thirty-nine.

Slept in.

Breakfast: Warmed chocolate croissant, mid-sized iced mocha latte from a cute place in town.

Went for a walk in nearby park.

Lunch: One small, and one large craft pumpkin beers, shared a jerk chicken pizza at our favorite local brewery.

Trip to the bakery around the corner for a “personal” sized carrot cake.

Dinner: Chips & salsa, one Cantarito and crispy fish tacos at a new Mexican restaurant nearby.

Wandered around World Market, purchasing only beer and candy. Mobile ordered an iced chai with soy on the way home. Comfy clothes by 10:00, on the couch with the carrot cake, and a cookie butter filled candy bar.

I spent the whole day happy and laughing and sharing delicious food and drinks with my best friend; but most importantly, not feeling one single ounce of guilt or shame about my food choices. If that’s not a non scale victory and a cause for celebrating myself, I don’t know what is.

jae birthday

 

 

Zumba!

Right before the start of 2016, down about fifty pounds, I tried my first group exercise class after my weight loss surgery. I had only been to a few others before and they were extremely stressful situations that caused my anxiety to skyrocket on the drive over, my stomach to flip flop on the walk into the room and then again when faced with the large mirror that would leave me on display no matter where in the room I stood. Exercise in general gave me the sweats because I was sure anyone who saw me doing it would think it was laughable, I had also felt like my body was unresponsive no matter what I was putting into it or making it do, so exercise was a chore, with no real reward. Even when I felt a little better afterward, I was still fat, and still miserable.

So the first class I go to is Zumba.

Ballsy, right?

I had seen commercials for years about the kits you could get to try it yourself at home, I had seen thin, attractive women shaking their overpriced legging clad butts to tropical sounding tunes and I had never had the courage to try, but I was intrigued, and for once I let that overpower the fear of the group class.

Man. It was something. Huge room at the gym, brightly lit with mirrored walls on two sides. Of course I took a place in the back of the class but there were only about ten people in it. It was a weekday before 9am, and the room was a melting pot. I wasn’t the oldest, or youngest, not the fattest or thinnest. I was just a person surrounded by other people who just wanted to dance and sweat something out – calories, stress, bad luck – whatever it was, we all just wanted to leave lighter.

It was loud and fast and fun. It was like all the shit I was doing in my own house when nobody was looking, but to better music. This was exercise? No exercise I ever knew was enjoyable. “Peace out treadmill” I thought as I shook and shimmied all over the place. Checking myself out in the mirror, not caring (too much) about my arm fat flapping as I danced my heart out.

It was the best morning I had had in a long time.

Even though I almost died. (dramatic)

In fifty minutes, my Fit Bit reported over 7,000 steps, I had sweat pooling in my eyebrows and I had drained my water bottle. Somewhat labored breathing but I staggered out to my car, and when I got home, announced that I was going to Zumba the next day, too.

For a few months, I had the time in my schedule to go to multiple classes a week, sometimes I went five times. I was dancing in grocery stores, looking up Zumba videos on You Tube to dance along to at night. I went to the same instructor’s class, and so I was getting all her moves and routines down, I was friendly with people in the class who also went a few times a week. I couldn’t believe I was exercising, for fun, before my coffee even!

I felt light, and happy and totally energized.

I bought fancy sports bras and new pants to hold in my gut, I didn’t care that I had to peel my clothes off after every class, or sometimes had to sit down slowly when suffering from what I called ‘zumba thighs’. I befriended the instructor, and when she was no longer teaching there, I became friendly with her replacement; talking about becoming a Zumba instructor myself, I was borderline obsessed and she offered to take me under her wing and show me the ropes and gave me info on where to sign up for different things.

I was totally on board.

Before that went anywhere, my schedule changed and I could really only make it to classes in the evening or on Saturdays, and those weren’t ideal.

