🌱 Elliotiversary.

……………………………………………

A little late, but I couldn’t let August 26th pass without celebrating what I’ve decided to call my Elliotiversary! It’s been 1 year since I welcomed everyone into my world as a fuller version of me. To celebrate, I recorded a 1 min video to say thank you and followed it up with a 1-min version of a larger video I sent to friends and family before publicly changing my name. I hope you’ll watch/listen to them both (tbh my voice change alone is worth it). 🦋

Here’s a 1-minute video recorded today, 08/26/2020:

And here’s a 1-minute video from 08.25.2019:

Trans people exist. We are not a burden. We are beautiful. We deserve space to become. We do not have to co-sign the loan we’re offered on a half life.

Left: 01.24, 2020 // Right: 08.20, 2020, 7 months on HRT
7.5 months on HRT ft. quarantine hair

Among all the things that are true about this journey, one sticks out to me most: trans people are denied and learn to deny themselves the fullest life possible. There is more than anxiety, spiraling questions, dysphoria, uncertainty, decades of wondering what if? The grass is greener on the other side. Maybe that doesn’t look like changing your name, using different pronouns, hormone therapy, or gender affirming surgery. Maybe it does.

There are an infinite number of ways to be transgender because there are an infinite number of ways to be you. Each one is good, each one is worthy of love, but the best one is the one that makes you look at yourself and say, “Ah, yes. There I am.”

Thank you for being part of my journey! You are loved. You are needed. You are more than the universe can hold in the palm of their hand and damn…that’s pretty cool. Love to you, friends, and endless gratitude to my sweetest love, Tali Rose. 🌹🦋

x. Elliot

💙 💗 🤍 💗 💙

COVID Testing at CVS

First thing’s first: we’re still in the midst of a pandemic! Wear a mask for the love of all things good and holy. 😷

Here’s a great infographic on protesting and COVID safety. The same can be said for other types of public gatherings of 10 or more people. Shoutout to resisterhoodLA for sharing this and to Mary Kenny for creating it.

Testing guidelines

Today, the CDC announced: “Death rates are 12 times higher for COVID-19 patients with chronic illnesses, according to new CDC report. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a new report on Monday, which found coronavirus patients with underlying conditions were six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die when compared to patients with no underlying conditions. The CDC found COVID-19 patients’ most common chronic illnesses to be cardiovascular disease (32%), diabetes (30%), and chronic lung disease (18%).” 


So, you need to get tested?

Have no fear! CVS Pharmacy has you covered – and many locations don’t even require you to leave your car (in fact, you shouldn’t). Let’s start at www.cvs.com where you’ll be eagerly greeted by the following header:

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Follow the “Book an Appointment” link. There, you’ll be prompted by a little cartoon human to enter your zip code:

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After entering your zip code, you’ll be asked a series of questions designed to screen folks for testing. Some states have no testing restrictions while other states restrict testing to folks who are high risk, displaying symptoms, and/or have come in contact with a known case of COVID. Answer the questions honestly as they’re designed to ensure folks who need to be tested (versus those who are curious about the test) can access the test in a timely manner. In my case, I recently participated in a highly-attended Celebration for Black Lives and I have asthma. I’ve had a mild cough but no other symptoms and mostly got the test for my peace of mind due to being high-risk.

For my test, I had to schedule an appointment 2 days out as that was the earliest availability. Experts (e.g., the CDC) say to wait about 5-7 days after protesting, gathering, being in densely populated areas, etc., to get tested. Assuming you qualify for testing, I recommend making an appointment through CVS on the 3rd, 4th, or 5th day after possible exposure so you can be tested “on time.” You should receive an email confirmation with further details about your appointment.

Okay, got an appointment. Now what?

