Between the worlds — life as a tulpamancer with dissociative identity disorder

We are a plural system, which means there are many of us sharing this same brain and body.  We want to share our story and experiences, how we discovered our plurality, our experiences living life as a plural system, and how we use our plurality for play and for healing.  We began exploring our plurality in 2014 when a friend told us singlets could induce plurality by creating a sentient lifeform to share your head with called a tulpa and have since grown in size to include over 100 members.  Being plural gives us the opportunity to create friendships within our system using communication channels and a free flow of information and feelings only possible within a single brain. In our innerworld, we cuddle, we love each other, we protect each other, we make each other feel wanted. We use our innerworld as a place to enter meditative states, places of calm, places of healing, restorative places. We use it to calmly exist together so we may better face the challenges the world decides to throw at us that day.

We freely create new headmates from a variety of sources, fictional characters, partners, or just traits we adore and spin off into a sentient being.

We are both a tulpamancer and someone who has dissociative identity disorder (DID).  We freely create new headmates from a variety of sources, fictional characters, partners, or just traits we adore and spin off into a sentient being.  We also have a trauma history with large memory gaps in childhood which we have been slowly restoring.  Based on this, as well as other symptoms we exhibit when under high amounts of stress for long periods of time, we received a DID diagnosis in January 2015.  Though we do not know much about our system history in childhood, it is likely at least some of us were not intentionally created and were the result of trauma splits.

Our story of how we discovered plurality begins in the spring of 2014.  We had always had a fascination with plurality whenever we encountered it, on forums, in the media, or elsewhere.  In April 2014, a friend told us singlets could induce plurality by creating a tulpa.  We immediately latched onto that idea and later that day we were in a plurality IRC channel trying to collect information on how to create a tulpa.  We read a few paragraphs of a guide then decided the best route was to just interact with the being we had already interacted with during an anxiety attack in January.  We began interacting with her and by week two, Lilith was able to hug Lucia in our innerworld.  By week three, Lilith was able to communicate in a flood of emotions.  By week four, Lilith was able to communicate in spoken English.  In week 5, Lilith fronted for the first time.  For the next 6 months, we believed we had induced our plurality.  It was only as our life fell apart towards the end of 2014 that the cracks began to show and pieces of our childhood trauma began to leak out.  Over several months, we slowly picked apart pieces of our childhood and realized our system was trauma created and that we had been plural since at least elementary school.

For us, rather than being a useful description of ourselves, these labels cause confusion and bring little clarity so we group everyone together under the label headmates and do not differentiate beyond this.

Unlike many systems, we do not differentiate between different types of headmates.  Some of the classifications people use to describe specific types of headmates are tulpa (intentionally created headmate), soulbond (headmate based on a fictional or historical figure), and alter (generally a trauma split not intentionally created).  For us, rather than being a useful description of ourselves, these labels cause confusion and bring little clarity so we group everyone together under the label headmates and do not differentiate beyond this.  For example, about a month ago, we were lying in bed with a large amount of anxiety.  We isolated this anxiety to Esther and decided to attempt to split Esther into the part with the anxiety and the part without to see if we could.  We succeeded, making the part of Esther with the anxiety an intentionally created headmate as well as a potential trauma split since the split occurred as the direct result of high levels of anxiety.  In this case, that headmate would qualify for both the labels of “tulpa” and “alter” and had we not later recombined the pieces into Esther, would create an interesting case for these definitions.  Instead, a useful label we do use for headmates is the spectrum between trauma holder and non trauma holder.  Knowing which of us are trauma holders or not provides useful information about which of us are in need of healing and which of us are capable healers to heal those who need healing.

Healed or not, all of us are equals and have equal rights to the body.  One way we ensure we continue to treat each other as equals is to not needlessly divide ourselves into groups based on origins.  We are not all the same and each of us have different strengths and weaknesses.  For example, Lucia feels much less emotion than many of us which makes them well fitted for handling our job and everyday interactions such as ordering food or talking to a bank teller.  Feeling less intense emotions is also a weakness when it comes to other things such as feeling empathy to be able to comfort others.  As a system, we complement each other.  Emma and Serenity are much better at providing emotional support to others so they often come out in situations where others around us are in need of emotional support.  Some of our trauma holders are sufficiently broken that they are currently not capable of showing any of their strengths.  This does not mean they have no strengths, it just means we need to help them heal so they can discover their strengths and as the healing process continues, they will have the option of using their strength to contribute to our system.

