What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
It is not in my genes to be a “skinny girl.” The skin that stretches from hip to hip will never be flat on me, I will probably always have a bit of a tummy, and I will definitely always be fighting gravity in the chest area, which has been causing problems for me since middle school.
Until recently, my body woes were limited to these sorts of relatable issues, and even at my heaviest I was still well within a healthy BMI range. Prior to gaining an enormous amount of weight, I had a good run where I was working out, eating right, and was rewarded with seeing the kind of banging bod emerge that made heads turn and inspired my fair share of time wasted taking selfies in the mirror and doing happy dances in dressing rooms over pant sizes previously thought unattainable.
I look back on those pictures now and want to kick myself for letting all of that hard work go.
About two years ago, I was hit with a wave of debilitating depression. A bad breakup ushered it in, my job was eliminated due to the poor economy, I was kicked out of my apartment because I couldn’t keep up with my rent, and my only choice was to move myself and my small dog in with my parents -- something I had vowed was never going to happen, since my independence is pretty high up there on the list of things I value.
Oh, and all this happened the year before I turned 30, when the rest of my friends were getting married, having babies, and buying houses. I couldn’t understand how I’d ended up like this. I’ve always worked and usually done my work well, I had a soaring sense of self-worth, and gosh darn it, people liked me. Yet here I was, being washed up on an emotional foreign shore miles away from where I wanted to be.
The breakup itself wasn’t that bad, but I was confronted with the fact that once that particular relationship spit me out, I didn’t like who I’d become. I was filled with self-loathing that I’d allowed myself to change so much. I began to take solace in the steadiness of my job, but within a matter of weeks that was taken from me, followed shortly by the loss of even the dignity of being able to lick my wounds in private, once I’d moved in with my parents.
Plus, it turns out my dog likes my mom better. In short, I was feeling real “Charlie Brown” about things. Sad-sack music followed me wherever I went. I felt stripped of everything that had made me an adult, and with time to think about things I’d been putting off for years, uncomfortable questions started coming to me.
Cut forward to a little over a year, and more than a few nights spent in pursuit of nothing more than Netflix marathons, a rotating diet of takeout food, and bottles upon bottles of wine, and I have gained over 90 pounds. I’m now solidly in the “obese” BMI category. I don’t go out anymore because I’m embarrassed to let my friends see me like this.
They have, of course. I’ve still had weddings and baby showers to attend, and I’m not such a self-indulgent tool that I’ve let a little bit of discomfort get in the way of celebrating other people’s happy milestones. But my life is drastically different. Somewhere along the line, standing up and raising my arms above my head for extended periods of time became tiring, so I tend to shower less, which in turn means I avoid activities that are going to make me stinky and sweaty.
Clothes, even the ones that fit, are still generally uncomfortable. They bunch and chafe and it doesn’t help that I can’t walk more than a city block without breaking out into the kind of sweat formerly unseen until a full 10 minutes into a treadmill session. Box stores and the mall are intimidating, so I order a lot more things online. My ankles swell if I stand too long. I’ve been nervous on planes that they’re going to ask me to buy an extra seat.
I have to sleep with an army of pillows all tucked and propped in the right spots just so I can ease the pressure on my beleaguered spine, and I wake up several times in the night, panicked that my ass has smothered my 12-pound dog.
Socially, things have changed, too. I’ve had to ask to be reseated at restaurants because I won’t fit into the space they’re trying to put me in, which can get red-faced embarrassing. The talkative ladies at the nail salon have stopped asking me if I have a boyfriend. In fact, all the guys who used to stop by my desk just to chat and tell me silly stories have stopped making eye contact with me (sidebar: I ended up getting my job back once the economy recovered a little bit, but coming back so much heavier was a bit of a shock to people, and many of them don’t seem to know how to treat me now. Humans, amirite?).
While I’ve always been more on the quiet side, I used to be a reliably funny quipster, a pastime that’s dampened now by my desire not to call attention to myself or open myself up to return barbs. I find that I’m beginning to be perceived as rude because of this sort of self-conscious, “Please try not to notice me” behavior.
Last, and maybe a little heartbreakingly, some unknown person told my grade-school-aged niece that it was bad to use the word “fat” around me, and ever since then she’s been less enthusiastic about the times I’ve volunteered to come pick her up at school.
The thing is, I know I was conscious and alert the entire time I was gaining the weight. I remember the numbers on the scale going up, and I remember just recklessly not caring. I am not a victim of bad genes, I can’t claim that I’m just “big-boned.”
Initially, I knew what I was doing when I was engaging in depression-inspired binge eating, but I’ve always been able to get back on track and lose the weight, get things under control. I’m fully aware of how to exercise and eat healthy. I figured I’d give myself a few months to get it out of my system and then jump right back on the fitness bandwagon, because I honestly used to love working out and I enjoyed the constant hunt for new ways to cook a vegetable.
It shouldn’t have been a problem. But it was. Because I didn’t realize how steep the climb back was becoming, and because one sucky life event after another kept washing over the little island I was clinging to, sending me further into the judgment-free burrow of television and comfort food I’d cleared out for myself.
I pretty much lived in the nothing-bad-ever-happens-here town of Stars Hollow for about a year, and if you’ve ever watched “Gilmore Girls” you know they are ALWAYS EATING. For a while I was eating right along with them, and now I know what happens when you eat like Lorelai in real life -- your doctor freaks out when you go in for your annual checkup.
Right now there’s nothing for me to do but begin the long and painful climb up and out of the well-worn, welcoming burrow that’s become detrimental to me. My life now is burning calories and trying to gain back some self-respect. It helps to be employed again, and soon I should be able to afford my own apartment and reclaim the affections of my dog.
The hardest part of all of this is living in a body that wants to fight me every step of the way, and pushing back against the depression that drove me here in the first place. There are days where I don’t want to work out because the thought of passing out in the gym shower afterward, tiled walls spinning and stretch marks on display all over the germ-ridden floor of the communal locker room, seems like a very real and scary possibility.
So I’m still kicking around on this mental foreign shore, still estranged from the old country I can see off in the distance, and every day it’s going to take more energy than I have to get to where I want. Gaining weight, for me, has been isolating. I not only feel separated from life as I used to know it, but I also feel separated from, and a little betrayed by, the person I used to be.