First up, pay close attention to the requirements for testing. If being tested at a CVS location, you’ll need to bring the following to your testing appointment:

  • Proof of identity and in-state residence (CVS requires you to be a resident of the state where you are being tested)
  • Medical insurance card
    • If you don’t have insurance, bring your Social Security number (card not needed), driver’s license or state ID.
  • Appointment confirmation email or text message (I was not asked to provide this, but it is listed as a requirement)
  • Mobile phone in case we need to reach you

You also need to follow a few key instructions when you arrive for your appointment. These instructions are copy/pasted from the confirmation email CVS sent me:

  • Wear a face covering at all times. Do not remove it until instructed to do so.
  • Stay in your car when you arrive. Do not go into the CVS store.
  • Procedures vary by location. You may be directed to a drive-thru window, parking space or tent. Follow signage or instructions of staff onsite.

👍🏻 What about the actual test, though?

I pulled up to CVS for my 9:30 am appointment at about 9:20 am. There was another person getting a test in the line ahead of me, and I waited until my appointment time. My location does testing through a drive-thru, so the details below will reflect my experience with that. The test is straightforward, painless, quick, and easy. Here’s how the test goes:

  • You’ll be asked to hold your ID up for the pharmacy tech to validate
  • The tech will confirm your insurance information and prepare your test kit
  • The tech will give you simple, specific instructions about what to do
  • You’ll receive the test kit through the typical drive-thru drawer/tray at CVS
  • The bag/kit will contain a swab, a vile with solution, post-visit papers, a COVID-19 factsheet, a paper demonstrating proper swabbing techniques, a bag to put your swab and vile in, and a bag with 1-2 disinfectant wipes
  • You’ll open the swab(ber?) and insert it 1 inch into your nose. Keep it there, spinning it around a little, for 15 seconds. Switch to the other side and repeat
    • You’ll probably sneeze, and that’s okay. Take the swab out, sneeze, and then resume counting to 15 wherever you left off (I sneezed 4 times)
  • After you complete the swab, place the swab(ber?) into the vile and close it
  • Put the vile with the swab(ber?) into the bag with your patient information, roll it up, and drop it off in the designated box
  • Use the alcohol wipes to clean the top of the lid for the next person
  • The end! You just got COVID tested!

Is it really that easy? What about results?

Yes! It was free, painless (though uncomfortable and made my eyes water a lot), and took less than 10 minutes. In my case, with the drive-thru option, everything was contactless and the CVS pharmacy technician was patient and helpful.

CVS will return my results in 2-4 days through an online patient portal (MyChart) which I received an invitation to about 5 hours after my test was complete.

patient portal

Some closing notes:

Getting tested is important. This is one accessible way you can get a test, but you can find out about other ways through a website like this one

You may not experience symptoms of COVID even if you have an active infection. You may experience symptoms between 2-14 days after exposure. Do not wait to seek treatment or a COVID test if you have difficulty breathing, feel faint, have blue/purple lips, have constant chest pressure, or have other potentially severe health concerns. See below for more detail (source: CVS COVID-19 fact sheet).

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Best of luck! Remember to continue social distancing, wash your hands, avoid touching your faceand wear a mask to protect yourself and others.

ADHD: Tips & Tricks for Focus

If you are a graduate student struggling with ADHD and/or difficulties regulating your attention, you may find this post helpful. Also available here on Medium.

🚨 Help! I have a lot to do but I can’t focus.

In January 2020, I was officially diagnosed with Combined Type ADHD. Contrary to popular belief, there are 3 types of ADHD: (1) predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, (2) predominantly inattentive, and (3) combined type. ‘Inattentive’ is a bit of a misnomer in the case of the second type as ADHD is more about having difficulty regulating attention than it is about a lack of attention. As a first year graduate student, my diagnosis came as a relief to me because I knew it meant some very necessary help was on the way. That said, I lived nearly 30 years without this diagnosis. In that time, I learned essential coping strategies that made my educational, professional, and personal goals achievable when they otherwise may not have been. I’m writing to share some of my go-to tricks and tips for maximizing focus in graduate school and beyond.

