To be fair, this doesn’t really start with day one of isolation. We’ve been social distancing for a while now. However, stay-at-home orders have been extended to April 30, and things have started getting more and more “locked down” for lack of a better term, so why not start with April 1. That is, after all, when it started feeling more isolated, more solitary, more alone. It’s not all bad, though. You’ll see.
Day 1: 4.1.20
April 1, as you know, is April Fool’s Day. A day where we play (usually) harmless tricks on each other and post incorrect Instagram or Facebook posts as a joke. This year, there was a black cloud over it all. Companies and celebrities tried their best to be light-hearted and post silly things, which was nice, but it just wasn’t the same. This year, the biggest, cruelest joke of all is that we are stuck inside, stuck at home, just stuck. Unfortunately, there was no one shouting “APRIL FOOLS!!!” at any point so that we could go back to normal. Alas, we are making it work.
Social Distancing isn’t all bad
As I said to someone the other day: I have been training for this my whole life. I am an introvert by nature, so having to stay home and do things, for me, is like a dream come true. I love working on things around the house – yes, even cleaning. Staying home opened up a whole new world of opportunity for me to deep clean and organize and just be the homebody I was meant to be. I love it. In fact, there have been several times when my fiance asked me to go to the store with him or somesuch – and I opted to stay home. I just… like it here.
I am also blessed beyond measure to work for a job where I am able to work from home – which I absolutely love. If it was up to me, I’d work from home most of the time. I love the Zoom meetings and the emails and the distance. I feel much more at ease interacting electronically than I do personally, so this has been a Godsend. The only downside is that every Zoom meeting is an opportunity for me to see that I have exceeded the maximum number of chins. And social distancing doesn’t help with the whole “healthy eating” thing, either. But that’s another discussion.
Grateful I can shine
The point is, I am fortunate, and I know it. I am grateful to God daily for that. I’m also thrilled to be able to finally shine a bit brighter at my job. As the introverted number nerd, I spend a lot of time in my office, doing my introverted number nerd thing. I’m also the “techie” in my office, so when someone needs tech help with things like Excel or Zoom or a Learning Management System, they call me. The instances are usually few and far between… until now.
Now, I’m the one everyone needs just to make things work – and I LOVE IT. I get to shine at my job and do it from home? HELL. YES. I feel valued and needed; smart and competent. It feels simply wonderful. So, of the several good things I can name regarding this stay-at-home order, that’s one of the best.
But it’s not all good, either.
If you’ve read any of my previous writing, you know I have anxiety – and it can get really bad. Usually, staying home is what helps quell the anxiety. My, how the tables have turned. At least, kind of. I don’t think it’s the “staying home” thing that has me anxious – it’s the lack of normalcy that has me on edge. Now, I’m staying home because I legitimately have something to fear.
For most people (as in more than 99%), Coronavirus is no more than a bad flu – in some very mild cases, even a bad cold. For me, though, it can be fatal. I am asthmatic – which is a chronic lung condition, and I also have autoimmune issues, which means my immune system doesn’t work the way it should. If I should catch the Coronavirus, it would likely kill me. That’s not hyperbole. I might die. I could go to the store for a loaf of bread, someone could cough, and a few weeks later, I could die.
Normally, this is the kind of situation my anxiety would cook up in my head to keep me from enjoying myself. Now, it’s very, very real. And it’s terrifying. I’m trying not to let it take over me, but it’s tough. Before, I could talk myself down by reminding myself that it isn’t real. Well, what do I do now? It’s very real. So, I just keep praying and finding peace in little things – and being as vigilant as possible when I go out somewhere.
Daily Social Distancing Affirmations
I could go on forever, but I won’t. I want to save something for future posts. However, all posts will have some simple lists at the end to sum up the day and may even help you get through. Heck, there may be some days that’s ALL that I have on the blog. Regardless, here we go:
I know, I know. Another blog about Coronavirus. Another whiny blogger bitching about the quarantine and not being able to go anywhere or do anything. Blah, blah, blah.
Then again, not really.
I’m not trying to browbeat you with ALL THE FEELS about this whole ordeal, but I will share what I’m doing to get through, how I’m feeling, and how my mental health and wellness are faring throughout it all. I’ll share in hopes that you can find some solidarity with me and me with you that you might not yet have found elsewhere. I’ll share in hopes that I might be able to offer some tips to deal with all this unsettling craziness out there right now.
Some days will be short posts – just to check in. Some days will be more heartfelt. The goal here is to write something, each and every day in April, to help make it through this new era of social distancing with a modicum of sanity and a whole ton of perspective. More than likely, the posts will be posted in the evenings or at night, as I am still working – albeit from home.
I hope you all are safe and healthy and well and are taking things seriously and staying home unless absolutely necessary. We need to be united, but separate. Let’s carry each other’s burdens as we trudge through this aloneness… together. Stay tuned.