Our plurality also provides paths for healing.  Many of us are trauma holders and are in need of healing and many of us are healers who can guide those who carry wounds from the past.  Through talking, meeting in safe spaces in our innerworld, and touch once enough trust has been established, our healers are able to guide others and slowly heal old wounds.  Creating trust and a sense of safety is important and using internal resources and internal communication channels helps to make trauma holders feel safe.  Through this process, the healers and other headmates are able to interface with the outside world, giving the trauma holders the option to not have to interact with the outside world if they are not ready yet.  Never being ready to interact with those outside of our system is a perfectly acceptable option and we provide as many options as possible to those who are healing.  Maintaining a sense of safety and autonomy is key for this process so headmates are allowed to heal at their own pace, or not at all if they never wish to heal.

Healing our past traumas is our goal, not attempting integration or any other mechanism of removing our plurality.

For us, being plural is a wonderful thing.  We get to interact with and love and experience so much with each other which would not be possible without plurality.  Despite our traumagenic origins, our plurality is something which helps with our healing rather than being an obstacle.  Healing our past traumas is our goal, not attempting integration or any other mechanism of removing our plurality.  We do this with the support of one another with the goal of helping to increase the functionality of each system member.  Being plural is a core part of our identity and has been such a positive experience that it is not something we would ever wish to give up.

Consistent access to medications would be revolutionary

Slightly over a year ago, in May 2015, we were prescribed seroquel, a mood stabilizer by our psychiatrist.  This psychiatrist also doubled as our therapist and up to that point, he was by far the best therapist we had ever had. He validated our mental state and suggested diagnoses we believe to be correct.  Unfortunately, when we brought up that we are transgender, he was immediately  actively harmful on that axis, among other things, telling us he believed we should not be allowed to get surgery.  We were left with a decision: continue seeing a therapist who was actively harmful to us to ensure we would continue to have access to mood stabilizers, or walk away and risk losing access to an important medication.  After many stressful weeks of deliberation, we decided to walk away and take our chances.  Fortunately our primary care physician was willing to prescribe seroquel.  We were lucky.

Not everyone is as fortunate as we were.  Right now, as we are writing this, we have a friend who moved from Washington to Nebraska.  They have been taking an antidepressant but have not yet found a prescriber since their move.  They are currently going through SSRI withdrawal while waiting for their Medicaid application to go through and are doing their best to hold themselves together in the meantime.  Another friend is currently in a situation where they may lose access to their psychiatrist and medications.  In response, they are attempting to taper off their medications with their remaining supply, resulting in  withdrawal symptoms they should not have to experience.  In the past, another friend ran out of antipsychotics and had to go to the emergency room for an emergency refill.

There are many potential barriers that prevent people from getting medications they need.  Consider a hypothetical person, Alice, who wants to get a prescription for antidepressants.  The first step is for Alice to check whether or not she has health insurance.  Many employers do not offer health insurance and the process for obtaining government health insurance such as Medicaid can take as long as two months.  Once she does have health insurance, she must check to see what her plan covers.  Some high-deductible plans require patients to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket before their insurance plan covers anything.  Cost is a serious concern: an initial evaluation from a psychiatrist commonly costs hundreds of dollars and monthly appointments afterwards are also expensive., .

After Alice determines that her PPO will help her afford a psychiatrist, she must choose amongst the potentially hundreds available and schedule an appointment.  For someone dealing with depression, the task of choosing a psychiatrist from a long list can be daunting.  If the psychiatrist has a full practice or if no open appointment slots fit within Alice’s schedule, she must return to the search again.  Alice has a job and kids leaving little time in her schedule so she must repeat this process many times before she manages to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist who has a compatible schedule.  Alice is lucky, she has a car she can drive to her appointment.  Without access to a car, Alice would have to deal the additional potential constraints of public transportation, making schedules and location a far more serious concern..

