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  • Writer's pictureVincent Pruis

Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul

The scent of my skin shifts when depression approaches. I wish it were more dramatic, like the wet slate smell of a storm, or the pressure change that hits before a hurricane, but instead---for me---a few days before I'm bound to bed, my smell will change to that of chicken noodle soup. No matter the fact I don't eat chicken, or that even as my depression gets worse I'll continue to wash my sheets and my clothes and my hair, my skin will smell like chicken noodle soup. It's a sort of warning sign, like the way my dreams become more vivid---more vivid than reality seems even---so I loathe waking from them. Last week I woke reluctant from a jungle dream in lush purples and emerald, and my shoulders smelled of soup.

Maybe you're wondering, why now Vince? Why last week when there was the inauguration, when Biden in a day restored the human rights that were stripped from you by a different executive order shortly before? Why crash this week when you've just published your chapbook and a snowstorm made the city winter twice as bright?

As usual---as always---there is more than one reason---though usually there need not be so many for my mental health to deteriorate, my bipolar making me especially vulnerable to fluctuation. There's the global stress of a pandemic; there's the way it's shaped me personally---losing my grandfather, a great uncle, a great aunt, two weeks of my own health last year, and my usual strategies for mood regulation, like passing time in public spaces and seeing friends.

There's the fact of living in a transphobic society, that earlier this month one man was able to deny my protections against discrimination and my access to healthcare, and then this week another man, with just his word, was able to say they matter again. Individual strangers are able to pass these orders like it's nothing, but my life is at stake. Trans people in the US have a life expectancy often cited as below 45 years (the common statistic for trans women of color is 35, but otherwise, there isn't much data). How can I cheer that someone has signed my human rights back into existence when the very act reveals how fragile they are made? How can I do anything but grieve?

I wonder if partly my overwhelming grief is amplified hormonally. When I went to refill my testosterone prescription last week, the pharmacist said my doctor had only signed off for two months, not three like she'd told me at our last appointment. She still hasn't answered my calls or the pharmacy's, and so I've been off my standard daily dose of testosterone for ten days now. I feel like the past two months of progress are being undone, unraveling.

I'm angry, and sad----not because of the dysregulation of hormones in my body, but because of hormones nonetheless. I'm angry because some people get this naturally: their body, and perceptions of their body, match their gender without countless calls to the pharmacist, to the doctor's office, to insurance companies, to what seems like endless hold music. They get one puberty---and it's free---and they aren't trying to deal with it as an adult. But here I am with a second puberty, or rather a deferred one, that I have to fight for.

I'll admit that as a teenager I seemed to skip straight into adulthood, missing (deferring) the angst, and the formation of self. I saw how a neurotypical cis woman was supposed to behave, and I did that: I even won Miss Congeniality at the Distinguished Young Women competition in high school. But now I have all those teenage feelings, the desire to lock myself in my room or throw a tantrum and scream at the world "you can't define me!" while at the same time I also have bills and a job and the battering stress of graduate school. This week I couldn't handle it: despite the bills, job, school, I locked myself in my room, sleeping 12 hours a day, sobbing and consuming microwave burritos and media the rest.

Media? Is this the part where I mention my chapbook? Partly.

One habit, later identified as a survival strategy, that I developed before being diagnosed with and treated for my bipolar, a habit which one therapist said probably saved my life, is now maladaptive. Whenever my mood begins to swing dramatically---in any direction---my body shuts down. I have intense dizzy spells, my arms feel like lead, and my mind becomes a bog I have to wade through. This response is credited with keeping me alive because it's hard to do anything reckless (mania), or to harm yourself intentionally (depression), when it takes all your effort to remember how to breathe. But it also means that natural joys and sorrows (publishing a book! / the general state of the world right now) can trigger this same response.

So my inability to leave the apartment this week is because of what now? Global stress, pandemic, transphobia, hormones, the shock of elation when I saw my chapbook live... and also some introspection I've spent years putting off (deferred, again).

Here's the rest about media. This week I read Blackout City---a fantastic Legend of Korra meets Ready Player One with the almost-pretty-as art of On a Sunbeam webcomic---through to the latest page. I also rewatched every episode of the Mandarin drama Love 020 that features Hao Mei and KO, and I rented the entire first season of the Thai TV show I Told Sunset About You.

While sobbing through episode four of I Told Sunset About You, I remembered something I'd written in a journal years ago, years before I learned my experience aligned with the word "trans": "Why am I so uncomfortable when men like me?" I wrote, "Perhaps I do like them back, but not as a woman."

One of the reasons I'm so impressed by I Told Sunset About You is that it manages to avoid the common tropes of popularized queer stories; at the same time it tells a deeply moving and specific one. It also, in its arc, shows characters grappling with the way their own shame has blinded them to what's possible. Some of my sobbing throughout the show was due to sorrow, hurting for the characters, but some of the tears were a sort of recognition of the immense beauty and love that could be, an overflow of what's possible. Besides the gorgeous cinema and Thai scenery, the lush score, the true artistry in the acting, I Told Sunset About You presented me with insight to my own shames, the many ways I've denied myself love and companionship before even beginning to be able to articulate what I want, because I'd already dismissed it as impossible.

So I spent the week grieving the state of the world, bedridden in personal emotional turmoil, finding small bits of comfort in the fictional lives of Liren and Coda, Hao Mei and KO, Teh and Oh-aew. I still feel weak and exhausted and susceptible to the escapism of my late-morning dreams and late-night reading, and I'm surprised I was able to think straight long enough to type this out; I'm not sure how to move forward. But I hope some sort of unburdening happens during this time.

Resting won't fix the fact that our society is designed to harm certain people and to hoard power, and resting won't help me sort through the many tasks I'm behind on, but being bound to myself, slopping through the issues I tend to push aside---to defer---unable to escape them, maybe it will help me work through my own shame and re-recognize possibility.

For now, though, I'm off to cry on the couch (new location!) while I watch the fire crackle and snow drift down, blanketing the chicken-noodle-soup-scent of my skin in smoke.

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