TW: In this post, I talk about body image, mental health, and some bullying. If I missed anything that could be a trigger, please let me know. Thanks!
The last time I was a “healthy” weight for my height was nearly forty years ago. I was a normal four-year-old child, running, playing, eating, sleeping, learning, doing all of the normal stuff kids do.
Then something really awful happened. I won’t go into the salient details (if you’re a close friend, you know, and if you’re not, you don’t need to know), but after it happened, I started gaining weight. My family also experienced food insecurity, and I developed an eating disorder. Even though I did my best to avoid eating too much, I was encouraged to clean my plate and not waste food. I was also scared that there might not be food later, so I often ate as much as I could. Eventually, I was eating without being aware of how much I had eaten until the food was gone. I couldn’t even remember eating it. I was also very active, though, so I figured the fat would go away as I got older and matured into my adult body.
Unfortunately, kids can be pretty cruel. I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I was 32 years old, so all through public school, I was the weird fat kid who got picked on a lot. I had my small tribe of fellow weirdos, but we weren’t always in class or lunch periods together, so by the time I was in high school, I ended up bringing my lunch and eating it in the bathroom while crying because no one wanted me to sit with them, or they would come by the table where I was sitting and take the extra chairs so they could sit with their friends.
A girl in my grade who was also in the youth group at the church I attended called me “puta” all the time. When she got caught, she claimed she was saying “punta,” and nothing was ever done about it.
But I digress.
By my senior year, I had my eating fairly well under control, and I was in the best shape of my life, even though I was still considered overweight based on my weight and height. It didn’t take into account how much weight I could lift with my legs or how fast I could run at that time when my breasts were strapped down and couldn’t bounce out of my bra.
My biggest refuge in high school was acting. I could escape myself. Even though I hated it at the time, I was always cast as the villain. I wish I had appreciated it at the time, because the villains have the most fun. But I knew I was cast as the villain because I was larger than most girls and had a deeper voice.
It was also when guys first started telling me that I looked like a man in drag. I didn’t look right. My shoulders were too broad, my walk was wrong, and I couldn’t do makeup or walk in high heels right. Even when I was close to a healthy weight, I was covered in scars in had weight in the wrong places.
Anyway, I wanted to major in theater in college. I was originally going to go to Hannibal-LaGrange College (now University), which was where my dad got his degree. He was the first person in our entire family to earn a bachelor’s degree. I went to meet the theater professor, and though she told my mother I had talent as an actor, I was too fat to perform on her stage. She told me I would need to lose 30 pounds before school started to even be a member of the chorus, much less a lead.
I ended up following a guy I was crushing on to Central Methodist College (now University) instead. I also started out in theater there, but the theater professor creeped me out so badly that I ended up switching majors. Unfortunately, I also let the guys at the school bully me out of using the weight room (I loved lifting back then) and the exercise facilities in general, and I was too shy and lacking in confidence to ask anyone to work out with me, so I ended up giving it up.
I was the first woman in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree, and I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life at that time (292 pounds). I was also engaged to my first husband and at loose ends with my life. I ended up working in a hospital for a little over four years, got divorced, had a really traumatic late miscarriage, lost about 40 pounds, left my job, and moved to Chicago when I fell in love with a guy who lived there.
I had my oldest child in Chicago and lost 30 more pounds during my pregnancy, leaving the hospital weighing 220 pounds. I went back to work the day I was discharged from the hospital. I also started having back pain. They tried to give me an epidural twice when I was giving birth to my Cherry Blossom (not her real name), and both times failed, so they had to give me general anesthesia when they had to do an emergency c-section to save her.
In spite of working two jobs and taking care of my baby, I regained the weight that I had lost and then some. I had postpartum depression and was binge-eating without realizing it. I remember I once made a dozen cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing and ate almost the entire pan without realizing it. I was horrified.
I eventually left CB’s dad and moved back to Missouri. I went through a number of relationships, and we moved quite a bit. I got back down to around 230 pounds and walked quite a bit while CB was in preschool. I also got professionally diagnosed with autism, which was a relief, because it explained so much about who I was and why I was the way I was.
After leaving another bad relationship, I ended up in St. Louis with my daughter. I rented a room from my mother and her fourth husband, and I helped out around the house when I wasn’t caring for Samantha. I still did a lot of walking, and I stayed around 250 pounds.
Eventually, I met my second husband, and we got married. I was about 270 pounds at the time. My husband made it abundantly clear to anyone who dared to say anything about my weight or my looks that he loved me as I am, and he had zero tolerance for any cruelty directed at me. I was able to finally get a full-time job and get back into college to start earning a second degree while my husband earned his Master’s degree.
Then I started getting sick. I was taking my birth control pills religiously, so I thought for sure I couldn’t be pregnant. In spite of adding Tae Kwon Do to my busy schedule, I continued to gain weight and ended up 310 pounds. Eventually, I went to the doctor and found out what was wrong.
