40.5, RA

Just over six months ago I turned 40. I was temporarily unemployed, buried in coursework and trying to secure an internship but feeling mostly optimistic about life. My parents had surprised me with a long weekend visit and treated us to meals and snacks and great company. I had no major life complaints. I mean, I couldn’t open the resealable Sargento cheese packaging without a struggle and I suddenly needed Steve to open what seemed like every jar or can, but mostly happy and complaint free.

Sometime around Halloween I experienced some aching in my wrist and hands that I attributed to more frequent driving since I had started driving for Lyft shortly before that. I used ice packs, heating pads, super duper extra strength tylenol, advil that’s generally off limits as per weight loss surgery and I got a little crabby about it. The pains and cramps came and went, sometimes I would wake up with them and they’d go away by lunch, sometimes they would linger all day, and invite my elbow or shoulder to join.

In November I clearly remember being bummed about how I felt and trying everything I could think of , including sleeping on my back so I didn’t crush my arms, or sleeping with my arms out straight when I slept on my side. Some nights Steve moved to the couch and so some mornings I felt even worse. I had definitely begun experiencing depression, which is not wholly unfamiliar to me, so one morning I got myself up and dressed and went to a nearby park. I walked about two miles around, up and down steps, listened to music, laid in a pile of leaves and confessed my depression to Instagram and felt like I was gonnna be just fine…. until 2 am when I was in excruciating pain now in my hips, legs, ankles, feet and I was home alone laying in bed crying and asking out loud what the fuck was going on and ice packing, heating padding and adviling myself back to sleep.

Before I knew it, it was December and now my feet hurt frequently, a lot like my hands. Both feet, in the heel and the ball and the arch, I was trying to figure out how to walk without putting pressure on any of those points. Well, I thought, you’re out of shape and maybe those sneakers aren’t a great fit. I tabled exercise and slowly anything that required me to exert much effort. I felt exhausted and sad and heavy and uncomfortable in my body. I started wearing the same pair of flats, to my internship interview, to Christmas with Steve’s family, to the grocery store all hoping nobody would notice how I was walking and that another advil might keep me looking normal. I’m not a hypochondriac, I truly believed whatever was going on was my doing, so I wanted to take all the steps to remedy it before I went to my doctor because there had to be something I was missing.

I put a lot of time into trying to determine what I might have done or what I was doing that was causing my body to ache and rebel in such a frustrating manner. I did a lot of reading, a lot of trying supplements and diet modifications; I gave up keeping protein bars in my bag or buying them at all, I considered going dairy-free, gluten-free, seeing how many things I could hide turmeric root in, I started drinking tart cherry juice, I read about inflammation, bought plantar fasciitis braces from an Internet ad, cried myself to sleep, took stairs one at a time at the pace of a sloth and finally, at the end of January, when I took my flats off and my ankles were swollen, and there were visible deep lines areound my foot from my shoes and my my feet were swollen and misshapen looking I called my doctor the next morning.

The appointment was three days later and I was so hopeful that he would have an answer, because after all my trying and suffering I didn’t. And I didn’t know how to explain what I felt to anyone, it was a burning, aching, sometimes restless, sometimes felt like what I imagine a broken bone felt like pain that produced anxiety in the simplest tasks – getting out of bed, getting into and out of the car, any number of steps with out without a handrail. I didn’t tell anyone really, unless they saw me and I (felt I) had to explain myself. Coworkers at my internship who would end up in the back stairwell I was trying to hide in while doing my  toddler steps up or down – and hold the door for me (so nice!) but also watch me and make me more aware that this wasn’t normal.

The upshot of the whole doctor appointment, if you read the last post was he ordered some blood and xrays and said come back in a week. They did images to check for arthritis and he said everything looked normal and he wanted to move on. I pushed for a referral; a podiatrist, a neurologist, a rheumatologist, anyone who might have a different view or specialized eye. He gave me the name and number of a rheumatologist and had me come back in 2 weeks. I made the appointment that day but they didn’t have an opening for almost 2 months, “ Have your doctor call us and we can connect him to Dr.’s secretary and maybe they can get you in sooner” so I tell my doctor this at our next meeting, and he says “You should be fine” and let me tell you, I wasn’t.

It was such a dark time in my heart and my mind and I couldn’t even talk about it. I started to question how much pain I was in, and others didn’t see it or know it because I still worked and interned and cooked and grocery shopped and wrote papers and did all the things I had to do. As my appointment got closer I started to feel hopeful and then anxious, what if he couldn’t help me, what if this wasn’t something anyone could identify? I got sad, rather than happy thinking about the summer; I can’t walk a mile on a rocky dirt road to go to the car rally we go to, I can’t sit on a plane for 5 hours to fly to Colorado, or a few hours to visit my family. I would think about going to the gym, even for the treadmill when I would feel less pained in the evening, but in the morning when I had to hoist myself out of bed with the help of my dresser and penguin walk to the bathroom, I gave up the dream on Zumba.

