Fall 2004 - Patient Newsletter

The Mirror and Me:
Not quite friends, no longer enemies

When you were pre-surgery would you look in the mirror? I mean really look in the mirror? If you were like me, you looked in it as long as it took to make sure there wasn't anything in your teeth or your hair wasn't unintentionally sticking up in an odd direction. I avoided mirrors. I even avoided my reflection in a car window or a puddle in the street. I despised looking at myself. I felt disgusting. I felt like I thought I looked. Fat. Ugly. Undesirable. My self-esteem was at an all time low although you would never have known it. I never showed any outward signs. I never let anyone see that the person inside was battling a demon.

I realize now that how I felt back then was a symptom. The demon I was battling was clinical depression. While no one knows the exact cause of depression, there are known triggers. One of those triggers can be a traumatic life event such as job loss, relationship breakdown, or the death of a loved one. I suffered two of the aforementioned events in a very short amount of time. Not only did I hate my situation and myself, I also felt hopeless to change it.

Enter help. I got some. My pride took a big hit at first, but in the long run it was the best thing I could have done for myself. After many months of therapy and medication, I was well enough to consider having the surgery that I can now say has changed my life in so many other ways. Gastric Bypass surgery, as we all know, is a life-altering event in and of itself. Why do you think you meet with a clinical psychologist prior to the surgeon? It is necessary to determine your mental fitness. In other words, you have to be ready, really ready, for what is about to happen to you mentally and physically.

I had Gastric Bypass surgery in December 2002. I had no complications. I had surgery on Wednesday, was home on Friday and back to work the following Tuesday. I did have pain but managed it with Tylenol. I am not a typical patient. I had no co-morbidities, was in better physical shape, and was younger than the average patient. This all worked to my benefit.

I still struggle though. I struggle every day to make the right (and if not the right, then the better) choices. I can no longer eat beef. I can no longer eat anything with a high concentration of sugar, as I am very susceptible to 'dumping syndrome'. However, I've lost almost 100 pounds. And I'm down to a size 16/18 from a 26/28. Aside from vitamins B12 and D deficiencies that I manage with supplements, I have had no other ill effects. I realize that I will never be a fashion model and I'm okay with that, but what I can be is a model patient and share this with others.

One problem with losing the equivalent of a small person is that something amazing happens - people start to notice that you exist. In particular, members of the opposite sex begin to take notice. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes a not so good thing. The thought of dating frightened me terribly and the thought of being intimate with someone was almost more than I could handle. After recovering, working so hard on myself and learning to focus on my needs, it occurred to me that while the demon was in remission, it would always be there. How could I show my naked body to someone with all the scars, stretch marks, and saggy skin screaming 'ugly'? As much as it would be great to have someone in my life that I could do 'stuff' with to maintain an active lifestyle, this seemed to be something I would have great difficulty dealing with.

I did what I think most people would do - I avoided. I avoided successfully until one day he found me. I wasn't looking but then the conversation started and something amazing happened. I felt comfortable. I felt so comfortable I told the truth, the whole truth, and much to my surprise he didn't run away horrified; he sat, he listened, and he asked questions. He wanted to know. He was genuinely interested in everything about me. We went on a couple of dates and then the moment of truth arrived. Could I do this? Could I forget the surface view and focus on the deeper feelings? I've always had difficulty with intimacy, but somehow this was different. I felt empowered enough to say what was on my mind. My reassurance came when he gently kissed each of the seven scars on my abdomen (one appendectomy) and told me that he would be attracted to me no matter how I looked because he was attracted to me as a person first and that my scars were part of me. I make him laugh, I make him think, I make him happy and he does the same for me.

When it comes right down to it, I'm very happy. Life is good. I'm thankful I had the procedure and would do it again without even a second thought. I'm grateful that I feel good and best of all, I'm happy that I look good - no, make that great - and I'm thrilled that I have a great guy to share my new-found happiness with. So while I don't linger too long in the mirror, I do stay there for a few minutes to see the changes and notice the smile on my face.

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