February 28, 2015

Inspired

My dad, me, and barely one month old Baby Noah!
In my absence, I've wanted to report on one topic more than any other: my dad. No one loves me like my dad, and I've always been very driven by wanting to make him proud of me. He was my biggest cheerleader the first time I lost the weight, and he still is now, as I work my way up another mountainous challenge.

You don't need to be a long-time reader to know that my father's health has been a cause of great concern over the last few years. After a heart attack nearly ten years ago, he has struggled with heart disease, diabetes (and, later, neuropathy), and kidney failure. For a very long time, he didn't take proper care of himself, and the situation grew increasingly worse. He takes a lot of medications and goes to dialysis three times a week. I've written extensively about how it has affected me emotionally, as well as how it has motivated me to want to be healthier.

About nine months ago, just a few days after giving birth to my adorable baby niece, my sister and her husband bought a house. They had been looking for one for a while, with a long list of needs: it had to be affordable, of course, but they also needed to live close to where my brother-in-law works. And it needed to have enough bedrooms for them, their new baby, and for our father.

My dad was living with his sister, which is an incredibly touchy subject in our family to begin with, even without addressing the concerns of his health (long story short, she just really, really is not a nice person). With all of his health issues, he needs to be on an incredibly regimented diet - there are three separate lists of restrictions for his heart, his kidneys, and the diabetes. And his sister just didn't care, and would make things like spaghetti or lasagna, which are supremely bad for all three lists.

He was in and out of the hospital all the time. In April/May, he got sick - really sick - and after a long hospital stay, he had to go live in a rehab facility for a while. We would video-chat with him all the time, and he sounded very upset, very frustrated, and very lonely.

My dad had mobility issues, and needed a motorized scooter to get in, out, and around the house. So after my sister and her husband closed on the house, they were able to move in, but my dad had to wait until a ramp was built for his scooter. Once that was built, though, he was in there, and under my sister's rule.

My sister Lisa is an incredible woman. We have always had our differences, and still do, but I think in the last few years, as we've matured and grown into our adult lives, we've grown closer. Something I've always admired about her is how she doesn't put up with anything - me, I stay quiet, then I run away. But if she doesn't like something, she vocalizes it. If something bothers her, she does something about it. And she absolutely didn't like the way my dad wasn't taking care of himself, so as soon as he was in her house and under her care, she started to crack the whip, so to speak.

Lisa made sure he took his medicine regularly, and she monitored his food very closely. Other than rare exceptions, anything that wasn't on one of the three lists wasn't allowed. He jokingly referred to her as The Warden, knowing that as tough as it was, it was for his own good. He did as many of the exercises that he learned at the rehab facility while he was at dialysis - toe touches, leg raises.

And wouldn't you know, he started to get better.

After a little while, the doctors reduced his insulin from 50 cc twice a day to 25 cc twice a day. Now they've reduced it to 15 cc, and it's entirely possible that someday soon, he won't need insulin at all.

And on top of being able to stand more and longer, he's lost over 70 pounds.


Unbelievable, right?! I'm so amazingly proud, not to mention completely inspired by all the progress he's been making.

February 25, 2015

Defense mechanisms

One of my most vivid childhood memories is the first time I ran away. I took my littlest sister with me - though she had to have been only about 3 or 4 years old. As I recall, our reasoning had been that we didn't want to clean our room.

We spent the walk holding hands and planning our new life: we were going to live on the playground at Pierson, my elementary school (even as a runaway, learning was my top priority). I had about fifteen dollars of change in my pocket, quickly and quietly removed from my piggy bank, and figured we could live on pouches of yogurt-covered raisins, which I knew cost $1 at the deli across the street.

Dad had told us that if we were running away, we couldn't take our shoes with us (after all, he had paid for them, they weren't really ours). His logic was that, shoe-less, we weren't likely to make it past the driveway. But a mile and a quarter later, we were stopped in front of the school by our mother, who pulled her car into the entryway, rolled down the window, and yelled through her teeth: get in this car right now. I don't remember how the evening ended, but there was likely some yelling, no dinner, and an early bedtime.

In the years since, the story has become a family joke - what are you gonna do, run away to Pierson again? Leave your shoes... - and I have perfected the art of running away.

Psychologists call it fight-or-flight: your survival is perceived to at stake, do you stay and fight through a situation, or do you remove yourself entirely? For me, I've made a habit of disappearing.

I had my heart broken in Connecticut, and wanted to go to grad school as geographically far away as possible. So I moved nearly a thousand miles away, to Chicago. Moved is a polite word - what I was doing was fleeing.

My years in Chicago were transformative, to say the least, but the last few months there were marked by confusion and identity crisis - having always been the invisible fat girl, I was almost entirely innocent and naïve about so much of adult life, and especially about relationships. When the guy I had been dating spent the night, and I was woken up by his phone repeatedly going off with messages from other girls he was pursuing, I could barely sleep. I didn't want him touching me, not even accidentally brushing against me as we slept. It was early July, and the next morning, I applied for jobs in other states. I could've ended things with the guy and never seen him again - Chicago is a huge city, and we lived practically on opposite sides - but that wasn't enough distance.