This is long and if you’re still reading, let me tell you, I’m okay. The rheumatologist was the right referral; it’s nothing I did or could have prevented, it’s an auto-immune disease. He said it was a great catch by my pcp and juvenile as it may be, I had to take that credit for myself.

Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis, what a strange thing to feel relieved by; an incurable, degenerative auto-immune disease –  but after six months, having my pain validated and labeled, and told there was treatment was the first time I felt hopeful in months. I got three prescriptions and he told me in a a few days I would start feeling better, and that a year from now I probably wouldn’t even remember the pain from this time. I asked if he thought I would have be able to Zumba again and he said “Totally” I called bullshit in my head but was grateful, and optimistic that, if he sees Latin-inspired dance routines in my future I can definitely live a normal life.

It’s been five days and I can’t believe the relief I have already started to feel, the way my mood has elevated, the way I just feel like myself again. I didn’t care that I chipped a nail on a can of seltzer, because I opened it myself, or that the first night I experienced a little insomnia because in my awakened stated I walked to the bathroom less like a drunk penguin. Maybe I’ll give that treadmill a try soon after all.

 

 

can you hear me now?

For the last few months I have had a lot of pain in my hands and fingers and my feet and toes. It seemed to come out of nowhere and I assumed it was that I was sleeping funny, or driving more or not getting enough exercise. So, I got a mattress pad, changed my vitamins, doubled up on my iron supplement, drank more water, added turmeric to my diet, soaked my feet in epsom salt, googled all things rheumatic and arthritic, and at least a handful of other things.

I also went to my doctor who ordered blood work and x-rays and questioned my low iron (full disclosure that’s when i realized i had missed it way more doses than i thought!). My primary doctor is a wizard; he basically saved my life on two occasions, so when he calls me and says “Uh, this all looks good” I’m deflated.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want anything to be wrong, but something IS wrong, I’m not making it up, it’s obvious to the naked eye that there’s some swelling and redness, and sometimes the fingers and toes are tender as shit. Like bump a knuckle on the handle of the kettle and sob tender – wake up and wobble to the bathroom like a penguin tender. He refers me to a rheumatologist, who can see me this year but not for weeks.

I made the appointment and had a follow up with the wizard today. He started the visit like every one has stated in the last five years, “What do you want to talk about regarding your health today?” I start to tell him about my low iron probably being my fault, about my vitamin change and no longer taking gummy supplements. “Interesting” he stopped me, “Let me tell you my theory here”. He goes on about recent link in low iron and colon cancer “I don’t think you have colon cancer” (ok, good!) He says thee screening age has been lowered from 50 to 45 recently and “You’re pretty close to that” – I don’t think in the moment to say that I’m just as close to 35 as I am 45 – but he’s the wizard so I let him continue “let’s just get it off the table so we can focus on your other complaints”.

I’m not afraid of the endoscopy and colonoscopy that he wants to schedule – I get the itch for surgeries and procedures like other people do for tattoos (I’m aware this is weird). It’s that it’s not one of my complaints – hands and feet, let’s talk about my hands and feet! – when I googled (and you know I did) colon cancer and the risks, I don’t have a single solitary one of them except for this low iron bit. It’s also that it seems too thorough, even for him. He sent me for a head CT because I had several headaches in a short period, one of which lead to a fall – but it showed nothing. He also was very thorough about a lump in my neck that I thought was a swollen gland and ended up being a 3 cm nodule that needed an ultrasound and needle biospy (I’m fine) so his old school thorough approach isn’t silly. I agreed to go along with the tests, scheduled an appointment for April and left after what was only a 13 minute visit.

I got in the car half mad, half sad. I furiously texted Steve a novel about the appointment, I then texted a lot of the same info to a girlfriend. Why was this bothering me so much – why did I feel so frustrated when I left there. I drove to the grocery store and sat in the car trying to process the whole thing. Both Steve and my friend say better safe then sorry, humor him blah blah blah. And yea, of course they’re right. But, then what’s the problem ….

