Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I let an anniversary go by and what they don't tell you about weightloss surgery

I've been spending less time online at home - I get email on my phone so I delete the junk and save the rest to read on the laptop at home.  Last night I finally got to my email and there was one that I had glanced at on my phone but hadn't read. 

"congratulations on your WLS anniversary"

Oh ya.  I kind of forgot.  I often forget I'm a bypass patient.  Especially when I still struggle every day with food and food choices.  But they don't tell the whole story when you hear about weightloss surgery - it deals with the physical aspects of over eating. But leaves the rest of it - and that's a mighty amount - to surface later.

My story:

At 300+ pounds, I had the usual trouble that comes with obesity – walking up stairs, finding decent clothes, self esteem, and health problems. I had sleep apnea that was ruining my life and my health. I had 2 small children I couldn’t keep up with. I was losing hope rapidly.

I first started researching Gastric Bypass in 1998 – my mom mentioned it to me in passing and it got stuck in my head as a viable option. I had tried everything else.

That seems to be the common phrase among Gastric Surgery patients.

During my year long research (and insurance battle) I found several online support forums and formed friendships there. We were all eager to get the surgery and start losing weight for the final time. Or what we thought was the final time. During my research I had some memorable moments – the low point being a surgeon who encircled my pudgy wrist with his fingers and says “I can make you a size 2”. I pictured myself as a skeleton. I wasn’t vain, I didn’t want to get “skinny” – just healthy. There was a distinct difference in my head. The high point was finding a surgeon who listened to my request and offered a “Bypass lite” – less intestines bypassed, fewer nutritional deficiencies afterwards, but potentially less weight loss. I was sold.

Nov. 8, 2001 – I had my RNY.

Things went well – 2 weeks post surgery I was re-admitted for dehydration but otherwise things went just as they should. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult. Anyone who says Gastric Bypass is the “easy way out” can kiss my butt. My best friend – food – was no longer available to me. I could eat one teaspoon of food at a time. I had to drink water at timed intervals and not around the time I was trying to get massive amounts of protein in 1 oz at a time. I struggled emotionally with all of this. I feared I was “doing it wrong”. Most days I came close – but in my brain it had to be perfect or the surgery – and my last chance – would be another failure.

I remember reading other bypass patients accounts of “eating a slice of pizza” or some other “forbidden” food and my brain screamed out at them: Why would you DO that?! You’ve just had surgery, obesity is serious, and you’re trying to eat pizza! The rules – don’t you remember the rules?!?!

But here’s what they don’t tell you. Most obese people didn’t get obese merely by eating too much food. Granted, that’s the physical reason – but for the majority of obese people, there are severe emotional issues that contributed to eating the food. Surgery does nothing for those issues. Nothing. They’re still there, waiting to re-emerge. They stay hibernating while you go through great changes – losing weight, finding a balance between eating what you’re supposed to, drinking enough water, and finally getting some form of daily exercise. You’re too busy figuring out the ins and outs of post surgery life that the issues just lay there, waiting.

Mine started in October of 2002 – nearly one year post op. I was down to around 185 pounds and holding steady. Running or walking on the treadmill daily, enjoying shopping for size 10/12 clothes, and I considered myself, generally, a success story. I was researching plastic surgeons – I had excessive tummy skin that I wanted gone – and trying to find a way to pay for that. I was in the middle of a divorce (something else they don’t tell you – your relationship with your spouse/partner WILL change – of all my weight loss surgery friends, NONE have stayed married.  We're talking several DOZEN friends and an equal number of divorces/break ups) and struggling to figure out single parenting and a full time job. Stress was at an all time high. And my issues reared their head.

Gastric Bypass patients are told “no more sugar – ever” At least more than likely that’s the case. Because of the surgery, the sugar you ingest will end up in your blood stream faster than pre-surgery and it’s likely to make you feel very Not Well. It’s commonly referred to as “Dumping” (go ahead – Google it…I’ll wait for you to come back…)

I was scared to death of dumping – I’ll do just about anything to not throw up (not the worst of the dumping). So I avoided sugar. I even remember having somewhat of an aversion to it – it didn’t sound good to eat. Until the mercury in my stress thermometer shot out the top.

