Friday, February 18, 2011

Peace Sign

Numbers have never mattered to me.

They've just never seemed important, but I know some of them are.

Money and addresses would be good examples, although I can usually find the place where I am going by description alone.

I don't even know the ages of my parents or my closest friend, and although I could probably guess - it just doesn't seem relevant, and it's not that I don't care. It's that I care so much I would rather imagine them to be the age they seem and remember the moments instead.

Maybe it's my free-spirited way of always living in the present; I'm really not sure.

I also wasn't sure what numbers the scale would display when I stepped on it in the Spring of 2005.

I didn't own my own scale at home; I was at the doctor's office, weighing in.

I knew I was overweight, but when the numbers stared back at me, I was shocked.

Clearly, this number mattered.

I weighed 306 lbs.

My body mass index was 51, and there I stood.

A single mom. Divorced. In-between jobs. Depressed.

Most importantly, though, was the fact that I was contemplating suicide.

Not right there in the doctor's office, of course. I had a much better plan.

I would use my car and my garage and I would die from carbon monoxide poisoning. I would do it while my daughter was at kindergarten, and I would ask someone to pick her up beforehand so she would not be left waiting for me.

My ex-husband would remarry, and my daughter would finally have the mom she deserved. Someone who had energy, someone who didn't cry so often, someone who could play with her at the park.

This was my disturbing thought process, and I am sharing it because I know that I am not the only one in this world who has – in their deepest, darkest moments - thought about things like this.

I had come to my initial appointment with Dr. Brian Gluck - a surgeon who specializes in weight loss procedures - and I pretended to be happier than I was.

He saw right through me. I was transparent.

I cringed when he looked at my chart. I looked away; he did not. And I thought surely he would announce how large I was and that the number would be overheard by everyone like it was in my elementary school gym class, but he surprised me.

He looked at my chart and said, “You have a daughter.”

“And you're going to die if you don't do something about your weight.”

I wanted to tell him my plan about the garage, and that nothing really mattered because I was going to die soon anyway, but I didn't.

I took his words home and I took them to heart.

I watched my daughter while she slept that night and decided I was not going to die.

I would fight this battle for her, if no one else, and I would go to the park and swing with her if it was the last thing I ever did.

The next morning I decided I needed help. I called a local agency and explained my situation.

One week later, I met Rebecca, my therapist.

She agreed that gastric bypass surgery would benefit my health, but she also encouraged me to dig deeper than that.

We talked about my traumatic early childhood. We discussed abuse and neglect. We talked about abandonment and we talked about fear.

We determined the reasons why I had lifelong issues with food, why I had used it to comfort me throughout the years, and why I had chosen to eat my feelings instead of expressing them.

She then recommended the surgery and wrote the necessary letter that is part of the authorization process.

I kept going to see her even after that, but eventually we ended our sessions. She had helped me all she could, and she released me into the world the way a baby bird leaves a nest.

I will always remember what she said, because I carry her words with me everyday.

“You are responsible for your own happiness.”

I gave her a goodbye gift. It was a figurine of an angel holding a lantern, and it was called “Angel of Light”.

Rebecca helped me see the light.

She reminded me to give myself the peace hold two fingers up to symbolize peace.

“The first finger means to figure out what you need in your life. The second finger represents finding a healthy way to get it,” she'd say.

“Give yourself the peace sign, Marcy.”

So I did.

I took control of my life and let go of my fears on September 13th, 2005.

I put my life in the hands of Dr. Brian Gluck – a man I really didn't know – but for some reason, trusted.

“The surgery is only a tool, Marcy," he said. "You are going to have to do the work.” 

I'll never forget his words, either.

I will also never forget the kind way he treated me, the way he looked me in the eye and didn't look away, and that he – a busy surgeon, husband and father - called me at home after my surgery to check my progress, and immediately called back when my phone accidentally disconnected the call. 

His wife Jennifer is a nurse who works closely by his side. I remember how her voice, steady and strong, calmed me during a follow-up visit after my surgery. I was frustrated because I could not eat - I could not feed my emotional hunger - and she sat with me like a mother would while I cried. My newly created “pouch” wasn't ready for food - only liquids. Food wasn't allowed yet, and I would have to learn to deal with it.

“I feel like I lost my best friend,” I told her.

“Well, maybe you did,” she said knowingly.

My food “friend” was gone, and Jennifer helped me realize that I needed to let go of it. 

I don't remember every individual day from 2005 until now, but looking back I wish I would've kept a journal. It is my only regret.

I do recall some minor complications, but overall what I remember most is the smoothness of how it all happened.

Basically, it went like this:

I listened to what was said. I followed the directions. And here I am, living my life without limits.

I practice moderation now, balance the bad with the good, and drink as much water as I can. 

I also learned the hard way how important vitamins are when I stopped taking them after I realized that the most important relationship in my life (at the time) was failing. I became so weak that I had to take time off from work for bi-weekly iron infusions at a facility designed for cancer patients.

I remember the call from Dr. Gluck's office.

“We don't usually see lab results like this, and you need to come in right away.”

“Your hemoglobin is so low, we don't know how you're functioning.”

My body was completely depleted of nutrients, and I looked frail and anorexic - although I was eating. My protein level was the only thing that was sufficient. Had it not been, I think they would have admitted me into the hospital.

I remember the look of disbelief when Shannon (Dr. Gluck's assistant) saw the lab results in my chart.

She was truly concerned about my well being and saw that I was slipping. She reeled me back in like I was a fish trying to swim away.

“You do know your heart is a muscle, right?” she asked carefully, as if to invoke thought.

She wasn't letting go of me, and she wasn't letting me let go of myself either.

Shannon helped me understand that there will always be triggers, and that self-sabotaging behavior was not what I needed. I silently vowed to take better care of myself, and my heart.

I also remember when both of my grandparents passed away a few years ago without much time separating their deaths. It made me want to eat so often that I called the office to ask if I might have stretched out my “pouch” somehow.

The therapist on staff asked to see me, and I brought my daughter with me to the appointment. She waited in the hallway during the visit while I explained my feelings and all that had recently taken place.

As it turned out, my stomach was fine - but my emotions were not. I was sad, stressed, and mourning my grandparents – and those feelings had provoked my old eating habits. I had been "grazing", and not eating the correct amount of protein.

When the appointment was finished I greeted my daughter, who had been playing with my phone while she waited for me.

Ironically, she had used the camera on my phone to take a picture of her fingers forming the peace sign, and in the background of the photo was Dr. Gluck's office.

I had never told her about Rebecca's words. It was pure coincidence.

That picture will always speak a thousand words to me because in that moment I heard Rebecca, Dr. Gluck, Jennifer, and Shannon all at once - and because I was reminded of the reasons I made this choice.

I was back-on-track after that, but what I want everyone to know is that this is not a yellow-brick road. 

It's real, and it may not come easily for some.

It takes courage and commitment to change, and it takes work to rebuild something internally - especially when the external structure is being replaced at the same time.

And in case you're wondering, I'll tell you.

I still don't look at the scale very often, but at a recent doctor's appointment I weighed 115 lbs.

My body mass index is now 21, and I can fit on a swing at the park.

I am still finding my way without numbers, because I have a description in my heart of where I am going, and that is what will always guide me.


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