Friday, January 19, 2018

My Quirky Brain



Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are currently experiencing winter. And it's not been easy. This winter in particular has left me somewhat existentially worn down. Between almost a month straight of sub-zero temperatures I've been dealing with the stress of introducing a new dog to our household. On top of that the cold literally caused the building's boiler to break, our door locks to freeze and break, and the electrical system in the neighborhood to break, which resulted in brown-outs. It's been a rough time.

In fact it got so bad that I started taking the Zoloft that my doctor prescribed back in August. Yes, I have been struggling with mental health issues for much of life and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to discuss it. I feel like all of society could benefit if we were more open about our own mental illnesses. In my opinion they should be no different than a sprained ankle. It's just something that happens to you and not in any way a character defect.



Also I should note real quick, before we get started, that these pictures have nothing to do with this post. I mean, they were taken this winter, but they have nothing to do with my mental health. They've just been piling up on my phone and I thought that I should share them. This seemed as good a time as any.

Honestly I didn't know that was dealing with anxiety until I met with a therapist who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Once I read more about it, my initial thought was "so everyone isn't like this all the time? Other people don't constantly worry about unlikely worst case scenarios?" Apparently not. Other people don't try to go to sleep at night while their mind ponders what to do if terrorists detonate a nuclear weapon nearby. Well, I do.

At no point in my life had I ever thought of myself as an anxious person. But once I started to do that a lot of my behaviors started to make sense. I had always worried about stuff. I was always overthinking everything. But I thought that was normal.

It was actually my partner Kath who really pushed me to try and get on some anti-anxiety medication. Go to your general practitioner at your next checkup, she'd say, and ask for anti-anxiety medication. Of course, I didn't want to do that. What if the doctor thought that I was a junkie making stuff up so I could score?




Also brain altering chemicals sort of frighten me. If a chemical can alter my personality, then who am I really? Of course, that's bunk because I've certainly been known to happily enjoy alcohol which is another mind altering chemical. Plus, I figured it was probably better to not take anti-anxiety meds because what if they made me too relaxed? What if there are things I should be worrying about? I don't know. I didn't like the idea of medication.

Eventually Kath was able to convince me to just ask. But it took like three visits before I was able to. I got some Zoloft and took it for three days. Then I stopped. The drug made me weirdly drowsy. And I say weirdly drowsy because I wasn't tired so much as I was just slow. So I stopped taking it.


With no medication or therapy my mental health obviously didn't improve. In fact, I had found myself drifting towards Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Seriously. I have developed a few rituals. And the thing is, I know these rituals are crazy. For instance, I'll check something (for instance the stove burners), tapping each five or seven times to ensure that everything is okay. It is. And then I'll usually go back and check a couple more times, just to be sure. And I fully know this is crazy.

So after all the shit went down this winter, I found myself at the end of my tether. Kath saw me and told me that I didn't have to be this happy. Thus, I started to take to my Zoloft again, drowsiness be damned. It's only been about a week, but I am doing better. That may completely unrelated, but it's nice to be doing better. 


And I should say that in general my life is going rather well. Someone said that a way to tell if your life is good is to break it into categories and see how you're doing in each. So I did that. Here are my categories:
  • Professional Life: My job is stable, if a little boring. I don't fit in with my more conservative and "normal" coworkers. But the work isn't stressful and the hours and pay are fairly good. B-
  • Creative Life: My new book hasn't been picked up by publishers, but it's gotten great reviews from readers. My podcast is going pretty good. We just launched the Gender Rebels YouTube channel, and I'm a third of the way through my next novel. A
  • Romantic Life: I have a wonderful and amazing partner to share my life with. A+
  • Social Life: I have a good number of wonderful friends, and though the holidays and winter have slowed my social schedule, it'll gear back up. A+
  • Mental Health: Winter and life have gotten me depressed and stressed. Anxiety and OCD aren't helping. But I'm taking doctor-recommended medication that may help. C-
  • Physical Health: I'm healthy and have managed to cut back on my drinking. I could eat less and work out more. B+
That's a pretty good report card. And the nice thing is that will warm up. Eventually. 


There's still a few months of winter left, so wish me luck.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Deutschland- Tage Sieben und Acht (Germany Day Seven and Eight)


For our last full day in Germany, we toured Sachsenhausen concentration camp. When Kath had first proposed the idea of visiting a concentration camp I was against it. That's because I was on vacation. I didn't want to spend a whole day contemplating the horrors of the Holocaust. Also I feared that a visit to a concentration camp would cast a dark, depressing cloud over our whole day. Kath told me she was going to go anyway with or without me and that if I wanted I could spend the day perusing German record stores in Kreuzberg. In the end I decided to go with her though.

Sachsenhausen is a good hour outside Berlin in the outer zone of the U-bahn. We traveled with a a tour group that had been organized by a youth hostel and there were about eight of us and a tour leader. We learned that Sachsenhausen was actually the first concentration camp and was intended as a model for all the others. Honestly, though, the tour didn't get me too depressed and I think that was because I had already read a great deal about the Holocaust so there wasn't much new information.

