Not Until We Are Lost Do We Truly Find Ourselves: Thoreau

August 20, 2018

10 months have passed without my ability to touch this blog. I’ve been giving excuses to myself as to why I haven’t written. I blamed it on lack of time because of a job change, lack of emotional energy due to many deaths in my family, and lack of readership.

The real reason why I stopped writing this blog is because I’ve been afraid to talk about what it means to have each passing day bring me closer to my 2-year surgery anniversary. I’ve been afraid to face my behavior since meeting my one-year mark, to face the ramifications of significant weight loss in my life, and to face failure, in many forms. Every day that has passed without writing, I’ve been plagued with guilt that has fed into my fear, depression, and anxiety.

At my year mark, November 17, 2017, I gave up. I had “made weight,” and was praised and accepted by the people whose voices had echoed and tortured me every hour of every day from July 2016 to that year mark. I had many visits with the weight loss clinic that first year, so I became the embodiment of their threats and negative reinforcement. I was terrified of every piece of food I put into my mouth, every missed opportunity for physical activity, and breaking any rule from the contract I signed to enter into this form of madness that “making weight” had become.

In order to make weight, I postponed activities, such as going to movies, having dinner with friends, and eating certain foods until after the weigh-in mark to make sure I made it to their, once again, unreasonable number on their scale.  I worried every day about a number on a scale, not because I was unhappy with how I looked or felt, but because I didn’t want to be reprimanded and dehumanized more than I had been by the people at the clinic.

In preparation for the weigh-in, I weighed 2 very cute dresses to find out which one weighed less, to make sure I met the goal. Never mind the fact that I had not just 1 cute dress I loved but 2, or the fact I was completely comfortable at the weight I was at or that I knew the cute dresses made me look cute.

When the date arrived, and I stepped on the scale in their office, I made weight. I was now worthy of their praise and acceptance because I had moved into their successful surgery weight loss column.

Back at the very first doctor assessment appointment where I had to choose between the two surgeries, I was told that the average weight lost by procedure was 100 pounds over a year with the gastric bypass and 60 pounds with the gastric sleeve. I had chosen the gastric sleeve, and even with the 60-pound information, the goal that was set for me was 127 pounds in the first year.

I met the goal.

I made weight.

I lost 127 pounds AND myself in the process.

I’m not suggesting that I had any idea who I was before the surgery, but once I had the surgery, I became Becky, the bariatric surgery patient. But, when do you stop being a patient? Who are you when you cross back over? What does cross back over even mean? Do you ever stop? I have no idea.

This blog’s goal and purpose has not been lost, even though I have been for a long time. It will continue to address the “reality” of my bariatric surgery experience, but it must include my own vulnerability and humanity as I fight for self-worth. At the very least I owe myself that.

Thou Shalt Never

Once I was sold a weight loss surgery, the information session continued on and on. Two women who didn’t understand the concept of presentations – the presenter talks and only the presenter talks – provided constant commentary on each slide, and they also fell into the category of heckling like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show.

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The doctor explained the 3 surgeries the weight loss clinic will provide in high school health book detail. Then he moved on to the list of activities we could never do again if we chose surgery. According to the presentation,

WE CAN NEVER:

  • Drink Soda or any other “fizzy” drinks
  • Use a Straw
  • Chew Gum
  • Drink Caffeine
  • Drink Alcohol
  • Eat Hard Candies
  • Eat Coconut
  • Smoke
  • Snack between the 3 meals per day
  • Drink less than 64 ounces of fluid per day
  • Drink less than a ½ hour before a meal and after a meal
  • Skip Vitamins
  • Drink Very Cold Fluids

This list took a very long time for the doctor to explain due to the confusion from the crowd. One woman asked, “What do you mean I have to give up Diet Coke?” And the doctor’s response was, “Some of the fattest people I know drink Diet Coke.” Why didn’t he treat her like an adult and explain the carbonation in Diet Coke will cause her pain once the surgery is performed? Another woman asked about the no alcohol, and the doctor backed off on this rule. He said, “It’s something you can enjoy occasionally. Like champagne at a wedding.” This seemed to satisfy most people in the audience, including me. However, at my first nutritionist visit, she said she wished the doctors would stop using that example because champagne is “fizzy” so technically we couldn’t have it.