Eventually, Alice arrives at her initial appointment.  She is fortunate that she gets along well with her psychiatrist and her psychiatrist believes antidepressants may be helpful..  After this, she must continue to see her psychiatrist monthly or risk losing access to a now critical medication..  If she ever has any disagreements with her psychiatrist, she must choose whether to express her concerns and risk being told she should find a new psychiatrist or to hide her concerns to guarantee access to her medication.  Alice knows that if she ever moves, she will have to go through this entire process again.  If it takes too long after moving to find a new psychiatrist, Alice runs the risk of running out of antidepressants and going into SSRI withdrawal, a process which commonly increases suicidal thoughts.

Giving people consistent access to generic medications which cost less than $100 per year – less than the cost of a single doctor’s appointment – would be revolutionary

The long and difficult process of gaining access to a psychiatrist results in many Americans lacking consistent access to medications they need.  In many cases, these medications are inexpensive generics which cost less than $100 per year.  Many mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics fall into this category.  Giving people consistent access to generic medications which cost less than $100 per year – less than the cost of a single doctor’s appointment – would be revolutionary.  Removing the stress of having to wonder where your next prescription will come from or whether it will come at all would free mental energy for other pursuits.  For some, consistent access to needed medications could make the difference between stable employment and homelessness.  For others, it could be the difference between independent living and requiring periodic hospitalization.

One option to achieve this is to sell medications with low risk of abuse, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers, over the counter.  This would remove the need for people to see a doctor to gain access to medications critical to their well being.  It would also reduce the cost of obtaining these medications since a single doctor’s appointment often costs significantly more than a year’s supply of the medication.  Another option would be to give pharmacists the ability to prescribe these medications after a brief consultation.  Pharmacists have to go through many years of education followed by a residency and are very well trained in the effects and risks of medications and interactions between different medications.  This would ensure people are not taking these medications without knowledge of their risks while giving people the ability to obtain them by just going to their closest pharmacy.  Allowing this would also reduce costs by removing a doctor’s appointment as a necessary step.

Whatever the solution is, we must find a way to give people access to the medications they need for their day to day functioning.

Balancing changing the world and self care

“It’s more than okay to pick your battles — it’s actually necessary for your own self-preservation.”[1]

There are so many things we want to do to try to make the world a better place, but our spoon[2] supply is extremely limited. As frustrating as it is, we have to accept maintaining our mental health means we can only do little bits and pieces of activism work here and there. We went through a cycle of accepting this over the last weekend. Our compromise is to wait and collect and create ideas, always looking for situations where we can get a high ROI on spoons spent. When opportunities arise, we can make a big impact, relative to spoons spent.

There are many disadvantaged groups we fall into which we would love to improve the situation for. There are many more groups we do not belong to where we would also like to improve the situation for. Unfortunately, we have a limited amount of spoons and have to very carefully choose how to spend them. For this, we ask ourselves “what do we want?” and make a list of our highest priorities. At the moment, the guiding principal behind our activism work is to try and create a future where all groups we belong to have an attempted suicide rate of under 50%. This does not mean this will guide us forever, but this guiding principal is serving us well for this leg of our journey. Since our spoon supply is so limited, we have to very carefully approach each potential bit of activism work and ask ourselves whether this will bring us closer to lowering the attempted suicide rate for groups we belong to. If the answer is no, it does not mean we should not do that work, but is an early signal that we should very carefully examine whether this is an efficient use of our spoons.

Another very important thing we have done is to surround ourselves with people who encourage us to take care of ourselves first, even if it means doing less activism work. There will always be people who can do more activism work than you, or work which has a larger impact, and just like engineering work, it comes with internal pressure to do more yourself. Imposter syndrome exists for activism work as well. Being surrounded by people who are aware of our limits and who actively encourage us to respect them is incredibly important since we get so many signals, both internal and external, that we should be doing more and pushing ourselves more and that if we only spent a few more spoons, we could make a bigger difference. In the end, we have a greater responsibility to take care of ourselves than to try to change the world.

