Something to Talk About – Post-Op Depression

Why wasn't I happy? I knew I wasn't feeling regret or doubt. The choice I had made was certainly the right one so why was I feeling so depressed?

When I received the letter for my top surgery date I didn’t know how to feel. Of course I was happy that I was taking a massive step in my transition and was relieved to know this was my last summer of having to deal with sweaty and uncomfortable binders. I had a few worries and doubts but nothing I would consider out of the ordinary for a surgery of this magnitude, not just what it means on a physical level but on a psychological one too. The day soon rolled around and honestly I felt nothing. No nerves. No excitement. Nothing. Although it seemed perhaps a little unsettling to not have any feelings, good or bad, I’m quite thankful I was able to approach the surgery from a calm and non-emotional place. I’ve heard many stories of guys being sick with anxiety and confused as to why they were having such a response to something they desperately wanted.  People would say things to me like “I bet you can’t wait” and “This is so exciting. I’m so happy for you” and I had to fake enthusiasm. Even the night before, laying in my hotel bed, I had no feelings towards it, not until I was finally on the table. I was convinced the anesthetic wouldn’t work and there was no way this would send me to sleep but before I was even able to finish that thought I was out.

Waking up I felt incredibly sick and couldn’t hold my head up straight. There was no pain. Just a lot of dizziness and confusion but it wore off in no time. Being wheeled back to my room I was able to hold a conversation with my family for a few minutes before I collapsed back into a long and deep peaceful slumber. I spent a couple of days in the hospital as I couldn’t stand without feeling faint but in terms of pain it was minimal. There was a sense of my body feeling very tight and my chest ached but it certainly was not as painful as I had imagined it would be but still the thing that unsettled me the most was that I still had no feelings about it. I wasn’t happy or sad, relieved or worried about what my chest would look like.

I got home and it was straight into bed. Pillows propping me up as I relaxed with a cup of tea and trashy TV (Jeremy Kyle mostly) and it all seemed okay until I realized just how little I was able to manage by myself. Getting in and out of the bath required the help of my partner and even then it was quite a challenge. Being able to reach for stuff or hold anything was out of the question and although these were such small things it became very real to me just how much we take our mobility for granted. I felt drained physically and mentally and thought all would pass in a few days once all the drugs were out of my system but even when I began to feel better physically I still didn’t feel quite right. I was tired, which was to be expected, but I felt quite low in my mood. The idea of being able to wear t-shirts without a binder or to be topless in the summer didn’t inspire happiness. I didn’t really care. In my apathy I wasn’t able to establish a connection to my new chest and with it looking so raw it made it even harder. I was able to move my arms more freely now but I couldn’t shake this feeling. What was wrong with me? I wanted top surgery and now I had it. Why wasn’t I happy? I knew I wasn’t feeling regret or doubt. The choice I had made was certainly the right one so why was I feeling so depressed?

I soon came to realize I was not the only one who felt this way and that many suffered from “Post-Op depression”. With most stories focusing on the physical healing process there is very little about the mental and emotional side of it too. A part of my body had been removed and that was something that took a while to figure out mentally. Even though it was a part of my body that did not fit with my identity it was still a part of my body and I had to mourn the loss of it. The lack of connection I had with my new chest was because I had not allowed myself to process this change. I also had to remind myself that I had had major surgery and my body would need to adjust. This would take a great deal of energy which meant my mood would suffer as a result.  I took it easy, even once my chest had healed enough for me to do most things by myself. I allowed myself to rest when feeling low and tried to remember that eventually it would all pass and my chest would soon feel like it truly belonged to me.

Maxwell Hunter, Surgery Results
Maxwell Hunter, Surgery Results

After a couple of months my mood started to improve. My chest was still quite red but the swelling had gone and I had gained full mobility.  It was still quite strange to look down and see a flat chest but it was feeling more and more normal as the days passed.

There were also a few others things I had to deal with mentally, such as seeing how a flat chest effected how the rest of my body looked. My hips and thighs were more prominent now and so my dysphoria was heightened. Overall though I am much happier with how my body looks and even though chest surgery took a lot of mental and emotional energy I can’t stress how invaluable it has been to my journey. Nearly two years on I feel much happier in who I am and have a stronger connection to myself. Surgery can be scary and it’s perfectly normal to feel doubts about it. It’s important to remember to take care of yourself and allow yourself time to process this change.

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  1. Thank you, Matthew. This was helpful to know. I am sure you’re right. Losing any body part is a loss. I understand. Thank you. Thomas

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