#Uterexit- The Story of my Hysterectomy

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2017. All info was correct at time of publishing]

On April 18th it finally happened- after 5 years of fighting I got my hysterectomy!

The build up to it has been absolutely immense; the four months since I found out I was on the waiting list have felt like an absolute lifetime and I’ve gone through every possible emotion in that time. For the last couple of weeks I’d lived in a constant state of terrified and excited, there was even something I didn’t expect in there- grief. But finally the big day came.

I’d made the decision to live tweet the whole experience, some people might think this is odd but I share a big part of my life with Twitter and use it as a platform to talk openly about my reproductive health in order to (I hope) raise awareness, so really it was a no brainer. I used #uterexit and will be using it during my recovery too.

So we packed up all of my belongings (I was told to expect to be in for 3-5 days) and headed to hospital for 7.30 in the bloody am.

And then I waited.
And waited
And waited

Seriously I thought that by having to be there so early it would mean I’d get an early surgery, I have never been more wrong in my whole life. In reality I only had to wait until 3pm but when you’re sitting around doing nothing but waiting (and reading 100 pages about Katherine of Aragon, listening to Radio 2, chatting to strangers, colouring in, writing) for 6 hours that’s a long time. Add to that the fact I hadn’t eaten since 10pm the night before or had any water since 6am that morning and I was getting pretty fed up.

Thankfully Twitter provided a welcome distraction, the outpouring of support and love made me tear up every time I checked my mentions. There was also my ridiculous friends who messaged me constantly with terrible jokes abut my uterus- this might sound harsh but they knew that if they were nice to me I would’ve been in a worse state. There was also a minor distraction in the shape of the PM calling a snap general election- really Theresa will do anything to overshadow me.

I spoke during the day with various doctors who explained the procedure to me. I was going to have a laparoscopic hysterectomy where they went in through 4 points (my belly button, just above my pubic hair and either side of my stomach) and removed the uterus, fallopian tubes and cervix. Though I’d requested the ovaries be removed too I was shut down because of my age. This one I accepted as the ovaries can help prevent dementia and bone problems. I was glad they were taking away the tubes and cervix as I’m currently being tested for the BRCA2 gene which is known to cause “female” cancers.

The whole day I wasn’t very nervous, I was anxious sure but I never doubted my decision or thought of cancelling it. Even waiting on the bed in the anaesthetic room when a panic attack was threatening to take over my body I kept thinking how much better my life would be without this horrible thing inside me.

I was woken up at some time around 5, my first words were to my boyfriend who I had apparently been having a dream conversation with about him not giving me cheese. Very me. I was kept in recovery for an hour and a half, during which I was confused and upset a couple of times. The pain was very severe but I was also given morphine which made me all warm and fuzzy. The one thing I remember clearly from recovery is when the nurse showed me a photograph of my uterus. I proclaimed “oh my god look at the tiny thing!” and burst into tears the way a new mother would.

At 6.30 I was finally taken back onto the ward, to the relief of my parents and partner. I was in a bit of pain and needed more painkillers but I wasn’t sad. I felt relieved. This was finally over.

The first night in hospital was tough because I had to keep getting up to go to the toilet, yet the motion sickness from standing up meant I vomited every time I did. It probably didn’t help that I was obsessively ramming ginger nut biscuits in my face either though.

It’s been 6 days since the operation and honestly I expected recovery to be tougher than this. Sure I’ve had a bit of pain but it’s nothing compared to the excruciating attacks I used to have. Mood wise I finally feel fully at peace, oddly zen. I’ve had a couple of wobbles when the pain  has been bad but I’m so happy in my decision.

 

If you want to see a photo of my uterus click here– warning though it is my literal uterus and you might find it a bit gross.

