Note from Kate: I’ve been reading Heidi’s blog for almost a year now. As I said to her in comments way back when, she’s the first person who ever made me believe there are occasional exceptions to the rule that weight loss surgery is always a bad idea.
Heidi changed my mind because she was brave enough to write about the painful reality of increasingly feeling like a prisoner in her own fat body, of losing the ability to be independent, to do basic things the rest of us take for granted. I still wish there were a better option than surgery for her — so does she. But I sure don’t have a better idea at this point.
Heidi is one of the reasons I said again and again that my political stance on dieting is a whole different thing from my personal opinion of individuals who want to lose weight. There are exceptions to every rule. And as you’ll see from this post, Heidi is an exceptional person in every sense of the word. I’m honored that she was willing to share her story with the Shapely Prose crew.
I believe weight loss surgery (WLS) is dangerous, invasive, and overly performed. I hate that something created as a last resort has turned into magical cure-all for everyone over 200 pounds. I hate that it’s become so popular and hyped that people whose information is based solely on what they see on TV have no hesitation in suggesting it to complete strangers. But what if you don’t qualify? Gain weight! Go to Mexico! Find a less strict surgeon! WLS is the quick and easy answer! Because altering your eating and drinking habits for the rest of your life couldn’t possibly be something worth a second thought. I always have been and always will be highly, highly critical of weight loss surgery.
And I’m having mine next month.
It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever made because doing something that’s so completely at odds with what you believe in is a massive mind-fuck. I’ve been called a traitor and a sell-out and I guess I can’t really argue with that; I believe strongly in size-acceptance and I’m electing to have my stomach sliced open and my organs rearranged. It’s something I never thought I’d do. Me? Having weight loss surgery? That’s crazy talk…I don’t even believe in dieting, for god’s sake!
Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where what we need isn’t what we want. Where what we need isn’t even something we necessarily believe in. I never wanted to be seen as yet another fat person who really wanted to be thin. Who says fat is great…but not for me. And I know that’s how people see me now. I struggled with that for a long time; reconciling my ideology with my desperate need for a surgery that was my best option. I didn’t have it sooner because I didn’t want to admit I needed it. I was so ashamed of not being healthy, of not being strong, of representing all the stereotypes I despise.
I’ve been blogging for about five years now and I’ve always been commended for my honesty. On one hand it’s accurate because I don’t lie in my blog and I readily admit things that really don’t cast me in the greatest light! But on the other hand… There’s a lot I just don’t say because I’m too ashamed.
And I am so fucking tired of being ashamed. I’m so fucking tired of hiding my reality because it isn’t as pretty as someone else’s. I’m so tired of believing I’m an embarrassment to fat people, as if my very existence is harming the movement. I may be an anomaly but I still exist and I still matter. So I’m going to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m going to tell you what it’s like to live in my body.
I’m 5’6” and I weigh 530 pounds. Well, 529.8 to be exact but I round up. (There, that wasn’t so hard. I can totally do this.)
I have pre-diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, gastroesophageal reflux disease, depression and social anxiety and am on medication for all of it. I take a lot of pills! I’ve had to sleep sitting up for the last several months. I do sleep but not long and not deeply…I miss dreaming. My circulation is horrible and my arms and legs frequently go numb or swell so badly I can’t move and I feel as if the skin is literally going to split open. My poor circulation also causes severe discoloration all over the lower half of my body as well as both forearms. I have some issues with incontinence because I carry all of my weight in my belly and there’s a lot of pressure on my bladder. My lower belly is so large and heavy that having it hang from my body is actually painful. I have a lot of problems with infections between my skin folds and summer really isn’t helping matters. (Okay, that wasn’t too bad either. Let’s go a little deeper.)
I’m in pain every moment of every day. I can’t walk or stand longer than a few seconds and I’m so afraid of my ankles or knees giving out from under me. Walking from my bedroom to the bathroom leaves me gasping for breath and my legs shaking from exertion. Usually I have to stop halfway there and lean on something for a few seconds. Several months ago I had to get a disability placard for my car. God, I was so embarrassed by that. Not was. Am. I can’t stand people seeing me park in the disabled spot. Sometimes…cough…sometimes if people are watching me, I totally fake a limp. Because I hate the idea of people thinking fat = disabled.
At the end of June I had to take a leave of absence from my job because getting out of bed and going to work every day was too painful and difficult. I had pushed myself for so many months, through the pain and exhaustion, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was on the verge of physically and mentally collapsing and I couldn’t bring myself to fake it for one more day. Plus, my seat belt doesn’t fit me any longer and driving on the freeways in LA with no seat belt is a terrifying experience! Even more so when you take into account the fact that I was dozing off at the wheel (due my sleep issues) several times a week. Work was going to kill me one way or another!