A disclaimer: The recommendations below come from my personal experience with ADHD and my life as a graduate student. I sought the help of a neuropsychologist to determine my diagnosis. I use both medication and therapy to effectively manage life with ADHD.

OK – let’s get into it.

1. Put your phone away ☎️

I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, dad 🙄” – but I’m serious. One of my best and easiest tricks to help manage focus and inattention has been to put my cell phone in another room from the one where I am doing my work. If that is not possible, put your phone in a box, under a pillow, up on a bookshelf, or some other place where it is hidden. Out of sight, out of mind!

2. Use the Pomodoro Technique ⏲️

Check out my blog post here or here for more detail on how this technique has assisted me in getting my work done in graduate school. The Pomodoro Technique works like this in order to help improve focus, time management, and productivity: (1) set a timer for 25 minutes, (2) focus on your work/task/hobby until the timer goes off, (3) take a 5 minute break, (4) rinse and repeat. On every 4th round of this sequence, take a 15 minute break, and then get back to it. I use the free version of an app (installed on both my computer and phone) called “Be Focused.” It helps count and keep track of intervals for me, and I can label tasks to stay on-track.

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3. Lock down your browser and apps 💻

To do this, I use the free version of an app called 1Focus. It allows me to enter websites and computer apps I want to block myself from and to set a custom timer for how long the access will be restricted. If I get distracted and attempt to navigate toward those websites or utilize those applications, the app blocks my attempts and presents me with a cheesy-yet-delightful philosophical quote. I usually roll my eyes, chuckle, and go back to what I was doing before.

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4. Utilize text-to-speech software 🗣️

ADHD is accompanied by executive functioning issues. One of mine is an encoding issue in my brain that sometimes makes it difficult to process things like run-on sentences, large volumes of text (hello, graduate school!), certain mathematical formulas and symbols, and even information that is not difficult to understand but only sticks with me after repeatedly reading or hearing it. I compensate for this with a variety of techniques, particularly by using the free version of 2 awesome apps: (1) NaturalReader, and (2) Read&Write.

NaturalReader allows you to upload OCR-formatted PDF, Word, and other documents. The free version comes with several voice options, and the program reads the text aloud while I follow along in my own physical copy. I recently learned about Read&Write and have been using that more often. It allows me to take screenshots of any document (usually PDFs in my case), and it converts the screenshot to a readable format. It uses the built-in accessibility features on my Mac, and, as is the case with NaturalReader, I can control the speech, volume, and available voices from my own computer. These programs have been instrumental in enabling me to read my assignments and complete my work on-time in graduate school. Prior to using them, a 25-page reading assignment took me approximately 4.5 hours to complete due to needing to read and re-read much of the text. Yesterday, with the help of these programs, I finished a 65-page article and detailed reading notes in 3.25 hours. You can do the math.

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5. Listen to white noise or binaural tones while working

There is some science (#googleit) that suggests that people with ADHD may benefit from listening to white noise or binaural tones while doing work that requires focus. I often listen to this glorious 10-hour-long youtube video of ✨ celestial white noise ✨, and I recently discovered this Binaural Beats playlist on Spotify. Binaural sounds combine two slightly different frequencies (one in one ear, the other in the other ear) to create the perception of a single frequency/tone which is equal to the difference in the 2 separate tones. This is typically most effective when the hertz are less than 1000 and when the difference in the two tones is 50 hertz or fewer. You can read more here.

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6. Communicate your needs and boundaries ✅⛔

If you have roommates, family, a partner, or other folks living in the physical space where you also work, take the time to clearly communicate your needs and boundaries. If you need a quiet space, ask for that. If you need to be alone, ask for that. If you need to leave your current physical space to go be in another, more productive space, communicate that. You are your own best advocate.

