I am 16 days removed from my Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG), a type of Bariatric surgery that removes about 70% of your stomach. I had my first post-op follow up appointment with my surgeons PA and have been cleared to do all kinds of things like swim and eat food again! Every day I feel more and more “normal”- my energy level is increasing, the brain fog is lifting, and I am doing more things that were apart of my regular routine. While things are returning to normal, I am more and more aware that in many ways, there will be no returning to normal. There is the only newness. I cannot return to the old normal because it physically or mentally does not work that way anymore. Sometimes that is hard to grasp or accept because you just want to be and feel normal again. So the name of the game is not returning to normal, it is discovering the new normal.
Here are some of my new normal things:
- Chugging water
- I used to CHUG water…like 10, 12 ounces at a time. This is not happening now. I can get in maybe an ounce or two at a time before I have to pause and wait to see how that will “sit”. Some days I double over in pain because I drank too much too fast.
- Eating “normal” bites of food
- They said I should eat with baby spoons after the procedure for a few months and I thought they were smoking crack. That’s NUTS. Why the hell would I eat with baby spoons? Whelp…you HAVE to take small bites because your esophagus and stomach are so pissed off and swollen from surgery that you can only take in small amounts of food that have been pulverized by chewing. I know I look like an idiot eating with a small ass spoon but man does it make a difference. This is not a long term thing but it will be a thing for the next few weeks or months…baby spoon users UNITE!
- Chewing your food
- This too sounded ridiculous- of course, I chew my food! DUH! But really…I didn’t chew my food before. I gobbled it in fast because I was so hungry and just used my to tongue to deliver it to my stomach in 4 seconds flat. After surgery, you have to chew your food to applesauce consistency before swallowing and let me tell you…that is weird. I challenge you to be my twin…chew your food 20 times before swallowing and get back to me on your experience.
- Eating SLOW
- I am talking SLOW…sloth slow. Painfully slow. After taking your tiny ass baby bite and chewing it at least 20 times, you need to wait a few minutes before starting your “bite” process all over again. Taking 30 minutes to eat 1/2 a cup of food is TOTALLY normal now and that is just straight-up weird. I really need to step up by dinner conversation game.
- I have to have a water bottle with me at all times…and sip from it at all times. Because you can’t get in a lot at a time you are constantly sipping on something. If this was gin and juice, I would not have a problem. But its water…fucking water…that you sip it all damn day. There are some days I WISH I was still hooked up to an IV drip just so I could get in all of my hydration. I think this will improve over time but sweet Jesus sipping gets old.
- Feeling “full”
- I knew what full left like 17 days ago. Sometimes it was uncomfortable. Some days you just felt full. Feeling full was a comforting feeling. Now I have no idea what full feels like and I am scared to find out. I have heard that full=vomiting and I do not want to vomit. So now I eat until my stomach or throat are not making sounds of hunger. I stop when I am no longer hungry. See the difference there? Stopping when full vs stopping when no longer hungry. GAME CHANGER. Now I eat and a short time later, maybe an hour or two after eating, I am hungry again. I have been told this is normal so I am working so hard on listening and acting on what my body needs and now what my head says. Easier said than done.
- I have to stop and take a break after almost everything that I do. I wash the dishes then sit down for a break. I do some laundry then I lay down for a rest. I go for a short walk with the dog and then I stop for a rest. So. Much. Resting. This was not my normal nor do I think it will be my normal. Again- I am trying to listen to my body and give it what it needs even when my brain is screaming for more action and activity.
- Anything that involves my abs
- So it’s weird…you use your abs for A LOT of things. Things that you would not think you use your abs for. Bending over to put your shoes on? Abs. Reaching for something? Abs. Sitting on the toilet? Abs. And every time I do something that my body knows is “normal” the stitch in my ab muscle cries out a little to remind me that it is not healed yet and why the hell am I abusing it so much? Everyday movements and actions become a painful experience if you are not mindful of what you are doing.
- I take the same vitamin 4 times a day. 17 days ago I took a handful of vitamins in the morning and didn’t think about them until the next day. But taking something 4 times a day is challenging no matter what app or alarm you are using.
- Not drinking while eating
- This one I think has been the hardest. I love water. I love drinking water. I used to drink 10 to 12 ounces with each meal and it was glorious. Now, I cannot drink during a meal and I need to wait at least 30 minutes after a meal to drink anything. IT SUCKS. I am constantly thirsty and feel like I can never quench that thirst. I just want to dunk my head in a bucket of water and suck it all out. I don’t know if or when this will change but I do know it’s going to be a monumental challenge to get used to this new normal.
Now some of these things will be easy to change and adapt to. If I eat too fast I am in pain. Clearly, I do not want to be in pain so I have slowly been eating less and slower naturally. It’s not as annoying. Not being able to chug a bottle of water makes me want to pull my hair out. That thirst drives me nuts and sips just don’t seem to quench it. Sometimes it helps if I just don’t think or reference “before”- what was will never be again. I just have to push those memories out…even the “muscle memories” that just happen because they have been happening for 38 years. My brain so badly wants to reference “before” because it wants to make sense of what is happening now…in each moment of panic or wonder. Which I guess is a good thing. My brain knows I am in distress and it wants to provide a solution or comfort. Good job brain! Sometimes my brain goes searching for the “before” and comes back empty…those memories are just not there anymore or so heavily guarded there is no getting past the sentries. It is almost childlike…playing peak-a-boo with a past that is more and more like a ghost than a memory. It is a scary place to be. Do you remember the last time the landscape was completely foreign and unrecognizable? When your senses were just like “What the hell is this? What IS that?” When was the last time you remember seeing or experiencing something and your brain goes “That was a totally new experience…I have no reference for that…how do I even categorize that?” That is where I am now. The old references don’t work…the categories are outdated, the landscape has changed.
Today, I saw this framed canvas I knew it had to become my new lighthouse. “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Little Women, Louise May Alcott. This process…this recovery…this life “after” is going to be the storm of my lifetime. It will not be motherhood or the loss of my parents…it will be this moment, this season. Those things will be storms but this moment is the storm of my century. To get through this storm, I have to learn to sail through this “after” life with a new ship. Storms change the landscape and alter the atmosphere. Storms bring up undiscovered things and creatures from the deep and deposit them on the shores for beachcombers to find and marvel at. Storms test the limits of human endurance and engineering. For those of us drawn to the sea, storms are apart of that experience. Watching a storm pass from shore is a safe experience that causes little change in a person. Surviving a storm on the water is a life-altering experience. Bariatric surgery was the ship I chose to sail into this storm of weight loss with and now it is up to me to learn how to be the captain of my ship. I know now that this storm will bring up so many things from my depths that I would prefer to be left deep inside. It will change and alter my landscape and atmosphere. It will be a true storm. But my confidence in my ship is growing every day with each new discovery and moment of acceptance. I know one day my ship will be my home and while the storms might thrash my bow and push my sails to their limits, no storm will sink it. Repairs will be made in safe harbors with the best available materials. I will take time to enjoy the fruits of land before returning to the sea. To quote Mr. Garth Brooks, I will sail my vessel ’til the river runs dry.