I ruminated …

One of my favorite things about my doctor, the wizard, is that when I first met him five years ago he was the first doctor in all of my then thirty-five years of living that truly listened to me. He didn’t dismiss my concerns or reduce my experiences or feelings down to my weight or high blood pressure like so many others had, he heard me, and he helped me. Today I felt like he was only listening to what I was saying so he could respond, it felt very much like an ‘Okay, but I’m the expert here’ moment – especially when referencing my tight weekday schedule and him saying ‘it’s one day out of your life, your health is the most important thing’ – when I’ve spent years making my health the most important thing. (It was reminiscent of the lady who tried to shame me into paying a shit ton of money for personal training by saying I didn’t want to invest in myself when there were still visible scars on my body from having more than half my stomach removed)

I got home still feeling UGH about the whole thing, I could feel it starting to seep its way into my mood and potentially my whole day. I just felt like some fat lump who couldn’t possibly know what was best for myself so I should just nod and agree and do what I was told. Maybe I should consider finding a younger doctor, or a doctor who sees more younger patients, or maybe, it’s not lost on me, that I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Either way, I still have plenty of hours left to enjoy the day, so I am going to.

have a seat.

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I sat down to share anything here. If it isn’t the email from WordPress to remind me that my annual billing was coming, it was definitely a conversation last night that brings me back.

We like art around here. Not mass produced posters from IKEA or Bed, Bath & Beyond or the generic bowls of fruit and flower arrangement art; creative, funky, dark, and let’s be honest, horror themed art. We have an acrylic Marion Crane piece and a canvas of Michael Myers in our bathroom and an amazing (almost complete) gallery wall of the best movie related art.

If you’ve known me for a while you might remember a story about a one-of-a-kind airbrushed welcome sign that has a skull and spiderwebs and a rose on it that used to make the old lady who lived upstairs cry every time she saw it. We took it down and it floated from room to room for awhile before landing itself in our storage closet.

I didn’t buy the piece, Steve did long before I even came to this apartment as a visitor and at that same time, or not, he also purchased an airbrushed toilet seat cover from the same artist. It was awesome. It was black and sparkly and the coolest thing in the then white bathroom with faded pink and white linoleum. The toilet seat itself cracked years ago and we couldn’t find one to match the cover, which ended up in storage and then eventually the trash. (Who keeps a toilet seat cover they can’t use?)

It was a mystery, the cracked seat. We had gone out somewhere and when we came home it was cracked and ready to pinch our thighs until we replaced it.

Every time a conversation comes up about Ruth (the old lady) we laugh about the crying from the skull sign, and then talk about the sign in general and Steve brings up the toilet seat. The mysteriously cracked toilet seat and how cool it was and what a bummer to have to have gotten rid of it.

Last night we were putting some things in storage and brought it back up to hang in the kitchen. Steve gets it up and we talk about how cool it is, and laugh about crying Ruth and the time my parents visited and it was on the bathroom door, clinking a bit every time you open or close the door and my mom saying at least a dozen times “you should put some tape on that!”. Then, inevitably he says “Remember that toilet seat cover I had? Man that was fucking cool”

And I cringe.

Silently.

I take a deep breath and then say the thing I had not said for the last six or so years since it had cracked.

“I broke it!”

“What?”

“I broke it, I was in the bathroom before we left and it cracked and I didn’t tell you”

He stares at me, kind of stunned

“Why wouldn’t you tell me? Why would you keep something so stupid from me?”

Silence… us staring at each other.

“I can’t believe you wouldn’t tell me, it’s like you lied for years about it, what the hell?”

I actually got tears in my eyes

“I feel so bad every time you mention it but I couldn’t ever say it, I never told anyone it even happened”

Now, he looks at me more quizzically

“You went out to the car ahead of me because I was in the bathroom, and it cracked … …. ….  I was too embarrassed to tell you that”

He laughs a little, “How did you break the seat though? Did you stand on it?” (so sweet!)

“Dude, I was almost 300 pounds, I had to lift my leg like this (lifts leg and adds in wiping motion) to wipe and I put all my weight to one side and it fucking cracked UNDER THE PRESSURE!!”

He laughs again. Kind of.

He walks over and hugs me. I’m half crying, thinking about all the times I’ve told a story about shitting my pants or the time I threw myself behind a boyfriends car so he couldn’t leave, or barfing on the altar in church. I never told anyone I broke a toilet seat. It wasn’t funny, and I like to make everything sound funny even when it was sad or painful … just couldn’t spin this one.

A weight has been lifted, literally! We joked about it the rest of the night and it still isn’t funny (yet) – but at least now I’m just a person who was so fat they broke a toilet seat, not a liar.

 

 

brave-ish

A few months ago, after hearing my tale of woe as the struggling fat girl turned weight loss success story, the woman I was speaking to sat, mouth agape, finally saying “How brave!”

In my memory of this afternoon I cocked my head like a dog does and she clarified “to go through all of that, just to be happy in your body, that takes bravery.” I smiled and shrugged so I didn’t comment in a fashion that seemed ungrateful for her acceptance, or her pat on the back.

Brave is hardly the word I would use to describe my experience. Without sounding like a poor me, self-deprecating kind of gal, I have never walked into a burning building to save anyone, battled cancer or worked in a job where I put my life on the line every day in a way that would show some kind of bravery. I was fat and now I’m not, I don’t think there’s anything brave about that.