Depression rarely comes by itself. It’s not a single, sad kitty sitting on your doorstep – the kitty is a mom, and she brought her litter. Along with the depression and its recognizable and not-so-recognizable symptoms can come things like anxiety, panic, insomnia, mania (yes, mania), obsessive-compulsive behavior, and addictive behavior. Depression also has a tendency to bring with it the one thing that is most difficult to let go – the past. That past not only creeps in and steals our joy, but it also encourages us to hurt those we love.
I am currently on the upswing from a recent depressive episode, but it was a pretty rough round. I am used to most of it by now – I have been dealing with the rollercoaster for almost my whole life. The one thing for which I was not ready was how it made me treat my boyfriend by way of transference and fear of abandonment. Depression did not cause those feelings, it caused me to focus on all the negatives in the past, and that made me frightened and angry. Thank God my boyfriend is as strong, patient, and understanding as he is.
Too good to be depressed about.
Here’s the deal: I have had quite a few shitty relationships. I was manipulated, gaslighted, stalked, used, cheated on, and experienced abuse – mentally, physically, sexually – and I managed, with the help of my faith and my strength, to get through all of it and put it all behind me. In my marriage, I was able to keep those things in the past because my marriage, while not contentious, was not the kind of relationship where I felt cherished and loved and scared to lose it.
I never bothered to even think that he might be any of those things because, quite frankly, it never occurred to me to worry about it. I don’t know if that says more about him, me, or us, but it says to me that the relationship was not something I was scared to lose. It also says that he could not easily be considered “too good to be true.”
Too good… and too true.
I saw a meme once – and of course, I can’t find it right now – that said something to the effect of it’s pretty sad when you’re so used to shitty guys that when a good one comes along you don’t know how to handle it. Well, I’ve got a good one. He is so kind and patient and understanding that sometimes it is hard to believe. However, he has done nothing to warrant suspicion. At all. He has proved himself to be genuine and sincere over and over again. I know this. I know this down to my core… until depression comes along and says “HEY! Wait a second. I bet he didn’t just change his mind about dinner… I bet he was manipulating you.”
Hey, depression: It was a friggin’ cheeseburger. Take a seat.
It has happened a few times, and each time when I was in the throes of depression or anxiety. Those have also been the only times we fight… largely because it hurts him so much. I cannot stand that. He truly has done nothing to deserve it, but during these times my depressed brain is spiraling into the oblivion of negativity and it is difficult to convince myself otherwise – until I see the hurt in his eyes. That hurt, as painful as it is for both of us, is what usually helps pull me out of the doldrums.
Depression or discernment?
The difficult part about this is that we, women especially, often have an intuition that helps us recognize early signs of toxic behaviors. Discernment is key. We have to learn to differentiate between actual toxic behavior and perceived toxic behavior. This is not easy, and I do not have any really great advice about how to do this. You must be self-aware enough to know when you are experiencing anxiety or depression. Then you must learn to determine if these perceived toxic behaviors only seem to pop up during mental health struggles, or if they are constant.
It is an arduous process, but one that can help save not only your relationship but your mental health. It can show you when your behavior is hurting the other person versus them hurting you. You are the only person who can differentiate. Once you do, and you realize that it is the depression talking, then you need to recognize how you are hurting the other person and make changes to stop it.
Too much of a good thing.
See, we go online and on social media and see all these wonderful pieces of advice about how those of us with mental health issues need to focus on ourselves and take care of our mental and physical wellbeing and that we should not feel guilty about having a mental health issue.
All of these things are true. However, I do not think it is the ONLY way to treat it. I think that we need to focus on how we are making other people feel. Not so that we feel guilty about it, but so that we can use it as a catalyst to get better, to change destructive thought patterns and behaviors, and to ultimately get on the right track toward overcoming the issues. When our mental health is hurting the people we love, I think we should try to stop and notice and realize that so that we can use their love to help us fight the battles.
The depression/self-focus cycle
We, as a society, have become exceptionally self-centered. While there are a time and a place for this type of behavior, we simply cannot continue to function as if we are the only people who matter, and that our sole focus should be on ourselves. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves. We need to make sure we are eating properly, exercising our bodies and minds, and getting rest. We need to take days off to reduce stress. However, we also need to look out for the wellbeing of others. No, we cannot pour from an empty vessel… but we have stopped pouring altogether.
It is that very focus on ourselves that directly contributes to our mental health issues. We focus so much on our own wellbeing that all we see is that which is “wrong” and that which we need to “fix.” We are not meant to focus solely on ourselves, we are designed to live in a “tribe,” a community, a group. We are designed to look out for one another. This is not only a religious viewpoint – it is also evolutionary.
Again, I must reiterate – I am not saying that we should not take care of ourselves. We MUST. At some point, though, we also must look around us and see how we are affecting others. We must see if our depression can be helped simply by treating someone else with kindness and love. Purpose treats depression. Having a reason – something that drives us – alleviates the symptoms and helps us push forward. Do we still need medical help sometimes? Absolutely. But sometimes we are medicating that which only needs love. There is a balance, and we need to find it.
