Killing a dragon

Now that I’m “only” twenty three and a half stone, I’m back to my 2014 weight. I’ve got rid of the weight of Vietnam.

Vietnam has a lot to offer, but I can’t say I liked my life there. People on the streets so frankly and openly mocked me for my weight that I withdrew. I started to avoid going outside. I started to turn on the lights a bit less, so I wouldn’t have to see myself, like I’ve always done in the worse times of my life.

And even when I moved away from Vietnam, I let that feeling stay. I stayed inside. I moved to a little village in Longford to be able to have the time and headspace to become a famous writer (I didn’t) but also it allowed me to continue to hide. And I did hide. I hid in my house and in my car. I avoided people for over a year.

And through my time in Vietnam and my time in Longford, I shrouded myself in weight. I went from swinging between 23 and 25 stone, to swinging between 26 and 29 stone. And I took comfort in my own immobile company.

And I shook that phase off. I came out of myself again slowly. I did it by doing things that scared me. By walking 708 km of the Camino. By walking out of a job in Dublin. By moving to a youth hostel in London. By letting men into my life.

But at 28 stone, I didn’t feel like scared Vietnamese/Longfordian Connor was gone. I lost weight last year, but couldn’t keep it off. This time is different. That weight is gone.

I’ve slain the Vietnamese dragon and I’m giving myself a body to fit the life I’m building for myself where I’m not afraid of the world.

I doubt myself all the time. I’m aiming to be a healthy weight, so I have another 12 stone to lose. I might not make it (though I hope I will) but I know I won’t ever be 28 stone again. This time is different.

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Every little helps

Today, I tied my shoelaces after I’d already put on my shoes. For the last year, I’ve been tying my laces first, but loosely, and then slipping on my shoes. I just couldn’t reach. Today, I could. And it didn’t even make me pant. Yes, I have to adopt an awkward angle to touch my feet. But I can do it. It was exciting. And it upset me. It’s very hard not to scream at yourself in rage for letting things get to a point that you can’t tie your own shoelaces, like some awful giant baby.

It’s exciting to be living in a changing body. I can once again fit in a seat that has arms on the Victoria Line. I still spill over and invade the space of whoever’s next to me, but I can fit. When I go through the ticket turnstiles at Brixton Station, now I only have to put one hand over my head to fit through, and not both.

My clothes are getting saggy and I’m wearing things I only ever wore once or twice before because they were just too small.

I can pick things up off the floor more easily. I was able to plug in the light on my fish tank yesterday without unbuttoning my trousers.

It’s good.

And life is better when you don’t have to eat. I’ve entered a new realm of quick and efficient pooing. And you have no idea how cheap food is for me now. I made a pan of turkey mince bolognese sauce last Sunday week. Every day, for six days, I had a bit of bolognese as both my lunch and my dinner. By Saturday night, I wasn’t even halfway through the pan and it was starting to go off. One pan of food made 12 meals and if I’d used the freezer, it could have made 30 meals. This week, I made a pan of chicken Thai green curry. I made sure to make less, but it’s still lasted for a good ten meals. I’m literally living on a meal a week. That’s a big change from paying to have four pizzas delivered in a week.

I was crossing the road opposite work today and a man smiled at me. I knew I knew him, but I also knew I didn’t know his name. I racked my brain and then remembered. It’s the man who works at the local Subway. I used to see him so often he used to leave me alone in the restaurant to mind it while he went out. In my new sandwich-free existence, I can’t even remember who he is.

Sometimes I forget that it’s all different now. I picked up a packet of biscuits in Sainsbury’s today, as if I was going to buy it. Then I realised, I literally don’t know what I’d do with a packet of biscuits. I guess I might be able for a bite or two, but the idea of those horrible sharp biscuit crumbs tearing my nice new stapled stomach lining makes me wince. Who is this Connor that doesn’t know what to do with a biscuit? I’ve never met him before.

I’m down another five pounds this week. I can’t believe it’s still coming off so fast. All is good.

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Fat Blokes

Tonight I went to see a show at the Southbank called Fat Blokes. With a name like that, there was no way I couldn’t. It was a show written by and starring one of the many gays I follow on Twitter. (I mainly follow gays on Twitter. They’re much better at it. Straights on Twitter just seem to talk about Brexit and superhero movies.)

It was great. It was a dance show of sorts. Five fat gay men in their underwear told stories about being fat and danced around. It was very therapeutic. Midway through the first dance, the star of the show stopped the music and berated the audience for laughing and informed us that the proper response to dancing is a whoop or a cheer or a wolf whistle or a clap. It’s not laughter. It was an electrifying way to start. And it made the rest of the show a hell of a lot sexier.

