18 Months and Counting (A Post-Surgery Progress Report)

A Post-Surgical Progress Report

They say that time flies ever more quickly the older that you get. Even knowing this, I was still startled to look at my calendar and discover that this week will be the 18-month anniversary of my Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy. It is tough to believe that I am already a year and a half out from that amazing life-changing decision.

The changes are still overwhelming: everything from my waistline to my plate size has shrunk. Meanwhile, my stamina, physical activity, and interest in life all have grown by leaps and bounds. I hear on a weekly basis how I am “not the same person” that I was two years ago, and I can only nod in agreement. The version of me that sat around the house exclusively eating and gaming is no longer a part of my life.

The Tech Support Trap

Now, I (still) spend quite a bit of time online, mainly following up on interactions with those who are either considering or struggling with bariatric surgery. And I am noticing a trend towards “horror stories” – people reporting all the terrible things that happened to them as a result of bariatric surgery.

Let me say upfront: bariatric surgery is a scary thing. Things can (and sometimes do) go wrong. It is not a shortcut to weight loss by any means. It is a last-ditch, dramatic solution to chronic obesity.

But, it also must be said: it also is not automatically a disaster waiting to happen. As someone who used to work in tech support, I can tell you this: the vast majority of people posting on forums and in chat rooms are those that something went wrong for. When things work, we rarely feel a need to draw attention to them.

So, allow me to shed a little light on what happens when bariatric surgery goes right.

Shiny, Happy Patient

My personal experience with surgery was almost unblemished. (Other than that unfortunate incident of trying to eat sourdough immediately post-surgery.) I obeyed my nutritional guidelines, paid attention to my surgical team, and embraced my new pre-and post-surgical diet. After all, I figured, I was getting ready to have 3/4 of a major organ lopped off…no point in going forward with that if I wasn’t willing to make all the attendant changes that went along with it, right?

And it worked! Waiting in the pre-surgical area, my surgeon, Dr. Tyner, did not recognize me thanks to the weight loss I had already experienced thanks to the pre-surgical diet. (I had already dropped from 302 pounds to 248 pounds pre-surgery.) The weight loss after the surgery was consistent, and I actually beat my personal goal of weighing less than 200 pounds. By August of 2017, I had lost all the way to 175 pounds: nearly 130 pounds of weight loss.

Not only did I lose weight, but there were other, less visible results. I was able to head back to the gym. We began hiking at least once a week, sometimes more. We walked/ran in the Albuquerque “Run For The Zoo” 5K in May of 2017 – an actual “bucket list” item of mine for decades.

For every negative associated with the surgery (loose skin, yuck!), there has been at least one positive (a 34-inch waistline, like I had in my 20s!) And there have been several positives with no negative whatsoever: for example,  I can now hike 8 miles. And not collapse for days afterward.  This from a guy who, only 2 years ago, could barely walk the dog four-tenths of a mile.

Tough to see the downside to that.

Regular Maintenance Pays Off

So, coming up on two years out, this is where the shine is supposed to start coming off. Many patients complain about creeping weight gain returning at this point in their bariatric journey.

So, just to be sure, I checked this morning: I am currently at 176.3 pounds.

Let me run that by you again: for 6 months now, I have been within a pound or so of 175 pounds. Once a week, every week.

My secret?

Regular maintenance.

You see, this is also the point where many bariatric patients start investigating “When can I…?” As in, “When can I start drinking soft drinks again?” Or “When can I start eating Oreos and Girl Scout Cookies again?” Or, worse yet, “When can I stop working out all the time?”

See, that is the problem with bariatric surgery. Many folks don’t realize that there is no traditional recovery period from bariatric surgery. All the surgery does is “reset” your weight and metabolism so that you can NOW develop the habits you never did before.

If you are wondering about when you can start embracing negative habits again, the correct answer is: you can’t.

Not if you want to maintain your health and your weight loss, anyway.

I know people who have regained about half of the weight they lost after surgery. Because of this, many claim that surgery was a wasted effort for them.

Now, anything that allows you to lose half of your excess weight can’t be a bad thing, in my book. If you lost 100 pounds then regained 50, you’re still 50 pounds healthier by my calculations.

But I personally would rather maintain the lifestyle I learned pre- and post- surgery, and not have to deal with buyer’s remorse.

