I’ve been living under the impression that over the last four or five years I’ve grown a thicker skin, that the thousands of dollars spent on therapy and more antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs than I can count, have counted for something. I thought that I genuinely believed myself when I said that it was none of my business what others said about me even if they said it within earshot (although we all know that when people gossip about us, we’re rarely, if ever fortunate enough to be face-to-face when it happens) I’d get over it. Move on. Brush it off like so much sand on my feet after a walk on the beach. I thought I’d come to the conclusion that people are going to make fun of people like me; fat people, obese people, grotesquely physically unappealing individuals of massive girth. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t spent the last several years working on my own emotional issues that lead me to eat, and in doing so, I’m getting control over the food rather than letting the food control me. After a decade spent over 300lbs, and at one time, dangerously close to 600lbs, I’m finally under that dreaded 300lb mark . . .barely; I’m still in the 290’s. Yes I know, that’s still considered super-morbidly obese.
I know this.
How can I get you to understand that I fucking know this already?
I get it, I’m physically unacceptable. My weight is somehow an outer display of my internal shortcomings.
I’m slovenly. I’m unworthy of praise or pride. I’m socially less than because I am physically more than.
If you know nothing else, know this one thing . . . I get it.
Back in late 2007/early 2008 I went through something that no other human being should ever be made to tolerate. The thing is, I can’t talk about it. Initially I vaguely wrote about it after it first happened, but then as things sometimes go, I sought help, the kind of help attorneys and courts can provide, and now all I can say is that I can’t talk about “The Very Bad Thing”, the case has been settled, blah blah fucking blah! I dislike being so vague but it is what it is. I mention it, in all it’s vagueness though, as a marker of how far I thought I had come. There were in fact days back then, when I was in the middle of dealing with all of that and I’d binge so severely and then end up purging for hours in order to get rid of everything I’d put into my body. Hours.
Then when I grew tired of binge-purge cycle, when I grew tired, period, I sat in a bathtub full of ice cold water and held a razor blade to my wrist. I was so tired of the endless cycle of feeling bad, feeling worse, binging in order to bury the feelings of ugliness and self-loathing, and then the grossness of bringing it all back up so that it didn’t add to my already monstrous frame. I was tired of feeling bad, feeling tired, wondering at what point the medication was going to kick in and I’d start to feeling better and less like some freakish monster. I held the blade up to my wrist and pressed it against my skin then suddenly stopped when I heard what I thought was a door slamming, which meant Meg was home early from school. Gaby was in Montessori at the time, because I was too sick to care for anyone, let alone myself. It wasn’t Meg coming home, rather the cat getting stuck trying to navigate the baby gate at the top of the stairs. It’s a good thing I stopped when I heard the noise because it gave me pause to think . . . no, it didn’t give me pause. It scared the shit out of me, actually. I had a horrifying mental image of Meg finding me in a bathtub full of crimson stained water, dead. I couldn’t do that to her and I couldn’t leave Gaby without a mom. I was still rebuilding my relationship with Matt and Zach and I knew if I did anything as stupid as what I was on the precipice of doing, they’d be left with nothing but hatred for a woman they were trying to build a bond with, and to them I’d be a woman who didn’t think it was worth sticking around in order to make sure she stayed in their lives. This is the same kind of thinking that pushed me to let my former husband have physical custody of my three older children when we initially divorced. So, there’s a pattern of feeling bleak enough and like there’s no hope, to the point of letting go of the things that mean the most to me.
Thankfully I didn’t follow through with it, and instead wrapped the razor in foil and then took it outside to the trash bin and buried it pretty deep within the bags of trash so that no one would find it.
