What Is My Life Like Without Boobs?

Two words: freaking awesome.

It’s been over nine months since I had my double mastectomy and my life has changed in some subtle but also significant ways. My life without boobs is everything I’d dreamed it would be, but there were also some surprises along the way, as I imagined there would be when getting this major surgery.

So what is my life like without boobs? How have things changed? Is anything the same?

I’m More Confident

I actually feel like my body represents me now, at least much more than it did. I’m so much more confident in my appearance. Before, I would wear big flowy tops and dresses to hide my chest because I hated it so much. This summer, I actually bought my first form-fitting clothes in years.

I love wearing tight tops to show off my chest, and it feels so good to just be out there in the world without my boobs. My breasts always felt like a hindrance. There was never a time when they didn’t feel like a hindrance. Without them, I feel sexy, confident, and bold.

I’m still learning to be confident without a shirt on. This summer, I went for a run when it was hot outside, and after three miles into the run, I really just wanted to take my shirt off.

But something stopped me. I was worried about people seeing me and what they would think. Then I thought, “The whole point of you getting this surgery was so that you’d feel more like yourself and more confident—who cares what they see or say or think?”

So the shirt came off. About five minutes later, I ran into one of my aunts, who lives on the road I was running on. She didn’t know about my surgery and I self-consciously threw my tank top over one of my shoulders, which almost covered one of my scars. But the other one was still visible.

We chatted for a couple minutes and she didn’t say anything about the fact that I was topless and no longer had boobs. So it went ok. But, being one of my nicest and kindest aunts, even if she did say something, I doubt it would have been anything that made me feel bad.

Mostly I think it just feels weird to be walking (and running, ha) around completely topless after having breasts for nearly 20 years. I hope by next summer I won’t think twice about taking my shirt off!

I Can Actually Breathe When I Run

Speaking of running.

I’ve been a runner for the last 13 years and wore really tight sports bras to keep my chest from moving when I ran. Like, my breasts were DD’s and I would buy A-cup sports bras and wear them.

Yeah. Don’t ask me how I got those bras on.

It also affected my ability to take a deep breath when running. Over the last decade, I’ve probably run thousands of miles in tight-ass sports bras. I didn’t realize how much I couldn’t breathe until I ran without a bra on. WOW!

It’s incredible to be out there feel unhindered by my body and just moving comfortably and confidently in the world. I feel so much less weighed down by my boobs when exercising, not to mention I love the way my chest looks after doing upper-body workouts 🙂

I’m Insanely More Comfortable

Fuck bras. I can’t believe I lived wearing a bra for so long. I LOVE not having to worry about bras or how my breasts look in clothing. It’s like not having hair and not having to decide what to do with it. Freaking awesome.

It’s so comfortable to just put on whatever I want and leave the house feeling confident because there aren’t any boobs, there’s no bra, and it just my chest meets the world. I knew I’d be more comfortable without my breasts (mentally and physically), I just didn’t know how much more comfortable. The answer is INSANELY. I’m insanely more comfortable!

Sex Is Different

So I expected my sex life to be a little different after getting my breasts removed, and I’m still navigating this department of my post-boob life. Not having anything there to touch is just a little weird after having boobs for the last two decades.

That being said, I 100% feel like my sex life has improved since the boobs are gone. How could it not? I feel more comfortable, more confident, and unhindered. How’s that for sexy?

I occasionally ask my husband if he misses my boobs and he says “a little”, which is weird because sometimes I miss them a little too. For the most part, our sex life has been frickin hot since I got rid of those obscene lumps on my chest.

People Stare at My Chest

So this doesn’t happen all the time, but I have definitely been out several times and have full-on caught people staring at my chest when I’m wearing a tight shirt.

Instead of feeling self-conscious, I think it’s hilarious. In my head, I think, “You can look all you want, there’s nothing there!” and then I prance away giggling to myself. It doesn’t make me self-conscious at all. In fact, I feel like it makes me more confident since it’s a feature about myself that I love now.

I didn’t get nipple grafts with my mastectomy, so my chest is just two lines of scar tissue where my boobs used to be (and some gross spots where I got two moles removed that are still healing!). So I can imagine people staring at my chest in a skin-tight shirt and not seeing any nipples or anything and wondering what is going on. Tee hee.

I Can’t Wear Tube Tops Anymore

This might sound dumb, but I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to wear tube tops after my mastectomy. I truly didn’t realize that my breasts were what was holding up tube tops that whole time. Wow.

So when I got my mastectomy and healed up and summer came and I tried to wear some of my favorite dresses and tube tops, I couldn’t. I had to get rid of one of my favorite dresses that I got for free at Charlotte Russe like 15 years ago because it literally fell off of me.

I did buy a tube top that actually stays up on my chest and looks nice, but it’s an extra small and I have trouble (like, lots of trouble) getting it on and off. If anyone has any tips for wearing tube tops and dresses post-mastectomy, I’m all ears!

I’m Happier

I knew getting my breasts removed would make me happier, but I didn’t realize how free and confident I would feel.

Making the decision to get this procedure wasn’t easy, and going through with it wasn’t easy, and healing wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t easy to know I’d never have boobs again, and to not know what that would be like.

It wasn’t easy to know I was unconscious for two and half hours while a stranger sliced off parts of my body in a room full of people I didn’t know.

It wasn’t easy to know that my life would be different, and I didn’t know exactly how.

It wasn’t easy to pay so much money to not know exactly what the outcome would be, or exactly how I would look.

But I will say this: It was ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT. And I’d take that leap again in a heartbeat.

I’m currently pursuing a hysterectomy, which I hope to have by the end of this year, to complete my journey of removing body parts that I have always hated and wanted gone. I will definitely give an update about my process for pursuing this procedure as a gender-neutral person as well as my healing process when the time comes!

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me on my journey of making my body a more comfortable place for me to live!

What It Was Like Recovering From a Double Mastectomy (My Top Surgery Healing Journey)

Disclaimer: This article is written from my personal experience getting an elective double mastectomy. I do not, nor have I ever, had breast cancer and did not get my breasts removed because of cancer or the BRCA gene. I simply wanted my breasts removed and got them removed with a plastic surgeon (you can read more about my decision to get this surgery here).

While cancer patients may be interested in this article for healing purposes, please be aware that this article is written more with people who want their breasts removed for gender reasons in mind. I say this simply because I don’t want to offend anyone with the language I use in this article to describe my journey or my desire to get my breasts removed, so please keep this in mind when reading.

That being said, I am also not transgender and so transgender individuals reading this article, please also keep in mind that I didn’t get top surgery because I changed genders.

I am also not any type of health professional and am not recommending my personal healing protocol, including herbs or supplements, to anyone. I would always advise following your surgeon’s instructions for healing and following up with an herbalist or another natural health professional as you see fit.

There will be photos of surgical incisions, scars, blood, and bruises in this article. Please be mindful of any triggers you may have in regards to trauma, body dysmorphia, etc. before continuing to read this post.

Also, this post is going to be long!

So here we finally are! I’m almost 13 weeks post-op as I’m writing this. I got my breasts removed via a double mastectomy with a plastic surgeon on November 23, 2020.

I wanted to post a longer, more detailed article about my recovery journey because when I was looking for information about top surgery it was hard to find all the details I needed to feel “prepared” for my surgery (put that in quotes because I feel like you can’t ever really be prepared for something you haven’t experienced).

Don’t get me wrong—some of the videos and articles I saw were super helpful. I’m just posting my experience in the hopes that it could also be helpful to someone else recovering from this procedure!

While this article won’t be a day-to-day guide, it will be a week-by-week guide up until week eight post-op. I will also continue to update this post as I heal throughout this year with photos and any other information I feel belongs here.

Before I begin with my week-by-week process, I have to say one thing: I am SO happy that I got my surgery at the time of year that I did. There are a few important reasons for this:

  1. I got my surgery at the end of November, and it’s cold where I live in November. I could not imagine having gotten this surgery done in the summer when it’s nice outside and I would have been moping about all the things I couldn’t do. It was the perfect time of year to cozy up on the couch with my husband, watch movies, and eat toast. I’m convinced would have been miserable if I had gotten this surgery done during warmer weather.
  2. My binder after surgery was super tight and itchy and horrible and I felt that if it was warm outside, I would have been more sweaty and irritable with that thing on. As it was, I was already so irritable with it that when I texted my husband after my post-op appointment to tell him that they had taken the binder off and the drains out, he sent me an emoji of a sweaty face (like he was nervous about what would happen if I came out with my drains still in and that binder still on, ha).
  3. I got my surgery done the week of Thanksgiving, which gave me a perfect excuse to not see anybody for that holiday (I wouldn’t have seen anyone anyway, but still, it was nice to have an excuse).

So now that you know why I’m happy I got my double mastectomy done in November, here’s my healing journey (there is also a scar salve recipe and some FAQs at the end!).

Table of Contents

But First, Some Before + After Pics

There will be other pictures in this post, but here are my before and after pictures:

Before (taken in a parking lot sometime in 2010, don’t ask):

Don’t let this too-small neon purple push-up bra fool you—my boobs didn’t actually look like this. In fact, my surgeon used the word “deflated” in my case notes when he described my breasts (thanks, doc!). They were between a 34 D-DD size.

After (taken February 2021):

Now I have about 14 inches of scar tissue where my breasts used to be. It may sound weird to some, but I am so much happier without my breasts and feel like this is “me”.

Herbs and Supplements I Took to Help My Healing

Before we get into my week-by-week journey I want to start with what I took to heal so that my week-by-week healing journey will have more context for you.

I worked with my herbalist to incorporate some herbs into my usual herbal routine to help me better heal after my procedure. Although I can’t recommend specific dosing or what herbs would be best for you, this is what I took:

  • Arnica. My herbalist recommended homeopathic arnica tablets taken just before and after the surgery (I took them for about four days after the surgery).
  • Calendula. I added one tablespoon of organic calendula flowers to my herbal broth that I drink every day for about two months post-op.
  • Comfrey. I added one tablespoon of organic comfrey to my herbal broth that I drink for three weeks following the procedure.
  • Horsetail. I added one tablespoon of organic horsetail to my herbal broth that I drink every day for about two months post-op.
  • Violet. I added one tablespoon of organic violet leaf to my herbal broth that I drink for about two months post-op.

I had to stop taking my ginger infusion, stop eating any garlic, and stop taking fish oil supplements before the procedure and had to avoid them for two weeks following the procedure (I didn’t avoid garlic for that long, that just wouldn’t have been humanly possible for me).

As I likely have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), my body is also pretty bad about healing and I scar easily, so I was taking hyaluronic acid (40-60 mg a day) and collagen supplements for my skin and for healing. I’m currently still taking these. Please keep my potential EDS diagnosis in mind when looking at my scars 🙂

I also drink an herbal broth every day that contains burdock, chaga, astragalus, dandelion root, codonopsis, reishi, shitake, and garlic, so I’m not sure if all these babes helped me heal or not (this was the broth that I added my calendula, comfrey, violet, and horsetail to).