As the kids on the Internet like to say: Your Mileage May Vary.

A (Small) Example

Yesterday we got together with Lor’s family for a dinner and birthday party for my niece. As we all gathered at the dining room table, I had a chance to reflect on what our lifestyle changes meant.

For dinner, Lor and I spilt a 6-ounce steak. I also added an ounce or so of shredded beef, and 6 or 7 mushroom slices. Since I was feeling saucy, I even added a tablespoon of mashed potatoes in lieu of fresh corn on the cob.

My nephew, seated next to me, took one look at my plate, and asked: “Uncle, how can you live on that?”

I looked past him to the family portrait on my Mother-In-Law’s wall. Taken last Christmas, it featured Lor’s entire half of the family. Standing front and center in the group, I stood. Smiling.

The same person who, until 2 years ago, made every effort to avoid being photographed for any reason whatsoever.

How can I live on it? A heck of a lot better than I used to live on obesity and shame.

Bariatric surgery: it isn’t for everyone, but it sure as heck has done the job for me.

Though I Do Still Miss Girl Scout Cookies,

  • Jeremy

2017: The Recap

2018The Misdirected 2017 Recap

By the time you are reading this, it will be 2018.

I’m actually putting this together on New Year’s Eve, 2017, during the early morning hours while everyone else in the house is asleep. But, by the time it reaches the world, another year will have passed. Our household will be on our way to Colorado to return our nephew to his parents. And we’ll be staring down the throat of another oncoming year.

Why the negative imagery? Reflexive action, I suppose. We were SO happy to see 2016 in the rear-view mirror. “Wow, glad that’s over with! 2016 was such a lousy year. We will never see anything that bad again!”

2017: “Challenge Accepted.”

So, now, I want to be a little more circumspect. Yes, I am glad this year is over. Yes, 2017 was a pretty crap year for the general public residing in the USA. But, it was actually a decent year for our household, all things considered.

The Good…

In terms of fitness, it was really a banner year.

Our fitness journey continued from 2016’s double-barrelled bariatric surgeries. In May of 2017, I actually hit my post-surgical goal weight of 185 pounds. That same month, Lor and I participated in our first ever 5K, the Albuquerque “Run For The Zoo”.

By July, I had settled in at what is apparently my new “normal” weight – 175 pounds. I was able to go into my one-year follow up at this weight, and at 25% body fat to boot. I’ve successfully lost just a hair under 130 pounds total, thanks to the combination of surgery and lifestyle changes.

July also brought me my exam for the ACE Fitness Physical Trainer certification. I have never been prouder of a “C” passing grade in my life. Since my development of Adult-Onset Epilepsy in 2004, I had pretty much resigned myself to never being able to learn anything long-term again. That professional certification means the world to me.

I was also able to meet another long-term personal goal: In September, my first novel, Inheritance, was published by Fiction Vortex. I literally have placed the novel on a shelf above my desk, just above eye level. Not as an ego-prop, mind you. (Though it certainly works for that.) Mainly it reminds me that I can do things that I had never thought were possible for someone with my disabilities.

Just to top off the year, we were able to re-enter foster care in November. We didn’t expect it and had made no plans for it. But, when a previous foster kid calls out of the blue and asks for help, you do your best to pitch in. We did, and now have a seventeen-year-old girl in our household. She is wild and unsettled and drives me crazy and I love her to death.

Other parents inform me that this is just about par for the course for raising a seventeen-year-old.

…The Bad…

Yikes, where to begin. Our country still reels from crisis to crisis like a drunken monkey. Racism and factionalism have been released to begin openly taking a place among us again. Our national governmental processes were screwed with at the highest level by a hostile foreign nation. Hundreds of our fellow citizens are being gunned down in the streets by both private individuals and bad-apple law enforcement officers.

Yet, we still manage to pay attention to the Kardashians as if they were somehow of equal importance to all this.

Personally, our families are aging and ailing. We buried family members and watched others continue wasting away. The immortal titans of our childhood were revealed to be mortal, and fragile. The very bedrock that our families are built upon seems to be shifting and eroding.

And, as a bitter topping for the crap-cake, freakin’ Tom Petty died.

…And, The Ugly.

