2017 – my year of discovery and becoming Stephanie

As there is only one day remaining in 2017 I think it’s time to do some reflecting on what the year has meant for me.   It was always going to be a massive year but even I didn’t expect some of the things which have happened like a second trip to Philadelphia for one very big event.   It has very much been my year of discovery.

It has been the year I discovered what it is like to live as the person I always knew I should have been, and it has so exceeded any expectations I had. When I think back to the beginning of the year, when we first started telling people my plans, I had only been out in public as Stephanie a handful of times and they were in Esperance so it was unlikely that I would ever have been recognised anyway but it was so much easier than I ever thought possible to live as a female.   With the help of my soulmate and best friend Denise who has given me emotional support and helped me with practical issues such as makeup etc I have been very much at ease with my true self and it has just got easier from there.   My first outing in Busselton was a nervous occasion but made much easier by the company of a lovely lady on the same journey.   That occasion gave me the courage I needed to step out as Stephanie full-time.    Now, some nine months later the pure pleasure of walking around Busselton doing everything from shopping to general “little jobs” in a dress and heels gives me an unbelievable buzz and a sense of peace and happiness which I have never known before.

Another big discovery for me this year is just how many friends I have both here and especially back in the UK.  Our trip over there in August/September was a very humbling experience. Apart from a couple of people, who were either obviously uncomfortable with Stephanie or for some reason don’t approve of my transition, the rest of the huge number of people we caught up with were truly happy for me, which to be fair is all I want.   There were so many re-connections with people I had lost touch with for one reason or another, people I have worked with, friends of friends and also people who were friends of my parents which is all the more pleasing for me.    Their acceptance of me as Stephanie, and the fact that they were genuinely happy for me, meant the world to me.

As for the people both here and in the UK who don’t seem happy for me, for whatever reason, I do get it.  However having made an enormous emotional and physical commitment  getting to this point I will now take the advice of my psychologist who has gone to great lengths to get me to understand why I shouldn’t have negative people in my life.  If you fall into that category and have fallen out with me or simply can’t be happy for me I am afraid you will  not feature in my life going forward.

A further discovery in 2017 has been Darren Hayes and Savage Garden.  You may think that a strange thing to be considered a major discovery.   I have known of them and their music since they first became famous in the late nineties.  This time around, one line in one particular song has been the single biggest contribution to my dealing with the issue of my parents’ failure to enlighten me of my condition when I was born.  My psychologist was happy for me that I came to an acceptance of what happened when I was born through listening to this music.   I think because I had found it myself it has had more of an impact than the advice and teachings she has given me.  This is not meant to belittle her talent in any way as she has been truly amazing with me and has been one of my “rocks” this year along Denise and my GP, and will continue to be so in the months to come. If you are wondering what the song is, its “Affirmation” and the line is the fourth one of the song.   Trust me it’s worth a listen!   I have not yet come to a state of forgiveness towards my parents as my feelings are still very raw, but acceptance is the first step and I am so happy to have found it and Savage Garden in the process.    As an aside, our trip to the UK became known fondly to us as “The Savage Garden Tour” due to the fact that it was the only CD we had in the car and we got to know all the words off by heart over the extended number of miles we travelled.
There have also been some disappointments this year.    When I was told I needed further surgery “sooner rather than later” I have to say I was devastated.  As much as the people in Philadelphia were lovely to me, especially Kami the front office manager, I really didn’t expect to see them ever again. The decision to go back to Philadelphia rather than use a surgeon in Australia was pretty much forced upon me.   I spent a considerable amount of time emailing and talking to surgeons in Perth but in the end there was no one willing to put things right.  So unless I went to Sydney, which in the long run would have most likely cost me just as much as going to the expert in Philadelphia, then going back was the obvious choice.    The biggest down side to going back to Philadelphia is of course the traveling, 55 hours each way is massive even in business class and having a nice hotel in Doha for the 20 hour stopover but it had to be done and once again my rock and best friend Denise was by my side.   She must have had the worst day ever on the day of my surgery.    Firstly we were told my surgery would probably take two to two and a half hours, I was down for four! Then while she was stressing about me she received an email from her brother to say that her mum was in hospital after a fall! As you would expect from Denise, she took it all in her stride, wonderful woman that she is but the whole of this year has taken a massive toll on her and she is completely exhausted.
All in all though, 2017 has been an amazing year.   When I look back to that fateful day (just over two years ago) when I was first told of my beginnings and the following eight months of not knowing who I was or where I was going, it seems that I have come a long way.   Then, having come through the despair of that time to the decision to transition just sixteen months ago, the current physical discomfort I am experiencing makes me realise that I still have a long way to go.   I am very happy to be where I am today.  I know 2018 will be a year of consolidation and hopefully positive experiences – it will be my first full year of being Stephanie, the person I have always wanted to be.

