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Accepting The Perfectly Imperfect Me

slenderThe concept of being your “perfectly imperfect” self was first introduced to me by one of my heroes Heidi Powell. [ You can read her original article: I am (still) Perfect here]

One of the biggest things I have struggled with post-weight loss is body image issues. The picture to the right is one of my favorite photos of myself. I feel like I look fierce, strong, happy and proud of what I have accomplished. But there are days I don’t feel like any of those things.

At my darkest moment, I was having a nervous breakdown after reconstructive plastic surgery #4 in Dallas, Texas when things still were not looking perfect and the numbers on the scale were reflecting my swollen body weight and not the numbers I was used to seeing in weight maintenance.

It took Chris Powell telling me to get off the scale for me to stop obsessing and start trying to get back to me again. [ See related Facebook post here: July 22, 2013 ]

The truth is the hardest thing you will ever tell someone. The truth is really scary. It makes you vulnerable, because once you put it out there, no mater what anyone has to say, it is your truth.

But the truth is what I have promised you from the very beginning. So the truth is, there are still things that I don’t love about my body. There are still flaws that I pick out and can beat myself up emotionally over.

The excess skin on my hips and lower buttocks area still causes me skin and rash irritations.

The skin that hangs right above my bra line and pooches out over my tank top dives me insane. It makes me super self-conscious about wearing tank tops in public. But I force myself to do it because it’s a fear of something that I know is really only noticeable to people who are looking for it. Though I just told you all where to find it. So that ends that.

My arms still bother me. Two brachioplasty surgeries and two touch up surgeries later, I still dislike my arms. They just don’t look right and that little indentation that they keep telling me is a genetic traits that is unrelated to obesity or weight loss, absolutely drives me nuts. Every time I look at my arm I see a little fat roll. This makes me really self-conscious about wearing tank tops. But I force myself to do it as part of my acceptance of my imperfect body.

Shorts are an entirely different manner.  The skin I see hanging off my thighs if I do a plank in front of one of my group training sessions in the gym is so embarrassing to me that I refuse to wear anything but capri pants unless it’s cool enough outside to wear pantyhose underneath to help shape them and hold the skin in place.

My hair is never quite the way I want it. Coloring it myself rarely comes out the way I intended. But who the heck can afford paying a stylist constantly these days? If I can’t do it myself it’s not achievable.

My eyebrows, no matter how well-groomed I keep them do this wonky thing when I’ve rubbed my face nervously.

My boobs look great in a bra. Outside of one and naked in front of the mirror I obsess over how slightly differently my nipples were placed and how I can see the ripple in one of the implants. These I am told were normal things to expect after getting implants. I’m still not 100% convinced I made the right decision on that. Lord knows after being told at a weight loss surgery convention that one of the main reasons a group of women disliked me was because I was too skinny and my boobs were too big, I really second guessed that decision. [ Read related article here: The Teeter Totter of Weight Bias ]

My stomach still has more skin than I think it should have after three different abdominal surgeries to fix it. I’m sure I have defined abdominal muscles under there, somewhere.

There are areas of my body right under my arms and along the sides of my breasts where the skin is so damaged from obesity that I get these little pockets in the skin that if I’m not watching carefully can get infected. I truly believe that we need to work on getting doctors and insurance companies to realize that the disease of obesity damages the skin and that removing that damaged skin is a part of treating the disease.

My feet are funky. I think I have a hammertoe or something. My little baby toe is pretty much deformed. Even the people at the nail salon snicker at its appearance when I get a pedicure.

When I lay on my back on a bench doing a chest press I have weird excess skin on my back right around my shoulder blades where my muscles move. Dislike.

On any given day, I can look at all of these things in the mirror and I can fixate on and pick myself apart over how something should have looked had I never weighed 420 lbs.

I try hard not to do that. I try to accept that weighing 420 lbs. was part of my story. It is part of what makes me a good weight loss coach, it is part of what makes me good at helping other people fight obesity. It’s all part of who I am, part of the imperfect life that led me to being the perfectly imperfect version of myself that I am today.

Who knows where I would be if my story had been different? Each one of us has a past; we can either allow that past to haunt us or we can decide to define our future. My story has brought me to where I am today. To a career that feeds my passion to help other’s fight obesity and find the fun and potential emotional outlet in fitness as a Weight Loss and Wellness Coach and Fitness Instructor.

During one of my major moments of  body image issues, at time where I was upset that my body wasn’t perfect, a woman who I admire greatly asked me if I wanted to be an example of what most of my clients could never achieve, or if I wanted to be an example of what is attainable. This message hit home for me.