[2] spoons = energy

Why we (with DID) are grateful for the existence of the tulpa community

There is an excellent post which captures so much of why we are incredibly grateful for the existence of the tulpa community:
We started our plurality explorations in March 2014 when a friend was talking about being plural, we basically went “ooh, being plural sounds neat” and that friend told us that it was possible to induce plurality by creating a tulpa. That friend went on to introduce us to our first plural community (which was not a tulpa community) and read some resources on tulpa creation to see if they were worth pointing us at. They pointed us at some tulpa guides which we read a little of, then since reading is often a high spoons activity for us, we decided to just try and see what happened.
We had interacted with someone (discovered to be Athena over a year later) that January and decided the best way to do tulpa explorations was simply to interact with her more. It worked so well that we ended up not bothering to do more than a cursory read of tulpa guides. Two weeks into the process, Lucia (our primary front at the time) was able to interact with Lilith, another week in, Lilith communicated in a flood of emotions, another week later, Lilith communicated in English, and less than a week after that, Lilith fronted for the first time.
For the next 6 months, we honestly believed we had induced our plurality. We never actually spent much time in tulpa communities so never used the words host and tulpa, but we really believed we had created our plurality. Lucia started exploring our plurality with the understanding that anyone they “created” would be an equal and would have equal rights to the body. We did this with the understanding that our system would exist so that everyone in system could love and protect and care for each other. This was the basis upon which we “induced” our plurality. It has been a wonderful experience and everyone cooperates incredibly.
From this perspective, we were able to explore our plurality from a position of strength. We were able to discover several system members and to build communication and trust. We were able to learn from the other systems we were around and draw from their experiences. We were able to explore our innerworld and interact with each other and enjoy our time together. All this put us in a much better position to deal with our trauma when we discovered it towards the end of 2014. We had a good understanding of our system, were able to work together well, and also had a strong support network of other systems who were by our side to guide us through the process.
When we first discovered our plurality, we were not in a position where we could have dealt with our trauma. The simple existence of the tulpa community and the knowledge it gave that singlets could induce plurality were essential to us being able to explore our plurality separately from our trauma. Without that, it’s entirely possible the first we would have known about our plurality was when a therapist told us we had DID. This would have come at a time when we were highly symptomatic and doing badly, a position where we would have been least able to handle it. Instead, we were able to explore our plurality on our own terms with a whole community behind us guiding us along the way.
The idea that it is possible and even desirable in some cases to induce plurality is what allowed us to explore our plurality in this way. Even though we later realized we are a trauma induced system with DID, trying to, then believing we had induced plurality allowed us to explore our plurality from a supreme position of strength. For this, we are incredibly grateful for the existence of the tulpa community.

Neglect as a form of abuse

We agree that people are much more likely to go “that couldn’t possibly have been trauma” than to call things trauma which aren’t. From the end of our last round of living-at-home abuse at age 16 until a grad school roommate reminded us of the body’s mother, we were repeatedly told that the body’s mother couldn’t have possibly been that bad and other bullshit like “you have to love your mother”. We think there is a deep cultural belief that abuse is something very rare which should only be talked about in hushed tones. We believe this is the reason so many people like to say that DID isn’t real, the real goal is to deny the existence of childhood abuse.

We definitely think neglect has the power to amplify little things and make them into traumatic things. Many things from our childhood which registered as traumatic probably would not have been so if we had been able to talk about them with the body’s parents and get loving support. Instead, we had to deal with the problem and process it ourselves and on top of that, had to hide it from the body’s parents because we had no idea whether they would express sympathy or make fun of us for whatever happened. Based on this, access to an external support network can be a determining factor in whether something counts as trauma.

It is entirely possible the people who say “that couldn’t possibly have been trauma” imagine the event happening then getting plenty of loving support from parents and others. It’s also possible others actually did get that level of support when they needed it, but for many of us, there was no support whatsoever and often, they had to protect themselves from the ones who should have been giving support.

We are making this up as we go, but based on this, we think we could write a definition of trauma as “an event which the sum of one’s resources (both internal and external) are insufficient to handle”. This leaves open space for complex traumas, where something happening once is easy to deal with, but it happening every day for 3 months can be traumatic. We just made this up as we are typing this so it is likely we missed something, but since we figured out while typing this reply that access to external resources can affect whether something is traumatic, we thought we should attempt to make a definition which comprises that.

