Sunday, May 11

Living for the Day

I knew I needed to get up and do some raking and mow part of the backyard lawn, and maybe all of the front again. It's spring, the rain makes it grow like crazy. I was procrastinating. Just as I decided to do it, the phone rang. And a good thing I was lazy, because I wouldn't have heard it or answered it while mowing.

I yelled to the kid and she and I ran to the car, speeding five blocks away to my parents' house. Moments after we arrived, the local siren started screaming (signifying a twister has been seen within or from the city limits). Then we spent the next while underground, watching out the top of an open tornado shelter as clouds raced across the sky at truly incredible rates and the siren keened.

In the end, it missed us by just a few miles, literally annihilating the tiny town right next door (Picher), as part of a 1/2 mile wide, 90 mile long swath of destruction.

Which meant I didn't get the damn lawn mowed.

Which is really pretty insignificant next to the damage, injuries and deaths all around, obviously.

It's a little surreal when you see stuff on the national news that you just drove by on Tuesday and you realize "Hey, that small pile of boards was the school," or, "Hey, that big block of nothingness seen from the helicopter was the housing tract where Jim lives. Er, lived."

Rather like the winter ice storm that destroyed nearly every tree at about 18 feet and higher, making the whole town look like a war zone somehow, this has a weird psychological effect on the local onlookers. Me, at least.


I was browsing one of the lowcarb forums recently, and one thread was talking about things we don't do because we're fat. No, I don't mean because we can't do them, I mean because we're embarrassed to do them -- to be seen. The social horror is a more potent threat to stay inside for many than an armed curfew guard in a war zone.

Since I lost down to 400# (375 if LC, about 390 when not -- water weight), my perception of myself has changed a little. Sure, I'm still ashamed to exist in some social respects, because having been brainwashed by the same skinny-white culturally retarded meme as the rest of North America, the reptilian part of my little tiny brain thinks that's what I should be. I'm neither skinny (at all) nor white (much) so it's pretty irritating that my brain got washed with that just as well as anybody else's.

But on the whole, my willingness to be seen has increased slightly, recently. This is in part because for the first time ever, after lowcarbing and losing some weight, I:

1. Got shoes. Don't laugh; I'd been wearing generally house slippers or thongs for years, zero foot support for a person who desperately needs it more than most, because I couldn't find shoes I fit into. The ladies in my LC journal told me that men's shoes have a 'wider toe-box' than women's and to try that, and what do you know--I had my first pair of tennis shoes ever. Lost weight, and more weight, and now I can go to payless and slip on a pair of size 10. (I'm 8 1/2 US when normal weight.) I like the VANS-style slip-on shoes and mostly wear those. Call it stupid, but actually being able to walk comfortably has made a big difference for me.

2. Got pants. I hadn't been able to fit in any form of pants for years, and wore skirts, usually 2-3 of them layered, instead. Skirts are no fun in wet weather, in sub-freezing weather (especially if you don't have underwear that fit...)--I think you get the idea--or when mowing a high lawn filled with bugs... sigh. But I was able to get into a 6x, and then--less gracefully, but they stretch a bit and become loose and work fine, into a 5x--of Junonia's "cargo pants", which are almost, not quite, like "real" pants, something I hadn't seen since on my hips since my early 20's.

3. Had a day where I was unusually, deeply humiliated on the very busy street I live on. To begin with, I was already horribly embarrassed to be outside without my normal long-tent-shirt. These go from neck to knees like a giant bag preventing any onlooker from the ghastly spectre of any possible detail of my obesity. On top of that, I was trying to start a pull-cord lawnmower, which means I was also bent over with my back end sticking out and my whole body shaking wildly from the effort. I'm relatively certain it was a horrible sight to behold, and there may be passing drivers still waking up in a cold sweat from the memory. My mortification at this only added to my rage that I couldn't get it started. But as a bizarre side effect, later on, I felt rather like I'd had the worst possible exposure issue AND SURVIVED.

And suddenly I just cared a whole lot less. I actually wore pants WITHOUT the tent-shirt to the store. And then to another store.