There are friends I haven’t seen in years. Good friends who I used to see regularly and who I’ve known for more than half my life. Who used to know everything about me until my reality became a secret. Now I lie to them about why we don’t spend time together. Because I don’t want to say, “I love you but it hurts me too much to walk. I love you and I miss you and it hurts not to see you but the physical pain is so much worse.” So I say something vague about not feeling well which isn’t really a lie but isn’t really true either. Because I can’t bring myself to tell them that every step feels like a thousand and my body is breaking. I’ve always been the strong one and I don’t know how to admit I’m weak. (This is getting too hard. I don’t want to do this anymore.)
I don’t remember when it started. Because I didn’t talk about it and I sure as hell didn’t write about it. Probably a year ago, I’d guess. (I can’t do it. I just can’t. It’s too embarrassing. I don’t want people to see me differently. I don’t want them to be disgusted by me. I don’t want to…please don’t make me say it. It’s too much. I haven’t even written it and I’m already crying…please…) I was no longer able to clean myself after going to the bathroom. Every time I went to the bathroom, I had to take a shower.
While I was at work I would try to hold it. I frequently made myself sick and gave myself painful stomach cramps doing so. I had IBS to begin with and that didn’t help matters. Worse, it didn’t always work. So I’d go to the bathroom and have to spend the rest of the day sitting in my own shit. Sometimes for one hour, sometimes eight. The physical discomfort was awful but nothing in comparison to the shame. Fuck. The shame. Wondering if you smell, wondering if people know, wondering if they talk about it when you’re not in the room. Hoping that no one says anything so you stay as far away from everyone as possible. I felt so disgusting and so embarrassed that I just wanted to die. And I truly felt I would rather die than admit it to anyone. (Oh my god, what are people going to think of me now? I don’t want to do this at all. Please let’s stop Please, it’s too much.)
I can’t stand for more than a few seconds which made the frequent showering very difficult and painful. So, now my mom cleans me. I’m 28 years old and my mom has to wipe my ass. It’s been a few months and I still apologize every time. Every single time even though she keeps telling me to stop. Because I’m just so embarrassed that I can’t take care of myself.
Oh yeah…the whole showering thing. I can’t do that anymore either. I haven’t had a shower in months. Because I can’t stand and because it’s difficult for me to even fit inside the shower these days. My mom brings a bucket of warm water, baby soap, a wash cloth, and towel into my room and washes me. Sometimes I close my eyes and genuinely enjoy the feeling of becoming clean. But a lot of times I cry. I lay on my bed while my mom washes me and I cry.
I do that a lot. Cry. Sometimes I cry because I miss having a life and I want to do so many things but physically can’t. Sometimes I cry because I don’t know how much longer I can handle any of it. Sometimes it’s out of shame. Sometimes it’s from the pain. Sometimes it’s because I can feel my body shutting down and I’m truly afraid I’m going to die very soon. Sometimes it’s because I wish I were already dead.
And sometimes I cry out of sorrow. I place my hands on my belly and I whisper to my body how sorry I am. Sorry that she’s going to have to be cut up; sorry that I couldn’t fix things on my own; sorry that I let things go so far before I asked for help; sorry that she’s hurting so much; sorry that I feel imprisoned by her; sorry that I don’t always love her or treat her the way I should. I cry and I apologize for everything that’s been done to her and for all the things to come. I cry and I thank her for being so strong and putting up with so much; asking her to hold on for just a little while longer and promising her that things will get better. I cry and I ask her to forgive me for what I have to do to her because it’s the only option I have left. Because I know it’s the best decision for me, no matter how hard it was to make.
Do I wish I didn’t have to have weight loss surgery? Yes, of course. I wish I was strong and healthy and could honestly say that my weight isn’t negatively impacting my life. But I can’t, not now. I wish I didn’t have to acknowledge the things I’m most shamed by and I could hide it all, pretending to be functional in order to save that single shred of humility I have left. But should I allow that wish to stop me from having wls when the alternative is becoming completely bed-ridden? Should I not have surgery simply because I don’t want people to think less of me or to incorrectly assume the motivations behind it? Is it worth it?
A few days ago I had to go to the hospital to see a nutritionist. I needed them to bring a wheelchair to the parking structure because I barely made it from my car to the elevator before my legs nearly gave out and I couldn’t breathe. I almost didn’t do it. I almost turned around and left because I was too embarrassed to say that I needed a wheelchair. It was crossing a line I didn’t ever want to cross. But I did it. Because practicality finally won out over pride. And, ultimately, that’s what all of this has been about.
I absolutely believe there are people who weigh 530 pounds and are happy and healthy. I’d never be so myopic as to claim my experience as the norm. I also absolutely still believe that WLS is dangerous, highly invasive and overly performed…if anything the last 16 months have made me even more critical of the entire industry. I’ll never advocate WLS or start proselytizing because “it changed/saved/fixed my life and it could do the same for you!” I will never be that asshole.
But I will be that asshole who claimed to be fat-positive but had weight loss surgery anyway. And I think I’m learning to be okay with that.