Pleased to be back in Busselton plus an amazing talent.

I have now been home for a week and although there have been some challenges and some disappointments it’s good to be home. The pets all say they have missed me but I’m not sure about Bella, I have a sneaky feeling she gets utterly spoiled while we are away!

My recovery seems to be progressing in the right direction but in truth I won’t know if the main reason for needing the surgery has been a success for several months, after all, the first round seemed to be getting there until about the 4 month post surgery consultation where I was told that I needed further work so everything is crossed!

After a shaky start the weather in Busselton is now perfect, temperatures in the high twenties during the day but cool enough at night to allow sleeping without the aircon on and it’s set to continue that way until after Christmas. I have been doing a few little jobs but in general taking it easy. I have had several medical appointments this week which have all been good apart from Wednesday when I had my last appointment with my GP who is taking a sabbatical and has left the practice. I will miss her dearly, she has been a rock for me over the last five years and I literally would not be the person I am today without her help, she has been quite simply amazing. My appointment on Friday was with the lady who introduced me to my GP back in 2012 and what a talent. She practices a holistic type of osteopathy which suits me very well as it gets results without much pain, I guess you have to believe in the methods she uses or you might think it’s all a bit tame but on Friday she absolutely blew me away. I went into her office and took a seat next to her desk, we had a short discussion, I then took off my shoes, watch and jewellery and laid on my back. She sat at my head and gently put her hands around my neck and as usual I felt some small movements with her fingers but not much else, she then moved to my side, placing one hand under my sacrum and the other behind my shoulder, again a few light movements but certainly nothing painful. She then went back to my neck and then back to my side then announced that there was a problem in that the top was somehow not connected to the bottom. Now she had no idea what work I had had done in Philadelphia so I asked her what she meant by the top not being connected to the bottom when my toes and everything worked. She proceeded to try at my side again then I asked her if the position of the skin graft was relevant and lifted my blouse up,to show her the scar. Then she was happy, said that’s why I couldn’t get through, I was amazed, she had known that there was something which was interrupting the flow of information from my top to the bottom but had no idea about the skin graft, all this when she hadn’t done anything but just a few minor adjustments with her fingers while holding me and it gets better. She somehow joined up the two halves but announced that something was slightly out of line. She spent a little more time then I mentioned that my tummy button is slightly of line now, god knows how but it is slightly to the right. She had not known this without seeing it but the vibes were coming back to her we not from very far away and somehow she knew I was slightly out of line, what an amazing person.

Anyway it’s past my bed time so I will close now and look forward to a very good sleep hopefully, Christmas Eve tomorrow so am guessing the town will be manic so a good place to avoid!

Continue reading “Pleased to be back in Busselton plus an amazing talent.”

Last day in Philadelphia

It’s now two weeks since my surgery and we set off on the epic journey home tomorrow or at least I am heading home, back to the warmth of Australia whereas Denise will be in the cold and wet of Wales until the 27th. I must say I had forgotten what real cold is like, we experienced some ordinary weather in the uk in 2016 but nothing like the temperatures here. I don’t think it has risen above freezing all day and the wind has a real bite with it. I think my blood has thinned in the 11 years I have been in the sunshine.

Last night we experienced a true Philadelphia staple, a philli cheesesteak, it was so good but what made the evening so special was the company. We had dinner with Kami and Jon at their home in south Philadelphia. Kami is the front office manager at Dr Rumer’s clinic and has truly been my saviour over the last twelve months since I first made contact with Dr Rumer’s office to talk about the possibility of coming to Philadelphia for my surgery. She has from day one been perfect with me, replying to each and every email promptly and following up on queries and questions that I have had over the last year. Her professionalism is truly amazing and she has absolutely made the difference between an ok experience and a perfect one. Having dinner with her and her husband was the icing on the cake as it were, the absolute high point of our visit.