A lot of the audience were also fat men, but there were quite a few young artsy women and posh elderly couples who just go to the theatre regularly. I wondered what they got out of it. It was funny to be among my tribe, having betrayed them so recently with my surgery. I felt like Judas popping in to an apostles’ reunion, but it didn’t stop me enjoying it and identifying with it.

Some of you readers may remember that at one stage, this show was kind of my dream. When I first arrived in London, I was living in hostels, I was working part-time on zero hours teaching contracts. I had that miraculous feeling of having nothing to lose. I was delirious at discovering the world of chubby chasers. London seemed full of men who got erections when jiggled my moobs. I’d met individual chasers before, but this was different. London seemed abuzz with hordes of Connor-hungry men. I cooked up a plan. I was going to form a troupe of fat male strippers. I blogged about it. I posted about it on websites where fat gay men meet their chasers. But it never materialised. It wasn’t long before I wasn’t free any more. Now I have a massive London rent to pay and a permanent pensionable serious management job. I can’t just drop everything and be a fat stripper. So I watched this show thinking about how I would have done it.

It wasn’t a perfect show, but I loved it. I loved that they paused at the end of each dance and panted. Because that’s what fat people need to do after a dance. I loved that the climax involved just so much wobbling. I loved that they used a song from Beautiful Thing for the romantic dance. I loved that they were angry.

They were angry about being fat children, which is shit. And angry about being fat teenagers, which is shitter. They were angry about going to the doctor with a flu or eczema or a nosebleed and having your problem ignored while they lecture you about weightloss. They were angry about fat people’s bodies being filmed for news clips about obesity with our heads removed. They were angry about being called names and abused on the street.

I was waiting at a bus stop last night and a drunk man called me a “fat cunt”. I don’t usually like getting called names and on previous occasions I might have gone home very upset. It doesn’t happen that often, maybe five or six times a year, but when I’m out and about drunk people and/or children call me names relating to how fat I am. (When I lived in Vietnam, it was multiple times a day.) But when it happened last night, I didn’t get upset. I kind of internally chuckled. That drunk man doesn’t know it, but I’m less fat than I was last week. And next week I’ll be less fat again. And I didn’t feel as vulnerable as I usually do in those circumstances. I actually kind of felt happy when he called me that.

My life is now in a constant state of change. My underpants are all too big for me and keep slipping down and I find I’m constantly adjusting myself in inappropriate situations to keep comfortable.

One of the dances in the show tonight was about fat people who feel brave enough to eat in public. It’s something I’ve despised for a long time. I’ve always felt totally ashamed of myself when I’m seen eating. The last time I moved in with a friend I started a diet based around beans so I wouldn’t have to eat “normally” around her. When I lived in the horrible flat in Homerton and when I lived in hostels and when I lived with my Boys in Hall, I never used the kitchen and never ate with my flatmates. One of the biggest reasons I live alone and I struggle to imagine myself in a relationship is that I hate so so so much the idea of someone always knowing what I’m eating. When I go out for a meal with friends I invariably feel so guilty afterwards that I have to comfort myself by having another (less healthy) meal alone. At work, we have a canteen with free hot lunches for staff, so of course I eat there, but I find it hard and I used to always go out after eating in the canteen so I could be alone and have a second lunch sneakily in Sainsbury’s or Pret. I love love love that now I’m on a controlled diet I no longer have any of those feelings. When I’m on a diet, not only am I happy to be seen eating, I’m also happy to talk about what I’m eating. I’m just so much more comfortable and alive and not afraid of lunch.

I loved the show tonight. I love the idea of glorying in your fat body. But I also love that I’m losing my fat body too.

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No sliders

Now that I’m on solids, I can eat more or less anything. Except only in teeny tiny amounts. I bought a microwave chicken tikka the other day. In a previous life (literally one month ago), I would have eaten it all in one sitting, with rice and naan bread. Now, one little microwave container is literally FOUR meals, and with no rice or bread or anything like that added.

Solid food is difficult to eat, but I’m beginning to understand how my new stomach works now, so I’m coping well. I can sometimes stop eating on the second or third bite before what’s known as my “restriction” kicks in. Other times, I don’t stop until the fourth or fifth bite and my chest tightens up and the burping and discomfort starts. It really is bizarre to have to re-learn how to eat at the age of thirty seven and a half.

