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Emotions Post Reconstructive Plastic Surgery After WLS

I’m behind on blogs and there are so many I need to write. Since this is the most prevalent in my mind, it will get written first.

As usual, I will be sharing the full experience of this fourth bout of reconstructive plastic surgery with you once I am fully healed and can write about it from bringing to end. What I want to talk about today is the emotional and mental aspect of this part of the weight loss journey.

dd7222daa7986c2ad775cc3885e20b34Rarely a day passes without someone somewhere in the weight loss community talking about loose skin, how much they hate it, how ugly it makes them feel, and how much they wish they could get rid of it. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t one of them, in fact, I think I was one of the worst. I honestly think there was a point where I was dangerously close to this place where no matter how much I cut off my body it would never be good enough [ See: My Body Issues vs My Support System Them Zero Us One ] and I would never achieve the vision I had in my head of what I wanted to see in the mirror.

Thankfully, I found an amazing surgeon who has been able to do for me exactly what I needed him to do. Even before the swelling goes down, I can tell looking in the mirror that this time things are different and that this time around, my body looks more like the body I feel I have put the last 2 years and 9 months into creating. – ( This is how I feel most of the time – until the irrational emotions kick in. )

I’ve been very honest and open about my journey, my mindset, and how I put myself in a very unhealthy place when I started to associate cutting the skin off of my body with cutting my abusers out of my life.

I’ve been open and forthright when it comes to telling you that there is a big difference between reconstructive plastic surgery and cosmetic plastic surgery and that having realistic expectations of what your body is going to be like after these surgeries is of the utmost importance. This is also an area where I had to learn from mistakes, because the over-compulsive-virgo-perfectionst in me, struggles to realize that I will never have a perfect body, that I will never look like a Barbie doll and that my body will always have some part of it that remembers it once weighed 420 lb..

Reconstructive Plastic Surgery is by far the hardest thing I have ever put my body through both physically and mentally. It is NOT easy. It is the single most painful experience I have ever had in my life. I can still honestly say that I have no buyers remorse, though there were a few times in the first few days following this last surgery when the pain levels were so high that I am pretty sure the sentiments “I wish I hadn’t done this.” and “Why did I do this to myself?” were expressed multiple times.

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Me trying to put on a very big smile despite the pain and discomfort.

The answer was clear for me though, I did it because it was what I needed to do for me mentally. It was what I needed to do for me emotionally. I had to get my body to a place that when I looked in the mirror I saw the woman I had worked so hard to become and not a remnant of the abuse that I had endured through my life that had pushed me into unhealthy addictions, relationships with food, destroying my body and committing suicide with a fork and spoon. The problem here, is that even going into this last surgery, I thought the surgery would change this for me somehow. When the reality is, whatever remnants of abuse I see when I look in the mirror, are in my head; I am the only person that sees my body now as some sort of taunting of my past. Nobody else looks at me and goes “Oh look at Pandora, her left arm is bigger than her right arm and she would never look like that if she hadn’t weighed 420 lb. and she would never have weighed 420 lb. if she had not been a horribly abused little girl.” – Nope nobody would say that if they looked at me today, only I negatively empower myself with those automatic negative thoughts when I look in the mirror. This my dear friends and fellow Slender Seekers is a break though moment for me. Because it really is one of the first times that I have been able to separate my negative thoughts about my body image from my body and say; “This is something that is wrong in my head,” verses “This is something that is wrong with my body.”

c022d749a8f8154307dd8875189def22I cannot honestly say that I believe reconstructive plastic surgery is the right answer for everyone. I think a lot of factors have to be considered. How close to your goal weight are you? Because the further away from it you are, the less likely you are to be happy with your results in the end and the more likely you are to have to have more surgeries. I also think you have to ask yourself why you want it, what it is going to change for you, and if you want it enough to endure the massive amount of pain that it puts you through.

I can honestly say, that I wish Reconstructive Plastic Surgeons asked you to see a mental health specialist before having reconstructive plastic surgery. It is something that I personally would highly suggest, because I think that when it comes to reconstructive plastics we start to reach into a whole new emotional part of the weight loss journey.

