I like to believe that the bariatric surgery journey began when I heard the words from my doctor: “Women with a Body Mass Index higher than 35 have a 9x greater chance of having uterine cancer” in April 2016. But my journey began in July 2015, 9 months earlier, in Itasca State Park, the birthplace of the Mississippi River in Minnesota.
Itasca is what I think of “home.” From age 15 on, I’ve visited the park for sporadic day trips or summer weekends. My great-grand-parents and my grandparents had their honeymoons in Itasca. This love for the park was passed down and around the family. Currently, if my immediate family wants to vacation, we go to Itasca because this is the only place we will have fun and not fight. In spite of the family vacations, my family understands my connection and bond to Itasca runs far deeper than any I have had with anyone .
When I lived 1-2 hours away from the park, I would drive there alone for a day trip or a weekend away to clear my head, fill my heart, escape into the woods or read along the beach. No matter what, I would visit the trees. Henry David Thoreau explains this far more eloquently. In Walden, he writes: “Trees indeed have hearts…I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.” Having a tree or many trees as your confidants brings about such peace and a sense of well-being. The longest I stayed away from Itasca was 4 years due to graduate school, but when I returned the trees welcomed me.
2015 was a difficult year in my family because of my mother’s health. We almost lost her several times that year, and she was forced to stay in a nursing home for a year for recuperation. Although, she has since returned home, her inability to walk on her own is a constant thought that brings me to tears. In 2015, my husband and I had not been to Itasca for 2 years because I had lost my job during that time, and we needed time to save for a return to Itasca. I never needed my park’s confidants’ comfort more than I did in 2015.
On a warm July day that year, my husband and I drove into the Douglas Lodge Parking Lot. Douglas Lodge is the main office for Itasca Park lodging and dining.
I got out before the car was in park. My husband went up to Douglas Lodge to check us in, and I recreated a moment that I had repeated from when I was ages 15 to 24, I ran down the long, staircase which heads directly down to Lake Itasca. I truly believed I was young and that my body was strong.
I made it about 6 stairs before I fell. I caught myself with my left arm on the railing and my knees and right palm caught the rest. I was bleeding, in severe pain and weeping because I couldn’t perform this ritual. My husband took me to our cabin and bandaged me up. For the remainder of our visit, the injuries I sustained kept us stuck in the cabin instead of enjoying my “home.”
At age 35, I had been living disconnected from my body for who knows how long. I was unaware of the hindrance of my weight because, in my mind, I was still 20, many, many pounds lighter and believed nothing had changed. I liken it to an inversion to Body Dysmorphia, where instead of being thin and seeing a fat person in the mirror, I was a fat person who always saw the strong, healthy person who had not aged, changed, or gained weight. I would look at pictures of myself and if I didn’t like what I saw, I just thought the camera must have hit me at the wrong angle.
I realized later I wasn’t living in my body anymore; I was not connecting or fully feeling like a complete person. I tried, hard as I could, to learn how to live connected and inside of myself, but I was unable to find this beautiful gift of wholeness until after the surgery. The surgery has forced me to be aware of my body and its place and significance in the world. Being whole is incredibly difficult to get used to and is frightening, almost terrifying, on an hourly basis. But, the mind-body connection establishment is a benefit and bane of the surgery. Because of the surgery…
I’ve had to reclaim who I am to myself.
I’ve had to teach myself who I am.
And, in the future, I hope I learn how to accept myself.
I haven’t been back to Itasca since before the surgery. I can’t wait to return, as a stronger, more connected human being. And, I can’t wait to meet up with my old acquaintance in the pine trees.