Hello Darkness My Old Friend

“Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again”
Simon and Garfunkel

Life is a struggle at the moment and I’m trying hard to keep my head above the parapet and not sink into the depths of depression. Sometimes it feels as if depression is what I know best, it’s like an old friend greeting me, the familiarity means I feel comfortable there and that makes the fight all the harder.

I look around at friends and family and wonder how they manage to stay positive when things go wrong, how they can keep things in perspective and manage to keep going. I find it so hard and all I want to do is sink into my bed, put my head under the covers and just the let world carry on without me. It feels as if I’ve always been like this. I look back on my life and all I remember is how sad I’ve always felt; how hard it has been to keep going when I feel so bad about who I am. Therapy has helped me understand that this is depression talking, this is what I have to master, not letting that voice become so loud that it drowns out everything else.

I have never let depression debilitate me completely, always managing to keep going despite feeling like I don’t want to. I think my job has played an important part in this, seeing how the lives of other people can be so hard and yet their resilience enables them to keep hopeful; believing I could contribute to making a difference to others has made life have some purpose. Hope is the key, without hope we’re left with nothing. I was once scared to be hopeful, thinking that by hoping life would be better I was setting myself up to fail. This is when I turned to food, cigarettes and spliffs, as a way to block out all feeling and just live with numbness. It didn’t feel good, but it didn’t feel bad, I just didn’t really feel anything. I have stopped this behaviour and am learning to manage my feelings, but there are times when all I want to do is fall back on old coping strategies.

I believed losing weight was the answer to all my problems; that if I was thin I wouldn’t feel so bad about myself; if I was thin I would have the confidence to take on the challenges of life; if I was thin everything would magically work itself out and I would suddenly feel fulfilled – the emptiness would go. Losing weight has indeed been incredibly helpful but it certainly hasn’t been the all encompassing ‘everything will be all right now’ that I thought it would be. Losing weight has given me the courage to try and undertake some of the activities that I believe might help me overcome depression, the strength to adopt more healthy coping strategies where being overweight was an excuse not to.

There is a reason I feel so low at the moment. A relationship with someone I loved very much has ended. A good friend is emigrating to the other side of the world in a matter of weeks, this seems to be an emerging theme amongst my friends! Other friends have moved away from London as they have children and so I feel more isolated than I used to. And then there is work, the one place I have always managed to absorb myself in.

Work is very difficult – first I had to overcome a new boss who seemed overwhelmed with the responsibility and to compensate micro managed, which in turned made me feel like I was inadequate. After some difficult conversations we appear to be overcoming this. However, now I have a deputy who is angry and upset with me for not giving her what she wants. She is known for her difficult behaviour but I have always met her at her level and not let her intimidate me. We have had a good relationship and I felt I understood her and tried hard to support her. This has now broken down and I have been on the receiving end of her bullish and intimidating behaviour. She has picked her moment well, kicking me when I’m down, and although I feel supported by colleagues she feeds into the vulnerable side of me, the depressed side of me, the side of me that feels useless and unable to manage.

I know that I can’t give in to my feelings. I need to take steps to overcome them – meet up with friends, engage in activities to get me out and about, do some exercise, eat healthily, talk / write about it, focus on events I have coming up and remember good times I’ve had and the things in my life that make me happy. I don’t know why this is so hard but it is. Depression is selfish, something that goes against my nature, but it makes me forget about people who are really suffering and I become absorbed in my own misery and the empty feeling inside seems overwhelming. I worry I’m unlovable, fear that I’m worthless and can’t see that this will ever change. Depression makes me feel as if I’m always here, as if nothing has ever been good and nothing ever will be. This is not a truth, this is depression talking. I’ve allowed it to pin me down too often and am determined not to let it do it again. It is a constant fight and I hope that one day it won’t feel quite so hard.

Fat Girl Thinner

The feeling of being morbidly obese has been with me for as long as I can remember, I do not recall a time when I felt comfortable in my body.  I feel like I have been overweight all my life, but can look back at me as a child and see that I was not as overweight as I believed, however I was still overweight and it was this burden that I carried around with me.

I remember as a young child feeling that I wasn’t good enough for my parents.  I am the middle of three and always seemed to be at odds with everyone.  My mother saw everything she hated about herself in me and everything she loved about herself in my sister.  I believe she meant well but she didn’t parent me well.  She was critical, believed in being cruel to be kind; didn’t prevent my brother from bullying me and most of the time she couldn’t bring herself to talk to me.  She was always worried about how fat I was and how repulsed people would be by me.  I did get some love from my mother, sometimes she felt like my biggest supporter but other times she was my harshest critic, which confused me.  I felt enormous, different from all my peers.  I look back now and realise that this was just how my mother perceived me and that it wasn’t really true. I wonder how things might have been different if I had been encouraged to love and care for my body, been made to feel like I was of worth. Where was my father in all this?  He was around but worked long hours and was more of a peripheral figure.  When he did engage with us it was fun, although you never wanted to be on the wrong side of him as he could be scary!   The family he came from was pretty screwed up and he bears the scars of this, as we all do in our own way, the sins of the father and all that!  We were a family of secrets and lies, where things got brushed under the carpet and all that mattered is how we were perceived by those outside of us.

I experienced some difficult situations as a child / young person that impacted significantly on my life.   As a result of not being able to process what happened to me and having little support, I ate away my sorrow, despair, self-hate, confusion and every other emotion that came my way.

I dieted and lost weight all my life, only to put it back on again and never getting to a weight that I felt comfortable at. My first weight watchers meeting was at 10 years old and since then I have tried every diet going, some with more success than others but never reaching a weight I was happy with and ultimately always putting the lost weight back on again.  As I approached my 30th birthday, in my head a childhood landmark, I knew that I had to make some changes in my life or I was going to be unhappy forever.

