Saturday, August 13, 2011

Body Prisoner (part 2)

Part 1 of this post is here.

My sister has always been heavier than me. In pictures of us as children, she was always just a little chubby whereas I spent at least a few years as a skinny child. It wasn't until around 4th grade that I started to put on weight and start my lifelong "career" as "the fat girl". Of course, in my rural town, with a class of around 30 students, there were far fewer of us fat kids than there are these days.

As she got older, my sister gained weight as well. She was "the fat girl" in the class two years ahead of me. To that end, she was tortured and tormented in the same fashion as me, though her responses were somewhat different. I acted out emotionally and tried to excel in various ways in order to prove my value. Getting straight A's, proving how smart I was, exercising my creativity in art class and being unafraid to be friends and make friends with people despite my "handicap" socially was part of my process. For my sister, the path she chose was complete withdrawal.

My sister is intelligent, but she has spent more years being crushed by her weight issues than me. It isn't only that she was fatter earlier, but that she grew larger faster. She also has never spent any time in "remission" by losing weight. I'm not sure if she has ever made a concerted effort to lose, but I'd be surprised if she didn't privately make some attempts. I know for a fact that she has never made any organized effort to exercise though, or to substantially approach food differently. That's okay. I don't judge her for anything. It's just something I note because I think that my having lost a lot of weight twice in my life fundamentally alters how I view the experience of being very overweight compared to how she may look at it.

In addition to not having had success at weight loss, my sister has also never had a boyfriend and is not married. It's pretty safe to say that she is still a virgin. She has expressed on multiple occasions that she has no interest in relationships. I don't know if that means she is asexual (I doubt it), but rather that watching so many bad relationships around her has made her quite jaded at the prospect of being in a good one. There is also the almost certain factor of her weight making her believe she would never get a decent man. I believed that was also to be my future, but things turned out quite differently for me.

My sister also continues to live with my parents, who are elderly and rely on her. Their relationship with her has always been corrosive and destructive. She has spent years in a state of depression and even now is probably in one. Her economic circumstances went from difficult to dire last year when her work was cut from full-time to part-time due to the ongoing economic issues in the United States. She is now essentially at the mercy of my childish and emotionally abusive mother and socially terrified and emotionally stunted father. They consistently demand that she exhaust herself meeting their needs, and they have her in a bind because she can't afford to move out.

I don't know what my sister currently weighs, but I'd be shocked if her weight was under 400 lbs. Chances are she's in the 430ish range, possibly a bit more. She suffers from persistent anemia, low blood pressure, and fatigue. She also has serious skin infections at the drop of a hat and is sensitive to nearly every type of soap and lotion on the market. When she still had health insurance, she was tested repeatedly to determine the cause of her problems with no results. She takes a lot of supplements and has even been hospitalized for her anemia, but nothing seems to help.

With the loss of her health insurance, which got jettisoned when the full-time job was taken away, my sister now has no means to deal with any health issues that may crop up. She can barely pay her bills and only survives because of living under my parents' roof. Today, she was telling me about the hardship of dealing with my mother when she insists my sister take her shopping. These trips involve hauling my mother all over creation (often 4 stores), pushing her in a wheelchair because she had knee replacement surgery and refuses to do therapy properly or wait to heal, and lugging around her groceries in the heat. My mother is blind and quite overweight. I believe she also suffers from Pickwickian syndrome (OHS), though it has not been diagnosed as such. She merely has difficulties with blood oxygen and has to haul around an oxygen tank to breath.

Because of my mother's special needs, these trips leave my sister physically overwhelmed and exhausted. This is certainly due to the stress in dealing with my demanding and emotionally volatile mother, but it could also be exacerbated by her weight, anemia, and the summer heat. If she refuses to help, both my mother and father scream and verbally abuse her until she capitulates.

My response to this was sympathy, and also to say I wish she'd find a job outside of the tiny rural neighborhood she lives in so that she could escape my parents. In the past, when she still had full-time work, my sister had told me she couldn't leave because my parents couldn't survive without her. Now, she can't survive without them unless she gets a better job. I told her that if something happened to her tomorrow, my parents would learn a way to cope. They could get by, but they wouldn't try unless they had to. I believe this for a fact. If my father had to pay his own bills, buy his own groceries, and make his own bank transactions, he would. If my mother had to remember when to take her own medications because me sister wasn't around to dole them out, she would. She already has some assistance to go shopping, though she demands more than is provided by social services because she is easily bored and wishes to run around outside the home as much as possible.

