When all you see are posts about people losing weight and loving life after VSG surgery, you might feel like you’re the only one struggling with depression. Rest assured that you’re not. There are multiple reasons that tough emotions come to the surface after vertical sleeve gastrectomy, but the good news is that there’s plenty you can do about it.
The Depression Puzzle
Patients are more likely to experience feelings of sadness in the months right after VSG than when they’re farther along in the journey. Why?
- You’ve lost a coping mechanism. Food can be an excellent way to stuff down unpleasant feelings, and after your gastric sleeve in Mexico, it’s nearly impossible to use food in that manner. I’ve heard some people compare that new reality to losing their best friend, even when, logically, they know that best friend was trying to kill them. Something akin to grief is to be expected when a relationship that you’ve counted on disappears.
- Everything is out of whack. Losing weight at the quick pace many of my patients do following gastric sleeve surgery can throw off hormones and nutrients within your body. Being deficient in nutrients like iron and B12 can cause significant energy problems, and it’s hard to feel great when you have trouble getting out of bed. It can snowball into cancelling plans with friends, bowing out of exercise, and even putting your job at risk by skipping work. Not exactly a recipe for happiness.
- Change is hard. Humans, like every other organism, are programmed to prefer “no change” over “change.” Remember learning about homeostasis in grade school? So when big shifts happen, even good ones, your brain isn’t always happy about it. For starters, you’ll be living a new gastric sleeve diet, which includes only liquids at first. That’s not an easy adjustment for some. But then you have to get to know who you are now, a potentially overwhelming prospect. Even if you didn’t like the person you were before, at least you knew who he or she was.
How to Combat Post-VSG Depression
Put yourself on the path to happiness with the following suggestions.
- Talk to your physician. When you’re released from Endobariatric, part of your paperwork includes follow-up instructions for your physician back home. It’s important to have labs drawn periodically to monitor your nutrient levels, and it’s perhaps most crucial when you’re experiencing markers of depression like lack of energy, sleepiness, and moodiness.
- Find new hobbies. Depression doesn’t hit some patients until they’re done losing weight. They miss the thrill of watching the scale drop and slide into a “now what?” state of mind. This is the time to focus on the positive things these changes can bring to your life: engaging in activities you’re always wanted to try, going on vacation without the embarrassment of a seatbelt extender, adopting a dog and taking him or her on long walks. It’s time to discover what makes you happy now, without your weight holding you back.
- Surround yourself with “been there, done that” people. Life after VSG can feel very isolating at times, even if you have supportive family and friends. You need people who know exactly what you’re going through, which is why we launched our private Facebook group. Advice, camaraderie, tough love, encouragement…it’s all here.
- Schedule some therapy sessions. You can’t always defeat depression on your own. Maybe you need some help talking through past experiences that led you to abuse food, or perhaps you have a chemical imbalance that would even out with medication. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in asking for professional help.
Most patients will be pleasantly surprised at how much better their depression becomes after vertical sleeve gastrectomy. Veteran sleever Regina says, “I have battled depression for over 20 years with meds. My surgery helped me so much I went off my depression meds this past fall.” But if your experience differs from Regina’s, know that there are many ways to get you feeling great again—starting with a phone call to Endobariatric!
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