The Last Self-Help Advice I Ever Needed

What would you pay to have a life with all your dreams unfulfilled?

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
Purplepaw is born - image by the author via Midjourney

My psychiatrist shook my hand as I left his office for the last time. Within two years of scoffing "people like [me] don't get off medications like [I] have," my psychiatrist looked me in the eyes and admitted:

If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't believe it. But you did it.

It is no small feat to transfer management of dissociative symptoms, anxiety, and pain from medication to meditation. It was - as both my psychiatrist and psychologist assured me - virtually a miracle recovery. The kind of recovery that warranted a book on my methodology and mindset.

I was Wunderkind, a roaring success of the mental health industry, a walking advertisement for lifting yourself up by the bootstraps. I was cured. One hundred percent fixed.

No longer would I be a slave to medications or the vagaries of mental health. I could go on to live a normal life, just like Janet Tyler.

To be clear, there was some troubling data: I struggled to manage my searing anger. Occasionally, I needed a weekend in which I laid in bed staring at the wall.

But these were minor compared to what I had overcome. As my psychologist said, it was perfectly acceptable to spend a week per year in the psych ward if I needed it.

I never completely believed that. Then again, I had achieved normalcy in appearance only.

That thing wrong with me

From a very early age, I knew I was different. I stuck out, if only in my mind. I could attach a succinct description to what I felt: I was never completely comfortable being who I am.

No matter where I went, no matter what friends I made, no matter what achievements I reached, the sense of Self I craved remained elusive. I didn't need a new job, more possessions, or a hobby - inside, I felt wrong regardless of anything on the outside.

Although I could describe what I felt with a simple phrase, the feelings were complicated. I believed Normal People could align themselves with any situation. Almost magically, Normal People could manifest Csikszentmihalyi's Flow in any activity or community.

I, on the other hand, chose to avoid parties and eschew get-togethers. Even if I knew everybody at a gathering, I could not feel in place. My whole world felt ineffably awkward: I felt just out of focus, just a degree too many before top-dead-center, slightly off-fashion, slightly off-brand,

When I needed to, I could be charming. I completed what needed to be done with aplomb. I had skills.

The only person who noticed I was off was me.

The dream was always the same

In mental health, when nothing seems to help, everything sounds like a plausible solution.

I imagine never feeling comfortable explains why I love self-help books. I love learning new techniques, new systems, new theories on well-being and how to achieve it. I love trying new behavior to discover how to make my dreams come true...because every self-help book begins with a dream.

Why did you buy this book? What do you want? What will make you happy? What fantastic accomplishment currently beyond your capability will be unlocked with the wisdom found within the pages of this book?

I had an easy answer to the questions, and it was always the same. I had already demonstrated I could set and achieve goals. I had conquered education, new fields of study, jobs I wasn't qualified to get. I had a revolving door of challenges achieved and discarded.

But no achievement affected how I felt. I never truly noticed titles or promotions. I was never proud of products revived from obsolescence or companies saved from the dung heap.

I could never fulfill my one true desire. I could never be comfortable as who I am.

I knew how to do. What I didn't know was how to be. I didn't know how to be myself, anyway.

That thing that helped my Self wasn't quite true that I had never felt comfortable. I knew I felt comfortable when I didn't have to pretend to be a man. I felt comfortable when Selina could dress up, go out, and be seen.

I knew what it took to feel comfortable, but I didn't want to admit it - at least, not to myself. Instead, I buried it beneath gallons of whiskey. I focused on pain, even if it meant inflicting pain on myself. My scars would at least explain why I hurt so badly as I ignored the true wounds.

I knew all of this, but I also knew I shouldn't think too deeply about it, especially after my son was born. After all, boys need fathers, and fathers are men. Fathers are not...whatever poor uncomfortable slob I was.

As a result, I wilted as I flourished. I was a miracle recovery of failed mental health. But I knew no options and felt no desire to find any. I was a bitter old man waiting to die - hoping to die.

It had been almost a decade since I had last seen the inside of a psych ward. I had made exceptional progress learning to care for myself.

But the entire structure was rotten at its foundation. On Winter Solstice 2021, the entire system crashed, and the structure finally collapsed.

Opening my eyes

My wife took me to the emergency room on 22 December 2021. For the first time out of five trips to the psych ward in my life, they sent me home. I felt that was a win, no matter how small.

As the obviously-more-observant one between us, my wife asked me gently to consider my gender identity. She told me I had done so much, but I had never addressed the one aspect of myself I had laid out on our first date.

I refused. She persisted. Soon, I relented. And slowly, I accepted I could never become comfortable with myself as I was. I would need to make drastic changes.

To be comfortable as myself, I would have to be myself, and that meant first becoming very uncomfortable.

The world is not kind to those who flout social expectations. If I transitioned gender, I faced being ostracized, never working again, losing my family, losing everything I had worked for my whole life.

But...what life did I have? The life of a bitter old man, indoctrinated into me as a child: The American Dream I could never reach.

And at what price had I purchased that life? My happiness, my peace, my comfort. I exchanged my soul - my Self - for a lifetime of pain.

But I had enough pain. I had enough suffering. I had enough.

It was time to transition gender.

Amethysta emerged from the ruin of Robert's life: a blind kitten with no mother to guide her. She mewed hesitantly on 07 July 2022, opening her eyes for the first time. With time, she grew into a lioness. And then she roared.

The next chapter of the book

Some months ago, I was at home, chatting casually with the inquisitive blonde woman to whom I have been married 17 years. It was after breakfast, our son was at school, and I held a cup of tea in my hand.

I was suddenly aware of my posture, the way I spoke gaily about nothing, the loose manner in which I comported myself. I realized I had reached my goal: I was comfortable simply being myself.

In the moment, it seemed unimportant. I said nothing. Being comfortable had become unexceptional, routine. I had achieved nothing other than losing baggage I had carried so long.

It had taken no hard effort - other than betraying the life I had lived 52 years. It had taken no great expense - other than losing friends and retraining my circle with a new name and pronouns. It had taken no great courage - other than spitting in the face of social convention.

But there I was. Here I am.

This Friday, 05 July 2024 - just under two years after beginning my transgender journey - I travel to Thailand for gender-affirming surgery. I am ready to step wholly into Amethysta, to complete the job, and never to look back.

All my years, I hated myself and my life. But today, I see a new dawn to the East. The sky is purple and brightening.

Now that I am comfortable as myself, I ache to be. I don't ache to be a software engineer, or a manager, or a I ache only to be myself.

I am Amethysta. Hear me roar.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.