An Amendment to My Previous Post:

I got a lot of feedback from many of you on my previous post on anxiety meds.  I was so glad to hear many of you found solace, or comfort, or company in that post.  But of course, I was sad to hear it too: because that means you also have your share of anxiety woes.

I feel a bit remorse about the fact that I didn’t outline my feelings about anxiety meds.  I gave you my history of taking them, but not what I thought about that history.

I don’t like pharmaceutical medications one bit.

I don’t like giving money to big pharma, nor do I like putting chemicals in my body.  I believe food should be our medicine, I believe our breath should be our guide to relaxation.  But sometimes, well, ain’t nobody got time for that.  So I tried Zoloft, was really unhappy with that process, dumped it, and now I will start Lexapro tomorrow.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Also, I am making an appointment with the People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture in my neck of the woods.  A friend wrote me after my last post, alerting me to their presence in her life, and the impact acupuncture has had.

I went to acupuncture once, and it had a profound effect on me.  But then I couldn’t find an affordable place to go for it after that one trial time, and so I just didn’t think it was in the cards for me as a treatment method.  And with this, I will also let you know how it goes.

Anxiety is a tough nut to crack: without meds, it takes a lot of concentration and persistence to treat.  One must daily, sometimes moment by moment, be aware of thought patterns and breathing and diet and exercise.  And sometimes all that is too much, what with, oh, the rest of your life happening too.  And for some people, their anxiety is so high that meds are the only way to control it, the only way to enjoy their life.  But for me, I think a combination of methods works best: some talk therapy, some acupuncture or other body work, some low dose meds, exercise and a good diet.  Those are the ways I want to control my anxiety, and hopefully, with some diligent practice, I can one day go off the meds entirely.

I just wanted to make this little amendment because I really do hate the drugs, and the side effects, and the companies that make them.  I hate feeling deficient because I need them to live a reasonable life, one with moments of joy and relaxation mixed in with the anxious, worry filled ones.  But this Rx approach works, for now–it lets me have a good time now and again, for now.

Anyway, I hope this post encourages you to seek out the methods of mental health treatment available to you that give you the best quality of life with the fewest side effects, I hope this post gives you hope, and a moment of pause to consider alternative treatments to replace or support your current Rx plan.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

A Test of Will for You Readers: My Anxiety Story

Be warned: this is a long one, folks, so settle in to a comfortable seated position.  Or skip it altogether if it ain’t your thing:

I have struggled for years with anxiety disorders.  I have four, formally diagnosed disorders, but it just really feels like one big mess of nerves.  It’s not like I wake up in the morning and say, “oh hey, here’s my generalized anxiety to start the day,” then later at work think, “why, hello there, social anxiety,” and then, that night, “Oh good, my panic disorder has arrived, right on schedule.”  Lastly, anytime I have a family gathering, as I take my Klonopin I’m not consciously thinking, “ah, and this is my PTSD, just in time for Thanksgiving.”

But nonetheless, I wake up with a level of nervousness in my system that most people would find highly uncomfortable; I spend my day trying to avoid situations that would turn  my heightened anxiety into a full blown panic attack, and while most nights I can fall asleep with relatively no trouble, I never sleep the whole night through undisturbed.  Any little sound wakes me up, and then the underlying anxiety keeps me up. This has all worsened recently, and I think some of it is to do with the testosterone.

I’ve been told that testosterone can give one higher levels of energy: great, right?  Who couldn’t use some extra energy in our busy contemporary lives full of technological distractions and cliched examples of the current American day-to-day?  But with me, my body is reading all this extra energy I’ve been feeling as of late as anxiety, because, well, most of the energy I have I use to worry about whatever comes to mind, and so extra energy means, guess what…extra anxiety!

I have used Klonopin (generic Clonazepam) for about 13 years now.  It is a drug primarily used to control seizures, but also prescribed for panic disorders.  Yup, I have panic attacks and anxiety attacks; the difference between the two is real, and (if you wish) something you can learn more about here.  To make a very long story short, and as many of you already know, I grew up in a house with three alcoholics and an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic.  I’m traumatized.  ‘Nuff said.

I go to talk therapy, which has helped me immensely.  I believe talking about my problems, searching for the root of those problems, and working everyday to unlearn the bad behaviors and patterns I have developed over the years is the only lasting way to “cure” myself of all these anxiety issues.  But that is the work of a lifetime.  It took a couple decades to screw me up good, and it happened during formative childhood years.  Some of these patterns I may never be rid of, no matter how hard I try.  But I am going to try anyway–what else do I have to do?

