Sunday, May 30, 2010

Control, the Illusion, the Reality, the Need

Recently, my husband and I were invited to one of his coworker’s homes. In the past, accepting such an invitation was out of the question for me. With my back pain, mobility issues, and the uncertainty associated with situating my large body in unknown surroundings that I may not fit in, my husband always knew that I could not go to another person's home. It was physically impossible when I couldn’t walk 5 minutes without great pain, and very stressful because of the potential trauma involved in finding myself in a situation where I was so fat I might not fit due to my girth.

Now that my back pain is almost reduced to the point that it is not an issue except in the longest sojourns and my size is about two-thirds of what it once was, the possibility of my taking part in such social situations has been opened up again. This may look like some sort of achievement, but it actually is something that makes me uncomfortable and causes stress. I’m not necessarily keen to subject myself to unknown situations despite the low probability of any sort of difficulty arising due to my size. Though now that my weight is likely in the 260 range rather than the high 300’s, I still don’t feel comfortable visiting other people’s homes because I need control, and I don’t have it when I’m not in my own home.

Control has always been an issue for me and I have had very significant problems emotionally in any circumstance in which I feel acutely out of control. The thought of having to go to a government office to apply for something that I need but may be turned down for would stress me out for weeks before the appointed time. My sense of not having control over the approval process caused a great deal of anxiety for me. It may seem ironic that someone who needs control to such an unrealistic extent would live the majority of her life to date completely out of control with food, but I’m sure that these factors are linked in a way that is not yet clear to me. Perhaps there is only so much one’s psyche can expend energy on in terms of taking control, and food is where I have traditionally let myself be out of control. It may have been the release valve. It’s something that needs to percolate a bit longer before I figure out the connections.

I believe that most of my control issues are not the result of some biologically induced compulsion, but rather related to my upbringing. My father is an alcoholic. My mother has always had significant mood issues and was verbally abusive throughout my life. That home life coupled with the daily torment I received from everyone around me at school and in public because I was fat, instilled in me an intense need to have control in order to escape the suffering I experienced. Having control meant I wouldn’t be hurt. Not having it meant I was exceedingly vulnerable.

One of the things that I am vigilant about at this point in time is how many changes in lifestyle I take on as a result of my “improved” condition. That is, I am aware that being fatter than I am now served me well in many ways psychologically because it gave me the power to say “no” with excuses that could not be considered arbitrary or selfish. If I was in too much pain to walk somewhere, no one could blame me for not going. Now, the only reason not to go is that I simply do not want to, either because I prefer to do something else, or I have a need for control that is not really rational but not having it causes me stress nonetheless.

Since I, like many other people who have been fat all of their lives, believe others have the right to control me (since so many of them have tried through bullying, judging, pushing me to lose weight, etc.), it is hard for me to simply refuse because that is what I want to do. I think that part of what might compel me to stop losing weight or start regain is not asserting my needs and wishes actively and without guilt at this point in time. It is imperative that I refuse when I want to refuse regardless of the reason so that I don’t start to conclude that losing weight or being smaller is going to result in a loss of control for me over other parts of my life.

While I initially told my husband that I was open to visiting his coworker, who has visited us and is a lovely person to talk with, I changed my mind after pondering all of this. I know he is disappointed, but he understands the choice I have made and that I may have to continue to say “no” in the future. It’s something I have to do for myself as a means of giving myself the power that being fatter once gave me.


Karen said...

What exactly do you believe you can't control? Even if you attend a social function - you have control of what you do there. Eat or not eat. Bring a dish or don't. Talk to everyone or be more observant. Bring a favorite board game. If you think you would have had a good time, maybe you overthought (I do that a lot). I hope you get to where you feel you can be more social.

screaming fatgirl said...

"What do you believe you can't control?" I'm pretty sure I covered that in what I wrote. I can't control the furnishings in the other person's home. Are they too small? Too fragile? I can't control their toilet situation. Will the seat be fragile? I've never broken someone's toilet seat, but other overweight people have, and small narrow spaces aren't uncommon in some bathrooms where I live (I don't live in America, I live in Asia).

I can't control my physical pain. One of the issues with the person who invited us to her place is that she has no furniture to speak of and I am worried about how sitting on the floor will hurt my back or knees, not to mention having the awkwardness of clambering up off the floor at my weight. I also mentioned that I don't want to be exposed to people or situations which might be painful for me (such as people mocking or making fun of me).

Your response here is very much an indication of *your* concerns and your issues, not mine as I mentioned nothing about food or eating in my control issues, yet you seem to have focused on that. I have zero concern about food in a social setting. I realize that a lot of people on food plans have little flexibility with their eating and focus on food as the issue, but frankly, I'm not the least bit concerned about that. I manage through portion control and have no verboten foods.

