How I Learned To Live, Wanting to Die

Thanksgiving Day, 2007. I stand in my basement bedroom, a cord in my hands. The most insistent thought beats like a drum in my head- Die, die, die. I wrap the cord around my neck and I pull. I pull, hoping to strangle myself. I don’t think through the fact that even if I could make myself pass out by this course of action, once I passed out my grip would release and I’d be able to breathe once more. It’s hard to think clearly when all you want to do is die.

That was the first time I tried to kill myself. Over the next decade I’d try or begin to try many more times. I tied belts around coat hooks and door knobs and attempt very slow and ineffectual hangings. I’d linger for a while at the edges of cliffs or on the top of the Salt Lake City Public Library, while a small voice would say “Jump!” In September of 2011, I drove my mother’s car into a rocky slope on the side of a highway in Idaho, going 87 miles an hour. I survived with just a few scratches.

These urges were overpowering before I transitioned, before I started treating my ADHD and my bipolar disorder. They’ve reduced over time, but sadly they haven’t ever completely gone away. I’ll go a week or two now without considering it, which was unfathomable to me only a few years ago, but the urge still crops up from time to time. I think the reality is the urge may never really go away.

This morning I found myself pondering it a moment. Some voice in my head says “just end this sordid tale, here and now.” But I managed to ride out the impulse. There’s no one magic fix to suicidal ideation. Having supportive people to talk to helps, certainly, as does therapy, but the ideas will still crop up, and they are alarming and discouraging, especially when one is otherwise on an upwards trajectory.

So, how do I cope with occasionally and persistently wanting to die? Ironically, I’ve embraced Death as a kind of deity, and a source of joy.

I had a realisation walking in the Salt Lake Cemetery (which is my favourite place to stroll); that all of us are fated to die, and that is a very good thing. Death gives life its meaning. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “it is the scarcity which makes anything precious.” Death is the one true unifying characteristic of life, and indeed of the universe itself. Everything will eventually decay and die and run out of energy. Our story has an end.

Knowing this, accepting it, I realised that more than anything I want the story of my life to be an interesting one. It doesn’t have to be a happy story, and hell it probably won’t be, but I’ll be damned if people don’t have a lot of good tales to tell about me at my funeral.

So how does this help when I feel suicidal? My life’s been pretty interesting so far- what would be the real harm in writing that last page myself? Setting aside the grief it would cause those who love me (because once I’m dead that won’t really affect me), it would make a bad story if I took the shortcut to the end. It’s not how I should end my story, plain and simple. I may die the second after I post this from an aneurysm, later today in a freak accident, or in 75 years in a bed surrounded by close friends and family, but all of those, I believe, would be better than if I’d killed myself this morning.

Death is universal and unavoidable. She will take us all into her cold and tranquil arms one day. But I firmly believe that the moment anointed should belong to her, not to me. So I breathe deep, I text or call some friends, and remind myself that the urge will pass. That I don’t have to take that grave responsibility onto my shoulders. Because Lady Death is the one who should write those closing words- “And then, Beatrice died. The End.

Until those words are written I need to live, to write, to laugh, to love, to cry, to drink, to dance- all the pain and joy of life is still mine to experience. I’ll keep writing my story, and when Lady Death comes for me, I’ll embrace her as an old and cherished friend. When she wants me, she’ll have me, but the choice will be hers, not mine. What peace it brings me to know that.

The Facade – Excerpt From An Unremarkable Girl

This comes from Chapter 2 – “When I Knew”. It is the story of how the real me began to disappear into the male facade that I would wear for more than a decade until I was finally ready to come out. 

When I was in third grade I told a friend at recess about my wish, about wanting to be a girl. She was always a sweet friend, but she looked at me with a side-eyed glance when I revealed my innermost desire.

“That’s weird,” she said, the word “weird” delivered like a shoe stamping on a bug.