Medications I Took

I HATE taking medication and will avoid it at pretty much all costs. However, I did take the medication my surgeon prescribed because I wanted everything to go smoothly after the procedure.

I know this sounds weird but I don’t know if I really NEEDED these medications, it was just hard to tell how much of a difference they made. But these are the ones I took:

  • Celecoxib. This is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug. I took this for one week following my surgery.
  • Gabapentin. This is an anticonvulsant drug that also can treat nerve pain. I took this for one week following my surgery.
  • Tylenol. I took OTC generic Tylenol for one week following my surgery.
  • Zofran. HOLY SHIT I would never want to take this anti-nausea medication again! I’m pretty sure this medication, in combination with the drugs they used in my IV, made me constipated.
  • Nausea patch thing. I don’t know what this is called but I had to put it behind my ear 12 hours before the surgery and took it off later that night. It made me nauseous.

I think what surprised me about these meds is that a) I’m not sure if they really helped and b) THOSE NAUSEA MEDS MADE ME FRICKIN NAUSEOUS! The only thing the nausea meds did that was helpful was prevent me from actually throwing up (I did not throw up once).

I did not have to take any narcotic medication because my surgeon injected some sort of numbing stuff into my chest after the surgery, which we agreed on prior to the procedure. I paid extra for this. I really wasn’t in any pain which was surprising!

So now my week-by-week healing!

Week One

That first week was the worst. This is what my binder and drains looked like (this picture was taken as we were leaving for the plastic surgeon’s office to get the binder and drains removed one week after my surgery):

I was crazy nauseous and panicked when waking up from the anesthesia. My anesthesiologist never told me I was going to fall asleep while I was in the operating room, so it felt like I was awake and conscious one second and the next, I was waking up in a dream.

I don’t remember much of this but I remember telling the nurses “I can’t breathe!” over and over again, probably because my binder was so tight. I remember someone saying, “You are breathing”. This was after the procedure.

Later, my husband told me that the nurses told him they gave me Valium to calm me down, which was awful. I don’t remember hardly anything of leaving the hospital outside of flashes of nurses dressing me and feeling the cold air of the parking garage.

At home, I slept most of that day and was super out of it. I was nauseous for three days following the surgery (with the first two days being the worst). I was able to type and start working the day after the procedure (I freelance write full-time), but I only did a little work and mostly rested and slept.

I wasn’t able to reach anything or do much of anything at all. I wasn’t able to bathe or take care of my bunnies. Getting out of bed by myself was almost impossible. I was upset and didn’t want to see people, I felt gross and weird and not like myself. I slept propped up on pillows to help my chest drain better. Sleeping was surprisingly easy; I was knocked out every night.

A few days after the procedure I began having strange buzzing sensations and sensations of almost stabbing in my chest. They were brief but still felt really weird. My chest was mostly numb and I wasn’t in any pain really, but I was uncomfortable because the binder was so tight and the drains became sore and itchy by the end of the week.

I was also constipated from all the drugs they put in my IV which was frickin awful! I wish I started taking flaxseed or chia seeds a couple days before my procedure, but I thought since I wasn’t taking narcotics that I wouldn’t be constipated. That was a mistake!

Week Two

After getting my drains out one week after the procedure, I felt so much better. I was much less nauseous, able to reach more, and began taking care of my bunnies (although I wasn’t able to fully care for them and so relied on my husband to help).

This is what my chest looked like after the binder came off (it’s gross, sorry, at this point I hadn’t bathed yet):

Also, I love how my surgeon wrote L>R on my chest, because my left breast was bigger than my right one.

Reaching, lifting, and twisting were still difficult, although I was still able to type on the computer and work. I wasn’t able to cook or do much still. It was really weird seeing my new chest and feeling like the procedure was more real.

I still wasn’t able to wear regular shirts and so needed to wear capes and button-down shirts which was annoying. I really just wanted to wear a tight t-shirt and show off my new chest. I was able to sleep flat on my back and took the binder off halfway through the second week, as I felt I didn’t need it anymore (although my surgeon told me to wear it for at least one more week).

I also began having arm pain during my second week. Every morning when I woke up my arms were numb, but it went away as I moved around. This was a little alarming.

One surprising thing was how tight the skin on my chest was. I did tell my surgeon that I wanted everything to be tight, but every time I tried to stand up straight, it felt like my skin was pulling from my neck all the way to my abdomen. It was really weird and uncomfortable. I was a little alarmed by this, but fortunately, it got better as the weeks went on and now I don’t even really notice any pulling in that area.

Week Three

The surgery still doesn’t feel super real three weeks in. I was still processing it. I’ve shown friends my surgical scars, but my family didn’t want to see them (now I know why so many transgender individuals have wanted to show me their new chests—I really just wanted to show people my new chest!)

It hurt my feelings when my family didn’t want to see it. If someone wants to show you their new chest, just let them unless you feel it would do massive phycological damage to you.

This is what my chest looked like during the third week:

I was able to drive at the end of week three and became fully able to take care of my bunnies. Lifting and twisting were still difficult. My arm pain continued throughout week three, but I was able to lift heavier things like grocery bags. The Steri-Strips my surgeon put on at my post-op appointment have mostly come off at this point and I’ve begun using my scar salve (we’ll talk about that in a bit).

I was taking comfrey and horsetail in my herbal infusion but discontinued using them at the end of the third week. However, I did still take violet and calendula in my broth.

Week Four

Emotionally, I was still coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have breasts. The surgery still doesn’t feel real in so many ways. During week four after my Steri-Strips came completely off, I noticed that there were still some stretch marks above my incisions from my breasts. I’m mad that the surgeon and I didn’t discuss this and mad that my drain holes appear to be scarring.

Fourth-week photo:

I’m using my scar salve nightly and putting Covidien bandages over my scars to keep the salve on overnight. I’m able to do everything I was doing before the surgery except for lifting weights, yoga, and running. I’ve been walking for exercise but that’s it.

I can vacuum and mostly get in and out of t-shirts. I’ve been sleeping well. I can sleep on my side for only a few minutes without it getting uncomfortable (not sure if this is because my incisions go so far into my armpit area). I’ve been mostly sleeping on my back during my healing process.

I’m still having arm pain in the mornings and my underarms are a little numb. I have had a couple days without this during this week. After researching online, it appears to be nerve pain from the surgery and should go away in time.

Week Five

I’m feeling pretty good about things five weeks in, but I’m still getting used to my new chest. The scars are really visible and taking their shape. My arm numbness/pain has been much better, but I still have trouble lifting really heavy stuff.

I can get in and out of t-shirts fairly easily but I do have trouble getting in and out of tighter shirts by myself. Towards the end of this week, I did a really short jog and a few long walks, it felt great to be doing some of my normal stuff again. I could even sleep on my side for brief periods of time without my incisions hurting.

I feel optimistic about my scar salve but towards the end of this week, I started developing a bad rash around my incisions. I thought it was from the scar salve but I found out it was from the Covidien bandages I was using. I have discontinued them.

Week Six

By week six I’m feeling pretty upset that my stretch marks are still there and that the surgeon and I didn’t talk about this. I’m still getting used to the way my chest looks and slowly feeling more and more like I don’t have breasts. That’s been one of the most surprising things about having this surgery—how it didn’t even feel like my breasts were gone afterward. I’m not sure how to explain that.

The rash took a turn for the better and is starting to look good. While the rash was healing I didn’t use anything on it except organic rosewater. By the end of this week, I’ve started using my scar salve again. Instead of using Covidien bandages, I instead sleep with a clean old t-shirt on to prevent the oils from the salve from ruining my sheets and comforter.

I can sleep on my side without it hurting much. The arm pain is mostly gone but returns intermittently. It’s a weird numb and aching feeling, mostly underneath my arms extending between my armpit and my elbow, and mostly on my left arm (my left breast was bigger so not quite sure if this had anything to do with it).

Week Seven

I went back to work at my job in DC (I work on-call at a women’s homeless shelter in addition to my freelancing work) during week seven. More people have been finding out about my surgery; it feels weird to share what used to be my deepest secret (that I hated my breasts) with people. Upon hearing that I’d gotten my breasts removed, most peoples’ initial reactions were horror.

“Oh my God, do you have cancer?”

“Are you ok?”

“What happened??”

It was, I have to admit, pretty entertaining to watch my coworkers’ expressions change from horror to confusion to the realization that I didn’t have cancer, I just hated my breasts. The ending line was always “As long as you’re happy.”

Thank you, Mary, Allison, and Jaynada, I am happy!

Anyway, during week seven, I’m still feeling weird about my stretch marks. I just wish I had been prepared for the fact that they would still be there. My rash is completely gone, which is good, but there are still some purple marks on my skin where it was. It takes my skin forever to heal!

I’m using my scar salve every night with just a t-shirt to go to bed. I can sleep on my side without much pain, and my arm pain is completely gone. I even went for a 1.5-mile run this week and I’m feeling good. I can get in and out of t-shirts easily, but tight clothes are still a little difficult for me to manage.

Week Eight

So week eight, there’s not much to note. My rash is gone but still some marks where it was. I have no arm pain. I’m continuing to exercise more, although I still have a little trouble getting out of tight shirts.

I’m feeling better about my chest in general and starting to accept my stretch marks. I’m feeling a little more each day like I don’t have boobs.

I’ve been lifting heavier things and have some mild pain when doing so. Sometimes when I wake up, my incisions feel sore. Twisting my body is difficult. At the end of week eight, I began doing yoga and weights again. Surprisingly, the hardest part has been lifting my arms over my head. I can feel the skin stretching in a weird way, almost like my incisions are pulling apart (this is the sensation I talked about in Week Two). It’s not painful, it just feels uncomfortable. I’m guessing this will go away with time.

My surgeon also told me before my procedure that my chest wall (whatever that is) was extremely asymmetrical and that he couldn’t fix that, so my chest would have an unusual shape after the procedure. I’m certainly noticing it more as I heal, but I actually think it’s adorable and it makes my body really unique (if I can get a good picture of the asymmetry and its effect at some point, I’ll update this post with it!).

My Magical Scar Salve

So I’m still figuring out how magical this scar salve really is, but I have high hopes for it. My herbalist Mischa Schuler at Wild Carrot Herbs assisted me with enhancing this recipe for scars and stretch marks.

  • 8 tablespoons herb-infused olive oil (I used a mix of organic violet flowers, arnica, comfrey, calendula, and yarrow)
  • 5 tablespoons rosehip seed oil
  • 2 tablespoons moringa oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea buckthorn seed oil
  • 2 teaspoon vitamin E oil
  • 2 tablespoon beeswax
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa butter
  • 24 drops helichrysum essential oil
  • 16 drops lavender essential oil

It was really fun (but also really expensive) to make this salve. I’ll post updates as I see how it’s working, right now, all is going well but it’s too early to tell if it’s helping my scars and stretch marks. It made enough salve for me to use for a long time, I’m expecting it will last me a year with daily use, if not longer.

