Wednesday, December 16, 2015

One Year Post-Op—Happy Sleevaversary to Me!

One year ago, I underwent surgery, a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, to save my life.
Right before taking off my glasses and getting wheeled in,
continuing the family tradition of a goofy pre-op shot.

First meal of broth and jello the next day. Still goofy post-op.

To mark the occasion, this morning I got up and headed to the lab to get my one-year fasting blood tests, stopped at the store on the way back to pick up some double-protein milk to make myself a cappuccino, then came home and took a nice, hot shower, with salt scrub and lovely scented lotions and potions.

I was in the shower at the hotel last year when I got the call that my surgery time had been moved up; Mike answered it, then we hustled to put on all our winter duds to race out to the hospital. Showering this morning was a lot more relaxing, and since we are now in Florida, I could just slip into a sundress when I was done. What a difference a year makes.

Left: Pre-surgery, December 16, 2014
Right: Post-surgery, December 16, 2015

The one year date is a big deal, as the majority of the benefits of bariatric surgery are reaped in the first 12 months—after that, post-op patients basically become average joe dieters, along with the rest of the world, struggling with the same potential pitfalls and sidetracks.

In short, today marks another transition, one that I have felt coming for awhile. On the anniversary of surgery, or my sleevaversary, as I'm calling it, I'm reflecting on what I have learned in this very powerful, life-affirming year. Here's what I now know for sure:

  • This is the second-best decision I have ever made in my life. My top three are now:
    1. Marrying the right person
    2. Saving my life with bariatric surgery
    3. Studying abroad for a year in France
(I know, I know, everyone is going to ask, "Isn't becoming a parent in the top three?" It used to be solidly in spot #3, for sure. When I really think about the decisions I have made that have shaped who I am, and how well I take care of myself, the vertical sleeve has to be #2, without question, knocking parenting out of the trifecta.)

  • Obesity is a disease, or part of a matrix of related conditions/diseases. Surgery helps address these, but it isn't the whole answer.

    I've always suspected that my incredible ability to gain...and gain...and gain...(it's a super-power, truly) has been part of a larger pathology of which I had some, but not entire, control. If this year has taught me anything, it is that I will be managing this disease state my entire life, regardless of how heavy I may be.

    Case in point, unlike a huge number of bariatric surgery patients, I didn't eliminate any medications this year, I actually added one. If you lose as much weight as I did, exercise regularly, and eat small portions of healthy food, but your blood pressure is still borderline high, you have to face the fact that there are genetics at play that require medication as a part of your disease plan. All these things—obesity, BP, blood sugar—are enmeshed, and I can't pretend that I don't have the predisposition to these problems just because I am thinner than I was last year.

    I also have not stopped using my CPAP machine, although I do sleep even better now that I am lighter. Again, this is morphology at play: a strong, genetic disposition for a small, narrow nasal passage means that, even if I become Twiggy, I'm pretty certain I'll be wearing that sassy mask to bed forever. (This helps me get out of camping, which is a bonus.)
  • I have done my very best, and at the same time, I could have done better.

    On this day, I can honestly say that I am proud of myself for being brave, for taking the (calculated) risk, and for persevering through physical pain and practical challenges throughout this year. I have worked incredibly hard. Moment to moment, I have done the best that I can.

    At the same time, I could have done better. My activity level could definitely be higher, and I could streamline my diet a little more. I probably could have maximized my weight loss a bit more with added attention to protein and water intake—I spent a lot of time trying to cram both of these in, but even so, it was a constant challenge. I also may have benefited from journaling my food intake, although that is a slippery slope for me, one that pre-op counselors warned me might be ill-advised if I wasn't able to be kind and gentle with myself.

    For anyone who sees me now, who knew me then, it is hard to believe that I could have had a better outcome. I am a little behind the average weight loss for someone my size, however, and have been in a stall, bouncing up and down five pounds, for months. I can both accept that I have accomplished great things and acknowledge that I missed some opportunities.
  • I can still do better, and I will.

    Sure, the magic of the first year post-op may be over, with my tiny healing stomach and gut flora that supports burning fat like an engine with no hunger pangs, but that doesn't mean this is done for me. My body has leveled out at around my lowest weight as an adult, that of a 16/18 plus-sized twenty-something, my weight when I got married at 25. I can feel my body saying, "Okay, this is great! Let's hang out here forever, or maybe even gain a few pounds." If I stayed here forever, I would still be the happiest with my body I have ever been in my life; that said, I'm going to challenge myself to continually add activity and healthy nutrition to my routine. I am going to remind myself when I don't make good choices that new good choices are always available. I'm going to remember that I can love myself fully exactly where I am, while still making changes that can improve my life.

