The Body Bag(gage)
Updated: May 24, 2020
Before we start: Every now and then I’ll post some “Get to Know Me” info… I think it’s important that you know a bit more about me than what I write about. So today’s topic is - my favorite sounds... car tires bumping over train tracks, stirring pasta in a pot of sauce, my daughter laughing/singing/saying “good morning mommy” (ok any sound she makes that isn’t crying or whining), feet crunching in snow, and the motor/exhaust of a fast car.
Now for today’s feature presentation…
(aw dang, nobody's in the audience...)
I don’t think that I’ve mentioned my concussion before… I suffered a pretty severe concussion back in November. It actually wasn’t something that would normally cause a concussion at all; I was playing soccer, defending someone who had the ball. The woman with the ball apparently was so intimidated by my extreme skill and defending abilities (*eye roll) that she just kicked it as hard as she could, and it came into contact with my head. I knew as soon as the ball hit my head that I was done and it was a concussion; I went to the bench, didn’t know what day it was, threw up in my mouth a couple of times, freaked out, yadda yadda, here I am 6 months later and I haven’t been able to exercise more than light yoga and walking.
The symptoms were pretty bad, but it’s not surprising, seeing that it was my 7th or 8th concussion, and it was my second one in a few months last year. I was super irritable- I couldn’t even stand to have my daughter around me a lot of the time. This upset me the most out of all of the symptoms, because I knew I was feeling that way and I hated it, because she didn’t deserve for me to be so short tempered and irritable with her. I didn't know that a concussion could have this kind of effect.
The thing that bothered me almost as much was the fact that I lost my ability to exercise, which is integral to my mental well being, and if you read any studies on mental health, exercise is SUPER important to feeling good about yourself and the world around you, because there are actually 6 dimensions of wellness (emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual) that need to be in balance and thriving in order for you to have “wellness”.
With my symptoms, I was also dizzy, headachy, couldn’t handle bright lights, busy places, and got overwhelmed easily. I had planned to start my masters degree in psychology in January, but there was no way that my cognitive function at that time would have allowed that. Believe it or not, though, two good things did come from my concussion.
Occasionally, personalities change as a result of a concussion or other brain injury. Often, these changes aren’t positive, especially for those around the person who has changed, and they result in irreversible relationship changes/damage; I’ve actually experienced this directly, with one of my best friends suffering a severe brain injury, his personality changing significantly, and now we’re not friends any more.
When it comes to me, I think I lost a lot of my “give a crap” with this last concussion. It wasn’t that I stopped caring about people, but I used to internalize EVERYTHING that happened. If I wasn’t invited to an event lots of people were invited to, I would agonize over it. If someone mistreated me, even the simplest thing like getting the finger while I was driving, I would lose sleep, often for days, as I tried to figure out what I did wrong.
The funniest, most recent example just stems from when I started chatting with this guy (4 years younger than I, and this is relevant) in an online dating app (the fact that I’m back online dating again is SO annoying), and it was late at night so I said that I would catch up with him the next day. When I signed on the next evening, he had sent me 6 messages, the last one saying something like “What, do you want to actually chat or were you just stopping by yesterday lol”. I replied with “Hi- I don’t get on here multiple times a day, I’ve just got lots of things going on and it’s not my thing to spend a bunch of time on here. It looks like you need someone who is able to give more attention than I can. I wish you all the best”. I thought this was a pretty kind send-off for a super-needy dude, but he apparently didn’t think so, because his response was “Whatever, oldie”. Prior to my concussion, this would actually REALLY bother me and I wouldn’t be able to help myself when it came to a retort. I would feel a compulsion to respond and tell him like it was, tell him how rude he was, and try to right the wrong of his last message and get the last word. What did I do this time? I laughed- A lot. And then I deleted him and his message and laughed some more.
The second positive side-effect was forgetfulness. Don’t get me wrong, some of it was scary (like when I would combine memories in my mind and my family would look at me with serious concern and a bit of pity as I recanted these memories), but I gotta tell you, it had some serious benefit in light of this whole pandemic business.
I’ve always been a bit absent-minded and forgetful- it’s one of the reasons I love and live off of lists and reminders. It doesn’t bother me that I’m that way, but I think it’s important to do something about it, so lists and reminders are coping mechanisms. I don’t ever go to the grocery store without a list, I have a number of dry-erase boards all over my house where I write notes to myself, and I have hundreds of notes in my phone for things I might need to remember in the future.
