A Vegan Experience of Surgery & Recovery: I had chest reconstruction surgery on August 22nd 2017. For Vegan Mofo 2017, I will be writing about my experience preparing for surgery and my ongoing recovery.
Transition has definitely been an experience in pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Coming out to friends, family and complete strangers on numerous occasions. Defending my right to use public toilets and changing rooms. Defending my existence to people who refuse to believe trans folk are real, or think we have some hidden agenda to invalidate their own identities. Attending intrusive appointments at my Gender Clinic, who are more interesting in talking about my junk, how I use it to have sex and who I have sex with rather than providing me with any practical or emotional support. It’s not easy, but somehow you just get on with it. It’s not until I sit and reflect on the last few years that I think ‘Oh my God, this has been pretty awful, how did I get through that?’
Despite all the times I’ve had to put myself out there, there’s still been one thing that I found almost impossible…and that was asking for and accepting help. I’ve always been fiercely independent. Whatever is thrown my way I can deal with by myself. I’m someone who likes to be there for people, not the other way round.
The first wall I hit was getting the money together to pay for my surgery. I chose to go private as I was in a position where my voice had dropped and I was growing facial hair, but still had an enormous chest that I was unable to bind. Surgery on the NHS would have been at least another few years away, whereas if I paid for it myself I could get it done much sooner. For my own sanity and personal safety, I realised private was the better option for me. I saved £5000 in 18 months. I did this by squirrelling away ridiculous amounts of money each week, living on a food budget of £10 a week, collecting all the free food I could get at work and generally not having much of a life.
I finally got to the point where if I continued to save in that way my mental health was going to suffer. It was too much pressure and I was starting to feel the weight of it. Money was all I thought about. I was stubborn and dismissed all the people who suggested I set up a Go Fund Me page. It was only when I realised I was running out of time to get the funds and if I continued like this I’d be too unstable for surgery that I listened to their advice. After a great session with my therapist and a final chat with my one of my faves Jenny Marie, who has been the most persistent in me setting up a fundraiser, I decided to go ahead with it.
I raised over almost £2500 in a matter of days. I couldn’t believe all the support I got. Not just from close friends and family, but old school friends who I hadn’t been in touch with for YEARS who came across my page (I had a donation from my primary school headteacher!). Even people who didn’t know me were happy to support me. It was a really bizarre and overwhelming feeling, I couldn’t express how happy and thankful I was, and the RELIEF that after 18 months I could stop worrying about money…it was amazing.
This experience really helped me realise that it’s okay to ask for help. It is particularly hard when it comes to money. The good thing with these fundraising sites is that if people don’t want to or cannot afford to support you, they won’t. So what did I have to lose?
A lot of my reluctance came from bad past experience. When I first came out I spent a long time building up the courage to ask a family member for help only to be shut down. It was really hard to come to terms with someone who is supposed to love you unconditionally shutting off any real or meaningful support, not just financial, but emotional too. So after that experience, I didn’t feel particularly worthy of asking for help. I didn’t want to feel that rejection again because at the time it was still too raw and I hadn’t quite dealt with it. It’s actually pretty incredible how pushing through that fear and discomfort not only helped me reach my financial goal, but helped me with feelings of self worth. So if anyone reading this donated, thank you ❤ You helped me in so many ways.
After money was sorted, I realised I would need to rely on others yet again because after major surgery you’re not very mobile. Oh vulnerability! It’s not fun. But this time it was much easier to accept offers of help. A friend of mine offered to look after me for the week between my surgery and my post op appointment, he was so good to me and it saved so much stress knowing that I would be looked after. I accepted a very generous offer for a friend to come and collect me from Brighton and drive me all the way back to Manchester. And finally, I let my boyfriend Logan take care of me throughout recovery. I let him tell me no, carry my bags, feed me, make me nap. It’s actually been quite nice being so well cared for. I feel really lucky.
So I guess my advice is that it is totally okay and valid to need or ask for help. It’s uncomfortable and hard but push through those feelings because you are loved and people do care. If folk are offering help then take it! They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t want to. Let yourself be taken care of, don’t try to do everything alone, reach out when you need to!