072 “Hey Reeger..,” A Letter from a Listener

by reeger on June 17, 2016

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Hey Reeger...,

Welcome to the weight loss surgery podcast where we talk about obesity and bariatric surgery one episode at a time. I’m your host, family nurse practitioner, Reeger Cortell.

This episode is brought to you by you, my listeners. I am so touched by the love you show me, whether that is iTunes rates, sharing the podcast on social media, or going that amazingly wonderful step by becoming a patron of the podcast at patreon.com/reeger. This episode I want to give a shout out and big thanks to: Christine, Dee, Cheryl, Donna, Peggy, Rebecca, and Lynda. Patreon.com is a way that appreciators (hopefully that’s you) of creators (that’s me) can demonstrate their appreciation by offering financial backing for as little as $1.00 per month. Patron money helps me cover my monthly expenses of having and keeping this free content up and available to listeners around the world. So if you like what I am up to with this podcast and you want to show your support by becoming a Patron, please go to patreon.com/reeger and sign up. I will be very grateful and you will hear me give you a shout-out on the next episode!

Ok, lets get to this episode. This was kind of a surprise episode even for me. I received an email from a man, named Shane who has had RYGB. There was so much in this email, as you are about to hear, that I just thought I need to share this email and my thoughts about it. So I reached out to Shane and asked him if I could read his email on the podcast and he said yes. So here it-

Hey Reeger,

I wanted to get in touch with you and let you know how much I enjoy and have grown to count on your podcast. It truly is lighthouse of wisdom and clarity in the ocean of bariatric forums and sites on the web. There is so much information and so many contradictions. I see lots of negativity on the forums its kind of sad. I get the tough love and you can’t really just know what a person’s true emotional meaning is just by printed words, as in the tone and manner of the way words slip from the tongue have a huge effect on how a given sentence is meant to come across. I often wonder it if might be better to have voice chat on some of the forums, it would keep people honest and true. If they are saying something and enjoying hurting someone you are gonna know by the tone of their voice. If it’s a true tough love there will be no joy in telling someone the truth,-just-the-truth.

Shane, I agree. In general people can be shockingly blunt and insensitive when interacting on social media. It surprises me daily and the potential of being targeted myself almost scared me away from creating this podcast. When we consider the online community affected by obesity and bariatric surgery specifically, there can be a lot of finger pointing that goes on within this community. A lot of shame, blame, and judgment. It hurts my heart when I view it happening. I want to be quick to come to the recipient’s defense and sometimes I do. I believe in the statement, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” But I also try to send the person who is projecting their negativity outward some compassion as well. I know that deep within them, what they are really voicing has more to do with their own internal pain than anything else. In the realm of human emotions it is easier to point fingers outward than inward.

Since you are a fan of this podcast, you also know I’m a fan of the work of Social Worker/Truth Speaker Brene Brown. She says that according to the research, Blame is the discharging of Discomfort and pain. Blame has an inverse relationship with accountability. And accountability, to be accountable to our thoughts, deeds, and actions, is a vulnerable process.

So when we look at the blaming that happens within the bariatric surgery community, it often is about behaviors a person is making around food and physical activity because these are vulnerable topics. I think what can happen is that the person who is pointing fingers and targeting others is still internally vulnerable. They haven’t made peace with their past and when someone else is in that painful pit of struggle it triggers that “OMG, that could be me” fear and rather than reach out with empathy (where are person says, “Oh me too. I’ve been there. I have felt that pain. It sucks. Here’s a hand to help you out”) the person reacts with some form of, at best sympathy (like “yeah sucks to be in that hole doesn’t it. Good luck with that”) and at worst targeted judgment (like “I was in that hole. I was strong enough to climb out. Why cant you?”).

I agree that we have the opportunity to hide behind a veil of false anonymity in social media. We get to say things to peoples social media profile faces that we would never say to their actual face.