Nobody fainted in the produce aisle. Small children did not wail in fear. The devil-child cheerleaders of high school did not manifest like the Ghosts of my Social Outcast Past to mock me for my Levi 501's, let alone for the current size of my butt (you never know when those cute blonde horrors are going to crop up in some public place to test your coronary health).

And after a few days I realized that instead of wearing sandles and 2 skirts, I was wearing comfortable shoes and pants. And instead of wearing sleeves and multiple layers on hot days, or skirts and sandles on snow days, I'm actually dressed sanely for the climate.

It's really astounding how much more willing to MOVE I am, and to spontaneously do things like run out to the backyard to do a little weeding for ten minutes, or run to the store for something, or run out to the car to get the book I forgot, or grab a rake and work on the front yard while I happen to be out on the front porch anyway, when I am physically comfortable and don't feel quite so mortified as I did before. I feel as if I am getting so much more exercise in a million small ways.

Do people still look at me with that "don't- look- at- her- it's- rude" evasion or the "good- god- imagine- how- many- bonbons- she- must- eat- to- be- that- fat" response? Absolutely. Do I care? Not nearly as much as I did.

You know what? I'm fat. There is no hiding it. There is no clothing, no careful posing position, no tent-like covering, that is going to fool anybody within 2 states of me into thinking I am a normal size. No matter how many layers or tents I wear, no matter how many bland and dark colors I wear, nobody is ever, not for an instant, going to NOT NOTICE that I am ABSOLUTELY HUGE.

So get the hell over it, you know? Ya don't like it, don't look.

While I'm not to the bathing suit in public without something over me stage yet, I am at least to the "pants and tank top while mowing on a busy street" stage. I am going out in public dressed like -- I mean, acting like -- I mean, ALMOST like -- Gasp! --

A normal person.


I think I've lost count years ago of the things I would have liked to have done with my little girl but didn't, because I was embarrassed; because people would look at me that way, with that revulsion, rejection, disgust, avoidance, etc.

So we didn't go bowling, or to the pool, or any number of other things we could have done. If I couldn't sit in the car or lurk on a bench (replete in 3 skirts and a tent...), I didn't do it.

She's nearly 12 now. We still have a great relationship, but she is heading into the teenage years. How much longer will my little girl trust me implicitly? How much longer will she want to go bowling with mom? She isn't a "little" girl anymore.

Today I was thinking, and then what?

What if I'd been killed by a tornado, by anything from an act of god to an act of stupidity to a side effect of a lifetime of lousy eating? If I died tomorrow, what brave adventures would I have lived? And how would my kid remember me?

I was the person not courageous enough to do any number of things because I worried about what people would say or how they would look at me or even treat me.

I was the person who sat in too many clothes in a hot car in the sun watching while my kid swam because there was no place to sit in the pool area and I couldn't go in.

I was the person who sat around with a computer rather than doing any number of things with the people around me I loved, because they would require being around other people I didn't love who would look at me wrong.

You know, you, me... anyone could walk out of here and get killed by some drunk in a pickup. I could slip in the shower and break my neck. When your number's up, it's up.
from "The Zero Effect"

It used to be that black people had to sit at the back of the bus. But you know, severely fat people can't even get on the damn bus. They don't or barely fit in the seats, they can't or barely (sideways) fit down the aisles, and there's not even a contingent of their own people at the back, at least, waiting to welcome them as one of them: they're just the social pariahs of a thin-for-sex- obsessed culture, and are treated poorly by every gender, age, race, and economic class.

There is no Cheers bar "where everybody knows your name;" there's no pub where your fellows recognize and accept you for no better reason than your stubborn nose and fiery hair prove you're one from the clans. Just about the only place to find people likely to accept you as you are is on the internet, a virtual world apart, where people on forums gather to talk like normal people to other seemingly normal people without the horrifying social-filter that in-person relations often provide.

Bizarrely enough, in a world seriously overstuffed (no pun intended) with fat people, somehow most of us manage to be alone with it. We are outcasts in our culture and sometimes even our families, and don't have any bonding-place for our commonality aside from online.

