Obesity - A Life In Limbo
“I loved living in Hawaii.” My boyfriend said as he flipped through one of his old photo albums. “I need to take you there one day.”
Oh God! Hawaii? It's like one big beach. Beaches mean swimming. Swimming means swim suits! I was so used to thoughts like these running through my head that I barely noticed them now. Swimming was on an ever-growing list of things I told myself I was not allowed to do.
“Eh, I can think of better places to visit.” I hoped that my tone had come off as nonchalantly as I needed it to. The truth of the matter was that I was obese. Morbidly obese. I had been fat since third grade so avoiding these not so “fat friendly” activities was second nature to me. It wasn't just swimming I had put on my list of things I could not do. Every day I wanted to participate in less activities.
In high school I never went to dances. I felt really bad that maybe some guy would be forced to dance with me and that I'd embarrass him. On top of that, going clothes shopping was high up on my list of don'ts, so even finding a dress for me was next to impossible. I avoided the mall. I avoided group gatherings. I avoided movie-theaters and roller coasters and pretty much everything else that had the potential to embarrass me.
It's not that I did not want to do these things, It was simply that I had already made a pact with myself that these were the kind of things I would do when I was skinny. Until then, I was just going to have to sit them out. As the years passed, I lost more and more hope of ever being able to take part in my own life.
I had a baby and everything changed.
Three months after giving birth to my daughter
I resolved that I needed to lead a healthy life by example. I was trapped in a prison of my own body that I constructed, but I'd be dammed if I would let the same thing happen to my daughter. These thoughts propelled me to begin my health journey. Well, it started out that way.
I lost weight. Sixty pounds down and I was already feeling amazing. Strangers started talking to me. I started going to gatherings and stores. My dreaded list of dont's was shrinking by the day. With every new morning there seemed to be a fresh revelation of something I could now do that I had not let myself before. It was intoxicating. Too intoxicating. As the pounds began to come off more slowly, I started fearing that one day I would gain the weight back. I was so in love with my new life that this idea haunted my every waking thought.
Things started out small. Sometimes I would skip a meal. Sometimes I would chew my food and spit it out. The first time I made myself throw up, I felt so sick I vowed that I would never do it again. I broke that promise thousands of times in the following months. The more I starved myself, the hungrier I got. The hungrier I got, the harder I would binge when my self control caved in. The more I binged, the more I purged.
One of the worst memories for me was when I went to the grocery store and spent $200. I hurried home with our food for the month. By the end of the day, it had all gone down the toilet. my ex husband found garbage bags of vomit in the back of my closet after he started monitoring me outside the bathroom door. Still, even then I could not admit to myself that I had a problem. I needed to hit rock bottom. Hard.
I started having debilitating chest pains off and on for several months. They got worse as time went on and I eventually ended up going to the Emergency room. Every time I went they would check my heart and then chalk my symptoms up to heartburn. I never told any of them I was bulimic, and they never asked. I had lost 110 lbs by that point, but I was still overweight. Fat people can't get eating disorders, right?
My first attempt at weight loss. 270 lbs to 160 lbs.
Worst of all, I was avoiding people again. The idea of food scared me to death. I knew I was losing all control and I feared I would binge if I was around food that didn't fall into my comfort zone. It seemed like every social event and gathering was centered on high-calorie treats. I knew if I went, I would eat. I knew if I ate, I'd purge. I knew if I kept purging, I would eventually get caught.
The last straw was when I went into the emergency room early one Saturday morning. The chest pain was excruciating. The doctors, who must have known me by name, gave me their usual pain killer and heart test before sending me on my way. I went home and took a nap. I was exhausted. When I woke up several hours later, it felt like someone was driving a hot knife into my chest. The pain was unbearable. I remember twisting my fists into my comforter and screaming so loud that my daughter began to panic. I was gritting my teeth so hard I felt like they were going to shatter in my mouth. When I finally mustered the strength to get up, there was a sweaty, human-shaped body-print on the covers. I went back to the ER.
The doctors did an ultrasound and discovered that I was in serious trouble. I had lost so much weight so quickly that my gallbladder made a gallstone so large, that it impacted. All this time I had been passing gallstones without realizing it. Now I had one that I could not pass. I was in sepsis with pancreatitis. I was given emergency surgery to save my life.
Nobody had told me I could have died until after the procedure was complete. I spent a few days in the hospital where I broke down and told the staff everything. I was given a therapist, an out-patient recovery plan, and a very good idea of just how serious my eating disorder had become.
My husband had completely cut himself off from my daughter and I at this point. I knew that if I died, there would be no one to take care of her. I was determined to get better. I did.
The only problem was that I had no idea how to live a healthy life anymore. I knew I could not go back to purging so instead, I returned to my old habits of self-medicating my emotions with food. In one year, I gained back ninety-five of the pounds I had lost. Worst of all, I was still trapped. I was fat again and the isolation was worse than ever before. Not only did I fear being the fat girl in public, but I also feared people seeing that I had gained the weight back. I turned down every birthday invitation and Christmas party. I cut everyone off completely.
Back at 255 lbs.
I knew that when I had first started purging, I was doing it because I was so scared of getting fat again. In the end, the eating disorder is what caused me to lose all of the healthy progress I had made in the beginning. My fear of fat stemmed from my association with being in limbo instead of living my life. What was worse, was that I now knew what playing a role in my life felt like. I had tasted it and then threw it away. I would have done anything for another chance to do it right, and soon realized that there was nothing stopping me.
The going was slow. Every day I tried to push myself further and further from my isolation and back into the sunlight. I accepted invitations to gatherings. I spoke to friends about my struggle. I tried to silence the voices in my head telling me about the things I could not do because I was fat. I was going to live.
I met my boyfriend early on into my second attempt at wight loss. He was there every step of the way, encouraging me to try good things, stay healthy and never give up. The day I got on the scale and saw I was back at my lowest weight, I cried. I never thought I would get there again. Certainly not without throwing up. I went on to lose twenty-five additional pounds on top of that. I was healthy, and I was finally free to live the life I had waited so long for.
Yet, as the months rolled on, I began to regret all the time I spent alone and fat. Why had it been so important to me to refuse enjoying my life when I was overweight? There was so much wasted time. There were so many memories I missed out on. There was so much more I could have done.
I've spoken to countless people interested in losing weight. Countless times, I heard the words on their lips that I had often rolled around in my head. My message to every single one of them is this: Do not wait until you are thin to live your life. If you want to dance, dance. If you want to swim, swim. If you want to fall in love and travel to new places and dream big, do it now. Through living your life, you find stability. Through stability you find courage, and through courage you find what is necessary to make change. Isolation only brings shame, and shame will keep you from ever caring enough about yourself to change your life. It starts with love. The rest will follow.