Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My Life In Scales: Part 4, Rock bottom is not a comfortable place to be.

2016 was a really shitty year.

I think we can all agree to that. I know I was not the only one who cried their eyes out on the morning of November 9th.

Social and political negativity aside, last year was a terrible year for me personally. Through out this piece I have been writing, I have been making correlations between my work and my weight. This was mostly to illustrate how sedentary I really was, not to say that I was fat because because of what I do for a living. I also did this because I spend 8+ hours a day at work, and most of my time is taken up with work, so yes - I feel that if I am doing a job that does not require me to move around, it will start to take an effect on my body. Since starting work at the bank, my lifestyle did not change much, and I was able to stay at a steady weight after gaining initially.

After years of being happily put in one place, and in one position I decided it was time for me to move on up. I literally have no idea what I was thinking to be honest. I felt ready, but intellectually I wasn't sure if I was ready to take the next career step into an Assistant Manager position. I did it anyway, thinking of an old quote I saw on someone's Facebook with like, a thousand pixels - don't regret the things you did, regret the things you didn't do. I didn't want to forever be wondering "should I have?".

I still had reservations. The commute would be 45 minutes. There was no manager currently at the branch, so it would be just me running the show until they hired someone. The staff was reportedly a notoriously difficult staff to work with. The branch was also smack dab in the middle of an immigrant community, an extremely insular and tight-knit community. I have zero language skills to speak of, so I know I would have to work through translators to help with some of the customers. Not only that, but the customers were also described as "rough" and could be very demanding. To put the cherry on top of this shit sundae, the branch was also in operational shambles - things were not getting done, and there had been quite a few incidences that made my eyebrows go up. I should also mention here that I never found any of this out until after I accepted the position and was settled in.

Thus started one of the worst years of my life. Being an exempt employee, I ended up having to work 50 hours a week, no overtime. I thought this would change when we got a branch manager, but it did not. She expected me to be there, while she swanned in and out as she pleased, under the guise of "appointments". There were nights when I had to be there until 9:00pm, because of some disaster or another. Most other days I didn't get home until around 7pm or 8pm. I worked every Saturday, with no other days off except for Sundays. All the operational work was put on to me, all the conference calls and other managerial duties were also placed on me. I truly did end up with a bad manager, and upper management were deaf to my complaints. She was needlessly cruel to me, nitpicking on things I could not possibly manage to do, and when I asked for help, she never gave it. She made me sign "coaching documents" that I did not feel comfortable signing as these documents never told my side of the story - only that in her view I was not doing my job. I felt she was terribly abusive and manipulative, because she could also be so very sweet - she loved to be affectionate, and she would smile at you and say your hair looked good. In the next moment she would be tearing you down.

All of this took a harsh toll on my mental health. The bad situation coupled with the hopelessness of first not having my concerns heard and the second of not being able to find a way out spun me into a depression. I stopped doing things I loved to do, I was moody and tired all the time. I snapped at my husband, and took my bad days out on him. I would burst out into tears randomly, and when I wasn't doing that, I started to have anxiety attacks. My heart would start to pound and my throat would feel like it was closing up and I couldn't breathe. I ended up going on anti-depressants, which really helped control most of what I was experiencing but it was not a solution.

Of course, along with depression, I gained weight. My eating habits were really god-awful. And because I was feeling so low about myself I could not care less about what was going into my mouth. Since my time outside of work was so limited, I was resorting to grab-and-go meals most of the time. And when I did cook, comfort food was the rule of the day - I felt I needed it to feel better. I won't lie and say that tucking into a pile of creamy diced potatoes au gratin didn't feel good, satisfying and helped lift my spirits. Because it did, but only for a short period of time and this behavior became quite constant. My snacking got out of hand too, as bags of gummy worms became my favorite thing to eat ever, no shame. My morning routine changed, gone were the days of being able to cook up an egg with some toast and fruit - I now resorted to stopping at Dunkin Donuts for a rather large sweet iced tea, a bagel with butter and a chocolate frosted doughnut. It was a quick and easy breakfast I could eat while in the car. I was packing more calories into a body that was already large to begin with, and I knew it.

I continued on like this for some months,feeling like I was fending off the dragon of my depression with a toothpick. During this time, my husband was a goddamn hero. He did so much to help make me feel better, to help accommodate my shit schedule, and just make sure he was there for me. The support he gave me was incredible, a real testament to how how far love can go. At times I felt like I was hanging on a precipice of  despair as work nearly took over my life. Ed was what kept me from falling completely over. I will forever love him for that, for the extreme kindness, and tender affection he gave me when I was just at my most low. He also never once mentioned how much I was eating, or that my clothes were getting larger, and my old clothes would stop fitting. He just kept on loving me.

