‘Flowers for Algernon‘ by Daniel Keyes is the story of a retarded man who undergoes surgery and temporarily becomes a genius. Apr 4, 1981 UPI archives 1981
March 25, 2010 I had RNY gastric bypass. For those of you who are not familiar to what that is, it is weight loss surgery for the morbidly obese. Yes, that was me, all 352 pounds. Let me tell you my correlation of my life and the book by Keyes.
Algernon was a lab mouse that had surgery to increase his intelligence. It worked. Charlie had the same surgery to become a genius. I had surgery to get to a healthy weight. Charlie was happy and smart and in disbelief as he seemed to know everything about everything. He barely knew his name pre-surgery. My body was shrinking faster than my mind could keep up and even though I was excited about becoming thinner, I was scared to death. I did not know how to live in this new body of mine. It was happening way too fast and yet, I look back on the “honeymoon” period, (which is where it’s very easy to lose weight and it falls right off) and there are times I long for that time to come back.
The experiment stops working on Charlie, and he goes back to the exact same person he was. You will see in my story, that is what happened to me. ‘Flowers for Algernon’ is a metaphor of my life.
For those of you who do not know, I was an actress in LA, CA for 18 years and of course, type-cast as the “funny, fat girl. I didn’t mind because it gave me wonderful opportunities to play a million different characters. I had Roux-n-Y Gastric Bypass Surgery in March 2010 and for the next year, I gradually stopped auditioning. The weight was falling off so quickly, that I would go on an audition on a Monday and get a callback for Wednesday and I had already lost a few more pounds. It felt like I was losing weight in front of the cameras, during the auditions. Ha. Eventually, I was dropped by my representation and even after I had new headshots, no one wanted me.
Acting, producing films and stand-up comedy was me. It was who I was and what I did. I didn’t know how to be anything else. I’d work at hotels overnight, auditing or managing so I didn’t miss auditions. It was exhausting, at times, and could be very lonely. I was off at 7am and my friends were all going to work. The weight piled on as I would plant my tush on the couch the minute I got home and ate my face off until i went to bed at 2pm. And, it would start all over again. Eventually, I tipped the scales at 352 pounds and my A1C was close to 9. So, you can see, I was only focused on 2 things; getting work and eating.
The moment I was pushed into the operating room, I lost both at the same time. For the next year, my pouch was as big as a thumb. No, really, it was. It’s the size of a golf ball, now. I lived on the bariatric diet and I was never hungry. I couldn’t eat a full hamburger and only one egg, etc. If I got hungry, it was usually head hunger, but it wasn’t until a year later that I learned I could eat what were called “slider foods.” Enter potato chips. I’d eat them and they’d “slide” down the pouch and not cause any discomfort. It was heaven. I became hooked on salt n’ vinegar chips without repercussion. The weight was still falling off. I didn’t know how to live as a smaller person. Sure, it was a rush going into the regular size clothings stores and not just purchasing socks.
I lost my identity. I was no longer the funny, fat actress.
I had no direction and felt so rejected by Hollywood and even some of my friends. I wasn’t as needy and dependent on anyone, anymore. But, I was dying inside to find something that would replace acting and eating. In 2012, I was so skinny and boney and was just getting by. My staples were hamburgers, eggs, chips, pot and pills. (drugs and alcohol are part of this story, however, I’m not writing it today, but I got clean 12-13-14)
I had a friend I knew since 6th grade who lived in Spokane, WA. We reconnected at our high school reunion and a friendship blossomed. We talked almost every day and finally, she suggested I come out and try Spokane. I figured, why not, I had nothing left in LA, so on Octover 11, 2012, I packed my car and cat and drove 1200 miles to the pacific northwest.
During my final check-up with my surgeon, he told me the worst words I could have possibly ever heard. “You won’t dump from sugar, only too many carbs.” (“dumping” equals feeling like you’re dying, but that’s a blog for someone else.) So, now, enter candy. I had a huge bag of dum-dums and tootsie pops in my car, driving to Spokane. Since I quit smoking right before my surgery, I kept a lollipop in my mouth, all the time. My first snickers bar was Halloween that year, sitting on a porch swing at my friend’s house. I took a tiny bite, waiting to see if I would explode. Ha. Nothing happened. So, I took another bite. And, I ate snickers from that day forward.
