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IT HAPPENED TO ME: I HAD WEIGHT-LOSS SURGERY AT 17

Having the lap-band surgery was one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my 22 short years.

(Trigger warning)

By Hannah Armstrong

This photo was taking at my graduation, the day before we left for Mexico.

Let me start off by saying that mental illness runs rampant in my family. So does being fat.

The women in my family are all amazing. We are beautiful, talented and smart-as-hell. We are also bat-shit crazy and thick around the middle, to put it nicely. This is the way it has been as long as I can remember, and as you can probably imagine, these two factors had an immense impact on the way I grew up.

I started gaining weight when I hit puberty at 8 years old. I was the first girl in my class to have boobs, which I was mortified by, and I can remember being made fun of for being the “fat kid” in class as early as 5th grade.

I was bullied, to say the least. I was 13 the first time I can remember lying on my bedroom floor, crying for no reason. I couldn’t figure out why, but I was overwhelmed by sadness. I never wanted to leave my bedroom again.

This continued for several months, and then I felt fine. This cycle repeated hundreds of times over the next few years, and my weight fluctuated with the cycle. I hit my tallest at around that time, (5’7.25”, the height that I am now) and my weight was anywhere between 165 and 190 pounds, depending on how I felt at the time.

Fast forward a few years: I’m 17 years old, and it’s my graduation night. I weigh 220 lbs and I have a plane ticket to San Diego leaving in the morning, so I skip out on my let’s-get-shitfaced grad party and head home to pack. Why the hell am I flying to San Diego the day after graduation? So my grandmother can pay for my mom and I to have lap-band surgery in Mexico.

Let’s back up a bit; I think I got a bit ahead of myself. I can’t remember how old I was when my grandma had lap band surgery, but it was before it was common. She had all kinds of complications, that I never found out about until years later, but it was the “best thing she’d ever done for herself.”

My mom and I were both fat, miserable (be it due to fatness, or other factors, I’m still not sure), and both wanted out. My grandma took out a several thousand dollar loan and took us both down to Mexico to have the surgeries that would save our lives.

“I’ll finally be normal!” I thought. Boy, was I wrong about that.

The next few months are a blur in my memory. I had the surgery, recovered and turned 18. By the time I started college that fall, I had dropped nearly 50 pounds (from 220 to around 170). I was “normal” (size-wise) for the first time since puberty.

Around this same time, my first real relationship ended when my high-school sweetheart broke my fragile, newly-adult self into a thousand tiny pieces. I was cheated on, and then dumped in the worst way possible. This was when the proverbial shit I know as my mental health hit the fan and splattered all over the wall behind me.

I entered another phase of depression and barely came out of it. To fill the void, I started having casual sex with anyone that would pay attention to me. I was hot, guys were attracted to me, especially the creepy older ones with a “thing” for younger girls. I experimented with several drugs at this time. Some might call it “growing up,” but looking back on it, I call it “falling apart.”

Back to the surgery. From the small amount of research I did before I went to Mexico, the lap-band was supposed to help me control my portions, so I’d lose weight. Easy enough, right? WRONG.

I could either eat entirely like I could before (for those savvy in lap-band lingo, “under-restricted”) or could barely keep anything down. Before you go off at me for “doing it wrong,” I did what they told me. I tried to eat small portions of ‘healthy’ foods slowly. Most days I was throwing up water.

I would go get my band “un-filled” and go right back to “normal” eating. I never found my “sweet spot” of restriction with my band. What I did find, though, was that eating was embarrassing. So I stopped doing it. I would rather be the weird girl at the party that didn’t eat anything than the weird girl that went to the bathroom 3-4 times during one meal.

And it didn’t hurt. It wasn’t uncomfortable, so I kept doing it. I’d go several days, start throwing ketones in my urine (TMI, I know, but if you have ever been through this before, your pee starts to smell like fruity nail-polish remover), get scared and eat, and start the whole process again. This lasted entirely too long.

I almost died of hypothermia at some point during this, because I decided it was a good idea to not eat for 3 days and then go on a 20-mile hike in the snow. I hated myself. I leveled-out and then bottomed-out. Rinse and repeat. For several years.

My life and disordered eating spiraled out of control for the last time in October of 2010. I went to DBT group therapy. I learned to cope with crisis. I’m finally on some medication that’s working. I have a job and I’m back in college. I have a nice boyfriend. My band(s) (of the musical variety, not the lap variety, har har) are doing well. My grades are good. It took almost 5 years, but I’m finally getting REAL help.

You know what didn’t help? My lap-band.

Do I regret the surgery? Most definitely. I know my case isn’t indicative of every single one out there, but the lap-band truly screwed up my life.

Now my lap-band is completely deflated. I get tingles down my middle when I yawn or get overexcited, but I’ll take that over slicing up my arms and puking vodka all over my bedroom floor after falling out of bed any day.

I made an uninformed decision and had major surgery at a time when I was at my weakest and it made the next almost 5 years a living nightmare at the best of times. You know what I really needed the whole time? Psychological help.

I got there eventually, but living in a society where almost everyone equates happiness to thinness, it’s been a complicated process. Say you’re so sick of hearing about fat-shaming, and fat-hatred all you want to. Make your jokes, poke fun at the terms, but I hope you all know that this REALLY is a REAL problem and it has REAL consequences.

Consider the 17-22 year old girl you just read about one of those consequences. Consider the scars on my body and my screwed-up metabolism as consequences to the fat-phobic society we live in.

My name is Hannah, and having the lap-band surgery was one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my 22 short years. I am proud to say that I am finally picking up the pieces that it left my life in, and am finally on the road to recovery.

________________________

Mod note:

You can say what you want about this story. You can say maybe she should have gotten it done in the US, maybe she should have been in a better mental state. But this is what the hysteria about being fat leads to. You cannot tell me for one moment that she was healthier after her surgery than before.

Have I heard success stories about weight loss surgeries? Sure. But I’ve heard far more horror stories. People no longer to eat their favorite foods, people unable to process the food they eat, who end up vomiting or having diarrhea on a constant basis. People who end up weighing more after the surgery than they did before. People who lose their hair, who can no longer absorb nutrients and vitamins. People who die on the operating table.

The bottom line is, when you go for a surgery like this, you are changing the way that your body naturally works. And the risks far outweigh the benefits. Listen to the people who have had the surgery, or the people who decided against it, not the people who get to line their pockets for every new patient they get to go under the knife.

Losing weight does not make you healthier. Living a healthier lifestyle makes you healthier, regardless of whether pounds come off or not.

For more information on the risks of weight loss surgery, here are some links.

Emergency Care of the Bariatric Surgery patient

Lisa’s Gastric Banding Surgery

Mandatory Weight Loss Surgery?

bigmamalebanon’s story

Love,

Amber

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