For scar management, I’m exclusively using this salve and didn’t use the silicone strips my surgeon recommended. I just wanted to go this route; it’s a personal preference. I just massage the ointment into my chest scars every night and put a clean t-shirt on and hop into bed.

FAQs About My Top Surgery Experience

How Did You Choose Your Surgeon?

As a Cancer and an empath, my relationships with people are very important to me and I am easily affected by people’s attitudes and energy.

I chose my surgeon because he was very experienced and I had an initial positive experience with his practice. He has almost 20 years of experience doing breast surgeries, including mastectomies. I didn’t choose him because I loved his personality. But he did spend an hour with me during my initial consultation, and invited me to return for a second consultation just to be sure I still wanted to continue with the procedure and to answer follow-up questions.

I’ve seen a lot of transgender and non-binary individuals say they are embarrassed about showing their breasts to the surgeon. It is awkward! I mean, you’re exposing a part of your body that you hate to a complete stranger. Of course, I didn’t like that part of the consultation (or the part right before the surgery, when the surgeon draws on and around your breasts) but unfortunately, it’s part of getting top surgery.

For the most part, I had a positive experience with my surgeon although, in a perfect world, I would have chosen a surgeon I felt really connected with AND was super experienced.

What Questions Did You Ask During Your Consultation?

I asked so many questions! Here’s the list of the exact questions I asked:

Will all breast tissue be removed?

Do you have experience with aesthetic flat closure?

Can I see pictures of before/after with no nipples?

Will the surgery reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Recovery time?

Risks/complications?

Will my breast tenderness with periods go away completely?

Will I get liposuction around breasts to prevent “dog ears”?

Will I have drains?

Are there any long-term effects, for example, I like to exercise, will I feel pain when running/lifting weights/yoga?

What happens to my breasts once they are removed? (do you keep them/use them for research, can I keep them, etc.?)

If I get pregnant, will there be any breast tissue left that would produce breastmilk, swell, or affect my chest/surgery results?

Do you offer financing?

Does the estimate (price) include follow-up appointments, post-op procedures such as drain removal?

Will I be able to go home the same day? How long will surgery take?

What type of anesthesia will be used?

How exactly will the surgery be done (incisions)?

Where will my scars be? What shape/size will they be?

What can I do to help scars heal?

Will I need revisions? What percentage of your patients ask for revisions? What is the pricing for revisions?

Am I at higher risk for seroma? What percentage of your patients experience this?

What needs to happen before the procedure? Bloodwork? Letter?

Here are the questions I did NOT ask but SHOULD have asked:

Will my stretch marks still be there after the surgery?

I didn’t ask this question and REALLY wish I did because I didn’t realize that I would still have some stretch marks around my scars and my surgeon and I never talked about this.

You REALLY have to be proactive and advocate for yourself and ask every single question you can think of. It really sucks, but you CANNOT expect your surgeon to tell you these things. You have to ask even if it seems like a stupid question. There are no stupid questions, especially not compared to how dumb you’ll feel after the procedure is over, and wham! There are your stretch marks.

Don’t feel like you’re bothering them with all your questions and if they make you feel like you’re bothering them, find another surgeon. You (or your insurance company) are paying this person thousands of dollars to do this very important and sensitive procedure—you deserve to know every detail and inform yourself of the process!

Will the drain holes leave scars?

Didn’t think to ask this but there were actual holes in my body where the drains were (one hole on each side just under my incisions). It’s still early on in my healing process but it looks like they will scar.

A pic of one of my drain holes taken a week after the surgery:

How long will my scars be?

This is a specific question and although my surgeon and I had several conversations about where exactly my scars would be as far as how far up they would be on my chest, we didn’t talk about how long they would be. My scars are pretty long and extend to the very end of each armpit. So I have two scars, one for each breast, that are seven inches long each, which is about 14 inches of scar tissue.

Can I purchase my own binder for after the procedure?

I didn’t know to ask this and ended up getting charged $200 for a binder that cost $28.50 online (from the same exact website the surgeon ordered it from). The surgeon’s office refused to refund me the difference (and they were rude about it).

Did You Need a Letter to Get Top Surgery?

No. For those who don’t know what this is, this is a letter from a therapist stating that you want the surgery for gender-related reasons and that you have documented gender or body dysphoria. Even though I’m not transgender, I was a little surprised that my surgeon didn’t require a letter prior to my surgery. All he asked was that I come in for a second consultation before actually scheduling the surgery. He also didn’t require any blood work prior to the procedure, which was a little surprising to me too. The whole thing was relatively easy as far as my feelings being validated and the surgeon being willing to do the procedure.

How Did You Pay for the Procedure? Did Insurance Cover It? How Much Did It Cost?

Since I am not transgender and it was an elective procedure, my insurance did not cover any of my surgery. I had to pay a facility fee, a surgeon’s fee, and an anesthesia fee out of pocket. The total cost of everything was $11,225.

I could have went through the process of finding a therapist and getting myself documented as non-binary, but this would have taken more time, and I’m still not sure if the insurance could have covered the procedure. I’m not sure how well that would have worked out since I don’t really consider myself a certain gender, and I present as female for the most part.

While I technically had the immediate funds to cover my procedure, I didn’t want to drain my disposable funds and so instead opened up two new lines of credit to pay for the procedure. I have good credit and got approved for two credit cards, one of which offered 15 months interest-free financing and the other 20 months.

So I paid for the anesthesiologist upfront (which was a little over $1,000) and my down payment for the surgeon (which was $1,000), but then put the rest on these two credit cards, so now I have 15 and 20 months to pay off the balances interest-free, which is great (I would highly recommend this option to people who have good credit and are looking for a way to pay off a large balance interest-free, I’m SO happy I found out that I could do this! Here’s an article about it in case you’re interested).

ALSO I had to pay for my breast tissue to be tested for breast cancer after removal. This was something my surgeon required. The cost of that was over $2,300, but fortunately, insurance covered a lot of it, so I ended up having to pay $650 in addition to the $11,225.

How Long Did You Have to Take Off Work?

So I took off seven weeks from my on-call job in DC at a women’s homeless shelter and I only took off one day of writing. I was writing in bed the day after the procedure: freelancing life! I probably didn’t need to take the full seven weeks off of my DC job, but I wanted to be safe and that job can be unpredictable as far as things happening on the job, so wanted to be sure I would be recovered enough to handle anything that might happen. If I had a standard office job, I would think taking off at least a week (more like 10 days) would be appropriate. If I could have, I would have taken a full week off of everything to do nothing but watch movies and eat toast.

How Long Until You Were Able to Drive?

I drove at the end of week three but felt like I was probably ok to drive at the three-week mark.

How Much Pain Were You In?

Not much pain at all! My surgeon used some type of numbing stuff (I don’t have the name for this, sorry) which prevented me from having to take narcotics at all. I only had to take Tylenol for about a week and that was it. Of course, my surgical site was sore, but as far as actual pain, there really wasn’t any.

What Was the Worst Part of the Surgery?

There were three parts of the surgery that I felt were “the worst”, but the primary one was the nausea. I was intensely nauseous for two whole days following the surgery, and it finally started getting better on the third day. However, I’m prone to motion sickness and nausea in general, and I found that my nausea was worse in general in the weeks following my surgery.

The other two horrible parts were:

  • The drains. My drains were in for seven days and as my chest slowly became less numb and was healing, the drain holes felt itchy and irritated and every time I sat down they just felt like they were tugging and it was awful. I was SO happy to get those out at my seven-day post-op visit!
  • The binder. I was really dreading wearing the binder. It was pretty awful. Fortunately, I only wore it for 10 days, and it was very tight for the seven days following the surgery until my post-op appointment. After that, I got to take it off to shower and only wore it for another few days after that. I really just felt like I didn’t need it after the 10 days. I’ve heard other people say they have to wear it for six weeks—I wonder if this just has to do with whether or not you get nipple grafts?

Why Didn’t You Get Nipple Grafts?

This is a really personal question but it has a simple answer: I didn’t want to. All the years I had envisioned my chest without breasts, I imagined it without nipples too. I didn’t even know nipple grafts were a thing until I got older and learned more about top surgery. My nipples weren’t important to me and I chose not to keep them.

Why Did You Get Straight Scars Rather Than Following the Pectoral Line?

My surgeon wanted to follow the pectoral line for the scars but I told him no. That wasn’t what I wanted. I felt that it would have given my chest a more masculine appearance, and since I’m not transgender and didn’t want to appear more masculine, I opted for straight scars. My surgeon said straight scars like mine are more of what cancer patients who get double mastectomies get. That’s not the reason why I wanted it, I just felt that aesthetically they were more pleasing to me. I’m very happy with my decision to do this!

How Long Did You Need Someone’s Help After the Surgery?

I’m sensitive to medication was extremely nauseous for two whole days following the surgery even with taking two kinds of anti-nausea medication (read that again). After that, I felt more capable and aware, but not enough to fully take care of myself. I’m also a bunny mom and was not able to fully care for my bunnies until about two weeks post-op.

In my experience, having someone there until you get your drains out (which is normally seven days following the procedure) is necessary. At least, this was the case for me. If you can’t get someone to stay with you for the full seven days, I would say for a minimum of three days following the surgery (just make sure you have clothes that are easy to put on and put all of your necessary things within easy reach!).

What Surprised You the Most About Having Top Surgery?

There were so many things!

  • How scary it was to be in the operating room as the nurses strapped me down to the operating table, hearing the anesthesiologist say he was giving me “the medication”, just waiting to be unconscious. It was literally like someone flicked a switch and it was lights out.
  • How sick (nauseous) I felt after the procedure.
  • I had some vaginal bleeding after the surgery, which I noticed after I got home. My husband called the surgeon and he said he wasn’t sure what it from, but could be from the trauma of the surgery. That freaked me out a little (has anyone else had this experience??).
  • How it didn’t even feel like I’d gotten my breasts removed.
  • Discovering days after the procedure that the surgeon (or someone) had cut my armpit hair.
  • How emotional and in need of emotional support I felt (I’m so grateful to everyone who checked in on me!).
  • How much I hated wearing button-down shirts (this is really weird but I would recommend having clothes you actually like to wear after the procedure. There was something about wearing powder-blue button-down shirts that just made me feel awful. I wish I had something fun to wear to make me feel better during this crappy time).
  • How much I enjoyed saying “my chest” instead of “my breasts”.
  • How I didn’t remember much after the anesthesia.
  • How I didn’t realize that after surgery, I thought my body would be perfect. It was NOT perfect. I had ugly, uneven scar tissue, stretch marks, and an asymmetrical chest wall. I think I thought that once my breasts were gone that my body would be perfect and beautiful. It’s still beautiful, but it’s definitely not perfect. The surgery didn’t magically make it perfect.
  • How I immediately began noticing boobs after my surgery. Did anyone else have this experience? It was super weird! I literally never paid attention to anyone else’s boobs before the surgery and now it’s like I’m seeing them everywhere. Not sure how to explain this.

