Big Fat Facts

I’ve been set up for failure my whole life.

Someone who loves me very much once gave me a step counter and a scale. She told me she was worried about my weight. She was afraid I was killing myself.

I burst into tears. I told her that I use my fat as a shield to hide behind, because I didn’t want anyone to get close. I told her I eat when I’m angry, and at the time I had quite a bit to be angry about. I told her I was profoundly depressed. I was also lonely, and food was the only comfort I had.

And then she left me with the scale and the step counter. Apparently I was supposed to snap out of it, and that ought to be easy.

The first thing I did was throw away the f***ing scale. Because numbers don’t mean a thing. They’re a measurement of success or failure that’s tipped toward failure. I won’t do it. I won’t beat myself up like that. I measure my weight gain or loss by the fit of my clothing.

But I did improve my diet and I did use the step counter, obsessively, for about 6 months. I was up to 10,000 steps a day. I was walking so much that I actually hurt myself. And I didn’t lose an ounce. Not one ounce.

Which made me feel even worse about myself. All that work, and nothing. What is wrong with me?

Since then, I’ve pretty much stayed the same size. I’ve been nagged by doctors and humiliated by teenagers and shunned on dating sites. I’ve been horrified by my own photographs and I’ve avoided looking in mirrors.

This has become my status quo.

And then I read an article entitled Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong. Now I see this issue in an entirely different light. Now I’m pissed off.

Here are some of the points the article made:

  • Doctors and researchers have known for 60 years that all diets don’t work. Diets. Don’t. Work.

  • They have also known that “losing just 3 percent of your body weight results in a 17 percent slowdown of your metabolism—a body-wide starvation response that blasts you with hunger hormones and drops your internal temperature until you rise back to your highest weight. Keeping weight off means fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.”

  • According to the American Journal of Public Health, the chances of a woman classified as obese achieving a “normal” weight is 0.008%.

  • Weight and health are not synonymous. You can be overweight and metabolically healthy, in that you can show no sign of high blood pressure, insulin resistance, or cholesterol issues.

This article goes on to say that doctors are trained to basically try to humiliate people into weight loss, even though it’s been proven time and time again that that doesn’t work. It talks about the many ways society discriminates as well. It discusses how weight issues are not simply about poor lifestyle choices. In other words, telling people to step away from the ho-hos is not productive. Not even a little bit.

I’ve been set up for failure my entire life. And it’s not my fault. It has done nothing but make me feel bad about myself. I’m sick and tired of it. From now on I plan to stop looking at fat and start looking at health.

What I took away from the article is, yes, I need to avoid sugar. I need to exercise. I need to make healthier choices. I need to take care of me. And at the same time, I need to stop obsessing about my body.

The next time a doctor tries to shame me into weight loss, I’m going to suggest that a good start would be for them do their part to figure out ways to get me off prescription meds that have a weight gain side effect, m’kay? Until they do that, they need to shut up.

And the next time someone who has never had a weight issue in her entire life hands me a scale, I’ll tell her that even though she means well, and culturally it seems like this tough love thing is acceptable, she needs to mind her own business. Unless she wants to help me take on the underlying esteem issues, she’s of no use to me on the weight front.

From now on, I’m going to focus on taking good care of me, by eating good, healthy food and staying active, and let my body decide how that will ultimately look, because God knows it’s going to do that anyway. I’m going to work really hard at not listening to the opinions of other people. I’m going to stop measuring myself by other people’s yard sticks. I’ll take my health seriously, but I’ll never voluntarily step on a scale again.

And guess what? I’m never going to be a size three. You know it. I know it. If you’ve got a problem with that, then step away from the fat person. As someone in that article said, “I’m here. I’m a sphere. Get used to it.”

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No picture. Not this time. Stop focusing on how things look.

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The Winnowing

Getting married teaches you who your friends really are.

Well, here’s something that took me by complete surprise: Getting married teaches you who your friends really are. I’m not talking about the people who could or couldn’t attend my wedding. There are quite a few legitimate reasons for people to make that choice. Distance, expense, health, timing… I’m okay with that.

