I should add that I was warned about all that was going to happen. There is a section in the discharge information about emotions, and even depression. Lynda at the Laurel's had briefly touched on how different I would feel and more than one person had mentioned how up and down it could be. Even with all this knowledge, it still hadn't quite prepared me for what was to happen.
Physically, there is so much to deal with from the very start. Once back in my room after surgery, I am being given exercises to do to keep my limbs moving, I have to practise deep breathing to help my lungs stay healthy and I am told to drink lots of fluid to help flush out the anaesthetic. There are issues with backache and trapped wind which add to the pain from the surgery itself, although this has been relatively trivial for myself. Once the bed rest is over, suddenly I am thrust into the world of after-care. Dilation becomes a massively important three times a day process. Wound care is a constant issue, you have to be super careful when wiping after toileting or else the wounds bleed. Urination is a new experience entirely too along with showering/bathing with douching needing to be integrated in this. Every task around the home needs to be thought about, can I lift that object safely? Sitting can be difficult especially for long periods and sleeping can be a whole hit and miss affair. There is also a difficult 3 week period with no sex hormones, the testosterone was eliminated from me within 15-18 hours and suddenly my body is confused. Towards the end of the three weeks, my body is panicking and I am in a period of menopause with hot flushes and night sweats.
It is small wonder that this had played havoc with me emotionally. Initially during my hospital stay I found I could handle myself extremely well in this regards. There were many long periods of just gazing out the window reflecting on everything. In fact, within 5 minutes of being settled in my room, I found myself crying whilst looking across the Sussex Downs. The relief at finally arriving post-op was so massive, I could do nothing other than cry. I do not know how long this went on for, but it was quite some time. I vaguely remember a nurse coming in, seeing this and leaving me to my tears. This was a cycle that was going to be repeated many time during my hospital stay. I would be reading my book, and my mind would wander and I would be crying again. It was very therapeutic and seemed to get me through this slow and tedious time.
On returning home, I found myself back in the cycle of life and the difficulty is that it becomes hard to take this time out and deal with those emotions. Having GRS leads to many different changes in life both physically and emotionally and it can be very overwhelming. The emotions are both positive and negative and the contrast has really surprised me. There is also another issue in that during the time in hospital, you are the centre of attention with a great number of people caring for you. These people also offer an opportunity to offload some of the feelings and once home, it is not so easy. I have Mandy and friends and they have helped. For someone going home on their own, I can only imagine how difficult it might be.
I found initially on returning home that the post-op euphoria was still in place and I felt really good about myself. Susan was still around to add in a distraction and even when she went home, we were getting plenty of people visiting. Last Friday came and Mandy returned to her day centre for the first time leaving me to myself. The peace and quiet was quite a pleasant change from the bustle of the previous fortnight and I even broke my house arrest and went for a gentle walk in the country lanes. Those twenty minutes were very special and I suddenly woke up to the fact that my physical transitioning was really over. The last 40 odd years were in the past and now I was free to move on and live my life. A fog was lifted from my mind and everything seemed much more vivid. The air smelt different, colours were brighter and everything took on a clarity I had never witnessed before in my life.
I got back home and found myself reflecting quite deeply on this profound moment. I felt I was a much different person despite all my insistence that my GRS would not change me. My afternoon dilation found me in thought and not reading a book as has been the norm recently. Mandy arrived home mid-afternoon and it all fell to pieces from there. She was excited about her first day out in some time and was eager to impart her experiences of the day. Within a few minutes of her being home and chattering away, I found myself shrunk back on the settee with tears streaming down my face. It was not her fault, but her eagerness had overwhelmed me and I could not cope. I explained this and she realised, backing off a little. It took a considerable amount of time for her to actually relay on her day and me to process it. What did not help was getting a little deep into a heated conversation on Facebook later in the evening and again, I found myself very upset.
The weekend was a very wobbly affair. Saturday saw Mandy and myself talking about these changes and I was worried that she might not be able to deal with the new me. My fears were groundless and she was as upset as I was for thinking this. Our relationship has managed to evolve over the last five years and I was hardly going to become a worse person as a result of this. We worked through this but I was still a little unsettled for the whole of the weekend and into Monday.
I was troubled by the whole affair though. This is not the first time I have been in the position of being unhappy when I should be happy. Talking to others has revealed that this "post-op blues" is actually a very common phenomenon. It is such an emotional time generally, and you can find it hard to deal with it all. I could intellectualise this to death if I wanted, but I do not think I will get completely to the bottom of it all. My thoughts are that it is better to deal with coping with these moments as they happen rather than trying to work them out. Reading around and talking to others has revealed that a great many of us go through this during our recovery period and often beyond. We have had so many years of struggling and dealing with everything, and it can take quite some time to relax into our newly corrected bodies.
So some ideas for anyone about to have GRS or finding they are struggling post-op:
- Take your time - There is absolutely no rush to do anything when you are post-op. Do not cram too much into the day, there is always another day to do things. Apart from dilation, there should be no other priorities in your life.
- Be kind to yourself - Don't beat yourself up for being over-emotional. Just for once in your life you can be as emotional as you need to be. Surround yourself with people that will accept and understand this. Get them to read this page to help them understand. DO NOT be alone. You will need contact, especially since you had so much care at the hospital. Treat yourself with some nice food, you can worry about your figure further down the line and you need to eat well anyway as your body is still healing. Take painkillers, you are not a wimp for doing so and there are no prizes awarded for being strong. Keep warm or cool, try to forget the costs of heating if it is winter - you need to be comfortable. If you have a bath, take a long soak.
- Avoid conflict - The advent of the Internet means the whole world is now with us all the time. Try not to get involved in deep debates and discussions. Be mindful of what you watch on the TV. News stories may be triggering.
- Avoid negative influences - In the same way to avoid conflict, avoid those people who always want to moan about how bad their day is. This is your time, cut those people out of your life for the time being.
- Cry, talk and cry some more - Don't bottle it up, express your feelings and find someone to talk to. If you are really struggling and have no one in your life, call Samaritans (08457 909090). Email me if you think it would help, I can't guarantee a speedy reply but talk to someone.
- Be patient - This may take some time to settle but you have the rest of your life to look forward to.
- Do not worry - The anxiety should have been left at the theatre doors. Your wounds will heal in time, the pain will ease and any issues should get better. You may be spraying urine everywhere and so what? At least you are now weeing properly. Dilation may be causing pain - stick to the regime and it will get easier.
- Enjoy your body - Look at your new vagina and find solace in knowing you are now "correct". Explore yourself; it may not be a sensual experience initially but get to know how you feel down there. Use plenty of lube and you will not cause any damage.
- Talk to others - Slightly different to the cry advice above, this is more along the lines of reaching out to other post-op people. This can be a hit and miss affair but if you can find someone else kind enough to share their experiences, it may help affirm your own.
- Listen to your body - Watch our for signs of infection (you will have been advised in your discharge information). You will almost certainly have issues with hormones; mood swings, hot flushes and night sweats are all symptoms of no sex hormones. You will restart your hormones at a specified point and these symptoms should ease. If they do not, contact you GP or gender clinic. Be aware of anything else you feel is unusual physically, anaemia (low iron) can occur post-op and will exacerbate low mood. Again, see your GP if you are worried. You have had major surgery, these people are there for you now.