The Psychological Component of Recovery After Surgery
We have our postoperative paperwork, our check-sheets, our prescriptions, and lots of phone numbers in case we need something. More importantly, we have our comfy chair, maybe someone to wait on us with our favorite smoothie, and uninterrupted Netflix.
This is the recovery period after bariatric surgery.
But during this time, it’s not only our vitals, and maybe the pounds on the scale, that we need to keep an eye on. The first, and maybe most obvious fact, is that you’ve undergone true physical trauma. You may not be feeling any pain, or might be quite mobile, but your body has undergone an intense physical change and needs to recover. You are coming off medication and anesthesia – these alone requires an adjustment period.
However, there is a definitive period after bariatric surgery that has been known to affect us psychologically. And the feelings, emotions and thoughts during this period shouldn’t be ignored. Well before surgery day, most of us wondered how we would fare and what would happen during and after the procedure. These are real human thoughts and can’t be dismissed. It’s fair to say recovering after surgery can also be looked at as the psychological and mental decompression after an intense adrenaline rush and mental exhaustion of wondering if you will be okay. Give yourself the grace to understand you are not only fortunate to have embarked on a life-changing course, but you are and will be okay.
Assuming we’ve made it through the physical and emotional hurdles of the actual surgery, we are now faced with the physical changes of our body. We’ve likely held on to certain behaviors for decades, which is how we got into this situation to begin with. After one procedure (and the months of preparation leading to surgery), we now establish a new starting point. Our behaviors have now been force-reset in a way by the actual physical restructuring of our stomach. We can’t force the same amount of food in. We can’t overindulge without experiencing discomfort. We can’t self-medicate in the same way. So now we are forced to confront this. Our bodies have changed, and our minds and behaviors must catch up.
If we try to go back to the old norm of stuffing ourselves to feel better, we will physically have a reaction. This new behavior starts immediately, and the ramifications are obvious to those who veer off track. But more intense than the restructuring of the stomach, or the new discomfort from indulging, is the loss of the crutches we used to rely on. We now must rethink our coping mechanisms, and we must admit to ourselves how we got to this point and if it’s worth going backwards or claiming this new opportunity as a second chance.
Post-surgery, another psychological pressure we may face is the new dynamic between friends and family once the weight begins to fall off. Those we used to indulge with – maybe stuck in a rut with – won’t always understand our choices, new behaviors, and lifestyle. Spouses, parents, siblings – sometimes the actual triggers of why we ate to medicate to begin with – start to see us in a different light. Or so we think. It is we who see ourselves differently now as we start to build the confidence in owning and accepting this new person.
Perhaps the most fun component is the clarity and joy post-surgery life can bring you. You’re starting to see changes in yourself. You’re starting to build a new sense of confidence. You’re meeting and loving your new support group and like-goaled friends. These are all tremendous new aspects to your life, and they will bring a psychological peace if you accept and take ownership of the responsibilities and choices ahead.