For so long my purpose was myself, and that got me nowhere. I spent so much time trying to better myself that all I kept finding were flaws – things that were depressing. I have never been an unkind person, but I can become disinterested and moody – largely when I am depressed or anxious. Now, however, I am in a relationship that makes me want to be better. I want to focus my attention on the man I love and revel in his love and support. Most importantly, I do not want to hurt him. Will I get depressed and anxious? Sure. Loving someone isn’t a cure. What it is is an impetus. A reason. A purpose.
A happy, healthy, cooperative life together is the goal that will not be reached if depression gets in the way. So, when my brain starts sinking and focusing on the past and drumming up falsities about how this man is treating me, my attention must focus on treating him like the good man he is. It must focus on making sure he is happy, and not just focus on myself. It’s that purpose, that reason, that goal that pulls me out every time.
Find your purpose, something that you love. Find a reason. If it is not another person, perhaps it is a hobby. Perhaps it is a pet. Talk to your doctor, of course. Some medications may be required; I am not anti-meds. However, no medicine can make you treat others well. There is not a magic pill that can turn your love and attention toward others’ feelings – but that’s what you need to do. And If you focus on others, then you have far less time to think about what is “wrong” with yourself. Try it sometime.
Depression can rear its ugly head in so many different ways. While most of us know the main way – the sadness, the loss of interest – I don’t think we realize the many, many other ways it manifests. As humans, I think we need to start noticing changes – people need to start noticing when something is “just a little bit different” about someone you see every day.
Sometimes depression isn’t obvious. Sometimes it’s a change of appearance, a change of willingness to interact, a change in the way someone reacts to things. So often, those of us who suffer from depression just want someone to notice that something is different and maybe say, “Hey, what’s going on?”
It’s hard enough just to ride the whole depression rollercoaster: feeling like you’re not yourself, feeling like everything is falling apart, feeling sad and tired, angry and nauseated and sick. But it makes it even harder when you come to one difficult realization:
No one noticed.
Depression :: Going it alone.
I have always suffered from anxiety and depression. Even mania. My bipolar disorder isn’t severe, but it’s enough. It’s enough that you would think people would notice sometimes when there’s an abrupt change in my actions and reactions. But so often, no one notices. And while I’m not one to keep things secret, I’m also not one who reaches out for help.
I vent, I talk. I talk a lot, actually, but I almost never ask for help. Despite that, on the rare occasion that someone looked at me and said, “Hey, are you okay?” I was so grateful to accept their shoulder to cry on. God, I can’t even put it into words. Even though I may not ask for the support, knowing it was there changed everything.
Here’s what happens when depression hits:
For a couple of weeks leading up to the most recent depressed episode, I felt a gradual decline in my mood. Some days were better than others, and even on the bad days, I was able to lift myself up pretty quickly. Then, as it always happens, it felt like I fell off a cliff. All of a sudden, emotions hit rock bottom, and all I wanted to do was cry. There are so many things I needed to do, but my body and mind just could not do them. They just simply could not. It happens every time, and I still haven’t perfected the way out.
Depression :: Self-care.
For a long time, I believed people when they said I could just snap out of it. Or get the willpower to feel better. Or pray myself through it. While those things can help when you’re on the precipice of a depressive episode, once you’re in it, it takes a lot more than that to get out of it.
I compare it to when you feel like you’re getting a cold; you fight it and fight it. You take vitamin C, drink your orange juice, and you get some rest – you push through – and you never really get sick… but you never really get better. You are in a constant state of fighting a cold. Sometimes it serves you better to simply let the cold happen – to take the day to sleep it off, feel better. Then you find yourself on the upswing and the cold eventually goes away.
Depression is not only emotional or environmental, but it’s also physiological. Yes, physiological. It’s not just a bout of sadness, there is a physiological, neurological reason for repeating episodes of depression. Just like there is a physiological reason for catching a cold: you caught a virus and your body is reacting to that virus. With depression, there’s a misfire somewhere in the brain, and your body is reacting to that. Sometimes that misfire is accompanied by stress or situational influences that weigh so heavily upon us. Because of this, I think, sometimes, we need to allow ourselves a day to be depressed.
I don’t want to use the word succumb because so often to succumb to depression means to end one’s life. And that is something I am certainly not advocating nor ever will advocate. But I truly believe that once in a while those of us who experience depression need to take the day and stay in bed and be “sick” with depression. We need to let our body repair itself – like it does when we have the flu or a cold. We repair ourselves with sleep. With good nutrition. With the love and care of someone who truly loves us and knows what we need. The latter of which is often the most difficult to do.
Depression :: Support.