I’m also not referring to the people who might have disagreed with my decision. That’s fine, too. Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion.

I’m talking about those who could not or would not emotionally support my decision, and my happiness, whether they agreed with it or not. I’m also calling out those who were offended by how a fundamental shift in my life goals and priorities had impacted them, as if they had staked claim to the center of my orbit and I had no right to deviate, ever. I’m talking about those who made a concerted effort to rain on my parade, as if they were the grand master thereof.

I admit it. Barb isn’t going to come out and play quite as often. At least, not with them. The center of my world is now the person I am sharing my life and my future with. But that doesn’t mean I’m not an awesome friend to have.

Personally, I can’t imagine saying to someone, or even thinking, “Now that you’re getting married, we can’t be friends because we no longer hang out twice a month.” How absurd. I’d like to think that my friends are grown-a$$ adults who can survive with a little less of me, and yet remain secure in my unwavering esteem.

I fully expect to have friendships outside of my marriage, as I expect my husband will. We are a team, but we’re also individuals. We’re not fused at the os coxae (look it up).

But for that to happen, it will require people to be just a little bit flexible. It will oblige people to make a tiny bit more effort, just as it will necessitate more effort on my part, because the logistics will be more complex. It will also demonstrate that the friends who stick around think I’m worth it.

So, as painful as certain realizations have been of late, I choose to look at this as a winnowing process. The wheat is being separated from the chaff. And what lovely wheat it is, too!

I am very, very lucky to have the amazing friends that I have, old and new. I am grateful for them every single day. Those who don’t have the staying power were apparently never true friends in the first place.

And to that, all I can say is… Namaste.

winnowing

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What Took You So Long?

It’s heartbreaking when a beloved dog dies. People who don’t have pets don’t understand, really. They become like your children. Only, if you lose a child, there’s a vast support network. When you lose a dog, people expect you to snap out of it. They nervously offer up something about the Rainbow Bridge, and then they feel like their job is done. They don’t want to dwell on it. That makes it really hard to grieve.

I’ve lost a lot of dogs in my lifetime. It absolutely destroys me, every single time. But I try to comfort myself with the fact that I always do all that I can to give my dogs safe, happy, love-filled, and comfortable lives. And they give me so much love in return. There’s no greater gift. “You are my person, so here is my heart.” It’s a rare human who is that generous.

The last time one of my dogs passed away, some fool said, “You can always replace him with another one.” I nearly lost it. My dog is not like a toothbrush. It’s not like just any old dog will do. “Honey, while you’re out, can you pick me up a carton of milk and a new dog?” None of my dogs could ever be replaced.

Having said that, though, you’ll probably be surprised at what I am going to say next. I sincerely believe that when you lose a dog, you really should get another dog as soon as possible. That’s what I have always done.

No, I don’t mean the dog you lost can be replaced. In fact, no two dogs are alike. I’ve had a unique relationship with every single pet I’ve owned.

The reason you should get another dog, and soon, is that you are needed. There are so many dogs out there who are desperate for love and nurturing. You have a lot of love to give.

I know many people who have been so heartbroken by the loss of a dog that they never get another. That devastates me when I think about it. Because there’s a dog out there somewhere that is supposed to be loved by you, and that dog isn’t getting that love. It’s so sad.

I know the pain of loss is horrific. I know that you don’t want to go through that again. But do you also want to never experience that kind of love again? How can you pass that up? There’s a dog out there, just waiting for you. And when you go get him, he’ll say, “What took you so long?”

cute_dachshund_by_animalsavior-d52rhxi

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Creative Expressions of Grief

I had the distinct honor of participating in a reception for The Healing Center the other day. It’s a grief support community here in Seattle that is a welcoming and safe place to express your feelings of loss. They have been wonderfully helpful and understanding to me.