What Were the Things That Helped You the Most?

  • Straws. I kept reading about these but felt like they were overrated. Turns out, I really needed them for the first few days after surgery!
  • Button-down shirts. I hate button-down shirts but unfortunately you just really need them following surgery.
  • Lemon and honey tea for my nausea, as well as smelling lemon essential oil. I wish I had a diffuser at the time; I didn’t know how good lemon was for nausea! Normally I would take ginger but I couldn’t take ginger because it thins the blood and can increase risk for bleeding following surgery.
  • V-neck shirts. This is a weird one, but I slept with a t-shirt on after my surgery for two reasons. The first is that I wanted to protect my scars from rubbing on my sheets and comforter, and the second is that I was using my scar salve which contained a bunch of oils and cocoa butter, which would have stained my bedding. The V-neck style was nice because I didn’t feel like I was getting choked while I was sleeping because I move around a lot and regular t-shirts were just too constricting.
  • Freezing food. I made smoothies, broth, and frozen lasagna and chili, all of which really helped when my husband and I didn’t feel like going to the store and I still needed nutrients, ha.

Is There Anything You Would Have Done Differently?

YES! Outside of asking my surgeon the questions I neglected to ask, there is one big thing I would have done differently. And that thing is—DO NOT eat pizza the night before your surgery!

I couldn’t eat or drink after midnight the night before my surgery and for some idiotic reason my husband and I still aren’t sure about we decided to get takeout (something we almost never do) and have a gluten-free dairy-free pizza the night before my surgery.

The result? I was INSANELY thirsty and couldn’t drink anything! By the time I arrived at the surgery center at 8:30 the next morning, I was practically dying of thirst. It was miserable. The nurse couldn’t even get a vein on me because I was so dehydrated, which is something that never happens to me (I have good veins, thank you very much!). The result was this:

So yeah next time… I would literally eat a fruit salad and lots of water the night before my surgery.

Do You Miss Your Breasts?

Honestly? It’s really weird but I do miss them sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I rarely feel this way. Sometimes I miss them during sex which is weird because I kinda hated doing anything with them during sex. Sometimes I miss how soft my chest used to be (it’s really hard now). Mostly I’m ecstatic that they’re gone but I think it’s to be expected to miss them sometimes, even if you hated them (it’s like missing an ex you don’t regret breaking up with, ha).

Finally! That Was a Long Post!

I had tried to prepare so much for my surgery, and I think I did a good job, but there are some things you really just can’t prepare for, and you just have to experience it.

If you have any questions about my journey or healing process, I’d love to hear from you! You can leave a comment below or reach me directly at jenn@thegreenwritingdesk.com. I’d also love to hear from you (and I’m sure other readers would love to know too) if you’ve gotten top surgery and found something helpful or surprising about having the procedure!

I’d like to thank the transgender community and all the individuals who posted videos or articles about their experience, they helped me SO much and without them I would have been so lost with preparing for this procedure. Their information empowered me to advocate for myself as much as possible, and it’s part of the reason why I’m writing this article and sharing this information with you now. So THANK YOU!

The Five Stages of Grief and Plastic Surgery

I got plastic surgery five weeks ago. I was so excited about the surgery (I got an elective double mastectomy without nipple grafts—you can read the story here) that it didn’t seem to me that I could feel anything other than wildly excited about having my dream of not having breasts come true.

However, I had enough sense to know that I would likely experience many different emotions after the surgery—and not all of them would be positive.

As the surgery got closer, I became less excited and more anxious, despite knowing that I had made the right decision. Of course, I couldn’t anticipate the exact emotions that I would feel after the surgery. I was surprised by some of them. In the months before my surgery, I wondered: would I miss my breasts? Would I think I had made a huge mistake? What I went through was a little like the five stages of grief after my plastic surgery procedure.

Denial

It didn’t feel like my breasts were gone for a while after the procedure. It’s hard to explain this to people. I had two wounds on my chest after my surgery, two long incisions starting in the middle of my chest and extending to the end of each armpit. I had stitches. I didn’t feel “free” or unburdened by not having breasts anymore. Instead, I couldn’t lift my arms over my head and I had a bandage on that was wrapped so tight that I couldn’t take a deep breath.

For the first week, before the bandage came off and I got to see my new chest for the first time, I literally felt like I was wearing a corset and that my breasts were simply smushed underneath that white binder (it didn’t help that my chest was numb, so I couldn’t really feel anything).

In a way, it felt like I was in denial that I had just had major surgery and that both my breasts were gone. When the surgeon removed my bandages at my post-op appointment and I saw my new chest for the very first time, I finally realized that they weren’t there. They were gone forever.

Anger

Why did I do this to myself?

It was hard not to wonder this in the first week, where for two days, I was so nauseous from the anesthesia that I couldn’t walk to the bathroom by myself. Where I couldn’t even lift a glass to my mouth and had to drink from a straw. Where I cried and thought that it was stupid of me to have maxed out two new credit cards to pay for this elective procedure.

I felt mad simply at the fact that I wanted so badly to have my breasts removed that I had actually gone through with this expensive and life-changing procedure. It was hard not to feel like the whole thing had been a giant mistake. My husband was very reassuring and told me my feelings were normal. After all, I couldn’t take a deep breath, bathe, or take care of my beautiful bunnies. It was natural that I’d be pissed, but at the time, it was hard to not be hard on myself.

Bargaining

What if I had gotten a different procedure done? The surgeon had asked me if I considered a breast reduction or another surgery such as a breast lift to “correct” my breasts. But my desire to get my breasts removed wasn’t about the way they looked; it was about the way I felt, and I just wanted them completely gone.

Should I have gotten a double mastectomy? Maybe removing my breasts wasn’t the right decision. Maybe I would miss them one day. Maybe I would find that, years from now, I would want to live my life as a woman with boobs.

I know this isn’t quite like the traditional bargaining stage of grief, but it’s difficult not to wrestle with yourself and consider if you might have taken another path. What I was facing in that moment—a lifetime with a new body that I was still getting used to—felt unbearable in a weird way, and thinking about alternatives to my decision was a result of that.

Depression

This is the part where I cried and told Ian (my husband) that I was afraid he wouldn’t love me anymore. Ian has always been amazing and so reassuring. We had so many conversations about my decision to remove my breasts, and have talked a lot about my feelings about my breasts over our 10 years of knowing each other and our two years of marriage.

I think what got to me was that almost every single person I told about the surgery asked about Ian first.

“What does Ian think?”

“Is Ian ok with this?”

“Did Ian know you were thinking about doing this before you got married?”

“I feel bad for Ian.”

After the surgery, I was feeling very emotional and experiencing a lot of feelings and I think I didn’t allow myself the space to acknowledge how much it had affected me that so many people had asked about Ian’s feelings about my body. News flash: Ian didn’t marry me for my breasts, and it’s my body, not his.

But lying in bed on the third day after surgery, Ian held my hand while I cried and I told him that I was afraid he wouldn’t love me anymore or find me attractive. I finally gave myself space to process these feelings. He was reassuring and we talked about our feelings, but I still felt depressed that not only was I recovering from major surgery, but that I had made a decision that I couldn’t take back (not that I wanted to take it back, but there’s something very sobering about making a decision that you can’t change).

Acceptance

I saw my new chest for the first time a week after the surgery. I was lying back on the chair in the exam room at my plastic surgeon’s office while the surgeon and an assistant unwrapped my bandages. There was a part of me that felt like my breasts were going to pop out after they unwrapped the bandages. I watched, looking down as the last bandage was removed and my new chest felt the cold air for the first time. “Welcome to your new chest,” the surgeon said.

It was strange looking down and seeing how small my chest looked. My breasts were a DD cup, and I had some fat around them, so I had also had liposuction during the procedure to prevent “dog ears”—pockets of fat left in the armpit area after a double mastectomy, as they’re known in the transgender community.

When I saw my new chest, I was amazed at how good it looked. Like I’d been dreaming for the past 15 years. Yes, I had stitches and purple marker and some blood around the wounds, but this was how I had wanted to look for so long. When I saw my new chest, I felt acceptance blooming in my heart, a love for something I could have only imagined in my other life.

It’s only been a little over a month, but I love my new chest. I’m still processing all the feelings that I’m experiencing as a result of choosing to get my breasts removed at age 30. But as I navigate my new body and my new life, I’m grateful to be able to say that my surgeon did an excellent job, the people in my life have been mostly encouraging and supportive, and I’m very happy with my new body.

I’m Not Trans But I Got Top Surgery: Why I Got a Double Mastectomy at Age 30

I never thought I’d be writing this article.

Five years ago, I read an amazing article on Elephant Journal that kickstarted my journey to trying to love my breasts.

I’d always hated my breasts. I was sexually molested as a child and also bullied by my mom about my body. These two important things that shaped my outlook of myself made me hate my breasts, at least on a superficial level. But underneath all that, the hatred I felt for my breasts was solely mine. Beneath those layers of trauma, shame, and guilt, it was just me and my feelings. And outside of my experiences, I’ve never truly felt good about my breasts.

I thought about removing my breasts for a long time. As a young teenager, I once duct-taped my breasts in front of the mirror, wondering what it would feel like to have them pressed completely flat against my body, almost like I didn’t have them. I thought about cutting them off myself (this just shows you how young I was; I really thought it wouldn’t be that hard to cut them off myself and sew up the wounds).

At age 18, I confided in one of my aunts that I wanted to get both my breasts and my uterus removed. My breasts because, of course, I hated them, and my uterus because I’d had horrible periods for six years at that point and hated feeling so incapacitated by my body. My aunt responded with “I think you’re experiencing a sexual identity crisis”.

I may have been young at that point, but I knew I wasn’t a lesbian. I’d always been into guys and I identified as a girl. I was ok with my vagina and my sexuality, but I just didn’t like some parts of my body.

My breasts were the most obvious part, as I was a DD cup and they were very noticeable.

By the time I read the Elephant Journal article at age 25, I’d been spending hundreds of dollars every year at Victoria’s Secret on bras, panties, and lingerie that I felt made me feel more empowered and secure about my breasts. Reading that article forced me to face an uncomfortable truth about myself—I didn’t feel empowered about my body at all. I felt ashamed, so ashamed that I had to wear fancy bras to give the impression that I was confident, to my friends, to my boyfriend, to everyone. When I took the bra off, I was so uncomfortable that it was shocking.

I didn’t wear a bra (outside of exercising) for five years after I read that article. So how did I get from there to here, five years later, getting a double mastectomy?

I thought I could embrace my breasts by not wearing a bra. For the five years I didn’t wear a bra, I tried my absolute best to love my body. I tried to not feel weird when my boyfriend, then fiance, then husband (as he transformed over a 10-year period, ha) and I did stuff with them during our intimacy. I tried to feel comfortable and confident in my clothing. The truth was that I was more physically comfortable, but mentally, I was a wreck. I was extremely self-conscious, and although I became somewhat less self-conscious over time, and even hated my breasts less, I still didn’t like them and didn’t want them on my body.