Time passed and summer was almost over and I had my panniculectomy and spent eight weeks basically living on my couch. Every few days I would daydream about going back to Zumba, how much different it might feel now that this extra belly fat was gone, how I could finally get moving in the direction of becoming an instructor myself and sharing this exercise I actually enjoyed with other people. When the time came that I was cleared to exercise, it was also when I was cleared to go back to work, so again, not really ideal. I went to a few evening classes but it wasn’t the same as starting my day off with that jolt, there were no familiar faces, so again, it faded.

I don’t even know if I like it anymore. I’m sure I do but, I mean, if I truly did wouldn’t I have made the time for it? I don’t know if I used timing as an excuse or if it actually was a real constraint, but at the moment, it’s neither.

I have the freedom right now, and for possibly the next few weeks to get to some morning Zumba classes, so I”m gonna go. No pressure on myself to love it like I did, no idea that I am going to go and know all the moves ( I most certainly will not!), no concern about having the flabbiest arms flailing around or anyone paying attention to me.

I’m gonna take my free mornings, grab my water bottle and my little towel and I’m gonna go dance my ass off in that back row.

Maybe as soon as tomorrow.

 

 

nip // tuck

Earlier today I was trying to figure out how many remaining vacation days I have that may pay out when my current job ends in a few weeks.

In a conversation with a friend, I say “Aside from my sick days, I’m pretty sure I only took one day off this year, the day after I drove to NY. I also took a half day when I went to see my plastic surgeon, but I stayed late a few times to make up for it.”

Possibly the most bizarre sentence I ever uttered.

My plastic surgeon.

I guess it’s not that weird, but the way it just rolled off my tongue like you would say “my mechanic”, “my hairdresser”, or “my mailman.”

I’m like “Hey, you need something nipped or tucked? I know a guy!”

I let him mark me up, knock me out and cut off seven pounds of flabby excess skin and fat on my abdomen; we have plans to do it on other parts another time or two as well.

I’ve questioned my decision a few times, as I never thought of myself as a vain person, and I don’t care so much about how I look, but how I feel.

Last year I had a panniculectomy, which removed the flap of fat that, even after losing 80 pounds still disrupted any outfit I tried to wear, got in the way when I attempted running, hung around haunting me like a scar that wouldn’t fade –  and I was damn sure it almost flung off my body during Zumba once. Add in the rashes and general discomfort and I don’t feel so so bad about it.

Now that it’s gone though? My thighs are in plain sight to me and WOOF. Doughy, flabby, hangy; a little painful and a lot keeping me from shorts and too far above the knee skirts or dresses. Slapping and rubbing together eighty percent of the time.

My upper arms have been a source of frustration, sadness and severe sweating through the summers for as long as I could remember. I think I single handedly kept the production of Old Navy cardigans going because I was always buying them, in every color, year round. As they became smaller, they surprisingly only got worse; loose and hanging, getting pinched during hugs, noisily flapping doing almost anything and I merely traded cardigans for light zip ups and jean jackets.

I’ve thought about it, I’ve put off getting the surgery dates in the books but I’ve decided I’m not vain. I’m not trying to look like anyone else, or impress anyone. I’m just trying to be as comfortable as possible in the skin I worked so hard to deflate.

easy way out

You don’t need to have been overweight at any point in your life, or even known anyone who was to have heard someone reference weight loss surgery in some way, shape or form.

The truth is, it has become somewhat of a regular thing. Celebrities, presidential hopefuls, grandmas, men, hell, there is even a whole television series about people trying to have bariatric surgery.

I think it’s fair to say that the subject is no longer taboo.

I seem to be, unfortunately, in the minority when it comes to the type of care I received from my bariatric surgeon. She heads a team that includes nutritionists and behavioral health professionals. While I was referred to her by my primary doctor, it wasn’t a one shot deal. I had to have, before almost anything, a full day at the hospital which included labs, an orientation full of presentations and a psychological evaluation. After the surgery, which was about six months later, I was scheduled for a half dozen appointments with each person on my care team over the next two years.