But with a concussion, I didn’t even trust my ability to remember to make lists. So away I would go to the grocery store, with my trusty phone list in hand… and I would see that pasta sauce was on sale. Look at list… no pasta sauce on list… but my daughter loves this pasta sauce and it’s on sale and I’m certain I don’t have any, so I will buy 6 pasta sauces. Go down toilet paper aisle… look at list… no toilet paper on list, but it is also on sale, and I think I might be close to running out so I buy four 26-count super jumbo packages of toilet paper even though I’m the only person in the household using toilet paper.
Repeat this for many other things… canned items, flour, sugar, frozen food, cleaning supplies, etc etc.
Then I get home, unpack my groceries, take the pasta sauce/tp/canned goods/etc downstairs to my storage area, only to find TONS of it down there already. For example- we are way into the pandemic and I still have 6 large and 4 small packages of tp downstairs. At the time it annoyed me a bit, but I did have a laugh, because what else can you do?
And then came the pandemic, and I was a friggin genius with my forgetfulness and overly-stocked storage area. I was asking friends and family if they needed anything that I had extra of. Hooray for forgetfulness!!
God works in mysterious ways, my friends.
Now back to one of the biggest consequences of my concussion- not being able to exercise. I NEED to exercise in order to not feel like I’m going to either cry all the time or kill people. At the time I was already feeling a bit flabby from my weight loss and not having the muscle mass to fill up the space between the bone and the skin where the fat was, so the concussion was a bit of a blow to my plan. I was pleased with the weight loss, but I had a new issue to contend with that I wasn’t able to address, and I’m not the type to be unhappy about something in my life and not do something about it.
Here’s the thing… I never hated my body. The physical parts of me that were big never stopped me from doing anything physically- I still played soccer, ran around with my niece and nephews, did very tough gardening work, yoga, home improvements… the weight and size of my body never stopped me from physically doing anything. I was strong and capable and exercised all the time and felt good about my fitness.
You know what my physical size DID stop me from doing though? Loving myself as a whole being. It prevented me from feeling good about the way I looked because I knew how people looked at me. I dreaded, abso-freaking-lutely dreaded running into anyone who knew me before I gained all the weight and hadn’t seen me since. It was a borderline phobia- I once saw my ex-boyfriend's sister-in-law while shopping at Costco with a friend; I saw the sister in law rifling through men’s socks, and I grabbed my friend in a complete panic and pulled her into the racks behind some giant jars of pickles. My eyes were darting wildly and she stared at me in wonder, and whispered “what in the heck are we doing behind these pickles?”.
I explained my issue to her- how I could not, would not dare risk having it get back to my ex that I looked “like this”. She regarded me sadly, and said “I think you’re beautiful”.
That covers two other things I hated about the size of my body: First, I felt like people often looked at me with a certain sadness… like I was a victim of something. And second, that I never believed anyone who told me they thought I was beautiful. I thought it was a pity comment.
Don’t get me wrong- not for one second do I think that big women are unattractive. Not at all. Some of the most striking women I’ve ever seen couldn’t fit into anything at the Gap (I couldn’t). The issue was that I didn’t believe that I was beautiful. The mirror was cruel to me, and my mind was exceptionally cruel. In many areas of my life, what is ok for others is not ok for me.
There’s a saying that rang so true for me while I was struggling with feeling good about the way I looked- “I want to be as skinny as I was the first time I thought I was fat”.
Do you remember the first time you thought you were overweight? I do- it was when I noticed my boyfriend checking out a waitress… I was young and thought that in order to keep his eyes on me that I needed to lose weight. I was a size 8 then… a fit, healthy, strong size 8, and the waitress wasn’t even skinnier than I was… but I didn’t have the self-confidence or awareness of a healthy relationship to know that the issue of where his eyes went was his issue, not a reflection on me.
So I did ALL the diets and exercise fads, and was part of the millions of Canadias who spend millions of dollars on weight loss products each year. And some worked for a bit but they ALL ended up failing eventually; even if I kept with it, ate only the stupidly tiny Jenny Craig meals, consumed only shakes and terrible-tasting powder water, stayed within my WW points, fasted until noon, drank the coffee with the butter… none of them stuck. My body would eventually revolt and I’d gain all the weight back, plus some, and I didn’t know why. I knew a girl who cut mayonnaise out of her diet- that’s all. Just mayo. She lost 10lbs in 2 months. Not a super fast loss, but it was due to ceasing to eat MAYO. I was partially concerned for her unspoken mayonnaise consumption, but mostly I wanted to punch her in the throat because at that time I had cut out any food that was white, and for her cutting out one white food resulted in loss. (See how comparison is the thief of joy?).
