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WLS – The hard way to love yourself

I’ve been dreading writing this post, as it’s one of the few times I don’t want to do a PSA. Those that know me will know that I prefer to shout loudly from the rooftops anything in my life which may be controversial. However, this time, I don’t want the stress of airing my dirty laundry and would rather cower in the corner in anonymity. And yet, I feel a strong sense of obligation to those who need someone to speak out for them.

In September this year, I had a gastric sleeve. For those that don’t feel like clicking the link, short story, they cut away 70-80% of my stomach (Let me quickly interject that I am in no way advocating weight loss surgery). I decided to be open and honest about this, because I just can’t lie. I suck at it and hate it. I lied briefly to those around me, who would see me during my recovery period, and then had to blab out the truth because the lying killed me.  I was a lighter weight, but still had a BMI of over 35 and had three major weight-affected conditions: 1) I was told that within two years I will have type 2 diabetes, 2) I have hypermobility and the extra weight makes a massive difference to mobility, collapsing joints and a crap load of pain, 3) I have asthma which weight affects, albeit mildly.

I mention these because the point of this post is to open up dialogue about my operation and others, and to highlight things people say that they may not think is inappropriate. A surprising amount of people have asked me some form of inappropriate or really personal question. I am fully aware that no one intended it to be that way, so this is merely to help others in the future. If you have asked me any of the below or said anything like these, please don’t feel this is a dig. I assure you, I hold no ill-will and know it came from a good place 😉

  1. In 90% of the conversations I’ve had about my WLS, the first question has been: Was it NHS or Private?
    • Please don’t ask us this question – there is no right answer! The NHS means we’re wasting the tax-payers’ money and going privately means we’re rolling in the dough or heavily in debt. It’s an incredibly awkward question and the equivalent of asking if you own your house, is it mortgaged, on benefits or rented.
  2. How much did you weigh before?
    • Pretty sure I don’t need to tell you why that’s inappropriate.
  3. So, you’ve cheated. 

Now, luckily, I’ve never had anyone dare say the third one to me and mostly I’ve had supportive responses, which was not what I expected. However, many of my bariatric friends have had people accost them with their judgements on this ‘quick fix.’ So, I would like to highlight some aspects of WLS for you.

Weight loss surgery is NOT the easy way out. It is bloody hard. So much harder than the movies and TV shows will make you think. It is always the last resort. You are having major surgery (yes, it’s keyhole, but someone cutting away 80% of your stomach, putting a band around your stomach or rerouting it all, is major surgery, no matter how you look at it). The recovery period lasts anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks and often more. You run the risk of death. Not just from going under, but from leaks and sepsis, which is not as rare as you would like to think.

If you ignore the initial risks, you then need to take into account the following:

  • Almost all WLS requires a pre-op diet, which is designed to shrink your liver for easy access. In most cases this requires either a 1000 cal limit a day for anywhere from 2-8 weeks, or a milk only diet. This is where you are allowed 4 pints of milk, 1 oxo cube drink and 1 small pot of sugar free jelly a day. That’s it. For at least 14 days. So, consider this when chatting to a person who had WLS: There is a good chance this person chose not to eat at all for 14 days. Don’t dare tell them they couldn’t follow a diet or didn’t have the perseverance. I did this diet. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done and I had an incredible sense of achievement from it.
  • A lifetime of change.
    • Foods you loved before, you will now either not love or be completely unable to eat. For bypassers and some sleevers, chocolate and sweet foods could result in dumping syndrome: palpitations, extreme pain and fatigue, and a good day or two on the loo, with everything flying out both sides. Again, you may think this is an easy way out of dealing with cravings. It’s not. It means every party you go to, every event, will be stressful, filled with temptation that pulls at your heart and filled with people asking you why you aren’t eating.  You run this risk with every new food you try. For some people, it’s not just sweet things. For me, it was chilli. I can now no longer eat chilli and that’s not a lesson I’m willing to learn again!
    • How you eat changes completely. You now need to follow the 20-20-20 rule for the rest of your life. Leave 20 seconds between bites, chew each bite 20 times and finish after 20 minutes. You can also add ‘eat only bites the size of a 20p coin’ to the list. In addition, you’re not allowed to drink anything while eating and need very small portions.
    • WLS is not a quick fix – it lasts for 2 years and after that, you need to stick to these rules religiously, or run the likely risk of picking up all your weight again. This happens often. However, those that do stick to the rules, manage to keep it all off.
    • Pain. So much pain.
      • Some people have incredibly long recovery times after the op. I was lucky and was back up to ‘normal’ (albeit with pain) within a week or two. Friends have suffered in serious pain for over 6 weeks.
      • Eating is agony. I’m 12 weeks post op and still have to lie down each time I eat. As the food goes down, it’s as if it I’m swallowing a knife (regardless of the food, thick yogurt does this, too). Then, as it settles in your stomach, it’s tries to find a way to fit and you’re stuck with a good 20 minutes of pain, food rising back up (trust me, when it doesn’t fit, it lets you know!) and general discomfort. And, for the love of god, don’t try bend down after a meal. The food finds the easy way out!
      • A gastric sleeve often results in a lifetime of reflux and heartburn. Yay for us.
      • After you’re fully healed, you will still have the risk of getting food stuck. Cue agony, fatigue, and pretty much all the ‘dumping syndrome’ symptoms, apart from the evacuations, mentioned above.
  • Learning to talk about the weight loss. Whether you’re telling the truth or have a cover story, it is a huge thing in your life. Someone with a cover story has the stress of keeping that up and making sure they don’t contradict themselves forever (and please, please do not judge these people. Society has left them with little choice but to keep it secret). Those of us who choose to tell the world, have to then face criticism and also figure out when to tell people. I had a lovely lady tell me yesterday that I look great for a woman who has a 10 month old. I was quiet and then blurted out, rather loudly and suddenly “I had a gastric sleeve!” Obviously, the poor woman got a shock, as did I and probably everyone else in the room. I had been trying to figure out whether to just say thank you, or admit that it wasn’t ‘natural.’ And my anxiety overcame me…rather loudly. It’s a constant balancing act, which we often fail at.
  • It may not work. Nothing in WLS is concrete and there are people these surgeries don’t end up helping. It’s a hard truth, but one every WLS patient must face.

These are the things we deal with because we have to. Please do not for a second think that this was easy for any of us. Before you judge, ask yourself if you could put yourself through all of this?

Cutting back to my story, I was living my life under a heavy cloud. I was unimaginably miserably and knew I was taking my life, my partner and my children for granted. Two weeks before my op, I was bed-ridden for three days in tears because I caught a glimpse of myself in a video. My appearance made me physically ill. I wasn’t the person on the outside that I was on the inside. I didn’t go out, I didn’t have fun with my kids, I wasn’t giving them the life they deserved and I sure as hell wasn’t giving myself the life I wanted. This op has changed my life. Merely being booked in for this op, having the balls to go ahead with recommendations and doing something about my weight, took a huge weight off. I am so incredibly proud of myself. My mental health didn’t change with the weight loss, it changed with the decision to do something about it. I suddenly me again. I still struggle with depression and anxiety, but at perhaps 10% of what it was before. I run with, laugh with and cuddle my children daily.  I walk with my head up. I smile and mean it. I love myself. No amount of stigma, judgement, pain or discomfort can take that away. I’m proud of my decision and my move and you should be proud of me too.

So, if you’re looking for what to say to a WLS patient, here is my advice:

  • Ask questions. If they’re telling you about it, they’re open to questions. Just be kind and respectful of their privacy. They can tell you whether or not they don’t want to talk about specifics.
  • Instead of saying how thin they look, tell them how healthy they look. I’ve had a few people comment on my weight loss, but those who tell me I look healthy have made me feel wonderful.
  • Congratulate them on doing something for themselves and the hard work it takes.

We each have to live our lives to the best of our abilities and those who have undergone or who are thinking of undergoing WLS know that we aren’t or weren’t doing that. If you had the chance to love yourself again, wouldn’t you jump at it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am not responsible for your newsfeed

I’ve recently had a ‘Facebook purge.’ This is not something I’m particularly good at, for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t like upsetting people, despite having a temper and occasionally going on an offensive rampage; I really don’t like the idea that what I say or do, could hurt someone. Secondly, I like to keep in touch with people from my past and I love Facebook for that specific reason.

