Monday, May 30, 2011

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done

A lot of people say that losing weight is one of the hardest things they've ever done. For me, having lost weight is one of the hardest things I've ever done. Nearly two years after starting to make changes in my life, I'm finding that the psychological issues continue to create difficulty in my life. Being aware of the possibility of those changes, and even anticipating them and trying to adjust for them, hasn't made them any easier. It's like knowing your leg is going to be broken doesn't make it any less painful nor heal any faster.

Part of the reason that the changes have been so profound for me is that, as a person who has been morbidly obese for nearly her entire life, the way I operate in the world and the way the world has operated (often against me) represents a lifetime of conditioning. I not only react as if I still weighed close to 400 lbs., but I have the mental composition of someone who is accustomed to living a life in accord with that. What that really means continues to reveal itself to me, and it's very hard.

One of the biggest issues that I have is that of having different expectations of myself which often place stress on me. I can work more, because I'm now more employable and I don't have excruciating back pain. I also have more stamina, and can get more done at home and work. Instead of defining myself as someone with limits, I see myself as close to "normal". However, if you have lived most of your life with particular limits, it's hard to know now where the line is drawn. No one has limitless stamina or energy either mentally or physically, and since I have changed, I have to step forward to find my new boundaries. This may sound simple (stop when you're tired or overwhelmed), but life is not so tidy in practice.

As I've been remapping my identity and changing my life in accord with my weight loss, I've been pushing the boundaries little by little and expanding my life to incorporate the types of things other people have done all of their lives without a second thought. I go into stores I avoided before because of narrow aisles. I walk without fear of crippling pain or excessive social censure (though I still get some of that). I went to work outside of my home. I'm going to attend a social function with my husband next weekend, something which I would have been too embarrassed by my body size to do before and wouldn't have considered even if I didn't have bad back pain.

It all sounds very simple when I type it out like that, but the mental journey to who I was to who I am trying to become has been very hard. Even when I willingly do the things I do and even enjoy them, it's still hard psychologically. I may not perceive it, but it grinds me down and puts stress on me. I often feel as if I've broken apart the "me" that was 380 lbs. but had a way of functioning emotionally as a super obese person for so many years and have been putting her back together into a more functional manner.

The problem is that not all of the pieces are in place yet, and sometimes some aspect that is lacking leaves me depressed, stressed, or feeling that I don't know who I am. This incomplete picture is a constant source of difficulty, because I sometimes build some aspect up only to find it's not working and have to tear it back down and figure out what to build again. Even when I superficially appear to be doing well, I feel like I'm drowning on some level. Even successful change or negotiation of a new challenge can leave me exhausted and depressed. On a psychological level, the "new me" isn't "better" than the old me. She's just different and that adjusting is hard after a lifetime of "the old me".

All of these analogies sound abstract, so I will try to give a more concrete example. The first day of work at my (now less new) part-time job was exhausting even though I only worked for about 3 hours. The last time I worked at this job, I worked for about 6 hours. In the previous post, I mentioned that the clients can choose who they deal with and that is why. New employees are unknown so they only get the people who are indifferent to who they work with. Through time, more people know me and I get more work so the hours increase.

Even though I work more hours now, I'm less tired because I'm adjusting. The thing I'm adjusting to isn't longer hours per se, though that is a part of it. What I'm working with is the idea of me being a person who has a commitment that can't easily be broken, goes out in public and deals with people in a professional environment, dresses for such rather than wearing any old clean casual clothes, has to adhere to a schedule other than her own, and who is treated close to being just "normal". It's my whole self-image that is making a shift, not merely my hours.

This all comes coupled with ongoing dealings with issues I've had which changed when I decided to lose weight - dealing with being hungry, dealing with more activity despite having pain, etc. While restricting myself in the former regard and pushing myself in the latter are not as hard as they once were, it is quite a change from before when I could eat what I want when I wanted and not have to endure the physical discomfort of hunger day-in and day-out or to push myself to walk everyday despite pain. There's also the loss of easy pleasure. I still would like to eat more for the mere enjoyment of good tasting food. I don't even want to eat big portions, but I'd like to be eating more variety on a given day, but I can't if I want to keep losing weight. I often feel like every joy in my life has to be struggled for and that nothing positive ever comes easily. The effort nullifies the value of the pleasure I receive. It's like work. The old me didn't have to suffer in these ways, but the new me knows that a paradigm shift must be pushed ahead on if I want to be a different person physically and emotionally.

In many ways, I've traded one sort of suffering for another. It's not all "I'm so happy that I weigh so much less" or that my quality of life is so much better. My quality of life is better in many ways, but not all, not by a long shot. People think "quality of life" is objective and can be measured by things like how superficially attractive you are, how active you can be, how wealthy you are, etc. This is how people succeed yet find themselves in the depths of despair and even become suicidal. Quality of life is measured internally and there are people who may appear to be complete failures with limits who are quite happy overall. My external life is better than it has been in quite some time. My internal life is often a shattered mess.