And today I realized:


Tina is digging through the rubble for baby clothes or anything she can salvage from the trash heap that used to be her house. One woman found two sons dead. An entire town just vanished off the map. With stuff like this going on in the world every day, going on nearly in your own neighborhood, how can obsessing on the LITTLE STUFF like how other people treat you, seem to matter in the slightest anymore?

The whole "comparative scale of what matters" suddenly seems different to me. My God. The "social rejection" of me for being fat seems so utterly absurd all the sudden.

Why does some bozo who doesn't even KNOW me, looking at me with "that look", matter more than me spending time doing something with my kid, for myself, whatever?

How many fat people get vastly less exercise because they're too socially mortified to leave the house, or the environ doesn't "fit" them to allow them basic things people need (chairs they fit in. bathrooms they can fit in. etc.), or they haven't got the decent or comfortable clothing any smaller-sized person would to allow it?

I see people, normal sized, going out to kids baseball games. They drag out a lawn chair and they sit and drink beer and soda, use the restroom, or climb up on the bleachers. When you can't climb, when you're wearing skirts, when it's freezing and you've only thongs or it's wet and you've only slippers, when you don't fit in a lawn chair, yet you need to sit vastly more than those people do given your size, you don't go to those baseball games. Or you watch from the car 500 yards away. "Yeah, I saw you baby! That was great!" yeah... sure.


But who wants to die un-lived? Who wants to be remembered by their kids as the big fat woman who hid in the car or under neutral or dark colored tents?

Worse, who wants to regret what they didn't do with their kids due to cowardice?

Why does being fat not only mean all the misery that comes with it physically, but such a social nightmare that we restrict our OWN lives?

Why the hell am I wearing tents? What, am I morally obligated to spare every other person the possible fright of seeing my fat jiggle?

Who needs some evil cultural conscience acting like the guard, telling you that jews negroes fat people aren't allowed in this store or pool or bowling alley, if YOUR OWN BRAIN is acting out that damning voice?

Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a psychologist who wrote the book "Women Who Run With the Wolves." She talked about the voices that we "internalize" until eventually we have the negative, punishing, demeaning judge and jury inside our own heads, even without our parents or schoolmates or social peers for that role. (I was surprised that I liked the book, but I did.)

People die every day all around us. Nobody knows how much life they've got left in this focus-reality. All we know is we are here, now. The people we love are here, now. We may not be later. They may not be later.

Maybe it's time I quit caring so much what other people think. Maybe it's time I did the fun things I want to do, those I can do.

It's one thing to not be physically capable. It's another to be a coward.

I wake up each day and say, "Thank you God, for my life."

Maybe I should start with that, and then actually GO LIVE IT.



KMG said...

Amen, and I'm glad you weren't smushed by the tornado. I lived in the tornado-prone Midwest for most of my life, and I still get a flickering of animal terror anytime the sky grows dark, even now that I'm in the calm Southwest.

You have a great attitude - actually living life is one of the best ways to stay healthy and active. Congrats on mustering up the courage to claim your place in life despite the "bozos." Incidentally, my stepfather is one of those bozos and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the reason he sneers and jeers at overweight people is because he literally has nothing better to do. Feeling superior to fat people is a sad little coping mechanism he's adopted to keep him from ruminating about the mess he's made of his own life.

(I'm munching on a low-carb flax muffin this morning)

Ira said...

Howdy. I'm Junonia's staff copywriter. I passed your blog on to our founder, Anne Kelly, and she had this to say in response:

Hi PJ,

I am so happy you found your new pants at Junonia. I'm especially thrilled we could be a small part of your life as it just gets batter and better. When I started Junonia, I wanted to make sure plus size women could buy "the good stuff", meaning the clothing that makes moving comfortable, fun, and motivating. I knew that when I tried to get active in heavy, long clothing, all it did was make me hot and frustrated. That's why we've created clothes to size 6X that are styled to be worn comfortably anywhere.

I hope you'll be trying a swimsuit next. I get a lot of letters from women who didn't think it was possible to feel great in a suit before. Thank you so much for mentioning Junonia.

Best wishes,
Anne Kelly
Founder, Junonia Ltd.

