Thursday, February 16, 2012

Direction of Growth

I am a full-figured, plus-sized woman. I am six feet tall, enjoy the genetic predisposition toward skin that makes me look ten or more years younger, have thick, somewhat curly light-brown hair falling mop-like around my face, and, on good days, I laugh full and loud letting the slight crossbite and slight overbite show. I am a woman of sensitivities and extremes with either tears, or a light in my blue eyes. Given that people used to use a nickname derived from my middle name of Jean: "Jeannie", "Jeannie with the light brown hair" is a fitting picture.

I have not accepted being overweight. Nor have I done well with fighting against it. I have begun (we humans have a long time to learn) to see others differently than when I was an athlete, walking in the grocery store or other public place, seeing someone ....maybe like I am now... and thinking, "Hey, just eat more fruits and veggies like I do and just MOVE around more~! It's not hard to lose weight!"

But the cover of the book does not tell the story. And human stories are often complex, and, as long as we live, ever-changing.

Part of my story began with being hyperactive (controlled...ish ;p). As a young child, I helped my Grandfather with the outdoor chores, learning and yes loving to do things like cut wood, split wood, and do things that mostly *boys* did like mow the yard. Once my Grandparents moved away and my brother and I lived solely with my mother and her husband, we each found ways to employ the 'flight' of the 'fight or flight mechanism'. I biked all over Long Island. If there was somewhere I needed to go, I'd walk there. And if I just needed to get away, I'd bike or walk.

As time went on into my late teens, I developed what I might call "controlled anorexia". No one noticed. And on Long Island, image is everything; I fit the expected image of thinness. The year following, the institution I was attending controlled the diet and schedule, and my thinness got severe--I even developed the 'furlike' hair on my abdomen that is classic of anorexia. I knew nothing of what was happening to me, or what to do about it. I knew that I was hungry.

Leaving the institution and moving as a young adult to where my Grandparents lived, and then to the small city of Ithaca on my own in an apartment, I worked and continued my pursuit of exercise, but this time the constant push upon me was not just my energy, but the all-encompassing take-one's-breath-away-beauty of the Fingerlakes, and Ithaca proper. On a summer day I might take a walk in Cornell Plantations during my break. Home, I might bike to Buttermilk Falls, hike the gorge, and, if lifeguards were on duty, swim before biking home again. And anywhere anyone goes in Ithaca, it's both beautiful, and it's a hike. I still had most of the ripped and formed type muscles all over my body, but I was also developing a bit more as a woman. I was financially poor, and knew nothing about how to dress to compliment who I was, but I was pleased to look in the mirror most days.

Marriage came, and two children. Many of the nights were sleepless not only due to having a small baby to feed, but because my body longed intensely for the movements of before. I'd be doing stretches and whatever quiet exercise I could do in the small apartment in the middle of the night, while taking long stroller walks with my first son. I couldn't get time alone, so we exercised together. Turns out, that little guy got my need to move too. I loved our times together---and as time allows, I hope to share many stories of both of my little guys (now both over six feet tall).

With elementary school for both kids, I could get back on my bike again. And bike, oh, I did: most weekdays before the end of the school-day, and sometimes once on the weekend, with hopes of getting past 20 miles at a clip. Great pace and speed too. Of that in my life, of that thing which I could control and enjoy: I was happy.
But then: 2005 and hard things, harder things coming to a head, and changes coming full-force: loss of three loved ones in a sudden car accident; grief; marital separation; moving; moving again and the divorce; re-starting my education to attempt to finally get my Bachelor's degree. By 2008, even my primary physician said that I had accumulated enough 'life-change-stress-points' to be dead more than a half-dozen times. Instead: I started getting sick.

Which brings me to what I wanted to make sure to say last: I have a medical condition which, besides perhaps 10-20 pounds of initial "grief weight", is the cause of my (I do not want to own it with a possessive) obesity. I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, which, for most people, includes a symptom of weight loss; for others like me, it can go the opposite. For a year, my endocrinologist and I kept careful track of how my body reacted to it. With the medication, I seemed to go in remission. But less than another year later, all of the symptoms returned, and so my thyroid needed to undergo radioactive iodine treatment---ablation, or killing of the thyroid.

February 2009 my metobolic brains and control panel, my thyroid, was destroyed. With no metabolism except for a beginning small pill once a number of weeks had passed and doctors were sure my thyroid was totally destroyed, I was bedridden.

And on and off, with many more illnesses and a number of injuries included, much of the past three years since have been bedridden. I'm about to turn forty-two. I have felt near eighty at times. I've been near-death more than once.

I have to face my weight. I have to face these illnesses. It is right to do that with a positive outlook and in the reality that I have to lower my expectations in regard to the pace and power of weight loss. At this time in my life, I cannot be an athlete. I can walk for exercise some days. Some days I can kayak and hike. Many days I am still bedridden.

I think, too, that I have to face the grief that surrounds all the factors surrounding weight, even concerning the times of anorexia. I have to face the sting of the pain of misunderstanding people telling me to 'just exercise more'. The stares. And, I need to dismiss what a counselor told me, "You'll get your thyroid meds adjusted and you'll be yourself again." Instead---well, yes: take my thyroid meds, check in with my endocrinologist (and all the other specialists), but begin the process of seeing all humans, including myself, as whole-beings, not bodies. Begin the process of accepting what IS, now, currently, not looking back yearning, waiting. And understanding that the steps will be slower, move toward a future. "You'll be yourself again"? Maybe I need to keep being someone more compassionate. Someone learning. Someone seeing the world with open eyes, ears and mind. Maybe that's the right direction to grow.