|Left: March 2016, Right: this morning. Both photos taken early in the morning with a cheap webcam. Don't judge.|
I've heard (and read) of the weird "stranger effect" that can sometimes take place after bariatric surgery - at some point one looks in the mirror, and doesn't recognize who they are seeing. Interestingly, this has already happened to Lor. As she continues to lose weight she is metamorphosizing into a woman who looks tremendously like her mother did in her twenties. At one point a few weeks ago, she looked up into the bathroom mirror, caught her own reflection, and thought that her mother had arrived and was standing behind her. It took her several minutes to realize that she was seeing herself, and her Mom had not dropped in for a visit unannounced.
This was not something I was experiencing. No matter how much I looked into the mirror, it was still indisputably me - so much so that I was still having trouble perceiving my weight loss visually. I was even a little jealous of this experience - why couldn't I lose track of what I used to look like and replace my mental image with one that reflects the new, slimmer me?
Turns out I was just a few weeks behind Lor, as I have been from the beginning of this process.
Getting out of the shower yesterday and going through my normal daily process, I wandered into my bathroom. Lo and behold, there was someone I didn't recognize looking out of the mirror. This stranger had cheekbones. An angular, diamond-shaped head. Discernable crows-feet and epicanthic folds. Who the hell was this person? I felt like pinching myself to make sure I was awake.
But, a quick focus on the distinguishing break in my nose revealed the truth - this was me, without my "Stay-Puft Marshmellow Man" facial appearance. There had been facial features underneath that puffy, inflated face all this time. I just hadn't seen them for the better part of two decades.
Now, I find myself looking in the mirror all the time, which sounds amazingly (and depressingly) vain. But I am not admiring myself. I am just trying to come to grips with the fact that I don't seem to be the same person anymore. I keep waiting to wake up, to revert back to the same face I have washed and shaved since my twenties. There is a tremendous feeling of disassociation - like I am no longer sure who I am. "Creeped out" is a better description than "vain." Time to go read Metamorphosis again or something.
There has already been a major adjustment in re-gaining control of my diet and my body. The idea that I should have to deal with a shift in self-perception should not be a foreign concept. But, all this time, I have been trying to say that I am still the same person, despite my surgery. And, with no longer recognizing my facial appearance, I don't know that I can say that with confidence any longer.
And, if I am no longer the same person, who the heck am I?