So, in addition to therapy (I’ve also tried EMDR and biofeedback, and they have been mildly effective) I take Klonopin, because I would like some relief now from the deep seated problems that negatively affect my daily life.  And Klonopin has worked well: I take half of the lowest does prescribed, as needed, which means sometimes my prescriptions expire before I even use all the refills.  Lately, what should last me a month lasts me about two, so I’m taking the Klonopin more frequently, but not nearly as frequently as some people have to take it.  The problem with Klonopin is that it is meant to be used to control a panic attack as it is happening, the last and most severe line of defense in the fight against anxiety.  But lately I have been using it preventatively–I take a half a pill at night just (hopefully) to be able to fall back asleep when I inevitably wake up, for no reason other than my body has too much energy, at 5 a.m.  Also, Klonopin is habit forming, and although I have had it under control for 13 years, I think now, with my heightened testosterone levels of anxiety, might be a good time to switch to something else to control the anxiety–something that is not habit forming.  Something that I can take once a day to keep me even, and not something like Klonopin that I have to be constantly aware of the dosage and times of day I am taking it.

So I went to Dr. Josh at Howard Brown and had an appointment to talk SSRI options.  I have tried them all in the past: Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, Lexapro, et.al. and although they had relatively good results (Zoloft being the one I felt the best on) they all had the dreaded and much talked about sexual side effect: While taking any one of them I couldn’t “get over the falls” as it were.

So Klonopin, carefully, it has been for over a decade.  Josh tells me because I’m on testosterone the sexual side effects likely won’t affect me this time.  So I give Zoloft a whirl.  And this time it is different: In the first five days it has increased my anxiety, it is making me lightheaded, and the sexual side effect is obviously there.  I feel worse on it, not better.  And this time, not only can I not “get over the falls,” but also it is tanking my libido altogether.  So I call Josh.  He wants me to stick with it, cut the pills in half, and see if it gets better.  I want to be fair and give it a shot.  But the overwhelming number of people on Zoloft say the sexual side effect, the one I am not willing to live with, will not go away.  Some people respond to Zoloft that way, many people in fact: SSRIs are sort of known for destroying your sex life. So I’m torn between giving it a shot in the spirit of compromise and humility (I have noticed lately that, contrary to previous long held beliefs, I don’t know everything), and quitting right now in order to try something else.  I found this article on ol’ Cheaty McSteroid’s* website about anti-anxiety meds without sexual side effects.  So I am split: do I tough it out and see if I am the golden child whose sexual side effects go away and I can live happily ever after on Zoloft, or do I cut my losses now and tell Josh I want to try something different?

Gah,  I just don’t know.

I want to reward you, dear reader, for hanging on to the bitter end of this post, with an anecdote from work yesterday:

Bossman: Eli, will you need any help finishing frozen tonight?

Eli: No, I think I’m good.

Bossman: Are you sure?

Eli: Yeah, totally.  I had some help earlier and it put me in a good spot for the end of the night.

(Bossman exits aisle)

Will: (my friend working in the same aisle as me, and in a playful, chiding tone) You know Eli, it doesn’t make you any less of a man to accept help when it is offered.

Eli: (smiling) Thanks Will, I’ll remember that.

Will: (revising his previous statement) But it does make you less of a man to ask for help.

Priceless advice. 🙂

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*While I am very disappointed in Lance Armstrong’s professional cycling decisions, his website proves inspirational and is full of valuable information.  For livestrong.com, and Armstrong’s determination to beat cancer and be a good example in that way, I applaud him.

(Re)Naming

I was supposed to be an orphan.

That is, when I was conceived, it was by two foolish kids: one, my mother, a 17 year old high school student and part time fast food restaurant worker.  And two, my father, a 25 year old supervisor at said fast food restaurant, and as it turns out, a coward.  He left her and joined the army to avoid his fatherly responsibilities.  And as my grandparents (and their 9 kids) were Catholic, it was decided the best thing to do was to give me up.

As the story goes, it was my cute little face that saved my cute little ass: my mother, after completing labor in just over an hour, asked to see me.  To hold me, just once.  My grandmother said it was a bad idea.  And she was right: one look and my mom was hooked.

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With that face and $ 2.25 you can take a bus ride.

“Just hold her,” my mother said to my grandmother.  Gramma was reluctant, but not made of stone, and over the course of our life together she was my strongest ally.  She took me from my mother’s outstretched arms.

“Oh, alright, let’s get your father in here,” my grandmother begrudgingly sighed.

