Saturday, 30 April 2022

April 2022

April has been a somewhat strange month of waiting for the big thing and then doing the big thing. Sort of everything and nothing all at once.

The start of the month was a flurry of trying to get things done. I used my last access to a Riso machine for probably the forseeable future to make some experimental 'thank you' slips for my Etsy sales.

Went back to the temporarily all-vegan Burger King in Leicester Square to try more options! I actually think they let the vegan side down a bit in some respects here. The vegan whopper is definitely one of the best high street vegan burgers out there (second to the Leon Love Burger which has more interesting flavours, but better than the McDonalds one which is way too small). But everything I had at the Leicester Square branch was way too dry, I think because they were overstretched and maybe not adding enough of the sauces or making things up too far in advance. I still enjoyed everything I had though! I just don't think it was as 'wow' as it could have been.

Keen to get some more Capital Ring walks under my belt before I'm going to have to take a bit of a break, was kindly accompanied by my pal Michael from Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick, on a particularly short and lovely section of the route, through wide open grassy spaces, and alongside the River Lea. (Also Lucy joined us for extremely good 'Hogless Roast' at the end in Hackney Wick!)

My partner taught me to play Cribbage, which seems like mostly a game of luck in which you get to occasionally yell some silly phrases.

Took an impromptu day off work to walk TWO more sections of the Capital Ring — all the way from Hackney Wick to Woolwich. It was LONG and I did tire myself out, but extremely satisfying to walk so far, and see so much cool stuff. It's a part of London I've never really been to before, and I really enjoyed seeing the airport and these much grimier, more industrial sections of the Thames. Plus the eerie Woolwich foot tunnel! Walk 15 is technically the end of the Capital Ring, but I started on walk 10, so I still have loads more to go! Looking forwards to picking things up from Woolwich once I'm back up and running again.

Treated myself to some new pens as lots of my old ones had run out. I've used the Pilot Frixion rollerball pens a lot in my visual diaries over the years, and they're still favs (they're eraseable!) I was excited to see they had a new range of erasable fineliner pens... They are nice, but the colours are a bit more insipid than the rollerballs, so I'll use them up but I'm not sure I'd buy them again. 

Got to go to an IRL meeting with a super exciting new client! Gonna wear my stylish jumpsuit! And here's another story about why I can't wait for these terrible breasts to be GONE!

Completed my Samaritans shift leader training, and did my first shift as one! Mostly supporting the other volunteers, making sure various admin gets done, and generally staring intently at my clipboard hoping I've not forgotten anything important

As mentioned in more detail in last month's blog, the big thing is major breast reduction surgery, and it's happening on the 27th. If I'd got COVID the surgery would have been cancelled, and couldn't be rescheduled for 7 weeks (as apparently surgical outcomes are worse if you've had COVID within the 7 weeks prior to the surgery). There was absolutely no way I wanted it to get cancelled at this point, so I had to be at peace with isolating for at least a couple of weeks prior, as COVID is all over the place, still.

So, frantically running around getting all my errands done, like buying my favourite treats, getting my nose piercings taken out, etc etc

On my last day of relative freedom, I walked to Borough Market for a nice lunch, but finding my favourite eatery closed, ended up spending an obscene amount of money on some just ACCEPTABLE chips and curry.

One of my silly pre-surgery treats to myself was to buy a (somewhat overpriced) galaxy projector which shines the stars onto my bedroom ceiling at night to send me off to sleep. It's extremely soothing.

Work continues to be really busy and this is GOOD (hi clients pls do not stop sending me work) but also sometimes just a bit much. However my brain is mostly my friend because I always panic like, weeks before actual deadlines, just get the damn work done, and then am like 'oh that was fine'. EVERY TIME. At some point maybe I'll learn I don't need to get stressed and that I can invariably just get the work done, but somehow I'm not there yet...

Also a lot of the work of a designer is... not design...

Given that I was not going out anywhere (other than long daily walks), I threw myself wholeheartedly into Animal Crossing's 'Egg Day' festivities, and spending way too long on my Switch every day, obsessively hunting for eggs

I do think it's kind of funny that pretty much the most unflattering angle one can view oneself from is also the only angle can truly see ourselves from (i.e. not in a mirror) — just looking down. (I found drawing this really funny for some reason, like, I'M JUST SHAPES?! Been thinkin about body a lot recently I guess)

Had a restful easter of domesticity and chocolate (AT LAST — I found lent particularly long this year for some reason)

As a freelancer, bank holidays are often a little meaningless, and only really serve as a good chance to catch up on work/errands without anyone bothering me. I didn't have an especially productive one this time though...

Really enjoyed going out for long walks each morning instead of the gym (which I was steering clear of to avoid the COVID risk). Lots of beautiful blossom out.

Reading lots of advice from other people who'd had top surgery/breast reduction, did an emergency last minute superdrug order with a bunch of other essentials to try and make sure my recovery was going to be as comfortable as it could be.

Some days I just don't know what to draw! It's especially hard when I'm not doing anything apart from working, so apologies for the somewhat lower entertainment factor of this month's (and probably next's) visual diaries...

More long lovely contemplative blossom walks.

In my head I was like 'let's eat real clean in the days in the run up to surgery', but in practice I just wanted the cereal with the chocolate in and leftover pizza. Just 'Listening to my body' IMO

Got to go 'out out' for the first time in ages — to my pre-admission appointment, where they swabbed me for MRSA and asked me millions of health questions, plus told me loads of information that I really wish they'd shared with me sooner than TWO DAYS before the surgery (like how you can't have gel nails on because they need to be able to see your nail beds to check if you're dying). 

(As an aside, this and the next few diary entries are photos of the pages because I can't really use my scanner rn, apols for the bad lighting, I did my best!)

I had to be at my surgery appointment in Woking at 7am on the 27th, so I decided to stay in a hotel the night before rather than trying to do trains on the morning. First time I've stayed in a hotel since before the pandemic I think? So even though I was obviously a bit anxious, I actually really enjoyed lying in big bed watching Masterchef and eating snacks.

Surgery day! Don't read this next bit if you don't like hospital stuff I guess, but I promise there's nothing gross or bad/traumatic, and I'm sharing what happened because they told me basically nothing beforehand about how things would work, and I do sort of understand why (because why give people more things to think/worry about) but equally the way my brain works, I like to know what's coming! And I do think they could have done better in that respect. If even one other person who's gonna have surgery soon stumbles across this and is reassured, I will be glad.

I had to shower thoroughly at the hotel at 6am with the weird sponges they'd given me at the previous appointment — they were pre soaped and very rough and I felt agressively cleansed afterwards. I also had to do a COVID test, which THANK GOODNESS was negative.

Then I walked over to the hospital (they always seem very surprised when I arrive on foot, like, why wouldn't I walk here?) After showing reception my negative COVID test I was shown to my room, where I sat awkwardly while a succession of different medical staff came to see me one by one, first to fit me for my compression stockings (to try and stop me getting a blood clot), then to check all my paperwork, then the anaesthetist (who had extremely good bedside manner and was extraordinarily reassuring about my fears), and finally the surgeon herself, who took some extremely unflattering pictures of my soon to be gone breasts, and marked me up with pen. 

After this, two more kindly nurses walked me down to an ominous feeling room where I was laid down on a bed, and the anaesthetist started doing all the prep work. I'm not that squeamish about canulars and blood and stuff so this was actually all entirely fine. The nurse told me I was going to breathe some oxygen, which I did (it smelled bad), and the anaesthetist asked me where I wanted to go on holiday, so I could imagine it while I was getting knocked out. I said 'The Netherlands', and he said 'huh, we don't get that one often'. Then I remember saying 'Hey my brain is going really fast, I feel like I might be about to have a panic attack', and he was like 'Don't you worry about that.' and then GONE!

I keep thinking a lot about anaesthesia, because the whole thing is kind of wild. I can definitely see why someone would want to do it as a career, it's just so... strange, and fascinating. Just, the ability to (almost) totally turn off a body like that. I kind of want another go (while also recognising that this would be very stupid)

Anyway, hours pass (three I'm told), and then I gradually became aware that I was conscious and also EXTREMELY COLD and EXTREMELY NEED A WEE, which I started yelling about to anyone who would listen (while also for some reason not being able to open my eyes). I was immediately whisked underneath an unsettlingly warm blanket, and hoisted upright and placed on a bedpan. Still completely unable to open my eyes, I weed (not entirely in the bedpan), and then was — even in my half unconscious state — awed by the efficiency with which a nurse somehow changed the sheet underneath me while barely moving me. I didn't even see her face, but she's the one I feel dealt with me at my most ridiculous, so I'm sorry I didn't get to thank her properly. (Though I do remember being extremely apologetic at the time). After weeing and being covered in a warm blanket, I felt genuinely really nice, and quite happy about this, as I'd been expecting to feel terrible.

Still unable to open my eyes (yet also weirdly not alarmed by this), I was wheeled back up to my room, where I proceeded to sleep for another three hours, and it was GREAT.

I was woken by a timid young man asking me if I wanted to choose my meals, which obviously I did manage to regain consciousness for, as that is extremely important. 

Shortly after (bearing in mind I was still extremely groggy), an extremely matronly nurse came in, and while fussing around taking my blood pressure and so on, she asked me what I'd had done. I told her, and she sternly said 'I am the breast nurse, and I hope you know you still have to wear supportive bras for the rest of your life. I recommend all women wear bras 24 hours a day'. It took all my strength not to burst into tears and/or tell her to fuck off while she continued to tell me that 'No matter how small they are, if you don't support them they'll be down at your knees by the time you're 50!' 

Goooooo awaaaaaaayyyyy

I told her I'd actually wanted them entirely removed but had decided to keep just a tiny bit behind after arguments from my mother and my surgeon, and she said 'Good, clothes wouldn't fit you if you'd totally got rid of them'

Just absolutely go away and leave me alone maybe?! This isn't the 1950s? It is quite possible to be a strikingly well dressed person without breasts, and I intend to be just that, THANK YOU. (And while I may still wear bras some of the time, I will absolutely not be wearing them 24 HOURS A DAY WTF?!)

Anyway, she did leave me alone (after telling me firmly that the bras I had bought before surgery were NOT CORRECT and that I must make sure I do my arm exercises that no one had even told me about), and then I just kind of spaced out and enjoyed being in a really comfortable bed with nothing to do for a couple of hours.

I felt... kinda great? No pain to speak of, bit sleepy, but broadly, the more I woke up, just... good?

My dinner came and it was really shit — three pieces of unseasoned silken tofu on a massive pile of undercooked red peppers and onions, in an acidic sauce. Not even a bowl of rice! I requested a bowl of rice because even though I felt good, this didn't feel like the most stomach friendly dinner. My rice came and I ate it slowly while watching Sewing Bee on the TV.

Watched a Grand Designs too, then went to sleep. Since the surgery I hadn't had any painkillers beyond Ibuprofen and Paracetamol. I kept expecting the pain to get really bad, but it just sort of didn't. Which was nice.


The next day I woke up still feeling fine. I'd been quite scared about feeling nauseous or even vomiting, which is a common side effect of anaesthetic — as I have a phobia of vomiting. But I told my anaesthetist my fears and he dosed me up with a bunch of anti emetics, such that I didn't even feel a little bit sick at any point. I'd been really anxious about the roughly hour long car ride home, as even under normal circumstances I would get motion sick in a car ride that long (hence why I avoid cars at all costs)... But in the event, the anti emetics continued to do their work, and I did FINE :)

The bandaging I'm in is pretty intense. I'd like to say that I already feel the difference of my breasts being gone, but in truth I am wrapped pretty much as thickly as they used to be, and the binder around the outside of the dressings is strapped around me incredibly tightly, such that my chest is pretty constantly crushed (it's basically like wearing a corset or regular chest binder 24/7). I can't take this off until next Friday (9 days), so I don't think I'll really have a sense, even a little bit, of how the surgery has gone until then.