In September of 2016 I couldn't hold out any longer. My one champion in my office had made her decision to escape, and I knew I had to do the same. I knew there was a Lead Teller position at a branch close to my home, and I knew I had to take it if I was going to keep my employment with the bank. I knew the wicked witch was gunning for me, and I was not going to let a 7 year career get destroyed by a bitchy interloper. I called the manager of the branch and told her my plans, she let out an audible gasp and said "I think I just won the lottery!". I smiled, for the first time in a long time at work, and I even shed a few tears. I knew I was making the right choice. As it turns out, I really did. I got out of a bad situation, and I landed in a much happier one. I loved my new job, my new branch and my new staff. It was a different job, but not completely unfamiliar. And slowly, but surely, I felt like I was coming back to life.

 There was one interesting facet to all this. Even though I was so much happier, and feeling better my eating and activity level literally did not change. I ate to celebrate life, and not to try and heal wounds. My kids, (which is what my assistant and I called my staff of mainly 20 and 21 year olds) were quite an active bunch. They went to the gym and were constantly watching what they ate. Good kids, really. I used to laugh, and make stupid jokes about how I like tacos and wine more than the gym. And they laughed along with me. And while I laughed, I still had this stupid niggling sensation that I was just ignoring the problem, once again.

The end of that year was a good one. Christmas was fun, and New Years was spent quietly with my husband, just the two of us and a pot of homemade fondue. And it was fucking delicious. There was also a lot of alcohol consumed between the two of us. This is also not even including the indulgences of the holiday season. Cookies, cake, roast beef, mashed potatoes, buffalo chicken egg rolls, and so much wine. So. Much. Wine. So much drunk. But, gosh it was fun. And when it was finally all over and January 1st finally dawned, I did something I had never done before.

I made a New Years Resolution.

I was going to finally, really truly lose weight.

Friday, May 26, 2017

My Life in Scales: Part 3, The Reckoning.

After about a year of working at my new branch, I had to go to the doctor's.

And now we come full circle.

There was nothing wrong with me, just a typical OB-GYN appointment to get the lady parts checked out. But of course, I was going to have to hop on that damn scale. This time, I knew better. I took off my coat, my purse and even slipped out of my shoes and cardigan. I dumped everything on the nearby phlebotomy chair much to the chagrin of the nurse. I was not taking any chances this time and I was going to make sure my weight was as accurate as possible. I stepped on the scale. She adjusted one little gizmo. Then another. Then she started inching that little one, further and further to the right. A little more. And there. 220. I think my face crumpled, because the nurse looked very sympathetic. I was actually shocked I weighed so much, I always assumed I was around 200. Turns out I was 20 whole lbs over what I had initially thought. I hate that scale.

I really shouldn't have been surprised though. I worked a job at a desk, and I didn't really watch what I ate. I never got any exercise, aside from the odd walk around the mall or neighborhood. I knew I was steadily getting bigger, as my pants and dresses stopped fitting me as well, or items that used to be a bit too baggy were now fitting properly. Like most Americans, I never really thought that my diet and lack of exercise would have any kind of consequences. I decided that I was okay with my weight. I felt beautiful, curvaceous and I was finally finding great clothes in styles that fit my body and personality. What did I have to change? Still though, I had a niggling sensation in the back of my mind that this is not okay.

There was another point after that moment that made me think a bit. I was sitting at my desk, working on something when I heard an audible "pop!" from the region of my left boob. And suddenly lefty started to sag just a tiny bit. My damn underwire broke. I thought I was going to cry. That was my best bra. It lifted and shaped my large and unwieldy chest so I looked like a bombshell. I tried to save it, but once the underwire was gone, I knew I had to let go. I went to Lane Bryant and picked up some new bras. I was pleased to see they had new colors and styles, so I happily skipped back to the dressing room with an armload of underwear.

Cue the meltdown. My old faithful was an old design that they nixed at the end of that last year. Apparently some women who don't know how bras are supposed to fit complained that actual support was uncomfortable so Lame Bryant changed it. And now I looked saggy and fat in the new style of bras. I was devastated, as I looked upon my gut sticking out even more started to cry. Those bras made me look so fat. I decided that I needed to get some real bra advice, so I logged on to Reddit when I got home and introduced myself to the A Bra That Fits community. With recommendations and brand names under my belt, I started a frenzy of buying and returning bras, trying to find that perfect fit. Each one I tried felt nothing like my beautiful oldie-but-goodie, and all I saw in the mirror was my stomach looking distended.

