Stop looking at me! Wait...are you looking at me?
*This post briefly discusses the emotional aftermath of sexual assault.
It’s tough being a fat person.
What thoughts and feelings does that first sentence evoke for you? If you feel like you can relate to it, then you likely understand what I mean.
If you are ridiculing it, thinking things like, “fat people bring it on themselves” or “it’s no tougher being fat than being thin,” then hear yourself thinking these things and realize that these thoughts are exactly what I mean. Being a fat person is tough.
People often think you’re less capable. People think you’re undisciplined. People don’t necessarily trust what you have to say. People laugh at you at the gym. And, even worse, you think these things about yourself (more often than others think these about you).
How ridiculous is it that people who are overweight get ridiculed at the gym? Well, supposedly. I’ve always feared being ridiculed, but I’ve never actually been ridiculed (to my face). Most of the times that I haven’t gone to the gym it’s been because I felt crappy about myself and was worried that other people would wonder why I was there.
The maps app I use has a real-time scale of how busy the gym is, and I used to check it before I went. If it was anywhere above the “not too busy” level, I absolutely did not go.
What if I have to be on a treadmill NEXT to someone?
What if, this time, someone really DOES give me the disgusted, judgemental look that I give myself every time I look in a mirror?
Nope, not worth risking it. It would’ve destroyed me if someone looked at me that way. And yet, I looked at myself that way every day.
Gym anxiety is very real. So is the “fat person mentality.” The whole psyche of being a fat person is kind of nuts. When I say, “fat person,” I’m not exclusively referring to people who are overweight. It’s a mental state.
I’ve been fat my whole life, even when my actual weight was healthy. All I could see in the mirror was the little bit of pudge here and there. I hated it when my boyfriend would put his hand on my stomach.
I called it my “fat” -- he called it my “love.” I always felt eyes on me, judging me. I hid my body under baggy sweatshirts. If the 17-year-old me could’ve stood next to the 27-year-old me, she would’ve seen that stressing over the few extra pounds was worthless because it could be several more than a few.
The funny thing is, because of my mentality, I was fatter back then than I am now, even though I weigh significantly more now. I’ve stopped caring so much about what others might think about me and don’t feel as heavy. The mental and emotional weight has lifted even though there’s more physical weight.
Why? Because most of the time, nobody cares.
People are focusing on themselves, not on me. The ones who do decide to focus on me (talking to you, drunk English guy on Halloween 2015 in London) are: 1) undeserving of my emotions and 2) probably insecure about something themselves.
I was surprisingly unphased by that guy. That was the moment when I realized that I’m not as much of a fat person as I used to be.
I also used to be prejudice against fat people. I would shame them in my head. I would say, “please kill me if I ever reach 200 lbs.” I was extremely judgmental and cruel.
When you hate others, you often become (or already are) what you hate, because by hating something, you’re focusing your energy on it. You’re giving power to it. My hatred came from a fear of “becoming one of them,” the way people feared lepers long ago.
Guess what? I became what I hated.
First there was the stress of college. Then there was the stress of not knowing what to do with my life. Those, mixed with poor eating habits, caused me to pack on more pounds. I was physically overweight.
Then I went backpacking in New Zealand for a month and lost about 20 pounds. I tried to maintain it, but I was SO BORED all the time when I came back from New Zealand that I eventually gave up my efforts to eat healthy. I put the pounds back on.
Then I went to grad school. I started the year off really well. I was eating healthy, I was motivated to cook for myself, I was walking at least two miles every day, I was loving, living, and learning in a new city.
And then, in October 2014, I found out that someone very close to me was sexually assaulted (we'll call her Jane for anonymity).
Panic, fear, disbelief, and self-hatred crept back in. At first I confused my emotions with being “okay” and “supportive to Jane.” But the news completely destroyed my psyche.
It’s taken me just over three years to pick up all of the pieces, to feel whole again. I felt extreme guilt, asking question after question in my head.
How could something like this happen to Jane? It’s my job to protect her! I’m a terrible person for not being physically there for her. Who would do such a terrible thing? Why couldn’t this have happened to me instead?
I would have done anything to take the pain away from her.
Eventually the tears started coming. My motivation disappeared. Every moment of every day was a deep struggle. And nobody knew about it. I didn’t know who to talk to, how to cope, how to overcome.
I tried to find resources online, but every time I searched for resources to help me process what happened, all I could find was information on how to support your loved one as they process what happened to them.
I felt the emptiness and nothingness. I believed that I wasn’t allowed to have traumatic reactions to what happened because it didn’t happen to me. I lost all sense of drive, motivation, and productivity.
By spring 2017, my psychological issues from the experience had mostly mended, and I thought I was ready to take care of myself and get healthy. And while I had motivation and drive within my reach, I wasn’t fully convinced. I hadn’t yet bought into the idea that improving my physical life was worth my energy.
I hit a record-breaking low on my scale of lowness in August 2017. And, despite being aware that eating more would make me heavier and feel worse, I felt the need to eat.
And I indulged. I always took comfort in food. It made me feel better in the short-term, so I ignored the long-term effects. I was emotional. I had cravings. And so I ate. And I ate.