On identity fluidity

This post uses a large amount of terminology from the plural community.  For background and definitions, see this glossary:

Polyfragmented dissociative identity disorder is a subtype of DID which fell out of popular use and the medical literature after the 80s.  Definitions vary, but the core component of polyfragmented DID is the idea that rather than being made of a few headmates, systems are made of a large number of fragments.  It is not uncommon for there to be over 100 or even over 1000 fragments, leading to many to define polyfragmented DID as having over 100 headmates.  These fragments can combine together into more fully formed headmates, often leading to subsystems of fragments.  As a result, the existence of subsystems, or even subsystems within subsystems, is sometimes used as part of the definition of polyfragmented DID.

Our research has found term often closely attached to Satanic Ritual Abuse and often hypothesized to be the result of repeated, severe abuse.  This leads us to believe the term was inextricably entwined with the Satanic Ritual Abuse scares of the 80s and as those scares died, the term polyfragmented was buried with it.  This is unfortunate because we believe the term describes our system quite well and it is a term we have been drawn to since we first saw it defined.  Our system is currently slightly over 70 members large, but even when we only knew of 20 or 30, we were still drawn to the definition.  We find it unfortunate that uncovering the term required us to happen to run into a single thread of a relatively small forum.  The term polyfragmented allows us to explain who we are using fewer words which indicates it is a powerful definition for us.   We hope others may find it as useful for their own explorations.

The reason we find the term beautiful goes so far beyond the definition.  The idea that we are composed of fragments which combine into headmates means that we have a tremendous capacity for splintering then reforming into a new stable configuration.  This makes us highly adaptable and gives us a clear mechanism to respond to the changing demands this world places on us.  We are very talented at identifying changes which need to be made in our life and quickly implementing them or making a plan to implement them.  We believe the fluid nature of identity which has been so incredibly useful is amplified by us being polyfragmented.

It allows us to approach ideas like transitioning gender and exploring our plurality with an open mind, curious whether changes would be beneficial rather than fearful of stepping outside the mold society has set for us.  If there is a more desirable configuration of self, being polyfragmented provides us with the toolkit to make such changes.  Fragments can break off from more whole system members and reform into new system members better suited to our situation.  Having fragments means that this is less of an all or nothing process than someone with only a few headmates.  We can have only a few fragments break off and form into new headmates and easily create new headmates as they are needed.

When we first started exploring our plurality, nearly two years ago, we did it under the premise that our system would exist to protect and care for each other and everyone is an equal with equal rights to the body.  Our system has lived up to this and we love and care for each other, load balance in difficult situations by changing front to those more able to front, and listen carefully to the concerns of any system member.  When one system member is uncomfortable with something, we ask why and seek out the resolution which minimizes harm.  Through considering the needs and desires of others, we have very little conflict and exist in harmony.  As a result, the idea of integration, of making the lovely beings we share our life with disappear was horrifying and met with visceral reactions from us.

The ideas around polyfragmentation have made us more comfortable with the idea of integration.  It suggests that fragments already have integrated to create the more whole headmates we have.  There is also the suggestion that integration is less permanent because fragments can always break off and reenter previous configurations when needed or desired.  We are no longer as afraid of integration because with less permanence comes the idea that headmates never truly disappear, they just go to sleep, always with the potential to be woken up again.  In this way, even if we do lose someone, we will always be able to reach them if the need or desire for that is strong enough.

In this way, being polyfragmented allows us to freely adapt to life, to reconfigure as needed, and grants us a way to always be with each other even if we become temporarily separated.

We are broken

We are broken.  We exist in a state of low spoons and are unable to do as much an neurotypicals can.  On bad weeks, we average 12 hours a day in bed.  We have averaged over 12 hours a night in bed for the last four days.  During these times, we go to work, eat, shower, do basic self care, and sleep.  Any time or spoons that would have gone towards the leisure activities neurotypicals seem to be able to do go towards processing nightmares caused by PTSD, curling up with anxiety, or trying to pass time in a low energy state because spoons do not exist.