At this point, I knew I had to face the facts, and look at the truth. The bras were not making me look fat, I was just fat. Which, necessarily wasn't a terribly bad thing. Dramatics in fitting rooms aside, I really did like what I saw in the mirror. I loved my style, I loved my curves, and I felt adorable. And yet, when my clothes came off, I was stunned by how large my waist had grown. At this point, looking back in hindsight, I don't know if I even really liked what I saw. I think that instead of truly accepting myself for who I was, I was settling. Moreover, I was worried about my health. I knew very well that I was on the road to obesity. I decided I needed to do something before all of this got out of hand.

The real question was "what to do?" I absolutely hated exercise in any form. Walking too much made my back and feet hurt. And since I was a smoker, cardio was out as it made me want to die. I decided to change my diet and start practicing yoga. I downloaded MyFitnessPal, a free calorie and exercise tracker that expects you to be honest about what you eat (oh, god). Yoga was fun, and I was starting to see a strength and flexibility in my body I had never seen before. I was starting to feel pretty good, and I was seeing some results. I lost about 12 pounds...and then I quit. I am not entirely sure why, I think I just got tired of restrictions, and I think I tried to go too hard too fast. I tried to start eating all organic, and basically making my meals all lean protein and veggies.

It wasn't a sustainable diet. I went from zero-to-sixty over night and I couldn't keep it up. I even lost my taste for yoga, as getting to the classes, settling in and getting home from the classes became a two hour ordeal. And that was when I just decided to give up. I leaned back and while not exactly accepting my fatness, I just existed with it. I figured if I was was going to be "this way" I would try to be more positive about it. I started to read blogs that espoused body positivity and plus size fashion. I tried really hard to accept myself as I was, but I still had trouble really loving my body. I hated the aches and pains, the weird tightness in my chest when I would climb stairs. My knees would hurt. If I was out and about for too long my lower back would scream by the end of the day. My skin was constantly breaking out, no matter how many different gels, creams and lotions I used. Even my hair was miserable, limp and oily by the end of the day. Still I carried on like this for five years. I ate and drank whatever I wanted, consequences be damned.

Little did I know, things were about to get much, much worse.

To be concluded...

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

My Life in Scales: Part 2, When Life Hits You Like a Semi Truck.

When I finished college, I felt like the entire world was open to me. I had a degree, and therefore I knew I could get a good job and start a career. I would then be able to pay off my student debt, buy a house, and live my life to the fullest. The universe, however, had other plans. As the new year of 2008 dawned, and I set out on my post undergrad life, the housing market decided to collapse. My hopes of finding a good paying job were completely dashed as the country was sent into one of the worst economic crises since the Great Depression. Thankfully, I was able to snag a full time position at the local department store I had worked at during the Christmas season. Instead of wrapping gifts for harried holiday shoppers in the gift wrap department, I was now shilling sheet sets and electric blankets to old ladies in domestics.

While bad for my personal economic future, this was a decent turn in regards to my activity level. I was able to walk around at work, lifting things, bending and stretching. One day, I did get curious about exactly how much I weighed. We had scales over in the bathroom section for sale, and sometimes they ended up getting opened. We had one digital scale that we didn't even sell any more that had no package and my co-workers were constantly checking their weight on it (remember, this was a small local department store, we had few customers and much time on our hands). I decided to give it a go; I hadn't been weighed in nearly three years since my bout with mono in 2005. I slipped away from my area and popped on to the scale. 210. Wow. I mean, I wasn't entirely shocked but I was ashamed of myself. 210 is not a healthy weight for my height and I knew it. I decided that I should try to lose 20lbs. That should be easy, right?

I knew my activity level at work was helping me, so I decided to tackle the food issue. I thought that if I just cut the fast food and have some salads and Lean Cuisines for lunch I would be set. I think this lasted less than a week as I went back to my typical diet of fast food and potato chips. Not even saying that particular plan was even a good one. It had good intentions, but it truly wasn't something that would launch me into a complete and much needed lifestyle change. That moment though was important. For the first time as an adult I fully recognized that I needed to take control of my weight. I did make a conscious decision to try and lose weight because I knew I was fat.

Later on that year, life took another interesting turn. I had been applying at various companies to land a full time position and start my career  but with no offers or even interviews. In exasperation I eventually applied to a bank as a teller. It was more money, and a decent place to be until I could maybe go back to school or find something better. I had interviewed twice, and while I did well I was never offered anything. They said they would keep me in mind. Well, by the end of the summer, I suddenly had a clock ticking over my head. That family run department store I was working in was going into Chapter 11, and my store was on the chopping block. If I didn't find anything else, by the end of that September I would be out of a job.