I have to be careful of a number of things in my new life. One is staying hydrated. I was never very good at drinking water, although I know it makes me feel better. I keep forgetting to drink water and I’m only getting about two or three glasses a day. I know this needs to change. It’s particularly hard as my stomach can’t handle water on top of food – it’s just too small, so I can’t drink with meals or for 30 minutes after eating. I used to get most of my hydration from the two to four bottles of Coke Zero I drank a day. I can’t have fizzy drinks at the moment. I think I’ve weaned myself off it now – I think this is the first time since my early teens that I’ve spent more than a few days without Diet Coke/Coke Zero. I’ve now gone a whole month without it. I now have no source of caffeine in my life at all, which is great. That said, Coke Zero is the one thing I find myself having to make a conscious effort not to consume. I don’t think I will though.

Another thing I need to be careful of is “sliders”. These are very soft foods that can go through your stomach without filling you up. There are stories of people cheating their new stomachs by having lots of peanut butter or nutella or custard or milkshakes or ice cream. That doesn’t seem at all tempting to me now. I could easily eat half a Mars bar with my current stomach and I don’t want to. I genuinely don’t have the appetite for it. Another way people cheat is to have is alcohol. The advice on alcohol varies – some say wait “a few months” post-op, others say “a year”. I don’t have any desire to drink at the moment, and I’ve decided not to drink anything for the rest of this year at least (but don’t stop inviting me to the pub.) Apparently it’s not uncommon for people to become alcoholic after weightloss surgery. I guess I can understand that – replacing one addiction with another, but again, alcohol doesn’t appeal to me right now, and it’s not something I ever felt a lack of control around in the same way as I do/did around food or cigarettes, so I’m optimistic.

A final side effect of this surgery is a potential failure of my new stomach to extract vitamins and minerals from food. As a result, I have to take a variety of vitamins and minerals every day for the rest of my life and have blood tests every year to check that my levels are OK and have vitamin B12 injections every so often too. Now that I’m on solids, I can swallow tablets, so I’m on my full vitamins regime. It’s all fine, except for iron tablets. Urrrrgh. They taste, predictably, or iron. And iron tastes of blood. For about three hours after I take them, I keep thinking my mouth is bleeding. It isn’t. It’s just my stupid iron tablets.

But it really is remarkable how good I feel. People simply can’t believe that I’m not lacking in energy when I’m eating so little, but my body has plenty of fat energy to live on and I feel fine. If anything, I feel more energetic than I have in ages. I got up early yesterday – on a Saturday (!) and started doing housework that usually waits till Sunday night. I had to go back to bed again after. But I think I’m going to get my weekends back soon you guys. It’s an exciting time to be me. I’ve lost another 6 pounds this week. Today is exactly one month post-op and today I weigh exactly four stone less than I did when all this started. That is incredible. I’m a happy Connor.

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The burping grind

I feel like I’m never going to stop burping.

Other than that, eating feels much more normal now. I still sometimes accidentally put in a spoonful too much and my chest starts heaving with aggressive fullness. But in general, I know what I can put in. I can do about four forkfuls of anything soft. And I way way way prefer my current mainly savoury life to my life on liquids, when I couldn’t avoid sweet things.

I’ve now lost 50 pounds (3 stone 8 pounds or about 23 kilos). I spend a ridiculous amount of time looking in the mirror. I’m worse than Alyssa Edwards. I have this to report from my extensive mirror gazing:

  • My man boobs have definitely deflated.
  • My tummy is definitely flatter. I think I’m still as wide side-to-side, but I’m certain that I’m smaller front to back.
  • I already find it easier to put on my socks and cut my toenails, but my belly is still too big to allow me to tie my shoelaces.
  • For the first time since my father’s funeral, the clothes I bought for that funeral now fit me again. I’ve lost all the mourning weight.
  • My neck is more necky and less blobby that it was, my chins are still as jowly, but my cheeks are smaller.
  • I have more energy.
  • I’m only eating about 500 calories a day, so I shouldn’t have more energy. But I do. I went back to work this week. And I felt entirely blissed out for four days. I had my holiday groove for four whole days. And work felt easy.
  • Friday broke that a little and I could barely stand up I was so tired by the end of the day, but that’s not a new sensation for me and I’d been moving office from the third floor of one building to the basement of another so it would be weird if I weren’t tired.

    I like being on a diet, not worrying about what to eat, having it all planned ahead. It leaves a lot of room in my brain. Here’s hoping I use it wisely.

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    In memory of the chicken fillet roll

    It’s all fine. But I miss the ease of the liquids-only diet. When I was just on liquids, I didn’t really have any decisions to make. I just had to remember not to get dehydrated. On Thursday, I crossed the two-week post-op barrier, which meant that I could move from liquids to soft foods.

    On Thursday, I also weighed myself. I’ve lost a further 10 pounds, so my running total is now 3 stone 4 pounds lost (that’s 46 pounds or 21.7 kilos).

