Not surprisingly, one of the greatest fears of patients before surgery is postoperative depression. It is understandable and fortunately there is an abundance of information available online about this topic.
With this post, we hope to help facial feminisation patients manage the sometimes intense feelings that arise while recuperating, such as postop depression in facial gender surgery. Our psychologist, Marina Rodriguez, defines postoperative depression, differentiates it from the more typical postop blues and also offers tips to prevent and manage these low feelings while healing.
This is the third post of a 4-part series on Mental & Emotional Health in honor of World Mental Health Day in October 2020.
What is postoperative depression?
It’s easy to forget about your mental health when facing life-changing experiences such as a gender affirming surgery. Fluctuations in emotions is a normal part of the FFS process.
However, postoperative depression is a phenomenon that involves a deep feeling of sadness, apathy, lack of energy, isolation, loss of appetite, and difficulty in enjoying things you used to love, etc. This may occur after the facial gender affirming surgery for no apparent reason.
These types of depressed feelings are more likely to appear if you already have a history of emotional difficulty, anxiety or depression. The postoperative period is an emotionally vulnerable time when you are more prone to feel like you’re not capable of handling the situation.
Postop depression vs. postop blues
We should also distinguish between postoperative depression and a low mood. The first is not so common and may require some professional guidance. The latter is quite frequent in the days after surgery given the disruptions in the body’s rhythms due to jet lag, fasting, not to mention the medications and anesthesia.
Patients usually feel particularly low during two specific moments: when they are discharged from the hospital and the “anti-climax” when they return home after the healing retreat in Marbella.
Hospital Discharge blues
When discharged from the hospital, the patient is usually exhausted, still swollen, probably has not yet been able to eat everything her body needs, might be dealing with irregular bodily functions as well as a series of other physical factors. The sum of these temporary symptoms boil down to feeling tired physically and, therefore, emotionally down. This usually dissipates after a few days when you begin to get over the medications “hangover” and regain strength.
The patient is also susceptible to suffering a lowering of spirits, which is not depression, at the time of returning home. Heading back is a sign that this whole process that’s consumed your life up to now has suddenly come to a close. You are “done” and now only having to focus on being patient and healing is a bit of an anticlimax. It’s a bit frustrating during these early days, when you inevitably seek the final results of the surgery at a time when they cannot yet be seen.
At this moment a void may appear in your life because you have been focused on the surgery for months, the organization of a million details, imagining how everything would be. Now, it’s practically over, you likely are having a lovely time even, and the postop euphoria dissipates as reality and responsibilities near. If you do not have pre-scheduled activities or a plan to occupy your mind before going back to work and normal life, it is easy for negative thoughts to take over.
Ways to prevent postoperative depression
We believe it is beneficial to plan a few activities you enjoy after surgery. Something you look forward to with enthusiasm which you may focus on once the objective of FFS is complete. For example, think about how you will spend each day, perhaps a new book you’ve been wanting to start, small trips, a course or beginning an exciting project at work. It is highly advisable that you spend your time on things that make you feel good.
Try thinking about this in the month before the surgery. Jot down on small notes all those activities that make you feel good, be it going to the movies, setting up a virtual tea time with friends, making a call to a special someone, learning a new drawing technique, or listening to a favorite album or new podcast. Keep those notes of paper in a jar that you can call “emotional vitamins.” If one day, after returning home from the operation, you don’t even feel like thinking about what to do, just grab a piece of paper at random and let yourself be surprised by your own ideas.
Please check the rest of our Mental Health series, with topics regarding nervousness before surgery, emotions, and coming soon…figuring out when is the ideal moment to plan your facial gender surgery. Also, check our Youtube channel playlist of videos on relaxation to help redirect your mind during those low moments when you need a positive reset!