In life, I have a knack for vividly imagining the worst possible scenario. I envision in great detail all the fallout that would surround the worst possible scenario, if that unlikely outcome were ever to happen. No matter what it is, my mind goes straight to catastrophe.
My rational brain knows how unlikely it is for the absolute worst to happen, but my rational brain is not in charge here. 😄
Healthy? No. Normal? Also no! But I do think it’s common.
When I received my bariatric surgery date, after the months (years, really) of long and drawn out processes leading up to it, it flipped a switch in me for a new level of panic. It was no longer just a nebulous future event. My gastric sleeve surgery was really happening.
Six weeks before surgery, I made a list of my fears. When I sat down to write it, they just poured out of me. That’s how you know you need to write. They were spinning and swirling in my mind, and I had to get them out of there. I’ll share my list of fears, in case anyone out there can relate, and then I’ll talk about how my wonderful therapist and I totally dismantled them. It’s good stuff.
My List of Weight Loss Surgery Fears
- I die on the surgery table
- I gain so much weight leading up to surgery that they deny me at the door
- I get addicted to narcotic pain meds and my life is over
- It somehow doesn’t work and I end up starving but unable to eat
- It somehow doesn’t work and I end up in terrible stomach pain forever
- I end up being the 20% of people who gets terrible heartburn and heartburn meds won’t work and I’ll need surgery revision – see #1
- I get addicted to alcohol after surgery and my life is over
- I completely fail at the pre-surgery diet and can’t live in starvation / misery
- It works for a while and then as soon as I can start eating solid food I go right back to my food addiction and fuck it all up
- I lose weight in my midsection but my legs and arms stay huge and I feel like a monster
- I accidentally instill in my child a burning desire for thinness
- I accidentally instill in my child the notion that food has moral value
- I can’t find anything OK to eat and wander around lost and aimless
- I stop enjoying life because birthdays holidays social gatherings and all fun becomes meaningless
- I regret it completely and can’t go back
I talked to my therapist about these fears, and she wanted me to read them one by one. This is where the simple but brilliant part takes place: She asked me to black them out if logically, they were extremely unlikely to happen, or if I could come up with a counter-thought that would be more likely to happen. And in the end, I blacked out every single one.
My Refuted List of Weight Loss Surgery Fears
Fear: I die on the surgery table
Counter-thought: Literally zero people have ever died from my surgery at the hospital where I had my surgery. The odds of this happening are basically zero.
Fear: I gain so much weight leading up to surgery that they deny me at the door
Counter-thought: I know I’m going to follow the instructions of the pre-op diet for at least two weeks before surgery. As a result, I know there is no possible way I will weigh more than when I started. No doctors or nurses ever told me that gaining weight before surgery would force me to cancel. This was a fear I totally made up.
Fear: I get addicted to narcotic pain meds and my life is over
Counter-thought: My hospital is extremely conscientious about this issue and pain meds, and I’ve been researching pain after gastric sleeve. Most patients who undergo this surgery at my chosen hospital go home and thrive with only Tylenol and Motrin. No prescriptions for opioids are even needed.
Fear: It somehow doesn’t work and I end up starving but unable to eat
Counter-thought: This complication is extremely unlikely. There’s almost no way the surgery “won’t work.” It works extremely well for most people. If insatiable hunger were to occur, I could talk to my doctor about ways to remedy it.
Fear: It somehow doesn’t work and I end up in terrible stomach pain forever
Counter-thought: This complication is extremely unlikely. I have no reason to believe this will happen. My surgeon is the best of the best. If I experience any complications, he will help me navigate them.
Fear: I end up being the 20% of people who gets terrible heartburn and heartburn meds won’t work and I’ll need surgery revision – see #1
Counter-thought: Extremely unlikely. Heartburn has never been a bad problem for me, and it is highly treatable.
Fear: I get addicted to alcohol after surgery and my life is over
Counter-thought: For a lot of reasons, I am very cautious about the possibility of alcohol addiction in my life. I have witnessed how it tears families apart and have been extremely careful to stay away from overindulging. While I know food has been my main coping mechanism, and that will no longer be an option, I’m working very hard with a wonderful therapist to navigate the changes that weight loss surgery will have on my life. I made an agreement with my therapist to remain truthful on this topic at all times, and I have no reason to believe that I will take a dangerous path when I am so driven to continue to do the work needed to care for my mental health.
Fear: I completely fail at the pre-surgery diet and can’t live in starvation / misery
Counter-thought: My pre-surgery diet smartly has safeguards in place in case of extreme hunger. I have a good relationship with my dietician and can reach out to her if I have any problems. I am motivated to follow the pre-surgery instructions, because I want to reduce any risks as much as possible.
Fear: It works for a while and then as soon as I can start eating solid food I go right back to my food addiction and fuck it all up
Counter-thought: While I know weight regain is a somewhat common occurrence after weight loss surgery, the likelihood of gaining back all the weight remains extremely low. Any weight loss is still a benefit to my health. In addition, I am motivated to follow the instructions, otherwise I would not be putting myself through this. I am honest with my therapist and continue to work on emotional eating, and I plan to stay in contact with my surgeon, endocrinologist and dietician.
Fear: I lose weight in my midsection but my legs and arms stay huge and I feel like a monster
Counter-thought: I won’t feel like a monster even if that happens. I am pursuing weight loss surgery for my health, for my life expectancy, and to live a full and active life with my family. Physical appearance has nothing to do with this. Besides, I know I am lovely, I have a kind personality, and I care about others.
Fear: I accidentally instill in my child a burning desire for thinness
Counter-thought: I am extremely conscious of the language I use in my life when speaking about bodies and weight. I continue to genuinely teach my son that I’m thankful for my body and all it does for me, that all bodies are beautiful, that we are so much more than our physical selves, and that other people’s bodies are nobody else’s business. The fact that I am thinking so much about this itself and trying very hard probably means that I am doing a pretty good job.
Fear: I accidentally instill in my child the notion that food has moral value
Counter-thought: I believe so strongly in practicing moderation. I have researched how to approach desserts, sweets and treats with my child. We have snacks available at any time. We listen to our bodies. We assign no judgment to any types of food. We enjoy delicious flavors and celebrate special occasions with the traditional foods we love. We never associate food with punishment. What is more likely than this fear is that my child will grow up knowing from experience that wholesome foods are delicious and that our family is active, happy, and makes healthy choices.
Fear: I can’t find anything OK to eat and wander around lost and aimless
Counter-thought: I have a relationship with my dietician, as well as a large circle of good friends who have been through weight loss surgery. I know I can turn to them if I question what foods to consume.
Fear: I stop enjoying life because birthdays holidays social gatherings and all fun becomes meaningless
Counter-thought: In time, I will be able to sample the foods at special events, just not in the quantity of my past. I know that I will enjoy them, and more importantly, I will be able to focus on having fun with my loved ones rather than the food on my plate.
Fear: I regret it completely and can’t go back
Counter-thought: Every person I’ve asked has said they have no regrets about getting weight loss surgery. Even with complications, the vast majority of people say if they could go back in time that they would still do it again. The likelihood of complications is low, and anything that could occur can be navigated with my doctor. What is more likely than this fear is that I am thankful and feel great after my surgery, it will improve my health and the health of those closest to me, and I will live a full life.
And just like that, after literally striking out every fear on my list, they got way less scary.
I still had a few more helpful sessions with my therapist to talk about other parts of the process I was unsure about, and I look forward to writing more about that in future posts. I am so thankful for my therapist, and I recommend therapy to absolutely everyone.