Having said all of that, it is important to acknowledge that not everyone is trolling on social media. There is a lot of kindness and caring that is exchanged between people who will never met in person. I find deep consolation from this fact.

Sometimes I feel like we are all kids who have been given this amazing new toy called the World Wide Web and the grown-ups haven’t stepped in yet to explain the rules. The irony of course is we are both the kids and the grown-ups, one and the same. So at the same time that we are fighting over how to play together we are also figuring out the rules of the game. I’m an eternally hopeful person, so I trust that we will get there. But I don’t just rest on my hope. I strive to live by that ever-golden rule of “do unto other how you would have them do unto you.”

Ok, back to the letter. He says,

I’m sorry if I’m rambling. I’m kind of a loner in this journey. I have no friends other than my wife and I don’t always share my thoughts about this weight loss journey with her. So I’m flinging a note in a bottle to someone I don’t know other than through her podcast. I believe you to be good honest caring person, so I think I’m safe to let you read my thoughts. You don’t even have to respond to me.

I’m always honored when someone flings a note in a bottle by way of an email to me. I think you’re not alone in feeling like a loner on this journey. When I asked you if I could share your letter on the podcast, I said its because many people on “this weight loss journey” also feel that don’t have many friends and they feel isolated and alone. Perhaps it is self-imposed because you, and by you, I mean anyone who is listening to my voice right now, YOU don’t go out and don’t seek opportunities to connect with people, or perhaps it is externally imposed in how the world treats you as a person who is affected by obesity, or maybe its some of both. I don’t know. But I do know this- isolation only be gets more isolation. Where as, seeking opportunities for human interaction has a strong chance of resulting in meaningful connections. I say, go meet people!

Back to Shane’s letter

Random thought on Gastric Bi-pass: once you get past the whole “it’s not really a silver bullet,” eventually you come to the realization that it’s a lot like the 4077th in Mash where the war goes on and on, and you can never go home. You either learn to except that fact and make the best of it or you give up ((Side note, for those not familiar with the analogy, by “4077th in MASH” Shane is referring to the famous TV series MASH. The 4077th was the name of the hospital camp depicted in the series)) Shane goes on to write: I don’t want to give up, so I keep moving forward. If I fall down, I’ll get backup and I’ll try not to dwell on the new reality that this is hard work. You either learn to love it or you will be miserable. I’ve done miserable. I don’t like it so I’m learning to love the hard work. By the time I master this I should have the patience to fish with only my bare hands and a rock. (80)

Here he has the number 80 in parenthesis implying he’ll be 80 years old when he’s got it all mastered and at that point he can learn to fish with his hands, to which I say- Heck Yeah! That’s sounds fun! And what a blessing, to have a human life that challenges you, frustrates you, upset you, but also gives you joy, love, laughter, and lessons you get to master!

Shane goes on to tell us,

I had my RYN May, 2013 at my highest weight I was 385 lbs. I passed all the perquisites to get my surgery. I didn’t even try to lose weight before my surgery. I had pretty good results with my surgery and got down to 231 lbs. In July of 2015 I had a life-changing incident happen to me and I just shut down and went mustang on my bariatric plan. I stopped all exercise and started drinking like a fish, lots of beer and whiskey to help me not feel. I managed to pack on 60 lbs. of regain due to my non-healthy plan. In January of this year I turned myself in and went back to my Bariatric surgeon and her team. I’m back to eating healthy and not drinking- no bubbles of any kind in my diet, no alcohol, no candy, or chips. Just protein. I’ve managed to lose 32 lbs. of what I regained so far.

For those that don’t know what Shane means when he said he “went mustang,” which is honestly an expression that I think he made up but totally works, Mustangs in the United States are a breed of wild, free-roaming horses found in a number of western states. So when he went mustang, he means he went out of control.

Shane, first off, I am sorry you suffered whatever event you went through that resulted in you “going mustang.” And I am so grateful you reined yourself in (to continue the horse analogy).