I think it’s important to note here that my feelings about my breasts weren’t about the way my breasts looked. It was about how I felt, both physically and mentally, about having them as part of my body.

Earlier this year, Nadir and Fiver, two of my amazing and beautiful rabbits, died. It was extremely hard (those words don’t do the experience justice at all) and I’m not sure how I’m still here after experiencing that grief. Like any traumatic or life-changing event, it shifted my perspective on things. I’m not sure how to explain this. I know I should, being a professional writer, and maybe one day I’ll have the words to describe how I feel like Nadir and Fiver’s death guided me to this decision. It wasn’t because I was upset. It wasn’t because my bunnies, the most special and important and beautiful beings in my life, suddenly weren’t there anymore, at least not in the way they were.

It was because I realized that I deserved to be happy. I wanted to be happy. Not even because I’d experienced profound loss, but because their deaths transformed me. I was born again, even if I didn’t want to be, even if I would have given anything to have them back. My life after witnessing their deaths was startling—I couldn’t relate to people, I had two bald spots on my head from where my hair fell out because of the grief I’d experienced, and I resented my other rabbits for surviving when I just wanted Nadir and Fiver back.

One night, my husband and I were being intimate before I had to go into work for an overnight shift for my on-call job in DC at a women’s homeless shelter. We were engaging with my breasts and I felt so uncomfortable and embarrassed that my body was literally pulling away from him. He sensed my discomfort, and we stopped. This happened frequently during physical intimacy for us. A lot of times, we didn’t even engage with my breasts because it ruined sex for me. Normally, we’d stop with my breasts and move on.

But something was different this night. Something had shifted inside of me. It was like everything suddenly just “clicked” and I was able to see my desire to remove my breasts with a clarity that I hadn’t experienced before.

On the hour-long drive to work, I thought about what I had experienced. I suddenly, irrevocably, strongly felt that I no longer wanted to live with my breasts. They were beautiful breasts, my husband loved them, they looked ok on my body. But the truth was that I had always hated them and felt so uncomfortable with them. Outside of the way my family made me feel about them, I had just always hated them and wished that they weren’t there.

I thought about A Year Without a Name, a book I read earlier this year by Cyrus Grace Dunham. Cyrus is transgender and I loved reading his account of coming to terms with his gender. He got top surgery (a double mastectomy with a nipple graft). When I read about his experience with his breasts, I both identified with it and didn’t identify with it. He starved himself at one point to try and get rid of his breasts. I didn’t do that. But was I much different, duct-taping my breasts, considering cutting them off myself with a sharp knife?

I decided to write a letter to Cyrus, even though at that moment, I didn’t know how to reach him. In my head, I wrote the letter as I drove. I talked about how I was molested as a child. How my mom made me feel like shit about my body. How my breasts never felt right on my body.

By the time I parked on the street outside my job in DC and finished the letter, I knew. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to get my breasts removed.

That night, I researched extensively about top surgery and elective double mastectomies. I couldn’t find anyone like me who still identified as a woman and wanted their breasts removed (today, I think I’m more non-binary than anything—although I’m not big on labels for myself—and I know of at least one other person who has had their breasts removed and still identifies as female). But I knew, just as I knew when I was 18 and my aunt made me feel like I didn’t know myself, that this was how I felt, this was what I wanted. I didn’t need to question it. I knew it buried in my heart; I would recognize it anywhere.

I found a potential plastic surgeon near where I lived. The next day, I called and made an appointment for a consultation for an elective double mastectomy. Two weeks later, I had my consultation, and the surgeon said he had never seen anyone like me who wasn’t transgender but wanted their breasts removed. But he agreed to do the surgery, and I felt he understood me and that he would do a good job (he did!).

My husband and I had many conversations about my choice to remove my breasts, both over the decade I have known him and in the months before my surgery. My husband has always known that I have hated my breasts, and as I talked about removing them over the years, has always been supportive of my feelings. He has always told me that he would think I was gorgeous and sexy no matter what. I know he can’t anticipate how he’ll feel about me or my body in five, ten, or fifty years, but I do know he’ll do his best to be honest with me and that we’ll continue to navigate this strange (and exciting) new space together.

My family and friends were largely supportive. My friends were SO supportive. My family was more confused but still supportive, even offering to help me pay for the surgery if I needed it. My one grandmother had issues with the surgery and told me she was upset that I was getting it done. A lot of people asked about Ian (my husband) and his feelings about the surgery. I thought that was a little weird since it’s MY body. It’s not Ian’s body. I’m grateful for everyone’s support, and for those that had the courage to tell me their negative feelings (hey, Grandma!), I am grateful for their honesty.

I told my husband in the months before I officially decided to get my breasts removed that I felt like I needed to want to get the surgery, instead of feeling like I needed it. I didn’t want to feel like I needed to have my breasts removed, I felt like I had to want it. After Nadir and Fiver’s death, I no longer felt like I needed to have my breasts removed. I could appreciate their beauty, their uniqueness, but they never felt like mine. I suddenly wanted to have them removed more than anything.

Two months after my initial consultation, on November 23, 2020, after more than 15 years of wanting to get my breasts removed, I got a double mastectomy (no nipple grafts). In the end, I paid over $11,000 to have a plastic surgeon remove my breasts while I was unconscious on an operating table. My gorgeous and amazing husband took care of me after the surgery. That first week was an emotional week. I cried and told my husband that I was afraid he wouldn’t love me anymore. He fed me cinnamon raisin toast and helped me sip water through a straw, emptied my drains and dressed me.

Before my bandages came off and we saw my new chest for the first time, I thought so many things. I thought my new chest wouldn’t feel like me. I thought I would cry with happiness. I thought I would be afraid. I thought that I wouldn’t love it as much as I wanted to.

Turns out, my new chest was scary: it was just so different. But it felt like me. I didn’t cry with happiness. But it felt right. And I loved it immediately, immensely.

I’m still getting used to my new chest (if you’ve read my tattoo grief article, I definitely went through a little like the five stages of grief with my surgery in that first week—I will write an article about that at some point!), and will post pictures soon as well as my recovery journey for those who are interested!

For My 30th Birthday, I Was Going to Get a Neck Tattoo—Instead I Found Out I Have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Thirteen years after my misdiagnosed autoimmune disorder, 18 years after having debilitating painful periods almost every month, and almost nine years after going gluten-free and feeling healthy, here I am with a potential new diagnosis.

In hindsight, it all makes perfect sense. Ehlers-Danlos and mast cell activation syndrome. I have many of the symptoms of each. Yet, no one—outside of my integrative health doctor a few months ago—told me that I had these disorders.

Yet I know that at least one of my doctors knew I had Ehlers-Danlos. She had me perform the maneuvers of the Beighton score during my appointment at the age of 21. At the time, I didn’t know that’s what she was asking me to do; all I knew was that she was surprised by my hypermobility. She never told me I had the disorder.

(I recently attempted to find this doctor—who told me I would be on chemotherapy for the rest of my life to manage my autoimmune disorder, and who I only saw once—to get my records only to find that the practice is closed and I cannot locate her. Very frustrating. She came highly recommended to me from some acquaintances who had lupus—she turned out to be a total joke. She knew I had Ehlers-Danlos, probably knew about the connection between Ehlers-Danlos and mast cell activation syndrome, and probably could have come to the conclusion that my “autoimmune disease” was a result of my body overreacting to foods that it didn’t like.) Anyway!

So how did I get from there to HERE?

You can read the full story here, but the short version is this: I walked out of that doctor’s office feeling hopeless yet determine that this was not going to be my life. I found an herbalist who helped me figure out that gluten was causing all my symptoms. I stopped eating gluten and have been fine for the past nine years without any medication.

And yet.

While I’m currently healthier than I’ve ever been in my whole life, there were still some nagging issues that I couldn’t quite figure out.

  • The insanely painful periods (which have improved SO MUCH with help from my herbalists, but still sometimes leave me in bed all day)
  • My unexplained anxiety and skin picking disorder
  • The bad reaction I’d often have to alcohol (I’ve since quit drinking for good)
  • Having brain fog after eating
  • My orthostatic hypotension and low blood pressure
  • Hives after eating food (never quite figured out which foods caused this)
  • Poor wound healing, scars, and dry skin
  • The fact that I feel cold almost all the time

I couldn’t put my finger on it, and often times I’d forget that many of these symptoms weren’t normal because I’d been experiencing them forever. I chalked it up to genetics: my dad has insomnia and dry skin, my mom and brother have some form of skin picking disorder (which is actually a mild form of OCD).

Brain fog and hives are classic symptoms of a food intolerance, but I couldn’t figure out what I was eating that was causing these symptoms. I already don’t eat gluten, dairy, alcohol, and genetically modified food. I also do my best to avoid refined sugars (although, of course, I do indulge once in a while).

So what was going on?

I blamed it on my parents: I got screwed with bad genes, blah blah blah. But that didn’t explain my low blood pressure (high blood pressure runs on both sides of my family), and it didn’t explain my bad periods. There were gaps that I didn’t understand.

And then.

I needed to talk to my integrative health doctor to get some paperwork for my job in DC. I tried to get reception to send it, but they said that I had to schedule an appointment. Boo. So I did, even though I didn’t really feel that I needed to see him. It was COVID times, so I had a phone appointment with him (I love my integrative health doctor, I just hate doctors in general, so I always have an attitude when talking to him).

We spoke about some of my symptoms and he suddenly but strongly suggested that I had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and mast cell activation syndrome after asking me some questions. After asking me to come in for bloodwork, we got off the phone.

At first, I didn’t think much of his suggestions, but then, I felt upset. Here I am with yet another disorder—ahem, disorders—at age 30.

So I started researching and read the material my doctor sent me. I was convinced that I had this. I had so many of the symptoms. Not only could I perform several of the actions on the Beighton score, but I also had Gorlin sign—the ability to touch the tip of my nose with my tongue—something I’d always been able to do. Only 10% of people can do this, but 50% of people with Ehlers-Danlos can.

I’m still learning about Ehlers-Danlos and mast cell activation syndrome, but I can’t help but feel that this is a huge missing link in the big picture of my health—a merging of my misdiagnosis and my current symptoms. I also found some tentative research about the role of mast cells in dermatomyositis, and how mast cells could not only be “the first cells” to become activated in dermatomyositis, but also how maybe treating mast cell activation could be a missing link for those with dermatomyositis.

I’m currently working my herbalist to address many of my mast cell related symptoms and am excited to see what the future holds for my health! And the neck tattoo? Don’t worry, it’s on the list for next year 🙂

I’m Turning 30: Here’s What I’ve Learned So Far in Life

Ok so technically I turned 30 a couple days ago (where are my fellow Cancers????). I was hoping to get this post up before then, but, you know, life 🙂

I’ve had some insane experiences in my life and I never thought I’d live past 18. Turning 30 inspired me to reflect on all the things I’ve learned so far in my three decades on this planet.

So here are 20 things I’ve learned in my 30 years of being alive.

