Jana believes that personal stories have enough clout to change somebody else's life for the better.
Meet My Thin Twin
Alright, she's long gone but Thin Girl existed until about four or five years ago. While I honestly never went about pointing and laughing, bullying or making people feel bad about their weight, I have to be brutally honest. I was uncomfortable around bigger people. I pretended not to disapprove when an overweight adult or child enjoyed a meal in a restaurant. I judged them when they squeezed into airplane or theater seats instead of wondering why seats only came in one size. I was a walking cliche who thought people got fat because they over-ate and that the answer was a celery stick.
The Before Picture
The Turning Point
A few years ago, I worked in a private security company in South Africa. The country has a high crime rate and, as an operator, I dispatched armed response to situations, dealt with victims, angry clients, and vicious office politics, and endured 12- to 16-hour shifts that started at four in the morning. Forget lunch or family time. Needless to say, after two years, I fell ill due to work stress. Footnote: I never went back.
I was bed-ridden and weak for four months. I got a little bigger. During several physical examinations, the doctor could find nothing wrong and ordered blood tests. This led to an incident that clearly showed I'd crossed the weight line. When the shove came, it was brutal.
I went to town with a family member to have the blood work done. Right outside the clinic, I ran into an old colleague from work. I was uplifted so see Gail (let's call her that) because she was highly intelligent and dropped the kind of humour people pay to hear. I hugged her but felt a stiffness. I told myself maybe she was just not a hugger, that I imagined it even. It was, after all, the first time we embraced. The first words out of her mouth? Hello? No.
"God, you're so fat," she said.
The F-word. Spoken to me in public, in front of my family. I can't remember my response, only that afterward I sat in the tiny office having my blood drawn. Swathed in a panicked daze. Gail was also the office billboard. Before the day was out, everyone was going to know the dainty girl was a balloon. That I belonged in the air at Macy's Parade.
The family member hardly made things better. As we drove home, he suddenly burst out, "I can't believe Gail said that to you, I'm so angry. Besides... I like you chubby." Somehow, it topped the day that I knocked out a front tooth and he liked it, because it gave me "character."
How People Changed
This opened my eyes to the real world. Thin Planet was where I'd lived most of my life and I now saw the strings attached to relationships and the shallow pretenses. How Gail changed. My family member's botched attempts to make me feel normal when I knew he was embarrassed. They were not the only ones. As a romantic partner, I was invisible.
It Got Worse
Oddly, the blood tests showed everything was fine. In reality, I suffered a kind of fatigue that's hard to describe. I woke up at night, but from exhaustion. Moving caused a sensation in my muscles similar to tearing tissue paper. I couldn't wash my own hair. Resting didn't help. Eventually, the waves of exhaustion left me with a phobia of tiredness. My anxiety sky-rocketed and my hapless doctor put me on tranquilizers so strong, I drooled. For real. I was so drugged, I scarcely recognized the living room. The only thing that momentarily gave me energy and comfort was food. My size hit obese.
The Naturopath's Quick Fix
The best thing I did was to change doctors. By then, I owned one proper town dress. The rest wouldn't fit. A lot of people must have thought I was adding to the family because it was a hand-me-down maternity dress. I went to the appointment in pregnancy gear and after a two-hour consultation felt hope for the first time. The lady was both a conventional doctor and a naturopath. She diagnosed a stressed liver and suggested a simple detox and unbelievably, two weeks later I could wash my own hair and even walk for longer than five minutes.
She then weaned me off the boxes of pills I was now on. Single and not depressed, I had been taking birth control and anti-depressants. I had been desperate enough to trust my old doctor, who had prescribed them. Looking back, I have a sneaking suspicion he thought I lied about the crushing fatigue and thought I was just a hormonal/hysterical female.
Why Weight Loss is Hard
I discovered weight loss was not overeating fixed with a diet. Even when my liver recovered and the exhaustion was gone, I dreaded a relapse. Normal fatigue (after a walk, hectic chore or my body getting ready to sleep) would trigger my phobia. Out came the snacks or second large supper.
Somebody once told me that every "fat person" has a story, they don't just gain weight to irritate the rest of the population. There are medical causes, complex emotional issues, fearful stories, and circumstances that don't involve being a slob or lazy. You also need to heal the root fears, the shame or trauma, the illness, the unbelievable maze which is the human mind.
Of Course, Exercise Counts
I hit a point where I was sick of my feet aching with every step, my weak muscles, and having a whole wardrobe I couldn't wear. A five-minute stroll threatened to kill me—but that's where I started. It wasn't easy (I find it a bit boring) but I worked for months until I managed a 30-minute walk. Months of being bed-ridden had taken its toll and that's why that 30-minute victory took so long. I rarely walk these days but do Pilates, yoga, and gardening. Things I thought, in the darkest moments, I'd never do again.
Kind of an After Picture
Where I am Now
I want my ideal weight back (at the time of writing, I'm still ten kilograms short). But this time, I want it for the right reasons, which include better health and strength, not because I compare myself with models who are so photoshopped they border on digital cyborgs. Not because I want to be on the slender side of Us and Them in the weight war. Becoming overweight had its silver linings: It killed my crappy attitude towards people who aren't poster thin and I learned the value of true friends and to take care of myself in a way I would never have done in the past.
Sure, it's not all cookies and teddy bears. I've earned my cup of wisdom in a way that jarred. There will never be a day I'd say, "I'm glad I was obese." But I am glad that I took so many positive things away.
A Final Word and Apology
If you also have a weight journey strewn with all the thorns, I want to apologize. From a previously thin person: I am sorry that we never took your pain seriously or worse, even blamed you for it. I'm sorry about the person who said you'd be so pretty - if you only lost some weight. I apologize for the friends who disappeared and the crush that looked away when you smiled. The fat jokes, the blunt bullying, all of it. I'm sorry that I never saw your raw courage. I regret that I never saw you.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit
Margie's Southern Kitchen from the USA on May 01, 2018:
Sometimes our words come back to bite us! I have always had to fight my weight and it is so hard because I love food and love cooking it! Great article, thanks.