Anonymous said...

your words made me cry. i am both fat and disabled. i hide too. you made me feel, for the first time in three years, like rejoining the human race.

thank you

Nina said...

At my highest weight (340), I didn't do anything. And I hid. And I waited for some day when I would lose weight and my life would start. And then one day, I had some kind of weird epiphany, and I stopped caring. At all. About what anyone thought about what I looked like or what I did. It's kind of like when you're in college and you go to parties and you wake up the next morning thinking, I can never show my face again because I've embarrassed myself so much... and then you suddenly realize that no one noticed what you did because they were too worried about being self-conscious about whatever they did. It's unbelievably freeing.

My husband weighs about 495, down from over 600 at highest, and he spent the better part of the last decade hiding out and gaining weight, and I think he'd be dead now if we hadn't met, because the trouble is that you close your life off in small increments, so tiny that you don't notice, just one small thing at a time that you don't do anymore, and the next thing you know, you've become one with the couch and you have no idea how to reclaim your life. We're working on reclaiming ours.

Life's too short and too precious to give a damn about what "people" will think. Anyone who thinks badly of someone who has the guts to be out there trying... and living... isn't worth caring about.

Anonymous said...

you go- and live it. Get that bathing suit from Junonia- and go to the pool with your daughter. It's okay- you are allowed. If people look, they are comparing you to them- bigger or smaller- and once they have done that they move on. But you will have been in the pool!
You give others such caring and compassionate (and yes, no bs) posts- please know you deserve the same caring and compassion from YOU.

Big Daddy D said...

Don't lose sight of these insights. I think too many people, not just those who are obese, are afraid to do what they want for fear of what everyone else thinks. This could even be something as simple as going to a movie or dinner alone; God forbid somebody wonder why they don't have any friends. Most perfectly normal people are neurotic to some degree. What you have to realize is that most people are too self obsorbed to notice or care and those few persons who would make an issue probably aren't worth worrying about. They likely have low self esteme and are trying to get an ego boost by singe everyone else as beneath themselves. I still recall last spring while mowing my yard that someone in a car driving by screamed out at me "Hey, put a shirt on!". I was a bit ashamed and said nothing in return. But, if I'd been a faster thinker, I'd have simply dropped my drawers to moon them! What would be a better way to tell them what I thought of their opinion?

Laser Rocket Arm said...

Actually, I'm envious that you can wear tank tops. I never wear anything sleeveless in public--not only because of fat arms but because I have some keloid scar activity going on on my right arm. Back in my skinnier days I said WTF and wore one to the grocery store, and literally within five seconds of me setting foot in there some woman went "Oh my God, look at her ARM!" Let's face it, most people suck. Except for us. ;)

Sherrie said...

What a great post PJ. I am not obese yet I suffer this same problem which admittedly was drilled into me from as far back as I could remember. It's funny, I actually rebelled against that when I hit my teens swearing that I didn't care what others think but it was always there, still is.

I am glad your family and yourself are okay, I couldn't imagine what that must be like. *quickly touches wood*

Oh and I just wanted to say that you mentioned having to sit in the back of the bus. When I was a kid, thats where all the cool kids sat :)

Carol Bardelli said...

PJ, I read your post a few nights ago and I wanted to respond. I just didn't want to say the wrong thing.
Your post was powerful and profound.

Although I've been overweight, I thought "I cannot know the depth of her experience." I have seen my brother who weighs over 400 pounds suffer through all sorts of struggles and ups and downs, but that's not the same as my experiencing the pain personally.

Then I realized today, in a weird way we're soul sisters. People stare at me, judge me, and underestimate me because I have Cerebral Palsy. I've went through and still go through people judging me on my outside appearance alone.

The pain, the anguish (we know they are wrong) and the hurt weigh heavy, especially because we know they are wrong.

Eventually I learned not to care what they think. Who are they to judge? I often wonder how they would handle the same situations we deal with daily? The weak should not judge the strong. And the strong don't always know they are
strong. PJ you are strong.

No one should allow or tolerate judgment by a world that values physical beauty alone. We should be valued by what is inside us. Unfortunately that is a rarity.