    This process will never end, no matter how I look, no matter how much I weigh.
  • One great change can get so many other great changes going.

    I preach this to my clients—my whole masters thesis centered around this idea, for goodness sake—but experiencing this firsthand in such a grand scale this year has been revelatory and belief-affirming. My sense of self-efficacy—the belief that I am capable—is through the roof, and with each little hurdle jumped I know I can meet more challenges head on.

    It is not the least bit surprising to me that this was the year we finally picked our new home, packed up and moved, and started planting down new roots. The momentum of my surgery catapulted the whole family forward in a positive direction, and it solidified the way we work together to help each other achieve goals.
  •  I feel joy so often now, it makes me tear up.

    What can I say? The physical heaviness that I carried was a prison. I have broken out of jail, and it feels so good, I can't even describe it.

    This strange thing has happened since my surgery—when I see or hear beautiful things (e.g., a rainbow, a colorful light display, a great piece of music)—I start to cry tears of joy. Without all that weight, everything glorious is so much more palpable.
  • My neck is my bellwether.

    At my heaviest—shoot, at 40 pounds under my heaviest, for that matter—the weight on my neck felt like it was strangling me. When I went to sleep, I would force myself to pull sheets up under the skin and fat on my neck so that I could feel something cool there, as lying back with that weight on my windpipe made me feel like I might die at any moment.

    One of the first places I lost weight was in my neck, and it has become the symbol, to me, of my escape from death. I figuratively stuck my neck out to have this surgery and do the work that comes with it, and I can now literally stick my neck out and feel like a brand new person. I find myself touching my neck, often, still not believing it belongs to me. 
  • I am afraid.

    What, on earth, will happen if I gain this weight back? Not everything has gone to plan this year, and like I said, I can already feel old disease patterns creeping in, making the things I try to do to help myself be healthy seem ineffectual. I can't imagine the pain of gain. I can't envision the psychological and physical ramifications of gaining back the weight without my anxiety and fear rushing in and shortening my breathe.

    Part of what I must do, now, is face this potential reality. It happens to a lot of people. People who become as heavy as I was are not working with a body type that likes to stay trim and healthy. I must fight for it, I must work to keep myself well, and I must also deal with that fear, so that it doesn't start running the show behind the scenes, sabotaging me.
  • I am still a plus-sized woman, and I may always be.

    Secretly, even though I did this to save my life, I dreamed that, by this time, I would be able to walk into any store and purchase clothing. While I can now buy some shirts in an XL or XXL in a "normal" store, by waist/hips are solidly in the 16/18 range. It didn't happen.

    I'm not giving up, but I've also realized something fundamentally true (see next point):
  • I love my body, if it didn't change an inch, I'd feel fantastic going out looking this way.

    The fact that I can't easily buy clothes in a "normal" store cannot change that feeling. In fact, it makes me want to say this: "Stores, YOU ARE LAME. It is ridiculous that I can't get pants in the misses section of a department store. Shame on you. You are the ones who suck, not me."
  • Everything feels better now. EVERYTHING.

    This includes, but is not limited to:
    1. Hugging people
    2. Walking
    3. Standing
    4. Breathing
    5. Sitting (and not worrying about fitting in chairs)
    6. Driving
    7. Wearing jewelry
    8. Wearing clothes
    9. Moving in anyway whatsoever
    10. Holding still
  • I'm not exaggerating about how much better JUST BEING now feels.

    I cannot believe I lived in so much pain for so long, and all I ever felt about it was guilt and belief that I deserved it because it was all my fault I was so heavy. As I have described to so many people this year, I spent most of my life trying to do the things that are necessary to lose weight, and then maintain a healthy weight, I just didn't see any real success.

    It wasn't all my fault (see my second point, above, about this being a disease), and I am so grateful that there was a surgery available that helped to catalyze my efforts and make me healthier, stronger, and happier. I didn't even realize how much pain I was in until it was eliminated. I feel very lucky to feel this good after so many years of work.
  • Now comes the hard part (but they've all been hard parts.)