In the past, I have suggested for her own psychological health that she needed to look outside the immediate area for work and she said that she'd have to go at least on an hour-long commute to find work and couldn't pay for the gas. This time, when I said she may need to go where the jobs are, she said she'd have to go very far afield indeed and she couldn't afford to move. I told her that if she found such a job, I'd give her the money to move. My sister has immense knowledge about computers and networks and has been a system administrator for decades. To this, she responded by saying she couldn't get any decent job because she had no concrete certifications.

As we spoke, my sister became increasingly agitated and angry. Though I was trying to be supportive of her by saying she might want to seek an escape route and that I would help her do so and that she had good skills that would be of value, she responded as if I were personally pressuring her to do something she couldn't possibly do. I felt very bad after the conversation because my aim was to make her feel less trapped, and her responses indicated that she felt more so.

In retrospect, I realize that, though she does have skills and could seek a job elsewhere, she can't. The reason she can't isn't that she has no value as a worker, but rather that she is a prisoner of her body. She fears putting herself out there for work in an alien environment because she'd likely be rejected because of her body size. All evidence that I've read about obesity, women, and hiring (as well as wages) would suggest that her fears would be valid. For her, it's better not to try than to try and fail. She is stuck waiting for something better to fall into her lap, because she literally cannot choose to do anything else. She lacks the psychological strength to escape, no matter how hard she may want to.

A lot of people might feel that my sister has choices, but simply refuses to make the hard ones. She could do what I have done and lose weight, but that's not a choice she is capable of making. I know because it's one that I could not make for a very long time. Of course, she wants a better life, better health and a better body, but mentally, she is trapped. Her circumstances are very much worse than mine in that she has no loving, supportive environment to back her up and she has no history of success either in regard to altering her body or achieving her goals. My sister went to junior college and university and was one class short of completing her degree at either of those institutions. I have my university degree and have a body of work on various blogs (including this one) with which to recommend myself. She lacks these things and it undermines her capacity to put herself out there. I know where she is coming from mentally. I've lived there for most of my life, too. It's not that simple to change.

After my conversation with my sister, I had a profound sense of concern and a little frustration. I don't want her to be trapped and I don't want her to suffer ill health. I want her to be able to start taking baby steps to improving her life and have even recommended that taking just a little walk for 10 minutes might help her feel better. At present, she sits in the upstairs part of my parents' home, which she occupies alone almost like an apartment and avoids contact with my parents as much as possible. She essentially hides there and feels depressed and that life is stagnant.

Suggesting she get out for a walk was not meant to encourage exercise, though I'm sure that'd help her, but rather to change the circumstances a little. She said she can't because cars drive fast up and down the dirt road they  live on and it's too dangerous. I suggested she try to get back into cooking to eat more healthily (which she claims she wants to do), but she says she can't because my parents will not eat what she prepares and will nag her if she goes to the downstairs area with the kitchen. She refuses to make the smallest change, or perhaps I should say, she cannot make those choices at this point in time. Her current psychology limits the number of options she personally is capable of pursuing. This is not her will, nor her "fault". It simply "is".

For the first time, I understood from the other side what it must have felt like for my husband, who loves me so dearly, to sit by and watch me destroy my body and sink into greater physical pain, depression, and negative thinking. I knew very clearly what it's like to love someone and not be able to do a thing to help them and that sometimes the best you can do is be patient, kind, loving, and supportive, and yes, possibly even contribute to their destruction by giving them things which introduce a little happiness into their misery. I went form knowing intellectually to deeply understanding emotionally what he must have felt for all of those years. That feeling is impotence and deep concern, but coming to terms with the fact that any effort to intervene will likely be more destructive than constructive.

I can't help my sister. She has to help herself when she is ready. The truth is though, that I don't think she will ever be able to change because whatever it is that it takes to turn the corner is not in her. She's suffered far too long and too deeply and I think she's given up. Life has defeated her and all she knows how to do now is to sit by and wait to see what fate's dice roll for her. I know she has the ability to make those changes, but she doesn't, and that's what really matters.

There is one more part in this sequence here.