For a year filled with success, there were sure a bunch of failures to go right along with them.

We were supposed to actually run a 5K before the end of the year. Never happened.

I wanted to tackle the La Luz trail up the front of Sandia Crest this summer. It was to be my demonstration of my personal victory over the limitations of obesity and epilepsy. Except it never happened, either.

For that matter, we never managed to go camping even ONCE in 2017. Mainly this had to do with my work with Fiction Vortex. But this does not represent any malice on their part – it just represents my inability to plan.

And NaNoWriMo was probably the biggest single artistic failure I have ever undertaken. Not only was I unable to complete the goal, but it left me so emotionally tapped out that I lay mostly fallow for the entire month of December. No fiction, no blog posts, no marketing, barely any contract work and editing. Very little contact with the outside world, in fact.

Basically, I lost two months of productivity by trying to write an entire novel in one.

So, yeah. There was that.

The Shining Goals of 2018

I have no desire to jinx us all by talking about how 2018 has to be better than 2017 or anything like that.

That said, I do have some intentions and goals for 2018.

Misdirected will continue on its merry way for 2018. Now nearing 2 years out from surgery, we will be focusing more and more on lifestyle and diet maintenance, social and emotional issues, and other community-specific thoughts. Given that I am now a Personal Trainer we will probably include some exercise-based content.

The rest of my Fiction Vortex team will be finishing up their Season One novels in February and March of 2018. I am looking forward to getting those novels published and into the hands of our readers. And just wait till you see what Season TWO has in store…

Speaking of Fiction Vortex, Fictionite has launched and is gaining traction as we speak. I am pretty excited to be acting as an ambassador for our awesome fiction-sharing app. (Starting at the Albuquerque Comic Con, January 12 – 14, 2018.)

I am going to get my Patreon site out of Neutral and moving forward once more. My patrons have been essential in making sure that I am able to create blog content, market books, etc. Imagine what we will be able to do with, say, double the amount of patronage…

And, of course, I will be completing the next book in the Brian Drake series in 2018. In fact, the first episode of Inheritance: Executor will be arriving on Fictionite in March of 2018.

You’d better go download Fictionite now, in fact. You’ve got a lot to read through to get ready for Season Two of Ash Falls.

Have A Safe, Happy, And Blessed 2018,

-Jeremy

 

Fighting Off The Food Coma

Fighting Off The Food Coma

The time has come, the season has arrived: The Holidays are here. And along with the family gatherings, football games, and presents will come a whole lot of opportunities to do Bad Things to your diet and your physique.

How bad? Well, the average person will gain 3 to 7 pounds over the 40-day period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Do that ten years in a row, and congratulations: you’ve added around 50 pounds of body mass from holiday eating alone. Never mind aging, injury, or other dietary hiccups that might arise.

So, yeah – this presents a problem.

What are you going to do about it?

Watch Your Drinks

If you want to help yourself avoid the potential for damage, first give yourself the ability to succeed. The great majority of the caloric damage at these gatherings doesn’t come from stuffing or Pineapple-Upside-Down Cake.

No, the majority of the empty calories will come from what you drink.

Think about it: how many Cokes will you consume over the course of a holiday gathering? Because each and every one will set you back 140 calories. Worse yet, that 140 calories has ZERO nutritional value to you. No vitamins, no minerals, no protein. Nothing but processed sugar that will go straight to the “Store me as fat, please” list.

Beer isn’t much better. A can of the most popular “Light” beer, Bud Light, works out to 110 calories. Only a few less than a Coke. And the problem with beer is simple: the alcohol impairs your judgement. The more beers you have, the more you think it is OK to have. You could get yourself outside of a six-pack of beer (and the accompanying 660 calories) before you even meet the temptations around the dinner table.

Stick to water, if you can. If not, coffee or unsweetened tea are OK as well. But give yourself the opportunity to succeed. Because you haven’t even gotten to the hard stuff yet.

Rein In The Impulses

I know what you are thinking. “But Jeremy,” you say, “everything is soooo good during the holidays. How can I resist it all?”

Simple. You can’t.

The theoretical person exists that can surround themselves with holiday goodies and not indulge. In the same sense that theoretical alien life exists: it may be out there somewhere, but in the meantime just hand me another slice of that double-chocolate Pecan Pie.