Not until my ex husband and I were trying to get pregnant did I find out the source of my weight gain- polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Apparently the girl who is on the show “My Big Fat Fabulous Life” has it, in case that gives you any context.
According to WebMD, PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in women (of childbearing age) and can lead to issues with fertility. Those of us with PCOS have higher levels of male hormones and are less-sensitive to insulin, causing many of us to be overweight or obese. Because the weight gain is caused by male hormones, most of us gain weight in our abdomen (like men). There is no cure for PCOS.
So although I now had a lightbulb moment with why I had the body makeup that I did, and why it was so difficult to lose weight, I decided to throw fertility treatments with all sorts of hormones into the mix and I got bigger. And bigger. And not pregnant. And I didn’t really have any food issues, but I started to eat my sorrow and disappointment in my body’s inability to have children, which didn’t help. But I (unfortunately) learned that when you’re so full that you’re borderline uncomfortable, there’s no room for sadness and defeat and feeling like you’re a failure.
What worked for me? Gastric sleeve surgery. I have lost around 100lbs and am not terrified of running into someone. Some will say that this was the “easy way out”, but before those words enter your mind and settle there, do some research on what those of us who have undergone weight loss surgery actually go through, before and after.
Do I love my body now? Not totally. I’m working on loving my body, toward being able to exercise some more. That’s the thing, all of this is work, it’s always work, and as soon as you stop working, it means you’re either lying to yourself or you’ve given up. I’m trying to stop feeling sorry for myself.
So what am I saying? What’s the true message behind all of what I’ve said?
And if you don’t love yourself, do something about it and find your joy. Do whatever you need to do to start loving yourself.
Don’t define yourself with your weight or size, but if you do, and it’s negative, fix your mind and your body.
It’s not easy, it will take work. But nothing worth having ever came easily. Do research on whatever you’re considering as your way toward loving yourself, figure out what might be the best fit for your issues and your personality, schedule, lifestyle, whatever factor might give you an excuse to give up on yourself and finding your joy. Talk to your doctor. Get rid of your excuses.
See a therapist. Click here for my post on why you need a therapist and some bonus material on types of therapy. You need to fix your head if you don’t love yourself. "Fixing" your body isn’t going to make your brain see something it loves; you’re rewiring your brain to believe that you are worth loving and not defined by your body size. I don’t care what society says about being thin- being thin, in and of itself, does not produce happiness. How many unhappy super skinny people are there? Mental health doesn’t discriminate based on body size.
Why do you need to work on your brain too? Well, let’s start with what I said before- I never hated my actual body, my issue was with how I saw myself and how I thought other people saw me. According to a 2013 study completed at North Carolina State University, individuals who lost 5% of their body weight over 4 years were more likely to feel depressed. The reasoning behind this? People aren’t unhappy about their bodies, they’re unhappy with themselves; they’re focused on losing weight as opposed to loving themselves as they are. Also, dieting itself affects the “happy chemicals” that our brain produces, which means we have less to draw on while we’re working on our physical appearance.
Believe it or not, there are actually some things about the weight loss I don’t love:
I was stronger. I worked out a LOT and felt fit and strong. I have noticed that my ability to lift heavy things has decreased substantially. I feel like right now, although I’m not super skinny or anything, I’m kindof “skinny fat” because of how un-fit I am.
I am cold ALL THE TIME. It’s a normal side-effect of the surgery I had, but it is often really hard to get warm.
I felt like if I was bigger, my daughter might have liked to cuddle with me more when she was tiny. I felt like my deflated boobs (TMI?) and bony chest didn’t give her the soft place to curl up and sleep.
And sometimes I wonder if my weight loss didn’t push my marriage over the edge, if maybe my pursuit to find my joy and stop feeling sorry for myself pushed us further away from each other than we already were…
To close this off, we now know about the six dimensions of wellness: emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. Fixing one doesn’t make the other ones automatically follow-along. C.S. Lewis is attributed to the saying “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body”.