Most would think my purge was due to the Parisian crisis and the ‘anti-refugee’ nonsense that is spreading through most of our newsfeeds. In truth, I was hurt a few days prior by someone, whom I had considered a friend. She posted a rather nasty and hurtful article about parents ‘arrogantly’ posting photos of their children.*

Now, I’m no fool. I don’t expect everyone to enjoy the constant stream of baby photos, to like every one of them or even to give to give them a second glance. What I do expect, however, is for my ‘friends’ to show a modicum of respect and intelligence.

Who the fuck are you to insist that I stop posting photos of my son, on my Facebook profile, because you don’t want children? Well, whoop for you. My posts in no way suggest that you should jump on the breeding bandwagon. In fact, by the sounds of it, you probably shouldn’t. I post stuff about my child, on my newsfeed, for my enjoyment, not yours.

Facebook has these fancy features, called ‘hiding,’ ‘unfollowing,’ ‘blocking’ and ‘unfriending.’ It may be hard for you to understand, but:

I am not responsible for your newsfeed and I do not expect you to be responsible for mine.

I have often been annoyed by people’s incessant posts of their children (21 photos showing a child holding a dead bird) or photos of their pets’ poop and so I have simply unfollowed them. Facebook has made it really simple for me to decide what appears on my newsfeed and so I choose to use these features – why is it so hard for you to do the same?

If you don’t like something that I post then hide it, unfollow me, block me or unfriend me. Frankly, I don’t care either way. It’s been a long time since those actions offended me. I understand that you’re not keen on your newsfeed being filled with photos of children, but understand that, whilst I have other aspects of life that interest me and I don’t define my personality by motherhood, nothing is more important to me than my son. My partner and my child are my everything and I love posting about them.

I post for other reasons – I have family and friends in South Africa that love to see photos of my son’s development and I love to have these memories pop up on my feed a year later – but mostly, I post because I want to.

*For my hypocrite and irony seekers out there (and there are many), I am aware that this too is a nasty and hurtful article.

How to speak to expectant mums – a guide for existing mothers

Following on from my previous post, I have decided to do a list of advice for mums on how to deal with pregnant women.

I’ve only been a mum for 9.5 weeks, so I claim no expertise, but I do understand where a lot of you come from. I’m not berating you, but just hoping that this post will help you to help others through their first pregnancies.  I’ll try make this as succinct as possible.

1. Listen.

Pregnancy to a first-time mum, is an incredible experience. Some may find it terrible, some may find it amazing, but most of us find it a roller-coaster of new experiences. A friend’s response to my pregnancy announcement was ‘congratulations on becoming a living science experiment,’ which is absolutely true. Every pregnancy is different and most women want to share that experience. It’s the biggest thing that’s happening in our lives at that time (if we’re lucky) and we may find it difficult to talk about anything else.

Expectant mums know that you know better, but what’s happening inside of us is huge. Let us experience that and tell you. I found it increasingly difficult to finish a sentence after announcing I was pregnant. I was constantly interrupted with unwanted advice or someone else’s pregnancy story. I remember one morning announcing that I felt like death. I wasn’t able to continue because I was interrupted with a lecture that started off with “Hah!  You think you feel bad now, wait until you’re 9 months pregnant.” I’m not exaggerating when I say that only a half hour later was I able to interrupt the tirade with ‘I feel like death…because I have a cold.’ 

It had nothing to do with pregnancy. Try to realise that you may know more about pregnancy and childbirth, but that sometimes, we just need to talk and you may not know what we’re about to say.

2. Wait until…

These words were incessant throughout my pregnancy. As I mentioned in the first post, you have experienced your first pregnancy, let us have ours. The tiny flutters you first feel when you start to feel your baby moving are possibly the most exciting thing that has ever happened to you. The last thing we want to hear is “wait until the kicks start, then you won’t be smiling.”

Some women experience intense round ligament pain. The appropriate response to this is not “wait until you give birth, then you’ll know what pain is like.”

Likewise for new mothers: what we feel when our little human grabs our fingers for the first time is indescribable. We don’t want to hear “Awww, wait until s/he gives you their first smile, then your heart will melt!” It’s melting now. Let us experience every second of this amazing journey, in the moment – not waiting for the next milestone to amaze us.