So, if the cornucopia is too much to resist, don’t resist. Direct the flood that you can’t contain.

Instead, try everything in very small doses.

Do you really need a pound of everything on your plate? No, not really. Get a tablespoon-full, or a small slice, or a single item of whatever. Then, as you eat, focus on the folks around you. You probably only see them once or twice a year, right? Take a bite of your small serving of food “A”. Chew thoroughly. Put down your fork and turn to the person to your right and chat about whatever for a moment. Return to your plate. Take a bite of your small serving of food”B”. Chew thoroughly. Put down your fork and turn to the person on your left and chat for a moment.

Repeat this process until you’ve tried everything on your plate. Still hungry? Start around your plate a second time, this time focusing on the items you found particularly yummy.

By the time your stomach tells you “Stop! I’m full!”, you’ll have had a fraction of what everyone else around you did. And you’ll have had some valuable time catching up with friends and family members.

 

A Call To Action

No joke – this technique really works. The reason it works is because your stomach is slow to report to your brain about when it has reached capacity. If you start with a huge pile of food and rush through it, you will reach capacity and pass right through it and not know about it – until you are uncomfortably bloated and nodding off on the couch, wondering how you could have possibly eaten so much. Again. Just like last year.

So, just dodge that bullet. And give yourself some extra tools to use to fight the “Holiday Bloats.”

Another thing you can do to help out? Stay active.

Now, I am not inviting you and your family outside for some brisk snow-field volleyball. (Though if you live in Florida, or California – heck, why not?)  But, seriously, how much fun are you having sitting on the couch watching football? Listening to everyone’s digestive processes?

So, move around instead! Go grab some photo albums and look through them. Volunteer to wash the dishes. Play with the kids or the grand-kids. Even just wandering around the yard (if one is available), or throwing around a football (rather than watching one being thrown.)

Also, is this gathering taking place at Mom and Dad’s? Or Grandma and Grandpa’s? I will bet a significant amount that if this is taking place at the home of an older family member, there are some things lying around the place that could be done. Rake some leaves. Repair a squeaky door. Help organize a library, or a craft room, or a garage. Every minute you spend moving is a minute your body is using fuel, not adding it to long-term storage.

And if you can contribute to a family member at the same time, well: isn’t that what the holidays are all about, really?

Making The Holidays (Not) Count,

Jeremy

PS: I recently had the opportunity to create a guest blog post for the folks at Prairie Sage Wellness Center. Feel free to check it out here!

When The Cold Arrives

When The Cold Arrives

Right on schedule, Winter has shown up.

Oh, there are still leaves on some of the trees. Days here in Albuquerque are still getting up into the 60s. But the malaise that accompanies shorter days and lower temperatures is fully in effect.

The purists might say that it is still Autumn, Winter doesn’t start until December 21, etc. But we know it in our bones: Winter Isn’t Coming. Winter Is Here. November is no more Autumn than March is Winter.

Even our local homeless population are now all holding signs asking for money for bus tickets to Houston. Winter is no fun.

Winter: Obesity’s Secret Weapon

The big secret about Winter and physical fitness? They don’t go together.

Winter brings us our most celebrated gluttonous holidays, all within a 90-day span. Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Super Bowl are always used as excuses for over-eating. (And over-drinking, in the case of the SB.) At the same time, there is no useful offset to balance these binge-eating, diet-destroying occasions. Who eats two pounds of mashed potatoes and half a pecan pie then goes out and runs a few miles to work it off?

No one, that’s who.

Winter conspires against us, I tell you. Colder temperatures mean lower energy levels. Darker days mean a sense of malaise – energy-sucking black holes that park us on the couch huddled in a blanket binge-watching Stranger Things rather than doing anything active. And short days mean that we don’t have any time to go do anything anyway, even if we were so inclined.

So, we sit on the couch. We drink beer. Every once in a while we look out the window and shiver, then turn up the thermostat. And we shake our heads at those lycra-clad crazy people jogging or riding through our neighborhoods. Who the heck works out during this time of year?

Everyone who doesn’t want to arrive at March and burst into tears when nothing but sweats fit anymore, that’s who.