The reception, which is held annually, is called Healing Hearts. It is an opportunity for people to show the creative ways they have of expressing their grief. I have to say, this is quite a talented crowd. There were poets and writers there, and singer/songwriters and musicians and photographers as well. I was really pleased to be included in their number.

I read two excerpts from my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. Before the event, I was having trouble choosing which parts of the book to read, so I asked for feedback from some of the regular visitors to my Facebook group, The View from a Drawbridge. The entries we finally chose were I Am Not Who I Was Yesterday, and Scars.

My main takeaway from this event was that there are so many ways to express one’s emotions. In fact, that’s what art is, really: a way to reveal what is inside you. That’s why the arts are so vital to any healthy culture.

I truly believe that it’s very important to open yourself up. Your inner self needs to see the light of day in order to thrive. Things should not be bottled up, lest they fester. And that’s what communities like The Healing Center are all about.

If you are experiencing grief, you do not have to go through it alone. Seek out the equivalent of The Healing Center in your community.

grief-by-i_strad
Grief, by i_strad

The Silhouettes of Seattle

Back in November, I started seeing these 4 foot tall white silhouettes of people at seemingly random spots throughout Seattle. I had no idea what they represented. I kept making a mental note to find out, but I’d always forget by the time I got home. One is attached to a telephone pole down the street from my house, and I pass it every day. Another is a block down from my drawbridge.

These silhouettes have writing on them, but from my car I have always been moving too fast to see what they say. For someone who is as easily distracted as I seem to be these days, this was quite a mystery. Finally the other day when I passed one, I started singing the song “Silhouettes” by the Rays, over and over and over again, until I got home. Then I rushed inside and wrote it down on my “to blog about” list before I did anything else.

According to this article, it seems that there are 212 of these silhouettes posted all over the city, to represent the 240 people killed in traffic here in the past 10 years. They are placed at the very spot where the person died, and therefore 28 of them couldn’t be put up because the location was too dangerous. The City of Seattle is trying to raise awareness of this situation because in future years, the number of pedestrians and automobiles are only bound to increase.

I think it’s fantastic that they are getting creative about these horrible statistics in hopes of reducing them. And according to this article, they held a ceremony for the friends and families of the victims before putting them up, and many people found it quite cleansing. Anything that helps you toward healing is a good thing, in my opinion.

However. I happen to have one friend who is a family member of one of the victims, and he has chosen not to participate in this program because his wounds are too fresh, and his grieving is too personal. His loved one’s silhouette is therefore not nailed to a post somewhere. But I’m sure he gets to see these ghostly forms all over the place, just like I do. And for him they must evoke painful memories.

Now when I see these silhouettes, I have very mixed emotions. We do need solutions. The worst thing about this city is the traffic. But I have to admit that I’m also starting to be creeped out by these daily reminders of lives cut short.

But for all those loved ones out there, regardless of where you are in your grieving process, I am truly sorry for your losses.

silhouette

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Grieving through the Holidays

If you’ve lost someone you love, the holidays can be a particularly painful time. All those memories. All those traditions. All those people, still alive, who insist that you to carry on all those traditions.

How can you be expected to decorate a tree when every ornament reminds you of the person you’ve lost? And it takes so much energy to put on a brave face at family gatherings. I know more than a few people this year who were forced to retreat to the bathroom to weep.

There is a great deal of pressure at this time of the year to be joyful. That makes your utter lack of joy feel even worse. And no one wants you to figuratively (or literally) pee in their eggnog. “Can’t you see we’re trying to fa la la here? Don’t ruin it!”

And then there are the well-meaning gifts, designed to memorialize the one who is gone. They were given in a spirit of love and support, but they feel like little stabs to your already wounded heart. No one knows the right thing to say or do, because there is no right thing to say or do.

Even in a good year, the holidays can be exhausting. But they seem positively soul-sucking when you’re dragging around a tractor trailer of depression. It makes you feel detached at a time when everyone is coming together.

