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.

Where I Lived & What I Lived For: Part Two

Today, September 28, 2017, I am 10 months and 12 days out from surgery, my husband and I are packing to return to Boston for a week. Here are the Olive Green Backpack and Sandals packed and ready to go.

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I will leave my shoe tread all over Boston and Walden Pond and wear my backpack threadbare.

Where I Lived, and What I Lived For: Part One

September 21, 2017

Thoreau explains in Walden the key to living a happy life is to “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.” Thoreau wants us to focus on ridding ourselves of unnecessary responsibilities, freeing up our time to do what we deem the most important. Many of Thoreau’s critics make fun of him for using the word “Simplify” three times because he doesn’t stick to his own doctrine to remove unnecessary details. I think he says it 3 times because only saying it once doesn’t stress the importance of the word.

The post-op bariatric surgery patient’s life is “Change. Change. Change.” Using Change only once, or even 3 times, can never convey the amount of change I have gone through. EVERYTHING is different: from how I interact with coworkers, friends, family, my husband and myself to how I can’t take a shower without feeling changes in my body shape when I use the soap.

When I started this blog, I wanted to tell my story in chronological order.  I remained so steadfast in this desire; I’ve missed months of writing because I had not anticipated how much change would affect my life.

Today, September 21, 2017, I reached my goal of a 35 BMI, and I am 10 months, 4 days post-op.

Last week, my husband and I went on the first trip where I was able to see the world in a way I could not have before surgery. An amazing world where I could  hike and climb for breathtaking views. On this trip I realized this blog needs to change its linear story. Instead, from now on,  I will be jumping back and forth in time to give perspective and understanding of my present life as I experience it, yet I will not shed the chronological aspect to the story. I want to tell my story both past and present concurrently.

In Walden, the idea of simplicity appears in a chapter entitled: Where I Lived and What I Lived For. Sections of the blog which discuss the present will be titled Where I Lived; and What I Lived For to help distinguish present versus past.  

I chose Where I Lived, and What I Lived For because when I reached this view:

It hit me: “This is why I had the surgery.” I felt a sense of quiet for the first time in over a year. I began to try to live inside my body and realized why I fought for the surgery and fight everyday to continue on my health journey. This is what I lived for.

Living Inside Myself Among the Trees

March 7, 2017

I like to believe that the bariatric surgery journey began when I heard the words from my doctor:  “Women with a body mass Iindex 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 when I think “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 I will spend any time with them in the same room. 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.

Douglas Lodge at Lake Itasca

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 believed I was young and that my body was strong.

Stairs Down to Lake Itasca

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 a long time. 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 of 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 a type of wholeness until after the surgery. The surgery forced me to be aware of my body because I brutalized it and malnourished it. Being inside my body 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 will have to reclaim who I am.

I will have to learn who I am.

And, in the future, I hope I learn how to accept myself.

At this point, I haven’t been back to Itasca since before the surgery. I imagine returning as a stronger, more connected human being. But, I’m not entirely sure that is possible.

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Preacher’s Grove in Itasca State Park