I forgot about this instance until recently, in two separate conversations with other losers who have also had plastic/skin removal surgeries, I admitted that not only did I not feel brave about the whole thing, but in fact, kind of sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to no longer be battling a weight nearing 300 pounds, or questioning every piece of food I put in my mouth. I don’t weight myself two and three times a day after eating or going to the bathroom, I’m more comfortable in my skin and body than I have ever been but I don’t see that as an act of bravery. Necessity, maybe. Cleaning up a mess, definitely.

In one of the conversations where I am talking about my occasional lackluster feelings toward my arm scars (and maybe, depending on the day, the results in general), I say – that in my frustration about this, I am more mad than anything. Mad that I was even in a position to need all the things I’ve done or had to do to have a “normal” body. Mad that maybe it could have been prevented some how, mad that obesity is a thing that happened, or I let happen to me. Mad that in the last four years I missed a total of  14 weeks of work to recover from surgeries. Mad about how many hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars disappeared from my bank account to fully cover one of those surgeries, and part of the others, and co-pays and pain pills and protein bars and vitamins. Mad when I think about what things and experiences could have taken place in those weeks off or with that money.

Maybe, swimming in my usual sea of unpopular opinions, I don’t think of the word grateful to describe how I feel now, but that doesn’t mean I am not. I see other weight loss surgery patients, or people who didn’t have surgery agonize over their loose skin and how they wish they could afford it, and I know that I am lucky I was able to do any of these things. I have gotten messages from people asking about the process for weight loss surgery itself, for the future, because they don’t have insurance right now, or a job that allows them time off.

I know that I am fortunate.

I revel in my size medium shirts, my ‘normal’ store clothes shopping, my belly fat and floppy arms not holding me back from things. I still do a double take when I see myself in photos taken by others or see my reflection in something new. I am proud of my transformation and the correlation between my confidence and accomplishments is not lost on me. The life I am living now feels like the one I always wanted to be living and I am in awe of that all the time.

I’m more than happy to field emails and phone calls from other patients going through the same program at my hospital, and I tell them in no uncertain terms that I would do this again and again to change my life for the better.

I don’t regret the decisions or the results, in any way. I just sometimes wish it wasn’t something that even had to happen. Who knows, maybe there’s a little bravery in admitting that.

happenstance.

In one of my classes we had to watch a movie recently where a high school student from a mining town, who was the son of a coal miner witnessed the passing stream of Sputnik, and it changed his life forever.

The movie followed our discussion and reading on a man named Krumbolzt whose theory finds indecision about career paths desirable and sensible; giving us the opportunity to learn and grow from unplanned events. The movie was October Sky, and while I initially wasn’t that interested in the required watch, I really enjoyed it. The main character witnesses this event and becomes obsessed with making rockets, even when his father tries to stop him, or his school officials get in the way, and being based on a true story, we know that he eventually worked for NASA.

And it got me thinking.

How many things in my life are the way they are based on one single incident or decision?

(or lack of decision)

How different might things be if I didn’t jump on the unplanned opportunities or see or hear something that piqued my interest?

How far back can I think about things that I did, or didn’t do that built on each other? (The answer is pretty far back…)

When I was working at Uno’s sometime in 2000 or so, and all my friends were going to New Orleans and I opted not to go because I had a French midterm that week; and ended up chatting with a guy online who later became a long time on and off tumultuous relationship. Would we ever have met if I went on the trip? Could I have avoided years of annoying on again off again bullshit? Or would we have met another time and had a happily ever after (SO GLAD WE DIDN’T) …

When my family was moving to Wisconsin in 2002, and I was already beyond old enough to stick around in Jersey on my own, would I have chosen to do that if I didn’t have as shitty night at my waitressing job and get into an argument with said boyfriend before deciding I could do both of those things anywhere?

When I was in Wisconsin and hating it and decided to reply to an email I got from an old love interest, what would have happened if I didn’t reply? Or didn’t keep up the correspondence after one or two exchanges?

What if I hadn’t let the crappy attitude of my manager piss me off one Friday to the point that I used it as an excuse to quit my job I was starting to hate? Would I have still gotten in my car that Sunday morning and drove to Massachusetts to explore that rekindled relationship?

Would I still be a fat, over educated waitress who felt stuck and lonely in the Midwest? Would I still be in half ass-ed relationships with dudes who didn’t know what they were doing either? Would I still be answering questions about what I was doing working in jobs that didn’t require the backpack of degrees I’d had?

Would I be living in a different kind of what-if world? Where I was questioning all the positive things that I could do and change about myself and my life rather than actually doing it?