There was to be no further discussion of that point. That day I learned that as much as I desired to be a girl, it wasn’t “normal”. It wasn’t “okay”. It was “Weird” with a capital “W.” So I started to push it down. I still admired my female role models, the witches of my early childhood, the Queens of England, the Empresses of Austria and Russia, but I would no longer pretend to be them. I still loved television or films with strong female characters (or even better yet female protagonists), but I was more cautious about emulating them. Being a “boy” and wanting to be a girl was weird.

I began to build a male facade. Though many messages in children’s media and elementary school would tell me “be yourself!”, I knew that to be a polite fiction. “Be yourself” has a big stinking asterisk next to it. “Be yourself; if yourself is a gender-conforming individual who will have the right interests and perform according to societal expectations. Otherwise, be the self we want you to be.”

I worked hard to build the male facade. I tried to follow my father’s encouragement and participate in sports- because that’s what boys were supposed to do. Unfortunately, I am intrinsically ill-suited to physical activity that requires a great degree of hand-eye coordination and concentration. Playing softball I always took the outfield, and never caught a single ball- I’d be staring off into space while it would land with a thud next to me, snapping out of my daze only when a team-mate called out “Get the ball, stupid!”

As I built this performative male facade, the real me grew more and more disconnected. She shone through in her passion for history, in her love of unusual foods (for an American child) such as mussels and escargot, but she went into hiding whenever the expectations of society demanded the performance of masculinity. The older I got, the more performance was demanded of me. This produced a disconnect between the real me, the girl at the centre, and the performative facade, and the disconnect produced dissociation. I have far fewer memories of my elementary school days than most of my peers, simply because I was putting on the facade so much of the time. When I was performing as male, I wasn’t myself, and since I wasn’t myself I wasn’t forming memories, or at least not the fond memories of childish bliss many people form in their elementary days. I remember most clearly moments of pain or great shame, for they lanced through the facade and pierced the girl within, leaving scars that still twinge when I recall them today.

….

Thank you so much, dear readers, for your time. Please leave comments and share if you liked the piece or if you have any questions for me about it, and always feel free to sign up for email alerts by use of the button right below this post.

The First Love – Excerpt from An Unremarkable Girl

Before I transitioned, I didn’t think I’d ever fall in Love with a capital “L”. I felt sexual attraction for people, I had crushes, but as long as I hid beneath the facade, I couldn’t really love, with all the intimacy and vulnerability that word implies. As I began my transition in March of 2015, I then became afraid that I might fall in Love but that no one would reciprocate. I still had that image from the early days of discovering my identity, the image of the foolish and not quite right looking transgender woman, in my mind. I was still afraid that all the hormones and female clothes in the world would never make me look like what I thought a woman should look like. I still hardly knew any transgender people, MTF, FTM, or otherwise, so I didn’t really know what transition could do on the visceral and personal level.

Three weeks into my transition, there were still very few noticeable physical changes. My face maybe looked softer, but I wasn’t sure if I was projecting a hope when I looked into the mirror. I still looked much the same as I had before starting transition, and I was worried that perhaps I’d always look like that. At about the same time, a friend of my mother’s had recommended to her that I should meet a young transgender woman who worked for her, and so I passed along my phone number. I learned that the young woman’s name was Hailey, and I arranged to meet her on Wednesday, April 1st, just two days after I’d returned from a stressful St. George trip.

We set up a meeting at six at a coffee shop in downtown Salt Lake City, Café Nostalgia on 1st South. I got there rather early, at 5:40 or so, but thankfully I came with a book, Volume II of Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs. I was very nervous, and so despite trying very hard to focus on the avuncular Soviet premier’s recollections of his contribution to agricultural policy (which normally would have made for enthralling reading, at least to me), I was glancing up every few seconds to try and see who this “Hailey” might be. I admit that I was looking for the negative image that had grasped my brain, of a very mannish person in feminine clothing.

As I cast around looking for an obviously transgender woman, a tall willowy thin girl with long dirty-blonde hair and an aquiline, graceful visage came up to my table.

“Hi?” I said awkwardly.

“Hi, Beatrice?”

I did a bit of an internal double-take. This was Hailey? Not only did she look completely and naturally feminine, she was outstandingly beautiful.

“Yes…, You’re Hailey?”

“Yeah, it’s nice to meet you!” she replied brightly.

Her voice, too, was girlish. It was neither falsetto nor deep. It was a sporty kind of voice, unpretentious and playful. Perhaps it seemed that way because her whole manner of being was actively delightful to me.

After ordering cups of tea we began to talk. I wish that I could say what we talked about, but I can only recount that we were deeply engaged in our conversation, engaged so deeply that when her parking meter ran out we decided that rather than leaving it at that we should go to dinner together. She suggested a sushi place that she enjoyed, and I happily agreed. We got into her car, a brand-new little Fiat convertible, and set off.

In general, I’m nervous in cars. No doubt due to my suicide attempt in 2011, I have very vivid fears about crashing. This nervousness is usually exacerbated by fast drivers. Hailey was a very fast driver. But she was also a very skilled driver. So where I normally would have been terrified, I was rather thrilled as we sped down State Street, and I giggled when she angrily urged other drivers in German to have “Macht schnell, bitte!” “More speed, please!”

Over dinner we talked more, and talk turned to romantic inclinations, sexual history, and sexual preferences. At some point I ventured to say that she was very beautiful, and she blushed and smiled widely, exposing her very white and rather pointed teeth. While I had found her attractive from the start, and was becoming progressively more smitten with her, that was the moment that I really fell for her. Seeing that sharp smile, the glimmer of excitement in her almost cobalt blue eyes, pushed me well over the edge.

When we finished dinner she kindly offered to drive me home. As we pulled onto State Street, I felt a strong urge to compliment her further.

“You know, when you came into the café and came up to my table, I was really confused?”

“Oh?”

“It’s just you look so totally feminine- I didn’t think you were trans. You’re really transcendently beautiful.”

“I- that’s-”

She was actually speechless. She wasn’t quite smiling, but her face radiated a mix of happiness and surprise.

It took a few blocks for her to recover.

“Thank you, Bea. That’s probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

“Well I meant it,” I pressed, “your face is so graceful, your smile is just exquisite, and your eyes? Girl, your eyes are something else. I know it’s cliched to say this but they really do sparkle.”

Again, she was speechless. After a few minutes she managed to speak again.

“You are really amazing Bea. Really,” she said, and the compliment was so genuine, so sincere, and paid to me by a woman who earlier that day I couldn’t imagine existing, much less paying me such a kindness that it was my turn to be speechless for a bit. I’d never felt so thrilled in all the years of my life.

When we pulled up in front of my house in the Avenues, I suggested that perhaps we could go for a walk into the park. She agreed. It was around nine at night by that time, dark. The sky was overcast and the air was cool. Very cool. Hailey, who was very thin, soon started to shiver. By the time we reached the park, only two blocks away from my house, her teeth were chattering.

We sat on the edge of a planter at the corner of the park, which was deserted. I said something sympathetic about how cold she must be. She nodded. I then put my arms around her. She leaned against me, and if anything shivered more. I also shivered, not from the cold, but from the thrill of having this exquisite beauty in my arms. I took her hands in mine and then looked at her, smiling like an idiot I’m sure. She returned my gaze, and I felt a completely new sensation. I felt desired.

“May I kiss you?” I asked.

She nodded shyly.

We kissed. It was my first kiss since I had begun hormone replacement therapy, since every sensation had been heightened. It was magical. Long after I have forgotten the particulars of my first sexual encounters, I am sure I will remember that kiss. At that moment, I felt like the shy young girl I never really got to be, and at that moment I fell in Love. Not lust, not a crush, not a fleeting interest, but hormonal, crazy, chemical, irrational love.

We dated properly only for a month, and had some intermittent romantic encounters over the next nine months or so. We remained friends for a while, but have since drifted apart. I suspect, however, that I’ll always love her. More than her being my first real love, she gave me hope like I’d never had before. Hope that I could be so quintessentially a woman as she was, hope that I could be loved as a woman, even the hope that I could be beautiful. At that moment in time, when the initial thrill of transition had worn off and before the major physical changes buoyed me, I was worried that perhaps it’d all been for naught, that I’d be as miserable transitioning as I was before. Hailey dispelled that. Any hardship that I’d feel more personally because I no longer hid behind a facade was worth it, if only to know the joy, the rapture, of being in Love.

The Question of Bathrooms

The porch of the bar is clouded in smoke, as any good dive bar’s porch should be. The man standing before me, slightly swaying with a Rainier in his hand, asks his question with a genuine air of befuddlement.

“Which bathroom do you use?”

“The women’s, of course,” I reply somewhat tersely.

“But you have-”

“Ah ah,” I interrupt, “do you want to have sex with me?”

“What?”

“That’s the only reason you should be asking about what’s in my pants, and frankly if that’s your very first question I don’t want to have sex with you.” (Since this was more than two years into my transition, I no longer bowed meekly to strangers alluding to my genitalia.)

Tired of conversing with a drunkard who was in no condition to earnestly listen to the finer points of the bathroom debate, and coincidentally needing to pee, I go to the bathroom.

The women’s bathroom. Because I am a woman. Transgender people will typically use the restroom of the gender they identify with, unless fear or unjust laws prohibit them from doing so. More importantly, we are in there for the same reason you are- to urinate, defecate, do our makeup, wash our hands, or blow our noses.

Much has been made in the so-called “bathroom debate” of the potential risk to young girls if “men” are allowed to use women’s restrooms and locker facilities, with right-wing pundits arguing either that paedophiles will pose as transwomen to attack little girls or that anyone can just stroll into any bathroom or locker-room and… commit what is already a serious felony?

Therein lies the logic gap (or perhaps chasm); the acts which right-wing lawmakers are so concerned about are already criminal. Rape is a crime. Child abuse is a crime. Exposing yourself in a sexual manner to a child is a crime. Furthermore, there is not a single documented instance of a transwoman attacking anyone in a public restroom. Transwomen are far more likely to be the victims of sexual violence than perpetrators of it.

So given that we pose no increased risks and that there already exist legal punishments for sexual assault, why do right-wing legislators keep proposing bathroom bills? Well there’s the conservative impulse to try and prevent any change, but really it boils down to fear that is based on an extremely toxic misperception- that transwomen are men. In many conservative circles, we’re not just viewed as men, but as mentally ill men. It’s not just simple hate that spawns these bills, but a pervasive fear on the part of many conservative men about being unable to protect “their” women.

However toxic that mindset may be, even within its absurd parameters it is logically inconsistent, for the simple reason that transwomen are no better or worse than any other woman in the bathroom with your child. Denying us our civil rights is not a solution to a “problem” that doesn’t exist.

Bonus Bullshit

Okay! *whew* Now that we’re past the serious stuff, here are some of the more absurd or just plain funny questions I’ve been asked about or while in the bathroom.

Do you pee standing up?

Never in public and very rarely in private, as I find it more comfortable to sit. Though I can’t imagine the relevance of the position of my urination to your understanding of me as a person.

Do you have a tampon?

First of all, thank you for massively affirming my gender. The first time I was asked this it was “no”, but now I try to carry one or two in case a friend or just a kindly drunken stranger needs one.

Are you sure you’re in the right place?

Why yes, scowling elderly lady, I am quite sure, since my bladder is completely full and this is a woman’s restroom. I would have thought the breasts, dress, stockings, cute flats, long well-groomed hair, and lipstick would have communicated that I identify as female and thus would prefer to use the women’s lavatory.

So you must have a vagina if you use the women’s, right?

What? You know that men and women typically use the same toilet in private homes, right? As long as you have a functioning urethra and the establishment has running water, a standard toilet will work regardless of your genitalia.

.;..

As always, thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to ask further questions in the comments, and I will do my best to answer them. Also, if you like this blog, sign up for email updates by clicking the little button just below this post. If you really like this blog and don’t mind helping me reach a wider audience, click one of those “share” buttons below! Thank you again!

(Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash)

The Question of Genitalia

How many times a day do strangers ask about your genitals? How many times a week, a month, a year?

“So,” he breathes, scanning my body, clad in a dress and stockings, “what do you have… down there?”

The bus rattles over a pothole, shaking me back and forth.

“That’s um really not uh a polite question to ask,” I stammer.

My face turns crimson red, I can feel it, the heat of shame and exposure flooding up to my forehead. Why do strangers feel that they own the information of my body? Why do they perceive that as their right?

“Yeah, but…” he said. But you’re a deviation from the norm. But transwomen are supposed to be a matter of public record. But, are you okay for me to screw, to fuck, to fantasise about, to masturbate over?

“I’ve not had an operation,” I answer.

“Those are real?” he asks with a wave of indictment at my breasts.

I am violated by the words, exposed by them. I meekly nod, my blush burning hotter, deeper.

“Nice,” he says. The compliment of reduction. The praise of the attribute rather than the whole. The word ‘nice’, innocent enough, a pleasant thing, used as a whip of control, of subjugation. I did not exist to him as another human in all the complex multifarious meaning of humanity, but as a set of sexual and social status objects, a fetish or a taboo.

I will later say to others “that’s impolite to ask,” and drop it there. Or ask pointedly if they want to have sex with me, to reflect the awkwardness of the question back to them, to make them confront the invasiveness of what they’re demanding of a stranger.

But now, on the bus, I just blush and squirm, and lay myself bare, because I don’t know a better thing to do. I am at the mercy of strangers, hoping that they will just accept the presentation and move on. Hoping that the cues alone will say that I am a woman. And hoping, fiercely hoping, for a day that I might be left alone. That no one on a bus would ask me what’s between my legs. That I could ride over the bumps and through the sluggish traffic to therapy, unmolested by the insistent curiosity of strangers- left in peace from their avarice to know the secrets of my body.

Since this website is not a public bus, and I’m putting myself out there to educate the general public (to what degree I can) about transgender issues, please feel free to leave a comment with a question you would like answered either about the transgender community or my own personal experience as a transwoman. Thanks for reading!

How Writing Saves My Life

First, let me be brutally honest. I’m a mess. There are other kinder and true things to say about myself, but it is equally true that I am a human mess. The cocktail of bipolar disorder, ADHD, and anxiety I was provided at birth makes “functional” life pretty damn hard for me. I try really hard to be functional, and do succeed for short stretches, and then WHAM, I’m back in a depressed morass. I have an irrational singularity of thought which leaves me unable to feel the sense that today is just today, and that tomorrow could be better. Rationally and logically I know that a bad day is just a bad day. But the panicked emotional response is “what if this is the start of a bad week, a bad month, a bad year?”

I let myself be swallowed by those thoughts occasionally.  I can logically know that I’m not a terrible person, that I have mood swings, and that I struggle with pretty severe mental illness. I can logically provide both an explanation and solution for my depressive periods; the depression is biochemical, and the solution is to simply do the easy good things and ride it out because the pendulum will swing the other way, usually within a day or two. However, the emotional and irrational train of thought will say either “what if this one doesn’t end?” or “is life really worth living if you’re going to be this depressed almost every week?”

That last question gets to me. It’s a variation on an argument my brain sends my way pretty often, which boils down to “give me a good reason why your health and neurosis doesn’t justify wiping you off the face of the Earth?” This is the line of thinking, which coupled with the dysphoria I experienced for twenty years repressing my gender identity, drove me to multiple suicide attempts throughout my adolescence. I struggle to see a future worth living, and so I often give up hope. I no longer present a danger to myself because I’m aware of the trauma that any method of self-destruction would inflict on those who found me, as well as the pain I would inflict on my family, but that doesn’t mean I always want to live.

On the worst days, I day-dream about an atomic war with Russia, or some cosmic catastrophe- something that would wipe me off the face of the Earth without causing undue pain to anyone else. (Of course the absence of pain in those scenarios would be because pretty much everyone else would be joining me in death, so they’re obviously not ideal.) I really hate that these thoughts still dog me, usually in lonely evening hours or occasionally in the tedium of a fruitless afternoon.

However, there are two antidotes to such hopelessness and they are simply Connection and Purpose. Connection is vital for all human beings regardless of their mental state. We are social animals with an incredibly complex society that requires innumerable professional and personal connections to function. Most of our greatest joys come from connection with other people. This antidote I’ve become better at using over the years. I try to have a lot of friends and to stay very socially, because making connections brings me joy. It also provides me with alternatives to pondering suicide- I have many wonderful friends whom I’ve been able to reach out to in my darkest moments, to help talk me through the pain.

The real struggle for me is then the other antidote- Purpose. What motivates me, what rewards me, and what challenges me? Some people have an innate sense of drive and ambition that enables them to locate a Purpose and pursue it like a hound after a hare. I am not one of those people.

I at least know my Purpose. This, what I’m doing right now at two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, is my proverbial calling. Writing is what consistently makes my life worth living. I love to learn and to experience life, and more than that I love to share what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced. When someone reads my writing and is moved by it, entertained by it, or challenged by it, I feel a sense of accomplishment and joy. No other vocation or achievement can make me feel quite the way writing does. I love to cook and love when people enjoy my food, but even that happiness cannot lift my soul the same way as when someone says they learned something new from words that I wrote.

The trouble is in the pursuit of that purpose. I doubt myself endlessly because of my mental illnesses and frankly a wholesale dissociation during my adolescence. I doubt who I really am as a person in a world, and I frequently doubt my ability to write meaningful work at any kind of reasonable pace. It’s hard for me. It really is. But it’s getting better. Centimetre by centimetre, step by step. Writing is no longer the fantasy that I clung to for dear life through my adolescence. It is no longer just a dream, or a private comfort. It’s my reality.

If I’m lucky, others will read it. If I’m really lucky, I might get paid for it. Luckiest of all, someone will find in my words or my experiences something worthwhile. Something that makes them laugh, something that teaches them. The truth is I both live to write and write to live. I’m not here to be the twenty-first century’s F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hemingway, I have no illusions about being a genius. Simply put:

I’m here to write, and by hell I’m going to write.

Me Writing

Teachings of the Toothbrush

I have a terrible confession to make. My entire life, I have been bad at brushing my teeth. I’m bad at habit-forming in general, the one-two punch of bipolar disorder and ADHD makes consistency very hard to attain, but I’ve always been fairly ashamed of how bad I am at brushing my teeth. It’s such a basic question of hygiene, it should be intuitive. But for me, it wasn’t.

Until a week ago.

I went to the dentist two weeks ago, and they told me that besides a small cavity I had developed fairly serious gingivitis. They had told me this information before, but this time they emphasised pointedly that if I did not change my habits I ran the risk of infection and tooth loss. The word “necrotic” came up, and that made me listen. Necrosis, or the death of flesh before the death of the entire body, is one of my greatest fears. It’s about as close as one can be to being an actual zombie, complete with the smell of corpse.