Just like any other illness, depression requires a support system. It’s much more difficult to fight cancer alone and it’s also much more difficult to fight depression. We need to stop feeling like we can carry it all ourselves. It’s easy sometimes to throw a “woe-is-me” pity party and to carry it ourselves because, quite frankly, we want to whine about it. While it seems easier that way, I’m telling you right now, having someone to whom you can turn and who you can trust to help you get through it is imperative. They don’t always need to understand what you’re going through, they simply need to be there; without judgment, without necessarily trying to fix anything. Just be there to listen, to hold your hand, to allow you to feel like you’re not alone. To make you feel like someone noticed. It goes a long, long way.
I’m so lucky that I have someone who notices; who may not understand, but who listens and tries to get it. Someone who motivates me and doesn’t get angry when I’m angry at him for trying to motivate me. But I’ll tell you right now, sometimes I wish someone else would notice. In the weeks leading up to my most recent depressed episode, I noticed a change in my own behavior. I’ve been riding this dragon for many years, so I can almost feel it coming.
It started with me making a drastic change.
First, I started spending more and more time in my office eating lunch by myself, only leaving to go to the bathroom, not really talking to too many people. The problem here is that I tend to be a loner, and tend to spend time in my office anyway. Even so, this was different. Even as a loner, there are days I would go out and have lunch with everyone else in the office. I would go visit people or I would just talk to the other people in my office about random everyday things. Instead, I kept to myself.
No one noticed.
Second, my appearance kept changing. One day, I’d put in the full effort to dress well for work. The next day, it would look like I just rolled out of bed and came to the office. Then, I dyed my hair. My hair was a natural shade of brown (my hair wasn’t natural, the shade was natural) and then I dyed it a dark, very dark, almost black, violet. Then I dyed it black.
No one noticed.
Sure, they noticed the change, but not one person, at least to my face, stopped for a minute and said “Hey, that’s a pretty big change. Is everything okay?” Yes, I know, we shouldn’t be worried about every person who changes their hair color, but we should certainly notice when it’s such a drastic, unexpected change. I change my hair often, and just as often, I’m just trying to feel a little better, to mix it up a bit, or to change the outside so the inside follows suit. Or maybe, just maybe, to get someone’s attention.
Third, there were the bouts of crying in my office. I did my very best to pull it together when someone walked by, but it should still have been pretty obvious to anyone that walked in that I had been crying.
No one noticed.
Fourth, there was the eating everything in sight. Binge eating to the point where I put back on so much of the weight I had lost.
No one noticed.
No, maybe it’s not their job to notice. I also know that every person has their own set of things that they’re dealing with, so I’m not asking for anyone to be my savior. I’m just trying to let you know that noticing can make all the difference in how quickly someone gets through an episode of depression. There are days when I felt as though if I wasn’t there, no one would notice. That certainly doesn’t help lift one out of depression; in fact, it can add to it. One of the leading situational causes of chronic depression is a feeling like you don’t belong or don’t have anyone to whom you can turn. So when you are suffering and no one notices, it compounds the situation. I’m fortunate that I have someone to whom I can turn, others are not.
My saving graces are my faith – because I know that when I have God, I’m not alone – and also my loving, wonderful, incredible boyfriend who lifts me up when I fall. Who’s my umbrella when it storms. Who does his very, very best to shield me from any kind of hurt. With those two in my corner, I always know – no matter who else notices (or doesn’t) – that I’m going to get through it. However, when I’m at work, especially, I often feel like I’m floating alone – treading water – and all I need is someone to throw me a raft so I can float a little easier. You see, I don’t want them to throw me a life preserver and pull me in, I just want to know I have a pool noodle to grab onto if I get tired of fighting on my own.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s so terribly important to have a place to go – or a person, a prayer, a phone number – when you feel like no one notices. If you’re going through depression, reach out to someone – someone you care about, someone who cares about you. And don’t ever let anyone make you feel like it’s your fault, or it’s something that you can “snap out of.” It takes time and strength and an effort that sometimes seems impossible. Not everyone gets it, but I do, so I’m telling you – I know how it feels.
Find a person, a confidant who can hold your hand and do whatever you need them to do to help you out of it. If you don’t have a person to call on, reach out. Reach out to someone on social media, reach out to me. Call a suicide hotline – even if you’re not suicidal – even if you’re just so low that you don’t know if you could get back up again. Call, write, DM, text someone – someone will help you.
To those of you who aren’t dealing with depression, try to notice more. Try to pay attention to the people with whom you work or live. Try to notice when things are different. Notice when there’s a drastic change. Stop being so busy judging them for their oddness and start thinking that maybe there’s something else going on underneath the weirdness.
Offer a shoulder, offer an ear.
I’m not asking you to take responsibility for their mental health; I’m simply asking you to be a ray of light when they’re surrounded by darkness. That ray of light can mean oh so much more than you could ever imagine. It can mean the difference between sadness and happiness, confusion and clarity, or even life and death. Each person is responsible for their own actions, but sometimes the simplest “Hey, if you need anything, I’m here” can lift a person up from the depths and help them see that they aren’t alone. And all it takes is someone who notices and reaches out.
OK, here I go, pissing some of you off, I’m sure. First, calm yourself. I’m not shaming anyone, including myself. I am all about body positivity – if it’s done right.