Cervical Cancer Screening and HPV Q&A

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2016. All info was correct at time of publishing]

If you are a vagina owner around the age of 25, you’re probably nearing your first smear. I know that this can be quite daunting, but it’s such an important thing that you really can’t afford to miss it. I had my first cervical smear at the age of 24 and they found HPV, since then I’ve had check ups every year and thankfully it’s been OK. So with this in mind, I asked my social media friends to give me their questions all about smears and HPV.

How do you best prepare for your smear or colposcopy?
The best way to be prepared in my opinion is by doing your research, find out what the examination involves and ways that you can make it easier on yourself. If you are nervous about it, try and talk to someone who is qualified or has had it themselves who can put your mind at ease. On the day, wear loose fitting and comfortable clothing- skirts and dresses can even sometimes be left on if they’re easily rolled up. If you feel comfortable doing so, share your concerns with the practitioner so that they can make it as easy as possible for you.

What happens at a smear?
A cervical cancer screening, commonly known as a smear or pap smear (US), happens when you hit 25 and then every 3 or 5 years (depending on where you live). You’re asked to strip from the waist down and lie on the bed with your legs in the stirrups. You are then examined by your nurse using a little device called a speculum to open you up. Some swabs are taken to test for cervical cancer and HPV. The examination really doesn’t take very long but can be a bit uncomfortable.

Does a speculum hurt?
It can for some, but mostly it’s just a bit uncomfortable. Most practises use plastic speculums now so they’ve a lot gentler than the old metal ones and they come in a range of sizes. They’re also lubed up to slide in easily. It’s only really in your vagina for a few minutes, but if you are in pain you can ask to stop at any time.

What is HPV? Can you explain the different levels?
Human Papiloma Virus is the worlds most common sexually transmitted infection (4 in 5 people) as it’s mainly spread by skin to skin contact; genital to genital, oral, vaginal and anal sex. Most people won’t show any signs of HPV and in a lot of cases the infection is just fought off by the body. HPV can cause changes to cervical cells which can lead to cancer. Of the over 100 types of HPV, around 13 can cause cervical cancer. This is why a smear test is so important.

Has having HPV affected your life?
Not really, when I was first diagnosed the fear from being so uninformed scared me more than anything else. And now it’s just the worry of finding out if my status has changed every year. I tell sexual partners I have it, but I’ve never encountered a stigma because it’s so widely spread.

What happens at a colposcopy?
If abnormal cells are found at your smear, you will be invited to a colposcopy. It’s just a more detailed way of looking at your cervix, done using a microscope at a hospital. The microscope will not go inside your body, with the speculum going in again. They do a couple of tests with either vinegar or iodine (which can sting a little) to bring out the colour of the abnormal cells. To get a proper diagnosis, the colposcopist will take samples of your cells. This can be done with either a punch biopsy, which can hurt a little bit, or a loop biopsy which is a longer treatment but done under anaesthesia (honestly the needle is the most painful part).

What happens next?
If you have a clear smear then you will be invited back routinely every 3 or 5 years. If your smear finds HPV you may require treatment, and you will be asked back for a smear yearly to monitor the situation.

Some great references
– Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

Lex Croucher did a great video on the topic

I wanted to end this post with a reminder to book your smear, it can save your life! 
And if you got yours recently 
WELL DONE YOU WARRIOR
 

In Defence of Trigger Warnings

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2017. All info was correct at time of publishing]

This week I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in a debate about trigger warnings and whether they protect people or create a bubble, you can listen to the episode here. On the panel were psychologist Terri Apter who thinks they stifle debate and Sorana Vieru from the National Union of Students who spoke about their usage in education. I was there defending the use of trigger warnings in the online world because they allow me to actually use the internet without fear.

A Trigger warning is a brief sentence at the beginning of a piece or post that simply informs the reader that there will be sensitive topics discussed that may affect them. For example:

“Trigger Warning: Suicide, brief description of suicide methods.”

A trigger warning is not for every single subject and thing that may upset a reader, but for things that could bring back a painful memory of something that had a deep affect on someones life such as abuse or self harm that could trigger a flash back, PTSD symptoms or even cause the reader to hurt themselves or others.