We were in the Halloween season – and all my pre-surgery favorite foods came in convenient handy snack size bars. This to my way of thinking was the perfect way to test if I could tolerate sugar. It was almost like a science experiment – I remember the emotions very vividly. I had one Hershey’s Kiss. And waited. I felt very guilty. And waited for the physical punishment – the dumping I had been warned about. But it didn’t come. Next time it was 2 kisses…and wait.

Still nothing. And I didn’t gain weight from 2 kisses. That was almost scarier than the idea of dumping. My brain equated candy with weight gain and I still wasn’t used to my new body. I still expected to be like Tom Hanks in “Big” and wake up 300 pounds again the next day. But it didn’t happen. I ate 3 kisses – no dumping and still the same size in the morning.

The emotional flood gates opened. I didn’t make the connection at the time – but this was my “pizza” moment. That revelation that the food I loved and the way I loved to eat it wasn’t dead. There was a blip on the monitor – and flash at the Frankenstein Castle – it was ALIVE!!

For the next several years, I focused on working out regularly and sticking to most of the rules. I still had a hard time eating large quantities (for post-bypass definition of large). But I pushed the envelope. I was playing with fire and not aware of what I was doing. I was not paying attention. I thought the ‘problem’ was solved – I was thinner. That was the goal, right? And by definition, I was a surgical success.

Because I chose a “lighter” version of the surgery, I had never envisioned myself as tiny – I figured size 8, size 10. I didn’t have goals beyond those numbers. I wanted to be under 190, that was a number I hadn’t seen in a long time.

At one year post op, I was around 185 and dealing with a lot of extra skin. I had been most heavy around the middle so I was left with a ‘skin apron’ that really distorted how I saw myself. I still had a pretty serious case of body dysmorphic disorder . What I saw in the mirror and what I really looked like was very different. Having lost 120 or so pounds, it was a definite improvement – but even after a year of losing weight, my image wasn’t anywhere near where I thought it should be – and the hanging skin was a distraction. So I scheduled surgery – scraped together money – and had the skin removed.

And that kept the eating under control again for awhile. I had just invested a very large sum of money on my appearance again and I was working out, staying within most of the eating boundaries the surgery set for me and I was about 180 pounds.

I didn’t keep a blog or journal during this time but I wish I had. I don’t know what changed – how it changed or when it changed. But at some point after the tummy tuck, I slipped back into some old habits. I began skipping workouts, eating more, and eating poorly. I was starting to snack again – something I had given up because of the surgery rules. I can’t pinpoint why. I would guess that it had everything to do with being comfortable with eating again (post surgery eating scares the heck out of most people – it’s VERY defined, VERY limited, VERY intimidating). I know that my issues were surfacing - I didn't realize it at the time. 

Fast forward several years - I still have the tools to deal with over eating - counting calories, working out, etc.  But I still haven't addressed the deeper issues.  I keep putting band aids over gushing wounds.  And while I would lose 20-30 pounds and get back under 200, because I wasn't dealing with the underlying issues, the weight would come back.  This year I finally realized what needed to be done. 

And I've been blogging and dealing openly with everything I'm going through.  Some of you are just stumbling upon my tiny little blip on the internet and some of you have been with me from nearly the beginning.  I've stuck with this and I'm still making progress 11 months later.  And I'm abstaining from the foods that are my downfall.  And I'm dealing with the issues that lead to over eating for me.  And I'm trying to be open and honest about all of it in hopes someone else finds themselves on the same journey. 

so there you go - an anniversary of sorts.  But not one I celebrate - I merely note it casually.

but tomorrow?? Tomorrow I dance:  8 years to the day since my divorce was final!! 

heehee - ok, I probably won't dance but I will definately smile a little bigger when the thought crosses my mind. 
Maybe I'll hand him a Thank You card when I pick my kids up from him on Friday.



Allan said...

Thank you for the writing. I wish you nothing but peace and happiness

LauraLynne said...

thank you Allan!

amandakiska said...

I've always wondered when you talk about eating sugar how you manage to do it. I don't know that much about RNY, but I knew sugar was a big no-no. Thanks for sharing your story.