Well it's time for that post – six years since I've had surgery and time to be grateful for my journey, the friends I've made and the things I've learned about me. This is going to be a long post. I'm wordy – I admit it. I thought I'd give you an overview of my victories and my challenges along my journey. I imagine that some people will not take the time to read such a long post, but I put it out there for those that want an idea of what one person's struggles are post op after six years in the journey. I have to say that this journey does not stop when one gets to goal. It truly is a life long journey. Don't rush it. It's going to be there for the rest of your life.
I'm hoping this post won't come across as too negative and whiney...but it just might. I want people to know that there are not always rainbows and unicorns in our journey. There are issues of all kinds after surgery and after you've been out a while.
I had surgery on July 5th, 2006. Back then many of us went to Michigan My care there was great, after care really sucked. But my surgeon was wonderful and I had very few problems with my surgery itself. The only complication was a nicked artery. I lost a bit more blood than most patients but recovery was fairly easy. I was at the mall my second day home. It truly was easy breezy!
My first year out was GLORIOUS. I have no other word to describe it. It was so wonderful. Although I was a slow loser (my surgical centre gave us no guidelines on carbs and I do think that slowed me down compared to others) I did fairly well. I started at 290 lbs before surgery and ended up being less than half that by goal. My first year I followed the rules very well and made exercise a huge part of my life. I made a point of walking to and home from work every day 3 miles and then would jump on my treadmill at home for another 4 miles. I was pretty motivated, highly focused and felt so strong and powerful. I remember feeling so strong and powerful – I was now eating to live and not living to eat. I loved feeling that power over food! The first year is a CONSTANT high. We long timers wish we could bottle it and have it back. LOL It's purely magical!
Early deficiency of iron and osteopenia developed by the year mark. Started supplementing.
The second year was pretty good too. I still had that high...but the binges started to creep in now and again. Those of us who are binge eaters do tend to struggle post op. I'd binge and then cry about the binge. I hated myself for doing it. I was even planning binges in advance...and then feeling like a failure a half hour later when I felt like crap. I started to gain. It started to freak me out to be honest. Five pounds up. Feeling a bit daunted. People actually commented that I was too gaunt earlier and that I was looking better...but I did not feel that at all. The mental struggle was beginning and the feelings of being out of control and feelings of failure were terribly powerful. I was starting to feel powerless to food, no longer so powerful.
When I got to goal, no one really taught me what it meant to eat in moderation. I'd always been overweight. I always had a problem with food. I was never that person that could eat a small bag of chips and put half of it away for later. Not even as a teenager. It was a foreign concept. Portion sizes were starting to get larger. It started to get scary. I could eat more and binges were bigger. It was getting downright scary. Feeling out of control, feeling worthless.....up 10 lbs...
I ended up as a size 10. I was devastated. People I worked with were size 0 and 2 after having children. I started to obsess and do the 5 day pouch test....then cut carbs completely, then bingeing. I'd repeat the cycle again and again only to have the same results. I'd work hard for a week and lose only 1 lb but then binge on a bad weekend and gain double that. The weight was no longer falling off like it once did. I felt like 10 lbs could have been 100. I know it sounds strange but that 10 lbs was totally overwhelming to me.
I started feeling like a failure because I didn't get to size 4 or 6. I was still “big”. I felt like a failure. I know that it seems so foreign that you'd consider yourself a failure being a size 10 or size 12 after being size 26/28 at your heaviest...but the mind is a strange thing. I became too obsessed with comparing myself to others. Not realizing how far I'd come. The reality is that some of us have bigger frames, some of us will be a size 2, some will be a size 10 or a size 18 or any size really. We are all so different. Again, the worst thing you can do is to compare yourself to others.
I decided I had better get into therapy. I went to our local eating disorder place for 6 months of therapy. They cater to binge eaters, over eaters, bullemics and anorexics. I learned a lot about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which many of us benefit from post op to deal with the head issues. I learned to try not to base my happiness on a size or number on a scale. I'm still not ready to throw out my scale like they suggest. A funny thing happened at therapy though – I also became obsessed with how skinny the anorexics look so while I made some progress, I think head issues were still skewed. Again head issues are a strange thing post op. More issues with anemia.
Year 2 was also when I discovered that I had Reactive Hypoglycemia. I never had diabetes or had issues with blood sugar so that required a lot of reading and learning on something new. I diagnosed myself, took the information to my doctor and yes, it was confirmed. I managed it fairly well. Sugar is the enemy. I wish I didn't have an issue with sugar – that I could keep it out of my life completely but sugar is my struggle always. Managed the RH fairly well this year. No problems with it other than a few lows.
