Bon anniversaire

It’s my birthday today. I say so not because this day 27 years ago I was born (that’s in March) but because today one year ago I was re-born. Exactly 365 days ago I was in hospital sleeping off the anaesthetic they’d used to keep me asleep while they removed 80% of my stomach. I didn’t know it at the time but the next 12 months of my life would be a rollercoaster journey of learning and discovery interspersed with harsh lessons and realisations and some rather cutting home truths.

When I went for my first pre-op appointment at Auckland Weight Loss in February 2014 I had no idea just how much the surgery I was applying for would change my life. I knew it would help me lose weight. I knew it would dramatically lessen my risk of developing diabetes or dying of heart disease (something that runs rampant in my family). I knew it would enable me to run along the beach after my children one day, cutting the advancement of my early onset arthritis off at the toes (literally). I knew it would probably make me feel better and maybe make me a bit happier. I did not know how rocky the road would be.

Friends warned me of the trials and tribulations but always ended their stories with “but even on my worst day it’s still the best decision I ever made.” They couldn’t be more right: My life has been altered permanently. I have days where I struggle to keep food down and feel almost narcoleptically tired. And for all  that I wouldn’t make a different choice were I able.

The initial few weeks after surgery were undoubtedly the hardest. The first day I was allowed to eat I licked two teaspoons clean of pureed food, 20 minutes apart, and I was full for an hour. I struggled to drink any more than a sip of water every half hour. Two sips put me in danger of vomiting. Nausea was my constant companion and sleep deprivation an ever-present shadow. But I pushed on.

At home, I struggled with pureed meat and subsisted almost entirely on yoghurt and soup. Half an ice cube of food in a teacup was usually more than I could manage over a 45 minute period. I was sick and tired and miserable and my sole coping mechanism, eating, had been yanked out from underneath me. I cried often.

I transitioned from a puree diet to a soft food diet a week ahead of schedule and things slowly started to improve. Although I still struggle with tomato soup and greek yoghurt (bad associative memories – that nausea was a killer), the haloumi, baked beans and ham I began to eat were a far more nourishing and enjoyable experience. The nausea faded away and I began, ever so slowly, to start feeling human again.

10 kilos down after only a couple of months and I felt like I was walking on a cloud. My food intake was painfully limited and I was never free of the exhaustion and dizziness that accompanied my malnourishment but the emotional gains more than made up for the struggles. I began to feel empowered and strong. And slowly but surely I began to get my confidence back.

Having a supportive community around me made all the difference. My workmates, friends and family all knew my circumstances and understood my limitations. Morning teas and family dinners were made all the easier by people who were willing to accommodate my drastically reduced appetite and eating capacity. Taking 20-40 minutes to eat any one meal didn’t make things easy but the understanding of those around me helped immeasurably.

Christmas was the pinnacle of my efforts and struggles: A day structured solely around eating, amongst people I didn’t spend the majority of my time with, with meals consumed under time pressure. I was sick. Very sick. Miserable. I cried in the toilet of a relative’s house. But I managed and I learned. I know the next Christmas will be easier.

I hit my goal weight in February during a bout of extreme sickness. In hospital with a kidney stone, I dropped past 60kg (my goal) to 58. I was gaunt and my clothes hung off me. As I healed I climbed back up and settled between 61 and 62kgs. This is where I have chosen to stay.

When I moved to Wellington in May I gained nearly 2 kilos. To some this may seem miniscule but when you consider that 40% of people who have my surgery regain all their weight it becomes a matter of grave relevance. Increased exercise and a renewed dedication to what I ate shifted the extra weight in just shy of three weeks.

Today I weigh just 61.5kg (44.8kg less than when I started this journey). I am confident, happy, bubbly, and my depression and social anxiety has lifted. 12 months ago I couldn’t bring myself to move out of my parents’ house; less than 2 months ago I moved to Wellington alone and without a job. I credit the opportunities my surgery gave me with the landslide changes in my life and attitude. I took those opportunities and ran with them and it has made all the difference. I am re-invented and it is wonderful.

Here’s to another 12 months of happiness and success.


Surgery: The 5 Week Update

It’s been 5 weeks today since I had surgery and I thought it might be time for an update. I have been exhausted of late  (more on that later) which is why it has taken me so long to get around to this. Apologies.

The psychology is the first thing you notice changing. There are some serious uphill battles regarding the drastic changes to your body and your relationship with food. I had whole periods where I sat on the floor crying for lack of any other coping mechanism. I have always eaten to soothe my emotions – without this fallback I had nothing and it left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. Once that passed my confidence started returning. I feel like a super human these days. I walk tall with my head held high and my eyes forward, daring the world to stop me.

The physical changes are less overwhelming but probably far more noticeable to the outside world. On Sunday morning my total weight loss had reached 16.5 kilograms. 10 of that has been lost in the 5 week since surgery. I’ve dropped two dress sizes and two bra band sizes. I’ve essentially replaced half my wardrobe. I can tie my shoes again without causing myself breathing problems. I can fold myself on to furniture – something I haven’t been able to do in years. And I can walk again. Most weekends I average one, if not two, hour-plus walks. I feel healthy in a way I haven’t in almost a decade.

The surgery isn’t without its complications, though, and things haven’t always been rosy. I developed cellulitis in my hand the week after surgery and ended up being admitted to hospital to have a large abscess in my wrist drained. I’ve developed anaemia and crash most evenings when I come home from work. I throw up more than I would care to as I continue to struggle with how much and what I can eat.

But I don’t care.

I feel healthier and happier than I can remember being since I was a teenager. I want to get up. I want to go out. I want to be seen. I want to live my life and enjoy it. And that is worth every price I have paid.

Changing My Life

Tomorrow, I am doing something rather overwhelming. Something I never imagined I would do. Something so big I cannot comprehend the myriad ways in which it will change my life. I am having a sleeve gastrectomy.

The process started when I sat down in my doctor’s office a year ago and, when asked how I was, burst into tears. The only words I could choke out were that I didn’t want to be fat anymore. I had been medically classified as “morbidly obese” for several years, trying over and over to lose weight, and everything had finally become too much. My current health conditions meant I couldn’t take diet pills or undergo any of the more strenuous weight loss solutions so he suggested surgery combined with diet modifications. I dismissed the idea of surgery, originally, thinking it too drastic and carried on with my yoyo dieting. But it stuck with me.

Six months later I found out that a close family member had become the fourth person I knew to have bariatric surgery (a term covering all forms of obesity surgery).  Her successes pushed my mind back to the procedure my doctor had suggested. I decided to look into it.

Over a period of months I had initial consults, follow up consults, nutritional consults, secured a payment method, and booked a date. That date is tomorrow: I am due at the hospital at 7.30am.

I debated with myself over whether to share this information publicly. I am aware there will be people who do not agree with my decision. I have come to realise their opinion is irrelevant to me.  The decisions I make regarding my body are entirely my responsibility. I am undertaking this with no delusions about ease or comfort. My recovery will be long and hard; I will endure physical and psychological struggles and at times it may all seem too much. I am turning a corner and there is no space to U-turn. And I have never been more excited.

I am looking toward a future where I can chase my dogs around fields. I am looking toward a future in which I feel empowered. I am looking toward a future free of diabetes, sleep apnoea and cardiac arrest. I am looking toward a future bathed in sunlight and it is glorious.