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.

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