A large portion of the people I have met or come to know on this journey, did not have this same program, or, from what I can tell, any sort of program at all.

They had a doctor, who sent them to a surgeon, who cut out a portion of their stomach, or rerouted some things and sent them on their way.

Some of them are gaining weight, some of them never lost as much as they wanted or had hoped to and in some cases it’s a lack of guidance from the jump. They ask other people for tips, they google, they get a nutritionist, they read a book, they find a new doctor. They put the work in.

In other cases, it’s that they took the easy way out.

I roll my eyes or scoff any time I read or hear someone refer to weight loss surgery as the “easy way out” because so many things I have done in life to try to lose weight were easy in comparison to surgery.

There is however, this idea that having surgery just lets you lose weight; that you don’t have to work hard, or you don’t have to change your habits or exercise or do anything except pay the operating room co-pay. Some of these people – that’s what they thought was happening, they thought the were signing up for a quick magic trick where they can just keep eating like the dumpster behind a mall food court and get skinny.

For starters, if your sole reason for having bariatric surgery is to “get skinny”, maybe get yourself a therapist and work some things out first, because that’s not a healthy goal. (I say this as an aspiring therapist, and a person who loves therapy, not as a dig!) The whole process is really about so much more than just losing pounds; you are resetting your metabolism, you are breaking bad habits, beating cravings, lowering your cholesterol, decreasing your blood pressure and a dozen or so more things; the “skinny”, the feeling good in your clothes, in your skin, not hating seeing yourself in pictures and mirrors? Icing on the cake!

Anyway, these people, the easy way out ones are basically perpetuating the stigma that people like me got a little snip n’ stitch job and that’s why I lost weight.

It’s not. Did that help? Exponentially, because of the reasons above, because I truly wanted to make a change, and where my guidance may have faltered (it didn’t) I was dedicated enough to keep it going.

I mean, I spent a lot of time going to pre-op appointments, a lot of money on co-pays and vitamins and protein powder and I let someone cut out eighty percent of my stomach, why wouldn’t I commit to myself

I don’t care what other people do, honestly, it’s not my business; they’re not hurting me or changing my progress/success. BUT they are  making the rest of us look bad, and they’re possibly ruining it for people who truly want to make the change.

In a year or two when insurance companies are looking at the success rates of these surgeries and see them not being as successful, they will stop covering them or make them harder to get covered. Which is unfair, and inaccurate because it’s not the procedure, it’s the patient that’s not successful.

I’m not saying don’t do it.

I’m probably one of the biggest advocates I know for bariatric surgery; I spill my guts to strangers, suggest it to people who are where I was, I delight in the notification every time I get an email from the hospital about another person I can be a mentor to. I want everyone who wants it, to have the experience I had, I know it’s not realistic, but I put myself out there for it, because it worked, because I worked it. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.

What I am saying is, If you’re going to do it, DO IT.

I’m not up on my soapbox like I’m some perfect person who never makes a questionable choice; I eat pretty much everything, but in serious moderation, and I’m also almost three years out.

For 21 days after leaving the hospital I lived on full liquids, I didn’t dare deviate from the plan I was given to follow. I asked for help, I paid for it, I followed the rules. I cringe at posts from people eating chili from Wendy’s 4 days post op, “trying” a burger and fries a month after, eating ice cream as a “liquid” or pureeing foods that just don’t belong in a blender so it fits their current stage of eating.

The truth, as they told me in one of my zillion pre-op appointments is that in the first few months, the “honeymoon” period, the weight will come off seemingly on its own. You could ‘fill your sleeve’ they said ‘with mountain dew and snickers’ and you would still lose something because of the sheer lack of space – but you’d be sorry later.

Sorry when your weight loss stalls, when you’re still addicted to sugar, when you’re almost right back where you started, save for a few dozen pounds.