I have long been a person who doesn’t go with the flow, or follow traditions for the sake of traditions, and I gotta be honest, sometimes I wasn’t sure that was going to pay off at any point.

I’m not saying anyone should be reckless with their talents, or time or feelings but maybe just take a step back and see how things are. Not how you think they are, how they actually are and compare that to how you want them to be. They match up? Great! They don’t? Maybe gave your cage a little rattle. (Don’t let the rattle of your cage be silenced by the opinions of others, because there will be opinions!)

I was always saying that maybe something was a sign that I should (or shouldn’t) do a thing and my friends would think it was as stretch, or give me crap for believing in the “universe” … but as I’m sitting here listening to howling wind and a torrential downpour sipping my coffee and feeling pretty good, I don’t feel like it was a stretch at all. I can’t help but think that old sad, confused, seemingly directionless fat me would have to admit, the universe did not steer me wrong!

more than just coats.

My winter coat is too big but I keep wearing it anyway.

It’s nothing so special … your average knee-length, quilted pattern, insulated jacket. Columbia, packable, light, warm, black, size XL.

I bought it in 2015, and it’s probably been too big since the end of the following winter, if I’m honest. I bought it one cold afternoon when the threat of snow reminded me that I had thrown my last coat in a donation box earlier that year because it had gotten too big.

I spent years wearing heavy sweatshirts fleece jackets and scarves to avoid the winter coat situation. No coat was flattering, at all, and I hated feeling constricted, bulkier and just overall uncomfortable – I always felt ridiculous – think Randy a la Christmas Story! I broke down and got a not-too-puffy puffy coat at Burlington Coat Factory at some point before moving to Massachusetts and I wore it to death, out of necessity mostly and believed that it looked good – for what it was.

Fast forward to the winter of 2013, Steve decided he wanted to get a new winter coat and I thought that I could probably stand to replace mine as well. We went to REI where they were having a huge sale, and Steve said if I found a coat I liked he’d buy it for me. We split up and went to our respective departments where I tried on easily half a dozen winter jackets and coats. Every style I liked I tried – the largest sizes in some only went up to XL and they wouldn’t even zipper halfway. He walked over with about 4 jackets for himself that he was trying to eliminate and I must have looked like someone ran over my dog, because he started asking what was wrong, what happened.

Embarrassing to admit nothing fit.

In an entire department of winter coats and jackets not a single one fit.

He didn’t believe me, or pretended not to for my benefit, and picked out a few more for me to try on. I tried them on to the tune of nope, no way and get the fuck outta here girl this will never fit you.

Maybe the men’s department has something? Who cares where you get it if you like it and it fits?

I oblige the suggestion and roughly twenty more minutes of taking jackets and coats on and off, sweating, being frustrated, probably being hungry, because why wouldn’t that be the way when I couldn’t jam myself into any clothing I was trying on? Men’s jackets were either too tight or too big, and the too big was sort of a nice feeling until you acknowledge that the tag is a 2x.

Not being large enough to fill out a men’s 2x was not the silver lining I needed.

I gave up.

I got mad.

I got shitty and we checked out and left. Steve with two new jackets he would try out and get down to one and me with nothing but a reignited hatred toward winter coats.

I guess I still wear it because is kind of special in the sense that after hating all things winter jackets and coats I walked into a store, picked it out, tried it on and it fit. No asking if they carried it in a large size, or had anything in the elusive “back room”, I didn’t have to choose another style because this one wasn’t flattering. I didn’t have to take a gigantic breath to try and zip it, it just fit, just like that. I didn’t need a men’s jacket, or a  special order from a catalog or specialty store. I just made a decision and walked out happier than I had ever been in the winter coat arena.

I think we reminisced about it once since then, maybe when I hit the fifty pound weight loss mark or got my new coat; at a point when it was less sad, and just factual. In the end though, this jacket is too big and it will be the last winter I wear it. On the upside, I’ll be able to go into a store and pick a new one right off the rack, and that’s a pretty sweet trade off.

I asked him earlier today if he remembered that night, and he thought for a minute or two and said “Vaguely … I know I couldn’t decide and bought myself two coats and then had to return one … I offered to buy you one but you couldn’t decide” – bless his heart.

 

 

 

 

seasoned.

We’re getting ready to leave town for longer than a weekend, so I am cleaning out the fridge and cabinets of things that might go bad or get stale before we’re back. We usually have tacos on Sunday night, and have leftovers for a few days; not being here would be a waste of delicious leftovers, so we were trying to decide what was quick and easy, and also wouldn’t have to get tossed when we packed up the car.

“Oh you know what sounds good? Maybe some dumplings and your fried rice, we haven’t had that in awhile!”

“Sure, then you can eat the rice for dinner tomorrow, too.”