I was pregnant again. In spite of taking my birth control pills at the same time every day for years, I was pregnant.
And after the ultrasound, I found out that I was VERY pregnant. I had just earned my camouflage belt in Tae Kwon Do before I found out I was pregnant, and I was not allowed to continue once the pregnancy was confirmed. I still felt like a fierce warrior for getting so far, though.
I also ended up having to leave college because they weren’t able to accommodate my needs as an autistic person. I probably could have continued fighting it, but I was still working full-time, and I decided it wasn’t worth it to fight.
A month after finding out that I was pregnant, our house burned down due to a bad electrical job at the junction where the main electrical line entered the house, taking just about everything we owned and our three beloved cats. All of my artwork, manuscripts, books, and irreplaceable items were gone. All of the things we had been given for the baby were gone. Our home was gone.
Fortunately, our community stepped up, and our Tae Kwon Do family stepped up, and they helped us get into a new rental home and helped us get furniture for the home and clothing and shoes for all of us. The Red Cross gave us a bit of money for food and clothes. AAA was the absolute best, though. We had renter’s insurance through them (and still do), and they helped us get into a hotel and then an extended-stay hotel while we were looking for a new home.
We had just moved into our new rental home when my OB/GYN got concerned about my blood pressure and wanted me to be induced to try and prevent me from developing eclampsia. I was given two trials of pitocin before my water finally broke. They wanted to give me a third trial of pitocin, but it had been 12 hours since my water broke, so I insisted on a c-section. The epidural was successful, but they were really rough with me during the c-section because my baby had migrated to the top of my uterus in the previous 12 hours (she had been sitting head-down on my cervix when I was admitted), so they had to pretty much dig her out.
Eventually, they delivered my Sunflower (also not her real name). She only had a 1 on the APGAR and had to be resuscitated. She was not breathing. Her next APGARs were 3 and 5, and her cries were strong. They let her stay with me instead of putting her in the NICU, and they checked her blood sugar before I fed her every time I tried to feed her. I was 280 pounds when I was discharged, and I was in the hospital for a week while they tried to get my pain and blood pressure under control. Sunflower stayed with me the entire week, except for a few times when I requested respite care.
Sunflower had trouble latching, so I started pumping breast milk for her. Fortunately, someone had donated a gently-used hospital-grade breast pump, and it worked beautifully.
Unfortunately, Sunflower had bad GERD, so she regurgitated a lot of what she ate. I don’t really have any memory of her first year because I was constantly feeding her, cleaning her up, changing my clothes, pumping breast milk, and doing my best to take care of everyone’s needs. I was hooked up to a wound vac and ended up losing my job because I wasn’t covered by FMLA and couldn’t return to work as quickly as they wanted me to.
Fortunately, Michael was able to get a job where he could also fulfill his internship and provisioning needs, so we were able to make ends meet.
Unfortunately, I developed post-partum depression and had to get connected with community mental health to get back on a good emotional track. I was put on a waiting list for a therapist, but I got to meet with my caseworker regularly.
Additionally, I ended up losing my eyesight in my right eye a week after I turned 40. The eyesight in my left eye was already weak, so I ended up being deemed legally blind. Unfortunately, when I went for SSDI, they decided I didn’t have enough work credits to qualify, and when I applied for SSI, they decided my husband made too much money.
And then COVID happened, and the parks were closed, and I didn’t feel safe walking around, both because of COVID and because of people who felt the need to yell at me for being out walking with my children, even though we were all wearing masks.
And my pain got worse. I always had chronic pain from an alphabet soup of abdominal issues, but it got worse. I was scared to go to the doctor, both because of the trauma around SF’s birth and my own knowledge of how unkind medical personnel can be behind closed doors, especially towards people on Medicaid (our state expanded the financial limits, so we qualified for it again, thank goodness). I made the mistake of weighing myself on a scale.
I was 380 pounds.
I ate less, I drank more water, I ran after my kids as much as my pain would allow, but I didn’t get any smaller. I felt angry because my husband could eat whatever he wanted to whenever he wanted to and didn’t gain weight, but I stayed the same.
We ended up getting cable bundled with our internet at a reduced price than what we pay now. I discovered My 600-lb Life, and I felt sad. More than ever, I’m beginning to understand that for some people, especially those of us with chronic pain, it’s easy to gain weight whatever we do. Losing the weight without medical intervention is really, really difficult, especially as one gets older. There is no magic pill or adorable space alien who can make the fat walk away.
My weight is related to both trauma and chronic pain. I still exercise as I can. I’ve upped my water intake. I will be seeing a doctor as soon as possible to be examined and see what options I have to manage my pain and safely lose my excess weight.
I want to be healthy and strong.
I don’t want to be like this anymore. It’s not fun, and it’s not comfortable. I feel shame when I’m where anyone other than family can see me. My husband still loves me just as I am and doesn’t disparage my weight or my scars. He sees me doing my best each day, and so do my kids.
And at the end of the day, that’s all we can do.