You’ll be sorry and you’ll say it didn’t work, and you’ll blame some outside factor and  you’ll feel stuck and you’ll want a revision or a different procedure and you’ll try again, sort of.

You’re taking the the easy way out by not following the rules and it will get you nowhere.

 

jae 2.0

I knew this guy once who was a total dick. I mean, he was our friend and we all loved him but he was a dick. Super fun, always up for a good time and totally loyal, but also mouthy, condescending, always joking and button pushing, drinking one too many, miserable half the time; dick.

A few years went by and he started dating someone, came out to his friends and family and wasn’t a dick anymore. Just like that. It was like a huge weight that just made him a miserable prick half the time was lifted and now he was getting to be himself, just loving life.

I get it.

If you asked anyone from high school, or in my slew of waitress jobs over the years to describe me, at least one of their chosen adjectives would be “loud” followed by “crazy” or “goofy” and let’s be frank, “bitchy”.

Really anyone in my life longer than the last five years could tell you about my mood swings, my on and off shitty attitude, my general dislike, of, well, anything.

I spent my twenties and a good portion of my thirties hating things.

Most people, most places, most jobs, most situations.

Everyone was stupid, everything was a chore or a waste of time.

Why the fuck does this woman need extra tomatoes on her burger?!

stomp stomp stomp

Why is the phone ringing?!

slam slam slam

God forbid someone asked me to do anything, WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!

long exasperated sigh

On (more than) one occasion I remember taking my arm and wiping it across my entire desk, or bathroom counter knocking everything to the floor out of aggravation. I once even did it to my brother’s desk.

I had a conversation with a manager at a job one time who told me, and I quote “You have a cancerous tone; you make your coworkers feel small and stupid” and all I could do was agree, and confirm that they were.

I yelled at my now sister-in-law for sitting in “my seat” at the dinner table once.

I have thrown more coffees, fast food burgers and other random food items out of my car window than I can even count; not because I liked to litter, but because I hated everything and god forbid the food or drink I ordered didn’t meet my expectations it enraged me.

I wish I was exaggerating.

I was subconsciously miserable, but brash.

I would get angry over the dumbest shit.

So dumb in fact, when something I had a tantrum over in recent years comes up, Steve and I debate the legitimacy of the tantrum … sometimes the stomping, crying and shouting was justified, but for the most part it usually ends with a “well, you were/I was fat, so that makes sense”

I picture angry obese me as a hunched over hag with silly or annoying things landing on my humpback and literally depressing me.

I’m not saying that I lost a bunch of weight and all of a sudden nobody annoys me or I’m so at peace that everything rolls of my back.

It doesn’t. There are still people and behaviors that bother me, and things that piss me off, but they don’t crush me. They aren’t extra weight now, they’re just fleeting things.

I’m still me, but standing up straight and lighter in so many ways.

I’ve gotta say it’s a much better way to live.

 

 

 

knock knock

Earlier today, a corpulent woman in a too-tight tank top (that was causing her body to seep out of the arm and neck holes) sat down next to me.

When she sat, she sighed in an all too familiar way.

It set off that thing I do, a thing that I am not exactly proud of.

I judge fat people.

Well no, that’s not a fair word; I don’t look at overweight people and talk shit about them, or laugh or make jokes, or point out their flaws.

I empathize.

I identify.

I see myself in other overweight people sometimes and I want to spill my guts to them, I want to tell them what I learned, about the help I got, how I changed.

Hear me out before you think I’m just some average sized person who forgot where I came from. I was tipping 300lbs and I ain’t forgetting.

I struggled with my weight on and off for, if we’re being honest, something like two dozen years.

Diets, aches, threat of diabetes, snoring, general discomfort, calorie counting, carb cutting, juicing, diet pills, fat burners, dairy free, ill fitting clothes, exhaustion, frustration.

Then something happened.