In early November 2017, I reached my record-high weight, about 90 lbs heavier than I was a decade ago at my lowest recorded weight.
That lowest recorded weight year was the best year of my life so far, by the way. It was senior year of high school, I had money, I had love, I had solid friendships, and I was athletic.
I see those days as attainable once again. I don’t want to go back to high school. I wouldn’t give up--for anything--the struggles I've faced and the progress I’ve made in understanding who I am, what makes me tick, why I belong on Earth. But I do want to go back to being financially stable, having love, having solid friendships, and being athletic. That’s me living my best life. And I will get there.
I...just...have...to...push...through...this giant brick wall that is actually made of two-foot-thick cement and feels as indestructible as I imagine a prison wall might feel.
Actually, the wall doesn’t feel impossible anymore. When I wrote this post in October, nothing felt attainable. Then I took a month-long trip and everything changed.
The good news is that no matter how low I felt, how badly I wanted to stop existing, how disconnected I felt from my body, I never, ever, ever had the desire to be dead.
In fact, my most recent bout of depression was laced with a desire to change, to be better, to improve--not to disappear and melt into the dark abyss.
I’m not going to lie to you, though: there were also moments of intense anxiety.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with anxiety, or if your anxiety looks like mine. For me, it’s a million thoughts zooming at a million miles per hour, constant mood shifts, happy one second and ugly crying the next.
It feels nearly impossible to get anything done, which is a problem because the only way to pull out of this is to GET SH*T DONE.
Okay, so that’s not the only way. Traveling helps me clear my mind. And that’s what I did.
I left sunny Los Angeles on November 3 for a not-as-cold-as-normal Boston, stopped by Providence, and then made my way to Edinburgh and London before returning to Boston and, eventually, Los Angeles.
Do you know why this helps me? Because it removes me from my physical location, which, in turn, removes me from my mental state.
This trip was especially helpful to me because I was able to catch up with friends and family, talking with them about their lives, the lessons they’re learning, and exploring my own identity through them. I was able to ask questions and gain insights while I worked to make sense of everything I was feeling.
And, on Thanksgiving, the day after I returned to Boston from the UK, the floodgates opened, the wall disappeared, and the inspiration for The Wandering Swami came to me in full force.
It’s because enough people told me they have confidence in me that I started to believe in myself. It’s because my cousin asked me to give his kids some ideas to promote their personal development (through gratitude journaling). It’s because of the conversations I had with my seat neighbor, Desiree, on my flight from London to Boston. The formula was finally complete, and the light lit.
I no longer wanted people to stop looking at me. I was ready to add value to the world instead of hiding in the shadows, frustrated that nobody seemed to hear me. (If you whisper your ideas, nobody will hear you.)
I finally recognized that if I am truly going to live my best and fullest life, if I’m truly going to add value, I MUST care about myself.
And so, I texted my health coach who supported me the first time I tried--but wasn’t ready--to get healthy, and I started the food program he works for, Optavia, again. I have been learning habits of health since December 7, and as of January 20, I have lost 26 pounds and gained a much healthier mindset. I’m frequently thinking about fitness and getting to the gym and how excited I am to work out again.
And best of all, I had no trouble saying “no thank you” to all the decadent sweet treats and fatty meals at Christmastime. They weren’t even a temptation.
That’s how I know that I truly care about me and my health and this journey to greatness. I am ready to be the true ME.
I still have a ways to go before I look 100% like who I feel I am on the inside, and I am enjoying getting to know that person and seeing how my shift in energy affects all of my relationships and activities.
Random example: I feel like my photography has never been better than it is right now and that I’m able to be more creative and out-there; this is huge, since I’ve been bored with my photography for the past several years.
I will leave you with the following, my small piece of advice for you in your own journey, whatever that journey may be:
The concept of “baby steps” helps prevent me from feeling overwhelmed. I’ve come to understand, though, that baby steps are not always “small bits of progress.” Sometimes, enormous progress is made with the tiniest action.
At other times, the baby step IS a huge leap forward. Each step is a BIG deal and worth celebrating, whatever the size. My health coach taught me that.
He’s teaching me a lot about a lot of things, actually. I’m telling you--find someone willing to coach/mentor you who understands you. Your life will never be the same (in a good way). That person will likely influence and impact your life in ways you never could have imagined. It might take a few tries, but when you find the right person, you will soar!
And if you can’t think of anyone, pick me, because I will challenge you to think, analyze, question, and grow mentally and emotionally. I believe in the power of you and what you can do, and I will continue to believe in that power, even when you don’t believe in it yourself.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me here. I want to see you living your best life, too!
And if you’re struggling to cope with something that happened to a love one, I encourage you to reach out to me as well, because I don’t want you to have to face what you’re feeling alone (like I did).
My life is one big science project: I come up with a hypothesis, I test the hypothesis, and I analyze the results. And I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to do just that.
BetterHelp is one resource that I found useful when I was trying to process what happened to my sister. I encourage you to consider reaching out to them for counseling if you’re currently struggling, regardless of what the struggle might be! It’s very affordable, and the counselors are trained professionals. https://www.betterhelp.com