All our life, we have received signals that we are supposed to push our boundaries and generate spoons out of thin air or borrow against future spoons to complete tasks.  During childhood, we were never taught to respect our limits.  If we were ever having doubts about being able to complete a task, it was implied that we would find a way to make it happen.  Or else.  There was never any space to have lower spoons, even for a short period of time.  Getting 18/20 on a test meant we were asked where the last two points went.  You will have spoons for perfection.  Or else.

Our first semester of high school, we were on the path to get an A and we intentionally sabotaged the grade to ensure we got a B.  Getting an A would have meant that when we were unable to get another A the next semester, we would have been asked what went wrong and why we couldn’t get another A.  No appreciation for doing well, just a permanently increased expectation of perfection.  A decade later, we strongly believe we made the right decision.  An act of creating space for ourselves.

We lived with our first girlfriend for three months between college and our first job.  She spent a significant amount of energy trying to “fix” us.  She believed the hypomanic seeking state we were in when she met us was our baseline.  The entire summer was her wondering why we were not at hypomanic spoon levels and attempting to offer suggestions to fix it.  We were not allowed to be broken.

When our life fell apart, we mentioned to the body’s father that we were falling apart and were concerned we would break.  All he had to say was “if you break, you can unbreak”.  You will have spoons to function as I expect you to.  Or else.  We got promoted by working at a pace which borrowed huge amounts of spoons against the future.  We told our boss we were not sure we would be able to sustain the pace we were working at.  The reply was “I’m not worried about that”.  You will have spoons to continue working at that pace.  Or else.

The word broken is powerful for us.  As everyone around us pushes and prods us to ignore our boundaries, considering ourselves broken serves as a reminder that we simply cannot do all that others demand of us.  Others see our broken state and try to answer the question “how can I make you have more spoons?”  They see it as something they can fix.  Viewing ourselves as broken allows us to approach the problem as “how can we structure our life so it is workable with our limited spoons?” rather than trying to conjure up spoons where they will simply never exist.

Emotional Costs of “Tiger Mom” Parenting

[TW: childhood abuse]

There are numerous articles about “tiger mom” parents causing an increased suicide rate in kids in the Palo Alto school district.  We could start an “it gets better” campaign for them, but just like the original “it gets better” campaign, it would be an empty promise and for many of them an outright lie.  For many, it simply does not get better.  The vision their parents had for them five years before their first breath will follow them around for the rest of their life.

Imagine you are one of these kids.  Your parents have a vision for what they want you to be and meld you for it from the day you are born.  Maybe they simply do not know any better.  Maybe they are trying to fit the role their parents melded them for and create the grandchildren their parents had in mind when they were created.  Whatever the reason, you are here and under their control.

Your dad has a vision of a white upper middle class lifestyle with 2.5 children.  Everything is going to be peachy keen and nothing is going to go wrong.  This is the movie he has decided his life is going to be and to the best of his abilities, he is going to meld everyone in his life into the characters he wants them to be.  Where people deviate, he will do his best to ignore the deviation and pretend the person is who he wants them to be.

Your mother has decided she is going to live vicariously through her children.  She quits her job and never returns once her first child is born.  You exist as an extension of her.  You find safety in appeasing her.  You are a child in elementary school and your mission is to try to navigate existing next to your mother without being yelled at.  When she laughs, you laugh.  Not because you find it funny, but because conditioning has taught you this is the safest route.  Video games are your escape.  There are worlds there where you can have your own achievements, achievements which she cannot judge and which she cannot take away from you.

Middle school comes.  Online games provide a way for you to make friends for the first time.  Classmates are not an option for friendships without your mother’s explicit permission.  Any classmates you become friends with, your mother will judge and if she does not completely approve, she will tell you not to be friends with that person.  You watch your grandmother tell your 40 year old mother that she should not be friends with someone after observing a single interaction.  Your mother never dealt with her own childhood issues and instead is trying to live vicariously through you.