The thought of 55 hours of traveling does not excite me at all but getting back home to the pets, my own bed and some sunshine really does. Unfortunately it’s a necessary evil, the thought of doing the second half on my own also doesn’t fill me with joy, I’m not a big fan of traveling alone at the best of times, thankfully Qatar Airways look after its customers very well especially in business class so I’m sure I will be in good hands. The other comforting thought is that my good friend Chris will be at the airport to collect me when I get back to Perth so I won’t have to go and look for the car in the huge car park or wait for a bus to take me to the right area and there is never a shortage of things to talk to Chris about so the trip home should be good.

I had my final appointment with DrRumer yesterday, she seems pleased with my progress up to now, there are a couple of things I need to attend to in the short term just to ensure the healing process keeps heading in the right direction. One of the things is to apply a small amount of ointment to a couple of sore areas so she gave me a prescription for a product called Santyl. I duly took it to the pharmacy along with another one for some more painkillers only to be told that for a 30g tube, the cost was us$234! I was a little taken aback as this equates to around $300 Australian so it better do a good job or I will be very disappointed to say the least. Anyway, onwards and upwards as they say, it was never going to be a cheap exercise and the cost wasn’t the issue, becoming the person I have always known I should be was the object of the whole thing and just as returning to Philadelphia was but a bump in the road, there will be more of them before my journey is complete and it will all be worth it in the end.

Last day in Ardmore

It’s Sunday in Ardmore and we woke to a bright sunny day with about 6 inches of snow covering the ground so the whole place looks very festive. This morning we walked to the supermarket which is probably a kilometre away, called in to a coffee shop for a quick coffee and cookie, did our shopping and walked back. It was very cold but I felt a sense of achievement as it was probably 2 to 3 months after the last surgery before I could have done that.  While I am a little apprehensive about the journey home it will be much easier than the last one I feel, not made any easier though by the forecast of minus 10 on Wednesday night before we fly out early Thursday morning! I’m sure all will be good as even if the first flight is delayed we both have plenty of time in Doha before our connecting flights onwards.

From Doha we are going our seperate ways as Denise has decided to spend Christmas with her mum in Wales. She has not been well and is as I write this in hospital. I thoroughly encouraged her to do this even though it means we will be apart for my first Christmas as Stephanie, Mum will really appreciate Denise being there and as she is almost 88 years old you just don’t know when the last opportunity will be, so spending Christmas with mum will be very special for them both. We will have lots of Christmases together in the future I know, and this is just another example of Denise’s selfless nature.  She is pure gold and I am so lucky we found each other in 2012. Thankfully I am very able this time to look after myself, it would have been much more difficult the first time but this time I am looking forward to getting home, walking Bella, seeing the cats again and above all sleeping in our own bed again, not to mention being back in the warmth of summer in Busselton.

Our two weeks in the recovery suite have been really good, while the room is a little tired, it’s warm and cosy, very comfortable and just a short walk into town.   The cooking facilities are a little limited but it’s surprising how much you can do with a couple of microwave ovens. We have eaten really well, even quite healthy really so am not expecting to be much heavier when I get back to when I left. I have I know lost a good deal of fitness in two weeks but it was only to be expected in the scheme of things and I’m sure I will get it back quickly. I am determined to get fit and stay fit for the for the foreseeable future.  A few years ago I would never have imagined saying that but I feel so much more alive when I am physically active and fit so I am sure it is good for me.   Also, as I can now wear clothes that fit my body instead of covering it up (as I have since I was twelve) – that is a huge incentive!

Pipework, plumbing and packing removed!

Today was the first real test of how successful my surgery has been, the removal of the drain, catheter and packing. It was never going to be a pleasant job but in the scheme of things was not too bad, first was the drain, a tube which went the whole width of my abdomen was pulled out from a small incision down my right side. It looked like a piece of electrical cable but full of tiny holes, it came out clean without a massive amount of discomfort so I thought “one down, two to go” next was the catheter, a very clever device which is inserted into the urethra while I was under then inflated with 10 ml of air which forms a small balloon at the top to stop it coming out. The air is drawn out and it was removed again without a great deal of fuss or pain. The third and final job was the packing, now that is fairly disgusting really (won’t go into details) and gives the weirdest feeling when it’s being pulled out. There seems to be yards and yards of it, it certainly felt like there was.   She cleaned the area and announced she was very happy with the results. Then came the worst bit for me, she took the smallest dilator, applied some lubricant and inserted it where the packing had just come from.  She declared that she was happy with the depth and then to my horror upsized.  Thank goodness I only brought the two smallest out of five with me!