I primarily write from personal experience, so tend to write about the worst parts of my life that have affected me the most. I do this to tell others they’re not alone, to give hope to others in similar situations and as a form of therapy- it’s very cathartic after all. But just because I write about things such as infertility, abuse, suicide and rape threats doesn’t mean that I have to force others to read it. The last thing I want to do is trigger someone who is going through a tough time, so yes it might mean that person doesn’t read what I write but I want to give them the choice.

I probably use trigger warnings mostly in my daily life within groups on Facebook. As a part of the chronic illness community I’m part of many groups which discuss sensitive subjects on a regular basis. These are groups that include women who cant have children, abuse survivors, trans people and those with mental health problems. Trigger warnings help us all to navigate these spaces and interact safely. There’s an argument that trigger warnings within spaces like that stop people from being active members of communities, but for the most part we’re happy to help members navigate trigger warnings and ask if possible. More than anything it just makes it easier for the person to scroll past something that could harm them mentally. For example if I see that something has a rape trigger WARNING I wont read or view it and it keeps me safe.

Those against trigger warnings argue that it stifles debate, but more than anything they’re there to help prepare and aid the user going into a situation so that if this subject does arose they can either choose to remove themselves or debate safely. It’s knowing that something particularly harmful could be discussed and having the tools at hand to put us on an equal footing with people who may not have had these bad experiences.

Think back to the last show you watched with a particularly traumatic story line, what did the announcer say before?

“The following show features scenes of a difficult nature that some viewers may find upsetting”

Trigger warnings have been around on TV and in films for decades but for some reason its attributed to generation snowflake as another excuse for how we’re “too sensitive”.

Whilst triggers warnings before TV shows are deemed okay, discussing them online is often fought back against, as some class them as “spoilers”. This was something I experienced when I tweeted about “TW Rape in this weeks Game of Thrones”. I did so from a place of wanting to prepare others who could have been affected by it, but what I received in response was about 70 book reading bros telling me who died at the end of the season “spoilering bitch”. I understand that Game of Thrones is an exciting show and you don’t want to have a second ruined, but if I “spoiled” rape for you then we really have deeper issues to discuss.

The introduction of trigger and content warnings in education is in my opinion only a good thing. Whilst it is par of the course whilst studying History that you’ll cover war or that English Literature students may have to read books featuring abuse, it doesn’t mean that every student shouldn’t be prepared for this. By quickly noting at the top of assigned reading or an assignment that the module covers triggering subjects you put survivors on an equal footing to debate or achieve the marks they’re capable. Students should’t be forced to jeopardise their learning for fear of PTSD coming back.

In arguing that we’re creating a bubble by using trigger warnings people forget that we already do that in real life anyway. We cultivate friendships with people who we trust that wont make potentially harmful jokes. We distance ourselves from people who aim to attack us and push this subject on us and we walk away from situations if an argument becomes too much.

By refusing to acknowledge or use trigger warnings we alienate people with PTSD and mental health problems; and could potenially cause them more harm.

When Twitter Went From a Safe Haven to a Prison

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2017. All info was correct at time of publishing]

I’ve been feeling really anxious with Twitter lately.

Over the last 5 years I’ve curated and carved out a place where I can be myself, talk honestly and share what I love. It sounds absurd to someone who doesn’t have an internet community, but it’s when I’m sharing my thoughts with carefully selected strangers that I feel most comfortable. But then just how “carefully selected” can it be when you have a public profile? The answer you’re all probably shouting at me is “Not very, Rach”.

I don’t know when I shifted from loving Twitter to feeling uncomfortable if I spend too long on it, but I can guess that it was some time between November 9th and January 20th. After the election and in the time leading up to the inauguration I watched Twitter with horror, as I did the whole world. The space that once felt like it belonged to me and my friends turned against us- but of course this discourse and hatred has been happening for a long time. Safe in my echo chamber with my other liberal friends I was blind to the darker side of twitter, the one that only seeped in when I spoke of feminist issues and would occasionally scream GET RAPED at me, before I blocked them.

