Thursday, October 23, 2014

How I Prepared for Surgery Part 2 - My Mind

At the 2012 Heart Mini 5K in Cincinnati, Ohio - This walk nearly killed me, but was a great preparation for surgery.

This is the second post in my series on how I prepared for weight loss surgery. The first post covered how I prepared my body for the surgery and offered a few tips to those who may not be able to follow the same course of action that I took. This post will deal specifically with how I mentally prepared for surgery and all the changes I was going to need to make to be sure I was successful.

A lot of other bariatric surgery patients I have spoken with have all said they had an "Aha" moment. No such moment came for me. There was no parting of the clouds. There was no light from heaven. There definitely was no life altering "Aha" moment. My change was gradual. My determination grew gradually, but to tell you where it started, I could not say for sure.
In looking back, the process to begin mentally preparing for surgery started long before I had even contemplated the surgery. The process began, in fact many years before when I was younger and getting made fun of for being a big boy. I can still remember very vividly some children calling me fat on the playground at school. I can remember tearfully running and hiding under a car and not going in when the teacher called everyone in from recess. I can also remember the teacher finding me a getting in trouble. I wasn't even that overweight at that age, I was just taller than all the kids in my class. I can remember countless incidents through the years of being made fun of. I addition to this I can remember the feeling of sitting in a chair at a party and having the chair break because it couldn't hold me. I remember the feeling of shame and embarrassment as everyone laughed at me while I died just a little bit inside; trying to put on a brave face and laugh it off myself. I can also very clearly remember and incident where my mentally ill father told me he wished I wasn't his son and that I had never been born. He then went on to call me fat and useless.
You see, my catalyst to change came about when I finally stopped listening to those people and I started hating putting on the brave face. It came when I stopped listening to the people around me, the voices in my head, the haters, the non-believers, the dream killers, the bullies, and I told them all to shut up! My journey began when I got fed up with the status quo and refused to accept a normal life; when I realized my life could be amazing and it wasn't.
This frustration and anger led me to look for an option that would work and I began exploring the surgical option. It was an option that many people, doctors, friends, family, and even coworkers had recommended that I should look into. Up until then I just hadn't reached that point of frustration mentioned above. The next step in mentally preparing for this journey was knowledge.
The next area of mental preparation since we have spent time remember all the bad things your weight has caused will be to think of all the good that will come from the weight not being there. I started to dream and I dreamed big! I created a list from the simple to the insane of all the things I wanted to do that my weight had held me back from. I wanted to do something as simple as walk down a flight of stairs like a normal person instead of tentatively one at a time. I was always worried I would get hurt or a stair would break. When I accomplished this goal for the first time I sat at the bottom of the stairs and cried for like 10 minutes I was so happy.
I dreamed about the day I could try scuba diving. I thought about how amazing it would be to run, or ride a bike, or climb a mountain. Side note: I haven't climbed any mountains yet, but I will. I dreamed about running my first 5k and finishing my first triathlon. I thought about how it must feel to work so hard and to finally cross that finish line.
I thought about all of these things up to what it would be like to compete and finish an Ironman race. What it must feel like to be running across the finish line as an announcer yelled, "Jonathan Blue, you are and Ironman!" I get chills even as I type this. I spent hours watching past years Ironman races on YouTube at home or on my lunch breaks at work.
Dreaming about being an Ironman while volunteering at the 2013 Louisville Ironman Race
I wanted all of these things so bad I could taste them. I began to obsess about them. At this stage in the game that is a great thing because then you don't obsess so much about food. As things got tough and I felt like giving up or giving in I would go back to the list of things I wanted. I would sit back a watch an Ironman race and I would do everything possible to rekindle the spark. Dreaming about the amazing things I would soon be doing really helped when things got rough and kept me motivating as I prepared for my impeding surgery.
When it comes to the surgical options and everything surrounding the process of pre and post op care, knowledge is power. If that was true I wanted to be as powerful as possible. I studied and researched for weeks and weeks. I learned everything I could about the pre-op plan and the how's and why's of everything. I took the time to study all three surgeries to learn which would be the best for me and why so when I spoke with the doctor I already had a plan in place. I went so far as to go on YouTube and watch all three surgeries. I memorized the post op care plan and began testing recipes that I would need to know. I spent time scouring over forums and blogs soaking up every piece of information I could. There wasn't much I didn't know prior to them wheeling me into the operating room. I was fortunate in that I worked for the hospital I was having the procedure done, so I knew the nurses and staff I was interacting with.

All of this information allowed me to accept the aspects of this process that scared me or seemed daunting and those were the areas I spent more time learning about. The more I knew the more comfortable I became. There wasn't much of anything that surprised me with the whole process. There were even points I was asking nurses if a certain procedure was supposed to be next or a specific test and they wouldn't know, but upon check found out that it was next to be scheduled. I knew it all! This allowed a level of comfort, peace, and understanding unlike anything I have ever experienced.
The last major area where I needed to mentally prepare for the surgery was in learning to let go of food. This was probably one of the hardest things I had to do pre surgery. Goodbyes are never easy. Saying goodbye to an addiction is even harder. The silver lining is that once I had surgery, most of my cravings and desires for foods went away for a very long time.  That made things a lot easier.
So how did I say goodbye to food you might ask? How else... Eating. You might be thinking I am crazy right now, but what I did was create a food bucket list. This was all of the foods I thought I would miss the most or hadn't tried and really wanted too. The list included some of my favorite fast food restaurants, a nice steakhouse, and many many sweet treats. My surgery was the beginning of November and I knew I would be sitting Thanksgiving out. It's one of my favorite holidays so I was pretty bummed. On my bucket list was Thanksgiving. My entire family was absolutely amazing by getting together a month early and celebrating with me: Turkey, mashed potatoes, and all!
Each and every time I had that meal I treated it like it was my last. I took my time. I ordered whatever I wanted. I savored every bites, trying to imprint every taste and texture in my mind. I even cried a little at times. I let myself experience the full range of emotions. I was grieving and you need to let yourself grieve.

Now here is where I need to make a small note. I was not eating a bucket list meal for every meal. I had one of these meals two to three times a week after I got past my initial qualification stage. I allowed myself these meals with the promise that all other meals would be on point and that I would stay as active as I possibly could be, especially on bucket days. This made me feel better about having these meals and also helped me to maintain the weight loss I had worked so hard for up until that point.
Everything I did above did wonders in prepare me for the actually surgery but it also helped me to survive "Hell Week". This is the one week prior to surgery when you are on a liquid diet to let your stomach empty out and make it easier to work with. There is no cheating on this week or you could seriously hurt yourself. I don't want to sugar coat this for you. You need to understand going in that it will be the most trying week of your life. You will be angry, you will snap at people, and you will generally be a very unpleasant person to be around. The entire week you need to just keep your mind busy and keep telling yourself that its only a week. I kept a countdown on my phone to show me how long I had to hold on. At the end of this hell is surgery. One last big push to the promised land!
So when it comes to preparing your mind for surgery keep in mind that you need to constantly keep a reminder in your head about why you are doing this. You need to be dreaming about all the things you are going to be able to do because of the surgery. Keep in mind the knowledge is power so get as powerful as you can. Finally, you need to let go of food and prepare for hell. This will culminate in a surgery that will absolutely change your life. It will start you on an amazing journey of discovery and adventure as you explore your new body and find out exactly what it is capable of.

If you have any questions about my process please post them in the comments below and I will try to answer each one as I get them. I want this to be a forum for learning and leaning on each other for support and guidance.