of coffee and pulled up some relevant documents in preparation for an upcoming call from our offshore testing team. In near perfect synchronization with the beginning of the call I felt the throbbing behind my right eye pulsing and growing. Before we were fifteen minutes in, I was in the full throes of a staggering migraine – the worst I’ve experienced in a long time. You know the descriptions of migraine pain as an ice pick being stabbed into your temple behind your eye? It was like that, only the ice pick was covered with bees and accompanied by waves of nausea and near blindness.

By the end of the call I wanted to curl up in a corner under my desk. I pressed my temples as if trying to shove the migraine back into some imaginary box inside my head, with all the effect of shooting a squirt gun into a raging inferno.

I tried to consult the bus schedule to find a way home. The trains wouldn’t run that direction until the evening commute, but busses ran all day. I tried to enter the address of my office as the “from” location in the metro transit website. The system couldn’t find anything close. I knew I’d done something wrong, as that address is right in the heart of downtown Minneapolis near every bus major bus stop. The problem was I couldn’t focus well enough to figure out what I’d done wrong. My brain was full of searing pain rather than coherent thoughts. I gave up and wondered what I might do.

I became torn between asking my supervisor for help – which I needed – and trying to tough it out hoping it would pass shortly. I really didn’t want to leave my first week post-transition with the impression that now I was going to be fragile and prone to illness. No, let me restate that, I was SURE that if I left that would be the general impression I’d embedded. All the good will of the first week squandered by my sudden need for a quiet, dark room and rest.

I went back and forth on this idea throughout the day, as I maxed out the daily amounts allowed without consulting a physician for over the counter pain meds. The pain did lessen ever so slightly with the meds in me. But as for the migraine going away, it never really came close.

Somehow I successfully struggled through the day, engaging in conversation only when necessary and trying my hardest NOT to seem like I was suffering. I was out the door at 4 o’clock, willing myself to fly home but settling for another round of mass transit.

At home I found stronger pain medication, a dark room, and sleep. By the time I awoke the migraine had finally passed, but I was left with a pretty strong dose of migraine-aftermath, which consists of having all my energy drained, a serious intolerance for loud noise or bright lights, and a dull, bruised feeling behind my right temple which lends my thinking a “fuzzy” feeling.

And so my first week of on the job gender transitioning was capped by a inner battle with a migraine too distracting to allow me to assess the previous days. Instead I found myself with serious medical worries.  Are these migraines going to be more frequent going forward? I know two major contributing factors – estrogen and stress – are part of my life in major doses for the foreseeable future.

I suppose it was about time to see my doctor again anyway. There are some kinds of pain transition can’t cure.

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Here’s a brief update about the past couple of days.

The biggest news is that there isn’t really any big news. The transition has gone smoothly. Everyone is using my new name every time, even if it’s still not coming out sounding natural yet. Pronoun slip ups have been minimal and accidental. The number of warm responses and congratulations far outnumber the occasional cold shoulders.

In a way I feel that I have such strong management support, that it’s making people extra nervous around me – even the ones who are being very nice and accommodating. Or maybe the nervousness is just natural because they’ve never seen a trans woman up close before. Anyway,  I figure time will help that pass.

Commuting into work has been a little strange. I actually think I’m fitting in better among all those strangers who didn’t hear any announcement about me than among my well-meaning co-workers. The strangers just treat me like any other commuting woman. While at work I’m now kind of … ahem… special. But that’s a trade off we had discussed well in advance – between calling it to everyone’s attention, versus keeping it under the radar. Better to let people hear the full news in a respectful and complete way than to let them catch it from the rumor mill, we decided. I can live with my co-workers’ temporary discomfort as the downside of that.

Another observation I’ve made is that I’ve been fooling myself for months about being “full time outside of work.” I now realize there’s no such thing. You’re full time only when you’re FULL time. If you’re jumping back and forth between gender roles on a regular basis you’re not truly confronted with the full implications of gender transition. I think I benefited greatly from a few months of “full time rehearsal,” beginning last May when I decided to present only as Diana outside of work. It was helpful to me in preparing for this week, and I don’t intend to slam the practice. But I now realize that the full-time clock didn’t really start until this past Tuesday with my work transition.

Anyway my small “trans posse” at work has taken me under their wing and helped me feel supported and balanced through this surreal first couple of days. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had friends who showed that they cared so pro-actively! It feels good to be a part of an actual community [about which, more thoughts later]. Here’s hoping it’s only the beginning to a healthier, more-engaged life.

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