7. Get professional help (#endthestigma) 👩🏿‍⚕️

ADHD is life-long. You are born with it, and while it may be more or less manageable depending on the scenario, you cannot force it to go away. There are doctors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, life coaches, yoga instructors, massage therapists, and others who want to help people struggling with attention management difficulties. Whether you have or will have an ADHD diagnosis or not, you deserve to struggle less than you do today. It is possible! Remember: you are your own best advocate. No one else can do a better job than you of communicating your difficulties, seeking help, and building the most supportive environment possible.

8. Sleep. I repeat: you. need. sleep. 💤

There’s a fascinating relationship between ADHD and sleep. I am unqualified to explain that relationship, but there’s a great Twitter thread here from Erynn Brook that gets at some interesting points. Prioritizing your sleep is absolutely fundamental to managing attention irregularities and a host of other issues both short and long-term. If you need to, consider adopting specific behaviors to help you get better sleep. These may include reducing caffeine intake, developing a nighttime routine to tell your body it’s time for bed, avoiding blue light devices an hour before sleep, exercising regularly, and a host of other sleep tips. If those things do not work, don’t hesitate to discuss your sleep norms with a doctor who can help navigate potential issues.

9. Miscellaneous recommendations 🧺

Some additional things you might try if you haven’t already:

  • Keep a master To Do list on your computer or someplace handy for all the random (and usually non-urgent) things that come to mind when you’re working
  • Turn your phone on grayscale (how-to here for iPhone and Android) to limit its ability to stimulate your brain with pretty colors and notification reminders
  • Meditate before starting your work (try free apps like Insight Timer)
  • Create a mantra for yourself – mine is: “I am safe, I am smart, and I’ve got this!”
  • Listen to your body. If you need to eat, stand, use the bathroom, etc. – do it!
  • Say no when you need to whether that is to social invitations, requests to take on additional work, or offers that entice you but ultimately make things harder for you

10. Lastly, don’t suffer alone 💛

If you are struggling, no matter how much or how little, tell someone. It might be scary or embarrassing at first, but I’ve found that my friends, my partner, my classmates, and my professors really want to support me. I can empower them to empower me by letting them know what my needs are, what my triggers and difficulties are, and what sorts of encouraging words help me get and stay on track with my work. You have resources around you and you are entitled to finding a way forward with less struggle.

Thanks for reading!

Note: This post assumes a certain level of privilege and access to professional resources, health care, ability, supportive friends and family, safe and affordable housing, technology, and mental wellness. Managing attention irregularities is infinitely more difficult the more precarious a person’s position becomes. In every case, a multiplicity of factors contribute to ADHD and/or attention management difficulties. Wherever you are, I see you, you are valid, and you deserve safety, stability, and whole health above all.

Struggle, Diagnosis, and Cure

[Originally published here on January 16, 2020]

CW: this post discusses ADHD, autism, anxiety, diagnosis, and disability

👋 Hi, friends. Little life announcement here. Thanks for reading and for your continued love and support.

So…what’s up?

Some of you know I began the lengthy process of neuropsychological evaluation in the fall of 2019. In October, I completed a 2-hour long interview with a Neuropsychologist, and on December 30th, I spent 7 hours completing a range of neuropsychological tests. The impetus for seeking this testing was the significant amount of struggle I experienced during my first semester of graduate school. Struggle here includes inability to focus, difficulty starting tasks, paralyzing feelings of overwhelm, increased perfectionism, sensory overload, intense frustration even to the point of physical pain, inability to do even basic tasks (washing dishes, going to the grocery store), and a variety of other things I’m happy to elaborate on if you have questions.

This week, I received an official diagnosis confirming my suspicions: I have Combined Type ADHD (complete with both inattention and hyperactivity or impulsivity), and I am also autistic. I have ‘high functioning’ autism, or what was previously known as Aspergers. More specifically, I am what psychologists refer to as ‘2E’ or twice-exceptional. This means I am both ‘exceptionally gifted,’ and ‘exceptionally disabled.’ Such a strange combination of words. What this boils down to in my case is that I have what is classified as a “very superior” IQ (which I put no stock in as IQ tests are ableist and have roots in racism, classism, and a host of other things I don’t support or subscribe to), and I also have exceptionalities relative to my same-aged peers. For me, those exceptionalities manifest in ADHD and autism.