Each time that I catch myself standing in front of the mirror picking myself a part I remind myself that I am an example to my clients and my community of what can be achievable after 260 lbs. of weight loss. I am not perfect. Nobody is. But I am myself perfectly. I stay true to who I am and I am an example of my own story. That, my friends, makes me perfect at being my imperfect self. That make me perfectly imperfect.

Learning to accept your flaws and loving yourself in spite of them, and muting those internal negative voices that put your emotional well-being in jeopardy is an integral part of your weight loss journey. If you don’t learn to do that and love yourself success will exponentially be more difficult

So what is my biggest tip for battling the barriers of body image issue that can sometimes present themselves in my life after weight loss? In some of my worst moments, when my body image issues are getting the best of me and my internal voices are being unkind when I look in the mirror, I pull out some old pictures. I look back at the photos of when I actually weighed 420 lbs and would have given anything to lose the weight. I look back and the photos of all the skin that hung on my body afterward and remind myself how miserable I was and how good of a job my surgeons did with what they had to work with.

I stop and remind myself that while what I wanted was to have the body of a porn star, that wasn’t a realistic expectation.  Given my story, where I have been and what I have done, the body I have today, though imperfect for all the reasons I mentioned above, is still my body. I eat healthy, I work out on a regular basis and I do the best I can at making my body a reflection of who I am today.

Never let anyone including yourself fool you. Losing all that extra weight won’t make life perfect and it won’t make you perfect. Losing the weight is the big physical part of the journey but the emotional part just begins there.  From there you’ll face issues like regain, battling with the numbers you see on the scale, how you handle life without food as form of comfort and maybe the biggest of all, the body image issues that surface when you realize what your body should have or would have looked like had you never been affected by obesity.

From there, it is time to appreciate the journey. Be proud of what you have accomplished and understand that you’re exactly where you are supposed to be in your journey right now. Don’t focus on should, could or would, focus on being your imperfect self and understand that you are perfectly imperfect and that my friends, is exactly what we should be.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies, a Motivational Speaker and Exercise Instructor at a women’s only fitness facility in Wilmington North Carolina.

Poo Pee Your Genitals and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery

Being a WLS Reconstructive Plastic Surgery Patient myself, there are a few things that I have learned in the last 17 months that I REALLY wish people had told me and taught me about before hand. Let me just say, this isn’t the sort of information that I could have found on the internet, it isn’t for the faint of heart, and if my talking about body functions, defecation, or the change in location of genitalia is something that would bother you… do us both a favor and stop here and spare me the rude comments later. There are several people who will thank me some day for the fact that this article exists.

33819573First let’s talk about poo: Why not?  We talk about it post bariatric surgery all the time.  How often, what color, the consistency, the smell, yadda yadda…its like we are all first time parents talking about our children! (My BFF/Sister has had two kids now, I have seen this stage of Parenthood from the sidelines.)  Well let me just say first and foremost, when they tell you to start taking stool softeners after surgery, don’t screw around about it. Take the stool softeners whether you think you will need them or not. I promise you will be glad you did.

So let me tell you what happened to me…  Remember this is MY story, it might not happen to everyone.

My doctors tend to put me on oxycodone and valium post operative reconstructive plastic surgery because I am a baby and a wimp when it comes to pain. I also tend to have a lot of swelling issues and my body likes to hang on to fluid, so I almost always end up taking a diuretic to help with that, some sort of water pill. Water pills tend to make you shed water and often times you can end up dehydrated if you aren’t drinking enough. Do you know where this leads you my dear Slender Seekers? It leads you to sitting on the toilet, praying to the porcelain god that you could just push that big rock you feel inside you out.  I’m not sure anyone that hasn’t had abdominal surgery will quite understand the gravity of this (I’ve been reassured by my BFF/Sister that very pregnant women understand), but really try it while you are sitting there and you don’t have to go sometime. Just push like you do, see what muscles you use. Then imagine having an incision that goes all the way around your bikini line, a Fleur de Lis incision like mine that goes from hip to hip across your bikini line and up the middle of your stomach, or any sort of abdominal incision at all… really can you say ouch? I sure as heck did, many, many, many, times. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the ability to take a poop would be such a painfully traumatic experience.  Oh but it was!

Now fast forward a few days, you’ve had this problem for a good solid 4-5 days now. And let me tell you that good and solid are not words I use lightly here because guess what folks that is exactly what it felt like inside me. It was this abundant feeling of “Holy crap, if I could just get some out of there and break the seal I’d be okay and I think the rest would just do it’s thing.” – by this point, I’m taking stool softeners, drinking Milk of Magnesia, heck I’ve started taking a “Gentle Laxative” – So let me say right now, being full of shit hurts. You can quote me on this one. It’s not a fun or pleasant experience. At a certain point you just realize how bad the situation is and it occurs to you that one of two things has to happen… either you have to find a way to go or you have to go to the doctor so that they can help you go. Do yourself a favor, Google “Impacted Bowels” and see that the usual treatment is if you go to the hospital for this problem. When I tell you that you want to have someone who you know loves you and that you are comfortable with taking care of you after reconstructive plastic surgery after WLS –  I am NOT kidding.