I remember my first few days post-op gastric bypass. I remember the emotional roller coaster that I endured in that first 12 months of my honeymoon phase. I remember all the emotional set backs I battled. My father having a stroke, me going back to smoking cigarettes and struggling to quit again, my Father passing away, the intense relationship changes I was going through in my marriage, being on crutches for 8 weeks after learning I was an extreme dumper. It was like life suddenly said “Oh look Pandora is doing something to try to get her life back, let’s see what we can throw in her way.”

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Me trying to play “Super Pandora” with my nephew wrapped up in compression gear and trying not to let the emotional breakdown in my mind seep through in my face.

This journey with reconstructive plastic surgery has been no different. The last 17 months of my life have been just as much of an emotional roller coaster as the early post-operative part of my gastric bypass was and my body has changed just as drastically in those 17 months as it has in the first 16 where I was shedding 260 lb. at star speed. In those 17 months I’ve gone through even more relationship issues, cut myself off from my entire blood related family, watched my mother try to commit suicide and go in and out of mental health counseling, and then last October I got involved with the Weight Loss Surgery community online more intensely, and boy let me tell you, that alone is more of an emotional roller coaster than I am sometimes sure we even realize.  I’ve worked on a complete career change that has intimidated the heck out of me on levels that include being intimidated by “learning” for the first time in nearly 20 years, and for the last 7 months I’ve pretty much been home in my own environment for all of 7 days as I bounce from place to place dealing with the different crisis that life has handed me.

This is my 4th round of reconstructive plastic surgeries and I can think of a ton of other things I COULD do… another breast lift, an outer thigh lift to make them look better, butt implants so that I could actually have a butt instead of suffering from the “No Ass At All Syndrome” that my 360 Upper Body lift left me with, a face lift to get rid of the rooster chin I hate when I see from a certain angle… I could go on and on.

But the reality is, if I did, I would probably still always find something to be unhappy with when I look at my body in the mirror. People who love me ask me often, “Why can’t you see how amazing you look and how far you have come?” – I wish, I honestly do that I had the answer to that question. I think that I am working towards it. I am using the right tools, talking to the right people and getting a little bit of help from some mental health professionals when it comes to trying to address my body image issues.

What I can say, is that it isn’t that I don’t realize how good I look. I see the progress. I see how much better I look now than I did when I had all that skin hanging off me. But I see my flaws and my mind focuses on them more than it does the positive. I suffer from over compulsive disorder. For me personally it is very easy for me to look in the mirror and go “My right breast is larger than my left breast” and have it become something that consistently bothers me. It is very easy for me to look in the mirror and see my arms and say “My arms are asymmetrical,” and have it become something that I obsess over.  The next time I am standing in front of the mirror naked, instead of looking at the amazing flat stomach my surgeon gave me, or appreciating how there isn’t skin dangling from my forearms anymore, my eyes are instantly drawn to the flaws I see.

I can cover those flaws up and play the out of sight out of mine game. I can tell myself how great my breasts look in a bra and how the difference is hardly noticeable, I can wear clothes that highlight features I am happy with and draw attention away from ones I don’t like. How many times did you all see me add a shrug to a sleeveless dress to cover the arms I hated so much?

But covering my flaws wasn’t ever my goal. My goal was to be able to stand in front of the mirror buck ass naked, and not only like what I see, but have the confidence to know that if someone else was looking at me, they were going to like what they saw too. I mean we don’t talk about sex a lot in this community, but hey, let’s go there for a second…

I remember when I weighed 350 lb., hated the way my breasts sagged out of a bra and was so afraid of someone seeing me naked that I literally wore a t-shirt during sex. Sure you could touch me anywhere you wanted too, as long as it was covered up and the lights were out.  Then there was the me having sex after losing 260 lbs. Same thing, I wanted the lights out, I wanted to not be seen, and oh Gawd, I wanted the sound of skin to skin contact to be between me and my partner not me and my loose skin as I tried to move in a sexual rhythm to theirs.

