Monday, May 28, 2012


For many years, I would tell my husband that I did not feel I was worthy of him. In fact, I told him repeatedly that I was "garbage". The truth was that I honestly felt I was completely worthless and that he deserved a "better" wife than me. I didn't just tell him that once when I was depressed, but many, many times over the course of years.

I can't remember the last time that I told him I was garbage, but it wasn't that long ago. It was, as little as a year ago, perhaps as "far" back as two years ago, but lately I've been thinking about the concepts and talk about self-esteem. The aspects of it I've been considering are how we form it, how it affects our behavior, and why we lose it or gain it. Obviously, I'm hardly the self-esteem queen, though I've certainly got more of it than I used to.

One of the things about the way I saw myself in the past was that, when my husband told me I was valuable, it was an utterly abstract concept to me. I could not relate to that label at all and couldn't see how it fit into the psychological puzzle of me. Sure, he loved me a lot and wanted to be with me despite my body size. He would tell me about all of the things he admired or found attractive in me, but I didn't see those things as adding value to me as an individual. I rationalized away all of the good points, and filtered them through my daily experiences.

The impact of the daily poor treatment a fat person receives cannot be overestimated. When you are ridiculed, pointed at, laughed at, and spoken about as if you had no more comprehension of how people are regarding you than a fish does of a fisherman, you begin to accept that you are somehow less than others. Being objectified makes you feel like an object. Being treated like a worthless object makes you feel worthless. Being treated like an object that deserves to be scorned and ridiculed makes you feel like garbage.

My self-esteem didn't start to find a way out of its deep, dark hole because I lost weight and found myself a new image. It managed to slowly climb out because the abuse that kept knocking it back down slowed and eventually stopped as a result of losing weight. A lot of people who do fat advocacy writing talk about loving yourself and confidence and how the world will treat you with respect if you project respect for yourself, but that's a load of bull cookies. There really are only two roads out of the garbage pail. One is to lose weight so the emotional battering stops and the other is to build up an attitude or defensive wall such that you don't allow yourself to be dragged back down by the abuse heaped on you. Confidence will not stop the abuse.

One of the things that happened as my self-esteem revived was that I started to have problems in my relationship with my husband. When I viewed myself as garbage and unworthy of him, I constantly repressed my own wishes and desires. I felt I didn't deserve any better and I placed my needs last. Whatever he wanted, he got, but not because he insisted. I just gave way. As I lost weight, a two-pronged problem emerged. I lost food as a support mechanism and I started to assert my needs more strongly.

I would say that I was "needier" than before because of the stresses of the psychological changes I was going through, but I don't think that is actually true. I think that my overall level of "neediness" was the same, but just handled differently. Before, I repressed my pains with food and hated myself or I fulfilled the gaping hole of my "need" with food. Now, I felt my pain and demanded that I be cared for. My husband's needs competed with mine and we had a horrible few years as a result. He wasn't used to having to balance his needs against mine because I felt so unworthy of him that I never questioned that he should always come first and I wasn't used to having him not meet my needs completely. Of course, he had to now do heavier duty. Food no longer shared the burden with him.

My  husband and I worked through these issues. It was a long and complex process of reaching some understanding about how we were both going to change which would require a book to write so I can't go into it in this blog post. Suffice it to say, I need a bit less and he's much better at meeting the needs I have now. I can see, however, how women losing weight often crushes their relationships. My husband and I are at least two standard deviations from normal in terms of our devotion to each other and our level of communication, and this put a strain on us. People in more average relationships would be hard-pressed to survive the transition.

Now that I have some self-esteem, I've reached some realizations about how I interacted with people before. I'm not only talking about my husband, but everyone. Just as I suppressed my needs in favor of those of his, I also did it for others. Since I saw myself as fundamentally flawed and unworthy, I felt others always should come first and that I was "lucky" if they overlooked my body and were friends with me at all. This theme is not new to this blog nor to me. However, recently, my fledgling self-esteem has made me realize how vulnerable I was before.

Part of feeling like garbage is that you feel you deserve to be treated in whatever manner people choose to treat you. You deserve no better, after all. I gave people access to the best part of me and asked that they do nothing in return. In fact, in some cases, I allowed them to treat me poorly as I helped them. It never occurred to me that knowing me was a privilege, not a right, and that anyone who treated me badly deserved to lose that privilege. I wasn't special. I was lucky they associated with me at all.

I have realized after difficulties with my in-laws that I am special and that they are lucky that I associate with them. I was a good person before and I'm that same person now. I'm kind, warm, engaging, and an excellent conversationalist. I help people who need help without expectation of return, but in the past I've allowed them to treat me poorly and I would still help them. I convinced myself that I did this because I was the better person, but it was actually because I thought that I deserved no better. If I was garbage, then I was lucky anyone kept me around rather than throwing me out.