3. Horror stories (expectant mums please skip ahead)

Come on, guys. You know the drill – don’t bombard pregnant women with horrific child birth stories. You all know this, and yet, that’s all I seemed to hear when pregnant. We know it’ll be bad, we know we are completely unprepared, but your stories certainly won’t help us sleep at night.

I heard some doozies during pregnancy: blood on the ceiling, near-death experiences, stillbirths (Seriously? Mentioning miscarriages or stillborn babies around a pregnant women is completely unacceptable. I shouldn’t have to tell you this) and botched c-sections. I heard one positive birth story in the whole ten months.

I now understand where you’re coming from, having my own horror story. Part of healing after a trauma is talking it out of your system and birth can be extremely traumatic. Mine was and I talk about it all the time…to people who have been there before, or people who were there. I found myself retelling the story to a friend who hasn’t any children yet and I really regret this. She did ask and she was well aware it was a bad birth, but it’s still not something she should know. There are plenty of easy births that happen. On the day I gave birth, there were two women that I know well who gave birth to two healthy little boys, in under three hours. It’s not uncommon.

So, quit using pregnant women as your psychologists. Seek counselling and heal yourself properly – don’t spread the fear.

4. It’s still early

Three of the harshest words you could say to a pregnant woman. Does the fact that I’m only 7 weeks pregnant make my pregnancy null and void?

You are basically telling me that there is a high probability of me losing my child.

Don’t.

5. Sympathy goes a long way

As aforementioned, every pregnancy is different. Your round ligament pain could have been a light ache, whereas another women’s could land them in hospital. Don’t assume that the woman complaining about pain at 7 weeks pregnant is experiencing the same pain you experienced. Try to sympathise with her and realise that she isn’t being a hypochondriac; she, quite possibly, is in agony. I felt like I was being split in two when John started to move, as the adhesions caused by my endometriosis were literally tearing.

Morning sickness is not amusing. I remember rushing to the bathroom every hour and when  I returned with mascara running down my face and blood-red eyes, people would laugh. And yet, when someone came down with a bug and vomited once, there was endless parade of people ‘checking up’ on them. I felt isolated and as if my pain and discomfort were somehow less important than that of a non-pregnant woman.

Pregnancy doesn’t make it easier to deal with sickness, pain or discomfort.

Perhaps this wasn’t as succinct as I’d hoped. There are many other snippets of advice given to pregnant women (sleep while you can? What a joke.), but, in short, just try for a little compassion and put yourself in her shoes.

It is simultaneously the worst and most wonderful time in a woman’s life and it’s okay for her to feel that way.

The idiots guide to pregnancy advice

It’s been some time since I’ve posted a blog, whether interesting or not and I’ve just had a good giggle going through the search terms that have made you land upon Up a Mammoth’s Nostril.

Things have changed significantly since the last time we touched base. Firstly, I moved to the UK for (god forbid) a man and it proved to be a wonderful decision. Secondly, I found the balls to enter a profession I actually love: working with children. I’m now an EYE, looking after children under three years old. My life was about as happy as it could be and then, wham, I fell pregnant.

Having waited my entire life for this moment (and having almost planned it – read: having planned it to happen in 6 months and well overestimating my fertility issues), I was and still am, ecstatic.

There shouldn’t be an ‘however’ after that statement, but sadly there is. I’ve since had quite a large culture shock. In South Africa, pregnant women are treated like royalty. Everyone is happy for them, everyone is excited about it on your behalf and almost everyone asks questions constantly. Here, however, you’re lucky if you get the obligatory ‘congratulations’ from most. If you are lucky enough to be congratulated, it’s almost always followed by a long lecture on how you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.

Whilst I appreciate the gesture behind the lectures – I realise it’s not malicious and merely an attempt to help and educate – I’m finding it increasingly difficult to deal with. So, I thought I’d post this blog to help future mums (and remind myself in the future) to deliver advice in a slightly easier way.

Fifty years ago, delivering advice that leant upon the idea that pregnant women think they know what they’re about to experience was acceptable. We didn’t have the resources we have now and women, perhaps, had actual expectations from motherhood. However, we now find ourselves in the 21st century and this is no longer relevant.