    Accepting that I was ill was hard. Researching the surgery was hard. Adopting the pre-op diet was hard. Traveling to get the surgery done was hard. Recovering was hard. Changing my lifestyle was hard. Dealing with this current stall is hard. And now that I am one year out, and just another heavy person using regular dieting techniques to lose weight, it's going to be hard. Around every turn in this journey, I can hear that voice saying, "Now comes the hard part, Kori."

    The fact that this is hard no longer has anything to do with anything. It's all hard. Real life stuff is HARD. We've all got our troubles. I don't win an award because I lost weight that many people never even gain. I'm just so grateful that this was more effective than any other difficult attempt at weight loss in my past. This is my hard. I'm on it. I accept it. I own it.
  • I was never alone.

    Here's where I get all weepy-eyed and sniffly. This year taught me that being vulnerable—opening yourself up to ask for help, and to tell people that you need love/support/prayers/assistance/good thoughts/listening ears/cheerleading/hugs—is the most powerful thing you can do. I have never, ever felt more connected to others as I have this year, and I can honestly say that I felt the support of all of you who love and care for me buoy me up so many times when I thought I might go under. I mean this in the most literal way possible—I felt the energy, the good intentions, the love and prayers, and they carried me further than I could have ever gone without all of you.

    I am forever grateful.
For those who want my one-year stats, here they are:

Pre-op jeans on my post-op body.
(Special thanks to Carrie,
who suggested I keep a pair of my old jeans for comparison.)

Total weight loss (including pre-op diet): 112.2 pounds
Weight loss since surgery: 91.2 pounds (roughly 10-15 pounds heavier than my doctor's projection, but not too shabby)
Sizes lost: 3 (plus sizes have wider weight ranges, and drop much slower than regular sizes, I have learned)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Speck-Tacular—Don't Miss It!

This post is sponsored by Speck Products, who provided me with some lovely Speck cases to try out and write about here on the blog. All opinions presented here are my own, or those of my family members who have sampled the Speck cases along with me.

It's that time of year, friends, when technology gifts abound, and/or hearts may be broken because new technology gifts aren't in the cards. Either way, you can find something fabu at Speck, either to wrap up that new tablet you got for Hanukkah, or to spice up that old phone you just pray will make it until you are eligible for an upgrade in the spring. 

Right now, Speck is running their Holiday Speck-Tacular, with all items on their site 30% off. Plus, if you order by tomorrow, December 16th, you have guaranteed shipping in time for Christmas. I'm always jolly when I don't have to worry about gifts arriving in time.

My family and I received the following items this week, and gave ourselves some early Christmas presents—I know, I know, we should wait for Christmas, but I had to review them here, didn't I?

For my birthday last month, I was lucky enough to receive a new iPad Air, replacing the slowly churning "old-timey" (by Apple standards) iPad 2 that served as my main work tablet. With my sassy new orange StyleFolio, I can keep that new iPad protected until it, too, becomes as slow-moving as a glacier. I picked orange, because I'm a coral/orange kind of gal, but there are wide variety of colors and styles available.

The kiddo had worn out her Speck case after two years, but she's all of ten, and I can hardly believe her original case lasted that long given that iPad Mini's extremely careful treatment general abuse. She was excited for a more grown-up floral case for the iPad Mini she earned for Christmas two years ago by doing homework and chores, and immediately commented on how cool the clasp is. She also likes how she can set it up at almost any angle for viewing/typing.

As for my hubby, he was desperate for a new phone case. He has used several Speck cases in the past, and has determined through experience that he prefers those that don't have a hard cover over the screen. No matter what he does to keep them clean, he always manages to get dust/lint in at least one corner of the case, blocking off his screen in that area. With his last case, he couldn't adequately see how much charge he had on his phone, as what looked like a layer of sand (denim lint) covered the top right-hand corner. I picked a blue non-hard cover version for him to try, and we will be purchasing some screen films to keep his screen scratch-free. He was pleased immediately after putting the new case on, exclaiming, "Look, my phone has 72% charge!" It's a brand new world of knowing when his phone is going to die, and plugging it in time, thanks to Speck.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, but expensive technology is something you'd like to last as long as possible. Speck cases are available for many makes and models (we are a Mac family, but Android-lovers can be Specked out, too), and give you a stylish way to keep your tech safe. Check them out!