1. Your parents are imperfect people. Maybe they did the best they could. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they were unenlightened pieces of shit who abused you (sorry, just read Dr. Alice Miller’s The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting, which I highly recommend!). You don’t have to forgive them. You do not owe them anything. And you are not responsible for their happiness, problems, or their general wellbeing. 

2. Love will come in many forms. You won’t always recognize it or be willing to receive it. It could be in the form of forgiveness. It could be an animal that needs your help. It could be a person you just met. Open yourself to receive all love’s mystical forms. They will be the best decisions you ever make.

3. If you’ve had orthodontic work in the past, wear your retainer! Unfortunately, you need to wear it nightly for life to keep your teeth from shifting. Even if you can’t do nightly, do it as often as you can, even if it’s only once every few weeks. It’ll prevent your teeth from shifting and you from having to get braces again when you’re like 45.

4. Not everyone will understand you, and that’s ok, because you won’t understand everyone either. Be unapologetically yourself because there’s only one you, and you are completely magic.

5. Take care of your body. It’s really the only thing you have. Your care of your body affects everything about your life. Don’t shortchange yourself by neglecting your temple.

6. Don’t hold back. You will regret every second you spent making small talk or letting other people make you feel bad. Let go of the meaningless things and dig your hands into the deepness of life. It’s here that your growth will happen.

7. The moments that bring you to your knees and leave you struggling to breathe are your most profound truths. Don’t deny what you feel. Experience every flinching emotion that presents itself. You won’t always feel this way. Embrace it.

8. Take care of your skin just like your inner body and mind. Listen to what it needs. Only use pure products. It’ll thank you!

9. Your teachers are not who or what you think they are. They come in different forms. They could be a dying rabbit. They could be a child. They could be a rainstorm. They could be an abusive partner. LISTEN. Listen to what everything is telling you. Let it transform you, let it teach you, let it bring you closer to your truth.

10. Pay attention to what others’ lives are like. They will also be your teachers. Let their paths be mirrors to your own life. And remember that what you react to in others is also within you.

11. Trust your gut. Logic could be screaming that something makes sense, but if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. You always have the choice to walk away. You always have the right to change your mind.

12. Only buy things that truly inspire you (and, you know, food). Everything else is a waste of your money.

13. FLOSS YOUR TEETH! And go to the dentist for a cleaning every once in a while! Your teeth will look whiter and you’ll help prevent so many common dental problems as you age.

14. Blood is just blood. If your family doesn’t respect you, they don’t deserve a place in your life, period. You deserve to be surrounded by people who truly see you and nourish your best self.

15. Be kind to people. You truly have no idea what someone else is going through. Think about how you would want someone to treat you on your darkest days. Maybe the person who cut you off was rushing to their sick or dying spouse. Maybe the person who gave you a nasty look in the grocery store was jealous of how magical you are. Maybe their rudeness has nothing to do with you.

16. That being said, don’t tolerate disrespect. You deserve to be respected.

17. Acknowledge your feelings. It’s amazing how much hurt, how much shame, how much negativity, can happen when feelings go unrealized. Recognize how you feel. You don’t have to name it, but do look at it full on. Let it know that you see it. Only then will it release its hold on you.

18. EAT GOOD FOOD (and by good, I mean healthy). You can pay for health insurance, but you can’t pay for your health. Invest in it now by nourishing your body. Inform yourself. Get tested for food intolerances. Listen to your symptoms. The common factor of all disease is inflammation. Keep it down by being smart about what you eat.

19. Not everyone is able to support you in the ways that you need. They may not be physically, mentally, or spiritually able to. Don’t punish them for this or resent them for the things they are not able to do or do not know how to do. At the end of the day, only you are responsible for your care of yourself.

20. The things that have broken you are not the things that define you. They are your teachers, yes. They are pointers to the truth. But they are not what makes you you. You are free to learn from them and let them go.

I’m interested to see what the next decade brings!

The Real, Research-Backed Reasons Why (And How) Marijuana Can Hurt You

I don’t usually discuss my personal views on things such as recreational drugs on my blog, but I’ve always been anti-marijuana (and anti-drug in general) so this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me.

I have never used recreational drugs, never smoked or vaped ever, and I don’t drink (for the record, I have drank in the past but have never been drunk, and I’ve been officially sober since November 2019).

Unfortunately, it seems as though more people believe that marijuana isn’t harmful to human health (or environmental health), which is leading to an increased number of users.

That being said, I do recognize that using drugs and drinking are personal choices. I would argue that they should be informed choices, so let’s talk about how marijuana can influence the body, as well as my thoughts on cannabidiol (CBD) oil use.

Marijuana Use Can Permanently Alter Brain Function

Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience concludes that smoking as little as one to two joints can change gray matter in the brains of teenagers.

Yes, it was a small study—just 46 teens—but their brains showed more gray matter volume. The biggest changes were in the amygdala, which is involved in fear and other emotions, and in the hippocampus, which involves memory and spatial awareness.

But what does this mean?

The researchers aren’t sure, but the lead author of the study says that teenage brains undergo a process where it gets thinner as it refines synaptic connections, and they suspect that marijuana use disrupts this process.

Let’s look at a larger study.

1,037 individuals were followed from birth to 38 years old, establishing research criteria from before marijuana use started to well after a pattern of use had been established.

The research concluded that “persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline broadly across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education”.

What does this mean, exactly?

It means that cannabis has a neurotoxic (meaning damage to the brain or nervous system) effect on the brain, and even after ceasing cannabis use, neuropsychological functioning (which is related to cognition and behavior) was not fully restored.

Negatively Impacts Fertility and Fetal Development

If you’re planning on having a baby, it’s best to stay away from marijuana for three reasons.

  1. Changes sperm DNA. The psychoactive component in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana alters the DNA of sperm. Again, this was a small study—24 people—but it showed that THC alters a DNA process that’s “essential to normal development”, although researchers aren’t yet clear on how this affects the children this sperm is responsible for.
  2. Problems for baby post-birth. Babies exposed to marijuana in the womb are not only more likely to have a low birth weight, but are more likely to need neonatal intensive care compared to babies whose mothers didn’t use marijuana during pregnancy.
  3. Children may be at an increased risk for behavioral issues. Women who smoked marijuana during pregnancy have been found to have children with behavioral problems, even after controlling for outside variables. Children exposed to marijuana in utero tend to be more impulsive, hyperactive, have lower IQs, and have an increased risk for memory and mental health problems.

Marijuana Use Can Also Affect Your Mental Health

Cannabis use “is likely” to increase the risk of developing disorders such as schizophrenia and social anxiety disorder, and may exacerbate symptoms of bipolar disorder. Heavy cannabis users are also more likely to report having suicidal thoughts.

In one study of 50,000 people, marijuana use during adolescence was associated with a 30 percent increased risk of developing schizophrenia. The higher the marijuana use, the higher the risk for schizophrenia.

Some research also notes an increased risk of depression with regular marijuana use, although other studies have not reached this conclusion. However, a recent study noted that people under the age of 18 who used marijuana were 37 percent more likely to experience depression in early adulthood than those that didn’t.

A small study of 43 people also noted changes in impulse control and hostility, including perceptions of hostility, for people when using marijuana.

Contains Many of the Same Carcinogens as Cigarettes (and Puts 4x More Tar in Your Lungs)

I’ve long argued that smoking marijuana is not better than smoking cigarettes by any means. People like to argue that marijuana is “natural” without having any research to back up their claims. Radon is natural too, but it’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

So what does research say when it comes to marijuana versus cigarettes?

More Tar in Your Lungs

Research concluded that smoking marijuana “results in a substantially greater respiratory burden of carbon monoxide and tar” than smoking a similar quantity of tobacco.

Marijuana also leads to four times the deposition of tar than cigarette smoking.

What does this mean? It means four times the amount of tar is being deposited into your lungs when you smoke marijuana than it would be if you were smoking cigarettes. Tar can take years to leave your lungs after you stop smoking, and the longer you smoke, the longer it’ll take for your body to remove the tar.

Higher Concentrations of Some Chemicals

Other research notes that marijuana and tobacco have many of the same chemicals. In fact, ammonia was up to 20 times greater in marijuana smoke than tobacco smoke (ammonia has a corrosive effect on the lungs and can lead to permanent lung damage).

Additional chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide were found at concentrations 3-5 times higher than those in tobacco smoke. Hydrogen cyanide is extremely poisonous at high levels and is used as a pesticide, and can affect the entire body.

Marijuana smoke also contains 50 percent more benzoprene (a potent cancer-causing chemical) and 75 percent more benzanthracene (also suspected to be a carcinogen) than cigarette smoke.

No, Marijuana Does Not Cure Cancer

And, surprise, marijuana (as well as CBD) does not cure cancer—in fact, with all the chemicals involved in smoking this plant, I’d say there’s a much higher chance that it actually causes cancer, although research has not yet proven this link. However, some studies have concluded that long-term cannabis use increases risk of lung cancer.

Not to Mention…

Some people argue that marijuana use helps alleviate chronic pain and reduce anxiety, among other claims.

I’m not arguing that marijuana doesn’t have these effects on people—but I would argue that there are alternatives to solving your problems than permanently damaging your brain, lungs, and body with a substance, and many of them are more “natural” than smoking marijuana.

With marijuana use, I find it hard to feel that people are actually addressing the root cause of their issue, and instead are covering it up or trying to treat it with marijuana, which, as we’ve seen, can cause even more problems in the body.

A Note on CBD

The use of cannabidiol, or CBD—a non-psychoactive component of marijuana—has been growing in popularity. While CBD has some promising results, my personal thoughts on using CBD are more hesitant.

I believe more clinical trials should be done to study the long-term effects of CBD in the body. I also think there a ton of low-quality CBD products on the market, and as CBD isn’t regulated by the FDA, it’s hard to say what you’re getting in a particular product. If you choose to use CBD, look for full-spectrum hemp oil as a starting point, or follow up with your herbalist or natural healthcare professional to find the best product for you.

Again, I’d argue that for many medical problems, there are healthier alternatives that we can take advantage of until further studies are done on CBD’s effect on the human body. Two of these alternatives are diet changes and herbs, which can dramatically influence chronic pain, anxiety, and even cancer.

Wrapping Up

With all this said, I would not advocate for marijuana use for anyone under any circumstances. I hate seeing how much misinformation there is out there about marijuana, and that’s not even to mention its negative effects on the environment, or how it can increase your risk for drug addiction.

Can we stop saying marijuana is harmless?

Can We Talk About Why I Don’t Shave Anything Except My Head? (Time to Get Personal)

I don’t have any sisters. I’m sandwiched between two brothers.

But I always wanted a sister growing up. My parents say that when I was really young, I said I wanted a sister and was going to name her Jif (my brothers and I are all named with J’s). 

In lieu of sisters, I had several female cousins that I grew up with. This is probably why I wanted a sister so bad. I saw their bond and it didn’t seem to be anything like what I had with my brothers. I was envious.

