Photo Comparison: Face Shape on T

So, it’s been just over six months on testosterone.  And although I already posted a vlog on the topic, I wanted to do a face comparison, pre-t and now.

Let’s get right into it: this photo was taken 2 weeks before I started testosterone, in mid February (as you can tell by the lipstick doodle that is peeking out on my chest)–

Heartbreaker

Heartbreaker

And this one was taken today, 6 months and a few days on testosterone:

Nice lighting, bro.

Nice lighting, bro.

I do see a bit more definition in my jaw.  Also, check out the rad difference in my biceps.  Lefty was always the weakling, but righty is on the money.  My chest is also definitely filling out in the way I’ve always wanted it to, not that unfortunate way it ballooned in junior high.  You can also see a lot more muscle in my pecs and around my shoulders now versus six months ago.

Speaking of hearts and face shapes, here’s some graffiti I saw while out on the town today:

So sassy.

So sassy.

All in all, not too shabby.  Dare I say…I’m getting a little beefy.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

6 Months on T Update

Hey!  Here’s a video update!  Sorry I don’t look into the camera, as I’m not sure where it is on my phone I should be looking.  Also, this video is long, please enjoy as much or as little as you would like.  It’s mostly about testosterone and mental health.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Testosterone Update

Hello friends!

I’ve been just working and enjoying the summer here in Chicago.  After a few days of sweltering heat and humidity we’ve gotten a break and today is looking to be a beautiful one in the high 70s.

So what’s up?

Well, I’ve noticed an uptick in my anxiety levels, so I went to Josh over at Howard Brown.  We talked about SSRIs, and I tried one (Zoloft), but decided I was jumping the gun with meds.  I want to try to control the anxiety with more cardio, some morning yoga, and some meditation and breathing exercises.  Also, I’ve started back to my therapist once a week, instead of every other week.  I don’t have a good routine down yet for all these methods, but I do notice I feel a little relief after practicing each one.  And so that is encouraging.

I also asked Josh to lower my testosterone dosage: .3 ml was keeping me in the high range of normal–I thought maybe my body would feel more comfortable going through these changes at a slightly lower pace.  So I started .2 ml injections this past Thursday, and will return to Josh in three weeks to have my levels checked again.

Remember boys, your dosage, and your pace, and your whole transition is in your hands.  If you don’t feel good, or something doesn’t feel right, talk to your doctor, and tell him what you are comfortable with and what you are uncomfortable with: if he doesn’t listen, he’s not the right doctor.  Fortunately for me, Josh is a smart guy with good suggestions, so when I told him I wanted to lower my dosage, at my own suggestion, he was very receptive.

So, what prompted me, exactly, to lower my dosage?

Well, I’ve been sleeping terribly.  I’ve been having anxiety-related chest pains pretty regularly.  And heart palpitations.  I’ve been feeling light headed.  These symptoms and I have a long history together, but of course Dr. J took a listen to the ticker to rule out any other more serious cardio condition first.  So my heart is healthy, and the symptoms, unsurprisingly, are anxiety-related.

Really, I think as I go through this transition, I will be jettisoning some old fears, and those will be painful as they leave my body.  I think I am digging out some soreness and letting it go and that is a difficult process.  Healing always hurts.  But I am confident I will feel a lot better on the other side of this transition.  Or rather, out of these particular woods, because as I am learning, my transition, your transitions, are never really complete, are they?  The bodily changes the testosterone is causing may peak and level off, but I will always be an evolving human, and so will you.

I’m also realizing that I can do all the yoga and meditation and exercise I want, but until I look at my history, and the pain and trauma it has caused me, the anxiety symptoms will always come back.  Until I get to some trans support group and talk about how painful it was to hide this part of myself for so long, and make some friends who are having the same social and psychological problems I am (and release some of this internalized transphobia), until I go to some Al-Anon meetings and work through the pain my mother and her alcoholism has caused me, I will never be rid of these sleepless nights, these chest pains, these feelings of inadequacy and timidity.

Wish me luck, and 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.