Though I am not the fittest or thinnest person, I think I did have some things on my side going into this — particularly my blandly abstinent life of no alcohol, drugs, or caffiene. I basically never take any kind of medication (I take painkillers maybe once or twice a year, max), which means when I DO take them, they hit pretty hard. Since the day of the surgery I have taken nothing apart from paracetamol and ibuprofen (and I keep forgetting to take them at the specified times, so often have basically no pain relief of any kind), and I have not yet experienced anything even vaguely akin to pain, for which I feel incredibly fortunate. I suspect that when the binder comes off in just under a week, the pain may kick in, but equally by that point we'll be 9 days out from surgery, so the wounds will have closed up to a great extent. 

I'm still really scared that I'm somehow going to get an infection, or stretch/pull the wounds, but I'm hoping this risk gets lower with every day that passes and as long as I rest, I will be okay. 

So I'm embarking on day 3 of my recovery, and I'm still feeling pretty good (I mean, I sat up and wrote this blog!)

In some ways, while I'd been really scared about the surgery, I was also really looking forwards to having an excuse to ACTUALLY put down all my work commitments and just have some space to breathe for a while. I'm not generally very good at 'stopping', so I am trying my best to just do nothing. (It is very hard not to keep tidying and reaching for things and doing tasks but I am TRYING)

Loads of people were like 'you can watch so much TV!' and I feel like it's a real missed opportunity not to, but also... I just don't really ever want to watch anything? There are like 5 recent series that I've heard people talking about and saying they're great and I was like 'Yeah maybe I'll do it! Maybe I'll watch some content!' and then the time is now here and I'm like... maybe I'll just stare into the middle distance instead? 

I feel like I'm letting the side down a little, oh well. (I do have the new-ish Kirby game to start soon...) And maybe after another week or so of lying here doing nothing I'll be sufficiently bored to actually watch a TV. 

(But you know me, I'll probably do something stupid like try and make a zine instead)

Onwards to a hopefully restful and pain-free May...

Thursday, 31 March 2022

March 2022

In some ways I guess March is the best month of the year, because a) it is the month of my birth, and b) it's the month we finally start to come out of winter (in theory). I've definitely been feeling a lightening of mood, anyway...

I started my March with a Samaritans night shift (2.30 – 6.30am), and because of the tube strikes, I had to walk much of the way home. It was kind of nice walking through drizzly Soho streets and across Green Park, in the early hours before most people got moving.

In the first of three 'Emma's bodily modification' features this month, I now have a BIONIC MOUTH!! I mean, having to get a crown kind of isn't ideal, and it felt weird for ages afterwards (like, nearly the entire month). Plus it's super temperature sensitive so things like soup and ice cream are no fun any more unless I'm very careful. But it is still KINDA cool to look at. (Though it's right at the back so no one can see it)... Overall 5/10 experience, would not recommend. I did appreciate the craftsmanship and technical skill that went into making and fitting it though.

Another tattoo! This one was with the incredible Anya Tsyna, and it's a piece of malachite on my lower arm. I've loved her work for ages, especially her gemstone pieces. I opted for malachite because it's long been my favourite stone and I always feel drawn to it when I see it IRL. I also later learned it was historically mined from the Great Orme near where I grew up in North Wales! She did a beautiful job and it was again a pleasure to experience such craft and skill.

This is the biggest one though. Literally and metaphorically. This is something that has been in my mind for a number of years, and in the works for a number of months, but I didn't want to talk about it publicly until I was absolutely sure it was happening, and now I am.

On April 27th, I'm having top surgery — or perhaps more accurately, (as I'm not trans), an 'almost total breast reduction', which is what it says on the documentation.

I have hated my breasts pretty much ever since they got bigger than a C cup, when I was aged around 13. They now hover at between a G and H cup depending on my overall weight. They are, frankly, a blight. They're heavy, painful, and though I have been assured by friends and lovers over the years that they are both desirable and enviable, my response to that has basically always been 'well you take them then'.