And so, my introduction to the world of female things didn’t come from my mom (who decided not to talk to me about these things anyway), but from my cousins. This included talk of brasperiods, and, you guessed it, shaving.

I don’t remember thinking much about shaving besides feeling pressured to do it once my cousins started doing it. I don’t remember specifically at what age I started—probably 11 or 12, but I began shaving my legs, underarms, and pubic area.

When I was 13, I decided shaving was stupid and that I didn’t want to do it anymore. And so I stopped shaving my legs.

This went on for a few months while friends argued with me about it. It’s hygienic! One of them declared. Eventually, after someone whispered to me that my current middle-school boyfriend had gotten wind that I didn’t shave my legs, I started shaving again.

This went on for a couple years until, in high school at the age of 15, I decided to stop shaving my legs again, this time for good.

That was almost 15 years ago (God, HOW am I going to be 30 this year?????).

My not-shaving progressed to other areas of my body as I entered adulthood, despite having several boyfriends over the years. At the age of 22 and in college—and dating my long-term boyfriend (now husband)—I decided to stop shaving my armpits. And, in the couple of years after that, I abandoned shaving what’s probably considered the most embarrassing area of all for women to have hair—my pubic area.

Today, I fully embrace my body hair and I love it. Not shaving (I literally don’t own a razor) has made my life blissfully simple and empowering at the same time. My husband loves my hair and couldn’t care less about whether or not I have body hair. Not that his opinion of it would matter to me, anyway. The only opinion that matters is mine.

I keep the hair on my head shaved for the same reasons I don’t shave anything else—it’s easier and I love it.

So without further ado, here’s why I don’t shave my body hair and never will again.

Shaving Is a Waste of My Precious Air-Breathing Seconds

Shaving felt like such a huge waste of time when I did it. It made my shower routine longer, and that damn hair was always growing back. It felt like I was constantly shaving to have my legs look “perfect” and have that smooth, hairless look.

It got old.

There were so many things I’d rather be doing than shaving my legs and wasting a bunch of shaving soap and water. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to be spending time with my family. Most of all, I didn’t want to have to worry about my body hair anymore.

It got to the point where I realized that I was shaving when I didn’t really want to and didn’t know why. And, for me, doing something and not knowing why you’re doing it is a pretty frightening feeling. 

I realized that I didn’t have to shave. Some people might think I was gross, but their opinions didn’t matter, and their negative reactions were a small price to pay for my personal happiness. Shaving was a waste of my life and didn’t make me happy. And so I stopped.

I Cannot Pick and Choose the Parts of My Body That I Love

My body is this crazy, imperfect vessel through which I experience life. Growing up, my mom made me feel pretty crappy about my body, and the parts that she chose to focus on were the parts that I soon came to hate about myself, namely my stomach and my breasts.

At the age of 25, I went through a personal renaissance where I realized that I had been wearing a bra since I was 11 for only one reason—because I was ashamed of my breasts. And why was I ashamed of my breasts? Because my mom made me feel like they were something to hide, something to be ashamed of.

I realized that, just like shaving, I didn’t have to do it. I didn’t have to wear a bra. And so I stopped wearing one even though it was out of my comfort zone, even though it felt totally alien and challenged every single thought or perception I’ve ever had about myself. But that was exactly why I had to do it.

Today, almost five years later, I haven’t worn a bra except for a sports bra when exercising since that November day. And it’s not to spite my mom or challenge my beliefs—it’s because I truly feel more comfortable without one, and not wearing one has empowered me to love my breasts, something I was never able to do before.

The truth is that my body isn’t separate from anything, not from the world that I live in or, physically, my mind. I cannot pick and choose the parts of my body that I accept and love, just as I cannot pick and choose the parts of my husband that I accept and love. If I don’t love and accept my body (or my husband, ha) for what it is in this moment, for all its perfections and imperfections, then I don’t truly love any of it.

My body hair is just another part of my body, and getting rid of it through shaving was not serving me in any way, shape, or form. In fact, it caused me to draw further into my self-loathing, body shame, and past conditioning.

I love my body hair, and I have never wished it wasn’t there since I stopped shaving. It’s part of me, and I love it.

Because 

The single most defining reason why I don’t shave anything except my head is this: I don’t want to.

There are some things people think we have to do in life. I’ve challenged so many of those ideas, and today, I recognize that my life is for me, and it’s the only one I’ve got. So I live it in a way that’s acceptable to me and that makes me happy. And that is the beginning and the end of it for me.

I may not have a 9-5 job with benefits and I may have too many rescued animals and people sometimes mistake me for a cancer patient or a boy, but none of those things matter. I’m happy, and that’s what matters. Shaving just didn’t fit into my definition of personal happiness and for that, I had to let it go.

6 Ways Feeling Suicidal Changed My Life

Note: Before reading this article, please be aware that I discuss sensitive topics such as suicide and self-harm that may be triggering for some people. If you are sensitive to these topics, you may want to consider not reading this article. Please use your discretion before continuing.

In September 2017, I experienced what I now describe as a mental break where I saw something traumatic to me and it impacted me in a profound way.

(I don’t see the point in recounting what I saw here. It does not matter. Everyone’s triggers will be different.)

The next day, I felt utterly hopeless and like I wanted to die.

It was a normal day, except it wasn’t. I actually went shopping at Costco with my mom that morning. It was raining and I was wearing a blue hemp kaftan and had frankincense and myrrh essential oil in my hair. As we walked into the store, I told her a funny story my neighbor had told me, and we doubled over laughing.

I laughed so hard.

And yet, there was a darkness inside me that I couldn’t shake.

Later that evening, as my then-fiancé and I sat on my front porch after dinner, I cried and told him that I felt like I didn’t just want to die, but that I needed to die. We were both afraid, and he held my hand as I told him how I felt.

I felt like nothing mattered. Despite having an amazing family, a wonderful fiancé, two jobs I loved, and four adorable bunnies that gave my life purpose, I felt like none of it mattered and that I needed to kill myself because the world wasn’t ever going to be right and I couldn’t be a part of it anymore.

My newest rescue bunny, Hava Dalal.

So this article is about the isolation I felt while experiencing these feelings and how they changed my life.

I Felt Like I Could Talk to No One (And to This Day, Haven’t Talked to Anyone Besides My Husband About These Feelings)

I’m ready for the criticism on this.

It seems like anytime someone says they’re having feelings of hurting themselves or killing themselves, the immediate reaction is that they are in danger and that they need to:

a) get professional help (such as from a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.)

b) call the Suicide Hotline

c) be admitted to the psychiatric unit of the hospital

I didn’t do any of these things.

In fact, I was afraid to talk to anyone about these feelings. I didn’t talk to anyone besides my now-husband. I tried to talk to my best friend about them, but she has issues with talking about death and so couldn’t talk with me about it. (I completely respect her choices and do not have negative feelings towards her about this.)

So my husband heard everything.

We talked about getting me professional help when my feelings and thoughts didn’t get better. I talked about killing myself for months. I felt depressed about the world (I’m an empath; if you don’t know what that is, you can read an article I wrote about it here. It’ll make a lot of sense why I felt this way if you understand what an empath is). I felt like I couldn’t be here anymore even though if nothing else, my bunnies needed me to take care of them.

One of my adorable rescue bunnies, Fiver Kadeem.

I didn’t self-harm and hadn’t self-harmed anytime in the last several years, but I thought about how I would kill myself. I felt like I “couldn’t” kill myself because I wouldn’t be able to carry out the act of doing it, but some hours, I felt like I had to.

Sometimes I would get home late at night and think about hurting myself, or feel like I needed to hurt myself. I talked with my then-fiancé about all these feelings. He was worried, but he knew I trusted him and didn’t reach out to anyone about my feelings (I suspected he Googled a lot, though).

Were These Feelings “Bad”?

I realize how “bad” all this sounds. But I also realize there are other people out there who feel like this every day and feel like they can’t talk to anybody about it because it will be taken the wrong way. By being “taken the wrong way”, I mean that their feelings won’t be accepted as normal and that they’ll be treated differently for experiencing these feelings.

I am an adult. I am a person. It’s my personal choice whether or not to seek professional help. I have resources and a network of people who could help me if I chose. I ultimately chose not to speak to anyone else besides my husband because I felt like no one would truly understand. I was also afraid of not only being judged, but of people encouraging me to “seek help” (thinking they know what’s best for me) or treating me differently because of my experience.

I came to realize that these feelings weren’t bad. They were how I felt. It was neither good nor bad that I felt like I wanted to die. I couldn’t keep labeling myself or my feelings. It wasn’t serving any purpose. Was I suicidal? Was I depressed? Maybe. But it wasn’t going to do any good labeling myself those things while I was experiencing my mental break.

A Little History

This wasn’t the first time I’d thought about killing myself. But it was the first time that I seriously considered it.

At the age of 13 and a self-proclaimed atheist (you can read more about that here), I didn’t really see the point of living if we were all just going to die anyway.

I thought about killing myself and thought that eventually that was something I might do. But I never had any real desire to die and eventually stopped thinking about it. I realized that I was a teenager and my life would—hopefully—get better once I was an adult and could do whatever I wanted (it did!).

The break I experienced in 2017 was a completely different thing.

I don’t know if deep down I necessarily wanted to die, but felt like I needed to die. I had a rough plan for how I’d kill myself, though I knew the chances of me following through with it were slim.

I was in a place where I felt like nothing mattered. I felt extremely apathetic and that was scary. I felt like it didn’t matter if I killed myself or not. I simply felt like I couldn’t deal with the world and didn’t want to be here anymore.

I’m the type of person who wishes I didn’t exist because as an empath, the world can be very hurtful to me and sometimes I truly feel like I can’t take it (this is also one of the major reasons I’ve decided not to have children—I’m anti-natalist—among many other reasons).

My husband and I talk about death all the time and are aware that one day we are both going to die, and while this thought is saddening, it’s also liberating knowing I won’t be on this planet forever, and it makes me appreciate my time here more.

Ultimately, however, I feel like the fact that nothing mattered actually led me to keep going.

How My Desire to Die Impacted My Daily Life

Feeling like you want to die changes things. I no longer felt any need to be happy or pretend to be happy about life. I no longer felt like I could do things I didn’t want to do. I actually felt like I couldn’t do these things.

No longer caring made things simple. Not easy, but simple. If I wanted something, I bought it. If I didn’t want to do something, I said no. There was no longer any agonizing over my choices. Who cared?

So the following life changes happened.

1. I Cut Out Friends

I dropped one of my friends during this time (not the one that didn’t want to talk to me about death, she is my best friend). I no longer enjoyed spending time with her even before my break and truly felt like I could not hang out with her anymore after my break. It wasn’t personal. I just couldn’t pretend anymore with the way I felt.

2. I Stopped Spending Holidays with Dysfunctional Family Members

I could no longer spend dysfunctional holidays with my Catholic extended family, which I had been doing forever and never truly enjoyed it. Again, I felt like I literally could not do it. So I copped out of the three dreadful holidays every year I would spend with them.

