I am going to be brave with this entry, but I feel it is for an important reason. We as a society are so casual at finding humor in those who are over weight (as is seen with countless memes, videos, comedians etc…), when really it is anything but funny. Many who suffer from weight issues have contributing factors to their circumstances– be it medical conditions, medications, or mental health. My own weight and body struggles stem from experiencing childhood abuse, and battling the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that resulted. I over-ate in an attempt to fill inner emptiness, and soothe pain. It was my comfort source.
I share this in an attempt to both soften, and broaden perspectives when we look at others. We do not know their situation, or their story.
In hindsight, I now realize I have always seen food as comfort, a special commodity….a reward….thus why I have also always had a little extra packaging. This too has roots in childhood. Food was not always available, so I gained kind of a distorted relationship, and value of it. It is hard to break the ingrained programing that says I have to eat everything (even though I am full) because it cannot be wasted, and it may be a while until I get a chance to eat again. In middle school, my sister and I worked in the school cafeteria despite being on the free-lunch program. We discovered that they would let us have extra portions, and sometimes we could even take home things like left-over chicken sandwiches. Now, as an adult….I still struggle with the food “hoarding” mentality, and thinking of it as something special to have.
It is very common for people to turn to outside sources in an attempt to cope, distract, fill, soothe etc… when faced with trauma or mental health issues. It is how, and why, many form addictions. Drugs, alcohol etc… are things we obviously know are not good for us…. but the unique element with food, is that it registers as something “good” and “nurturing” that we can give to ourselves. It feels like doing something to take care of ourselves—all the more so when nothing else feels in our control, and like we have no other way to meet personal needs. “At least I can take care of, and do something good for myself by eating this big meal.” This is why it took me so long to see what I was doing to myself.
A big part of it for me was reaching the “over-full” state. I over-ate because the sensation of “fullness” was an attempt to distract from the emptiness that I felt that was not physical. I tried to fill a soul wound with food. I almost ate myself to death, and did not pay attention to what it cost me….because my focus was skewed. It was a reflex, something I was not even aware of doing. I told myself my physical state was due to other reasons. I originally put the weight on quickly starting in late 2002, and into 2003 ( when my PTSD was at it’s worst). When the flashbacks and primary symptoms of ptsd finally subsided in 2006, I “woke-up” to my physical state ( but still did not address the cause), and worked hard to lose a large amount of weight. While on a vacation in Florda in 2009, I almost died from a MRSA infection (they think I got it from a Brown Recluse spider bite), and when it proved resilient to antibiotics they had to remove the infected tissue, which left me with a deep open wound that took many months to fill/ heal. During the healing time I was not able to be physically active, and the weight quickly piled-on……but instead of battling it once I was better, I instead felt kind of defeated and overwhelmed, and slid back into old habits.
PTSD causes flashbacks. Flashbacks are the resurfacing of past emotions, memories, and pain….only it feels like it is happening in the present. It can come in many forms, such as sudden emotional surges and panic. Often flashbacks can attack through vivid real-seeming nightmares, or even be a from of “day-mare” that takes you out of the current reality. For me, I had both sleeping and daytime flashbacks, and they were like experiencing a complete time warp—I was once again a child, complete with thoughts, terror, helplessness….and I could feel all of the physical pain. I relived things over and over, and it was a massive storage. It was as if somewhere inside of me, a pause button had been released. The impact that it had on me in the present was the same as it would have been had it all actually been happening….I even sometimes felt “phantom” pain… it was like my body and brain expected there to be physical injuries. When attempts to get help had unfortunate results, I kind of curled-up into my old training, and habit of dealing with things in silence, and on my own. I did not want to burden anyone. I went through it all once again without anything to counter it. I developed a strong need to feel in control, and keep myself safe…. thus why I eventually distanced myself from most things, and people for some while….and reached for food in an attempt to comfort myself.
The second element to my weight struggles is due to how I relate to my body. I have never really felt connected to it. As a child I told myself that they were hurting my body, not me ( I want to make it clear that my father was in no way involved). I often felt trapped by my body, because it could be used against me. I won’t go into too much detail…but things spanned many years, and multiple forms. Touch was something I grew-up associating with being hurt/ pain because it was all that I really experienced. I also had it verbally ingrained into me that I was ugly, stupid, disgusting, worthless….no one would want or love me etc….So, the result was very warped (and untrue) perceptions of my own self, and my body. I have never really been able to dance ( unless it is staged), because I tend to be wound-tight, and it is hard for me to let go and just move like that…I feel awkward, and just do not connect to myself physically in that way.
I have a memory of attempting to puzzle-out my place, and why I was treated differently than other children. I think I was seven. I remember thinking of the jewelry box that an aunt who had passed away had given me ( the kind with a little ballerina inside). It was something precious to me, so I made sure to keep it high-up and safe on my dresser, and always handled it with care. I recall thinking how when people value, or love something….they keep it safe, and are gentle towards it. When people do not care about something, and see it as being garbage….they throw it around, stomp on it….don’t care about what happens to it, or if it breaks. Last year, I came to realize that on some deep, silent level… I still believed that was true about my body. It can be hard to place value on, and take care of something that no one else has ever treated with love or care.
I had thought I had over-come things. I had thought I finally was able to recognize my worth, talents, strengths…..but a year ago I discovered that I still had not addressed how I viewed my body, and that was the reason why I was hurting it without really paying attention. In my mind, instead of being the gift that it is supposed to be, I tend to perceive my body as kind of a beat-up car or vehicle…. and assumed others see it that way as well. Additionally, because I re-experienced being small and helpless in the flashbacks, I actually originally felt a form of security and protection with the size that I gained…which fed into my needs I had back then to feel in control, and safe.
As soon as I saw, and finally understood….I immediately went to work on changing things. I did not want to lose any more time, milestones, or opportunities to it. This last year for me has not just been about losing weight, it has been about re-structuring key things within myself…..namely how I view food, how I view my body…..and finding healthy ways to reward, and fulfill myself. Something about me? Once I recognize the source, and reason behind something….I learn from it, and correct it. Knowledge brings about self-awareness, and helps me to watch myself at times of risk etc….especially while I am still “re-wiring” myself. Its been a lot of work, but worth every step of the way. I like who I am becoming, and I look forward to finally reaching the weight/ size I am meant to be. I look forward to being healthy, and unrestricted in what i want to pursue.
For the record, I have faced things and owned my truth (it was needed to stop the flashbacks)….which is why I am able to talk about things more openly now (compared to the silence I maintained most of my life). It is also why I now can talk more about what is behind my weight issues, even though it is typically a very sensitive subject for most people. I decided that I am tired of having to hide everything, feel shame….especially when really, my struggles were a response to having experienced trauma caused by others. I would rather be open about it, and focus on feeling proud of what I have accomplished and improved for myself. Additionally, I have come to discover, that though sharing these things may not be comfortable for everyone, often it can be just what someone else needs to hear or see to help them not feel alone with their personal struggles.
I have interacted with many others who suffer from weight issues. I have seen so many stories of health issues, extreme stress, mental health battles, and even side-affects from medication. Though lifestyle choices are contributing factors, there often is so much more to it. I wish people would understand this when they see graphics and pictures with captions that make jokes out of people who in reality, have a type of illness.
Obesity is painful and debilitating. It physically hurts, strains, and damages the body…. and limits what you can engage in. Emotionally, it leaves you constantly self-conscious, and embarrassed to be seen. It isolates. People do not treat you like a person. They either look away and pretend you are not there, or they glare and stare. Some snicker, and point you out to someone else for them to have a laugh. They look into your cart to see what kind of food you are getting. You find it hard to get service, and once you do, they talk to you with the assumption that you have low intelligence. You are treated like you are someone of low status, and not worth giving time to. People let doors swing shut on you. You often feel invisible, despite your size.
I still am over-weight, and have a ways to go. However, apparently I am now in the “acceptable range”. People look at me, and smile. Doors are held open for me. My presence is acknowledged, and people say “excuse me”, or even ask me for help, or an opinion. I am no-longer talked to like a child. I even sometimes receive compliments. As nice as all of this sounds, it points-out how wrong our ways of viewing those who are obese are. I am still the same person that I was 100+ pounds ago. My IQ was in the 140’s then, just as it is now…..my degree did not disappear when I gained weight. My heart did not shrivel. And yet, the difference in treatment often makes it seem as if nothing else of worth about me could be seen when my package was larger. These are the kind of things that every obese person faces every day.
I make a point to look directly into the eyes of people, and smile. Obese, disabled, elderly….most especially. It is sad when I see a reaction as if they are surprised I am acknowledging them—that moment of hesitation while it sinks in before they smile back. That was me not very long ago.
Please try to look at things differently. Facebook, pinterest, youtube, commercials….everything is laden with making fun of those who are overweight. It isn’t funny. Someone wearing questionable things might hold some humor, but a person’s actual physical state should never be considered entertainment itself. This includes any kind of physical attribute or disability—I often see memes of pictures of people with unfortunate teeth, or other physical issues….posted as something that is humorous. They are still God’s children, and just because they are not physically perfect does not lower their worth as a person, nor should they just be seen as fodder for those more fortunate in those areas to use as amusement.
I am sorry if I seem to be ranting on a soap box. However, this article came about because I have seen a lot of memes used in groups, and pinterest pins that are labeled as “humor”. I have also seen recent news stories of grown women making fun of those who are larger than themselves, and hurtful statements being made in the media, and prominent online communities. It really has always made me shake my head, and it is kind of sad that it is only now that I am in the “acceptable range” that I feel I can say something about it. Our society has nurtured these kind of views, and I think most people just do not understand what it is they are laughing at. I shared my story to help put perspective on how there can be things behind the surface that you cannot see. To some, it might seem funny that someone is “fat”, and okay to laugh at them—but is it funny, and okay to laugh at someone who was a victim of abuse? Someone with an illness? Often it can be one and the same.
Love one another. Look past the package. The real value is what is contained inside. That is what is important, what lasts…. what we take with us. Beautiful souls are not required to have beautiful bodies….and sometimes beautiful bodies can have deceptive contents…..yet people seem to put more value on the outside, than the inside. It would be lovely if that could change.