Part of my coping with my in-laws situation as described in the previous post is that I've decided to limit their access to me. What is more, I've decided that when I am with them to share less of the best me with them. I will be socially appropriate and kind. I will still act in accord with my values, but the part that gives and shares warmly and generously is being put carefully in a box so that I can protect myself from their issues and the pain they can inflict on me. I'm not doing this because they are awful people and I want to punish them by taking away my glorious self. Frankly, I think they are not bad people, but just lacking in awareness of how their actions affect others due to their insular lifestyle and lack of social experience. I even feel sorry for them in some ways, but now that I have some sense of my own worth, I am going to treat myself as something too valuable to be damaged.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I'm Not You

I haven't been writing here for awhile because the emotional difficulties stemming from my transition from the life I knew in Asia for so long to a "new" life in America have been pretty overwhelming for me. There are many aspects to this transition, but one of them is that I have had to deal with other people in a way that I did not have to for most of my adult life. Specifically, I now have to deal with family in general and my in-laws in particular.

The difficulties I've had have led to self-reflection about what is important to me and why, but also the limits of empathy and the seemingly limitless capacity of people to be self-centered in their thinking. Neither of these are exactly revelations, but personal experience is a powerful reinforcer of such thoughts.

In the place that I'm currently at, a group of islands in which people who are wealthy tend to vacation, I have found it hard to enjoy walking as I did back in the country I lived in in Asia. The reason for this difficulty is multi-fold. One is that the island I'm on is small and carved up into pieces of public and private land such that one can rarely walk far on a hiking trail before encountering a sign saying you cannot go any further or you'll be trespassing. Before I came here, I imagined long walks in nature and escaping the hectic sidewalks and crowds of the metropolis that I had been living in. Now, I find it hard to wander longer than 20 minutes on a nature trail or beach without being road-blocked by private property signs.

Since I grew up very poor, I'll admit that I have a negative reaction to the idea that wealth buys people a piece of the beach such that the public can walk for such a short time before being driven back. There's this huge world of trees, beaches, and natural beauty that someone has laid claim to because they don't want anyone coming within miles of their land. It just seems wrong to me that anyone can possess such things, especially when it isn't being used outside of the most attractive tourist times (the summer).

At any rate, this post isn't about my social views, as I realize that it can be argued that the possession of such property may be as much about protecting the habitats as privacy. This is about how bothered I have been at not being able to walk much here as compared to where I was before. Unless my husband and I walk along a relatively narrow public road with little shoulder and almost no protection from the beating sun and share it with intermittent vehicles passing by, we cannot walk for long before having to turn back. We have tried going to various public parks on this island to find better spaces, but have been stymied again and again by various problems.

On one particular occasion, we planned a trip to a particular park based on web site information and when we arrived, the trail leading to it was a virtual swamp. We tried to walk along the beach, but the stretch that the public had access to was no longer than a 10-minute stroll before we were barred access. Even the road itself dead-ended onto private property. This was extremely frustrating and, for about the third time, we complained about the way in which we couldn't walk anywhere on Facebook.

I need to mention that we are staying in a vacation cabin that is owned by my in-laws and they adore this island. They own two houses on it and have been coming here for more than 20 years. However, when they come here, they spend the vast majority of their time sitting in the cabin and just looking out the window at the view. They watch T.V., use the internet, and go to the tiny local village to shop. Occasionally, they will go crabbing or drive the car to some scenic spot and sit there and look at the view. Most of their time here is spent doing almost nothing different than what they do at home. They just do it with nicer scenery around them.

For my husband and I, this is a nice enough place, and we are grateful to have a place to stay while we work out our lives in America (a sentiment that we have expressed many, many, many times), but this environment is not only sleepy, but practically comatose. We are not the type of people who enjoy sitting around staring out windows looking at the same scenes again and again nor do we see value added to internet use or T.V. watching for having done it in a cabin on an island instead of at home. We are accustomed to a more stimulating existence, and, since I have lost weight, a more active one. We really don't watch much television at all (never did), and that makes up a lot of my in-laws' lives.

You may guess that one of my in-laws, in this case, my father-in-law, took the critical comments about the limits of our ability to walk personally. He was upset and said that he felt we mustn't like it here and his feelings were hurt. It's important to note that this is the only point which we have complained about and has no bearing on our immediate environment. I have also commented on Facebook about how lovely the cabin we are staying in is and my husband has been very positive about the local wildlife. However, my father-in-law was agitated about these repeated complaints.