My grandfather comes into the recovery room. “We’re not keeping it so I don’t even wanna see it,” but he must have seen something–the look on my mother’s face, my grandmother’s arms holding me, because he took me and I stayed.

“What are you going to name her?” Asked my grandfather.

“April Rose,” said my mom.

“The hell you are…”

I’m sure you know who said that.

It was the late 70’s, and April Rose had that Stevie Nicks, feathered hair feel to it.  But my grandfather was not having it.  “April Rose is not in the Bible,” was his main complaint.  And so, Emily it was.

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As a teenager, mom could play airplane *and* balance a beer can on a mattress–now that’s varsity level parenting!

Babies are named by their parents, usually, but the parents’ decision is influenced by relatives and friends and lots of other people, all the way down to noisy strangers on the street once that bump starts to show.  And who knows if that kid is going to like being April, or Emily?  Names are important–they stick with us for a lifetime, they precede us–they tell the world things about us without our permission.  And usually, those things are wrong.

The second time I got a name, my new boy name, my trans name, I was named by K.  I had just told her I wanted a nickname, something more masculine, when I was still too piss-in-my-pants afraid to tell her I wanted a lot more than my name to change.  Hell, I could barely admit to myself I wanted a different identity.

I wanted something soft, something not overly butch*, and I wanted it to retain some of the letters of my birth name.  I wasn’t trying to run from my past, or erase it.  I just wanted to lay a path to a different future.

“What about Eli?” K said to me one afternoon.

And I liked it, and it let me keep my initials, and so it stuck.

At work, friend B, a kind woman, a genuine woman with a sweet soul with whom K shared a special bond, one day called me Elias.  And I liked it, and it stuck too.

So now, Elias goes by Eli and is taking the middle name Michael, a family name, one some of the good men in my family share.  Cousin Mike and Uncle Mike are both kind and strong and do right by their family.  I would like to be like them.  Also, Michael as a tribute: my grandmother lost a son, Michael, to rheumatic fever when he was 14 or so.  She was pregnant with my mother when Michael died.

Elias Michael has a nice ring to it, which is important to my picky poet’s ear.  And, just like the first time, I was named by a woman who has been seminal in the formation of my identity.

But this time I had some say too, and that’s a lot to be proud of–this name reflects who I think I am now, not who other people think I might be someday.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

* I like the name Eli, for sure, but when I claimed I wanted something “soft,” something “not too butch,” it was to dip my foot in the trans pool.  I was afraid and not on hormones and still had tits and knew I wouldn’t pass for a Hank or a Jack.  I like those names, but I wasn’t ready to be that kind of man.  Eli suits me, and I have no regrets, but I was playing it safe because I was afraid of what other people would think.

After Seeing Dan Savage Last Night

K and I went to Lincoln Hall last night to see Dan Savage talk about his new book, American Savage.

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I know lots of queers, and especially trans folks, who have a problem with Dan Savage.  Myself, I’m a fan.  I’ve read his column since the “Hey Faggot” days, and although I might not always agree with him, I’m sure glad he’s on my side.  And yes, even as a trans person, I do believe he’s on my side.

I don’t like turning my back on allies for discrepancies with my ideologies.  And he is an ally, a powerful one, to the queer community.  And he reminded me of something last night: I have a right to my own opinions, my own voice.  In fact, using my own true voice is the only way to be brave and honest in this world.

As I was searching through my old posts last night, looking for drafts to expand upon, I realized, especially in my (very) old posts, I sound like a scared little bitch.

What I mean is, I was so afraid of offending the invisible online trans community I sound like I’m holding a goddamn tea party when I’m talking about being trans.  My tone is so unoffensive, well, I find it offensive.  I find it offensive because it is unauthentic.  And so my tone, along with the content, is something I will be looking forward to altering as I revise older posts and send them off to be considered by different audiences.  I understand why I sounded so scared: I was scared, scared of identifying as trans, scared of what that meant for my life.  But I’m not scared anymore, so it’s time to take the interesting ideas I had back then and give them a little support, a little confidence, a good brushing off and squinting at.

After his speaking engagement, Dan stuck around and signed books for us.  When I met him, I introduced myself, identified myself as a trans guy, and gave him the url to this here blog.  I invited him to drop by and see what this guy is up to.  Who knows if he will; he does have like a bazillion fans, but I was proud of myself for looking Dan Savage in the eye, shaking his hand, and telling him I’m trans, I’m a writer, and I have a blog of worth.  And, it was my first act of writerly self-promotion.  Rad.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli