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Jacquelyn K. Smiertka, RN

Owner: Beyond Change: Living a Healthy Life After Obesity Surgery

Yes, I am a fan of country western music. You name it and probably it is something I know by heart and sing around the house. The most recent favorite song of mine is by Rascal Flatts entitled ‘Stand’. The first verse begins: You feel like a candle in a hurricane, Just like a picture with a broken frame, Alone and helpless like you’ve lost your fight, But you’ll be alright, you’ll be alright. Couldn’t we all relate to this? It is the part about ‘being alright’ that we wonder about.

I was in the mall the other day and watched a young girl, maybe in her early twenties, as she struggled to walk. I thought about how many years this super morbidly obese young lady had been plagued with the deadly disease of obesity and as my mind wondered I could not help but think of all of those we have operated on over the years. How many come to us feeling like the candle in a hurricane? We want to think that surgery will make everything alright but we know it really doesn’t. There is a lot more to it then just losing weight. We are battling the odds and I mean the odds of long term obesity. What has it done to the body, to the mind and to the spirit? How can we or the patient not know that we have to work at the recovery process for years to come and work at it from many different angles?

There was an Oprah Winfrey show a few years ago that regarded transfer addictions after bariatric surgery. Carnie Wilson had this to say during the show, “I'm here to get the message out that after you have a gastric bypass surgery, you need to focus on what's in your head," Carnie says. "Before the surgery, you focus on it. During the surgery, you focus on it. After the surgery…it is ongoing forever." It does seem that ‘forever’ is not the word that most people want to hear before changing their lives but that is the word that fits the transformation into a thinner and healthier body. It takes forever to adjust to a life that may have never been lived before. How can someone like the young lady I saw in the mall, who had probably been obese for the majority of her life be able to change her thinking with the change of her waistline? It just does not or ever will happen that easily. It is a process that takes forever.

I have said it time and time again that I am so thankful for our psychology teams across the country that are there to deal with the changes that go on ‘forever’. I have always appreciated our writers who address the issues in Beyond Change most of all because they do not lead anyone to believe the emotional recovery after bariatric surgery is easy. It is a lifelong recovery process.

How does one manage to recover and be able to ‘Stand’ after the blows they are dealt? For some it appears the bumps in the road come too frequently and challenge their very will to keep going. For those individuals we would hope they are able to seek professional help that is available to them. We would also wish for them the ability to attend regular quality support group meetings.

When stressful circumstances create turmoil in our lives it does call for a great deal of inner strength. I really believe we are all born with the ability to call on the power from within to allow us to recover from the low blows life passes our way. In a recent support group meeting we discussed the ability for everyone to be resilient. The meeting revolved around coping mechanisms that would allow everyone to be able to handle and conquer the turmoil that might be going on in their lives.

Some of the pointers that were presented regarding coping mechanisms were:

  • Get perspective. Understand that you're experiencing a setback; you have not fallen into an abyss.

  • Talk to yourself. When facing a hardship, tell yourself: "This will not last forever … relief is on the way."

  • Look to the future. It may seem impossible now, but if you can imagine how you'll feel or behave once the stressful event has passed, you may uncover the steps that will lead you to your own recovery. Such imagery also provides a mental break from your acute anxiety.

  • Tap into positive energy. Because we often dwell on our problems and allow stress and anxiety to dictate our lives, we forget that there are many wonderful things around us, whether a rainbow, a flower, a smiling child or even your favorite TV show. Allowing yourself to be bathed in the positive energy can help you elevate your mood.

  • Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

  • You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

  • An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

  • Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Now the question is: How are we able to pick ourselves up and be able to STAND after the low blows come our way?

A final note is to share the chorus of the Rascal Flatts song:

‘Cause when push comes to shove you taste what you’re made of,

You might bend ‘til you break ‘cause it’s all you can take,

On your knees you look up decide you’ve had enough,

You get mad, you get strong

Wipe your hands, shake it off

Then you STAND.

We will always be challenged by life and for those who have had bariatric procedures the challenges may be a little tougher but there is always assistance nearby. After all the toughest decision was to have surgery in the first place and right after it was over the first thing that was expected of everyone is to be able to STAND.


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