Second, there’s a difference between losing weight for healthy and unhealthy reasons. I am pro-healthy!
Third, please realize that every philosophy or piece of advice is not one-size-fits-all, and that’s what prompted this blog.
I am fat. In fact, I’m in the “morbidly obese” category of the Body Mass Index (BMI). (I think the BMI is bullshit, anyway, but that’s a story for another day. Right now I’m just trying to give you an idea of how big I am.) I carry it well – see my Instagram for proof and I don’t hate myself; I look in the mirror and see a beautiful, sexy, smart, badass chick. But there is no denying the fact that I’m fat – and I shouldn’t be.
It’s not because I need to fit into some prescribed notion of what a woman should look like or what a man likes (my beau thinks I’m hot af just as I am, just sayin’), I need to be less fat because it’s affecting my health. Quite a lot.
The time has long passed where I can say I’m “overweight-but-healthy. ” There was a time when I was; that time is no longer. This is why I have a problem with the saying “healthy at any size.” For some, it’s just not possible; and I am one of the some.
Losing weight because you think you must look a certain way before you or others love who you are is unhealthy, but so is being so overweight that your knees don’t want to function as they should. You should love yourself at any size – but love yourself enough to realize that that particular size just might not be healthy – likely because you are maintaining it by eating not-so-healthy foods all the time and not moving your body.
Yes, I know, you have a “health issue.”
Are there cases of people who have health issues that prevent weight loss? Sure. I AM ONE OF THEM. (My thyroid is fried. That’s another blog.) But I can’t use that as an excuse for being fat if I’m binge eating junk food or drinking every weekend. Neither can you.
So, I don’t want to hear it. Before you come at me with the whole But I have __________ disease and you can’t lose weight with that, remember that I have one of those, too, and I still managed to drop 70 pounds last year. Would it have been easier without the thyroid issue? Sure. However, it’s still not impossible. And besides, even if it is nearly impossible to lose weight, it doesn’t mean you can’t choose foods that are better for your body and your physical and mental health, amiright? I am.
My weight IS my health issue.
Last year, I was 325 pounds. I couldn’t breathe. My mental health was suffering terribly with depression and anxiety. My physical health was suffering from back and knee pain, headaches, costochondritis, and severe inflammation just everywhere. I knew I couldn’t go on like that much longer.
I managed to take off about 70 pounds – using Keto (with cheating!) and exercising regularly. Then I moved… and finalized my divorce… and started to gain a bit back. No biggie. I always fluctuated, but could always easily get back on track and lose it again plus a few more pounds. Then I reconnected with the man who would quickly become the man of my dreams, and we indulged heavily in date night bar food and trips for ice cream. It happens. I thoroughly enjoyed it. All told, though, I’ve put about 30 pounds back on, and I am not happy. Not because I look in the mirror and see someone fat, ugly, or unloveable; I’m not happy because I’m not happy.
Carrying that extra weight again is stressful – both physically and neurologically – and that is a perfectly valid reason for unhappiness. Unlike some, I do not have an unreasonable expectation of what I’m supposed to look like or some self-loathing mindset. I am simply recognizing that my body can’t go on like this much longer without failing. It’s simply fact, not unrealistic body hatred.
Part of the unhappiness is coming from the fact that I just can’t seem to get back on track again. It’s frustrating, and frustration is, well, frustrating. I was able to do it so easily last time, and this time, it’s just not happening. I’m back to bingeing behavior, which is unhealthy in and of itself, and I can’t seem to get my brain to cooperate with my desire to be better. Regardless, I keep starting and restarting, because I know I will be able to stick to it again. I just have to not stop trying.
The stakes are high at this point. I have a stress fracture in my back and chronic knee and leg pain. My anxiety is creeping back in. My hormones are all out of whack.
I know, I know. (That could be from the food you’re eating! Or genetic! Or age-related!)
Yes, I know. But let’s deconstruct this for a minute. Sure, some of these health issues are exacerbated by genetics or age, but the ‘food you’re eating’ thing? YES. The food I’m eating is also the reason I’m fat! I didn’t get to this size by eating steamed chicken breast and broccoli. I got here because I love sugar and bread and potato chips and greasy bar food and beer. All of those things, even in a person of a normal size, are inflammatory, bloating, anxiety-inducing, binge-inciting, mental-and-physical-health killers. So in order to change some of the health issues, I have to eat healthier foods. Those healthier foods will, inevitably, result in weight loss.
Exercise will also help – and get this! If I eat healthily and I start to exercise more, I will LOSE WEIGHT. It will just happen. Quite frankly, I’m so sick of pussyfooting around the idea of saying I want to lose weight by using simile and metaphor and clever epithets so people don’t get triggered about body positivity and think I am body shaming myself or saying I don’t love who I am. Just because I’m saying I want to lose weight, it doesn’t mean I hate myself, or anyone else who is fat, or that I am striving to look like a stereotypical supermodel.