After the store closed, I was unemployed for a whole of two and a half weeks. I was still getting paid from the store because of some snafu the company caused and the bankruptcy courts ordered them to pay us wages through the middle of October (It was a pretty awesome two weeks, TBH). I did manage to get a position at good ole JCPenney's, which really sucked. But still, I had a job that kept me active. Of course, at that point I didn't really care what the work entailed, let it be active or not, I just really needed a job. I was working there for a about a month and a half, when I finally got the phone call I had been waiting nearly a year for. The bank I had interviewed with all that time ago finally wanted me.

And this is where all this background story leads to. With taking a job with the bank, I launched myself into a very different kind of work than what I had been doing up until this point. The customer service end of it was very much the same. What was different and completely blew me away was that as a bank teller I was allowed to sit down. This was huge for me, as previously I had spent my working days on my feet in various types of retail jobs with only 30 mins to sit down on break. While I gloried in not having an aching back and feet at the end of the day, this proved to be ultimately disastrous for my waistline.  

Starting in  my new career in banking, I was much more focused on the job itself, and I never really thought about how physical the job was itself. I was a teller which is the most physical job in a branch as there is more standing, lifting and bending. But, the activity level was nowhere near where my retail jobs were at. In conjunction with this, my diet did not get any better. I was still drinking soda by the gallon, indulging in sweets and fast food. Not surprisingly, I gained weight. I don't know exactly how much I weighed at that particular point in time, but I knew I was gaining weight because my clothes stopped fitting me.

Luckily, this was around the time the whole concept of plus-size became a more mainstream option. Before, clothes in larger sizes were always relegated to the back of stores, in some shadowy corner in an apparent attempt to pretend plus sizes didn't even exist. Now, stores like Torrid and Lane Bryant were available to me, and Target was getting a better plus size collection. But still, I could also shop in the "straight sizes". I had started to slowly accept my body more, as society started to accept the fact that bigger bodies do, in fact, exist. I stopped feeling so much shame over my fat rolls, I felt like I could actually finally feel pretty and sexy. One huge factor in leading me to this was my then boyfriend, now husband, Ed. He always (and still does) would tell me how gorgeous and sexy I am. He loved every wobbly inch of me, and I felt that if HE can find me desirable, and love my body, well so can I!

 I began to eschew any indication of going on a diet. I decided that instead of trying to eat super healthy, I would make my meals more well rounded, with meats, veggies and some kind of grain. Here and there we would go out to eat or grab some fast food, but it wasn't always. I wanted to put a better effort into making our meals, so with some help from my mom I taught myself how to cook. I took to it like a fish takes to water and became a rather competent chef, if I do say so myself. With this new culinary world open to me, so did a new world of different kinds of food. I liked to experiment with different kinds of cuisines, trying out things that were easy and hard. We ended up eating rather well for a long period of time. Ed actually started to fill out more - he was always a very lean guy, almost to the point of too skinny.

As my cooking skills blossomed, so did my career in banking. I moved from being a teller to what we call switcher, meaning I would now in addition to teller duties, I would have the same duties as a banker would too. After a year of that, I took the next step up into being a full fledged banker, and moving to a new branch as well. This was a great move for me, as I ended up working three minutes from home (I know, right?) and with an amazing manager. I very much enjoyed the work, even though it came with a whole new set of stresses and concerns. Never-the-less, I was still happy where I was at. The problem was, I got very comfortable in my lifestyle that came along with this new position. Not surprisingly, my weight started to creep, and creep, and creep upwards. And yet, I still blithely continued on.

To Be Continued......
(okay, so I am trying for a little dramatic effect here, so sue me.) 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My Life in Scales: Part 1, In The Beginning...

This is the beginning of a series of entries about me and my struggles with weight. I am tackling this not only as a way of telling my own personal story, but as a way to digest and externalize the issues I have dealt with for most of my life. I find that it's cathartic to put into solid words feelings that I have been internalizing for a very long time and on such a public forum (for all, like, six you that read this). With out further adieu:

When I was 14, I was in the 7th grade. My mother took me to a doctor's appointment, for a routine physical and check up. I can't remember what month it was, or really any particular details from that visit. But what I do remember, most acutely was when Dr. Files was making his finishing remarks. Everything looked good, I was healthy, except for one thing. My weight. He was very matter-of-fact when he made the suggestion that my mother and I sign up for weight watchers. I was absolutely horrified. THAT kind of thing was for overweight adults. Not ME. I was a teenager. I was mortified, since I never really thought of myself as fat. I mean, yeah, I was pudgy but not Weight Watchers pudgy! When we got into the car, my mom tried to smooth things over by mentioning he was always telling her to lose weight as well. And she then gave me the little talk of you are beautiful at any weight, and it was only a number on the scale.