So post reconstructive plastic surgery, what I wanted most, was a body that made me want to leave the lights on, that made me want to let someone look at me, that empowered me to feel sexy, to want to wear lingerie and feel confident in doing those things.

I can hear what several of you are thinking already, I’ve heard it said to me more than once…

“If someone loves you, these things won’t matter to them.”

“You have to love yourself despite your flaws and learn to be happy with who you are.”

“Nobody is perfect.”

“Everyone has one breast that is different from the other, your breasts are sisters not twins.”

“Everyone has a little asymmetry to their body, one side of our body is not a perfect clone of the other.”

“Nobody notices these little things but you.”

And you know what… those statements are all probably 100% true and accurate. But that doesn’t mean my brain can rationally accept them, or rationally apply them to my situation.

We talk often about how it takes awhile for our minds to catch up with our bodies where the weight loss is concerned. So many of us lose weight so quickly after weight loss surgery and we look in the mirror and we still see ourselves as “big” or “fat”. We talk about how we have this misconception that we are a lot bigger than we are, we see ourselves different from others see us.

I don’t think reconstructive plastic surgery is any different. I’ve done four very large-scale surgeries in a 17 month time frame and they haven’t been spaced very far apart. My first was 02-12, next was 08-12, next was 11-12 and then 07-13 — and after each surgery, we were already planning the next one.

The weight loss journey as a whole is an extremely emotional one. Whether we are in the pre-op phase, early post-op phase, the honeymoon phase, or the maintenance phase, there are always big emotions involved. I haven’t even reached my three-year surgiversary yet and I have gone through them all.

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There are times when I feel like perhaps I rushed forward too quickly. I had just reached Onederland at my one year surgiversary and weighed 195 lb. when my surgeon said I could go ahead and consult with a plastic surgeon because my honeymoon phase was over and I had lost the weight I was going to lose. Just four months and another 20 lb. later I was having my first round of reconstructive plastic surgery. Then it was nothing but cut, heal, cut, heal, travel, cut, heal, travel, cut. So I spent 16 months losing my weight, and 17 months doing reconstructive plastic surgery immediately after doing so.

If you asked me “Pandora, if you had to pick the part of your journey that you saw the most changes in your body, was it the weight loss or the reconstructive plastics part?” My answer would be by far, the reconstructive plastics part and because of that, for me personally, this last 17 months has been one of the most emotional roller coasters of my life.

Someone asked me not too long ago “So when does the knife get put down for good?” – my response was “Hopefully after this surgery.” – My IM box was flooded by people in our community that were concerned about me when talks about transfer addictions to plastic surgery began to surface right around the time that I announced I was having my final surgery. Some of my dearest friends were concerned that I’d just always keep cutting on myself because nothing would ever be good enough.

78e5937ba1ef644bfe671872cf388409My feelings on these things change daily right now. I am through with reconstructive plastic surgery. I can honestly say, I won’t be doing any more big surgeries. There are some minor touch ups that need to be addressed after my body is done healing from this last surgery, that is completely normal. I will do those. But I am done enduring this sort of pain. I am done being out of commission from exercise; my major coping skill. I am done being cut in 3-4 directions or 8 different locations at a time and I am ready to close this chapter of my life and move on to the next one.

Since I haven’t begun but an outline of that chapter, I am not sure what all it entails just yet, but I do know for sure, that it doesn’t include any more rest and recovery days unless they come in the form of two days off of a marathon training program.

The next chapter of my life involves moving on with my new career and making that my primary focus. The next chapter of my life involves figuring out how to stop letting my past taunt me in the mirror and detaching my associating with my abusers with my body, because really, the Pandora that abused her body because everyone else always had is someone I left behind a long time ago, and now that I realize that is what I am doing to myself mentally each time I look in the mirror and search for my flaws I realize that emotionally I am letting them win again, and that is something I promised myself I would never do. The next chapter of my life includes some very serious and very deep cognitive work, which I can’t honestly promise I will be sharing and I will be talking more about this in the weeks and months to come.

We have a lot to talk about my friends, I have a lot of things to process with through with you now that I can sit and write comfortably so stay tuned lot’s more to come.