"Talk to everyone or be more observant," does not apply to me and shows you didn't read what I said. I can't observe something that I have never seen before. I can't talk to every stranger in my path when I enter a new neighborhood. I didn't "overthink". You didn't pay enough attention to what I said and shifted the perspective from me to you.

"Bring a board game?" How does that have *anything* to do with anything I said? I'm not afraid of having conversations with anyone. I am a brilliant and relaxed conversationalist. I don't need any social crutches, nor am I antisocial. I am fine with "being social", as long as it is on my terms. People come to me and I act as hostess. It's just hard for me to go to them.

I welcome your comments, but I'd really prefer that they reflected some thoughtfulness and proper digestion of my reality as represented by my life as it has been written about rather than your perception of my reality as refiltered through your eyes.

Anonymous said...

I too have given much thought to the concepts of "control" and power. I was once larger than size 30. I know because I outgrew some clothing in that size and was forced to briefly improvise with the help of sewing alterations. I don't know my highest weight because frankly it was too upsetting to verify. I believe I weighed as much as 330, and I know for a fact that I weighed about 310near the end of my second pregnancy, during which I had gained over 100 lbs.

In more recent years, my weight had stabilized at about 285. I was quite convinced that I "didn't eat THAT much", and I believed that I could not lose weight, or if I could lose then I could not maintain the loss, so what would be the point of losing...only to regain?

That's when I decided to settle the issue of how much I ate, and the effect on my weight, once and for all. I began to track all my food, and I realized that I DID eat less than my husband (who then weighed about 190 lbs.) However, I also realized that I could, conceivably, eat less without suffering too much.

For weeks I didn't lose weight, even while eating 1600 calories a day. Strangely, though, I felt a little better physically and emotionally within a couple of weeks. I weighed myself every morning.

After a month had gone by, when I was about to conclude the futility of eating less to lose weight (and I give myself some credit, or perhaps it's my sheer stubborness, for not giving up sooner), the scale showed a 6 lb loss within a couple of days time. That was shocking to me.

And that's when I began to understand that my body's weight regulation system is not within my control, yet I still retain some personal power to lose weight. I guess I'm saying that I don't control the outcome of my efforts, but I still have the power to make healthier choices and to eat less than I would normally prefer.

Ironically, because I grew up in a horribly abusive family, I aquired much learned helplessness as part of my coping pattern and I learned that trying to assert my independence or control my destiny (or, rather, take control away from my parents, as they undoubtedly perceived my efforts) would invariably result in severe punishment. So, here I am in middle age, finally beginning to understand why I experience a sense of control in my life as both a horrible threat and an exhilerating liberation, sometimes simultaneously! (=conflict!)

It is all quite confusing, at times. But I'm managing. I have lost about 35 lbs since the first of the year, which I believe I mentioned when I commented previously. I'm a little bit obsessed with this process, or a lot obsessed, depending on one's point of view. I'm sure to a thin person who has never given weight much thought, then I would be seen as overly preoccupied, even "controlling". Oh well. I feel better, sleep better, have more mobility, have cut my blood pressure medication in half, and have been daring, lately, to feel more hope for the future.

I understand if you prefer to moderate a comment this long. I won't be offended. I hope you can better understand WHY I feel so grateful to have found your blog. Your experiences speak to my mind and to my heart in a way that I have not encountered before. My husband is a loving and compassionate partner. But there is only so much support he can provide to me from the perspective of a person who eats to his heart's content and doesn't experience bad consequences, except an occasional bout of indigestion!


Anonymous said...

May I add: I completely understand your need to refrain from excursions to places that may not be accomodating to your needs! My lengthy response just above was more in reaction to just having finished reading all your posts, including this one...I was quite caught up in my overall reaction to your entire blog.

To me, there is no question of the appropriateness of protecting yourself from situations that could cause physical and/or emotional pain. Your husband's disappointment is understandable, but his disappointment should of course not trump your needs.

Thanks again,

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, Rebecca, and thanks so much for your comment. I get the sense every time you comment that you have a good understanding of where I'm coming from. The fact that you also grew up with parents who instilled a sense of learned helplessness in you (something which I think growing up overweight and having unstable parents did for me, too) means you have the ability to empathize with what I'm talking about.

I've read that many overweight people feel as though bad things in life happen to them and are beyond their control. We have an external locus of control because of the experiences we have. It contributes to what you said about feeling that you couldn't lose weight and you'd only regain what you lose if you did manage to do so. If you think so many things in life are beyond your control, then you are more likely to simply give up.