I wish I had something profound and nuanced to say about being 2E or living life with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. The truth is that I don’t. I have so much to learn and unlearn about the names I now have for my nearly 30 years of lived experience. In many ways, I feel like I’ve been waiting for these diagnoses all my life. I also feel both grief and relief, and I have a lot of work to do to build an environment and routine that supports me the best way possible.

A few notes in closing

  1. Autism does not need to be cured or eradicated. There is nothing wrong with me or other people with autism. Avoid getting your information from organizations like Autism Speaks. People with autism have different brains than people without autism, and none of this is a problem that needs to be solved. Vaccines do not cause autism. About 15–20% of people with autism do not communicate verbally. It’s very likely that you know someone who is autistic, even if you think you don’t, because most autistic people do not match the stereotypes you’ve been handed down by popular media
  2. There is a fascinating body of scientific literature exploring the links between gender non-confirming people and autism. Depending on what research you consult, a significant percentage of gender non-confirming people exhibit traits of autism, and there may be a link between gender dysphoria and autism. If you look into this research, I encourage you to resist the impulse to link gender identity to biological markers such as neurodiversity or brain structures. I haven’t read these books and therefore cannot endorse them, but Gender Identity, Sexuality and Autism and Supporting Transgender Autistic Youth and Adults have both been recommended to me as good sources of information for those who are curious
  3. Results from my neuropsychological testing revealed my anxiety levels rank in the 97th percentile (and that’s on Zoloft). What I want you to take away from all of this information is that I struggle in real and specific ways, but I also have friends, a loving partner, a successful career, and so much else. I own a home, drive a car, attend graduate school, get straight A’s, and appear “functional” in all aspects. Much of what I struggle with is masked. Take this as a reminder that disability looks so many different ways. Be patient, gentle, and loving with those around you. We never really know what pieces and parts make up the whole of a person, and it’s best not to make assumptions about what someone can or cannot do, be, say, accomplish, etc. given their status as a person with a disability

If you have questions for me, I’m happy to do my best to answer them. For anyone curious about my testing process and how they can seek similar testing for themselves, I am also more than happy to help you navigate that. I welcome recommendations for organizations, networks, skills, coping mechanisms, etc. related to living with ADHD and/or autism. Lastly, to my friends and family, I love you! Thanks for being on this journey with me. ✨

🕰️ On Becoming an Expert

Reading time: 5 minutes. Also available here on Medium

Journalist, author, and public speaker, Malcolm Gladwell, once argued that the “magic number for true expertise” is 10,000 hours (Outliers, chapter 2). Though the 10,000 Hour Rule has been debunked (again and again and again), Gladwell clarified his argument in 2018, saying something less controversial:

People have felt that the number is hard and fast and the truth is…it symbolizes this fact that the amount of time necessary to develop your innate abilities is probably larger than you think, so it’s…a metaphor for the extent of commitment that’s necessary [to gain expertise] in cognitively complex fields.

YouTube video, link here

Let me cut to the chase: I don’t particularly care how ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ Malcolm Gladwell is. That said, as a first year PhD student, I do think there’s a motivating and worthwhile insight for others in my position to take away from Gladwell’s sentiments: keep. going. you. shiny. brilliant. star.

Getting to 10,000 Hours

When I learned about the ⏲️ Pomodoro Technique during my first week of graduate school, I knew pretty immediately it was going to be essential for my longevity and sustainability. In a nutshell, it works like this to help improve focus and productivity: (1) set a timer for 25 minutes, (2) focus on your work/task/hobby until the timer goes off, (3) take a 5 minute break, (4) wash, rinse, repeat. On the 4th round (and subsequent multiples) of this sequence, take a 15 minute break – and then get back to it.

