Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The late bloomer

In early November, one of our rose bushes decided to produce one last perfect rosebud before nodding off into its long winter sleep. You couldn’t miss that rose: a bright coral spot in the otherwise dull brown and grey garden remnants. I cut the rose, brought it inside, and put it in a bud vase on the counter of the bathroom I use the most, so I could enjoy it every time I went into the room (which, with my small capacity bladder, is at least 500 times a day). I positioned the vase so that the rose would be looking at me whenever I entered the room. Later that day, I went off to work and forgot about the rose until I came home six hours later.

Of course I saw the rose as soon as I walked into the bathroom, but it wasn’t facing me as I had left it. It had turned its lovely head towards the mirror, so it could admire itself. I could swear I heard the rose talking to its reflection. This is what it said:

“Oh my! Aren’t you a lovely girl? I’ve never before seen such a pretty face, and your color! You are just stunning! And I can tell that you are beautiful through and through; I can see your soul shining in those coral petals; I can see your spirit supporting that slender stem, and just a few thorns to remind everyone that you deserve respect. It’s a delight to meet you. I hope you won’t mind if I stare at you a while and drink in your loveliness. Is that okay with you? Oh, good. You are as kind as you are beautiful.”

Clearly, self-esteem was not an issue for that girl.

And why would it be, you ask? She’s a rose…to paraphrase the Bible, she toils not, nor does she spin. In fact, she’s awfully self-centered, mooning over her reflection in Jean’s bathroom mirror. She’s not like me – she’s young and fresh and perfect, while I am old and tired and wrinkled and fat.

That’s an easy conclusion to make, but it’s not correct. You have judged both the rose and yourself wrongly, and here’s why.

Rose was a late bloomer. While she worked for weeks to grow from a glimmer in God’s eye into a tight little bud, while her bigger, showier sisters burst into bloom and, being incorrigible show-offs, made sure to taunt little Rose. They called her names: immature, ignorant, slow, stupid…well, I’m sure you can imagine how that went. But Rose persisted. She was determined to bloom before the first frost, to prove her sisters wrong. She knew it would be slow and difficult, but it was her last chance. The brevity of a rose’s life was obvious to her as her older sisters shed their limp, brown-edged petals and dried into sad, hard rose hips. It would have been wonderful to prove them wrong before they died, but Rose knew she must fulfill her fate whether or not she had an audience. She was going to be a glorious rose just for herself.

And she did become a glorious rose. She achieved her goal, brightened my life and even as her life expectancy shrank from weeks to days to hours, she gazed in the mirror and said, “Oh my! Aren’t you a lovely girl?”

Thanksgiving Dinner "Full"

The Thanksgiving theme is especially appropriate subject matter for this newsletter, not just because of the practice of giving thanks but because of the ritual overfeeding of Thanksgiving celebrants. It is an excellent allegory for the concept of satiety, in ways both physical and spiritual.
I often say that my pre-op idea of satiety was “Thanksgiving Dinner Full”. Because I loved food and the experience of eating (the physical aspects) and because I was trying to fill a bottomless hole inside me (the spiritual aspect), every meal consisted of huge portions with second and third helpings – so much food that I was over stuffed. I would have to stop eating not because I was satisfied but because I was so uncomfortable. As soon as the pressure and bloating in my abdomen eased up, I was ready for more food, not because I was physically hungry (in the way I know it now) but because eating was my default activity. My mom used to say that cats’ default behavior was bathing: “When in doubt, take a bath”. Mine was: “When in doubt, eat.”
I think a lot of WLS patients have eaten that way as pre-ops and, like me, struggle to identify and accept their post-op experience of satiety. They say things like, “I never feel full,” when actually, feeling full is not a sign of satiety. Satiety is feeling that you have eaten enough food, no more, no less. Enough is not the amount that makes you happy. It’s the amount that ends your physical hunger pangs. It takes a long time to retrain your conscious mind to recognize satiety and heed it. If you don’t recognize it or don’t heed it, and go on overeating in your attempt to reach your pre-op “fullness”, your overeating can cause a lot of damage, not just to your weight loss but by dilating your esophagus and/or stomach and possibly by putting so much pressure on your band that it slips out of place.
That’s why I keep harping on the importance of weighing and measuring your food before you eat it. I know plenty of bandsters who have never done that, have lost their excess weight, and haven’t had any complications, so I can’t say that weighing and measuring is a guarantee of weight loss success and prevention of complications. But I do know that mindfulness during food preparation and at mealtime is crucial for teaching yourself a new way of eating. Your old way of eating is one of the things that made you so obese that you needed WLS, so it’s time to bid it farewell.