For me, it’s like having to take a huge breath and plunge into the ocean, in hopes of coming back to the surface again before you drown. That was Thanksgiving. That was Christmas. That was my birthday. What a relief to get through it all and come up for air!

One more to go… the dreaded New Year’s midnight, when no one will be kissing me. I’m supposed to overlook the fact that I’m completely and utterly alone. I’m supposed to feel happy for everyone who is being kissed. I’m supposed to look forward to the new year, and feel nostalgic about the past year.

That’s a heck of a lot to ask. I’ll probably try to go to bed at 11 pm and hope the neighborhood revelry doesn’t wake me up. While you sing Auld Lang Syne, I’ll be trying really hard to pretend it’s any other night.

If you know people who are grieving, ask them what they’d like to do or not do for the holidays. Ask them what they want to talk about or not talk about. Don’t apply pressure. If they are ready, offer to help them create a whole new tradition, perhaps one in which dancing and romance aren’t flaunted.

But most of all, be patient. And don’t force your fa la la on them until they can get through it without weeping in the bathroom.

alone

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The Majority Minority

The other day I was listening to an interview on National Public Radio. The woman who was speaking was a refugee from Yemen who had to flee that country under a hail of bullets, and had lost everything she ever had. She was discussing how hard it had been to get out of the country, and how no one, and I mean no one, wanted to help her.

I sat there for a long time after the interview, trying to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded by people who won’t let you leave a war zone and only want you dead. I tried to picture myself in a situation where everything I had worked for my entire life was taken from me, and there was no positive future on the horizon.

My reality is one in which I’m relatively secure. I don’t fear waking up with a gun pointed at my face. It’s a safe bet that the vast majority of the people that I love will not die violent deaths. And while I’ve had to struggle to get where I am, and have, indeed, suffered more than one setback in my life, I’m fairly certain that an RPG isn’t going to detonate in my living room. I won’t even be racially profiled by my local police force.

I can’t imagine how it must change you to live a reality other than mine. What do you become? How do you see the world? How do you survive? I haven’t done anything to deserve the luxury that I enjoy. And safety is a luxury. I just happened to be born the right color in the right place at the right time.

I am considered part of the majority. But as more of the world is war-torn and suffers from senseless tragedies, I have to wonder if my “norm” isn’t really in the minority, and if, perhaps, the darkness is not advancing. The sad thing is I have no idea what to do about it. But the very, very least I can do is appreciate my good fortune.

Somali refugees fleeing Yemen.
Somali refugees fleeing Yemen.

Unintentional Hauntings

Do you drive an old, beat up, red Ford F150 pickup truck? If so, and if by some coincidence you’ve passed me on the street, you may have seen my look of pain as I’ve gazed intently at you. It’s not your fault. It’s just that you drive the exact vehicle my late boyfriend did, and for a split second I think that maybe his death was a bad dream and he’s driving toward me. Then, as you got closer and I discovered you weren’t Chuck after all, the pain of loss came flooding back.

Unfortunately, there’s just such a truck sitting in the driveway three houses down from me. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but no. That poor neighbor must think I’m completely barmy, the way I’m always peering at him.

It could be a lot worse. You could be a man wearing a belt who encounters my little dog and transforms him into a completely terrified basket case, cowering in a corner. Obviously my poor pup can’t tell me what that image reminds him of, but I did rescue him from a horribly abusive puppy mill, so I can imagine.

It certainly makes you think. There’s the person that you are, and then there’s the memories that you evoke in total strangers. For all I know, my car stirs up memories for someone that I drive past, or I may have a significant shirt or hairstyle or smell that is creating a reality, however temporary, for someone, and I’m not even aware of it.

It’s like living on two separate planes simultaneously—the life you live for yourself, and the life you are living for someone else. What a concept. Note to self: be a lot more tolerant of those who look at me strangely. You never know what plane they are on.