To make it in life, to be triumphant, we don’t learn half as much as what we need to know from our successes. It’s our stumbles that teach us the most. I’m not saying I’m glad you had something bad happen in your life. I’m saying, Bad things happen. It’s what we do and who we become in the fallout that I’m referring to. Something hard happened to you. And as a result you were reminded of your vulnerability, just like anyone. And you learned that when in emotional pain, you seek numbing. And you learned that the price you pay to numb, in your case with alcohol, is not worth its cost. So you stopped paying. I hope nothing bad ever happens to you or anyone else ever again, but who am I kidding? Bad things happen. But that does not mean we have to make bad choices as a result. So I am proud of you for taming the mustang within.

Back to the letter:

When I started out my weight loss journey I used the ______Website for a lot of information and inspiration (I’m not going to state the website he mentions but just know it is one of the more popular obesity-related websites). As the months went by though, I started not feeling so great about that sites overall vibe. It seems to me that “the vets,” as they call themselves or “the seniors” are a small cynical group of “tough love” givers. I’m more of a west coast, easy going, “can’t we all just get along” guy with a little protector thrown in for good measure. (OMG Shane Me too!) I never responded to any of the drama though. What I did garner from the vets, which I’m not sure I agree with, is that to maintain their awesome weight loss and spectacular happy outlook on life one is to consume no more than 800 calories per day for life. If one gets there by other means, say exercise, that’s frowned upon and looked at as unrealistic and not maintainable life style. That’s kind of a bummer to me as I like to get out and move and it helps me pass the time and be one with the world.

Ok. My thought on this is, know your program. Know what works for YOU and what doesn’t. Anyone who is having bariatric surgery is given a foundational program from their bariatric center; the Do’s and Don’ts list. In the beginning, follow that program very carefully. But as time goes on, you will develop your own program, the one that fits you, your preferences, what your body responds to, what works in your lifestyle. Your program develops over time, through trial, error, and honesty. Know your program, stick to it until you need to modify it. How do you know when you need to modify it? When your mind is bored, or your body is not responding, or your heart is just not in it any longer, then it’s time to modify.

Back to the letter:

I’m one of those dichotomies thinkers you have mentioned before, either on or off, total success or total failure. I’m trying to learn to harness this and turn it into a strength. The key is to learn to not shut down when I miss a work-out or over eat, if it turns into a string of days so be it, this is not a reason to give up.. It’s a day-by-day process, but so far I’m holding my own. Your podcast with Pandora (Episode 63) made me think of me. It sure sounds like she’s really using exercise to replace her addiction. I guess I am too, maybe not as extreme as her only because people won’t pay me to teach them how exercise, otherwise I might be totally all-in like her. I hear some doubt and pondering in Rob’s voice sometimes, this too sounds like me. It’s called Life. We have to live it too. We can’t be goal posters with our happiness. Sometimes I think it gets to us, and we have moments for remorse and regret at our imagined failures, so you gained a pounds, or your face doesn’t look as thin as it was at your lowest weight, you’re still healthy.

I’m not much of a writer. It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say. I’m more of a verbal person. If I was an English major I would have my own blog I’m sure, but in this world of sarcasm and un-acceptance I choose to not open myself up to all the criticism about my writing errors. In the real world I work at an IT helpdesk, my second career. I switched gears from working in the culinary industry for 17yrs. I’m lucky in that my company give us 15 minutes a day for a health walk so between that and walking for an hour at lunch, I get 4 miles in at work and then I walk another 3 miles when I get home at night. I try and hit that everyday, even on the weekends. Some days I don’t get it all in or I miss all together due to trips out of town and family functions. In those cases, I’ve self-talked myself off the “OMG I missed a day” ledge and I start back up again the next time I can get back to my normal schedule and see how many good days I can string together. So far it’s working for me.

It’s all about balance, Shane, and everyone. It’s all about balance.