There was a silver lining to this. Not doing things I didn’t want to do made me much happier. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now feel relief that I’ve been making conscious choices about what to do with my time. How I spend my time now is very important to me since I’ve had these feelings about dying, perhaps because I’m more aware of how limited my time really is.

3. My Sex Life Went to Shit

My feelings of wanting to die combined with the traumatic thing I witnessed made sex feel really hard. I felt like I couldn’t enjoy it or didn’t deserve to enjoy it because of all the horrible things happening in the world. I also kept having “flashbacks” of the trauma during sex. It was truly awful. It took a long time to get our sex life back on track.

4. I Spent More Money

My feelings made things that used to matter not matter anymore. For instance, I no longer cared about money. I bought whatever I wanted because I felt like it didn’t matter. If I bought something that brought me joy, could I really put a price on that at this point in my life? (This is a dangerous mindset to have when you’re on a budget—not to mention when you’re a freelancer that owes buku taxes at the end of every year.)

5. I Ate More Food

I also felt like it didn’t matter what I ate, although I generally eat really healthy, if I do say so myself. Who cared if I weighed 130 pounds or 230? Did it really matter? I ate a lot of gluten-free cinnamon raisin toast and vegan cream cheese during this time (I later dropped the few extra pounds I gained before my wedding with intermittent fasting).

6. I Appreciated the Tiny Things

These feelings also made me appreciate the teeny tiny things about my life that made me feel good, even if it was just for a second. These things could have been:

  • Laughing with my family, like I did with my mom that morning at Costco
  • Feeling the sun on my skin
  • Eating some goddamn gluten-free cinnamon raisin toast with vegan cream cheese
  • Spending time with my best friend, even if she didn’t understand what I going through
  • Having a strawberry kombucha (GT’s what’s up!)
  • Snuggling with my bunnies
  • Having a great cup of tea
  • KINDNESS. This one was huge. I felt so touched anytime someone was kind to me. It could have been the girl at the checkout asking me how I was, or telling me to have a good day. It could have been a stranger smiling at me. It could have been my husband saying “I love you”. It could have been my neighbor calling just to say hi. These tiny things meant so much when I felt so bad.

Perhaps most of all, I appreciated feeling better, even if the steps were tiny. Time passed and while some days were fucking hard, things very slowly got easier. And even if some days I truly didn’t feel ok, that really was ok.

These Are the Things That Helped

So as I said, time went on. I made a list of things that helped me feel less like I wanted to die, which you can read in my empath article. In case you don’t feel like reading that article, these are the seven things that really helped me (although I do go into more detail in that other article about each one).

1. Exercising

2. Meditating

3. Activism

4. Reading Eckhart Tolle

5. Grounding

6. Avoiding Triggers

7. Baths

My husband and I keep this list on our fridge to remind me to do at least a couple of these things daily. It really helps me maintain my mental health and strengthen my resilience, so the next time I do experience a trigger, I can handle it better and get through it easier.

Even though I felt so bad some days, these things did help. For instance, maybe I didn’t feel like exercising on a certain day, but I would read Eckhart Tolle, which was hugely helpful. Or maybe I didn’t feel like meditating, but I would ground, which was easy and made me feel better.

What works for me won’t work for everyone; I just know that these things are helpful for me even if I feel like I want to die.

Where Am I Today?

Today, I do still feel like I want to die on occasion. In the months after my break, my life largely consisted of “not ok” moments with rare moments of happiness. Today, it’s the opposite. I feel a lot better than I felt nearly two years ago, although some days are a struggle, I feel nowhere near as bad I felt back then.

I got married less than a year (about 10 months) after my mental break to my amazing husband. At this time, I was doing much better and knew what I needed to do to feel less depressed.

I’m not saying everything is better. Just that I’m doing better.

So why the heck did I write this article?

I’m tired of not talking about my feelings because of the stigmatism associated with mental health and suicide. Over the last nearly two years since I had my break, literally the only person I have talked to about my feelings has been my husband. And that’s not only doing a disservice to him and to me, but to everyone out there who has felt these same feelings and doesn’t want to be labeled as suicidal or depressed or have people freak out about their feelings.

You may not have seen what I’ve seen or experienced what I’ve experienced. But maybe something happened to you that deeply hurt you and marked your soul and has made you feel like you want to die.

My goal in writing this article isn’t necessarily to offer you hope. Do I think the world is going to get better? Yes, I do. But that’s not the point of this article. I’m here to tell you that your feelings are valid. I’m here to tell you that it’s not wrong or bad to feel like you want to die. I’d even go so far as to say that if someone chooses to kill themselves (as my own grandfather did), then that’s a decision that is theirs and theirs alone. No one else lives your life. No one else feels the things you feel. Only you know if you want to keep going.

I hope you do, only because I’ve done it, and I know that I am better because of this—even though I feel differently about life now and things aren’t all roses—and have something to share with the world. I know you do too. It’s up to you if you want to share it though.

I’ve learned that I can make a difference even if it is small. The thing I witnessed—I work every day to stop it from happening again and that brings meaning, even if it feels small sometimes, to my life. It makes me feel like if I die, I won’t be able to make a difference. But I’m here now and I’m working daily to make the world a better place. I know you can too.

If you want to comment on this article with your feelings, know that you are safe here. Your email address is required to comment, but will never be posted publicly. You are also free to reach out to me at jenn@thegreenwritingdesk.com to share your feelings if you don’t want to post them publicly.

(Also please keep in mind I have 100% control over what comments are publicly posted and I will simply delete anything that I feel is criticism or negativity towards either me or another commenter.)

Thank you for reading and for not judging me, the decisions I’ve made, or how I live my life. No one has lived my life but me, so please don’t comment on what you think is best for me. Thank you.

 

Clothing: Tube top with inner boob tube, hammer time pants, and Love Me 2 Times below knee sari simplicity dress, all from Gaia Conceptions

Glitter: Aurora blend from EcoStardust

Tattoos: Floral arm piece by @tokatattoos and dragon back piece by the amazing @anka.tattoo

These 7 Habits Have Dramatically Improved My Sleep Life

As someone who has had lifelong problems sleeping, I know firsthand the frustration that comes with not getting your beauty sleep.

But there’s a silver lining.

All those years of not being able to sleep well and trying different things have helped me slowly improve my sleep life over time.

Now that I’m nearing my 30s and live with my husband, my sleep life has dramatically improved thanks to these five habits I’ve cultivated over the years.

1. No Tech in the Bedroom

My husband and I just keep our bedroom for sleeping (and sex, of course). This means we don’t hang out in there during the day, don’t work in there, and don’t watch TV in there. It’s important to us to not have a TV in our bedroom.

We also don’t bring our laptops into the bedroom either. We do, however, bring our phones, but they are solely for alarm purposes, we never look on our phones in the bed or use them while in the bedroom. My phone is off in the bedroom since I don’t need to wake up at a specific time most days and my husband’s is on airplane mode (scary cell phone radiation, anyone?)

This just our personal philosophy but we don’t want to accumulate a bunch of energy in the bedroom, especially before bed. We find that minimizing our activity in the bedroom and keeping tech out of the bedroom helps the space feel calm and ready for sleep.

2. No Sugar or Caffeine Before Bed

I’ve noticed that I sleep a lot better when doing intermittent fasting, which is how I lost the few pounds I wanted to before my wedding.

I chose to do intermittent fasting by not eating for a period of about 16 hours every day. So essentially, I would eat my regular meals throughout the day, but cut out late night snacks. So I would not eat from about 8 p.m. at night to noon the next day.

This also helped me eliminate sugar and caffeine a few hours before bed. This is a practice I started doing years ago when I found that eating these things at night—think desserts, chocolate, coffee, or even caffeinated tea such as green tea—would make it impossible for me to fall asleep.

3. Using Organic Bedding

I did not realize how much a toxic mattress was killing my sleep life.

A few years ago I realized conventional mattresses are made with dangerous chemicals and can give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for years after purchase, which can harm your health and the air quality of your home.

Fortunately, the mattress I had at that time was about a decade old and needed to be replaced, so about a year before our wedding, my husband and I invested in an all-organic mattress. We also chose to invest in organic cotton sheet sets, pillows, and a comforter.

(You can read more about my transition to all organic clothing here and here).

Not only is my organic mattress and bedding so much more comfortable and luxurious than my old bedding (and hella more expensive!), I swear it helps me sleep better knowing I’m not being exposed to toxic chemicals.

4. The Military Sleep Trick

So I know this one is weird but I swear it works! It was developed to help soldiers fall asleep anywhere in less than two minutes.

It’s easy and can be done in three simple steps as you are trying to fall asleep:

  1. Relax your entire body including your facial muscles as you sink into the mattress. Let tension go from places you didn’t realize were tense.
  2. Take ten deep, conscious breaths while keeping your mind clear. For me, if my mind begins to run with a thought, I start over.
  3. Do one of the following three things that most resonates with you:
  • Picture yourself lying in a canoe on a calm lake with only blue sky above you
  • Imagine snuggling in a velvet black hammock in a pitch-black room
  • Repeating “don’t think, don’t think” until you fall asleep

I do the canoe one; if I have trouble sleeping, most nights this helps me fall asleep.

5. No Clock in the Bedroom

We actually don’t have a clock in our bedroom. I haven’t had a clock in my bedroom for the last 12 years.

Looking at the time when I’m trying to fall asleep gives me anxiety so I just don’t see the need to have a clock in our bedroom. Fortunately, I’m a freelancer who works from home so I get to sleep in every single day and don’t need to worry about what time I get up.

Even when you do need to wake up in the morning I recommend setting your alarm and turning your phone on airplane mode and not looking at your phone until the alarm goes off. My husband and I have found this practice super helpful (especially since he needs to wake up in the morning and I don’t).

6. Exercise

I’ve found that exercise plays a huge role in whether or not I sleep well. Usually, regular exercise helps me sleep so much better!

I run but I also lift weights and do yoga on occasion. I also walk a four-mile loop with my neighbor several times a week. Staying active not only relieves stress but helps me fall asleep easier and stay asleep.

7. Addressing My Health Issues

So, of course, many of you know my crazy misdiagnosis story which led me to a wild and wonderful journey of hard lessons in learning how to take care of myself.

I’ve been tested for food intolerances and have eliminated gluten, dairy, genetically modified food, and commercial meat from my diet. I’ve found that, in general, my body doesn’t respond well to grains and so I lead a mostly grain-free diet.

I’m also super sensitive to caffeine and sugar and so keep these very minimal in my diet as well. I’ve worked with numerous herbalists who have helped me to address my minor health issues and supplement my diet so I feel better and live a much more harmonious life these days.

Sleep Is Not Separate

I can usually get to sleep quickly now provided I follow all these guidelines that I’ve naturally incorporated into my routine over the last few years.

Sleep is not separate from the rest of our lives. I’ve found that by considering the effect of my diet and lifestyle on my sleep, I can better care for myself to get that essential good night’s rest!

Do you have any sleep tips that you’ve found have been super helpful?