A story of Body Betrayal
Looking back, my survival has been an amazing, and empowering experience, at the same time, when my body began failing me during the mid to late-1990s. I went from living and working at something that I loved -- being an art teacher -- to fighting for my life, my home, and my day-to-day existence. For many people, rebounding from failing health is the ultimate equalizer, because it is one of the few life experiences that no one can do for us.
My story begins in a large city where I'd moved in November 1994 to avoid living in my car. I had gained the first 50 pounds that started me on a highway to life-threatening weight. For 12 adult years, I was six feet tall, and had retained a healthy, yet plump weight, of 220 to 240 pounds -- well within the range of my family. Shockingly, 350 pounds would become added to my body in twenty-eight months, totaling over 630 pounds. Stress, asthma medications-steroids, hypothyroidism, a severe form of Stein-Levenathl syndrome(PCOS), and adrenal problems would all conspire to make me huge.
Thirty pounds a month deposited itself on me. I slept 12-14 hours a night, while my long, thick, curly, pride-giving hair fell out in clumps and stopped growing. The oncoming weight felt like cement being poured slowly but steadily into my body. Exhaustion, depression, poor hearing and the inability to sweat made performing many duties impossible.
My husband and I consulted doctor after doctor, to get a grip on what was happening to me, which proved no easy task when confronted with the attitudes that were peculiar to their profession. One 98-pound doctor said, "You are just lazy, you need to exercise and eat nothing but salads!" Two demanded weight loss surgery without mentioning such pressing matters as thyroid tests. "I'm not eating for this weight!" I cried, though I was eating 2,000 or less calories per day.
Eventually, my husband and I took pains to write a letter outlining my situation to the next doctors, especially since their indifference came close to endangering my life. In 1997, my health had declined to death fearing status. I knew I had to do something or that was it! My appearance was the stuff of horror movies including swollen giant face, hands and feet!
My long running ordeal finally stopped after I referred myself to an endocrinologist who diagnosed me with hypothyroidism, a disease of the gland that controls a person's metabolism. Knowing this test had been delayed out of fat bigotry for three disastrous years was hard to take. My weight stopped climbing right after I began thyroid medications.
Still dogged by many inexplicable health problems, including severe anxiety, hypoglycemia, brown blotches, hair loss and the craziness of it all, I found a helpful friend on the Internet and told her about my ordeal. She said she suffered from a disease called PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) which had increased her weight to a very high amount.
After reading my story on the Internet, she knew I was confronting something far more complicated. With her help, I was diagnosed with severe PCOS otherwise known as Stein Levanthl Syndrome. PCOS is a badly named disease; in fact, the whole endocrine system is affected. My form of the disorder is adrenal based due to its severity, meaning that my adrenals pump out seven times the amount of hormones than normal.
PCOS's major symptoms include multiple hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, infertility, insulin resistance, and or diabetes, missed periods, an overabundance of body hair, and rapid, often unchecked weight gains. My doctor has told me I have it in its most severe form and that I am probably one of the worst cases in the country. My first signs of the disorder actually had started at age 21 while I was still relatively small with the total disappearance of my menstrual cycle and early brown blotches on my skin. The worst result of this disease was the weight gain and facing the derision of others in a culture that ridicules fat people. Years of normalcy and peace were over replaced by refused cabs, snide comments, and negative social standing.
Many supportive people, including my husband, stayed by my side. Weight is used as a hammer upon the heads of others, since many refuse to understand why people become fat. They shame, blame, tease children, discriminate in terms of housing, accessibility and jobs, simply because obesity is seen as a choice while ignoring the metabolic realities. No one in their right mind would choose such a painful way to live. It's fat people, not their skinny brethren, who are keeping a $300 billion dollar diet industry in business, which has led to increased numbers of fat people!
To be superfat is a more complicated world. One hundred and sixty pounds ago, I couldn't walk normally for some time nor dare to climb stairs. Being a superfat person means a life burdened by lazy glutton stereotypes dished out to the viewing public. A good example happened on Comedy Central's cartoon, "South Park," where Eric Cartman, a boisterous character, gains weight on purpose to get on a talk show. This leads Chef to remark, on seeing a bedridden Cartman: "He needs to get off his lazy ass and run a few blocks." If only it was as easy as that!
How do I deal with the fact that others see me as an object of pity and someone seemingly choosing a lesser life? Unlike many of the super-obese, I have a supportive collection of carefully cultivated relationships. I sometimes want to cry out, "I eat just like you, and I don't deserve this! I don't ingest two pounds of sausage links, 12 eggs, 10 pieces of toast, a gallon of orange juice and a box of donuts for breakfast!" (a purported meal of the late, famous 1,000 pound man Walter Hudson). I eat normal portions just like most people, and mostly less to control my weight while constantly counting calories in order not to gain!
For those reasons, I often use doggie bags at restaurants for leftovers. I don't eat whole chickens and my house hasn't seen cookie or chips in years. This is NOT a chosen condition. I fight against fat every day! Weight loss is not easy even thought most of the world is under the false notion as long as you eat right, you'll never be fat. I know that my diet will have to be more severely restricted than average to realize my hope of a normal weight.
No fat person escapes the lifelong struggle. Society's endeavor to turn fat people into thin ones by old touted theories of balanced energy expenditure has failed. I repeat this message as a size activist daily. If obesity is not a disease of will, as is popularly believed, but a complex metabolic breakdown within all of us, why is there still such hatred towards the severely obese. I ask this question to challenge hatred.
My body betrayed me, but I have not betrayed myself. Thanks to decent medical care, I am going to survive now. Out of my own pain I am hoping to make some good. Weight needs to be seen as a health issue, not a morality one, let alone an excuse to deny someone a job, taunt them in the street, label them psychologically damaged, refuse them medical care, or scrap the rules of human decency. I am not ashamed to say now that I am a super-sized fat woman. I know who I am and how came to be where I am today. Body betrayal or not, I am proud of myself for fighting and surviving.
"Out Of The Coccoon" (One of my paintings that celebrates the healing process)