I've always known breast reduction was an option, but it always seemed like I'd be spending a lot of money to... still have boobs. It was only as I was fortunate enough to get to know some trans and non-binary people who were undergoing top surgery that I came to understand what I truly wanted, which was just a totally (or nearly totally) flat chest.

Of course I've had to do a lot of soul searching. As they're not sufficiently big to qualify for NHS treatment, this is essentially cosmetic surgery. Is it worth it?! Don't I just need to suck it up and deal with them? Also... AM I trans?! This was a question a lot of people asked me when I was discussing it. I have taken a long, hard look at my own gender, but have fairly firmly come to peace with the fact that I am just a woman who hates boobs.

During the pandemic, like a lot of other people, I got to spend a lot of time in my own company and my own head, and, crucially, my own body. I'm in my mid 30s now. I inch my savings up year by year, but I've long come to peace with the fact that I'm going to renting for most of the rest of my life. But my body is the home I have to live in every day — why shouldn't I spend some (a large 'some') of my hard earned savings on making it a body that can run faster, jump higher, and breathe more freely?!

So there it is. My surgery is on April 27th, which means that next time I write to you, it will be done. (And I may not be able to even do next month's blog on time if I'm still in a bit of a state...) I am both excited and terrified. I've never had a general anaesthetic before, and also... it is going to hurt. But I can't wait for my recovery to be over, so that I can begin the rest of my life of BOOBLESS FREEDOM!!

Anyway, having said that winter is over, it's still very cold. 

A few months ago, my cousin broke up with her first boyfriend. I felt her pain acutely (we've all been there), and asked her family what sort of thing might be a cute outing to cheer her up. We somehow came round to the zoo, which I felt kinda weird about as a vegan, but also secretly kind of excited about. I don't like seeing the big mammals like lions and tigers, but I DO love seeing all the weird small buddies. Anyway at the time, her brother got COVID so she had to isolate and couldn't come, so we rescheduled it for her 21st birthday. Which was nice as it was more spring-like, and she was probably in a better frame of mind to enjoy it! 

Saw loads of cool buddies, anyway. Probably won't go back in a hurry but it was a nice (if expensive) time.

Some days it be like that

Managed to persuade two of my smartest friends to come out for Ethiopian food with me, in the hope that hearing them talk about all their interesting work would motivate me to start thinking harder about my practice again, post MA. I feel like I should be doing more interesting, research-led work off the back of my studies, but lots of people are paying me money to do more mundane (but fun) work, and I am very tired. So I don't think I'm going to be getting my big thinking brain back on any time soon. It was nice to see my friends and eat a tasty food though.

It's smear test time! As a person with a vagina, you have one of these every three years from age 25 to 64. That means you'll probably have 12 or 13 in total, in your entire life. I'm on my fourth now. Time flies eh

(I still like trains)

In exciting domestic news, our new housemate Camille moved in! And on the SAME DAY my old friend Jess was visiting. Throwing Camille immediately into a social situation with both Spen and me AND our guest Jess might have been a bad idea for her first night, but actually we had a super fun chatty boardgame time, and I am reassured that we have made a good housemate choice. 

I had a lovely time visiting Cambridge for the first time... and basically seeing none of Cambridge at all, as I was entirely there to help me friends Lily and Hazel de-clutter their house. I actually really love doing this kind of work, and regularly have clear outs of my own stuff, so it was really fun to (collaboratively) be let loose on someone else's house. (So if you ever need that kind of help, call me?! I'm like a rowdier Marie Kondo but still very gentle I promise)

The other good thing about March is beautiful blossom season!

One of my main motivations for the gym (which I hadn't mentioned before) is to try and lose weight before my surgery, as surgical outcomes are better if you're in good shape. I am making very slow progress on that front, but I am kind of having a nice time now I've stopped going on the treadmill (which is the worst, especially with boobs like these)

Spen made a 'bad' dinner

Here's a hilariously anti-climactic end to my pandemic day counting, the moment when I realised I have at some point skipped like 200 days, LOLLLL

(Seriously though, there is still a pandemic on)

VERY BIG NEWS for vegan cheese fans!! (There is also vegan Primula, not pictured!)

