My job gave me a shirt this week and it made me cry with happiness.
The shirt itself is pretty blah and was not the source of my tears. No, it was the fact that when my boss called and asked what size I wore, I could tell him Extra Large and feel good about it. Why feel good about extra large, you ask?
I felt good about it because six months ago I would’ve needed a Triple-X.
Which, by the by, was a size he did not possess. So instead of missing out on having a shirt to wear on Friday’s for team-building, I got to participate and I’m wearing that bland, itchy goodness as I write this.
Missing out on that small moment of community at work is one of the many costs paid by those who are (or were) obese.
Someone who isn’t one of the forty percent of Americans who are obese wouldn’t understand what it’s like to fight a thousand tiny battles every day. All they might’ve seen when they looked at me back in my Triple-X days was a man who didn’t have enough willpower to stop eating all the cake, or someone who should be spending more time in a gym and less time sitting in front of his computer. They wouldn’t have known about the sprawling psychological war being fought over each bite and every game.
We don’t want to be overweight, but there’s a lot going on that makes it harder to fix than just putting down the fork.
It took more than you could imagine for me to get to the point where I could put that blasted fork down. Every day, every single day from then to now, is a fight against the same demons which led to me packing on the pounds in the first place.
Being overweight (for me) involved a system of feedback loops and my inability to break free of them. As my weight grew, so did my depression. I’ve fought long and hard against my depression, but exercise has always been a bulwark against its usual harms. When the weight began creeping up and my energy began creeping down, I turned to stress eating for respite instead of exercise.
Unable to correct this habit early, as the weight crept up I just kept shoving comfort foods into my craw expecting things to ‘get better’. I was gaining weight, so I needed to eat sugary nonsense so I wouldn’t feel so bad about gaining weight. That made me gain more weight, which… well, you get the idea. Thus turneth the wheel.
When I could ignore the warnings my body was giving me no longer, I had peaked at three hundred pounds. For those keeping track at home, weighing three hundred pounds and being five foot seven isn’t a healthy combination. I carry my weight well thanks to a barrel-chest and unusually well-muscled legs, but there are limits.
I blew past mine at ninety-five miles an hour.
When you’re that overweight, common things become nightmares. Sleep became my enemy. I got up more tired than when I went to bed. This made me sleep less, which in turn drove me to new levels of exhaustion, and they in turn prevented any corrective measures. See, gym.
On top of all that joyous nonsense, laying down for any significant stretch of time was agony. I would wake up in the morning and my ribs would hurt so bad that I could barely breathe. My wife would have to help me out of bed and it would take an hour and some pain relievers for me to actually function like a normal human being.
Furniture was an exercise in embarrassing torment during that time. I cannot count the number of chairs I broke while sitting upon them. It got to the point where each squat would require listening for creaks and cracks so that I could abort at a moments notice. Even the most loving and well meaning gestures can backfire horribly when your weight is as out of control as mine was. Let me introduce you to one of the low points of my life thus far.
My wife bought me a gaming chair for Christmas. This chair was an expensive member of the breed, one purchased after much diligence to find one rated to accommodate all of my… character. However, it failed to specify that it could not do so without causing a ton of lower back and buttock pain. No amount of cushion can fix the fact that my bottom was too wide for the task at hand. My wife and I attempted a few workarounds, but to little avail. I could not spend any significant stretch of time in the chair.
In the end, my wife had to take my Christmas gift and use it herself.
We worked so hard to save the money for that chair. We had planned all year, and the wife gave it the thumbs up because she knows how much it would mean to spend my hours of writing in some actual comfort. In a way I’m grateful for that moment, because the shame of it led to me correcting my weight.
These are the kind of experiences that are invisible to those who have never had them. The daily aches that required a cavalcade of medication to allow rudimentary functioning as an adult. The endless tortured remonstrances as bite after bite of some obnoxious empty carb or another went into my carb-hole. The loathing, the guilt, the shame, the despair. All of those are things that eat away at your life and make it seem like it wouldn’t be worth the effort it would take to fix things.
Then one day you catch yourself in the mirror, wearing the XL shirt your boss got for you and you realize that you’ve beaten those hardships. I now sit in the chair my wife got me for Christmas.
My journey may not be over, but life is far different even from the halfway mark.
The Unsheathed Quill