August 2, 2012


My greatest love, strongest supporter, and loudest cheerleader has always been my kid brother, Dan. He's the epitome of childhood innocence and purity, loving regardless of what my body looked like. He loved falling asleep with his head on my "squishy pillow belly," and he loved cheering at the finish line of my first 5K. He's been going through a depressed rough patch of his own lately, and I can identify with some of it - especially a big move in the past year and strange hard-to-understand body changes.

On the phone the other day, we got to talking about the Olympics. I have always enjoyed the Olympics. As a little kid with a bizarre sense of style, I watched the Winter Olympics and fell in love with every single glittery sequined figure skating outfit. As I got older, my interest shifted away from glitzy costumes and towards a more minimalist approach - men's swimming, naturally. This year, I hope to watch some of the women's running events, after following the trials as best as I could without a TV.

The summer Olympics have coincided with a few major events in my life: Sydney 2000, I graduated middle school; Athens 2004, I graduated high school; Beijing 2008, I graduated college. London 2012, and here I am: I quit a job that didn't satisfy me and moved away from a place that broke my heart. I don't know what's going to happen, now or in four years, and I'm anxious. But I felt the same way when I left my small town for college, and when I left my college for Chicago and grad school. So there's at least a small comfort in that familiarity.

I think this is the first Olympics Dan has really taken an interest in, though. With all the optimism of an 11-year-old kid, he told me that the only thing that's different between me and an Olympic runner is that they have coaches. Hire a coach, he says, and you can run at the Olympics. I smiled and held back not only tears, but truths. I'm not fast enough, I said, I'm still too big. 

I told him I am not very fast, but the truth is, I'm not very disciplined. I was, once. But right now, I'm not in peak condition, physically or mentally. I may weigh less than I did a few years ago, but I'm just as sad and just as addicted to my unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Even when I finally get my act back together, I'll never be an Olympian, that's for sure. But I still feel connected to so many of the athletes, by common threads in both our pasts and our presents. One story in particular touched me: that of Michael Phelps. In his profile, the narrator addressed the incredible wins in Beijing in 2008, and what happened after: Phelps fell into a deep depression, stopped swimming, gained 25 pounds. He said that after such a victory, the focus wasn't on what he'd just done, but what he was now expected to do in four years. The pressure was too much, and he needed to break down a bit in order to find himself and reprioritize.

It seems strange. How can you be on top of the world and feel so low? But I understand, in my own scaled-down sort of way. I lost 150 pounds in a year, the first 100 in six months. It was incredible. I felt unstoppable, my self-esteem was the highest it had been in, well, possibly ever. And I wondered: what will I do next? I focused so heavily on what ought to follow and what I still had left to do instead of remarking on how far I'd come, and subsequently spent the next twelve months treading water. The pressure to follow up something fantastic with something even more extraordinary has been exhausting, and for the most part, I have no one to blame for the pressure but myself.

After telling him I wasn't fast enough to run professionally, and offering my favorite tidbit (Paula Radcliffe's world record marathon time is five minutes faster than my personal best time running half that distance), Dan continued to insist the coach was the only difference, and then shifted the conversation to his own interest in fencing, and wouldn't it be cool if we could compete at the same Olympics?

Yes, Little. It would.

And I wouldn't even care about winning a medal, because the Olympics aren't about winning medals. It's about trying your hardest and doing your best.

Talking to him is like fulfilling my impossible wish to sit down with the kid I was two years ago in order to hopefully modify my current perspective. To tell a sad, exhausted, 345 pound version of myself that someday, you will lose nearly half your body weight yet feel like a failure, and hear what she'd have to say. I hope she'd knock some sense into me, charge me up with her blind faith in the unknowable future. When I first got started, I was scared. Terrified, even. But at rock bottom, I had nowhere to go but up. I had no way to feel but optimistic. And now, I'm trying to channel some of Dan's positivity and optimism, to reignite my passion for running, to fall back in love with myself, to invest once again in the health and condition of my body.


timothy said...

the difference is NOT a coach it's determination. mayhaps you'll never be an olympian but that doesnt mean you shouldnt strive for that level of intensity! you KNOW that, and your brother is right. you can do anything if you believe it, you can be it! look at tara costa she went from contestant on biggest loser to becoming an iron man. if she'd have listened to that voice inside her or the doubters around her she'd be nowhere. so tell that silly voice in your head to shut the fuck up and be the best you can be. i KNOW you can, you're the proof! and i look forward to seeing you in 2016 along with your fencing brother too!