    Soft foods are nice. I started on Wednesday evening by trying a yoghurt. I figured it wasn’t that much different from drinking milk. It is. My chest was full of yoghurt for the next two hours. I know that sounds weird, but my stomach has moved to my chest. The constriction starts very high in the digestive system, so when food gets backed up, I feel it in my chest. The sensation of fullness has moved place in my body. I even noticed this my first night in hospital, when drinking water and the water seemed to stop mere centimetres below my neck. Anyway, after two hours of shifting around uncomfortably and more burping than is ever welcome, the yoghurt moved its way through my digestive system.

    I’ve read extensively about eating after surgery and this experience seems fairly typical.

    The next morning, I had a single scrambled egg for breakfast. It was the best food I’ve ever had in my life, soft and savoury. Every morning since, I’ve had a scrambled egg. It’s basically my middle name now.

    I was too full for lunch that day after my single scrambled egg, but I was totally ready for dinner. I cut the skin off half a chicken sausage, fried it and mashed it up with two tea spoons of pureed carrots. Readers, I nearly died. Oh my God, my brand new stomach did not appreciate that. I put the remaining 5 and a half sausages and bowl of mushy carrots into the freezer – they won’t be used any time soon.

    I’ve read lots of people who speak about vomiting a lot once they start trying food after weightloss surgery. I haven’t vomited once thankfully, but I suspect it will happen. So far, it’s just been discomfort and burps, more burps than you can even imagine.

    So now, yoghurt is fine. Scrambled eggs are fine. Mashed potatoes are fine. Tinned mandarins are fine. I baked two dishes last night to last me the week. One is an Italian soft bake – low-fat ricotta and egg mashed together with Italian seasonings, covered with a layer of passata and a layer of low-fat cheese and baked. I also baked a Mexican one – a layer of mashed refried beans mixed with Philadelphia Light and fajita seasoning, covered with a layer of passata and a layer of low-fat cheese and baked. I haven’t been hungry enough to try either of them yet, but they smell yummy and are recommended all over the weightloss surgery forums for the soft foods diet.

    I still haven’t been hungry. I also haven’t had any cravings for food. I know that sounds wrong, given how I wrote last week about my food fantasies. But that’s what they are – fantasies. They’re not real. They’re not like cravings I would ever have had on any diet before, because those cravings could be fulfilled. These new longings are nostalgic and mournful. I will never again eat the way I did. In a year or so, my stomach will have stretched to more or less the size that’s able to accommodate a full normal meal, but not the size that would cope with a binge.

    I was at home in Cork earlier this week and I surprised myself by having something of a mournful goodbye while I was there.

    I know that as an Irish person in the UK, I’m supposed to miss Ireland terribly and crave things like Barry’s Tea and Tayto crisps, but I would be perfectly happy if both tea and crisps stopped existing. They’re fine – I just can’t imagine getting worked up about them. Other than people, the only actual thing I miss about Ireland is our small shops. Corner shops in England are crap. They’re poky and dusty and have cardboard on the floor. In Ireland, literally everywhere you go, you’ll find a large and bright newsagents with a hot food deli. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a poor inner-city area or a tiny village in the countryside, there will be a lovely convenience store. And the hot food delis are what I miss. You literally can’t go far in Ireland without finding one. Petrol stations, post offices, at every bus stop and every corner, there will be a hot food deli in a little shop. (There are also similar hot food delis in big supermarkets now.) I don’t know where all of these came from. They weren’t there while I was in school. There were a few by the time I finished university. Then I went away to Poland and when I came home in 2006, they were everywhere.

    While I was doing my PhD and again while I was living in Longford, my main form of sustenance was the hot food deli. In Longford, I had it down to a fine art. I wouldn’t go to the one in my own village, as I was too embarrassed to do that. I would drive into Longford itself, to a deli in a petrol station on the Dublin Road. My order was generally the same: a breakfast roll – a large roll with butter and taco sauce, two sausages, two rashers, two white puddings and an egg if it was looking decent, and a chicken fillet roll, a large roll with taco sauce, coleslaw, cheese and a spicy chicken fillet (a breaded and fried chicken fillet). I would also buy a litre of skimmed milk and a bottle of diet coke. Milk tasted better with my rolls but I’d need the Diet Coke afterwards to help me clear the congestion. I always fooled myself that the cashier would think if I was buying two rolls and two drinks then it must be for two people. I would eat these two rolls in the car. Then I would drive to another petrol station on a roundabout on my side of Longford, and I wouldn’t have enough space for a third roll, but I could fit a wrap, so I’d get a tomato flavoured wrap with taco sauce, coleslaw, cheese and another spicy chicken fillet. I’d also get two jambons (a pastry square with a gooey cheese and ham sauce) or a few sausage rolls if they were looking sufficiently floppy. I’d then eat this second part of my meal in the car again. This would be both my breakfast and my lunch and it was so much food that I’d have to sleep it off afterwards. If I love any food (and a lot of the time in my life I’ve hated all food) it is the food of Ireland’s hot food delis.