From that moment forward I made the effort to start the hellish climb out of the abyss and try to live amongst the living. I clung to all of the anchors in life, family and friends who I knew I could trust, and let them help keep me afloat until I could handle treading water on my own. There were a few people within the blogosphere that I had been reading for ages, and were anchors of sorts too. Some became like family and others I still admire and look up to, knowing they’ve been in the abyss and made it out. In a way, all of these people were the collective light at the end of my tunnel, everyone holding little beams of brightness, making sure I always knew it was there. My “anchors” combined with the right medication, intense therapy, and time, so much time, have helped me get to a place I thought I was safe and secure. While I know there are still assholes in the world, and there always will be, how I deal with them is completely within my control. I thought that I was better able to deal with these assholes whenever I’d encounter them. There are a million other sayings, some cliche’ and some quite powerful, that I could insert here, but I think you get the gist of what I’m saying when it comes to responding to things that cause me intense stress or pain.
So, fast forward a few years and while I’m still a work in progress, I’ve always thought I’d never let what someone else says or does undo me so completely, I’m a little shocked to find myself with one leg back in the abyss after an odious man and his son made a churlish comment to me this afternoon.
I was walking into Best Buy in order to pick up a printer that I had purchased online and then had them pull and hold for me at the store. I couldn’t find the model I wanted online via Amazon Prime, which is my preferred way to buy stuff like this, and I didn’t want to wait, so I just decided that once I’d dropped Gaby off at dance this afternoon, I’d take Kennedy and head to the mall and pick it up myself.
I do realize that I am not pleasing to look at when I walk, from the front, or if you’re unfortunate enough to be behind me. I limp pretty severely due to the damage the RA has done to my ankle, and combined with what I perceive as a waddle (I don’t feel like I waddle, but I know that at some point, your size affects your gait), it’s probably very unflattering. Then there’s just my physical size. Plus, there’s all the snow and ice we have, and I live in abject fear of slipping, in public on all this damned ice! All of that combined, I assume that for the average passerby, it’s all quite unappealing.
As I’m walking through the doors into Best Buy, with Kennedy babbling a million miles a minute, a man and his (I’m assuming) teenage son stop and look at me and say,
“OH MY GOD! That woman is so fat she probably has a pod instead of a family!”
I stopped for just a second and looked down at Kennedy. I’m not going to lie, those words hurt, hurt more than I’d like to admit. I took some time to fiddle with Kennedy’s hat and gloves, acting like they were coming off, so I made a show of straightening them out and assuring they were still where they should be, and that’s when the first hot, tears slipped out from the shadows of my eyelashes and and ran down my cheeks, making what I was sure were audible “plops” onto my jacket. I grasped Kennedy’s hand more tightly in my own, turned around and went back to my car, fastened Kennedy into her car seat, got in next to her in the back seat, where the blackout windows are, and sat there and cried into my own gloves and hat until I was exhausted.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It hasn’t happened in a while because I’m still more of a recluse than not. The pain I’m in sometimes prevents me from leaving the house, especially when I know I’m going to have to do a lot of walking. For the most part though, despite whatever emotional and physical progress I’ve made when dealing with my depression and anxiety, I’m just more comfortable at home. I know I shouldn’t care about what people think of me, but I do.
I posted on Facebook when it happened and now I wish I hadn’t. It’s not that people didn’t say nice things and remind me that assholes are assholes and they have the problem, not me. But can we all just take a minute to acknowledge a universal truth?
Fat people are seen as obscene, undesirable, unworthy, socially unacceptable, ugly, and just about every other negative adjective and vituperation you can think of. We are devalued as human beings because we’re seen as being selfish, choosing to consume more calories than our bodies need, while others around the globe, and even in our own neighborhoods are starving. We’re viewed as being morally repugnant because of our lack of self-control.
We are the last class of people where it’s legally acceptable to openly mock and even discriminate against.
I’m not making excuses for allowing one’s self to become obese . . . after all, the majority of us did this to ourselves with no medical diagnosis as a means of justification, and society feels that we just aren’t made of strong enough stuff, or lack any willpower whatsoever, to dig ourselves out. I don’t condone the “Healthy at Every Size” movement because you can not physiologically be healthy at EVERY SIZE. Period. That said, I don’t care how you got there, no one has the right to morally condemn you for being fat. Even well-meaning friends of mine have said (it’s usually via social media) that there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of shame when trying to get fat people to acknowledge the problem and do something about it.