The presentation continued with more rules. A bariatric surgery patient has to meet guidelines before they can be considered for the surgery. He stressed to the group if we don’t lose the weight, we will not be cleared for the procedure. We were also told we would be weighed on the day of operation to make sure we hadn’t gained any weight from being cleared for surgery to the actual surgery date. He said if we are even 1 pound over our required weight loss on surgery day, he would cancel it. “I’ve done it before, and I won’t hesitate to do it again.” This statement haunted me as I tried to lose my required weight throughout the gastric sleeve preparation process. Every time I stood on a scale at home that didn’t say what I needed it to, I imagined myself standing in a blue surgical gown on a scale and refused the surgery. But his threat sewed itself into the recesses of my brain to become the first fear I would visit when my mind was quiet. It fueled my depression.

The entire process for this clinic usually takes AT LEAST 4 months to get the surgery. Like a fool, I took comfort in this time frame. I thought it was going to take 4 months or less to get approved and onto the operating room table. The four months were filled with many hoops with financial repercussians.

We hit our out-of-pocket insurance requirements for the year in August, and my goal was to complete the surgery before the end of 2016 and then the surgery would be free. My husband tried and tried to convince me it would be ok to have it in 2017, but I just couldn’t figure out how the bills would work out with our 2017 budget. I was determined to get it done before New Year’s.

No matter how many times I went to the clinic, or how far I came in the process with the checklists, when I asked the question “When do you think we can schedule the surgery?” The answer was, ALWAYS, “We’ll have to see.” Each hoop I jumped through, there were no encouraging words, no estimate of a possible surgery date, no indications as to when the hoops would come to an end, or even if I could get through all of them and have the doctor turn me away for some random hoop they never mentioned. Instead, I was always greeted with the “We’ll have to see” and the vision of me cowering, cold and vulnerable on a scale to be turned away at the very last second became clearer and clearer in my mind. The hoops, the uncertainty, the self-consciousness about my body, the pain to move, the desperate attempt to lose the required amount of weight, kept me up at night and sent me spiraling.

Side note: I was diagnosed with depression when I was a freshman in college. I should have been diagnosed much, much earlier, but that isn’t how my family worked.  All my family members had untreated mental illnesses of their own when I was younger. Some still have not treated them. It was too difficult to see outside their world to see mine. Interestingly enough, once I began my treatment for depression, many of my family members followed suit. It was like I was giving them permission to get help. I do not know a lot about how depression works in other people, but for me, it ebbs and flows. It seems to heighten in intensity for a period of time, usually a month or two. In this heightened intensity stage, logically I know the sea of depression will subside. For me, incredibly difficult, stressful circumstances push me into the depression sea to drown. I’m dropped into the “Pit of Despair.” My depression moves me into darkness where I don’t have hope or believe the depression will ever subside. I look back at times where I was in that pit, and I survived. But I do not remember how I functioned. I think about those times or try to visit them in memory, and all I see is life shaded black. It’s like depression redacted whole months of my life at a time. End side note.

Those months when I was hoop jumping for the weight loss clinic and for my insurance company is a portion of my life when I was drowning in the sea of depression and deep in the pit. After the info session, I can’t remember day to day, ordinary activities because I can’t see through the black marker redaction.

Once the presentation concluded there was time for questions. I sat in a trancelike state, unable to focus on the doctor, the women or my husband. The women launched questions at the doctor that sounded like a quiet buzzing in my ears. I wanted to leave, I wanted to never lay eyes on the doctor or these women ever again, and I wanted to run to the car and hide. After the doctor finished his presentation, the women rushed the doctor to ask him questions, my husband and I made our way out. Even though the car was in the farthest possible parking lot, I managed to make it there. Once inside the car, the emotions stuffed into my chest exploded. I cried, I yelled, I screamed. But I knew there was no choice for me but the surgery. This was the path I had to take because nothing else had worked. I could not become my mother.

When we got home, I shoved my shame into ice cream and planned to make an appointment at the clinic the next day.