But, there were a couple of emotional moments. When I saw a display of badges. I thought about how open and accepting Germany was of LGBTQ in the 1920s. Then they would have been locked up in camps. And if I had been there,  I too would have been locked up and stuck with a pink triangle. At the end of tour, the tour leader said something that really got to me. He said that the only reason we tour these camps is because they were an aberration. They are not normal. They are part of history. And I hope they stay part of history.

During the tour I didn't take any photos out of respect. Though I did snap one at the end of the tour. That was because it felt good to know that the concentration camp was empty and that there were flowers growing in the shadow of the guard towers and walls. It's up to all of us to ensure something like this never happens again. 


After our tour was over, we had our last night out in Berlin. We got dressed up and planned to meet my high school friend and another friend of hers. There was a show they wanted to see and we had planned some food and of course drinks to go along with that. We wanted our last night out in Berlin to be amazing. 



Yes, I enjoyed Die Letzen Jedi. Screw the fanboys.
First up we went to Berlin Prater Garten a beer garden in Prenzlaur Berg. The day we went it was mostly empty. But I could totally see it being a really amazing hangout. If Kath and I lived in the neighborhood, I could totally see that being our usual hangout. There is just something nice about a beer garden. And of course my friend made us do a Lady and the Tramp style pic with a bratwurst. Because why not? 



After a couple drinks at the Beer Garden, it was time to head to the show at  Marie Antoinette. The opening act was a Belgian synth rock band and the headliner was an American artist Jeremy Jay. Both were fun eighties inspired synth rock. It was pretty fun. Though, we ended up spending much of the show hanging out outside so my friends could smoke. 


After that we made our way over to Kreuzburg. My friend's friend said she knew a place that did the best kofta sandwiches in all of Berlin. But first, we had to stop for beers so that we could drink on the U-bahn on the way over. 


The area of Kreuzburg was covered in graffiti and had a number of Middle Eastern food establishments for late night drunks. And the kofta sandwiches were in fact delicious. They were actually gigantic and only cost like three euros. Plus, they were actually spicy. I think it was the only spicy meal I had my whole time in Berlin. 

Our stomachs fortified by the finest kofta, we set out to go some gay bars. Our hosts insisted they knew all the best gay bars where we could go and dance. At least ostensibly we were there to dance, but I think my friend wanted to show us some of Berlin's good and seedy side.

The first spot we visited was, in a word, interesting. It was a small bar and instead of seats, there were large cushions that were suspended by ropes from the ceiling. It looked kind of unique and interesting, but I absolutely didn't want to set foot in the place. That's because there was a super thick cloud of cigarette smoke. Just standing in the door I could already feel my eyes watering and my throat getting sore. No, thank you!

Luckily the next place wasn't too smoky. I mean don't get me wrong, it was pretty smokey. It was another small place, almost claustrophobic, with decor that looked like it was from the 1960s. There was an inch of mystery water on the floor of the bathroom. It was pretty seedy. And it was full of mostly middle aged people. My friend was quick to point out the drug dealers and prostitutes at the bar.

Her friend even nicely offered to buy us some coke or MDMA if we were up for it. A drunken part of me was like, hmmm, coke wouldn't be too great with my heart condition, but maybe MDMA? Never done that before. I wonder if it's good? In the end though, it was already like 2am and 2am is not a good time to start experimenting with new drugs, especially if you have a flight the next morning. So sadly, I had to decline and Kath and I headed back to the hotel. We had a flight we had to get up early for! 

For our flight back, I decided to wear no makeup. Not even to cover what remains of my laser burned facial hair. This was to avoid the smudgy raccoon eyes I ended up with after our flight to Europe. I was hoping that my facial hair wouldn't grow out too much during the 12 or so hours until I was home. 


Thankfully we made our flight, non too hungover and bid Germany farewell.

We had a short layover in London, so even though the light wasn't that great and I looked like a rumpled scarecrow, I still had to take the first photo of my real self in the UK.


Obligatory plane selfie.

I was super sad to leave Berlin. It felt like home. It really did. Well, while we have no definite plans, Kath and I have been talking of moving to Germany and we have both been learning German. It was just such a wonderful country and a wonderful city. I can't wait to go back, even if it is just for another visit. 


Friday, January 5, 2018

Finding a Good Hair Transplant Doctor


Regular readers of this blog may know that I have a bad hairline. It is a common issue with those who have suffered from testosterone poisoning. For me, I had my hairline recede about an inch and half when I was sixteen. It was almost instant. I seriously worried about going bald before I turned twenty. But, one friend's dad told me not to worry. He said that the same thing had happened to him at sixteen, but that even thirty years later his hairline hadn't moved another millimeter. That made me feel better, but still not great.

Starting right after college I shaved my head. I thought it was better to just go through life with the shaved head than to have to put up with looking bald. And I ended up keeping that shaved head look for the next decade.

It was only years later that I realized I wouldn't have actually looked bald. After I decided 100% that I was going to transition I began growing my hair out. Once it had grown out to the point where I needed a haircut, I realized that, as far as male presentation went, it wasn't that bad. In fact there's plenty of guys out there who look totally great with that hairline.