He goes on to share:

I can run but I am torn between running and not running. I ran my 2nd half marathon in 2014- finished no problem, no I’m not the Flash, but I wasn’t’ dead last. In my mind crossing the finish line in any amount of time is a victory. I’ve had daydreams of winning the Boston Marathon or at least running in it and finishing, so far just a dream though. Marathons are a huge time commitment and I’m almost 50; not sure if I want to risk messing my knees up. I need to be able to exercise at this point. It’s kind of an addiction for me. The funny thing is I’m by no means the perfect athlete. I’m slow, my form is terrible, and I over train. I have no coaching other than YouTube, thank you Internet. My train of thought, for better or worse, is to keep moving, form will come eventually, just goes slow and keep moving. Oh, another funny note of interest, after not walking or jogging for 6 months I just hopped right on my treadmill and ran 13 miles. It took me over 3 hours to do it but I did it, and yes I paid for it later. I have been fighting blisters on me feet since January. Eventually my feet will toughen up again. I never thought I would say this but I really miss my nasty looking calluses on my heels. I want them back bad. I need that protection. Who knew they serve a useful purpose.

Ok so here are my thoughts on physical activity and training. I used to race road bikes. I’ve ridden my road bike the distance equal to around the equator a few times over. I know the thrill of being really fit and I also know how all consuming it is to live that life style. I’m glad I did it when I did and although I miss having that level of fitness, I’m unwilling to dedicate that much time to obtain and keep that fitness level at this point in my life. However, when I get on my bike, you better believe my mind (or more accurately my ego) picks right up where I left off 20 years ago. But my legs, no way. In biking lingo, I’m off the back in fast minute. But I still love biking. So my new motto is, “It doesn’t matter how fast I go, it only matters THAT I go.” So I want to give all of you that same philosophy. Don’t pick up where you left off at some point in your past when you were a fitter version of yourself. That attitude is a set-up in the least for an ego bashing and at the worst for injury, and being injured sucks! Right? I know you know what I’m talking about. Instead, honestly start where you are and build from there. Yes, you will be slower, but remember, who cares! And above all else, give thanks to your body. It is the container for amongst other things, all your joy and love. YOU cannot be here without it, calluses and all.

Shane’s letter continues. He says:

Another thing I struggle, have struggled with, was eating a very narrow diet. I pretty much live off ground turkey burgers that I make, celery and carrot sticks, a few peanuts, quest bars and protein shakes made with ice, 30 Cal Almond milk, protein powder, a dash of P2B and stevia, some Greek yogurt and a few teddy grams here and there and that’s it. I felt like I was a failure at what I was eating because I was eating the same thing over and over again. I started reading the book called “Success Habits of Weight Loss Surgery Patients” by Colleen Cook and there’s a sentence in there where she says, “It’s okay to be that way. Food is fuel. It’s okay if it’s the same thing every day.” I honestly almost cried when I read that, I really feel great when that turkey hits my stomach. I can feel myself start to feel energized. To me her words were an affirmation that I’m okay. It’s perfectly normal. Food is fuel and that’s it. For a while I had been worried my wife was wondering how I could eat the same thing all the time and not get tired of it… so I starting to think maybe something was wrong with me. I do on occasion eat a bit of steak. I used to love having salmon but the last few times I’ve tried it’s a no-go after a few bites, it sticks somewhere inside me and I eventually have to throw up.

Shane, my thoughts on nutrition, I agree that it’s ok to not eat a large variety of foods all the time, so long a bariatric surgery patient is getting in their protein, some veggies, and taking their vitamins, eating a small variety of foods is very common. When you think about the variety we, as Homo sapiens had throughout evolution, there were seasonal varieties, but otherwise our diets were fairly limited in options and we managed to evolve. As for tolerance of foods and then not tolerating the same food for unknown reasons, this is also fairly common for people. And unless it is a problem and you are losing tolerance to more and more foods and regurgitating more and more often and/or having pain when you eat, unless those things are happening, I say, ok, in the case of salmon, or whatever that food item might be, it’s probably not no forever, but it’s no for now.

