Brandon

I will never forget the words the doctor said during my surgery consultation: Some people can't control being able to lose weight. It's because of how their bodies are made. So, what really stuck with me was "it's not my fault."

Everyone constantly tells you that you don't need to have surgery. They say, why don't you just exercise and lose the weight? With everyone telling you this, it makes you feel like it's your fault you got this big. So, you live in this constant cycle of blame. When I realized I could stop blaming myself, it was a pivotal moment and I got excited about having the surgery.

I had been overweight since junior high. I grew up in a pretty low socioeconomic status. The cheapest food was the fattiest food. If you wanted to eat healthy, it cost more money. So, I just kept gaining and gaining.

As I got older, I kept busy in my job and didn't eat right. I don't want to say I was depressed, but the more I gained, the more depressed I got. I had always been extremely extroverted. But I was sad on the inside.

I was on two blood pressure medications, I had sleep apnea and I was taking a daily pill for acid reflux. And then at the age of 30 or 31, my blood pressure spiked while I was at work, and I collapsed. I was in the critical care unit for almost three days because they thought I might have had a mini-stroke. I just started thinking while lying in that hospital bed, I'm going to have a heart attack. My father had two open-heart surgeries before age 40.

I was never worried about dying. I was worried about being incapacitated. I tried losing weight for a few years, but I'd gain it back. So, I started thinking about surgery.

The biggest barrier I had while considering surgery was people telling me about worst case scenarios and what could go wrong. But finally, I was like, I don't care. I wanted to do the surgery. I needed to do the surgery.

I had done an extreme amount of research, and Vanderbilt gave me a lot of good information to look over. It all helped me outline my options. I was like a 5-year-old asking a lot of questions, but the center staff never made me feel stupid. That's what really impressed me,  their patience.

One of the hardest things after surgery was smelling food and being around food I couldn't eat. But I started turning it into a positive. I'd go for a walk and when I got back, I'd feel good instead of depressed about it.

I never thought it would be as hard as it was, but I wouldn't take it back for anything. It's like you get smaller on the outside but larger on the inside because you grow so much on the inside.

I've had lots of personal difficulties over the past year. The week before surgery, I was laid off from my job. But I got through everything without relying on food like I would have done in the past. You just start to realize that all this stuff you thought you couldn't do, you can do. It's been very mentally challenging but very, very exciting once you see progress and change and growth in yourself.

When I look at pictures, I sometimes still feel like I look like that big person. Then, I look in the mirror and I'm not that big person. You just get so used to being this heavy person and living with it. You're not used to feeling healthy. You think that's how it's supposed to be so you live with it. And the thing is: you don't have to.

After my surgery, I remember telling people not to tell me how good I looked but to tell me how healthy I looked. I wanted to focus on feeling healthy.

I went off my acid reflux and blood pressure medications all within a month after surgery. My blood pressure now is probably better than in junior high. I sleep better. I sleep so much better. It's so crazy to wake up now and not see my sheet and blankets and pillows all over the bed from tossing and turning.

I've never been more excited and more active. Before, I couldn't be up for long periods of time without feeling uncomfortable. Going to a theme park or shopping all day was exhausting. It was just that constant being out of breath and feeling uncomfortable.

I feel good. I just feel healthier. My only regret is that I didnt have this surgery sooner. I like to say it scared the life into me.