My favorite part about the exchange is the reference to the fried rice recipe as “mine”. I mean, it is, I kind of made it up a few years back and I tweak it or change things every now and then but it’s one of his favorites, and even friends who have had it rave about it.

Steve takes every opportunity to tell people what a great cook I am, and compliments almost everything I ever make. People rave about and request my mashed potatoes on holidays, or weekend winter visits. My mac and cheese recipe can’t be duplicated, even if I decided to share it because I eyeball the roux every single time. I make a meat sauce that he has commented wouldn’t disappoint his Italian Nana, and people have been impressed by a broccoli dish that I swear to you I once threw together as a hungry fat girl to add to pasta. I’ve made loaves of bread, googled recipes that I’ve tweaked and made my own, perfected a chili recipe so much that Steve notices if I use a different brand of tomatoes and have made pot roast that floods my senses with memories of my entire life.

No big deal, right? I mean I have been baking for what seems like ever.

Except that was it. Aside from what seems like a life time of eating grilled chicken in eighty different ways at a half dozen different restaurants where I worked, I was always counting calories or carbs or points and so any cooking I did for myself was also, grilled chicken. I was a recovering vegetarian who didn’t eat much meat beyond chicken and turkey and I either ate them with veggies, solo or with salad. Plus I was living in my parents house and my mom is a wonder in the kitchen, so I didn’t even have to cook myself half of what I did.

So here I am, shortly after moving in with Steve and I decided that I was going to make him dinner. Obviously we had been eating but I think it was in the frozen pizza, take out or cereal department. So I decide I’m going to make his favorite thing; tacos! I went to the unfamiliar grocery store and excitedly picked up everything I could imagine needing; ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, a box of crunchy shells.

I’m thrilled to have it ready when he gets in from work and of course I make a grand deal about it, bringing the toppings over and a tray of warm crispy shells stuffed with ground beef.

Like a child who made him a drawing I stare wide-eyed anticipating his reaction, a compliment, and he just nods while chewing.

I take a bite of one of my tacos and it’s not disappointing, but, lackluster for sure, something is missing.

He takes another bite and puts it down. Clearing his throat he says, “What kind of seasoning did you use on the meat?”

Staring at him.

He stares back.

“Oh my God …”

“What?”

“I didn’t … I didn’t even think about it …”

“So, this is just browned ground beef?”

We stare at each other.

I offer to dump all the meat back in a pan and season it up with something, he declines, TO BE NICE I’m sure, and continues to choke them down.

It seems preposterous that a person with the love for food I have always had, fatter or less fat wouldn’t think or remember to season meat. I almost can’t believe it myself.

I don’t know if it’s because I can’t take a compliment, or because I am just impressed with my increased cooking ability, but I tell that story to almost anyone who ever gushes about something I make them to eat.

Every now and then if he says something I make is too salty, or too spicy I remind him what kind of bland browned ground beef meals I could be making, and we laugh about it.

Like I said, we have tacos almost every Sunday.

I wish I could tell you how I season the meat, but it’s eyeballs all the way now that I’m seasoned.

super fat.

I have been fat my whole life.

It’s not an exaggeration; I was an almost eleven pound baby, and according to a recently consulted baby book I was eighty-four pounds when I was six years old.

I come from a family of celebrators; someones birthday or a holiday, expect a gathering, with more than enough food, invitations extended beyond the family and of course a dessert or four.

In the happy and loving upbringing I have had, the main negative is just that I was fat. Not counting that pesky obesity gene I was predisposed to, there wasn’t any one thing or person that made me that way either. It was just who I was and I (mostly) accepted it.

I accepted it in that way that you know something can change, but you’re not sure how to do it or what the outcome will be but you try until it’s too much. Like when you string all the lights up on your Christmas tree and two strings don’t blink, or light up at all. You want a beautifully lit tree, and you have the equipment for it, but it’s out of sorts so you unscrew a bulb here, or there … then you unplug the strings and re plug them into other ones … you google it, you make three trips to two different stores for new strings, you dismantle the whole thing and start over and finally, eventually it works and you have your lit tree. Or maybe you say “Fuck it, it’s my tree, this is how it is” and accept it dead bulbs and all.

I lived in a hazy sort of middle ground between the two.

I was obsessively counting calories, taking fat burners or prescription diet pills, cutting out entire food groups, worrying about how I looked, counting points, weighing myself twice a day, overthinking how I looked, how I felt or feeling bad about something I ate or sorrowful over something I didn’t …. or none of that at all.

When I reminisce about fat me, or refer to my former self as fat, or obese people scoff. When I share a comparison photo of an obviously morbidly obese me next to a normal sized me, people say things about how pretty I always was, or how hard I am being on myself. Comments like “You were heavy, but you were tall” or that laughable “…but you have big bones” or just brushing it off as though I only carried around an extra twenty pounds.