That being said, my father-in-law has had his complaints about this place as well, and his have a far greater bearing on the immediate environment around the cabin. There is an area at which people practice shooting their guns not too far from the cabin and another at which they ride their dirt bikes. He complained at least 3 times and at great length about the noise from the gunshots. He also talked about how he lobbied to limit their ability to do shooting practice and failed. He went on about these things at length on multiple occasions. My husband and I have never complained about this noise. In fact, each time my father-in-law complained, I said it didn't really bother me at all (nor do the dirt bikes). He has also expressed less than glowing opinions (though not actual complaints) about other aspects of this place (the food at certain restaurants) and has complained about the behavior of some of the neighbors.

So, if my father-in-law has an issue with something on the island which limits his enjoyment of his time here, it does not mean he hates it here. If I have an issue with something on the island which limits my enjoyment of my time here, it means I hate it here and he is personally offended. This hypocrisy illustrates all too well how people expect the world to be processed in the way in which they process it and are confused, upset, or even offended when others perceive things in a different manner. He expects others to emotionally process everything as he does and can't understand why they do not. In fact, when he "had" to tell us how he felt, he said that he just can't understand why anyone would not "love" it here as he does. Well, we aren't him for starters and enjoy different things and are bothered by different things. This is not a rejection of the entire place, but merely the fact that we have different values than someone who prefers to sit around all day doing very little.

Of course, there is more to the story than that. One thing that I learned from this experience is that my complaints weren't merely coming from a sense of frustration and disapproval of people of means hogging up as much land as they could. Walking is much more to me than mere exercise or diversion. If it were merely that, I probably would  not have complained at all.

I realized that walking for me after nearly two decades of being crippled by my body and unable to do so without pain represents my liberation from my former self. It is a demonstration of my success and my hard-earned independence. I need to do it not only to move my body and maintain my health, but also to feel free. I was not so removed from being a person confined in a wheelchair who was able to learn to walk again and I felt as if that ability was being taken away.

For my father-in-law, walking is something he is indifferent toward doing because he has never lost the ability to do it. To him, it's just the lamest, slowest form of exercise and locomotion. It's a diversion he doesn't enjoy. To me, it is the only exercise I am physically capable of doing due to a bad knee and bad back (which don't limit my walking too much, but make more strenuous exercise inadvisable at best and likely dangerous). But, it is much, much more than that, but he never asked why it bothered me. He never asked me about the roots of my feelings. He didn't care about me because he only cares about being him and he didn't realize that I'm not him and may have different feelings and needs.

Unfortunately, I realized that this is only the beginning of what is likely to be a long and difficult adjustment. My husband's family is very insular and much more self-centered than any group of people I have ever known. Their rejection of me when we first married went a long way toward shattering my hard-earned esteem at the end of college and setting me onto the path that got me to nearly 400 lbs. The challenge for me is to maintain a decent relationship with these people, but not allow their selfishness to have a destructive impact on me.

Fortunately, I have insight and my husband sees them for what they are now (he did not before). I know that it is not me. It is them. I don't say that as a way of dismissing them, but merely recognizing that their actions toward me do not reflect my value nor my behavior. They are selfish and ignore other people's needs because they don't know any better. Many of them have mental health issues which are masked or mild enough not to need strong treatment, but present enough to make them, at times, unpleasant to deal with. I didn't realize this before since my husband had praised them so much before I met them, but he was naive (by his own admission) and we see it now. With his support, I hope that I will not be dragged to the head of the same self-destructive path I was at before.

The lesson I would hope readers will take from this, and the one I'm taking as well, is to remember that others will judge you by your actions while letting themselves off the hook for theirs. Others will view the world through their emotional responses while trying to reject the validity of yours. Others will not understand or see why you value things they do not, but that does not mean you should not or are not entitled to value those things (much as they may try to convince you otherwise). Others will react to you based not on your value, but on their own psychological needs. Most people will treat you in a manner which is gratifying for them personally regardless of the effect on you or their relationship to you. They don't do this out of malice or meanness. They do it because they lack awareness.

That means that you have to protect yourself, though it doesn't mean you have to do it in a retaliatory or nasty way. For me, it's going to me structuring interactions and holding back when it comes to my nature. That is a nature in which I try to be kind and helpful to people because that is what I think the world should be like. However, sometimes you can't give of yourself to people who are selfish and clueless. They will take from you with one hand and then slap your face with the other hand because they don't have any idea how to build a relationship. They act on need and lack the reflective capacity to see their own behaviors. Knowing this, I will try to adapt to this situation and not allow it to tear down what I have built for myself after years of hard work. It has not and will not be easy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Public Private Message

This is a little public message for my faithful reader and frequent commenter, dlamb. Please feel free to privately e-mail me at screamingfatgirl@gmail. com to relay anything you'd like to tell me, but not do so publicly. That goes for any reader out there! I'm happy to hear from you!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bite-size pieces

Sometimes I wonder what my readers think of me. What sort of person do they imagine I am, if indeed they imagine me at all. What do they think my days are like based on the facet of self that I display here, if indeed they think about how I spend my days at all.