To help motivate myself to stick with the Pomodoro Technique, I cozied up with the reward center in my brain and started making checkmarks at the end of each set of 25 minutes. I briefly thought about how cool (read: really nerdy) it would be to continue this pattern all semester and to ultimately reflect on the sheer volume of sloppy checkmarks I amassed in 4 short months. When 4:00 pm on December 18, 2019 rolled around, I scribbled the last checkmarks for my first semester of graduate school in my mini Moleskine. 😱 I did it! I really kept that shit up. See below:

pomodoro1
✔️ Pomodoro Technique checkmarks from Elliot’s first semester of graduate school

Whatever you want to call this (neurotic, meticulous, a waste of time, fascinating — all are fair), let me break it down. Each checkmark represents 25 minutes of work. ‘Work’ includes: reading, writing, and homework assignments. ‘Work’ does not include: going to class, TA duties, extracurricular/other developmental activities, or meeting with professors to discuss classwork and research. Here’s how this narrow definition of ‘work’ in my first semester of PhD school shakes out across 104 active work days:

  • 1271 checkmarks
  • 31,775 minutes
  • 529.6 hours
  • 22.1 days

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Graph
Elliot’s first semester started on 8/26/2019 and ended 12/18/2019. They had gallbladder removal surgery on 11/01/2019. Bet you can’t guess when midterms and finals happened! 👀

Assuming next semester requires a similar level of work as defined above, I’ll finish my first year with 2,542 checkmarks or 63,550 minutes or 1059.17 hours or 44.13 days of ‘work.’ In the US, sociology PhD programs often range from ~5–9 years in duration. I estimate taking ~6 years to complete my degree (with the first 2 years dedicated to my master’s degree). If I extrapolate these figures across the duration of my program, I can anticipate spending about 6,355 hours doing the work of becoming a sociologist.

This is a faulty calculation for a number of reasons: I didn’t include time spent achieving my undergraduate degree, and I didn’t include in my calculation several other valid forms of ‘work.’ I also can’t anticipate how my hours of work per day will change after 3 years when my core courses and comprehensive exams are complete. In short: I’m making a lot of assumptions, but let’s go with it. At the end of my 6-year PhD program, I’ll have invested 6,355 hours of work into, as Gladwell says, “the extent of commitment that’s necessary [to gain expertise] in cognitively complex fields.”

So, what’s the takeaway?

You know that professor you love — the one who is so smart, so nuanced, so brilliant, so cool? What you see is the product of years of cultivation and dedication. You’re on your way there. You will get there in good time, but you’ve gotta keep going. Not in the way that leads to burnout, and not in the way that’s unhealthy, and not in the way that’s unsustainable. Take care of yourself. Your health — mind, body, whole self — matters more than all the rest. But in the times when you are well and supported, keep at it.

Even after 6 years of day-in and day-out work, I’ll come up significantly shy of 10,000 hours of practiced commitment to my work and field. In fact, at my current rate of ‘work’ per 4-month semester, it will take me an additional 7 semesters (spring and fall) or 3.5 years after achieving my PhD to reach Gladwell’s 10,000-hour honorific. On one hand, this means many junior faculty haven’t hit the potentially-meaningless-yet-still-symbolic 10,000-hour mark and are still nurturing strong and vibrant foundations in their fields. On another, it gives some sense of the vast quantity of time senior faculty have invested in their educations, growth, research, and professions.

If you’re anything like me and several thousand graduate students who’ve come before me, being a PhD student can make you call into question even your most basic abilities. Next time you get that nagging, awful feeling of imposter syndrome and inadequacy creeping up from your stomach to sit on your chest and convince you you’re not cut out for your goals and dreams, remember you are so capable. You are so good, and you belong here. Even better: you deserve the patience, resilience, vision, and literal time it takes to hone your skills and talents to the point of expertise.

Cheers, friends! We’ve got this. 💪

🐦 @elliotbaebookco