8 Weeks on T: Intramuscular Injection Video

Guess what!  Here’s that injection video I have been promising.  I get cut off at the end, but don’t worry, I come back in print after the video:

Anyway, before my phone alarm went off and interrupted my recording, I was saying that my voice is dropping, and now cracks too.  my shoulders are continuing to fill out, and I noticed a few days ago that when I put on a t-shirt I hadn’t worn since last summer my arms fill it out totally differently.  The shirt is tight around my upper arms and the sleeves come down to where they should–they don’t hang a bit lower like they used to.  Rad.

Otherwise, I’m not noticing much of anything else.  I have had some shitty days, but I’m not ready to attribute them to T rage or anything.  I’ve been sleeping better, and feeling better, since I have gotten back to the gym.  I have noticed some low level anxiety, but it could be attributed to the new apartment, and getting used to that.  So again, I’m not ready yet to chalk up a small surge in anxiety level directly to testosterone.  Also, the headaches have gone away, which is great news.

And Now, A Quick Note on Vaginal Health

So, some guys, namely trans guys, have vaginas.  If you are not one of those guys, this section may bore/horrify you, so I suggest you stop reading now.

Now that’s it’s just us dudes here, let’s have a difficult but necessary conversation.

Ok, it seems that testosterone can decimate the natural flora and fauna of the vagina, leading to bacterial vaginosis and/or yeast infections.  Greek yogurt has helped keep these issue at bay for me.  But should you notice some discomfort in your groin, get thee to a doctor.  This stuff, while not necessarily life threatening, can be uncomfortable and discomforting.  Also, these are not problems that will just “go away,” as you are actively destroying your estrogen levels, and that estrogen is needed for good vaginal health.  And vaginal atrophy is a real thing, and it can lead to urinary tract problems, and you don’t want it, so let’s take good care of our bodies, shall we fellas?

I know our vaginas are the last thing trans guys want to talk about.  But let’s be adults here.  Let’s be good to our bodies, and let’s listen to our old pal Buck:

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

6 Weeks on T Update

It’s a bit confusing to label my blog posts: I will have my 7th testosterone injection tomorrow, so I have only been “on t” for 6 weeks.  Actually, it’s not that confusing.  Nevermind.

I type this post from my desk in my new apartment!  K and I moved a week and a half ago, and we just love the place.  We have a lot more space, sweet built-in bookshelves, a good amount of sunshine (when the sun is out, right now it’s raining like crazy), and our landlords and neighbors are great.  But…our bedroom window opens out to the alley behind our building, and there has been a dump truck making all kinds of noise…every morning…before 8 am.  I get off work almost every night at 11, so it’s going to take me a while to get used to sleeping through that kind of racket.  Which is why it’s 8 am and I’m blogging.

Anyway, enough of my bragging/complaining.  Here’s what you all have come to see:

Testosterone Updates

-I had my first post-injections appointment two weeks ago (at the one month mark) to check my T level, liver function, and red blood cell count.  Dr. J* was pleased I wasn’t having any negative side effects, and so the appointment was fairly quick.  He and I spoke for a few minutes, he told me he could hear my lower voice from the reception room before he saw me, and we chatted about some previous concerns I had that have since dissipated.  His nurse drew some blood from me and I was on my way.

The following morning a different nurse called to tell me my blood and liver functions were great, but my T level was a little high, so we lowered my does from .5 ml/weekly to .3 ml.  I feel neither happy nor sad about the adjustment.  Some dudes get upset when they have to lower their dosage, but remember, lads, when there is too much testosterone the body converts it to estrogen!  Dr. J wants me in the 400-800 level range for T (just as a matter of reference, I was at 38 before the injections, which is a normal level for a female body).  The blood test revealed I was sitting at 1100.  Ouch!  That’s high, even for a cis-gendered dude.  But not to fret, this is a trial and error period so we just test and adjust, test and adjust, until we hit a good spot for my body’s particular chemistry.  I go back in a few weeks to see if .3 ml is the sweet spot, or if more tweaking is necessary.

-My voice continues to crack and lower and my sex drive is still high but seems to wax and wain.  I’m happy about both of these changes, and they are shifting at a rate that feels comfortable to me.

