Post-Op Depression: The Unexpected Bits of Recovery

Depression with a tailored shirt.
Depression with a tailored shirt.

It’s been roughly 5 months since my top-surgery, and I’m recovering incredibly well. I had read a lot of articles beforehand on how to deal with recovery, so I thought I was prepared, but in some ways I don’t think I ever would have been.

There was about a month where I could barely move, and had to have my girlfriend and friends dress me, wash me, cook me food, take out my trash, open doors for me, etc. This took a huge toll on me emotionally and psychologically, more than I thought. I mean, who doesn’t want someone to do all their chores for them?

Turns out, me.

Being trans already makes a person feel unwanted in society, so for me at least, I feel like I need to make myself as small and unobtrusive as possible most of the time, to make the world want me. It sounds very sad, but it’s true, and I would argue that a lot of trans people feel the same way. So when I was immobilized, this feeling multiplied. I was not only a burden to my friends emotionally for being trans, but a burden physically by being immobilized.

I know that none of my friends thought this, but it was impossible for me to feel any other way. Eventually depression creeped around the corner and sat on my beautiful new chest so that I couldn’t get out of bed. My depression got quite bad, even after I was mostly physically recovered. I had to arrange shifts for people to simply sit by me, or make me food. Not because I wasn’t physically able, but because I wasn’t emotionally or psychologically capable of taking care of myself, or seeing the worth in meeting basic needs, like food, or sleep.

Almost every day, I would try to think to myself, “It will get better once you can work out.” But this started to make me anxious. “What if working out doesn’t solve it? Working out probably won’t solve it. If working out doesn’t solve it, what are the other options?” This set in motion long-harbored feelings of body-image discomfort that I hadn’t felt in years, and that didn’t actually have to do with my dysphoria. This made it impossible for me to enjoy my beautiful new chest.

I want to explain all of these not so that you’ll take pity on me, but because this is more common than you think. Post top-surgery is a very vulnerable time for a trans person, and a person is physically more likely to be depressed because of the amount of time spent under general anesthesia, on top of the physical trauma the body undergoes, but that the brain isn’t cognisant for. Since I’m already prone to depression, this hit me even harder. It’s hard to explain to acquaintances this phenomenon, because you’re supposed to be happy.

Them: Oh, you must be so much happier now that the surgery is done!

Me: …yeah. I’m super happy.

You’re supposed to have a happily ever after story to show the rest of the world, but that’s not the reality. You know that it’ll get better, but you just don’t feel happy right now. Then you feel ungrateful or broken. You’re not though. You’re still a person, you’re just depressed. You just need someone to crawl under the covers with you and wallow.

Fast forward another month. I’m finally feeling better, and am starting to get back into life. Starting to do more voice overs, singing more and trying to start a small opera company, trying to still be vocal about trans and queer issues. Depression isn’t gone, but it’s taking a back seat while I get on with things.

Do you have any experiences with post-op depression?

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