As far back as I can remember, I’ve hated my nose. Despised it.

All of my body insecurity and self-confidence issues were tied in some way to this protruding lump in the middle of my face. It didn’t suit my face, it overwhelmed my other features. I felt like whenever I walked into a room, my nose was the first thing people noticed about me.

I desperately tried to accept my nose as a part of me. I’d even make jokes about it. But I couldn’t help but feel my life would be so different if I didn’t have this one facial feature that completely took over. I’d go on holidays with my friends and family and have a fabulous time — but seeing photos from the trip that captured me in profile would bring me to tears.

So by 21, I’d had enough. But I’d also resigned myself to the fact that surgery was out of the question. Surely that was something only celebrities or wealthy people did? It was bound to go wrong on a “normal” person, right? Still, I couldn’t help at least looking into it. And in the end, I actually spent a large part of my second year of university getting quotes from private surgeons from all over the world. But they all came back at over $9,000, which my student budget couldn’t afford. And I didn’t want to haggle a bargain when it was something on my face that I’d have to live with forever.

But then one evening, everything changed.

I spotted a post from a fellow blogger friend who had undergone a rhinoplasty procedure with a London-based cosmetic surgery clinic, Transform. Her results looked extremely natural and there were several finance options available. I booked an appointment.

Six months later, a week after I’d finished my exams, I was undergoing surgery.

Walking myself to the operating table knowing that I’d wake up with a different nose was the most surreal experience ever. Anxiousness, anticipation, excitement.

Will I look like a different person?

Will anyone notice?

Will I still be me?

Will anything change?

Well, actually — everything changed. Within the first month of having the procedure, I felt confident enough to experiment with makeup, and I landed a huge work opportunity! I also cut my hair for the first time in six years. (I’d wanted to grow it as long as possible to detract attention from my nose.) And, having experienced a breakup, I tried dating again. For the first time, I took a chance dating someone I’d never met before —previously, I’d only go on dates with people I’d met through friends.

In hindsight, I can’t quite believe how different I am as a person and how much of my self-confidence I attached to my nose. After the surgery, my confidence skyrocketed. I felt like I could throw myself into the career I wanted to chase after, without being held back by the stigma I had tied to my nose.

I felt like I finally had the face I was always supposed to have, with all of my features working with one another rather than one overwhelming the rest.

I was free from my confidence-withholding burden. No longer hiding behind it.

Cosmetic surgery is obviously a huge decision and one that certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly. You are altering your body — permanently. And the effects aren’t just physical, they’re emotional, too. If you are thinking about any kind of surgery yourself, I implore you to read this first:

1. Manage your expectations

I think the single most important thing when undergoing any kind of cosmetic surgery is to manage your expectations, because this is where surgery can go very wrong. One thing I really appreciated about my surgeon was that he assured me that his key vision was to ensure my nose still suited my face. It’s dangerous to go in and ask for “Angelina Jolie’s nose,” for example, or to expect to emulate someone else. Surgery is about enhancing what you already have, not giving you something new altogether. For the most natural look, you want something that is going to be in proportion with your other features and work in harmony with them — so your surgeon should make that their goal, too.

2. There is no such thing as ‘perfect’

Striving for perfection is another common mishap when it comes to cosmetic surgery, and that’s dangerous. Because, quite frankly, perfection doesn’t exist. If you strive for a “perfect nose” you’re unfortunately going to be setting yourself up for disappointment. Aim for a nose (or feature) that works in better harmony with the rest of you. Remember, it’s not about emulating anyone else — it’s about YOU!

3. Do your research

I can’t stress this enough. In order to feel reassured that you’re in good hands and are going to get the natural result you want, you need to make sure you’ve conducted plenty of research. A personal recommendation always helps, because you can see the living, breathing, walking, talking result for yourself. And if that’s not an option, Google. Many surgeons have reviews online with before and after pictures, and if you can’t find them, be sure to ask the surgeon’s assistant. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t feel pressured to rush into anything. Remember, this is a big decision and it has to feel right for you. I waited 10 years before going ahead with my operation, which gave me plenty of time to really think about whether it was something I truly wanted to do.

4. Give yourself time to recover

Here’s another very important piece of advice. While cosmetic surgery is elective, you still may be in a lot of pain, and you may have swelling and bruising. I gave myself two weeks off before returning to my usual activities, and this was more than enough time to start feeling more human again.

5. Give your results time

It takes time to really heal properly. While the results of cosmetic surgery are instant, swelling and bruising can mask the final result. For example, a rhinoplasty procedure carries a lot of swelling and bruising with it (especially if you’re having your nose broken to correct a deviated septum, like I was). While a lot of the swelling went down by the one-month mark, I’d say it was around six months later before I started to see the final result that I have now. Residual swelling can even continue up until the 18-month mark, so be patient!

My new nose is right for me, and gave me the confidence to be myself. I spent years thinking about what it was about my appearance that I felt was holding me back. I researched procedures and took every facet of my life into consideration. A body-altering surgery is not something anyone should just dive into, and I’m glad I took the time to truly think about my own.

Because a nose — or any feature — isn’t just something that’s attached to the rest of your body. It’s is part of your very being.

Scarlett Dixon is a U.K.–based journalist, lifestyle blogger, and YouTuber who runs networking events in London for bloggers and social media experts. She has a keen interest in speaking out about anything that might be deemed taboo, and a lengthy bucket list. She’s also a keen traveler and is passionate about sharing the message that IBS doesn’t have to hold you back in life! Visit her website and tweet her @Scarlett_London.