Despite being a bisexual, disabled woman I still hold quite a lot of privilege; I’m white, cisgender, reasonably well educated and in a relationship with a man (I’m not naive to the fact that this means I pass as straight). This means I escape a lot of specific abuse on Twitter and instead I fall under the standard catch all “women are fuck receptacles or not good enough to fuck” banner of online hate. And while being call a c*nt or being threatened was bad, I can speak about it almost nonchalantly because it was a rare occurrence. Most of my time on Twitter was fun.

It has however steadily gotten worse over the last year. There was a fortnight I remember maybe in September where I didn’t go a single day without a man on the internet calling me an obscenity, telling me how wrong I was or threatening me. The threats became expected. But never at the same volume as they were after the election.

For those on the left it was hard for us to stay silent, but it was also hard for us to speak. It was hard to put into words how we felt, when the overlying feeling was fear. Creeping into everything. There’s one day I think will stay with me for a long time.

I tweeted about Marine Le Pen being a fascist and put my phone down, got ready, had lunch with my boyfriend before letting him drive me home. There was a diversion and I had to direct him, something I’m terrible at in the best of circumstances. Absentmindedly as we hummed along to whatever was on radio 2, I checked Twitter. I was immediately confronted by over 100 replies telling me I’m going to be raped by Muslim men without a leader like Marine Le Pen.

This was the first time I’d privated my Twitter in 5 years. I unlocked it again a few hours later when I’d stopped crying, full of anger but still more cautious than before.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I lock and unlock my account on a regular basis at the minute, the last was because me and a pal were having a debate about a celebrities genitals and we wanted opinions. That in itself completely personifies my experience of Twitter, dodging abuse whilst being mildly (cough very) inappropriate with my friends. But it’s all I can do to keep it a fun part of my life and not delete the whole thing on a stupid whim.

My relationship with Twitter has always been a strange one. It’s something that simultaneously makes me feel sick and i hate going on, but at the same time can sit endlessly scrolling or will close then reopen again. I think the weirdest thing is how many feelings I have about a fucking website, why am I so connected and obsessed with a social media platform?!

I’m currently reading Girl On The Net’s book How A Bad Girl Fell In Love, if you’re familiar with her blog you’ll expect the vast amounts of filth but maybe not so much the battle with having an online life and a private one. As revealed in her book, the constant struggle to keep both lives separate led to her eventual breakdown. For me, the anonymity boat has long since sailed- I’ve been using my real name on the internet like some chump for nearly a decade now. But I can still identify with the anxiety side.

I became obsessed with follower counts, felt like I was never doing enough and was constantly checking twitter. If I’m not writing or tweeting or sharing images I feel anxious, but the fear of actually doing those things is even worse. I’ve been feeling my anxiety creep back in over the past couple of weeks. More and more I wake up in inexplicable panic that I’m not doing anything, but so paralysed by fear that I can’t.

I’ve found writing increasingly tougher since November, I feel like everything I’m writing is just silly and doesn’t matter when the world is coming apart at the seams. My once fun hobby blog Happy Little Syllables lies dormant for months at a time as it all just seems trivial.

This post was intended to be a nice lighthearted thing about my DIY cinema light box. But then I started on why I bought it. What seemed like a lovely story about picking myself up with a Treat Yoself on bad mental health day, that stemmed from me being told I wont get a hysterectomy until at least April and culminated in me crying about being called a cunt by a stranger on internet, again, became a massive feelings dump about life. That’s one thing I will always love about writing I guess. It helps me say the things I can’t actually physically say. (I did still publish a post about the light box. which is a lot funner than this)

As the world becomes more and more of a trash fire, social media has gone from being my safe haven to something I dread. It feels like every time I refresh my feed something worse has happened. Something more terrifying seems to have to been announced in the hour I was away.