But I didn't want to look great as a guy. So I transitioned. Unfortunately, that meant I was going to have to wear wigs if I wanted to look decent. And wear wigs I have. In fact I've spent longer than a year wearing wigs every day. It is not something that I enjoy. Though I do think that I can look fantastic in them.



So I set about trying to find a fix for my hairline. My first stop was the endo who prescribes my HRT. She prescribed me finesteride (propecia), which can help regrow hair and reverse hair loss. Over time. But after two years on it I had only seen some slight vellus hair regrowth. It wasn't nothing, but it was not enough that I could ditch the wigs.

Next I talked to a couple different plastic surgeons about getting hairline advancement surgery. Unfortuantely, that wouldn't work for me either because that surgery only works to advance a flat and even hairline. My hairline is sadly not even. So hairline advancement surgery was not an option either.

That left one more option and it was an option that I found distasteful; a hair transplant. Why did I find it distasteful? Well, it's because I remember all those old "Hair Club for Men" ads that used to run on late night TV. The whole thing seems to reek of insecure men. Ah well, a hair transplant was my only option. So I began doing some research.

This was seriously difficult. Because insurance won't cover hair transplants, it's a completely for profit industry. That means dealing with salespeople instead of doctors. That means that every place says they're the absolute best in the industry. That means every single one's Yelp review page is covered in blatant bot reviews. There's a whole fog of bullshit and flashy sales over the industry. 

The first thing I did was Google different places. I checked around NYC and also places within an easy flight, thinking that they might be a lot cheaper than NYC. What I found was highly receptive salespeople ready to give me lots of information. And eager to follow up on it. Or to call me to see if I had any questions. Have I mentioned how much I hate salespeople? Well, here's what I found:
  • Anderson in Atlanta did a Skype consultation with me. They seemed to know what they were talking about although they did pepper their presentation with a good bit of woo and pseudoscience. That turns me off. Especially when someone is trying to up-sell me on some unproven, unscientific quackery. They were going do do a strip method of hair transplant (FUT) with 2000 transplants. Their price was $13K. 
  • In NYC I went to Maxim who had a place on the Upper East Side. They didn't seem that nice, but they did seem knowledgeable as well. They didn't try and up-sell me on any woo products, so that was nice. Most of meeting was with the salesperson, but the doctor briefly came in at the end. They gave me the same diagnosis; 2000 transplants with FUT. Their price was $8K. Low, but almost suspiciously low. 
Already I was frustrated. So I decided to do some deeper research on reddit. R/Tressless had some threads about hair removal that I found helpful. It was also great to be able to speak with people who were doing the same research as me, often with the same places. It is something that I definitely recommend for people looking into hair transplant. On one thread someone posted a Hair Transplant Network list of "trusted" hair places with good reputations. That was a gold mine and I reached out to some new places.
  • Bernstein is a NYC based hair restoration place with a great reputation. People on Reddit said they were one of the best. The person I spoke with knew what they were talking about and gave me the same basic number as the others. They ended up quoting me $17K which was seriously high. 
  • Epstein in Miami was another spot with a good reputation. I got similar information from them and they qutoted me $11.5K. 
  • Gabel Center in Oregon was one that many on Reddit touted as the absolute best. Gabel was great to work with, they were super friendly, and like the others they seemed knowledgeable. Again they said 2000 FUT and gave me a quote of $11.2K. 
  • Ture & Dorin is another NYC based place with a good reputation. Some people on Reddit spoke quite highly of them. Met with them and they were quite helpful. Not only did they quote me 2000 FUT, but they also showed me the formula for how they got that. Additionally, the doctor was quite honest about everything including potential results. He seemed honest and knowledgable. That was reassuring. They quoted me $11.5K. 
One great thing I can say is that at no point in this whole search did anyone bat an eye that I was trans. In fact some mentioned that they had worked with trans clients in the past. Ultimately, it was tough to pick a place. Sorting through the sales bullshit and trying to find honest reviews was not easy.

In the end I narrowed it down to Gabel Center in Oregeon and True & Dorin in NYC. They were both really good and had good reputations. In the end though, it came down to price. True & Dorin was a tiny bit more expensive, but once factoring in flight, hotel, and rental car in Oregon, they were cheaper. So, I booked a time to get a hair transplant with them. And it's coming up.

Of course I'm apprehensive. What if I made the wrong choice? What if something goes wrong? What if the procedure just doesn't work? What if it does work but it's still not enough to make me look decent? There's no way to know. Plus, once I get the transplant, it's going to take nine months to a year to really know what my results are. So I'm nervous. It's a lot of money to spend on an unknown. A lot of money when you don't know the outcome. No, I'm not a gambler. But this will hopefully let me say goodbye to wigs and just be me. That will be so immensely amazing. Imagine just being me? Not having to dress up to present female? Not having to worry about wind wrecking my wig? That will remove a ton of stress from my life.

So wish me luck.