I arrived in Spokane with my cat on October 14, 2012. I won’t bore you with the details but for the next 2 years, I nearly drank myself to death, along with pills, pot and hash. It was the only way I could deal with losing who I was and what I was doing in Spokane. During those 2 years, I gradually put on weight, as alcohol has a lot of empty calories. Oh, and don’t forget the snickers and candy. I wasn’t supposed to drink carbonated drinks, but I didn’t care, because I still drank beer, along with an incessant amount of alcohol. As long as it was alcohol, it was mine for the taking. I knew I was gaining some weight back, which at first, was okay since I was way too skinny. But, then it kept going. I was pretty much at a healthy weight when I got clean, only having gained around 40 pounds. I wish I could say I felt as good as I thought I looked, but that wasn’t the case. There isn’t a day that I’m not grateful for being alive, clean and free of that horrible rope to insanity. My regret is that I didn’t pay more attention to my weight.
Here’s a timeline from the day I got clean. I’m sure I’ll blog about current life adventures at another time, but without going into much detail, it will explain a lot of the weight gain. No excuses or justification. Only truth. I lost a total of 210 pounds and over the course of 7 1/2 years, I’ve gained back around 90 pounds. Listen, before you judge, the statistics of success for weight loss surgery patients is less than 5%. I have not nor will I ever let myself get back to that weight. Currently, I’m losing again but at 55 years old, it’s not as easy, even with a gastric bypass. My goal is to drop 40 pounds and it will happen. I’m committed and determined, but it’s not easy. I am still a successful weight loss patient, however, maybe I’m a half-successful one?
- Clean date: Dec 13, 2014
- March 2015 I enrolled into Spokane Community College in the Digital Media Production Program.
- March 2015 My dad fell and broke his knee.
- April 2015 After 30 years, I became a full-time college student.
- May 2016 My dad fell and suffered a serious brain injury.
- August 2016 My dad went back into the hospital for the last time.
- Sept 2016 My mother fell and went into the same hospital for very serious injuries.
- November 2016 My father passed away.
- November 2016 – January 2017 My mom would be in ICU and then skilled nursing and eventually, a nursing home. She has never walked since her accident.
- Jan 2017 We moved my mom from MD to MA to be closer to my sister and her family. I lost my best friend, the day my mother fell. She was never the same, mentally or emotionally.
- June 2017 I graduated with an AAS-T in Digital Media Production.
From the time my dad had his brain injury until the day I graduated, I went back and forth to Maryland and to Massachusetts several times. It was stressful and hard and very isolating. I’m lucky my instructors were very kind and helpful. I wanted to quit and drop out but one of the last things my dad said to me was to stay in school and finish. So, I did. I’m not sure how I kept it together during that time, but I managed okay. I had a couple people step up and help with my cat in a moments notice and for that I will always be grateful. I was originally going to graduate in March but because I had missed so much work, I had to drop a few classes to retake them and graduate June 2017.
All I wanted was for my dad to see me walk across that stage. My sister sat with my mom for 3 1/2 long hours watching the entire graduation live, from her computer. My mom stayed awake (so did my sister, ha) to witness my 60 seconds of walking across that stage. That meant the world to me. I know my dad was there in spirit.
I’m going to continue this in a week or so, as there is never really an ending. I’m not even sure anyone will read this. However, it’s okay because I learned a long time ago, I make my work for me. If someone loves it or likes it, that’s an added benefit. That relates to making my films and it definitely relates to my photography, today.
My life has gone in a direction that I had never imagined or considered, and even though it’s a huge challenge sometimes, to keep my head above water, I’m clean, sober and alive. I have my family and I can sleep better at night, knowing my mom is safe under the care of a nursing home, and my family.
All things considered, life is a journey and an adventure and really…life is pretty darn good. Thanks for reading all the way down here. Til next time…this is Allie…out. (I’ve always wanted to say that!!)