Shane concludes his letter with these three separate but linked thoughts:

Can you tell I’ve had a lot of things I’ve been dyeing to get off my mind? It’s exhausting being a Mustang off by yourself, lonely too, but it’s all I know, “suffer in silence,” that’s my motto.

Days off exercise are usually harder than running 10 miles. It’s hard to fight the feeling of you’re not doing anything and should be, but my back and the rest of my body are saying, “hey buddy, take a break or else.”

Okay I’ve rambled on for a few pages. If it’s okay with you, would you mind if I drop you a note every now and then? Sorry for any spelling or grammar errors, that just how I roll.

Best Regards,

Shane

After I read Shane’s letter and emailed him back asking if could use the letter as a podcast episode I optimistically I started collecting my thoughts on what I wanted to say in this episode. One of those thoughts was a reflection on how one of the ancient Greeks tenants was “Know thyself.” This teaching was so important it was engraved onto the archway as one entered into the Greek Temple to Apollo in Delphi, Greece. “Know thyself.” So I was thinking about how I would fold this message into my concluding thoughts and then I received an email from Shane giving me permission to use his letter and he included with these additional thoughts:

I would be honored if you so chose to use my letter in your podcast. It’s the least I can do for all the great info you put out there for us. Life changing events happen to us all. I’ve just been super lucky in my life up to this point and times are finally catching up to me and it’s my turn to start saying goodbye to people that I’ve known all my life. We all look for excuses to give up and for awhile I had mine, but it didn’t matter how much I ate or drank, the people that I miss are gone forever and I’m still here, so I’ll keep picking myself up off the ground when I fall and keep moving forward. I’ll find my perfection in allowing myself to not be perfect. I’ll do this to appease the perfectionist procrastinator in me; it takes a lot of self-talk and self-soothing. So far it’s working for me, though.

Shane, aren’t we all just getting to know ourselves? For Shane, how else would he know he is a perfectionist procrastinator who will stumble and fall but also pick himself up and keep moving forward, seeking to string more positive days together than not.

Know thyself. That’s all any of us can do. Know what your pain and discomfort is and how you might be discharging it onto others instead of healing it within yourself. Know how you might be seeking isolation instead of connection and how isolation only grows more isolation, it does not protect you from vulnerability or pain that is an inherent risk we all take when striving for connection. Know that although you might seek to make things black and white, good or bad, in order to feel in control, really, life happens in the middle, in the grey zone. Know that your life, with luck and proper planning will be long and that you have many lessons yet to learn. Some of them will be HARD lessons, hard enough to make you want to “go mustang,” maybe you even will go mustang for a time, but, luckily, one of the many lessons you will learn includes that you are strong, stronger than you thought, Strong enough to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, rein yourself in, and keep going. Know that your exercise and nutrition programs are just that, yours. Do your program everyday. Know your program. This will help you know when you are off your program. Know you will go off your program. Know you can get back on your program right now, if only you decide. Know YOUR program. And know one more thing- I believe in you.

Connecting with me:

Reeger@weightlosssurgerypodcast.com

Patreon.com 

Facebook

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Swayzee July 5, 2016 at 4:44 pm

I am in a facebook group Bariatric Weight Loss Family. It is a non judgemenntaln group with many members who exercise regularly, I think your writer would fit well in this group. They would love you as well…I post lots of links to your episodes.

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reeger July 11, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Hi Amy, Thanks for the shout out on your FB group! I appreciate that. I will share this information with Shane. Kindly, Reeger

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Jamie September 7, 2016 at 8:14 pm

Shane, I read your letter from beginning to end and related in many places. Like you, I switched seats on the Titanic. When I sobered up, I gained over 300 pounds. We must have simply swapped seats! It sounds as if you have found direction. The dates you note are a few years ago. I hope that you are continuing to be good to yourself.
Jamie

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