Thursday, 29 January 2015

Living with anxiety - A retrospective perspective

January 13th, 2015 marked a massive change in my life. I am talking about my gender reassignment surgery (GRS), the time my genitals were altered from the male appearance into a female one. This had no bearing on my appearance or attitude externally but inside, I was whole and complete.

Alongside this was the removal of the anxiety I had been suffering from for a couple of years. I do not use the term suffering lightly, because it has connotations of misery and despair. But hey, that was my anxiety in a nutshell. The cause of the anxiety was actually the medical side of my transitioning and it was a flawed medical model that caused this. It might be useful to examine why this anxiety occurred.

Actually embarking on gender reassignment (living full time as a woman) was not difficult. I spent a couple of fantastic years exploring my female identity, disclosed this to family and friends and then went the whole hog of outing myself at work to a very masculine environment of a sawmills, changed my name and lived full time from that point onwards. Although this took some phenomenal courage (and I don't mind admitting this!), in the scheme of things, it was very easy to do.

The medical side of things was much harder and this is where the worry and eventual full blown anxiety started. My problem was that I was a textbook case of someone with gender dysphoria and the gender clinic did not trust me. They assumed that I was giving them all the right answers and just telling them what I thought they wanted to hear. I could not help being who I was and this distrust of me was distressing. I also had other issues with the therapist, and I can only describe her as a liar. I have a very good memory and she backtracked on things she had said previously.

I rightly complained and my therapist was changed, and she was much better. With her experience, she realised straight away that I was not bluffing and was who I was. I was fast-tracked through the diagnosis and told they would be contacting my GP shortly with details of my hormone treatment. Sadly, the doctor forgot to write my notes up and this was discovered 3 weeks later when I rang, asking where the letter was. My trust in this clinic was pretty low by then but the next few months passed by with less worry. 

In February 2014, I was told by my therapist that it was time to put me forwards for my GRS. The doctor concurred and I left the clinic in a dreamy state, finally I was going to get the body I needed. 10 days later a letter dropped on my doormat stating that I had not completed an adequate amount of time on hormones and I had to wait another 3 months before he would start the process. The door was slammed in my face and this left me in a very low place. I waited the 3 months but I had trust issues with the doctor and unsurprisingly, he did not write the letters on time. Even worse, one of the admin staff lied to me to get me off the phone and told me the letters were on their way. Two weeks later when I rang, no one could find any evidence of these letters and they had never been written. My trust was now destroyed and the real anxiety started to manifest. I took the clinic to task and I worked bloody hard at them. I got one appointment for my 2nd opinion within 24 hours notice and my pre-op assessment was also fast tracked. Things were moving again and then the wheel fell off big time with funding issues for my surgery. For 4 months I waited for a phone call to give me a date for surgery and this was about the lowest I could have been with depression. It was however the anxiety that was hardest to handle.

I had never had this level of worry in my life and I struggled to deal with it. I was up and down with my moods and had many periods of crying. Mandy tried to help me and failed. It was not her fault but as a concerned partner she wanted to help. The only thing that would have got me out of this would have been getting that all important date. My friend Susan also tried to help, and she recalls a phone conversation where I ended up shouting at her. Even now, I do not remember this event. There were times when there were glimmers of hope about the whole situation, but they never seemed to have any substance to them. Even when NHS England released more funds for surgery, I typically did not get a date because the surgeon had not released any more than January and February and they ran out of dates when they got to my name. This led to more darkness and more "why me?". I had been assured that I was first in the queue for March but without a date, it meant nothing to me. There are many more facets to this story and I eventually got a date at the end of October. Even then the anxiety did not completely go away. There had been so many mistakes and errors, I could not be worry free. Only when I woke up after surgery could I release myself from the fear it could be cancelled at any moment. 

I was absolutely correct in this prediction. My anxiety did ease a little the week before my surgery. My bloods and MRSA swabs had checked and a pre-op phone call from Liz Hills, the clinic manager in Brighton helped quite a bit. I explained my anxiety to her, and she misread it, thinking I was worried about the surgery. I explained again and she was quite kind and understanding. She told me not to worry, I would be in their hands from (following) Monday and it was going to happen. But it was still only when I awoke in the recovery room and felt that dull ache down below, that I could breathe a sigh of relief and my anxiety drifted away from my mind.

I tried many things to cope with my anxiety in all this time and hardly anything worked. Talking was next to useless although I had a friend who was in the same situation. We sort of bounced off each other through this period but even this became difficult when she received a date for end of November. I was happy for her but inside it was torture. I even agreed to take her to Brighton and this was a journey that was probably going to be the toughest of my life. I had to smile and enjoy the moment for her, whilst being crippled emotionally by not having any closure on this myself. Thankfully I got my date  just prior to taking her there and this made for a genuinely amazing journey.

One thing that did help me through was my running. Coupled with listening to music, those 8 miles every day helped me forget about the the anxiety for 90 minutes and gave me some me time. It was the only activity I could enjoy, everything else seemed dull and lifeless.

I feel free from the anxiety now. Not only do I have no worries about my transitioning, my body is also aligned with my mind. A positive to take from all this is that I learnt a great deal about anxiety and I feel this adds to my empathic skills. I hope I never have this level of anxiety again but perhaps I can get through it better next time. There will surely be worries of various kinds in the future and even now there are small worries with regards the surgery I have had done. I think this anxiety was unique to me due to my gender dysphoria and I hope this means I will not have to experience it again.

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