How I Learned to Unsnap (My apologies to Kirk Read)

As I was trying to think about what to write this week, I was scrolling Facebook trying to get inspired and to wake up enough to write a coherent sentence. Well, I know what I’m writing about, but it didn’t come from my newsfeed, and I just poured my first cup of coffee and my eyes aren’t completely open yet, so let’s see what happens.

            What had come to mind to write about was weight loss, in particular my weight loss journey, as the common phraseology would have it. I had glanced over to the books on the corner of my desk and saw the notebook where I record my daily calories, the amount of exercise I do each day and how many calories I burn while doing it, as well as my blood pressure, which is something else I have to deal with. It got me thinking about what I’ve been through, what my mother’s been through, and what some of my friends are going through.

            For me, the journey goes all the way back to when I was about seven. I remember there was a particular pair of jeans I really liked to wear, though I was only allowed to wear them to school, that had a light blue shiny stripe that ran down the outer seams of each leg. I just thought they were cool. One day when I went to put them on, I exhaled, and the snap fastener popped open. I had developed a small belly and could no longer fit into my pants. I remember finding this funny and I resnapped my pants and repeated the process several more times and giggled each time. That was the last time in my recollection that my weight was a laughing matter to me.

            I tried not to pay attention to it, just went on about my life, playing outside, reading my books, sitting in trees and thinking (a favorite activity when I was nine). I had always been a loner since I started going to school, as most of my fellow classmates seemed mean and would often giggle unkindly about me behind their hands. I knew they were giggling about me, though I didn’t know why, because their eyes were looking at me while their hands covered their whispered insults. So, I kept to myself and learned not to trust. I didn’t miss having friends my own age, as I made friends with older kids in the neighborhood, friends of my brother’s who didn’t seem to always mind me hanging around. Sometimes they did, then I would either leave or start teasing them in a joking way, making some of them laugh, and would often be allowed to stay. It helped develop my sense of humor being able to keep up with the older boys.

            My weight continued to climb and the older I got the bolder my classmates got in approaching me about my weight and saying things outright. Nicknames were given to me, the most enduring one I can’t remember if my brother or my father started it, but they both used it. That one hurt the most. I couldn’t escape it, not even at home.

            As a result of all this, I never had friends my own age until college, as I never did learn to trust that they weren’t really just making fun of me. I tried friendship with a few and exchanged phone calls with a couple of girls in high school, trying to build friendships, but we never hung out at school or elsewhere. It was a mutual thing. I never approached them to do so, like all the unpopular kids in teen movies do, who are so desperate to be part of the group. So, in high school I ate lunch alone and stayed home on the weekends.

            In college I met people who didn’t care what I looked like, as long as I had something fun and or interesting to say. I finally had friends I could trust weren’t talking about me behind their hands. A few years later, I met my first girlfriend through one of those friends. She was tall and butch and hot, and she wanted me. She was even turned on by me. That took a while to sink in, but it finally did. After her there were a few other women who also wanted me, who also looked better than I thought I deserved.

            Fast forward to March 2014. My mother had just died and my then spouse and I were tasked with packing up her apartment while my brother dealt with the funeral arrangements and other business matters. I opened her top dresser drawer and discovered a treasure trove of OTC dietary supplements, of the type packaged to look like and sold near the vitamins. At least half a dozen bottles of them. It made me angry. Later, going through her papers I found some poems she had written years ago, about the time I was giggling about popping the snaps on my jeans, she was writing about how much she hated being fat. When my mother was a teenager, she had been skinny. Beautiful face and nice figure. Then, she got married at the age of nineteen and was pregnant within days. She continued to get pregnant every two years for the first six years of her marriage, though only two of us lived, losses my mother felt throughout her life. Somewhere along the way she developed a thyroid condition and hypertension. These things are just as much genetic as they are weight related.

            I was angry when I saw my mother’s drawer full of dietary supplements because it meant that she struggled way more than I ever thought she did. She never once mentioned it out loud, but it was there if I looked. I started to remember when I was a kid her always drinking diet soda and eating diet chocolate bars, hardly eating anything at dinner. She would make sure my brother and father and I each had meat on our plates, for instance, then only eat the canned vegetable and maybe some potatoes, which usually meant my father would have two servings on his plate instead of the one that my brother and I received. I used to resent my father for this, thinking he was selfish and that he made her do this. Now, I just don’t know. Maybe it was her choice all along. Maybe she thought that cutting back on meat would be good for her weight loss.

            A few years ago, after I was finally able to secure health insurance for myself after not having it for several years, when I went to the doctor, the first thing I said was that I wanted to be checked for diabetes, something else that runs in my family. My numbers were off the charts…in the good way. I was not at risk of diabetes. What I did have, however, was high blood pressure. It was dangerously high, with the top number being over two hundred. I was immediately prescribed pills and my doctor began to monitor me every couple months, with me keeping track at home. After several months of pills and changing and monitoring my diet, it finally regulated. I still have to take medication for it, and I might always have to, though that’s a small price to pay.

            As for losing weight, I started seriously on that journey once several years ago, before my marriage ended. I was exercising, watching my calorie intake, drinking more water, doing all the things. Then, my ex had surgery and my life changed and became more about him and his daily needs. I got out of my routine and couldn’t get back on it when he recovered, and my days were my own again. After our divorce and I moved back to Illinois and my doctor and I started to take care of me, I started back in earnest doing all the things. It was working. My weight was dropping, my bp was dropping, my spirits were soaring, and I was looking towards the future. Then, I decided I wanted to come back to Oklahoma, the place I had moved away from when my marriage ended, because I missed all the friends I had left behind. When finances forced those plans to fall through and I had to stay where I was, I sank into a mild depression and stopped doing all the things and didn’t care what I ate anymore. The weight came back like nobody’s business.

            Realizing I needed to make changes, I sought therapy for a little while, but it wasn’t a good fit and it became cost prohibitive. Instead, I leaned on my friends for support, and they didn’t fail me. I soon realized that if I wanted to make the move it was up to me to make it happen. I knew I didn’t want to sink into depression again. So, I started saving money and doing research on apartments. It took several months of planning and saving, but I was finally able to make it happen. Now that I’ve made the move, I am focusing on my weight loss again. I’m monitoring my calories and exercising every day. One of the things I looked for when I was apartment hunting was a complex with an onsite gym. As luck would have it, the gym at my apartment is no more than fifty feet from my front door.

            Some days are better than others and every day I have to check myself. Just yesterday I had lunch with a friend and didn’t make the best choices I could have. It wasn’t that bad; I just know it could have been better. That being said, I’m not the type to get angry at myself for things like that. I was having a good time with a lovely friend, whose company I greatly enjoy. We had a great day, and the food wasn’t even the best part.

            I know I have friends who are on their own weight loss journeys, and I’m sure they are all at different places and feel different ways about it. I’m sure some of them take the comments from family and friends and strangers and internalize them. To them, and anyone else in that situation, I just want to say this: tell those people to fuck off! You’re doing the best you can. Even on days when you think/know you could do better, you could have made better choices, so what? They’re not walking your journey, only you are doing that. And you’re not perfect, but you’re trying. and that’s all you can do. Just keep trying. And if they still want to whisper behind their hands about you or say it out loud, just exhale and pop open the snap of your pants and start giggling. At the very least, it will give them something else to focus on.

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