Ford

Last Day

Late last year my favorite person in the whole world had a stroke. Ever since then she’s had several seizures, another stroke, and has been in and out of comas. When she did come to, she was completely confused, and, basically, “not there”. Although her body lingered on, I was already mourning the loss of her essence. For all intents and purposes I had given up hope for my Aunt Betty. Even if I had lived next door rather than 3000 miles away, I knew we’d never gossip and joke again, and that devastated me.

Then the other day I was on Facebook and her daughter-in-law contacts me via her I-phone. She says Aunt Betty is walking and talking again! She sends me a photo of her, and she looks great.

The head cold that had been stopping up my sinuses so completely that I wasn’t convinced I even had nostrils promptly disappeared, and it hasn’t come back. It was a miracle. Because I was given back the person I love most!

She asks if I want to text with her. God, yes! And we chatted for about 15 minutes. It was definitely her. We have insider jokes and ways of talking that can’t be replicated. It felt like she had been resurrected. It brought tears to my eyes.

I knew that this was a gift that I shouldn’t take for granted. Who knows how long it will last. So I made a point of telling her everything I wanted to tell her but couldn’t all these past months. “I think of you every day.” “I love you very much.” “You are my favorite person in the world.” “I’ve always been very grateful to have you in my life.”

And what really, really got to me was that she told me she was proud of me. That’s a huge deal. At seminal moments in the 24 years since my mother passed away, I’ve often wondered if she would be proud of me, and of course there’s no way to know. So hearing that from Aunt Betty, the next best thing to a mother, meant everything to me.

They will be moving her to a less intensive part of the hospital soon, and hopefully she’ll then have a phone in her room. But in the meantime, my sister and I sent her flowers. I figured she could use some color to offset all that New England snow. I’ll also be sending her some photographs.

But I’m still in shock. Things like this just don’t happen. A dear friend of mine would call it a mitzvah. All I know is I’m beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to say all those things that I needed to say to her. Because of that, whatever happens now, I’ll be at peace.

And this profound life lesson got me thinking. Technically I have that gift with everyone I love. They’re still here. But they won’t always be. I should make the effort to tell everyone what I need to tell them as if it’s their last day on earth.

Actually I’ve always known that on some level, but I take people for granted. It’s a bad habit that many of us have. So I decided to invent a holiday for myself. I’m calling it Last Day. I’m going to celebrate it on the last day of every month, because that will be easy to remember, until such time as it becomes such a habit that I don’t need to designate a special day.

On Last Day, I’m going to make an effort to tell people I love just how much they mean to me. I’m going to do it until they’re sick of hearing it. I’m going to talk to these people as if this is our last day together, ever. Because some day, inevitably, it will be. But this is not meant to be a depressing holiday. Not at all. It’s a celebration, because I’ve been given the gift of knowing how important these conversations are.

May I never forget.

Happy Last Day, dear reader, and thank you for making this blog so special.

Betty's Flowers

[Aunt Betty’s flowers via ftd.com]

Shakti

I was whining to a friend the other day about how completely and utterly low and defeated I feel. Half of it has to do with this cold or sinus infection or whatever it is that I have. The other half is that I’m coping with losses on just about every front. I feel as if I have been dropped from someplace high. I’m broken in several places and I know it will take years to recover, and I am not entirely sure I have the strength for it. I feel weak and damaged and all settled down on the bottom of the pond, amongst the slime. Bleh. I’m done.

“You need some Shakti,” my friend said.

Huh? I have only heard of Shakti mentioned in connection with the Hindu religion, and even in that context I am woefully ignorant of the details.

“Life force,” he explained. “Fruit. Vegetables. The fresher the better. Don’t you feel better when you eat those things rather than junk food?”

Well, this was a new one, but he did have a point. I do feel better when I eat healthier, and since everything else in my life seems to be completely out of my control, why not? So I had a salad.

And I did feel a little better. Just performing that one act of self-care made the difference. Were all my problems solved? Not even close. But I felt a tiny bit better. Enough to carry on for a few minutes more. And that’s enough.

Eat your vegetables.

vegetables-by-colours

[Image credit: eswalls.com]