I now find myself making a conscious effort to take time out from Twitter, on the weekends when I have more distractions and less time to mess around not working. When I can spend time away in the little bubble I’ve created, selfishly ignore the world for a tiny amount of time.

Before I have to refresh again.

How Trump Can Say All Those Things

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2016. All info was correct at time of publishing]

So here we are, Trump meltdown number #235632, and he’s still in the running to be the next President of the United States. A man who can openly tell people to abuse others, who incites hatred and would potentially destroy everything we hold dear could become one of the most powerful leaders in the world. I swore to myself I wouldn’t write about him, I wouldn’t give him space on my page, but he’s unavoidable now. We watched this ridiculous joke candidate turn into the actual Republican nominee, with an army of supporters. And that terrifies me, so I felt compelled to write.

Here are some things we know about Trump:

Anyone with a brain in their head can see that this is a man who must be stopped, he can not be allowed to become the leader of the free world. Yet he’s still gaining numbers, he’s still an actual viable opponent.

Because he’s not alone in his thoughts, not by a long stretch. You only have to look at his rallies to see that. He is surrounded by thousands, millions of people with the same disgusting views as his.

He isn’t popular because he’s a visionary, he’s popular because he shouts the loudest.

He’s been given a platform, a media circus, to air these disgusting views. And he’s supported because these people finally feel brave enough to say it too. And although he hasn’t directly said it himself they can say that they think black people are less human than them. That women deserve less rights than men. To abuse others in the street for being different. To claim that black people, latinos, women deserve to die if they dare to stand up to white men. To say that women should be seen an not heard, chained to the kitchen and men’s to do with as they please. To think that black people should still be owned by white people.

They can sit for hours- days- abusing women online, because that’s what their candidate represents. They can sit behind their screens sending thousands of messages to people like the unsinkable Leslie Jones who’s only “crime” was being black and powerful and female at the same time. People like the amazing Ella Dawson, who when she supported Hillary had her whole life dragged up and destroyed. I myself have had to sift through countless trash can fires in my mentions, every time I dare to speak against him.

FREEDOM! To those who will hopefully never know the fear that marginalised groups do of walking the street late at night alone. The terror when you’re pulled over by a policeman and have to beg for your life to those who are sworn to protect you. Who will hopefully never have to suffer the agony of having their life destroyed by a man like them and instead of being believed find ridicule and anger directed at them.

Trump supporters genuinely think that white straight able bodied people are oppressed; when in fact they have simply become one of many narratives instead of the only one.

They believe that sexual equality relates to the destruction of marriage. And that to be a feminist means that you hate all men and want them dead. They believe that a woman’s body is not hers and that if she should become pregnant then the unborn child has more rights than her. They believe that immigrants are the biggest threat to America, despite there being gun related deaths every day at the hands of citizens. They believe that black people are all drug dealers or gang members and live in fear of what they refuse to know.

They’ve somehow painted this man who was given a “small one million dollar loan” from his father as the every man, a “blue collar billionaire” who will rise up against the establishment. Failing to see how much money he has pumped into the establishment and how much he uses power to manipulate ignorant people like them every day.

Instead of adding to the discussion and debating the issues at hand in the election, Trump and his supporters insist on shouting over those who need their voices heard. They abuse and threaten those who dare to stand up to him then cry that their country is being destroyed and they need to make it great again.

But what version of “good old days” do you want? A one before same sex marriage? A one where black people couldn’t drink out of the same fountain as whites? A one where women were given pitiful amounts for working the same as men or not even allowed to attend higher education? Or was even that not GREAT enough for you? Women and black people still had ridiculous ideals of grandeur then, or so the men in power thought.