Turning The Volume Up (When The Thermometer Goes Down)

I will not go all Richard Simmons on you and proclaim that keeping fit during the winter is “fun.” It isn’t. You are fighting against your depressed metabolism, your body’s desire to conserve energy via fat storage (hibernation), and your own desire to stay warm.

So, when getting to the gym just seems like too much to bear, here are a few other things you can try.

YouTube: Did you know there are a TON of useful exercise resources on YouTube? There are weight-lifting routines. Body-weight resistance plans. Yoga and Aerobics and Tai-Chi galore. Many folks get worried about the expertise of those on YouTube, but the easiest way to locate something reputable is to dig into your favorite health/fitness magazine, find some articles that you like, then go looking for the author’s YouTube channel. That’s how I located B.J. Gaddour’s StreamFitTV, for example. If you can’t bear to leave the house, bring the gym to your living room.

AceFitness: Yes, I am an Ace Fitness Personal Trainer, and I am biased. But you can actually gain a ton of exercise advice (including demonstrations) for free from the Ace Fitness Exercise library. Need to learn how to do a plank? Check it out here. Need to tackle body-weight squats? Visit this page. Oh, have zero equipment in your house or apartment and want to use that as an excuse? Nope: ACE Fitness has 100+ exercises you can do without a single resistance band or dumbell.

The Step: Some of us are lucky enough to live in homes with stairs: multi-story homes, apartment buildings, etc. If you do, you can do a great aerobic routine just by doing stair interval training. However, if you don’t have a staircase handy, there is a secret weapon I will share with you: The simple aerobic step. Though pricing can go all the way up to well over $100, there are plenty available for less than the cost of a single month’s gym membership. (Here’s one for around $30, for example.) Park your step in front of your television. Step up and down for the duration of your favorite home remodeling show. Or travel show. Or reality show. You get the idea.

(Food Network not recommended.)

Dodging The Ice-Cold Missiles

Of course, lack of physical activity isn’t the only danger that accompanies wintertime. Illness and binge-eating tend to skyrocket over the turn of the year. What can we do to fight back?

Staying healthy during winter can be a major challenge. Every sniffle, cough, and sneeze brings instant paranoia about what malady might be invading. (Well, it makes ME paranoid at least.) During winter it is so important to take some common sense steps. Up your vitamin intake. Get a flu shot. Stay hydrated. Losing days or weeks of activity to illness will wreck your fitness just as surely as overdoing it at Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. Do everything you can to fight off microbial invaders. Be especially diligent at work – your unhealthy co-workers will be more than happy to contaminate you with their illnesses. I am a big believer in mega-doses of hand sanitizer while in places that are being regularly contacted by less diligent human beings.

Avoiding binge eating can be a trial to any of us. All the best stuff gets trotted out over the holidays, and it seems impossible to not try everything! But, rather than looking around a kitchen in despair at all the stuff you shouldn’t eat, make sure that you have come prepared with something that is diet friendly. Bring your own lean protein, or vegetable platter, or salad. That way, if nothing else works, you have something to fall back on. Fill your plate with your healthy selection, then try a few small bites of the items you can’t resist.

For example, I am especially bad about “sampling” desserts. So, Lor started preparing protein-filled cupcakes she calls protein brownie bites that we now take everywhere where there are likely to be tempting sugar-bomb desserts.

And, wouldn’t you know it, they are so popular that they now get requested at every single get-together we attend. Who says healthy can’t taste good? (As an aside I highly recommend The Big Man’s World for recipes – I literally have yet to find a recipe there that I didn’t like.)

The Coldness of the Mind

Lastly, and most importantly, during the winter months, depression and suicide attempts drastically increase. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) can be a more serious problem than any amount of binge-eating or couch-planting. The disorder isn’t very well understood, but a few things can help to keep it at bay.

First, try to stay plugged in. Our natural tendency during winter is to “turtle” – to stay in our homes, huddled around ourselves. Instead, do your best to get plugged into some social circle – anything that will keep you in contact with other people. A bible study, a knitting circle, a weekly role-playing game: just about anything that keeps you interacting with humanity is a great way to keep these feelings of isolation at bay.

Secondly, stay physically active. We all know that exercise increases brain function and releases “feel-good” hormones into the bloodstream. If you can’t make it to the gym or Crossfit, at least try one of the ideas above.