Years 3 and 4, I continued the same skewed thinking while creeping up and up on the scale. I had a lot of issues going on in my personal life that lead to a lot of emotional eating. At one point, I ended up 27 lbs above my goal. I kid you not. SOOOO easy to do when your mind is skewed. I struggled. I had a few comments said to me that made me feel like giving up and running away. I would battle dark days of hating me, hating the scale and feeling like a total failure. It's very hard to run a support group for weight loss when you are going through the issues but I continued to do it. It was embarrassing to be up at the front when you were feeling like a failure. I lurked more on OH, poking my head in now and again, but feeling like a lost puppy. Didn't really fit in with the “rah rah” of the newbies and feeling like I couldn't offer any thing to anyone when I was struggling with myself. Up to size 12 and then closer to a 14.
Year 5 was better. Feeling like I started to make peace with my bounceback. Do I like it? No. But I managed to get off around 15 lbs of it and felt more in control. Still working on the self image and positive talk but feeling more like I'm a survivor in this thing called WLS rather than a failure. Realizing that I'm not the only person that struggles. I'm not alone in this journey. Back to size 12 but still working towards 10.
So here I stand at year 6, feeling more at peace. Again still a work in progress but trying to like myself more. In my head, I am still big and still relate to the large people in the room than the “skinny minnies”. Constantly have the feeling that I'm still a size 26. Regain is all in my stomach and butt and makes me feel constantly bloated and feeling like I look pregnant. I never feel like clothes fit like they did when I got to goal. I can tell that my body composition has changed with regain. Lost a lot of muscle mass. More wobbly bits than before.
This year again, anemia is still kicking its ugly head. Some low vitamin d for the first time. RH is kicking my butt more this year than ever before. I've had two issues in the past 6 months of passing out from it. (One time I put off symptoms when I shouldn't have – the second one, I attributed the symptoms to being sick from the heat versus RH). That's been scary but both times I really should have known better.
Food issues are still there. I call it my FAT HEAD. I am constantly struggling with my fat head – emotional eating, boredom eating, stress eating and bingeing. It's a constant struggle not to give in and sometimes I do. I am one of the few that can honestly eat anything. There is nothing that disagrees with my pouch – nothing. And I can eat large amounts. It would scare most people how much I can eat. To this day, I've still never vomited once, had things stuck or had the foamies.
I've learned that I have to just keep picking myself up and dusting myself off and set new goals. I'm a work in progress – for the rest of my life. Surgery did not fix my head in any respect.
I still have around 10-12 of regain to get back off. I'm starting to make peace with that though. It's not the end of the world if I stay where I am at. I'm starting to strongly believe the issue of set point. My body is pretty resistant. So I'm trying to make peace with the fact that I may still carry some extra weight with me and that it's not the worst thing in the world if I do. It could be far worse. It could have easily slipped to 40, 50 pounds had I not caught it earlier when it started to spiral. Some days I feel in control of my eating and other days I still feel overwhelmed. For me, it's day to day...one day at a time.
I'm grateful for many things:
Other than the RH issues, I'm healthy. Anemic still but no other problems. Healthy is a good thing. I'm strong. I'm mobile. I'm active. Life doesn't pass me by unless I want it to. I've coached swimming, baseball, basketball. I've done walked three half marathons in Detroit. I've met many nice people in the WLS community. Running a support group has helped me be accountable to myself and others. I cannot put my head in the sand and ignore the creeping weight. I need the support group as much as others.
I see my parents struggling with their obesity and I'm so glad that I made the choice that I did to have surgery. Both of my parents can barely walk a block without being terribly winded, my Mom is at the point that soon she'll need a cane or a scooter. I'm not there. I'm not going to have a heart attack at a young age like my mother did. I still have my life and quality of life. It's really a wonderful thing.
My goal is to keep working on the head issues. I highly encourage newbies to examine these issues before surgery. The head stuff can be brutal for many of us. You will see me on this board talking about regain/bounceback quite frankly. I think we need to start taking the shame out of it. It happens and most surgeons do expect it. I think by beating ourselves up we are not doing ourselves any favours. I wish people had given me more of a heads up on it to be honest. Then maybe it wouldn't have been so devastating to me.
Anyway, there's the good, bad and ugly of my surgery and my life post op. I know that my experiences are not the same as everyone else's but I'm sure I'm also not the only one to go through such a range of emotional issues and head issues after surgery. So I thought I'd put this out there for anyone who may relate to my story or anyone that wants to chat about any of these issues. Sometimes feeling like we are not alone in this journey is a very powerful thing.
Newbies: WLS is an absolutely amazing gift. It's a wonderful gift but also a big responsibility to use it wisely and there may be many times that you struggle along this journey. Please don't waste the wonderful gift you've been given. Get to goal your first year, keep your triggers at bay and work towards getting off the most weight you can while you can. Despite the head struggles, I would still do surgery all over again. It's truly a wonderful gift!
Have a good day,