Friday, October 21, 2016

Size Matters

Vixen watching football after her meal.

Among my (many) concerns lately, I've actually been pretty concerned about size. No, not THAT size - we've already covered that in another blog post. I have actually been concerned about the size of my stomach post-surgery.

As the weeks have passed since surgery, Lor and I have diverged in the amounts we can eat at one sitting. Lor had made it all the way up to 4 ounces at a shot, but has regressed a little, and can now only handle about 3 ounces at once without becoming uncomfortable. I, on the other hand, can now eat somewhere between 4 to 6 ounces at one sitting, depending on the consistency of the food we are eating. I've read horror stories about people stretching their reduced stomach pouches back out to pre-surgery sizes, and I have been this happening to me? Do I need to do a "pouch reset" involving nothing but liquid foods for a week? Or is this normal?

In the midst of this concern about growing portion sizes and slowing weight loss, I was reminded that I really have undergone some significant changes to my digestive tract. The encouragement came from a very unusual source. 

Enter our dog, Vixen.

Recently, we decided to splurge and go to Subway. We would split a footlong Spicy Italian sandwich, throw away the flatbread it came with when we got it home, and eat nothing but the deli meats and veggies. It seemed like a good plan.

Halfway through my breadless "sandwich", I realized there was no way I was going to finish my 6-inch half. Regretfully, I prepared to throw the remainder away. But, a flash of inspiration hit me - I would slice up the remainder, mix it with hard dog food, and give it to Vixen in lieu of her usual soft food when I fed her for the night! I performed my prep work, put the bowl down, and returned to watching television.

5 minutes later, Vixen came in to see if there was anything else for her to eat. Flabbergasted, I went into the kitchen with her to point out that I had just served her a delectable meal of "people food". Lo and behold, her dog dish was empty.

My 6-pound Chihuahua had just out-eaten me. She managed half my "sandwich", all her hard dog food, and was now looking for more.

If I needed confirmation that my stomach really was smaller than it had been, here it was.

The moral of the story? I need to stop over-thinking these things. From hair loss, to personal appearance, to stomach size, my mind has been ablaze with things to worry about concerning the results of my surgery. As Vixen's demonstration pointed out, everything is coming along pretty much the way it is supposed to. I just need to stay on the train, sit back, and see where the journey takes me.

Thanks, Vixen.

Wondering If Vixen Needs A Stomach Reset Now,

- Hawkwind

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Searching For Identity

Image Copyright Sebastien Millon 2016.

Reviewing my posts for the last 9 months, it can be tough to tell if I am writing about bariatric surgery or existentialism. So many of my posts seem to be tied up in searching for an identity. I have fretted over cutting my ties with my "tribe" of fellow overweight people. I have struggled to develop new habits. I have even had trouble no longer seeing an obese person when I look in the mirror.

Hey, at least I didn't say "fat person." So I am learning.

But the truth is, I am still struggling with the great "who am I?" question. An excellent example is my changing physical appearance. Lor, as she continues to lose, is looking more and more like her mother did in her twenties. She revels in this - not only has she always found her mother beautiful, but the connection with a 20-something version of her mom is appealing to Lor's self-image by making her feel younger again. Feeling younger, she acts younger - we have never been as active as we are right now in 28+ years together. She has gained youth, beauty and a tighter emotional bond with her mother - 3 wins for the price of one.

I am having a different experience. My entire adult life I have resembled my mother's side of the family. Specifically, I have always looked like my grandfather, who in his 80s is still an active, handsome gent. I have always maintained that if I could develop into looking like him as I grew older, I would be content with my aging process.

However, the changes to my face (and hair...sigh) have wrought in me a problem - I no longer really resemble him. I no longer resemble anyone on my Mom's side. And I really don't look like anyone on my father's side. Once again, my weight loss has pulled me out of my comfort zone - I no longer see my family when I look at myself. I have no idea where I really "belong" anymore.

I suppose I should look at it as another opportunity to "reinvent" myself. But, darn it, I was not looking to create a new me by removing my mental association with my family. I used to be able to sit around at family gatherings and see myself reflected in the faces around me. Now, I am afraid, I am going to feel like I went out and had surgery to set myself apart from those that I wish to be like the most.