I agree that America does need improvements, as does my own country of Britain. 31 million citizens can’t afford healthcareplanned parenthood is under attack from all angles, gun crime is out of control. But Donald Trump is not the person to do this. The only thing he can bring is hatred, the reassurance to the disgusting people of the world that what they’re doing and saying and spreading is ok. And by that point he wont need to build a wall or kick out all Muslims, because his supporters will be dragging anyone different out of their houses or attacking them in the streets.

Donald Trump won’t need to destroy the world, he’ll just watch it burn.

The only way Trump can be stopped is by voting, please don’t think that by not voting you’re protesting. Please do your civic duty and stop this.

Being a Feminist On The Internet

[This is an archived post from my old blog or Medium that I was particularly proud of originally published in 2016. All info was correct at time of publishing]
 
Trigger Warnings for rape threats, death threats, suicide, rape apologists, homophobia, fatphobia, misogyny and slutshaming.

 

Being a writer and blogger I put quite a big part of my life on the internet. My posts are often very personal and in response to that I’m lucky to have had a great outpouring of love, brilliant advice and made some amazing friends. But it’s not all good, a big portion of the responses I get to posts and tweets about feminist, political or controversial issues are negative, disgusting and occasionally threatening.


There’s been the stupid responses of being called ugly, stupid, a liar “dyke” and even a feminist like thats a bad thing. Along with dick pics those are the things that I can brush off. But it never stops there. I’ve been told to kill myself, “get raped”, had my personal contact details shared  and had threats of rape and violence. All for daring to speak my mind whilst owning a vagina. Those are awful but the one that has always stuck with me is being sent my own photograph with cum on. I’ve even had disgusting comments from other “feminists”, such as being called a disgrace to women and feminism for daring to agree with a well known dinosaur in the movement.

And those things above were just some of the first to come to me, The name calling and rudeness has happened in every variation possible in most cases. I know that there’s a lot more that I’ve blocked out.

The worst part is that I’m not alone in this, in fact if you’re a woman reading this chances are you’ve had the same experience in some way. A couple of weeks ago I sent out a request on Twitter for women to tell me their similar experiences, I got near 100 responses and all were saddening. Below are just a few*:

-“Have you actually ever been raped or did someone just look at you wrong?”

– Been told I’m wearing too much makeup, and also not enough, thus proving women can never win

– Been told I’m a disgrace to women everywhere

– “Calm down love, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it. Let the big boys take care of everything. ”

– When saying I won’t be silenced, had a guy imply he’d prefer me to use my mouth to give him a blow job.

– “You aren’t a lesbian, you just haven’t met the right man yet”

– Rolling eyes, and, “I’m too young and don’t know any better.” Sometimes full grown men scream at me.

– “No man is gonna want to fuck you y’know? Not with the feminism shit!”

– “crop your profile pic chin up because seeing boobs seems like you’re using them to get hired”

-“Why are you so angry all the time? You just need a good dicking, that’ll calm you down.”

– That I must be on the rag

-By the same person as well! “You deserve to be raped but nobody would bc no man could get hard around you”

– “You’re not asexual, it’s just that nobody want you, fat ass”

– “You’re only a feminist because men dont find fat women attractive”

– Was told my first ever blog post (about being a feminist) gave someone cancer

– Was told, when pointing out that revenge porn is appalling, that I’m jealous that they don’t want to wank over pics of me

And even as that discussion was happening I was sent dick pics, told I was lying and accused of only standing up for white feminism.

Nearly everyone who responded had been also called a liar, sent dick pics, sent death and rape threats and comments about appearance, These are the things we get on a regular basis because we speak our minds and won’t be silenced. These aren’t isolated incidents, and these things hardly ever happen to men with the same opinions.

Something I wasn’t expecting however, was the great sense of solidarity and community that emerged between these women that had experienced such awful things. That saddened me and warmed my heart at the same time. This just reinforced for me how great women are and how we will not be scared into silence by the most disgusting people on the Internet.

*names and usernames removed to protect users, can be added at their request