Let’s Talk About Postoperative Depression

Previously Published for Secular Shethinkers
[TW: Depression, Pain]


The final weeks leading up to my surgery date in May and June were filled with anxiety. Crippling anxiety that made me want to shut down and retreat from the world at the exact time when I needed to go out and kick some ass in order to get my passport and last remaining funds in the short amount of time I had. Obviously, you already know I managed to scrape everything together at the last minute thanks to donations, support, and especially help and hand-holding from Dirty Nerdy. While I waited to board my plane to Thailand with my money secured, my passport in hand, my medical papers squared away, and all the other extremely exhausting hurdles cleared, I sat in my terminal watching planes land and take off and cried. Uncontrollably. Probably for at least half an hour.

I had just finished about an hour long conversation with my paternal grandma, who I haven’t had the best contact with. And it’s probably the most “normal” conversation I’ve had with her for at least a decade. I wished her a happy birthday, I told her I would keep her and everyone else updated during my trip so they would know I was safe, I talked about the Chinese dancers that were putting on a show at the airport, and plenty of other mundane pleasantries. Neither of us said anything about it, but I’m fairly certain we both thought about my dad, whose funeral I attended only a few weeks ago.

I thought about how amazing it was to crowdsource my vagina, and all the awesome people who donated to make this trip happen. Many of whom I had never known or met. I thought about my fiance, my sister, and Dirty Nerdy, without whom I would have just shut down. I thought a lot about relationships. I thought a lot about how, in less than a few days, my body would finally be whole for the first time in my life. I thought about how this goal has been something I’ve wanted for as long as I’ve known it’s possible, and how bewildering it was to finally accomplish. I wondered about what my life’s next chapter would be like now that this one was finally coming to a close. I thought of all this and more while listening to “Let it Go” on my headphones, and I wept.

As for my month in Thailand, well you can find all about that on These Three Episodes of Shethinkers. But one detail that bears mentioning is how homesick I felt. At least, I assumed that’s what it was. The first week in my hotel after surgery was the hardest. I was in pain, got dizzy from the short trip between my bed and the bathroom, could only eat crackers and Sprite without having severe stomach problems, and I was alone. I clung to my Harry Potter fandom to keep me going, as I have in other difficult times of my life. The audiobooks reminded me of so many memories with my mom and sister, and searching for fan theories and other little details to consider reminded me of Dirty Nerdy. I called my fiance and Dirty Nerdy almost every day until I ran out of minutes. I slept all day and stayed up all night so I could stay on social media with all my friends.

My few moments of human interaction were the once-a-day ten-minute visits from the nurses, and my physically exhausting trips around the corner for food. I’m still extremely thankful for my favorite nurse, Noi, who held my hand, gave me messages, and rubbed my back and legs. I think she understood that skin-to-skin contact was something patients needed, especially in a strange place and a strange situation. Between Noi and my fellow vagina sister/neighbor, who I met my last week in Thailand, I was able to weather the storm of loneliness. As I packed my bags and prepared for the long, long (and painful) trip home, I thought my mood would finally be back to what I was used to.

But even though I was home with my loved ones, in my own country, with my native food, in my own house, with my fur babies and everything else I had missed I still felt…off. I still cried a lot, but couldn’t figure out why. Nothing really held my interest. Even during my happier moments, like snuggling with my puppy, or cooking tacos for the first time in like six weeks, or seeing everyone I had missed, my emotions felt muted. Subdued. I just chalked this up to being off hormones for so long (close to two months by this point) and just the general “well your life has changed a lot at a quick pace, give it time” that people mentioned when I would express concerns.

Now, without getting into details, my personal life as well as many of my friends’ personal lives, has kind of been thrown up in the air. Finances have been extremely tight because we still have to pay off the loans for this surgery. I fluctuate between dull, chronic pain that’s easy to ignore if I’m distracted, and very high levels of pain that make me want to scream (though thankfully these are becoming less common). And to top it all off, I still have a hard time accomplishing even fairly simple tasks like going to the grocery store, riding in a car for a couple hours, or going for a hair cut without becoming exhausted, irritable, and in pain. Even writing this, which we can all agree doesn’t require much physically, is probably going to exhaust me mentally for the rest of the day. I know I’m not a fun person to be around right now, but I don’t really have anything to do about it other than just shut down and keep my interactions to a minimum. I’ve been seeing my therapist again for the first time in years, and she informed me of postoperative depression. And I don’t mean “post-SRS depression because I regret having SRS” (I don’t), I mean all surgeries/operations have a risk of depression.

Some theorize it’s the anesthesia causing a chemical reaction in the brain. Some theorize it’s the sudden limited ability during recovery. Some theorize it’s the confrontation with death and mortality. The point is, whenever I saw the statistics for “post-SRS regret” that TERFs and other haters like to throw around, I just shrugged them off as being bad statisticians and faulty premises. But now I see that they’re just dishonest representations of depression all people have a chance of experiencing after any surgery. And that pisses me the fuck off. Which is great, because anger is one of the most clear emotions I can feel right now while I’m trying to sort my life out and get a handle on my mental and physical health again.

I mention all of this not so I can gain sympathy, but because I’m sure fans of Shethinkers and people in my life have noticed that there’s something “off” about me lately. And I want you to know that I’m getting professional help as well as loving care for this, but it might take me longer than I hoped to get back to the “real me” again. But again, I and others in my life are doing everything to make that happen. I also mention it because I want others to be aware that this is a “risk” of surgery that I was never made aware of. Probably because it’s always seen as a unique-to-SRS issue rather than a “hey, all people who have surgery have this risk” issue. I think this needs to be part of the conversation about transitioning. It should be part of post-operative care. It’s something to prepare for if and when you ever go under the knife for whatever reason. Take care of yourself, and allow the people in your life to take care of you too.

I’m going to do my best to follow my own advice.

Published by

Dori Mooneyham

Dori Mooneyham is a psychology student at Texas Woman's University specializing in queer youth and their families. As a feminist, trans woman, and lesbian, she offers many unique insights and perspectives not often seen in the academic world.

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