I met my doctor who introduced me to other people and through a series of small decisions, information sessions, more doctor’s appointments and big choices, I don’t struggle anymore.

I want that for other people.

Even people I don’t know.

I saw a carbon copy of myself at the park; eighty plus degrees, long sleeves, sweating, visibly uncomfortable in her skin. She sneezed and I shouted “bless you!” from a few benches over in the hopes of starting up a convo that would lead to my gut spilling.

I’m half joking.

When I’m boarding a plane and see someone relaxing in their seat every time someone passes them and doesn’t take the empty one next to them – I wanna take it and sit there and talk about how I used to hate the middle seat, too.

People who lurch across parking lots or crosswalks to avoid the oncoming cars and not be a burden to their path. I did that.

People who have to sit in the wide chairs in the waiting room.

People who think bread is their enemy.

People who suffer.

People who try to change what they see in the mirror and can’t.

I’m those people, too.

It’s not meant as judgement and it’s not a pity thing; I hope nobody ever pitied me.  I am sure that most are hyper aware of the way they look and feel, I know I was.

Until I had the information and resources I didn’t think bariatric surgery was for me (it isn’t for everyone, but that’s another post).

I didn’t think I qualified and I probably thought it was extreme; it is, but it’s at the very least, worth the exploration.

I am certain I wouldn’t have taken kindly to someone making the suggestion to me, even in the throes of my stuggle and especially not in the midst of some grueling diet.

Who would have said something though?

My friends or family who were either thin or had the same struggle as me?

Surely if someone had the information to share I would have aimed my ear right at them.

I don’t do it though, not without provocation.

Mostly because it’s rude, and because other people’s bodies aren’t my business, but also because as a girlfriend pointed out that even though I may have been where someone else is, I’m not now; and they would only know this me and think I was bitchy or condescending.

It’s just that I’ve seen both sides of two hundred.

I know how it feels to be both uncomfortable and comfortable in my skin.

You know how there are people who are so filled with passion and love about their God that they want to knock on doors and spread it around?

That’s me; I’m the Jehovah’s Witness of weight loss surgery.

KNOCK, KNOCK.

“Hi, do you have a moment to talk about my savior the vertical sleeve gastrectomy?”

 

nsv (non scale victory or no more secrets, victoria)

I have never cared about underwear.

I don’t know if I liked it or hated it or anything, I just viewed it as utilitarian. You have to wear it, and sometimes it has cute colors or patterns.

I mean, at almost three hundred pounds they’re not that cute and really served no purpose (for me) other than having a barrier between clothes and skin.

They were just something you bought, like socks or toothpaste.

I bought multi packs of Hanes or Fruit of the Loom or whatever was there, size large or extra large, I don’t know, I really didn’t care.

My hippest underwear shopping finds were these lace trimmed satin-ish ones from Target that were about $5 a pair. Every time we did laundry, Steve would tease me about my “weird granny panties that are trying to be sexy” and then I’d ball them up in a drawer because, whatever.

Immediately after my vertical sleeve surgery, I lived in yoga pants (still kinda do!), long sleeve t-shirts/zip ups and sports bras. When the promise of losing something like seventy percent of your excess weight is there, you’re not dropping a lot of coin on clothes; mostly because you’re going to go through them faster.

I bought inexpensive things, wore things until they were comically big, and of course had my eye on some stores I’d never shopped in.

I’m about a year post op when I decide that my Champion sports bras are over. This can’t be a thing that goes on forever, but I have no idea where to shop for anything (still sort of true!) so I take to a post op group I am part of on Facebook and ask where any of them are getting their bras.

A resounding mention of “Victoria’s Secret” and I laugh out loud, in my living room at the responses.

Also a store called Soma, so I force myself to drive around the mall parking lot for about half an hour before I find a parking spot, resist buying an Auntie Anne’s pretzel (which I can only eat half of anyway) and make my way to the store.

Fluorescent lighting, me in leggings and a bra with a stranger.