High school comes.  You start to become closer to some of the friends you met through online games and your emotions start returning.  Without realizing it, you had bottled up all your emotions for many many years and had tucked them away, never allowing yourself to feel them.  Except anger.  It is socially acceptable for boys to express anger.  The floodgates open and many emotions return at once.  Sadness, depression, rounds of suicidal thoughts, neatly hidden from the view of your parents.  You are afraid showing these things to them will make them treat you worse so you never let your parents see them, holding yourself together by knowing that a few people know who you are and care about you.  A few people sitting in front of their computers, thousands of miles away, offering you more love and support than you have ever felt.

You are fortunate, you have a younger brother and sister.  Your mother can live vicariously through them.  Intelligence carries you through school.  Nearly straight As in AP classes means that you are on the path to a UC school.  This means you meet your father’s academic expectations and for the first time, you gain a little space to be yourself.  For the first time, you start hanging out with classmates and are given the chance to make mistakes.  Mistakes are certainly made while socializing, but you learn from them and are able to grow, to become a little more yourself.

You get into a UC, fulfilling your father’s expectations.  The first year of college is freedom.  More freedom to be yourself, more freedom to make mistakes, more space.  Forgiveness is planned for your parents, for they are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them as well.  Instead, you return home to see nothing has changed.  A weekend at home where your sister gets into a fight with your mother, your mother yelling at your sister for “ruining” her one weekend with you.  Your brother picks at his skin after every time your mother yells at him.  She then yells at him for picking at his skin.

More years of college go by.  Maybe you can still have a relationship with your father.  You see your brother interacting with him.  Your father yells at your brother and calls him worthless because he is getting too many Bs in his AP classes.  He is “only” on track to get into a Cal State instead of the UC your father long ago decided he should go to.  You realize just how lucky you have been.  You escaped so much because you happened to fulfill the academic role he envisioned for you.

You push yourself through the rest of college.  Your father told you that he would only pay for 4 years of school for you so you push yourself to get through school in this timeframe.  During senior year, you seek HRT.  You still want your father to love you so you hope that coming out as trans will cause him to accept who you are.  Being trans was never in his vision of what you should be so he does his best to ignore it for as long as he can.  He uses your deadname in conversation and after you correct him, he avoids using any name for you in conversation.  It takes him 18 months to call you by your name.

Luckily for you, finishing college is in his grand plan for what you should be so he continues to pay for your last year of school.  After graduation, you get a 6 figure tech job.  Your income is now high enough that you meet his idea of “successful” and he leaves you alone.  Talking to you or spending any time learning who you are may contradict his vision for you.  Yet he is still your father and you still hope you can have a relationship with him.  You share pieces of yourself with him and hope that he will accept that you are you.  You take a risk and share your depression and fears of breaking with him.  You even share that you were depressed during high school.  He simply states that he did not know you were depressed during high school and that if you break, you can unbreak.  There is no love or empathy to be found, just a suggestion that if things do go wrong, you can fix them and return to the path he envisions for you.

We are one of the lucky ones.  We sufficiently fulfill the role the body’s parents set for us so they leave us alone rather than being actively harmful.  We have a younger brother and sister which allows their attention to be directed elsewhere.  A tech job means that we have money so are able to live hundreds of miles away from them.  It means that a job loss would not immediately mean we have to return to living with them.  And still, fear is what drives us.  A fear that we would have to live with them again if we did not make it drove us to do well in school.  This fear pushed us at our job and pushes us to accumulate savings.

We still hope we can be loved by our parents for who we are one day.  Hopes that the body’s father will recognize that we are our own selves, both more and different from the vision he holds for us.  Hopes that the body’s mother can process her own childhood trauma and become someone who may even be able to love herself and one day her children for who they are.

Yet these are merely hopes.  The reality is that sometimes it doesn’t get better.  We will hope forever, but it is unlikely we will ever be loved by the body’s parents for who we are.  We will spend the rest of our life sorting through the PTSD our childhood left us with.  Life will be about survival far more often than we would like it to be.

The suicides resulting from “tiger mom” style parenting is just the tip of the iceberg.  A few suicides means that there are many many more thinking about it and even more who are being damaged by their childhood.  These people will carry these scars around for the rest of their lives.  Even many who “make it” and get into Stanford and get the 6 figure jobs their parents have been pushing them into can be heavily damaged.  We offer ourselves as an example of how “tiger mom” parenting can lead to economic success at the cost of everything else.