After the now customary hugs all round we returned up stairs.  I have to say I was relieved to say the least that it was over, no more pipes sticking out of me or bags to carry round and more importantly, no more wearing nappies.  Seriously they have to be the most uncomfortable things ever; no wonder babies cry! I put on some normal clothes and it immediately made me feel better having not worn anything on the lower half for a week except the said nappy I was now able to walk around the suite unhindered. We made some tea then decided to go for a short walk, my first since Tuesday last week, so even though we didn’t go far it was a big thing for me. There were no ill effects so will aim to go a little further tomorrow.   Then, my first dilation since the end of September, and have to say I was scared but it went ok.  It wasn’t exactly pleasurable, and I don’t think it will be anytime soon, but neither was it massively painful so am taking that as a big success. Four times a day doesn’t excite me much but it is necessary so will do my best to comply.  It will however be difficult when we are on the plane!!!

Day six and getting bored!

Well day six post op has arrived in Philadelphia and in general I am feeling good. Still only taken one painkiller since leaving hospital on Thursday so am taking that as a good omen. It could all come to grief tomorrow when I have all my pipework and plumbing removed along with the packing which is becoming more than a little uncomfortable but no where near last time. This time Kathy has sewn me up to stop the packing completely Coming out on its own like last time so hopefully all will be good. There are two down sides to having the packing removed and the catheter taken out, firstly I will most likely be back to visiting the bathroom every hour or so until things settle down, being able to sleep for long periods I’m sure has helped me get over the anaesthetic along with the lack of pain. The other down side is that I will need to start dilating again. The mere thought of it fills me with dread to be honest as it was the biggest source of pain for the first four months following round one until Kathy told me to stop as I needed further surgery anyway. I think in fairness it will be much easier this time as I am in a better frame of mind and in much less pain but I’m dreading it anyway, and four times a day for the first month makes it difficult to do much in between times. Anyway you “wanted to be a girl” I hear you say and let me tell you, it’s so worth the pain!

I have just had my visit from the nurse to check up on how I’m going, I just can’t fault the way they have looked after me. She had a quick look then talked about my procedure tomorrow, I don’t have a time yet but am expecting it to be late afternoon as Kathy is operating during the morning. Ever though there are downsides I am counting down the hours as it will give me much more freedom to move around and hopefully get out a little if the weather is ok. It’s forecast to get colder towards the weekend, hopefully we don’t get snow as I’m not sure Denise will be happy driving in the snow. It would complete the very festive atmosphere around the place though. One very good thing about having the things removed tomorrow is that it will be able to have a shower, Denise has done an excellent job of giving me bed washes but it’s not the same, a good shower is one of life’s pleasures I think and I probably spend far more time in them than I should given the water situation at home but a pleasure it is and will continue to do so.


Highs, Lows and expectations

So it’s day four post op and Sunday here in Ardmore, for three days I haven’t moved far from my bed apart from the occasional visit to the kitchen or the bathroom. To be perfectly honest it’s just not me, I don’t do sitting around doing nothing and apart from the mental side of things I find either laying in bed or sitting up in bed to be very uncomfortable after a few hours if I’m not asleep. Anyway that will be the way it is until Wednesday when I will have my catheter and drain removed So won’t feel as though I am on a lead all the time. That said, neither are uncomfortable and I must say not having to get up to go to the bathroom every few hours is a bonus at the moment.

One very big and pleasant surprise since leaving the hospital is the level of pain I have been in, virtually none at all, on a scale of one to ten it would have been a one or maybe two on the odd occasion which given the procedures I had done I think is very acceptable. I did however make on with the morphine pump before it was removed at 6am on Thursday morning, I woke at 4.15 and used it 5 times in the next hour and a half regardless of need which was probably still circulating around in my blood stream for some time after. I think it would be fair to say I was on a huge high once I recovered from the horrendous taxi ride home from the hospital, very little pain, the euphoria of surviving another round of surgery and coming out the other side and the seemingly incredible results from it. Not to mention the gorgeous welcoming we received from Kami when we arrived back, however, yesterday was not so good, still not much pain, but a nagging headache and for some reason my head was not in the best space. It probably didn’t help when I was going through photos on my phone and came across one from my god daughter’s wedding in May 2016, it was a lovely one of Denise and me in a lovely setting on a lovely day, I enlarged it to just having me on it and said to Denise “what happened to that grey haired old guy you used to be with”.   I felt exactly that – as much as it was a nice photo, I was not the person I am now, far from it indeed.   You can actually see the stress on my face and my hair is totally grey.  It was at a time when I was in my most mixed up state and knew deep down inside that I needed to fix the issues going on in my head one way or another. The sad thing about it is that when I showed it to Denise it upset her, partly because she loved me as Robin even though our relationship is ten times stronger now than it was then but also because she knew how tormented I was at that time and how close to the bottom of the downward spiral I actually was. That in turn upset me and I became very emotional and tearful. It’s a period of my life that I simply would not have survived without Denise by my side, she encouraged and nurtured me through it and indeed it was Denise who by just asking the question about transitioning that pushed me to start the ball rolling, the ball which made me the person I am today, the ball which took away the torment and gave me a level of peace in my head which I had never experienced in the first 55 years of my life.