There have been times that I have needed help getting dressed, feeding myself, drinking, taking medicine, getting up and down, going potty, when we did my arms… which I did twice by the way. There were times I had to sit there on the potty and shout “All done,” and wait for someone to come wipe my bum like I was my three-year old nephew being potty trained. My arms just hurt too bad to move that way.

But there was a moment… where despite the pain, when I realized that I literally had so much poop stuck inside me that it wasn’t coming out on its own no matter what I took or did and that my possible options where to go to a doctor and get their help getting it out, the words that came out of my mouth when I looked at the person so lovingly taking care of me was “I need a rubber glove, a ziplock bag, and I need you to get the hell out of this bathroom until I call you back in.”  – I won’t go into specifics that will gross you out. There is no need to. I am sure you all understand first and foremost how painful it must be to move your body in that manner after having abdominal surgery and a brachioplasty at the same time… which I have done not once, but twice now. I don’t recommend that combination if you are wondering. I also highly recommend you ask the doctor about starting stool softeners pre-op rather than post op as a little bit of a preventative maintenance thing so that hopefully you don’t end up quite as traumatized as I did.

Let me also say, this wasn’t a one time experience in my post reconstructive plastic journey, but it is an experience that I seriously freaking hope I never have to go through again, so if I can spare you a little humiliation, embarrassment and discomfort by sharing it with you… I’ve done my good deed for the day.

images-2Now let’s talk about genital relocation: (I may just need this shirt from Zazzle.com featured to the left after writing this article.) This is not something I experienced after my first three surgeries to be quite honest. The only thing I really noticed in regard to my genitals after my first three surgeries was that I could see the pubic area of my body a bit and it seemed to change things for me sexually, like I had some issues with things not feeling quite the same as before. ( We’ll talk about that another day ) – Never before did it seem like my entire vagina had been moved and suddenly worked differently. Oh but this last surgery was different!

Let me say that my AMAZING surgeon, took great care to make sure that even though it wasn’t on my to do list, he made sure the excess skin I had in my mons area was addressed during this surgery. He took great care to measure from the very tippy top of the opening of my vaginal lips all the way to my belly button and make sure that the distance there was anatomically correct and that there was no more loose skin in that area of my body when we were done. This was something he did for me on his own to help make sure that I got the sort of body I was looking for post surgery and one of the few reasons that Dr. Yaker is so damn amazing at what he does.

Let me say first off, that I am three weeks out right now and my mons area is still one of the most tender areas of my body currently, probably coming in third with my arms and breasts being the top two. If you were at the WLSFA Event in May and you got to hear Carnie Wilson speak about her experience after reconstructive plastic surgery, you’ll get a good laugh at this. As I sat there and listened to her tell a story very similar to this I thought to myself “What is she talking about that didn’t happen to me at all.” – Oh boy did it happen to me this time.

I never knew that is where my va-jay-jay was supposed to be! And when you put it there it changed my pee stream by a lot! I can pee standing up in the shower now and have it propel forward and not dribble down the insides of my legs. The other day, I was sitting on the toilet going potty, and had the most unfortunate experience of coughing. ( Thank you to my niece and nephew for being little germ monkeys and giving me a cold during my recovery. ) As I coughed, the stream that was already hitting the front part of the toilet bowl more than normal, shot upward, went through the crack of the toilet and the toilet seat, and landed in a puddle on the floor in front of me. I sort of tilted my head to the side, looked at it in wonderment and then thought “wow, that’s a bit different.”

Trust me when I google “Genitalia Post Reconstructive Plastic Surgery after Massive Weight Loss” or “Your Genitalia and you Post Excess Skin Removal” I don’t come up with anything that would have helped me prepare myself for this strange moment. Mainly I find a list of Surgeons doing Skin Removal surgery – and talk about what different surgical options are out there and which ones address the genital area. But nothing that is like “Hey guess what things change down under when you lift them up and over!” Just sayin’.

We’ve talked about the pain with excess skin removal surgery. We’ve talked about the emotions involved in reconstructive plastics surgery and we’ve talked about poop, pee and genital relocation. What’s next? Well moving your genitals around and having them re-arranged doesn’t just change how you pee it changes a few other things too. But that my dear Slender Seekers is a topic for another day.

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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