I’ve said it once before, but it bears repeating . . . if shame is such a good thing, then why are there still so damn many obese walking the earth? The rate and depth of the shame leveled against us is enough to bury the planet. Answer me this, if you think shame is such a useful or motivational tool against obesity, why isn’t it producing the results you claim it can? Society has deemed the obese as flawed individuals. I don’t know if this flaw is genetic or something environmental, but this “flaw” is reaching epidemic proportions and while I don’t suggest we go around being proud of how fat we’ve gotten, I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m OK with your moral judgments on my “flaws.” In order to suggest that all obese people are flawed, you have to accept that obesity is now a genetic defect, and not a character flaw, and I don’t think society is ready to go there. It’s far easier to just make the case that we’re all bad people instead of looking at why we’re all getting/already so fat!
After I posted about it on Facebook, people showed a lot of love and support in droves, and I’m grateful for it. I really am. Most people who commented know me, or have known me a very long time, and know that despite being fat, I’m not a bad person. Yet, society is hell-bent on making it seem like fat people are bad people. Otherwise why is so much sheer, unadulterated hate thrown at us? So as much as I want to take all those words to heart, and “shake this off”, I just can’t seem to.
A lot of people who commented didn’t even understand the comment the man made. For clarification, a “pod” is what a family of whales is called. Apparently fat people don’t have run-of-the-mill families . . . nope, we have pods.
I’m not a very confrontational person when it comes to instances like this. I’m really only confrontational in family situations, so for those wondering why I didn’t give as good as I got? I’m not that kind of person. Had someone made a snide remark about my family, or one of my kids, I probably would have said something in return and hoped I didn’t get my ass kicked, but when it comes to me? Well, I’m not even sure there’s a comeback for that sort of thing, something which wasn’t immature or inflammatory. It was easier to take the sucker punch and walk away. I’m just grateful that it was Kennedy who was with me and not Gaby, because Gaby would have completely understood what the man meant and she would have felt awful. There were other people milling around, coming and going, when the comment was made, but no one said anything, and honestly? I didn’t expect them to, if for no other reason than it’s perfectly acceptable to get away with something like this. Besides, how often do you see a complete stranger confront another complete stranger when they’re being made fun of for being fat? I’d be willing to wager the answer to that is, “Not very often, if at all.”
I’m still licking my wounds, as it were, and turning to the people I trust the most to reassure me that I’m not so flawed as to be valueless, and those people I trust the most? Well, they are my pod. See, I don’t want to go back to that bathtub full of ice-cold water. I’m still working to erase the image of sitting in that tub, from my mind. I’m trying as hard as I can to turn this around and not see it as a net negative, although I know that’s what the intention was, and to focus on the fact that pods of whales are beautiful, familial and social groups who protect one another and travel together, hunt together and migrate together, usually for life. They also take a wounded animal into the center of the group and protect it from further harm, until it’s well enough to fend for itself. I’m going to let my pod envelope me in whatever it is I need in order to get back to the point where I can let things like this roll off my back and not leave me feeling completely defeated and destroyed.
While I might not be the outward picture of of beauty as defined by society, I am infinitely blessed that the pod which surrounds me is beautiful in every way . . .
Gareth, Gaby, and me – December 2012
My children, Matt, Meg, Zach, and Gaby – December 2006
My twins, Matt and Meg, August 2009
Meg, my beautiful, fearless daughter, serving her country in Kuwait, Winter 2013
Kennedy – October 2013
My son Zach – August 2006
Matt – 2011
Gaby – August 2013
Meg and Kennedy – October 2013
Me, Meg, and Kennedy – October 2013
Gareth, Kennedy, and Gaby – October 2013
Kennedy and Gaby – October 2013
Me and Gaby – November 2013
Gareth and me – December 2004