Weight loss is not “body negative.”
We need to stop promoting the idea that wanting to lose weight comes from a place of un-love. I say I need to lose weight because it’s easier than a several-paragraph diatribe about health issues and food-related conditions and mental health. I need to lose weight… and it’s because of all the benefits that will come from it, not because of some kind of carnivorous self-hatred. Body positivity should be pro-health.
I love who I am – and I want to live a long, happy, healthy life with this new love of mine. And quite frankly, if I don’t figure it out, I’m on the road to a stroke or a heart attack. Trust me, it’s gonna happen. In fact, I know someone who almost fell victim to his weight, but then did something to change it: my boyfriend.
Yes, I know I still have not told you the love story of us, but it is so amazing I want to make sure I get all the important details just right. In the meantime, suffice it to say that he is my hero, and I am trying to learn from him and be better for him every day.
See, a few years back – smack in the middle of his 30s – he was about 350 pounds. He ate whatever and whenever he wanted and generally lived a sedentary life. Then, one day, while walking somewhere, he started having more trouble breathing. Over the course of a few days, it got worse, and he had a hard time walking short distances, let alone long ones. He called his doctor, who told him to get to a hospital.
You see, he was a few hours away from a heart attack. At 35 years old. Chaos ensued – including a cardiac catheterization – in the following weeks with doctors trying to return him to a reasonable facsimile of health. The rest was up to him – and holy hell, did he take it seriously. Over the following few years, through counting calories and exercising, he lost a total of 160 pounds. You read that right: 160 pounds. Let me tell you, I admire the hell out of him.
Was he happy at 350 pounds? He was a happy guy in general, really. Still is. But now his blood pressure, his cholesterol and triglycerides, his physical endurance, and his mental health are better than ever – the side effects of losing weight! He was even able to be taken off one of his blood pressure meds already. That’s right, BP meds. At 35. And now, at 38, meds that prevent heart failure. Heart failure. So yeah, maybe he was happy with the weight on, just like I am happy – in general – and I love myself. However, I speak from experience when I say that being that overweight is just not healthy. Nor is it… comfortable.
You can’t fit 10 pounds of flour in a five-pound sack.
It’s hard to fit in bus or plane seats. It’s hard to fit in some chairs or booths at restaurants. Most amusement park rides are a no-go. Your knees scream at you after you walk a certain distance. So does your back. And listen to me when I say this: It’s OK to not be OK with those things! Don’t let anyone use the facade of “body positivity” or “healthy at any size” to bully you into thinking you’re not allowed to feel kinda crappy because you can’t ride the rollercoaster at HersheyPark.
Nor do I want you to fall into the trap of blaming other people. No, it’s not the amusement park’s fault that you can’t fit on the rollercoaster ride. If they made the seats big enough for people my size, smaller people would fall out. Then there’s a matter of physics and engineering – those rides can only take so much weight. Deal with it.
So perhaps we are happy people when we are fat – him previously, me currently – and we love ourselves, but there are things that suck out loud about it and it’s OK to think those things suck out loud. It is also no one’s fault except the person carrying the weight. Being body positive and loving yourself at any size does not include a chip on your shoulder against anyone who isn’t a large size. It should include people of all sizes, who love their bodies whether they are thin or obese or anything in between. Body positivity should include the fact that, for some people, the sheer logistical limitations of being that size are reason enough for them to lose weight. It should include the fact that, while some people can be healthy at any size, some people simply are not, and convincing them otherwise is helping no one.
If you want people to stop judging, then stop judging. If someone wants to lose weight for a healthy, happy reason, be the one who tells them they are awesome no matter what, and you’ve got their back! Don’t scold and reprimand them for wanting something different just because you may not. That’s the exact opposite of body positivity and acceptance, and I am so over it.
Here’s the deal:
If an obese person wants to lose weight because they love themself enough to want a healthier life, BE THERE FOR IT. Tell them how proud you are, or that you are so excited and there for them if they need you. Stop trying to talk them out of it because it makes you feel inadequate as you mainline pumpkin spice lattes and fast food. It’s about them, no one else. Show them love by loving them. Stop sending them shop-worn internet platitudes about being healthy at any size or how body positivity means they absolutely cannot want to change their weight.
It’s a long hard road to walk, and those of us who are on it are usually looking for cheap excuses to stop at a bench or turn around and go backward, so stop throwing up the detour signs and start putting up “this way to your best self” arrows so they know you’ve got their back. The results of not doing so can be detrimental to not only their physical health but also their mental health. Body positivity should never be used as a reason for binge-eating or making poor choices. Don’t be that person.
Be the freshly paved road, not the pothole, and help them keep their tires rolling forward. That is the best kind of body positivity I can think of.
Disclaimer: This is not pro-eating-disorder, this is pro HEALTH. Eating disorders are real and a problem- and NOT HEALTHY. Body dysmorphic disorders are real and a problem – AND NOT HEALTHY. If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, please seek help. The National Eating Disorders Association is a good place to start.