Warning - your life changes may have unintended consequences.

Thinking I Think Too Much,

- Hawkwind

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The 3-Letter Word

The word we will be addressing today is a versatile one. It is used on playgrounds and in comedy clubs to get an immediate emotional reaction, whether laughter or tears. Dieticians and nutritionists argue its value or worthlessness. It is further broken down into "good" and "bad" versions.  Its presence is lauded in certain cuts of meat and denigrated in the human form.

The word I am referring to, of course, is "fat".

So, what the heck IS fat, anyway? I mean, like, scientifically?

Despite what many trainers and late-night infomercials would like you to believe, fat is NOT actually a poison, out to wreck your health and your life. It is actually one of the three "macronutrients" that your body needs to survive (the other two being carbohydrates and protein.) Did you follow that? Needs to survive. Your body is specifically designed to run on a fuel mixture that includes fat.

So, why no love for fat as a concept, then? Mainly because of what fat is designed to do - act as an alternative energy source for our bodies during periods where we can't get enough carbs or protein. When we were wandering from place to place looking for our next meal of carrion and berries or whatever, this was a good thing - the body's fat reserves kept us going until we found our next source of balanced nutrition.

Nowadays, the nearest source of nutrition is the refrigerator. But no one has told the regulator in our brains that we probably don't need to be storing quite as much fat to make it between meals. Add that to our tendency to overeat and under-exercise, and you have our sudden upswing in obesity, heart problems, high blood pressure, and the like.

Not to mention "fat kid" jokes.

The use of the term "fat" as an insult has reached epic proportions these days. Even I tend to use it on these pages in a negative manner, usually referring to myself. But, the fact of the matter is, the body is doing what is was designed to do: store fuel for use later, as an alternative power source. The fact that our society has turned "rail-thin" into the only desirable body standard means that our biological processes are working against our self-image. It is an ugly, ugly situation.

So, what can we do? Start calling things by their proper names, to start with. "Fat" is not a description - it is a nutrient. Obesity, the storage of unhealthy amounts of fat on the human body, is a medical condition, not a source of material for your stand-up routine. Try making fun of people with breast cancer or stroke victims and see how well that does with your target audience. Obesity is the same thing - an illness, a malfunctioning of the body's natural processes.

For my part, I will endeavor to do the same thing - stop using the term "fat" to refer to myself or my condition. Change begins with ourselves, right? For everyone else, do what you can to set the record straight. Encourage those you know who are suffering from obesity to get help. Refuse to engage in banter abut the personal appearance of others. Teach your children that "fat" is not something that others should be shamed for. We should all do what we can, to convert the 3-letter word back to its appropriate usage, and away from the misleading and abusive form that is has taken. Only when we can take control of the concept again can we begin to re-define the issue.

Self-Correcting Behavior Is Hard,

- Hawkwind

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Expanding Divot

A couple of weeks ago we talked about hair loss related to bariatric surgery - specifically how it was relating to Lor. She went out, got herself a stylish new short haircut, and all has been right with the world since. She has been overwhelmed with compliments - she looks at least a decade younger, and the "vibe" of the new haircut just seems to fit her newly energized personality.

Now, every morning, I find myself looking in the mirror and wondering when the time will come for me to change my own vibe.

My own hair loss is taking a very different pattern than Lor's did. Rather than thinning across my entire head, I am losing hair aggressively in one place - the front of my hairline to the crown of my head. Every day you can see more and more of the scalp beneath, with fewer and fewer wisps of hair left to populate the expanding balding area. My receding hairline is beginning to look like the remains of a forest after a major fire.

I have maintained that this would not bother me - that losing some hair would be an acceptable price to pay for all of the benefits that have come along with my weight loss. In a philosophical sense, this is true - today I am below 220 pounds for the first time, like, ever, and I feel great about that.

But the hair loss is bothering me more than I thought it would. I have zero interest in being the guy with the huge divot taken out of the hair on the front of his head. My hair was already thinning naturally at the crown and back of my head - I am going to be left with a racing stripe of scalp running through the center of my head with two bushes of remaining hair growing only over my ears. I find it very frustrating that I am developing a slimmer physique and a new facial appearance, only to have it topped off with the hair of a man much older than I currently am. I have visions of letting one side grow extremely long then attempting a comb-over to disguise the hair loss.

The really scary part? Hair loss after bariatric surgery is normally temporary - except for men who were already suffering from age-related hair loss. In cases like mine, sometimes the follicles just never start working again to replace the missing hair. The nutritional deficit can effectively kill already slowing follicles.

I have threatened several times to just shave my head entirely and be done with it. I have also been threatened with death and dismemberment by my wife and my mother should I do so. My unhappiness with the situation has not grown enough that I can ignore their objections yet - but the day is getting closer, I think. Even the new haircut solution that Lor employed is not an option for me - a really short haircut at this point will only make me look like I have had plugs implanted in an otherwise bald area. So, for the time being, I just carry on, trying to ignore the ever-expanding scalp taking over what used to be my hairline.

Maybe I will just stop looking in the mirror completely.

Glad I Own So Many Hats And Beanies,

- Hawkwind

Friday, October 14, 2016

Looks Are(n't) Everything

Ferrari 458. Not that I will ever own one.

I think I've made it pretty clear through the history of Misdirected that personal appearance was not anywhere on the radar of my motivations for surgery. Blown knees, less drug use, sleep apnea, high blood pressure - sure. But not looking in the mirror and saying "Damn, I look fabulous."

And, it turns out that I am pretty much alone in the world in terms of not caring about my looks.

Look, I live in a country (the USA, for our international readers) where a presidential candidate is able to say that he did not sexually assault a woman because she was not attractive enough. This is the importance of personal appearance in America - to about 40% of our electorate, this is apparently a completely understandable explanation. Welcome to America, kids, where your looks are more important than your rights.

I live in a country where a woman I know was told by her husband post-surgery that she should not have had surgery because she now looks like "a bag of bones."

Another surgical patient of my acquaintance was informed by a co-worker that she was a lazy pig who should've just gone to the gym instead of having surgery, just like the speaker did.

Everywhere I turn, the "perfect size" myth is in place. Too fat, and you are mocked for being a glutton. Too skinny? You must have an eating disorder. Who gets to set these "perfect" ideals? Heck if I know, but I wouldn't mind a few minutes with them in a closet while holding a baseball bat. The people or organizations that have idealized human looks have probably done more damage to us than any war or disease.

Look, I sort of get it - I have hung around with naturally beautiful people like my wife and my brother - models and bodybuilders. Idealized specimens of the human form, if you will. The "Ferraris" of human appearance. But 99% of us don't own a Ferrari. We have to get by in Civics and mini-vans and beat up old trucks. But we still manage to get around, right?

The beauty culture in our country basically says if your personal appearance is not "Ferrari", just don't drive. Stay home. Out of sight. Where no one has to see you. 

So we spend millions, maybe billions, of dollars on things to improve our looks. The latest styles of clothing. New kinds of make-up and jewelry. More intense workout routines, designed to make us sexier rather than healthier. Maybe even surgery, whether bariatric or cosmetic.

But, understand this - for the great majority of us, we will never be a Ferrari. And that is ok. It is perfectly fine for each of us to have an ideal to shoot for.

It is never ok to tell someone else that they are of less value because they have not reached that ideal. 

When will we learn to love and respect each other for the journeys we are making and our intended destinations, rather than the vehicles each of us is given to get there?

I Think I Am Done With My "Car" Metaphor Now,

- Hawkwind

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Embracing Mortality

Later today, Lor and I will be attending a funeral. It is not for a person who we knew particularly well, but instead the family member of a friend of ours. The death was quite sudden, completely unexpected, and the family is still in shock. So, we will be attending, just to provide what little support and comfort we can.

Normally, I avoid funerals. And hospitals. And nursing homes. Pretty much anything that is tinged with the awareness of the end of life, I avoid if at all possible. I am all too aware that life is fleeting, and I usually want no part of being around for the end of it.