I assume it’s because people don’t want to hurt my feelings, or come off sounding rude, but let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. I’m not woe as me, I don’t think I was ugly, or useless, and I’m not looking for compliments, I’m just telling it like it is.

When people look back and say “I was ten years old” or “When I lived in California” or “That was in high school”, it’s the same thing to me. I was large.

Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m crazy. Like I am the one who is inaccurately remembering myself.

I am two or three glasses into a bottle of wine, half eaten tortilla chip in one hand while my other hand is knuckle deep into some goat cheese with a cracker. I am siting across from one of my favorite people telling her a story about I don’t even remember what, but I say “I mean I was a super fat miserable bitch back then, so…” and she cuts me off.

“No way, you weren’t a miserable bitch…” I lick cheese off of my hand as she continues “…super fat, definitely, but…”

We erupt in laughter. She goes on … “What? You were … (she motions with her hands)…super fat. But also, super cool, super funny and I instantly loved you.”

She popped the rest of a cracker in her mouth and took a swig of her wine. She shrugged as if to say “just the facts, ma’am” and we peppered it in to conversation for the rest of the night.

I kept bringing it up and feigning hurt feelings. Honestly though, of all the conversations I have had with people about my weight, of all the the times I have referred to my former fat self and been reprimanded for using so called “bad” words to describe myself, this time was the most refreshing. It was the first time anyone was like, ‘Yea you were, but you were also X, Y and Z’. She didn’t try to talk me out of it, or pretend it wasn’t that way – she just reminded me that it was just a part of who I was.

Maybe I leave that out sometimes, maybe I come across as though I forget who I was, or maybe it seems like I think I was just a fat person with nothing to offer or that I let that define me.

I don’t. I know that I have been many things to many people.

I know who I am; I know I have always been smart, and funny and well loved.

I’ve been kind and nurturing and crass and creative.

I’ve been happy and supportive and a dozen other adjectives, and if we’re all being honest; one of those was super fat.

 

catalyst.

I am two hundred and seventy-nine pounds. I am wearing one of two identical pair of belly button pinching jeans I own, and a sheer black blouse with black dots stitched into it over a black tank top. For some reason I can’t tell you what the shoes I am wearing are, even though I was looking at my feet for a lot of the time.

I’m sitting in a chair that gives me enough room, mostly because it designed for morbidly obese people who cannot fit, comfortably or otherwise in your standard waiting room chair. I am a little sweaty having walked two or three times as much as I need to arrive here, since I was slightly embarrassed to stop and ask anyone for directions through my labored breathing. Even my hand is glistening and smears the words on the form. I take a sip from the water bottle I carried along, so everyone knows I’m trying.

I’m not even entirely sure what I’m here for.

Everyone is smiling and friendly though, as if they know we are fragile.

All the talking that takes place is very low volume; not in a hush hush shameful way, more out of respect for sensitive information. The first thing that happens after I complete a ream of paperwork is getting on the scale. It’s a scale large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, though not intended to.

Two-eight-two. I don’t cry, but I want to. I imagine that my already upsetting weight of two seventy-nine is still accurate if you subtract the sweat, the bracelets and watch I’m wearing to look more put together, and the forgotten shoes they won’t let you take off.

I’m okay.

This will be okay.

I ended up having two appointments that visit; one with nutrition, and one with behavioral.

The behavioral appointment is where they crack you open, figure out what your hang  ups are, what is your goal for your weight, your health, your life. What your reasons are for being there, what you hope will happen as a result of this … what steps have you taken? what have you already tried? What aren’t you doing, or allowing to happen because of your weight?

Nothing. I’m cool and fun and cute and being fat isn’t keeping me from anything except being not fat.

Well …..

This appointment, this forty-three minutes is where I realize I was wrong.

“Are you married?”

“Nah, long term relationship, but, pfft, I’m not spending hundreds of dollars to put a fancy dress on this body and roll it down an aisle.”

“Any children?”

“Nope … could you imagine adding a baby to this gut?”

“What do you do for a living?”

“Went to college for psychology, to eventually be a therapist, then changed my mind and got my masters to potentially go to law school but now I’m just helping this lady run her life.”

I answered a few other questions and my answers surprised me.

And then all I could do was question myself.

Why was I still driving a dented car? Why didn’t I actively pursue different job opportunities? Why did I talk about getting a bike or going kayaking but never do it? Why did I stay in one-sided shitty friendships or relationships? Why did I abandon my end goal of being a therapist? Why did I ask my mom / dad / brother / boyfriend eighty-five times how I looked before leaving the house, then accused them of lying? Why did I get mad when I tied my sneakers for the gym and one was tighter than the other so I had a tantrum and just stayed home? I couldn’t ever say before, that’s just the way things were.