In actuality, I was not so much bothered by what the doctor had recommended, but it was the stark realization of the truth hitting me very squarely in the chest. He was right. I was overweight. I don't remember exactly how heavy I was, but I knew I was definitely bigger than I should have been. Puberty was a good excuse for my weight gain, but it stopped being convenient when I wasn't growing any taller or slimming out from that baby fat. Compounding my excess weight was the fact that the boob fairy hit me hard and fast, and suddenly I had curves and boobs to match those rolls at 14. My body, a source of shame and loathing, had now started to generate comments - hurtful ones at that - to me about my body. I remember once the boys across the street saying, "You would be fat if your boobs weren't so big". There was also a little gem related to me by my 7th grade boyfriend's best friend, "He only liked you for your boobs at first, but now he thinks you're really cool". Uh, thanks, I think?

Buying clothes as a teenager was always a disappointment, and again filled with embarrassment. I could never seem to fit into Junior sizes (this being well before Junior's Plus was even a vague concept), and had to mosey over to the Missy's (I absolutely hate that term) section, which not surprisingly lacked age appropriate clothing. My friends wanted to shop at Delia's in high school, and I had already been sized out of their line by the time I was in 7th grade. I would end up swathing myself in anime tee shirts (Gundam Wing Deathscythe tee, R.I.P) two sizes too big and jeans from Old Navy, and men's khaki pants. This cutting edge style statement was to be my mainstay through high school and a bit into college.

When I started college I was more self aware of my status as a Plus Sized gal, but always (thankfully) on the smaller side of things. I could still flit in and out of the higher range of "straight" sizes and be comfortable. My life style then was fairly active, working on my feet in retail jobs and walking around a large urban university (Temple U, represent) as a commuter student. My diet however was in shambles, which is not to say I ever had a good diet to begin with. Remember when I mentioned about three paragraphs ago that my mom also had weight issues? It really isn't coincidental that through how I was raised I ended up with weight issues too. My relationship with food was never as bad as my mom's, but I still liked to eat and I loved to eat things that were sweet and comforting. From an early age I remember always drinking soda, having snacks around the house and candy. I was never denied anything food-wise. My grandmother was constantly trying to restrict my mother's food and put her on a diet as she was growing up. My mother decided she was not going to raise her daughter the same way.

I know my mother meant well, and I am certainly not going to blame her completely for my food issues as an adult, but there is some culpability to be found. I also want to make it very clear my mother was always cooking meals for us. She loved to cook, and I loved her food. She did make good healthy things too, and also some delicious calorie-bombs of goodness (I am looking at you creamy Chicken Cordon Bleu). But she was also a single mother, working hard and sometimes a dinner from Wendy's was much easier than making a full dinner at night. From this environment however, I learned to clear your plate and that it was okay to eat whatever you wanted. Fruits and veggies were never eaten as a snack and portion control was pretty much a foreign concept. With this as my background I went into young adulthood with little to no knowledge of what a balanced, healthy diet looks like.

In college I typically ate to live, trying to find the cheapest tastiest things possible. In the morning I would snag two pretzels (Philly, yo!) and a cup of tea (sugar and cream, of course) from the little stand outside the library (Paley Library, R.I.P). In the afternoons I would pick up a sandwich from the Bagel Hut, or maybe some mini egg rolls from the Thai place. Before I hopped on the train home, I would hit up the news stand for one of those enormous chocolate muffins to munch on train. I would go to work, and then come home with a bag of Burger King. Going to school in a food town like Philadelphia, I was kept in ample supply of vaguely disguised junk food as meals. While it was not okay, with my activity level and age, I was keeping myself just on the threshold of obesity. Regardless of my activity, my food intake was still keeping me big, much bigger than I really should have been. When I finally graduated college, I was launched into the "adult world" and with it the freedoms and limitations of being an adult on my own entailed. Little did I know, this would also come with quite a different lifestyle change as well.

I won't say I grew up fat, but I definitely grew up bigger, chunkier. While it was not hard, it was not easy especially in those hard years of middle school and high school. I liked to dance to the beat of my own drum, but it was completely frustrating that my body didn't want to be slim - that I could not eat like my friends did and be thin. This frustration would stay with me for quite some time - all through college and into my post college years. After graduating is where my struggles became almost epic in proportion and scale (see what I did there?). I never became more aware of my body then I did in my mid to late 20's.

So ends the first part of my story, to be continued at a later date.