I haven't always been this way. I used to be quite a bit more philosophical about aging, death, and end of life issues. But, in 2004, epilepsy arrived, and my whole worldview changed.

Why is that? Mainly because the type of epilepsy I suffer from, temporal lobe epilepsy, has a really high mortality rate. About 1 out of every 1,000 people die from epilepsy each year. But, for a person suffering from intractable seizures of the temporal lobe, as I do, that rate goes up to 1 out of every 150.

But, wait, there's more! My treatment for epilepsy led to morbid obesity, thanks to side effects from the drug cocktail I was on. The mortality rate for those who are morbidly obese is about 1 in 5. Also, add on to that the mortality rate for hypertension (another condition I suffer from) - about 15 out of 1,000. My health got so bad that one of my very first neurologists informed me that, barring a miracle of some kind, I would be dead before I was 50.

It got to the point where, every morning, I was kind of surprised to wake up.

Today, things are different. My seizures are coming under control. My hypertension is resolved. Earlier this week I graduated from "morbidly obese" to "obese" on the BMI chart. (And if you think that is no major cause for celebration, you have never been morbidly obese.) My miracle arrived, in the form of bariatric surgery.

So, later today, I will strap on my courage and go to a funeral. Sure, death waits for me eventually, like it does for all of us. But for right now, I can go out and bring comfort to a friend who has lost a loved one without being paralyzed by my fear of my own oncoming demise. My grandfathers made it into their 80s (one is still alive and healthier than I am!) There is no reason to not expect that I could have another 30 or 40 years ahead of me at this point. Hiding under the metaphorical bed does no good for anyone, least of all me.

Instead, I can now "work while the sun shines", no longer expecting to be felled by my failing body at any moment. And that may be the ultimate freedom that bariatric surgery has gained for me.

Grateful For Today (Even Though It Includes A Funeral),

- Hawkwind

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Next Steps

Photo Credit: uneitzel Flickr via Compfight cc

We're emerging into "normal life" around the house, and boy does it feel strange. Yesterday we cooked three meals (and stayed under 1,000 calories and 60 grams of carbs), walked the dog, and did laundry. A thoughtful early Christmas present of a new 17-foot ladder took all the near-catastrophic adventure out of draining and disconnecting our swamp cooler for the season. (Thanks, Dad!) Everywhere you look in our home, things are starting to resemble a "normal" household. what?

Don't get me wrong - the fact that we can have something very similar to a normal life is exciting and gratifying. But we are getting very close to our goal weights. We have been intensely goal-driven through this whole process, and as our final major goal approaches, I look beyond and see...what?

Well, we have the 5K next May to look forward to. We've asked anyone in the family who normally gives us Christmas presents for clothing or gift cards for clothing, so January could be a good time for refilling our ever-thinning wardrobes. I've still got my "lifetime goal" of a 38-inch waistline to hit, though I actually managed to get some on in a dressing room recently. However, I looked like a fat man trying to cram himself into skinny jeans, so I quickly abandoned the effort. Everywhere I turn, our current weight loss goals are nearly met. I think it is time to set some new targets.

(We will now pause while I try to come up with some fresh ideas.)

Camping! Camping has been a big one for us, since we previously would get out in the mountains, set up our campsite, and I would then be unwilling to move around much due to exhaustion. We need to commit to a specific number of trips next year.

Increasing our socialization is already happening, but needs to continue. We have a growing circle of friends who welcome us out into the world and we need to commit to investing more time into those relationships.

Maybe most importantly, advocacy. We are living proof that drastic measures bring dramatic results in the fight against obesity. I have spent years working in Epilepsy advocacy, and now need to transfer that experience into doing the same for those suffering from obesity - especially morbid obesity. After all, there are a LOT more people suffering from obesity than seizure disorders.

A few ideas, sure, but they need to be filled out and turned into specific points of achievement. The worst thing I can think of happening would be to arrive at our weight loss goals and then quit, having nothing left to motivate us towards further achievement. We've been given a gift, in bariatric surgery and recovery, and the last thing I want to do is waste it.

(Or waist it!)

See What I Did There?

- Hawkwind