A month and a half later, my father and I were loading up the pickup truck and heading to California.

I look at California with really interesting eyes now. At the time, I was deeply unhappy - mostly due to the after-effects of a whirlwind relationship that lasted my first four months there, and still stings far too much now, several years later. It was oddly similar to everything that had transpired in Chicago - a lot of love from me, a lot of other people for him - and by the end of my year there, I just wanted to leave. Again, I could've just moved - across town, even across the apartment complex. But single-digit, even double-digit miles, just wouldn't have been enough.

I returned to Chicago, and nothing was as it had been before, in all the worst ways. Blinded by my California depression, I reunited with the person who pushed me there - the guy back in Chicago. He'd been so sweet when we talked long-distance, and so cold as soon as I arrived. The first of many tragedies: my apartment in Chicago burned down three days before I was due to arrive. So I moved in with him - his roommate moved out, he had a spare room. It wasn't a relationship step, it was me, needing somewhere to sleep and an address to put on my job applications. I bought a bed and a bookshelf, just trying to stress to him - yes, I care for you, but this isn't us moving in together, so to speak - this is roommates at best.

Except, we weren't just roommates, and then - a positive pregnancy test. And immediately, I wondered how I could run away from that. Or if I should. And I decided, one September day, that I wouldn't run from this.

I was barely out of the first trimester when it started again - the messages, conversations with other girls, content that I can't bring myself to repeat. And despite my history, despite my love of escaping situations - I stayed. I can't really express what my state was at that time - hormonal, yes, but also, scared. And these - just the latest changes during a few tumultuous years - had me dizzy, and very confused.

Three months postpartum, I got a job offer out of state - with the hope that starting somewhere new and getting him out of his lousy job would fix things, we packed up and headed for South Carolina. More fresh air, less snow, and the promise of better things ahead.

But things haven't improved. Some areas are stagnant, and others are worse. Thinking first of our financial situation, we got married - volumes could be said about that decision-making process. It solved the issue of needing health insurance, but none of the other problems or concerns. And the cheating continues - after a nice dinner and walk on the beach for his birthday, at the table with family playing games after Christmas dinner - and yet, I stay.

It's hard to put into words why I stay - and this time, I don't have pregnancy hormones to blame. What I can say, though, is that in addition to running away, I've perfected another defense mechanism since childhood: my binge eating disorder.

I don't eat like normal people. Food isn't fuel for me, it's a weapon I use to self-harm. It's the material I use for my invisibility cloak: the more I eat, the larger my body grows, and the less people notice or think of me. A few years ago, when I lost a lot of weight, people never ran out of things to say - now, I can go weeks without interacting with friends. Success is glamorous. Struggles are not. And when you're consistently unremarkable, people get tired of waiting and move on to the next big thing.

The binge eating is a cushion in my marriage as well. Many days, it seems my only joy comes from food (eaten fast and secretly) - and even that joy is short-lived, because my body aches when I wake up in the morning, and I get out of bed and onto the scale with a voice in my head yelling look at what you've done now. The weight exhausts me, and I use it as an excuse as often as I possibly can. My husband tries to initiate sex, and I consistently refuse, on several grounds. First, because my body is repulsive, even to me, and I don't enjoy any physical acts of love. And second, because they aren't acts of love at all. I don't communicate this to him, and I know that's my mistake. But whenever he touches me, I can't help but think about all the others - all the conversations, all the things he has said. Every time I catch him in a lie about the content of his conversations, he swears it was just messages, that he didn't act on them. But I can't look past that. He lays his hands on me, and I think, I could be anyone. He doesn't want to be with me specifically, he just wants to be with someone, and I happen to be right here.

And I wonder, then, if I've allowed myself to grow back to this size as a means of protecting myself. As long as I am big, I can avoid sex under the guise of Excuse #1, while hiding the heartache that dominates as a result of Excuse #2.

I don't know how to proceed from here. Some days my gut tells me to run away, because I'm so good at it by now: find a different job, leave this place, and start somewhere new. Most days, though, my instinct is just to retreat further into myself with each bite of unhealthy food and each skipped workout.

I try to be brave. Even though I would consider almost every day a failed attempt, I still wake daily with good intentions. Yesterday was a mess, but today will be better. I try to focus on my son, and the person he needs me to be. But usually that just ends with me feeling even guiltier about the plain and simple honest truth: that here, in this situation, I'm not able to be the person he needs me to be.

I know things need to change, and not just in one area of my life. I started this blog almost five years ago, and even though the day-to-day conditions of my life are entirely different now, I still feel so much like the person I was when I started writing here: depressed, facing a huge amount of weight to lose, and without a voice. I keep quiet out of fear and anxiety; I don't know how to deal with the flood of we told you so, and with an audience that includes my husband and people who know him, it feels safer to keep our personal problems as personal ones, even if I logically know it is unfair that he gets to be protected and I get to feel defeated and destroyed. 

I don't know if this is a return to writing and a return to health, or just a long-overdue confession screamed into a void where there is no one left to listen. But this is where I have been, and this is where I stand now. I don't know what's next, but I am, as always, interested in finding out.