The other thing contributing to the low yesterday was the fact that the mons area on which Kathy used liposuction to remove the scar tissue and other offending material has swollen up again. This to me is probably the most important part of the treatment, it is the one thing which has caused me pain and discomfort since day one in May as every time I sit down there is an unpleasant sensation which feels as though it is being pushed upwards into the clitoral area and with great pressure. I think it’s fair to say I overreacted, yes it’s still swollen this morning but I read on another surgeon’s post that swelling after liposuction is common and can last several weeks before settling down so am not so stressed about it today.

That brings me to the final part of my post today, expectations.  I have always had very high expectations in everything I do. This could be work related, especially when I was in the U.K. and MG Rover were on fire.  If we sold 20 cars a week I wanted 30 and indeed expected it and I am my own harshest critic. If things don’t work the way they should I hate it, I have been like this all my life, I just don’t do average, it’s not the way I am! The recovery from the first surgery was a perfect example.   I know I expected too much of myself and my body. It was difficult to know what to expect as I hadn’t had any surgery since I was 10 years old but my GP told me, my psychologist told me, Denise and many of my friends told me not to expect so much of both my body and my mental state but it’s very hard not to when it’s the way you live your life. Thankfully I have had all the best people around me to pick up the pieces when things have gone astray during the last 16 months or so since making the decision to transition, to them I am truly thankful for continually keeping me heading in the right direction albeit maybe at a slower pace!

Two days post surgery

Normal service is now resumed! Two days post surgery and I have to say I feel ten times better than I did after the first lot. While I appreciate the revision surgery was mostly external stuff, Kathy attended to 5 seperate issues, all of which required her expertise and experience to sort out and hopefully she has! On first impressions one of the main reasons for needing surgery, the still swollen mons area has improved a great deal, it now looks flat as it should do and the discomfort I was experiencing every time I sat down has gone, she did tell me during my first post op consultation today that she removed over 200 ml of scar tissue and other material by liposuction from the area so it’s not surprising that it looks different and much better than before. The other big issue and the reason for the urgency of the surgery was that I was no longer able to dilate due to the growth of scar tissue in the area.  After removing the scar tissue Kathy needed some suitable skin to use as a skin graft and here is the bonus! She took the skin from my lower abdomen and gave me a mini tummy tuck at the same time.  I now have a very neat scar across my tummy and a very flat part! There was another bonus too, I happened to mention that going to the bathroom was something of a lottery in that I never knew what direction the flow would head in so she has repositioned my urethra further back which should solve the problem. This last issue was very frustrating for me and as it had only really become apparent in the last month or so I hadn’t even mentioned it before seeing Kathy on Monday.  So the fact that it has been sorted is a big relief.

Throughout our time in Philadelphia I have been absolutely blown away by how well we have been looked after, the girls at the clinic, Kathy herself, the nurses in the hospital, they have all been wonderful, friendly and kind to us. It was always going to be stressful coming over here again but to be treated so well has really made a difference and I can’t speak highly enough about the level of care we have received. Even the weather has been kind, yes it’s cold but it’s bright and fresh so very pleasant really and Ardmore is very tastefully decorated with Christmas trees in various places and seemingly every lamp post in the centre decorated so it’s a nice place to be even if I didn’t want to come back again.

So now the real recovery starts, I have less than two weeks to get up to speed and to a level of recovery that will make the flights back home to Australia ok. Before my op I have to say I was sceptical but the fact that I have an arsenal of opium based painkillers by my bedside but haven’t felt the need to use any yet is a big positive.  I feel at least as well as I did two weeks after the first op and at that stage I was using painkillers every 4 hours so providing I keep improving, the flights home will be good and knowing I will be able to lie down if necessary is a bonus.