We have the internet, forums, reality TV and lots and lots of books and the only common denominator they all have is publicising the fact that, no matter what we think, we’ll never have an idea of what pregnancy, child birth and motherhood are really like.

Show me an expectant first-time mum who claims she knows what motherhood is like and I’ll show you someone whose synapses are failing to fire. We are doused in quotes, such as ‘wait until you see what’s it’s really like,’ ‘you have no idea what to expect’ and my personal favourite, ‘you don’t know, you’re not a mum’ well before we even start trying to conceive.

I’m pretty sure that none of us assume we have the foggiest idea how our lives are about to change. I know that pregnancy holds unknown challenges, experiences and horrors. I’m refusing to even think about childbirth because of the endless barrage of women who tell the expectant population that we’ll never be ready, so why prepare so early on. I’ll leave the horror until later, thank you.

And, I most definitely do not assume I have that magical connection with my child yet. I am over the moon with my pregnancy and love my unborn child as much as possible at present, but I have no doubt that this will seem insignificant after it’s born.

While advice almost always comes from a happy and good place, please remember that as an expectant mum, we have already been inundated with lectures and information. We appreciate the advice and the sentiment, but what would be absolutely wonderful would be if you could stop for a minute and listen. I have yet to finish a sentence about my pregnancy without someone interrupting to tell me that ‘well, it’s just going to get worse’ (even when I’m not complaining), ‘ohhh…you just wait and see’ or ‘that’s nothing, wait until….’

If I’m not feeling well, it’s not necessarily to do my pregnancy. It could be that I’m actually not well.  It’s not a polite time to tell me how bad pregnancy gets or act like I’m being a hypochondriac. Alternatively, it could be due to my morning sickness, which so many people manage to avoid, but sadly I did not. I hate to tell you, but no amount of knowledge or advice is going to make my hugging the toilet bowl (whilst my 2 year old charge asks me if  ‘Sawah need a wee wee’) any better. If you haven’t spent weeks of vomiting 5 times a day, then twice a week and now blissfully down to once a week, then please don’t tell me it will get worse. That’s not something I need to hear.

You had your first pregnancy. You learnt through your own experiences. Please let me have mine. It’s hard to enjoy your pregnancy when you’re unable to talk of it without having opinions (often literally) shouted at you. If your advice is relevant and helpful (ginger biscuit suggesters….thank you!) then I will happily listen, but if your intention is just to remind me that I have no idea what I’m doing or what I’m getting into – please don’t bother. I’m already well aware of it.

 

Poetry for potatoes

We’re all aware that in the desperate process of trying to be unique and original, we become sheep.

Take Emos: Their lives are an endless fight against the crowd, the normal, feeling sorry for themselves, having a good ol’ suicide chat and vehemently hating the world and most of all, themselves.

In my day we called them Goths, they just didn’t have floppy girl-hair.

In some way, we’re all sheep. The pseudo-intellectual has something going for them, thinking out of the box…but they never seem to stop and enjoy life (how many of these do we know?). The narcissistic actor/journalist/presenter that does nothing but tell the world how amazing they are, through what they incorrectly assume are subtle techniques. And then there are those of us who desperately don’t want to grow up, they still want to keep going against the flow.

That’s me. I’ve always thought finances overrated. If we could go back to bartering days, I’d be as happy as a pig in poo. I’d trade poetry for potatoes and enjoy every moment of my life. I started my own business, not because I didn’t want to make money for someone else, but because each day, travelling back and forth to work, a sharp thought twisted and plunged:  So this is how we humans decided to spend our lives? Bugger that.

The bigger picture is a curse. I could be happily working in some investment (okay, I’m fucking terrible with numbers) media company, working my way up, meeting people, meeting someone, settling down and living my ‘life.’ I don’t judge people like that, I envy them.

Now my company is a year old, I’m going on 30, my friends have all risen high up in their respective companies and are raking it in. They’re no longer getting  married, they are married, or they’re getting divorced. They’re on their 2nd and 3rd child. They’ve bought houses, sold houses, bought and sold cars (I’ve bought one, but was saved the ‘selling’ bit by a friendly security company turning my little Uno into scrap metal), they’ve been given promotion after promotion and almost all of them have a pension.