I didn’t like it, the bras that is.

The sizing was off, the bras felt weird and I was getting hot and uncomfortable taking things on and off.

She brought me so many things to try and after about a dozen I was like fuck this, I hate all of these.

I felt like I looked like an old lady. I still felt fat. I felt awkward. And I felt like if I was gonna give a shit about the bras or underwear I was wearing, I should really like them. Otherwise why bother breaking away from the basic stuff.

I thanked her and left.

A little hot, a little tired, and if we’re honest, a little defeated.

On my way back to the parking lot I passed Auntie Anne’s again, debated the pretzel and then saw the pink glow of Victoria’s Secret.

Maybe I’ll go in.

Nobody has to know.

Hmm.

I walked by twice before finally walking in, and not thirty seconds into the half dozen dressers spilling out eighty different types of underwear, a woman approached me.

Oh, fuck.

She’s gonna ask me to leave.

She’s gonna know I don’t belong here.

I should just go.

Turn around, just leave.

Eye contact.

Shit.

Turns out she just wanted to help.

Oh, in that case, hey Linda, let me tell you my life story!

She listens. She nods.

Next thing you know, we’re in the dressing room which is so pink and black and fancy I’m feeling a bit like a dirt bag in my leggings and combat style boots, but I’m open.

She has a measuring tape and an armful of bras. She asks what style I prefer.

Uhhhh, the ones that keep my boobs from flopping all over?

I later find out my preference is actually the Body by Victoria Demi – as I am checking out with two of them, and a half dozen pair of underwear. (I can’t call them panties, I’m almost 40)

The cashier does the normal “Are you paying with your Angel card today?” thing and I beam inside, like, she thinks I shop here, she doesn’t sense that I’m some awkward, less fat person who has never been in this glittery floored haven before except to buy perfume for my sister-in law for Christmas.

Naturally I say no and she asks me if I’d like to apply for one. I’ll save something or other today, and while the idea of a discount always tickles my fancy, I’m sure I’m not a candidate.

(The only other thing I’ve struggled with as much as my weight is my credit, to be honest)

She’ll get points or something, blah blah, sure, I’ll go for it.

“You’ve been approved, Angel”

“You must have typed something wrong, I’m not Angel”

She laughs, “You’re an Angel if you’re a cardholder; you’ll get a booklet of coupons in a few weeks and an explanation of our rewards program, which has three teirs, up to ‘Forever Angel’

“Great, thanks” I say, not sure I’ll be dropping sixty bucks a bra for the rest of my life, and with no real intention of using the card much.

I walk back past the spilling displays, through the mall toward the parking garage; head high, pink and black bag full of crinkly tissue paper in various shades of and pink and actually cute underwear, and I get an Auntie Anne’s pretzel.

I head home and try on both bras and all the underwear again. I have my own bathroom half-mirror fashion show and am sold. I never liked underwear – on or off. Bras, with a bow that don’t look like their for eleven year olds?

I look good. I feel good.

A month later I have another half dozen pair of undies, a different style and I have the website bookmarked.

I’m a regular VS shopper now, an Angel even.

Around the two year “anniversary” of my surgery I order more underwear, a few new sleep shirts and a bathrobe. Size Medium.

As if the universe knew; when I returned home from an afternoon of follow up appointments there was a package waiting for me. Home alone I tried everything on, and it fit. I had a moment on my living room floor, eyes tearing up, laughing … it all fit. I called my mom and told her. She laughed and celebrated with me when I said “I live in a world where I can wear a size medium from Victoria’s Secret!”

I have thirty-four pair of underwear now. (Not including ones that were tossed because they were stretched out pre-panniculectomy, or faded from washing or met some other fate)

I also have half a dozen bras, regular and sport, half  a drawer full of their leggings, long and short sleeve sleep shirts and a free tote bag or two…

Who would have thought ….

I’m a fucking ‘Forever Angel’