This quote perfectly sums up this last week, and also why this week’s Writing Prompt Wednesday post will be short.
I have been plagued with all sorts of health problems over the past year or so, and am not much closer to any answers. I just start to feel better, and then something else hits. Most recently, it’s a stress fracture in the spine and some other likely-spine-related symptoms that haven’t been properly addressed yet. I will write a more detailed post at some point, but here’s the quick version.
I was sent to physical therapy. I went to one appointment and was told by the therapist that she’s referring me back to my doctor because, essentially, some of the effects from the exercises she was having me do were “concerning.” I know it sounds crazy, but I was looking forward to PT and the possibility of relief from my incessant back pain. Now I not only DON’T have that option for the time being, but there’s likely something else going on.
Add to that a small bout of anxiety that has had me rattled by a mind full of worries that won’t shut off and… I. am. exhausted. Tired of fighting – for my health, against my anxiety, for my sanity, for everything. Just… tired. If you’ve never experienced the racing mind of a bout of anxiety, you don’t know what that kind of exhaustion is like. Logic can slow it down sometimes, but inevitably, something hits the accelerator again and off it goes. It’s usually nonsense. It doesn’t start off that way, but it almost always reaches the point of absurdity.
Ouch my thumb hurts look there’s a small spot there I wonder what it is oh my god I had a cold sore last week maybe I touched it and now it’s on my hand what if it is and I touched my eye and I go blind or what if it’s in my brain and I have to go into a medically induced coma while they treat it and what if I die oh my god no I don’t want to die I have too many things left to do but what if that’s the cause of all the nerve pain I’m having maybe it’s in my spine or what if it’s a tumor and I am going to be paralyzed and then I can’t drive anymore that would suck I love to drive so much and let me look at my thumb again yep there’s definitely something there maybe I should take some medication what if I get it somewhere else what if I can’t walk anymore what if I can’t use my brain and my memory starts failing I couldn’t handle that I love learning so much and my intelligence is my best quality I need to be able to know things I don’t want to lose my ability to think that’s what makes me so special oh no I don’t want to be a burden on Tony if I am disabled that’s not fair to him would he still want to be with me if I was in a wheelchair or couldn’t remember things I don’t want to lose him he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me I don’t deserve him who would want to be with someone who thinks like this It’s so not fair I just don’t understand why he wants me I bet he is just going to leave me and I will be alone so I need to get my shit together but I can’t stop feeling this way if I could I would I guess I just have to try harder I still don’t understand why he puts up with me I’m such a pain in the ass I wouldn’t put up with me I don’t know why he does everything is such a project with me why can’t I just be normal…
As hard as that was to read, it’s equally as hard to feel and think that way, I promise. You are in a constant state of fight or flight, and it’s so tiring. You also KNOW that your thoughts are ridiculous, but you just can’t make your brain understand that.
But here’s the thing. I always get through it. The cloud lifts and the thoughts slow and I become “normal” again. It’s not easy, but you just have to hold on and let it pass. Find ways to keep yourself occupied and throw yourself into something so that your brain doesn’t have a chance to keep running on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, you prevent yourself from being consumed.
I pray, I listen to music, I clean, I talk. I cry. I hold on to Tony and he talks me down and reassures me. Side note: If you are with someone who doesn’t reassure you and support you during these bouts – I tell you now, you are with the wrong person. They don’t need to baby you, but they need to be your soft place to fall so that you feel loved, protected, secure. Remember that.
This is not something that you ask for or did on purpose. It’s an issue that you have to fight, contend with, get through, overcome. And you are stronger each and every time you overcome it. Do not ever let anyone make you feel otherwise. Today’s post was a little ”all-over-the-place,” I know, but I wanted to be sure you understand that anxiety or depression or any other mental health issue does not make you weak – and NO ONE, including yourself, should ever make you feel that way.
It takes a strength and courage some people will never understand, but once you get through it, you shine.
“Just because I carry it all so well doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.”
This quote resonated with me so very, very much. I think strong people are often forgotten. At least, they aren’t thought about in a way that’s helpful. I am not one to hide any trials through which I am going, but I think my ability to be crushed under their weight and still show up for work and wear a smile makes people think whatever is going on behind the scenes isn’t really “a big deal.”
OK, sure, sometimes people exaggerate issues for attention or sympathy. But let’s not be so cynical, shall we? When someone’s life is falling apart, and they say “Eh, I got this,” and manage to get up every morning and show up for the day, it takes a strength some others will never fully understand. It requires a level of concentration and voluntary, temporary amnesia that some people just do not possess the ability to achieve. You have to forget about whatever is happening behind the scenes and focus all the remaining energy on work, school, kids, whatever.
There is simply no time to cope or deal, there’s only time to do what needs to be done, and the energy and force of will it takes to not only bury those things until later but also face the day with as much competence as you need – it’s astonishing. I am not saying you need to pity anyone who has a burden to carry. I am instead asking you to recognize that heavy burdens sometimes fall on upright shoulders, so they go unnoticed.