One of my MA tutors, Tony, was really keen on the idea of launching a small press as part of our course. He was determined that our cohort should be the ones to finally get it up and running, and recruited a group of us who were excited about the idea to do the neccesary legwork — making a few publications, creating a brand, and generally bringing the whole thing into existence. TBH I didn't really have that much time to devote to it alongside my studies and my work-work, but the one thing I did mostly lead on was running a workshop at our final event for the next year's cohort, in which they created, (in black and white), three layered artworks ready for riso print. I and the rest of the press team promised to print these and bind them into a zine. Tony agreed that we could come back in early 2022 to use the riso machine to do this. It would be a super cute collaborative project that would also serve to teach the incoming project about how the riso machine works.

However, 2022 rolls around... and someone's in holiday in Thailand for all of Jan, so can we do Feb? Sure, but then the riso ran out of masters and Tony couldn't get any more for ages, so suddenly it's March. And then, well, you know the pain of trying to get anything more than two people to agree on a date. Plus I am becoming increasingly conscious that it's basically just me pushing for this to happen. Maybe no one else cares? Maybe I am really annoying and they all hate the whatsapp group and wish I'd shut up about the damn project and let it drop?

But look, I did the workshop and I follow through on my projects, damn it! So we eventually agreed that a few of us would come in on this Friday, but then literally no one else showed up. (I actually don't care that much because I don't think any of them really like me and mostly I just wanna have fun printing by myself anyway 🙃) 

So I got everything set up (very fiddly), and then a pipe burst in the building and we were all evacuated and not allowed back in for FIVE DAYS, and the whole thing was just deeply, deeply annoying

Mmmmmm weekend

Sorry I'm really bad at drawing anime style characters, but here's a Howl/Spen fan art as we continue working our way through the Studio Ghibli movies

Camille bought her girlfriend over and she was also nice! They baked a cake and we played a boardgame! The dream, tbh

Believe me, I've been doing a lot of 'if I hold my boobs like this can I imagine them gone?' exercises in front of the mirror, and I am afraid the answer is 'no, not really'

Finally got back into the riso room to pick up where I left off.

(Made this out of some nice test sheets from the scrap paper pile)

Bought myself a super cute stretchy, backless jumpsuit, in readiness for summer/boob-free life

Really really enjoyed the Francis Bacon show at the RA. I've loved his work for years but never had the pleasure of seeing so much of it all at once. There were also a lot of pieces I'd never seen before, and one of the things I was most struck by were some of his colour combinations. Here's a (bad) self portrait inspired by the show...

BIRTHDAY! Had just an unequivocally nice day. Train to Brighton with my pal Lucy, bought a cute jumpsuit, delicious lunch at fancy Terre a Terre, finally got a haircut with my fav hairdresser, then ice cream with my pal Zöe, and train home again. Sunshine! Sea! Friends! Couldn't ask for more tbh.

To prolong the birthday fun, took my partner out for fancy lunch to middle eastern place Bubala. It was extremely delicious and expensive!

Chase's old bed was old and tired, so we bought her a new one with sides, and she LOVES it. Like, the amount she loves it is genuinely moving. I'm not sure I've ever seen a dog so cosy. She's a perfect angel and she finally has the bed she deserves.

Spent the morning working on a really intricate, fiddly, brain-tiring brochure for one client, then spent the afternoon labouring away in the riso room again, then went for ramen dinner with Heidi and Rosie and felt very OLD and TIRED. I am kind of at peace with continuing to feel old and tired for most of April, then feeling old, tired, AND in large amounts of pain for most of May, but then June, WATCH OUT, I will be back on my culture and socialising game (maybe)

Work has been really busy this month, but I'm mostly having a really nice time?! I have a lot of good clients who are paying me well to do fun work, which is basically the freelance dream. Long may it continue this way, even if I am maybe having to work a little harder than I might like!

Me at the start of this blog: "March is basically summer!"

Me at the end of this blog: "It is snowing"

Roll on April and a sunny, boob-free future.