SOME NEW DEVELOPMENTS

-While the voice and sex drive changes have been ongoing, a few new things have popped up.  For one, I have been noticing a headache that is more irritating than debilitating, but that won’t seem to really ever go away.  It come and goes, but never completely dissipates.  It’s hard, though, to parse out whether this can be attributed specifically to the testosterone, or whether it’s from the stress of moving and the concern of being on testosterone.  How do we pull our lives apart and say, yes, there, that one feeling or malady is caused by a higher lever of testosterone in our system?  I am always surprised by the trans guys that can parse out their lives to such a minute degree that they can attribute this or that sensation or thought or emotion to testosterone.  I can’t do it.  So I’m trying to relax a bit, because thinking about this all the time, trying to keep such a close eye on my changing body and mental landscape, might be giving me a headache. 🙂

-I’ve also been a bit more irritable lately, and again, I don’t know if it’s from the testosterone, or if it’s just from moving and lack of sleep thanks to my new daily, 7 am rattling dumpster alarm.  Either way, it’s no fun.

-Speaking of a changing mental landscape, I think I am noticing my first non-physical, lasting testosterone change.  So, normally I’m a pretty chatty person.  I have a tendency to over explain, which makes me a good teacher and a condescending co-worker.  I like to talk, and as I get older, I am starting to actually enjoy listening too!   But recently, and for the first time in my life, I have had the impulse, on many occasions over the last, oh, two weeks or so, not to say everything that pops into my head.

It’s a strange feeling, really.  I will be having a conversation with K, for example, we will be considering a new floor lamp to buy, or deciding what to have for lunch, or talking about something one of us read, and while I am engaging in the conversation a point will come to mind, and I will dismiss it.  I don’t really know why.  But I have never not said something for no reason before.  Who knows, maybe I’m just maturing and this new filter has more to do with my age than it does my hormones.  But I have been noticing a budding silence in me that, in and of itself, does not feel harmful.  But when I think about it as a mental change due to the testosterone, it scares me.  It scares me because I don’t know how else T will affect my mental faculties.  I am pretty fond of the person I am now, and I don’t want to lose parts of me because my brain is awash in a new hormonal mixture.

This reminds me of something Karen reiterated from her son, Jacob.  I can’t find the exact post to link to, but I think Jake had said something to Karen about looking forward to testosterone quieting all the noise in his head.  And I can relate to that.  I wonder if testosterone will quiet the inner critic a bit, will dull all the chatter in my brain.  That would be a good thing. Most of the stuff in my head is garbage, anyway: lots of harsh self-criticism, too many unforgiving observations.  Am I so cruel to myself because I have never been able to reconcile my appearance with my internal identity?  Or is it because I have been socialized in a culture that teaches female bodied people they are insufficient?  I don’t know, but I am going to try to let go of the fear (a healthy does of which our culture also instills in women) of how I am changing, and instead try to observe it from a reasonable distance.  How I will do that, who knows.  But I suppose I will start by trying to be okay with the not knowing.  This whole process is one new corner after another, and this is just the beginning.  Now is a good time to try to get used to letting go, because as time goes on, I will be letting go of more and more of the old me, and finding new parts of myself pop up to replace what is missing.  But that’s true for everybody, right?

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*My doctor at Howard Brown.  He deals with all my hormone/trans medical stuff.  He is rad.

3 Weeks on T

Hello Gang!

Well, you’ve probably been wondering where I toddled off to: I posted an update about starting testosterone, and then *poof* I disappeared.

Well, I got sick (again) which turned into an ugly laryngitis thing, and I lost my voice for about 5 days.  Then, it came back, but it was time for K and I to hunt for an apartment, as our lease is coming to an end and our current spot is too small.  So, suffice it to say, I haven’t had much time to make a video.  But we did find a sweet place to live.

Excuses over!

I’ll try not to repeat here what I go over in the video, but I haven’t noticed many changes, thus far, and I am pretty happy about that.  It’s only been three weeks, so a little change in my voice and a little change in my sex drive is what I have noticed.  And I am really happy with that.

So, without further adieu, my first transition video:

Be nice to yourselves, and have a great weekend,
Your Pal Eli