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Recovery Champion: Darcy Hudson

Just under a shelf crammed with books and medications, including testosterone, is a Singer sewing machine in Darcy Hudson’s studio apartment near downtown San Jose.

“I still have a lot of women’s dresses I don’t know what to do with,” he said.

Now and then, he’ll snip and fashion colorful patches of fabric from the dresses he bought when he was a woman. Then he’ll sew them onto his vests, which he often wears over the tight chest strap that conceals his breasts.

At age 20, Hudson, born a female, is transitioning to become a male, but he’s well along on his journey. Wearing boots and Army surplus fatigue pants and thick, black-rimmed glasses, he looks like a GI version of Clark Kent. Thoughtful and articulate, he’s confident in separating the roots of his mental illness from his sexual transition.

“I was a depressed little kid,” he said, explaining how his mother and doctor thought he might grow out of it when he was growing up in south Santa Clara County. The red-flag events are clear to him now. There was a meltdown at Disneyland. Two years later he watched his mother bleed out at home from a difficult pregnancy.

“My mother thought there was something medically wrong with me, so she took me to the primary care doctor,” he said. “She (the doctor) said it’s just stress, and then they left it at that.”

Still, he excelled in his studies at school and pursued musical theater as he grew up. Hudson sang first soprano in his debut in the musical version of “Charlotte’s Web.” At age 14, Hudson’s mother steered her challenging child to a school for gifted children on the campus of Gavilan College, where Hudson continued to do well academically.

But at age 16, “I had a full-blown, manic episode.” He remembered reorganizing his bookshelf 10 times in one night. He became highly irritable to others, non-violent but aggressive.

Months later, doctors at a children’s hospital diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. When he turned 18, he enrolled at a center run by Momentum for Health where he remains an outpatient. He was relieved to learn his bipolar diagnosis.

“It was nice to know there was a word for what was going on in my head,” Hudson said. “It’s really easy when you’re undiagnosed with a mental illness to just think of yourself as broken.”

His ongoing sexual transition, Hudson said, has nothing to do with his mental health disorder. He said he’s known since he was 15 that his identity was male, but it was a lonely self-discovery. Not liking the weight on his hips, he starved himself and developed severe eating disorders that have complicated, but not derailed, his sexual transition. He hopes to become a counselor for transgender youth.

Diligent with his medicines, diet, and sleep, he hasn’t experienced significant symptoms of bipolar disorder in three years.

“It’s work,” Hudson said. “I don’t want to put out the idea that it’s not work to stay in recovery. It’s possible and it’s worth it. One in four people has it. You probably love someone who has a mental illness.”