2017 was a momentous year for me. I turned 57 and realized I could no longer refer to myself as middle aged because, let’s face it, a 57-year-old woman is only middle aged if she lives to be 114, and who was I trying to kid? My choice of descriptor hadn’t been intentionally deceitful; I was just trying to cushion my fragile self- image with some vocabular bubble wrap.
Fifty-seven was also the age I realized thinking of myself as round, curvy, thick, or even plus-sized, was another attempt to protect myself from reality. And reality was harsh. With a BMI two points higher than my age, the medical term was “super morbidly obese.”
Let’s get the gritty details out of the way. No, I wasn’t always obese. In fact, I’d been pleasantly petite. At my high school graduation, I weighed 113 pounds. I weighed 125 on my wedding day four years later. But over the decades my weight increased, sometimes slowly, sometimes alarmingly fast, until my momentous 57th year when I stared tearfully at the scale in my doctor’s office and saw it register 305 pounds. Did I mention I’m only 4’11” tall?
Super. Morbidly. Obese.
It was time to face my reality. I might never fully understand the perfect storm of biological, emotional, and behavioral issues that contributed to my shocking weight gain, but it was time to take control of those demons.
My body had served me surprisingly well—all things considered– but with youth no longer on my side, it was starting to show strain. I’d developed sleep apnea and arthritic joints, both common conditions in the obese. And when I experienced several episodes of unexpected vaginal bleeding, I learned that my fat was storing estrogen, and all that additional estrogen was contributing to the bleeds. There was more: Ear infections became a frequent problem, and I discovered that obese people can have fatty deposits around their Eustachian tubes, causing them not to drain properly. Holy shit. It became apparent my increased body fat wasn’t just preventing me from shopping in the “cute” clothing stores. It was undermining me in unexpected ways.
It’s often said we have to hit rock bottom before we can start to climb back up again, and rock bottom was rising up to smack me.
There was that time a young, fit couple spied me enjoying some French fries at an arts festival and mocked me just loudly enough to be heard.
There was the first of many times I had to ask for a seat belt extender on an airplane, resulting in polite conversation rich with subtext:
Me: Would you please bring a seatbelt extender to seat 21F? (And please don’t make this any more painful than it already is.)
Flight Attendant: Certainly, ma’am. (Lose some weight, you fat cow.)
Me: Thanks. (For nothing, you smug bitch.)
Every passenger, as I walked down the aisle toward my seat: (Please God, don’t let her sit by me and spill over into my personal space.)
There was that trip to Alaska, when I was separated from my other travel companions because my weight would have overloaded the seaplane we needed to view glaciers.
Then there was the day I needed an MRI, and could barely fit into the fucking MRI machine. I lay there like a humiliated sardine in a can, wondering what would happen if they couldn’t get me out.
And there was the afternoon I watched a man about my husband’s age pushing his severely obese wife around the park in a wheelchair. I looked down at the cane I’d started using to support my arthritic knees, and realized I was looking into my future. My husband, who had watched me nearly triple my weight in our more than three decades of marriage, and who never said anything but, “I love you,” would be pushing me in a wheelchair. I decided that was not happening.
I’d managed a profession, enjoyed a long marriage, raised two kids, traveled the world, delighted in hobbies, and made friends. But I was not thriving. So I thanked my dear, damaged, oversized body for bringing me this far in 57 years. Then I promised to treat her better starting in year 58.
How I did that would turn out to be the hardest, most challenging, most satisfying act of self-love I’d ever taken on. I would need to search for my greatness.
Part Two: You Will Walk Through the Fire and Come Out the Other Side. Follow the navigation at the bottom of the page, or click this link: