My size has always been an issue for me. As a child, I was the tallest person (not girl, person) in most of my classes from about the 3rd grade through the 8th. Kids are the ultimate purveyors of cruelty, and I got more than my share of teasing based on my height. The insecurity this instilled in me hung on through high school, past the point when others were outgrowing me, and though I don't think it completely defined me as a person, I was always conscious of being "big." Looking back at pictures of me from high school and college I just want to cry. Not because I was fat, but because I wasn't. I spent years wanting to hide a body that was at worst average and at best, healthy and strong. I want to tell that girl that having long legs and strong shoulders is a good thing, a great thing, and that you shouldn't cede control of your physical self worth to others. But I can't.
|High school graduation, June 1997.|
In the summer of 2005, less than a year after my wedding, my dad started to have shortness of breath when walking up the stairs of his Connecticut condo. Dad was one of those people who was rarely sick and even when he was, he almost never visited a doctor. The man wore drug-store reading glasses until the day he died, which was unfortunately on November 24th, 2006, after his short battles with first myelodysplasia and then leukemia. The shortness of breath was the first indication he had that he was sick, and in the year following his myelodysplasia diagnosis he went through chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, several months of seeming recovery and then a second, more damning diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. Dad listened carefully to his options, did his research and decided that he wanted to spend the time he had left (weeks, maybe months) at home with his family and not in pain from treatments that wouldn't turn the odds in his favor.
My heart, along with everything else, just stopped. My father was my rock, and he was dying.
I immediately took a leave of absence from work and told my (amazingly understanding) boss that I had no clue when I was coming back. My sister dropped out of her PhD program and she, her boyfriend, their dogs, along with I, my husband, and our cat, all moved into my parent's home for my father's final months. Because we all had animals that didn't get along across pack lines, the house turned into a series of tiny DMZs defined by baby gates and arranged so that the various cats and dogs had their own spaces, separate from the alien presence of their extended fuzzy family. We all hunkered down and became fluent in Dad's daily med schedules while trying to reconcile ourselves with the new and strange world into which we were thrust. Every day was a gift and a curse...more time with Dad but more time to wonder when and how it would end. Would he be blessed with a short, peaceful death? Would he be in pain? What would we do without him?
Life for us became a tense march toward the inevitable. My family is not great at communicating our feelings, so discussions focused on dealing with the situation emotionally were fairly infrequent and never in depth. My Dad, ever the planner, arranged all of his affairs so that my Mom wouldn't have to worry about necessities, like the house or her health care, all while slowly fading away from us. He had okay days and awful days, and even some really funny days when he was trying Marinol for his pain. We were managing his care mostly at home and when it became obvious that his time was short, we began relying on hospice care for daily support. The kind, wonderful hospice nurses were the ones who finally convinced us to stop offering him food, which only made him uncomfortable and was really us trying to retain a sense of normalcy. We had a very low key Thanksgiving that year and sometime after midnight, Dad was just ready. My mom, my sister and I were all with him, telling him it was okay and encouraging him to let go. The moment he died was the hardest of my life but also a huge relief, which is hard to reconcile even in my mind but it marked the moment that he finally found peace after a painful struggle. I will cherish that moment forever.
Anyone who is still with me at this point is probably wondering: what in the hell does any of this have to do with my body issues? Well, earlier this year my Mom was visiting us and had brought her laptop. M was going through her files, making sure that we had a complete back-up for her system and porting some of her pictures to our machines. Mom and I started going through the pictures one by one, like you do, and we eventually got to the pictures from that fall. And as we clicked through, I watched myself gain 40lbs over the course of three months. While I wasn't fat in college or afterward, I do tend to be a stress eater and someone who looks to food for comfort. I gained 20lbs while planning my wedding in 2003/2004 and then lost about half of that before being a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding in October 2005. Somehow, I kept the weight gain during the first part of Dad's illness to a minimum, but once we knew he was terminal it just piled on. Watching my weight balloon in those pictures was painful and alarming. Having had two babies, I am no stranger to watching my body change, but I lost all the weight I gained with both kids pretty quickly (I only gained around 35lbs with each of them so most of it was baby/water weight). The stubborn 40lbs from that fall, however, had become part of me and I was finally able to see the difference they made very clearly. I didn't like it.
Shortly after this disturbing revelation, I joined Weight Watchers. Online, because as I mentioned before my family really doesn't like to talk about their feelings. I have been somewhat lazy about adhering to my daily points and am very, very bad about entering my daily food intake, but somehow I have managed to lose 9lbs! I finally feel like I am on the road to a healthier weight and I am very excited about it. I don't plan to share my before weight here (body issues are hard to get past) but will say that it is over 200. Ouch. My goal is to use WW to lose those 40lbs and become a healthier version of me, not so that I will look better in a bathing suit, but so that I will be in better health for me and my family. I want to meet my grandkids one day and being overweight never helped anyone live longer.