I was given some medicinal mouthwash to use every night, and I was also told to go buy a Sonicare© electric toothbrush. By the weekend I had this brand new electric toothbrush, and I used it for the first time that Sunday night. This may sound slightly pathetic, but one of the reasons I never developed a good toothbrushing habit is that a typical toothbrush is actually to some degree physically difficult for me to use. I have very bad joints, and spending two minutes with my arm in repetitive rapid motion, while not debilitating, was uncomfortable. However, with the electric toothbrush, brushing my teeth became easy.

pexels-photo-356026.jpeg

Something that was beneficial to me was easy. A good habit was easy. Here’s the thing- I grew up thinking that everything worth doing should be hard. People who work hard, were, by definition, better than people who did not work hard. The harder the work, the more admirable the person. The more work required, the better. Difficulty equated to morality. Easy, conversely, might as well have meant immoral. This was not a conscious framing, but it was an impulse or an association that got planted deep inside me at a young age by the Protestant/Puritanical culture of America and more specifically the Mormon variant of that culture that is so prevalent in Utah.

I feel almost foolish writing that I went twenty-three years, until yesterday, still with that impulse guiding my actions. However, with the electric toothbrush, I discovered that something objectively good for you and not necessarily pleasurable could be really easy. I’ve brushed my teeth every day for the past week and a half. I brushed my teeth in the midst of a depressive episode. That may not sound like much, but it’s a longer span of time consistently brushing my teeth than I’ve ever had in my entire life. And it’s because easy does not mean bad. Easy does not mean lazy. Easy just means easy.

I gave myself a set of rules, a hierarchy of productivity. Because I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out how to healthily function on a day to day basis, notwithstanding my periods of mania and my periods of depression. A baseline that never falters. With this hierarchy of productivity, I think I may have given myself the tools to actually do it.

1st- Do what is easy and good for you. It is easy to clean a single dish. To brush your teeth. To put a single pair of socks away or to put a single book back on the shelf. Easy things are often small things, but you can always find some easy things to do to say clean a room or finish a project. Pick up the clothes first when you want to clean. Write the introductory paragraph. Do one small thing. And then another. And do…

2nd- Do what is feasible. Some days this will only mean what is truly easy. If you are sick, depressed, in pain, or very tired this may just mean basic hygiene and drinking enough water. And that’s okay. But other days, feasible may mean reorganising a room. It may mean deep-cleaning the kitchen. If harder work is feasible that day, get it done right away. You’ll thank yourself for not putting it off.

3rd- Do what is best. This is at the bottom of the hierarchy because it’s not always possible to do the best thing for yourself. It may be best to go on an hour-long jog every morning, but if it’s unfeasible, don’t sweat it. Sometimes the easiest thing can be the best thing, such as brushing your teeth.

This hierarchy may seem obvious or laughable. But for someone with executive dysfunction like myself, for people with chronic pain, chronic depression, ADHD, and many others, to whom the basic task of life don’t come easily or naturally, this can be a lifesaver.

There is a Chinese fable that neatly encapsulates the underlying point of this hierarchy, “The Foolish Old Man Who Moved the Mountains”. It concerns an elderly peasant whose farm was perpetually in the shade of two great mountains. Longing for more sunlight, the man took a shovel and began to dig away the mountains, shovelful by shovelful. He was of course laughed at by other farmers, who told him “you can’t possibly dig out those mountains in your lifetime, you old fool.”

“I know,” he replied, “but I can move some part of them. And my sons will carry on my work. And their sons as well. One day, the mountains will be moved.”

In the fable, the Emperor of Heaven is so moved by the old man’s dedication that he sends down angels to carry the mountains away. One could read this as praise of hard, repetitive work for the hope of some nebulous reward, very in line with the Protestant ethic that sober and difficult work will be rewarded by admission into heaven. But to me, that interpretation misses the point. The old man saw the mountains not as an enormous impossible whole, but as collections of single shovelfuls of dirt and rocks. He learned to see the impossible in possible terms, the daunting work as a series of easy steps.

We can move mountains, even if it’s just a pebble at a time.