There are several reasons why I wonder about this. One is that, through other blogs, I have been maliciously and tenaciously stalked by people who construct an imaginary life for me based on the facets shown on that blog. They cherry pick details from what I say in order to fill in huge gaping holes in their knowledge of me and paint the ugliest picture possible and ignore the information that does not conform to their highly fanciful work of art that they have entitled "me" (meaning, me, not them).

Since I have experience with people imagining my life based on one set of writing, I have at least some sense that others may be doing it based on other writing. It may sound egotistical and narcissistic to believe people spend their time ruminating on the person behind the blog, but it isn't something I conjured up in my imagination (unlike the impressions my stalkers have of me).

Beyond that, I think it is natural for us to feel that we "know" a person after following their words for some time. In some sense, we do know them, though in a very limited fashion. So, you don't have to be a weird stalker to feel well-acquainted with an individual who shares their life in the manner that I do. In fact, readers of this blog see the real me in the most intimate psychological sense than the readers of my other blogs. You really may know me in a true sense, though still from a certain perspective.

I was thinking about this today because I'm having a bad day and wondering if I make it clear often enough that I have such days. I spend so much time talking about how I cope with my problems that I wonder if I mislead people into thinking I am able to process them efficiently and merrily move on with my daily life. That's not so. It's an ongoing battle. If I haven't made that clear before, I want it to be clear now.

Today, I'm having intermittent depression and persistent fatigue. Though I am trying to remain positive about adjusting to my new life, it does cumulatively weigh me down. There are days when I would rather just sit around and do nothing but read, watch T.V. or, yes, eat junk food. The "sitting around" part is especially challenge to overcome and, if I were physically ill, I'd just stay in bed when I wanted to until I felt better. However, when I'm mentally "ill" (meaning blue, sad, depressed, etc.), then I think that I can't indulge my desires without paying a price. Lying around only makes the bad feelings worse.

When I have days like this, I try to deal with it in bite-size pieces rather than push myself to go at things wholesale. Emotionally, I can't bear the thought of going outside for a 40-minute walk today. The idea of even leaving the house is too much for me, but I know that movement and exercise help with depression and that I'll feel terrible if I just sit around and indulge my sadness. The answer to this is not to chastise myself and berate myself into doing something I don't want to do, but to manage in bite-size pieces of activity.

For each person, this sort of thing would be different depending on how physically and mentally capable they feel. For me, this means planned pacing around the small space of the cabin I'm in. Every time I feel up to it, about two or three times an hour, I will get up and pace the length of the cabin ten times. I also will do my regular back, knee, and arm/upper body exercises as normal as part of these short bursts of activity.

This exercise is not to make up for any notion of "sloth" or to burn calories, but a deliberate attempt to work with my feelings of depression. It may not make them go away, but it will stop me from sinking any lower. It will also help me focus on something other than my negative feelings (boredom about where I am, stress about adjustments and decisions to be made, fear about uncertainty, and fatigue from both physical and mental problems). And, frankly, it decreases the chances that I will turn to the easiest and most attractive of answers, food. I'm am  just as prone to the sense of not feeling hungry, but just wanting to eat because it's easy pleasure as anyone else.

Focusing on intermittent physical activity reduces the amount of time that I have to say, "no", to the impulse to eat because it provides positive focus, but it does more than that. It allows me to set up miniature goals that can be accomplished regularly and provides a sense of accomplishment. Pacing the room 30 times an hour won't do much for my health, but it will do a lot for my sense that something positive is being done instead of simply feeling tired and sad.

Of course, this isn't just about movement, though that is one piece of it. I am also pushing myself to do qualitative things between like reading a book that I need to get read (for a review), writing blog posts, reading meaningful content (as opposed to light entertaining content), doing small cleaning tasks, and preparing nutritious food for later. Thinking about doing all of these things at once is far too much for me given how I feel, but intermittent tackling of successive ones is something I can handle. I can't ponder cleaning the whole house, but I can sweep the floor in the next half hour. I can't think about putting lunch together, but I can wash and spin the lettuce dry in the next 15 minutes.

I get down sometimes, more recently than ever, and it's hard, but I have learned that you can improve things by taking it in bite-size pieces. It helps not to think you have to take too many bites at once and to not think too far ahead about the next one. I just do what I can at a pace that I can between the sense that I can't do anything. On the whole, it starts to add up and propels me slowly away from the depression, lethargy and fatigue. I think it's a good way to be, and a lot better than pushing too hard to be some ideal and then failing and hating yourself for it. Instead of feeling like I "lost" a day to depression, I can feel like I survived it as well as possible and achieved a lot under the circumstances.