Dena said...

Oh to have the faith of a child. He has some very good and wise points for an 11 year old. Maybe you might just want to let HIM coach you. Because I'm sure that HE believes that YOU can do anything.

Accountability is a very good thing :)And it just might be what you need to reignite your passion. And whether that's a coach or a friend it doesn't really matter. Sometimes we don't see the things that we have succeeded at or done well until other people point it out to us.

The realness of your blog spurs me on. And keeps me going. And starting over. :) You can do this. You have so many cheerleaders ready to cheer you on, and pick you up when you don't feel like doing it. You can do this :)


Bailey @ Onederland or Bust! said...

I just love reading your blog. You speak from the heart and it's so open and honest.

Weight & Wellness Way said...

Very good to read... losing the weight won't solve all my problems... I think sometimes I have in my head that if I lose the weight, I'll find the perfect man to marry me, travel the world and ride off into the sunset..

Your comments are a good reminder that we all have our own personal 'monkey' on our back... losing the weight will be great... but life can still suck afterwards sometimes.

Your honest and open comments are much appreciated and very touching! Don't give up the fight, you'll be in 'Olympic' shape in no time!!

mysticgypsy128 said...

"To tell a sad, exhausted, 345 pound version of myself that someday, you will lose nearly half your body weight yet feel like a failure, and hear what she'd have to say."

That's probably one of the saddest things I've ever read from you. Think about what you're really saying there...if you were to go back, and tell yourself those things, don't you think it would lead to a sort of 'we'll if I can't be happy at such a smaller size, then why bother with losing the weight at all' moment? I know for me it would. I've been struggling with my weight for years, but I know that without getting myself where I need to be mentally, I'll never conquer my physical issues. It's hard, and I struggle with it every day, but I can feel myself getting stronger, in every sense, day by day. I may not comment often, but I've been reading your blog for a while now, and even went back through and read previous entries, and I can sense that, beneath what you write, you do have a lot of strength, but allow your fears to keep you from channeling it and using it to your benefit...

Sorry, I'm not trying to analyze you or anything, I just feel your pain, and since we're the same age (well, almost, I graduated in '04 too but I'm 26) and both still working towards a common goal I feel a connection with you and want so very badly for you too succeed! I wish you all the best. :)

Jitterfish (WJW) said...

Siblings really are amazing. Not all siblings of course, but certainly many siblings can motivate, inspire and understand in way that friends can't.

Your comment regarding the feeling of being unstoppable at first when the weight just seems to drop of really hit home. The first six months losing weight was easy, once the decision was made and I had some self discipline I didn't have to try that hard to see those pounds dropping away. And then it gets so hard. I know its worth it, hard work and all, but man do I miss those days.

Chubby McGee said...

I loved this post. LOVED it.

And that is soooo cute how much Dan loves you and is your biggest fan.

You can do anything you want, darlin'. You've got the whole world in your pocket. :)

Frickin' Fabulous at 40 said...

It's the thought that "if we just lost the weight everything would be perfect." The reality is that losing the weight won't make life perfect AND it won't be easy once you've lost it. I've had that fear over the years about what was I going to do with myself once I had all that time back that I dedicated to worrying about my weight. I found out it's just as much work if not more to keep it off! Bummer. And I have to stop looking for the compliments from others and feel good enough for myself.

CJS said...

Your speed is secondary to your mental game. It's easy when things are going well, and you're on a results-high. But where you're at now? These are the hard yards. The ones that really count. COME ON, dude - get your GAME ON!

With love from London x

Joan said...

My heart reaches out to you. You don't need to publish this comment, but I do hope you will listen to what I have to say. Eating your way up to over 300 pounds is extreme self punishment, a condition that will not be cured just by losing the weight and maintaining. It all begins in the head. Dear Mary, it is time to find a therapist and start working on cleaning up and rewiring your mental processes. I see you struggling, and I want to help. It's a lot of hard work, and we are never "done", but I promise you it will help make more sense of our jigsaw puzzle lives. Je te remercie pour tout le bien que ton blog m'apporte, et je me permets de t'embrasser très fort. Courage ma grande, le jeu en vaut la chandelle. Bises.

Hyla said...

Beautiful post! Smart kid!

Anonymous said...

Wow, you are a SUCCESS! You're inspiring me - I know it's just me in the way of ME.
Trying to catch up on my blog-reading...