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My Body Issues vs My Support System Them Zero Us One

I sit here with tears in my eyes still. Though I suppose it is better because they are a mixture of a bunch of emotions instead of the overwhelming sense of despair that I was filled with this morning.

You’d think after three sessions of Plastic Surgery I’d be more prepared for what this part of the journey offers me. False. It throws me curve balls constantly. Try having consults with 4 different surgeons and getting 4 different opinions with 4 different prices. Confusion? Trust me a blog on this and how emotionally unstable I feel sorting through the emotions associated with it are coming, but not today, today we are going to be talking about body image.

I hate my body. This is my problem first and foremost. In my mind, I want to look like that girl I always wanted to be and could not be because size held me back. You know how when we are big we joke about the “skinny girl locked inside us.” Well for ME, that skinny girl had a face, a body and I knew what she looked like. And guess what. I don’t look a damn thing like her now that I am slender and it just pisses me right the freak off. True story. 

I associate the skin on my body with something terrible that happened to me. I was sexually abused by my step grandfather at the age of four and it went on until my Grandmother passed away when I was eight. I had a family that was emotionally, mentally and verbally abusive. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and I wasn’t allowed to socialize with other kids much outside of school, I became a loner and food became my friend. I was chubby by the sixth grade and for the rest of my life I was the morbidly obese fat girl who was nearly invisible to the world and that very few people thought were worthy of their time and attention. Food stayed my friend, my addiction, my everything and it was a self sabotaging relationship that I felt was completely out of my control and I blamed it, 100% on the abuse I had endured through my life. I was malignantly obese because everyone else had hurt me so much that I hid behind my weight and had a relationship with food. But then I decided to take control back, to take my life back you know why? Because if I followed my line of thinking, I was now 430 lb., couldn’t wipe my own ass to go to the bathroom and was killing myself with a fork and spoon. I was miserable, because I had allowed what they did to me to push me to this miserable existence and you know what FLIP THEM. I won’t let them kill me, I can change this. I lost 260 lb. Then I looked in the mirror and what I saw looking back at me was “Ha Ha, you thought you won didn’t you, but really, you didn’t, I’m still here to remind you that you’ll always be that little abused girl who is somehow broken by what was done to you and no matter how hard you try you cannot get away from that.” – It’s a sad and mentally damaging thing to hear in your head when you look in the mirror, the people who abused you, laughing at you, but that is what I heard. True Story.

This is part of what drove me to exercise and part of why I love it. Because through exercise I feel like I can fight back. Let me throw some kicks, some punches, get out some anger towards those people who pushed me into a life of obesity with their abuse. It was a brand new outlet for my anger and I loved it. The first time my own personal Trainer Suzie Hamann put a punching bag in front of me I felt like I had just received one of the best mental health sessions of my life.

Today I sat here, asking myself what I needed to do to improve my mental head space on this skin issue, because I can’t fall apart and have a mental break down every time I get bad news from a plastic surgeon as I attempt to try to pick which one I want to use and figure out which one I can actually afford. And while I am ashamed to admit it… I was talking to my dear friend fellow WLS and reconstructive plastics patient Laura Van Tuyl, and I said, “I think this morning was the last time I have in me of breaking down and crying over it when it’s not the result I need. I think it’s time for me to stop chasing a dream I know I can’t get to right now and go home and salvage what my be left of my graphics design business.” Laura’s reaction was to ask me why I was considering this, and after hearing what I had to say, ended with this thought “Don’t doubt in the darkness (or the moment) what has been shown to you in the light (of discovery and wisdom).”

I left it at that, there was nothing else left for me to say, I don’t like being in this place mentally and today, for the first time in my entire journey, it had pushed me to a place where I just wasn’t sure I could go forward. I sat in my Godfather’s backyard for an hour crying and trying to catch my breath.

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 10.19.58 PMI made a video trying to explain what I was feeling to this community because I’m not sure anyone gets it, heck I am not even sure if I get it yet… and then I looked down and my phone was ringing, I didn’t answer right away, I needed a moment or two to compose myself, so I let it go to voice mail.