I’m not doing badly, I’m earning more than I did in my last salary, which wasn’t bad, and this is after only a year of being in business. I’m pretty darned proud of myself, but I’ve started to realise that I have no investment, apart from my car. If something should happen, I’m screwed.

So now I find myself considering buying property. The thought scares the bejesus out of me. How grown up is that? Owning something as big as a tiny flat? Probably another copy & paste job? Only because I want some form of safety net. I’d do it wisely, keep a cheap ass rental for me and rent out the bought flat for an exorbitant amount of money that only barely covers the monthly installments.  I spoke to a bond guy, and I need to earn slightly more to apply for a bond. It’s easily done, I only need to make one more monthly sale.

But I don’t want to. I’m happy earning what I’m earning. I’m happy clinging desperately to my youth. I’m happy being transient and not being responsible.

This sucks.

So, my little sheep friends, what made you grow up and how hard did you fight it?

Return of the Grammar Nazi

After scrolling through some related sites, I came across this. I don’t think it needs any explanation. Suffice to say, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been there.

 

 

 

A little bit of me

I’ve been struggling over whether to write this post or not, but as yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day and bloggers like  The Bloggess and Wil Wheaton have been open and honest about their depression, I think it’s only right that a little person like me does it too.

This isn’t really about depression, though, but it is about mental illness, mental stability and well, whether I belong in the looney bin.

This isn’t an easy post to write, but this past week has been pretty intense for me and it’s certainly been a mark on the memory bank (excuse the pun you’ll get later).

I have suffered on and off with depression. I’m lucky enough for it not to have been a major influence in my life, just a month or two every now and then, when I feel like shit, hate the world and myself and only ever want to sleep. Depression isn’t an issue for me, but it’s a serious  issue for many of my friends. If your friend has depression, let them know you’re there for them. It’s not something small and it’s not something that they can just turn off. It’s a serious illness and they need your support.

Mine stems from a trauma that happened when I was young. The problem is, I only remembered this trauma when I became an adult. Until then, I remembered enough to know I had a close call and in fact spent 4 years assuming that’s all it was, until the memories started.

My looney bin moment resides in the fact that I don’t know if these memories are real or false. I’ve been to shrinks, who can’t really help me if I can’t remember, and almost went to a hypnowhatsit, but that went belly up when she decided (incorrectly) that I had epilepsy and couldn’t help me.

I don’t have full recollections, only flashbacks, which, according to most of what I’ve read up about, imply that this is more real than false. After reading up on false memories of trauma, I find more often they occurred after hypnosis and not before (created through badly phrased questions by hypnowhatsits) and also that those that fabricated memories before hypnosis may be wrong about small things (the colour of the curtains) or big things (the perpetrator), but rarely about the act. It doesn’t quell my uncertainty though. My heart says it happened, my brain says it probably happened and my body has said PTSD for as long as I can remember, but I need to know.

The point I want to make here today is: Talk about it.

Last weekend, in a fit of fury and rage over something as inconsequential as spilt wine (ok, that’s not inconsequential, it’s a bloody terrible loss), I let loose my feelings and unloaded on someone close to me. I didn’t do it spectacularly well…or even in a dignified way (a screaming car ride is always the best way to deal with your issues, I think), but I did it. And then I went home and I wrote. I told them of my rage, my sorrow, my hurt, my confusion and above all my fear.

Writing about it didn’t take the fear away, but when I showed them the letter, part of my anger and pain melted away. The next morning, I woke up and I just lay in bed for hours (thank god I’m self-employed), because it felt so damned good. The tightness in my chest that had been sitting there for over a year, and probably longer, was finally gone. It was (and still is) like I’m finally free.

I’m still terrified. I’m not terrified of remembering, I’m terrified of not remembering or terrified of the reaction of my friends and family. Most of all, I’m terrified that my brain concocted this story, for whatever warped reason it would have, but I’m better now and able to take steps to deal with it… I hope.

This post is only to urge you to talk. Talk to your friends and family, write anonymously, even talk it out in the room on your tod. Trust me, it feels better.

 

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