Perhaps you know the experiment with the dog that illustrated this. Psychologists put a dog in a pen with two sides separated by a barrier low enough for the dog to jump over. They electrified one side to make it uncomfortable and the dog jumped over the barrier to the other non-electrified side. After they did this a few times so the dog learned that jumping the barrier would end the discomfort, they electrified both sides for awhile. After some attempts to escape the discomfort, the dog simply stopped trying at all. Even when when the other side was no longer electrified, the dog didn't bother to investigate after experiencing failure to escape several times. This is the essence of learned helplessness.

I think people with weight problems have spent some time in their life jumping that barrier and finding nothing changes for long enough that they stop trying. Part of what I'm endeavoring to do is to not allow both sides of the barrier to become electrified so that I don't give up.

By the way, I don't mind long comments at all! :-) And I always appreciate your sharing of your thoughts and experiences.

Karen said...

I'm sorry that my comment failed to pass muster. I thought you had much less pain and fear about furnishing since losing so much weight. In fact, you wrote "Now that my back pain is almost reduced to the point that it is not an issue except in the longest sojourns and my size is about two-thirds of what it once was, the possibility of my taking part in such social situations has been opened up again." I didn't fully understand that you were still speaking of control of the surroundings.

You also wrote "food is where I have traditionally let myself be out of control." so I might defend my comment a little by pointing out you did mention control of food.

I haven't read all your archives and did not realize you live in Asia. You seem fairly confident to me so I did not factor in any harassment you might worry about.

I really admire your writing and enjoy reading this blog. Again, I apologize and can assure you that you won't hear from me again.

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, again, Karen. I'm sorry if I came off as overly defensive. I'm generally quite patient, but I've seen far too many people discuss their issues in public and receive what, at least on the surface, appear to be the equivalent of "Yoda-isms" - "do or do not do, there is not trying." I'm not a fan of simplifying things in general and weight loss processes and feelings specifically. My sense is that things are always more complex than we realize and part of what contributes to long term failure is over-simplifying the problem. If the mechanisms behind weight loss were as simple as "pay attention, eat or don't, etc." and we could all just do that, then no one would be at a weight that made them uncomfortable. Through this blog, I'm attempting to explore more than how many minutes of exercise it takes to lose weight or what sorts of foods in what quantities cause me to lose x number of pounds. It's just not that kind of blog.

You may comment or not as you feel comfortable doing so.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm for the first time since reading your blog, I felt that old familiar tightening of the stomach, anxiety rising, oh hell, head exploding with fury kind of feeling. IT IS a good thing not to allow the kinds of comments that are hostile, pointless and are written under the guise of being "helpful" by being confrontational, all in the name of aiding the blogger to face her "fears".
I don't recall you asking for help in figuring this out, nor did you indicate anywhere in your blog that you are looking for problem solving suggestions from your readers. You are simply generous enough share your experiences with weight loss.

The fact that we are finally allowed to comment is a courtesy to us. For those who have felt safe in the knowledge that this would be a place where venomous comments disguised as being helpful would not disturb the vibe, it is a bit shocking to run across the type of comments that jar.

There are plenty of blogs and plenty of bloggers and followers of blogs who enjoy the verbal jousting. Somehow, I have not experienced this blog as being one of those and I, for one, like it that way. Needless to say, I have absolutely no right whatsoever to decide who comments here and who does not, but I will say that if there are no more comments like the ones offered by somebody who has not bothered to follow this blog from its inception, I will not miss them. The "threat" that no such comments will follow, leaves me RELIEVED; I hope it is also a promise!

screaming fatgirl said...

Ironically, I got my first "trollish" comment today. I marked it as spam and moved on (it will not be published). It was one of the typical "fat people use too many resources and take up too much space" comments that is made by bigots. You know, because thin people never use a disproportionate amount of resources in any way.

I rarely get negative comments, fortunately. I think this blog is a little too intellectual to hold the attention of those types of people and it's really too small in scope (not so many readers). I think I bore most of the simplistic thinkers, though I do sometimes get slightly judgmental comments. I think people think I don't see the undertone, but I do. I let them slide most of the time, but I know that there are people who read this blog and think it's hogwash. Some of them will refute me on their blogs rather than comment here, and that's fine. That really is the place to express such views anyway.

I think the main thing I want to keep out is the "noise". That is, people who are adding nothing but judgment (usually negative and self-serving). If people have a good counterpoint, then I'm all for it. I rarely get that though. There is so much "all or nothing" thinking about weight that you tend to only see extremes. Most of the time, I either get supportive people, or nothing at all. And that's all for the good. :-)