    One of the best hot food deli counters in all of Ireland is the one in O’Herlihy’s Centra on the Grand Parade in Cork. It has an incredibly good range. On Tuesday, I visited it and said goodbye. I said goodbye to the shiny-with-grease sausages, the stacks of chicken fillets, both plain and spicy, the perfect golden jambons. I was sad and I was happy. I hate saying goodbye, but I love saying hello.

    Hello New Connor.

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    A nostalgia for cheese

    I’m on a liquid-only regime for two weeks. I’m on my ninth day of fourteen. And I’m feeling fine.

    I’ve forgotten what hunger feels like. I genuinely don’t experience it any more. One evening, I had a weird feeling in my tummy and I asked myself if it was hunger, but it wasn’t. It was gas.

    Instead of hunger, I feel nostalgic for food. I’ll watch Masterchef and I’ll think to myself “Oh. I remember chicken!” The voice saying that in my head is a sad voice. But don’t worry. The sad voice goes away quite quickly.

    It’s savory foods I miss. I can have fruit juice and fruit squash and all my Slimfast shakes are sweet. In fact, here’s a little secret. I never really liked sweet stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I was completely addicted to Diet Coke (but found real Coke a bit too sweet to handle) and I was perfectly capable of bingeing on biscuits and cake, but I have always found fruity flavours a bit much and I’ve never been someone who liked jam or jelly or fruit juice or anything like that very much. Right now, when I crave something, it’s super savory. It’s cheese. Or it’s cheesy. It’s sausages. It’s pork chops. It’s pizza. The other day, I had a graphic fantasy about mashed carrots and swedes. The only savory food I can have at the moment is soup. At first; I wanted to nourish myself and I bought rich and creamy soups in tins and cartons and watered them down and sieved them so they’d fit in my new stomach. But that was a mistake. It was still too thick. Cuppa soup has turned out way better.

    I watch videos on YouTube almost constantly about cooking for the next stage of my diet. The next stage is mushy foods. After two weeks of liquids, my brand new stomach will be able to cope with sloppy, pureed, mashed and very soft foods. I can’t wait to have scrambled eggs. And something cheesy. Very cheesy. I’ve watched lots of videos about the kind of foods I can eat and I visualise myself cooking elaborate mushy meals. Of course, they can’t be too elaborate, because I’ll only be able to fit three bites into my new stomach per meal. But it doesn’t stop me fantasising.

    Most of my fantasies are good ones. But there are still demons. It’s hard to shake the feeling that I’ll fail. That it won’t work. It’s so much easier to drink water now than it was a week ago. What if it’s the same for pizza? What if it goes from three spoons of mashed potato to ordering from Dominos in a week? What if I end up cheating? For the week before my operation, I had my normal dreams and nightmares, mainly about work, friends or family. But since the operation I’ve been plagued by “what if it doesn’t work?” nightmares.

    But it will. It’s working already. My brain is free from hunger and it’s very liberating. And I weighed myself in Boots on Wednesday. I’m down 2 stone 8 pounds already (probably more by now). And I don’t feel drained of energy or weak or dizzy or anything like I’d expect to feel given I haven’t eaten anything in ten days.

    I’ve felt fine almost all the time since my last post, other than occasional pains from when I try I gulp water or milk instead of sipping. The only time I felt really bad was on Monday night. I went out to the cinema to see A Star is Born and afterwards I felt fine and then suddenly I didn’t. I was doubled over in pain. My stomach felt like it would explode. I couldn’t face getting a bus home and got an Uber, which didn’t help because we took all the back roads through residential areas and ended up bumping over every speed ramp in South London. It’s the first time in my life I’ve felt travel sick and just wanted the motion to end. Speaking of motions, the answer soon became clear. I needed a poo. I’d forgotten what that was like. I hadn’t had one in five days. I went to the loo and everything was fine again.

    And everything really is fine. I’ve had a procession of visitors coming out to see me at home and I love it, but I do feel guilty, because I’m perfectly capable of going out to town. I’m glad I haven’t though. This is my first time in 2018 taking more than three days in a row off and it’s been wondrous. Every week should be a holiday week.

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