Over the past couple of years, I have had my share of hindrances – divorce, health issues, heartbreak, unexpected responsibilities, and crippling anxiety problems. For the most part, I’d tell people I was “fine,” when in reality I was breaking apart, little by little. The anxiety seemed as though it would never go away – I was scared and worried every minute of every day – and I just couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t “logic-it-away.” I felt as though I was struggling to keep my head above water and someone kept tying weights to my ankles. Not enough to pull me straight down, but enough to make it harder and harder to tread water.
…heavy burdens sometimes fall on upright shoulders, so they go unnoticed.
I was told to “get over it,” to “just pray about it,” to “buck up,” and of course the multiple comparisons to other peoples’ life problems. The intentions were all good, I understand that, but they were not at all helpful. I felt like no one understood that if I could get over it, I would have already! I felt weak, small, incapable, and like a failure. In response, I shoved it all away, and showed up for work, and carried it with as much grace as possible – all while trying to move and set up a new home, to help take care of family, to navigate a relatively new job, and to try to maintain my sanity. For those who didn’t bother to look past the “I’m fine’s,” I seemed to be managing OK. I wasn’t.
Then someone came along who held my hand and held me up and carried me… whatever I needed, from the small encouragements to the place to turn when I couldn’t take anymore. He untied the weights one by one and handed me a life preserver. I never asked for help, but he didn’t buy it when I said: “I’m fine.” He showed up and helped out and took away some of the everyday worries and chores so I could focus on the big stuff. I was never placated or belittled or minimized. I was allowed to cry and scream and sleep and be quiet. I was allowed to trudge through without being told to “get over it” or told I was overreacting or told that what I felt wasn’t valid. And it saved me – my health, my sanity. Readers, I encourage – no, implore – you to be that person for someone else.
Does someone you know have a particular burden to carry and they seem “just fine?” Do me a favor and ask them how they are doing – and do not take “fine” for an answer. I’m not asking you to pry, simply to push a little harder. Let them know that you are there if they need someone. Sometimes just one gentle push can have someone unload a weight they couldn’t carry alone any longer. Sometimes the lightening of that load can mean the difference between sanity and insanity, illness and wellness, or even life or death.
I also ask you to not offer tired cliches and mottos and sayings.
“I promise it’ll get better.”
“I know exactly how you feel – and I got through it.”
“It’s not THAT bad.”
And my personal favorite:
“If it doesn’t kill ya, it makes ya stronger!”
First of all – maybe it won’t get better. Maybe this albatross will be with them forever. You simply don’t know that for sure. Second – no, you just don’t know how they feel. Each person processes difficulties differently, so do not assume you know how they feel, even if you’ve been in a similar situation. Third – yes, it is THAT bad. It’s that bad for that person, and you have no right to determine the hierarchy of malady. It’s however they feel, and telling them it’s “not that bad” is basically telling them that their feelings are irrelevant. Instead, be honest, be supportive, and be kind. That’s what I’d want. Try this:
“I have no idea if or when this will get better, and I cannot even imagine what it’s like, but I am here for as long as you need me. I know it seems bad, really bad, right now but maybe with some support, we can work through it all together.”
Be a pallbearer for whatever hardship they are trying to put to rest, and do so with dignity – yours and theirs.
And for the love of God, stop using the “if it doesn’t kill you” line. The truth is, some people never make it out of that first category. Second, you’re basically telling the person that their tribulations only have two possible outcomes: death or self-improvement. This couldn’t be farther from reality. Sometimes people don’t become stronger after a trial. Sometimes they realize their limits and know they can’t handle it. Sometimes they are shattered. Not dead, but broken – and that does not feel like strength. Yes, to be that broken and still move forward does take an unbelievable amount of strength, but that’s not always how it feels in the moment. Trust me, I know. There are also times that people are broken and they can’t move forward. No one is asking you to be a life coach, they are asking for your shoulders so you can share the load.
Instead, say something like “I’m going to do what I can to help you get through this and to pick up the pieces. I’m here for you.” Offer to aid with everyday burdens – cleaning, cooking, babysitting. Perhaps if they don’t have to worry about keeping the house clean or going grocery shopping, they will find the strength to deal with whatever issue is at hand. Stop offering advice, and instead offer real, tangible help.
They may not accept it right away. They might not accept it at all. But they will know that you’re there, and knowing, sometimes, is half the battle. It’s a lot less scary to walk the tight rope when you know there’s a safety net underneath. Be the safety net. Just be there, without pity or judgment. Be a pallbearer for whatever hardship they are trying to put to rest, and do so with dignity – yours and theirs.
Check on your “strong” friend. They often are the ones who won’t ask for help, even when they need it most. Don’t minimize someone’s heaviness just because their shoulders seem strong enough to hold it up.
I am not affiliated with @wordporm in any way. I’m just a writer who is inspired by them.