The call was coming in from Bobby Whisnand, a Personal Trainer that I met at the OAC Convention in Dallas who has sort of taken me under his wing a little and has been helping me pursue my dream of becoming a trainer. A former Copper Institute Graduate, Bobby was part of my decision to attend the CI Course, he was also, the one that supported me and told me to go when I second guessed myself and whether I should attend the course back in April or wait until June as I had originally planned. I’m a huge fan of Bobby’s “It’s All Heart,” Program, not just because I am a fan of Bobby and everything he has done for me, but because it is the first program I have seen that I truly believe is centered around making sure EVERYONE can exercise, no matter what level of fitness they are starting at, and understands some of the physical limitations that morbidly obese people face. It is also to my knowledge the first program out there that actually has section included on Bariatric Nutrition. I could go on, but trust me I’ll be talking about It’s All Heart a lot when it comes out; the point here is the program is amazing, but Bobby Whisnand, the man behind it, is even more amazing.

The first thing Bobby said to me was ‘Pandora I want to tell you something and I want you to hear me out.” Which was exactly what I needed right then because I could hardly talk without sobbing. I listened as Bobby explained to me in great detail, how much he personally believes in me and in what I want to do, and be, and how much he is willing to help me get there. I wish I could tell you word for word what Bobby said, but honestly my head was spinning. What he said specifically isn’t as important as the message though, it was very clear to me after the call from Bobby, that whatever doubt I was having about where I am and where I am going, need to be gone. That is the one solid thing I have right now. I may never be ok with my body and what I see in the mirror, that is something I have to figure out for me and a very difficult part of my weight loss journey. But I do need to separate that from my future as a personal trainer, because I know that the only person doubting whether I can be a trainer or not because of how my arms look is me, and I’m not doubting my ability, I’m doubting my self-confidence.

I do not know how it is that I have been so blessed that on the days when I have fallen, and I mean fallen hard, on the days that I am so close to giving up, throwing in the towel and curling into a ball and screaming “you win, you win” to those nasty little body image demons that haunt me so much, I have the most amazing mentors in the world to reach out to me, take my hand and pull me through the darkness back into the light.

This excess skin, body image issues and my mistake of associating my body image with something unhealthy is a battle for me, I am fighting it hard, and I’ve had the blessing of having some amazing people there to pick me up and help make sure I “fall without failing” – people like Chris Powell, Heidi Powell, Bobby Whisnand, and some of the women in this community, I am a very lucky to have such an amazing support system filled with people who somehow know just when they need to reach out a hand to me.

As sad as this is, as I sat outside crying over this today, there was a moment where I felt sorry for myself and the thought entered my head that maybe I believed in my potential far too much, I mean what qualifies me to become personal trainer, I don’t have a normal BMI, I’m scared to take the test because I don’t believe I know it and I don’t think I have studied enough, I’m not a YouTube Superstar or a Marathon Runner, and then I looked down and there was Bobby Whisnand calling me. Alright Universe, I’ve heard the message.

I don’t know what lies ahead with this reconstructive surgery thing. I have a couple good ideas of where I am going, and right now, I think that includes right back to my own surgeon for an honest one on one about how confused I am right now. But what I do know, is that I am going to Dallas for a month where I am devoting 100% of my time to studying for my test, working with Bobby, and making sure that I utilize all the tools I can to pass this test, because what I want more than anything is to be a personal trainer and help others in their weight loss journeys. The excess skin and the surgeries to correct that might come before, during or after, but like my Father used to say, I will cross that bridge as I come to it. The next part of my journey is a month in June in Dallas focused on my future, and who knows, maybe when I am back in Texas, the rest will work itself out, my journey has a way of putting me in the right place at the right time and when I started second guessing this trip my mind was changed fast.

Next stop Dallas, next goal PT Certification, everything else I turn over to fate, destiny and whoever out there I am so blessed to have watching over me. This is my fist victory over my body image issues, it’s a small one, but I’m claiming it. My body image issues vs my Support System. Them zero, us, one.

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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