Lastly, if you aren’t getting better – get help. Talk to a family member, a friend, a pastor, a counselor – let SOMEONE know what you are going through. The worst thing you can do is to assume that no one else understands how you feel. Trust me – I also struggle with depression and know first-hand how isolating it feels. But you have TONS of value, even if you can’t see it right now. Someone else can help remind you.

Turn Your Attention To 2018!

Let’s all help one another get through to next year! Do your best to stay true to yourself, keep the blood flowing, and know that, eventually, this too shall thaw.

Spring Is Coming,

Jeremy

The Loneliest Job Of All

Though the image references Alzheimer’s, the message applies to all caretakers.

First, thanks for the emails, Tweets, and Facebook posts. Last week’s major seizure was totally unexpected, and I appreciate everyone’s concern and encouragement.

What was most interesting to me, though, was the amount of support Lor received. Messages ranged from “You go, girl!” to “EWWWWW! Do you really have to…?”

The short answer is yes, she does. Lor does periodically get to essentially change the diapers on her middle-aged husband.

Let’s talk about the role of a caregiver for a moment, shall we?

The Anchor Below The Surface

I might not be writing this today without the help of my caretakers over the years.

Seriously. As a person who has dealt with not one but two disabilities (epilepsy and morbid obesity), I have a certain perspective on this. And I simply could not enjoy the life I do without people willing to make my life possible.

Without Lor’s assistance, my ongoing recovery from obesity would not have been half as successful. She has acted as a fitness coach, a cheerleader, and a drill sergeant.  Meals have been prepped. Visits to the gym and to the doctor have been scheduled. Dire threats have been issued about the potential results of bad food choices. Lor has alternately led the way, stood beside me, and gotten behind me to power me over obstacles.

Anytime I have begun to drift away from new lifestyle practices, Lor has kept me in place – an invisible anchor below the surface of the stormy seas of my waxing and waning enthusiasm.

My success in beginning to overcome obesity is entirely due to her help. But even that pales when compared to what caretakers have done for my other disability.

The Never-Ending Struggle

It is one thing to work in concert with someone as you help them overcome an obstacle. You can encourage success and share the pain of failure as you work toward a common goal. At the end, you can look back and congratulate yourself on helping someone reach what they could not do on their own.

It is something else entirely to be acting as the caregiver for someone who is never going to “get there.”

Those caring for loved ones with degenerative conditions have the loneliest jobs of all. The only thing you can do is to try to improve the quality of life within the constraints imposed by illness.

These are the people who get to turn over bed-ridden parents regularly. Who have to schedule their lives around patients who can’t be left unattended. They might end up watching as a loved one withers away from cancer or Parkinson’s. Some are no longer recognized due to the effects of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

And, yes, these are the folks who get to clean up after seizures and other humiliating losses of bodily control.

Caring for someone with a degenerative condition is no joke. Though Lor shoulders the majority of the burden for my care, it requires assistance from a whole lot of other people. A team of caregivers, if you will.

And, in the end, what does all this effort result in, anyway?

Return on Investment

Well, Misdirected, for one thing.

If not for the assistance (and insistence) of my Mom back in 2008, I would never have received my Vagus Nerve Stimulator. The VNS has been the single most effective treatment for my seizures to date. Before the VNS I had clusters of seizures every single day.

If not for the support of my best friends I would not have gotten over my depression and suicidal urges.

Without the encouragement of my Father, I would have been afraid to try to “increase the size of the box” of my limitations.

Without Lor’s constant, daily work to facilitate my life, I would be sitting in a corner, staring at a television.

Instead, I don’t have enough hours in a given day to keep up with my projects. When I am not working on my novel, I am studying for my PT certification. I spend time working in advocacy and support for those with epilepsy and those going through bariatric surgery.

And, of course, I write the words you are reading right now. About 100,000 of them every year, in fact – on Misdirected alone.

None of this would happen without caregivers.

If you are a caregiver, sincerely, thank you. You are shedding light into very dark corners. And, on behalf of those of us whose conditions make us unable to communicate any appreciation to you, let me say this:

You are single-handedly changing someone’s world for the better.

How many other jobs give you that opportunity?

Stay Strong,

Jeremy