By Jen Larsen
WeNews guest author
Jen Larsen underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost 180 pounds in a year and a half. In this excerpt from her new book, “Stranger Here,” she chronicles the initial highs and lows post-surgery.
Credit: Kristin Brandt
(WOMENSENEWS)–Three months went by. I got smaller, and smaller, and smaller. Almost 70 pounds down.
I was shrinking–it felt exactly like that. Like I was contracting and leaving my clothes hanging on my body. I was shrinking back inside the acceptable boundary a body was supposed to have, feeling less and less like I was taking up an outsized, overgenerous portion of space, coming into proportion with the rest of the world. I was narrowing down to a point, indistinguishable from all the other points on the chart–not an outlier anymore, but getting closer and closer to the top and center of that lovely arc the bell curve made.
Finally, I started to become aware of how quickly my body was changing, but small things still startled me. At work, a circulation assistant came upstairs and tucked herself into the chair with me, right next to me. Both of us, side by side, in the seat. We fit. We sat looking at WorldCat and talking about shelving issues. Inside, I was squealing. My butt was demonstrably less wide.
It was the end of March, and I was still losing a pound a week, two pounds, sometimes three or five. I was moving steadily downward, despite my constant, nagging sense that I wasn’t doing this right. I sat down on the futon one night at Jen Wade’s house and looked down at my knees. I lifted one leg, hooked one knee over the other. There I was, sitting with my legs crossed.
Rejoicing Over Changes
“You guys!” I said. “You guys, you guys!” I was hysterical, shrill. “You guys!”
“What? What?” Monique said. They all looked over at me, but I hesitated. I didn’t know what my rights were. I was rejoicing in these physical changes that let me walk a block, two, three, more, that meant the raging yeast infections in my thighs were settling down, that meant energy, hope, a sense of lightness. What was I allowed to say about having been fat? What was I allowed to say about being less fat now?
They looked at me expectantly and I gestured at my legs. “Do you see?”
“Your legs,” Jen Wade observed.
“No,” I said. “Yes. I’m crossing them. I’ve never done that! I never have crossed my legs ever in the history of the world,” I said excitedly.
“That’s awesome. But I’m sure there must have been a point in the past where you managed it,” Edith said.
“Well.” I considered. “Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t remember ever doing it, is all.” I was blushing. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I just got excited.”
“Clearly,” Monique said. “That’s so good, though!”
“It is!” I said.
I really felt okay.
And it was wonderful, and it was terrifying. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, and it was awful. If I didn’t want to leave the house, I had no excuses left. My clothes were hanging off me, but clothes shopping was overwhelming now. How was I supposed to go into a store with four stories full of clothing that I could fit into? All my previous shopping experiences had taken place within in the confines of a 16-by-16 foot store with limited selection and very particular ideas about what a fat girl should look like. In the wider world, I could be whomever I wanted.
It was an idea that filled me with panic. I shoved it away, because I couldn’t think about that, not yet. It was too soon. I wasn’t done yet. I was losing weight so that I could start my life, finally–but that meant soon, too soon, sooner than I could handle, I actually had to start my life. Every pound down was like another short drop closer to free fall.
‘I Would Be Done’
And the pounds kept coming off, despite the fact that I hadn’t changed at all. That was both the beauty of the first years of weight loss surgery, and also the most terrible thing about them.
Surgery had meant that I would be done. I would be skinny, and I would never have anything to worry about, ever again.
My body would not be something constantly, consistently on my mind, something that occupied far too many of my waking thoughts and my unconscious thoughts and my weird dreams. My body wouldn’t be an enemy. It would be me, and I would be it.
But most importantly, I wouldn’t worry about food, ever again, because I was a skinny person, and that’s how skinny people were. So surgery would cure me of food. Being told that post-surgical patients can’t eat candy–that translated to me as I could not eat candy. That it would be physically impossible to want candy, to put it in my mouth, chew, swallow, digest.
I’m not saying it was rational. It wasn’t even a truly conscious thought.
What I had done, essentially, was look for a way out of my eating disorder without ever acknowledging that I had an eating disorder, a–let’s call it a troubled relationship with food.
However, of course, it turned out that I still had to eat after I got weight loss surgery. As it happens, I had to think a lot about food after surgery. It turned out life was still about food and what I could eat and what I couldn’t eat and what I wanted to eat, which was usually the same thing as what I couldn’t eat.
I was supposed to be done with my body, but my body wouldn’t go away. It changed under my hands in the shower, my topography shifting and moving like an earthquake was rumbling. It kept demanding food, and as I recovered from surgery, I felt my old urges, my hungriness reemerge, that sense of need, that sense if I did not eat now, right this second, I would be missing something, losing something that could never be recovered.