The Power of Community – Mental Health Day 2022

The Power of Community – Mental Health Day 2022

I remember it so vividly. It was a dark September evening. The past month or so had been a whirlwind and my whole life as I knew it had been turned completely upside down. I had finally faced up to what had been haunting me my entire life. I’d come out to my long term partner and our relationship was over after almost a decade. Weeks before I had a home, a car I was learning to drive, a budding videography business and a burgeoning career. Now I was sleeping on my friend’s blow up mattress, unemployed, remaining belongings in black plastic bags and desperately trying to get back on my feet again and rebuild from the rubble left behind after my world had come crashing down. I had contacted TENI and was told about the Dublin Trans Peer Support Group who were meeting that night. My heart was racing. I felt petrified but pushed myself to lift those heavy feet and climb the rainbow steps of Outhouse and into the ‘Red Room’ where meetings were held at that time.

The atmosphere was quite jovial with well over thirty trans people in attendance. TPSG were electing their group rep who would assist the facilitator and represent individuals who had issues that needed to be brought up concerning the running of the group. The sounds of so many voices talking simultaneously as elections were held reverberated around the high ceiling and hardwood floor. These were not the first trans people I’d ever met but never had I seen so many in one place. It was intimidating to say the least! When things settled more we moved to introductions and I sheepishly uttered my new name and pronouns. I’d maybe only said it out loud a handful of times before. I felt the welcoming warmth begin to sink in, being in a space where I was not alone, where my burdens were no longer just mine to carry and I could learn from people like me, feel connected and understood.

Over the coming months I returned. I discovered how to start the process of seeking healthcare. I learned how to do a deed poll, apply for a gender recognition cert and get my birth cert and passport corrected. I listened to other people’s experiences which helped me grow into myself and understand more about what it meant to be me and move through the world anew. I made friends with people who were just like me and I saw what could be possible. There were people in relationships. There were programmers, opera singers, lorry drivers, shop assistants and students who did in fact live and thrive. My confidence was growing. I could do this! During this time I learned of an event that TENI were hosting. It was to celebrate their 10 year anniversary and it was also the launch of the first edition of their Heads Up Guide for Trans Mental Health. That guide proved very useful for me, it helped me come out to more people. I got tips and advice on how to deal with the struggles I faced with transition and I could share it with others who were trying to understand.

The first couple of years of my transition were very difficult for me. I’d been through some very dark periods and traumatic events. The wait for healthcare took its toll and I had to go on antidepressants and seek therapy for the first time in my life. By this stage however I was back working, I had made further connections beyond the group and had built a community around me. The support I received and the friendships that had formed within TPSG were the foundation of that. Some of those people are now family. Over time the struggles I endured began to abate as I grew more resilient, I was coming into my own. Before long I had found myself as a group rep myself and in time I facilitated the group. I applied to work in TENI as an administrator, but I guess they saw something in me and I was hired for the role I am currently in today instead. The tables had now turned. 

Participants of TENI Breakfast T event at Dublin Pride 2022

It’s now over six years later and I am in a much better place, with so many friends, found family and a wonderful wife. Being in the role I am in, I’ve also engaged with others who have had incredible struggles, often far more than what I’ve been through. I can say that unfortunately overall our community is struggling more, not less. Our public healthcare system has effectively collapsed for many. There are rising instances of hate and increased animosity in the media. I have lost people dear to me. But, we’ve managed to support and help far more. During my time as National Community Development Officer the support group network under the Trans Groups Alliance that exists around Ireland has expanded and there are groups now in every city as well as others in the midlands and northwest. We’ve developed a community space in our offices and TPSG has now moved to its new home here. We hold more community events than ever before that take place in person and online. Our mental health guide is now in its third iteration and there’s even a podcast you can check out!

The biggest lesson I’ve learned through the experiences I’ve had and the work I do is that we are nothing without community. So much is difficult right now for all of us to varying degrees but when we have each other it makes us more able to survive, cope, come into our own and eventually thrive. It can be hard to hold onto hope when so many aspects of being trans in Ireland are unjust and wrong, when we come up against the barriers of transphobia, ignorance, hate, gatekeeping, the stresses of being minoritised and when our mental health suffers as a result, but attending your local support group does help and the more of us who are together in community the stronger we all become. Community is the foundation for us all to enable us to reach our potential and build the lives we deserve in spite of all that’s pitted against us. You can do this, and we are right here with you!

If you would like to learn more about how to connect with your local trans peer support group, find out about the services and other supports that are available and find community check out our support section and get in touch.

Lilith Ferreyra-Carroll is TENI’s National Community Development Officer. Her work focuses on promoting mental health, resilience and capacity building within the trans community in Ireland through community events and liaising with trans peer support groups around the country.