I’m always saying that the things that are different for me now, and my improved attitude and outlook are because I lost weight. You can argue that; you can say it’s because I got older or because I realized different things about myself, and that’s true, too.  Either way, I’ll never stop believing that this appointment, this weight loss surgery, and the entire experience was a catalyst for all of it.

not your people.

For a long time, and even now, I struggled with letting people go. I will go through my friend list on Facebook sometimes and consider cleaning up the scads of people from different phases of my life, and I never really get rid of anyone because “I’ve known them forever” or they’re family, or a friend of family, or the girl I met through someone else who I have about four things in common, never interact with but keep them because their presence is innocuous. I keep her because she likes cooking too, or this girl also had weight loss surgery and we’re sort of friendly … Oh this person knows my mom, or dad or aunt’s cousin’s brother …

I had the same group of girlfriends for most of my life; we didn’t all hang out together, or make plans to grow old together like the Golden Girls, but for many years and boyfriends, moves, celebrations, changes, happy days, crazy neighbors, bad ideas, annoying parents and questionable choices; these were my people.

One of them, also for years, made me feel inferior to her. She made my feel like most of my ideas were shit, my decisions were wrong and like my existence was basically this puzzle that if it weren’t for her, would never be pieced together. She had an opinion about everything that you couldn’t question, and while she wasn’t some awful human being, it turns out, she wasn’t one of my people. She was for a time, and her purpose had sort of run out. It wasn’t until I made the decision to change my life and my health that I fully realized it. I also got older; not everyone you know at nineteen is someone you should still know at thirty-nine.

I always thought of myself as a people person with a big group of acquaintances and full social calendar that diminished only when I moved hundreds of miles away from everyone I knew. I’ve been more introspective (who knew that was possible) in the last few years and have clearer ideas about who and what I want in my life. I felt guilty and sort of selfish about it at first, but I gradually made peace with it, and you can, too.

If you want to.

I was talking to someone recently who was frustrated with their place in their friend group; she felt she had to force herself on others to be included, she felt left out sometimes and as if she didn’t really play a role in her group the way she thought.

I empathized but “then they’re not your people” flew out of my mouth immediately after. “Yea but we always used to hang out….” and “We’ve been friends since we were kids ….”

“Okay, so they used to be, I get it, but for today, for now, for where you are, they’re not for you…”

“I know but I just really want things to be how they were, and …. seriously, we’ve been friends since like first grade…”

So what?

If I have known someone since kindergarten or am related to someone by blood or marriage and they don’t make me feel valued, or like I am “worthy” of their attention, I should let that relationship continue? On the basis of knowing them so long? Illogical.

My grandmother used to say that if someone wants to be in your life, they will find a way. I totally believe this; sure things happen and maybe someone can’t text you back when you want them to, or come to something you invite them to, but when you mean something to someone, when they are grateful for whatever role you play in their life, you will know. And if you don’t, ya gotta go. For you.

I have a love // hate relationship with social media because it gives us a connection to people that maybe we don’t need to be connected to. It makes us think things are a certain way and maybe they aren’t. While people share real things, and are mostly their true selves, it’s definitely convoluted. Being friends with someone on Facebook doesn’t necessarily make them your friend in practical everyday life. Being related to someone doesn’t always mean they have your best intentions at heart, and knowing someone since your childhood doesn’t give them free reign to neglect your feelings. People will treat us the way we let them, and if we stay in relationships with people like this, knowing how they make us feel, and don’t do anything to change it, we can’t complain.

Our perception is our reality, so when I am in my head about who is a keeper, and who is a floater, I ask myself two questions. The first; if I met this person today rather than at birth, or in fourth grade or college, would I still want to be friends with them? And do I like a person or keep them in my life because of their role (lifelong friend / family member) or because of a genuine interest in knowing them? I have always said of my parents, that if they weren’t my parents, and just two people, I’d still like to know them, because outside of their role as my parents, they are genuinely awesome people. As are the people I choose to interact with on a regular basis.

I don’t know where I got the idea that I have to be friends with everyone I ever knew, or that I should hold on to relationships that no longer serves me (and in turn makes me a person who no longer serves their life’s purpose either) but I don’t do it anymore.

I’m not saying that you should grab the hedge clippers and go all Edward Scissorhands on your friends list, or social circle. I’m just saying it’s okay to take inventory. It’s okay to make sure that the people you interact with are invested the same way. Maybe you used to talk to someone every day, and now you just text; or you used to have coffee every weekend but now your schedules only allow for once a month. Totally cool. It’s the quality of the interactions, not the quantity. The quality of the relationship, and how it makes you feel, how it allows (or inhibits!) you to be your true messy and real self that determines, to me, if they are in fact one of my people.

Some people just aren’t.