As an unhappy child I had told myself that if nothing had changed by the time I was 30 then I should kill myself as in my eyes my life would be over and I would have failed to achieve anything.  2001, approaching 30, I felt like I was in the same place emotionally, full of self loathing and dissatisfied with my life. However, age is a wonderful thing and as unhappy as I was I also recognised that there was much about life I enjoyed and that as I got older the less I remember what made me so unhappy and the more I understood that I was in control of my life and could make the changes I wanted, but for some reason I wasn’t doing that.  It was for this reason that I found myself in therapy and for the first time started to talk about myself, my feelings, things that had happened to me in my life, what I wanted to happen to me, what I was angry about, what I was afraid of and most importantly how I could take small steps to change my life and start to accept myself for who I am.  I worked hard to understand my eating habits but they had become so entrenched that it was hard to break them.  Food is also a difficult habit to break; you can’t just give it up as you need it to live, so it is always around you.  Weight loss is a long hard process, so even when you are feeling emotionally strong and that you have made changes in your life, the weight is still there as a reminder of what you were and how far you still have to go.  This predicament makes it so hard; frustration and disappointment are never far away and however successful you have been there is still so much more weight to lose. It feels as if you have got nowhere and this sometimes made everything seem very dark and bleak.

In 2007 my therapist talked to me about going to see my GP and talking to them about how depressed I was feeling.  Although she didn’t promote the use of medication she strongly felt that at times it was necessary and this was one of those times.  I had been talking a lot about childhood experiences and understanding the impact they had on me, I was moving on emotionally but so stuck with my weight that I couldn’t see how healing my emotional scars was ever going to help because I had done too much damage to my body that I would always bear the burden.  Finally I listened to what she told me and understood that only I had the control to help myself but if I reached out there were people there to hold my hand and give me the support I needed.

I went to see my GP.  I didn’t have a relationship with any of them, was happy to just see the first available and pleased to hear it was woman.  Fate must have had a hand because I met a wonderful GP who seemed to understand the difficulties I was having and didn’t judge me for my weight. We discussed why I was there and she agreed that some anti-depressant might be helpful but also asked me to make an appointment to see her once a month.  As she got to know me better she broached the subject of my weight and it all came out, about how it had been my burden all my life and that I couldn’t see a way to fix myself while I was so overweight but I couldn’t never lose it all and I felt like it was in a vicious cycle with no way out.  The GP incredibly understood and we set about trying some of the weight loss medication that is around.  The impact was the same, weight was lost but it was slow and soon the motivation waned.  I had stopped the emotional eating but it was still difficult to lose weight and the prospect seemed so impossible that it was hard not to feel depressed.

One day she said she just wanted to take the problem away from me, she felt that it had been difficult for so long and that if only she could remove it I would be able to renew my energy for life. She suggested that I would be a good candidate for weight loss surgery and wanted to know what I thought. I can honestly say that this was not something I had ever considered, I didn’t really know much about it but my immediate thoughts were of people having their jaws wired shut or stomach’s stapled and my initial reaction was of horror and to say no.  I felt like a failure, that I was somehow cheating and didn’t deserve that help because I hadn’t managed to lose weight like other people.   The GP challenged my thinking, suggested that there were many different paths to the same goal and who was to say I had to take the conventional one.  This appealed to me as I have always enjoyed toying with convention and going against the grain.  She asked me to consider just going to meet the consultants and see what they had to say, and this I agreed to.

The meeting was very positive, the consultant had enormous insight into obesity.  We discussed my past and present eating habits, looked at my weight history and discussed the psychological issues that are associated with eating disorders.  He informed me that because I had put all the weight on as a teenager he didn’t think it would be possible for me to lose it in the conventional manner by diet and exercise alone; I realised that surgery was possibly the only option for me if I was serious about losing weight.

Following the initial consultation there was a series of other meetings that I had to have, including a psychological assessment.  Everyone in the medical team was keen to emphasise that the surgery was a tool that would help me to achieve the weight lost I needed but would not fix everything and that I had to make a lifelong commitment to maintaining the weight loss.  Then suddenly, two years on from the initial consultation the time for surgery had arrived.  Prior to the operation I was only able to drink milk for 10 days in order to shrink my liver so that keyhole surgery could be undertaken.  It was like cleansing my body before surgery and following the operation I would go through a period of taking liquid only, then puree food, soft food and finally onto solids.  The experience was a kind of re-birthing for me an opportunity to start over!

June 30th 2009 I had a gastric bypass and it saved my life.  Once the operation was done and I was well again I allowed myself to get excited about what was to come and how different my life was going to be.  I imagined going on holiday and not feeling anxious about fitting in the airplane seat or doing the belt up; shopping in regular clothes shops without thinking everyone is staring at me wondering why I’m in there; going out with my friends and not feeling like I stand out for all the wrong reasons; not worrying about what I’m sitting on and whether it will hold my weight!

Within a year I had lost a significant amount of weight and stopped feeling like I was different to everyone, that I was wearing my problems for the world to see and I started living.  In my eyes I looked more normal, fitted in with the rest of society.  I loved being able to buy clothes from wherever I chose, trying on friends clothes and seeing myself as a feminine woman for the first time in years.  The aspect of the weight loss I found difficult was the excess skin.  I was lucky in that most of my skin retracted enough for it not to be too problematic, but the belly area didn’t appear to change at all.  I could see that my belly had dropped but I struggled to see it as excess skin, it looked like a big fat wobbly belly to me and was something that made me feel like I was still exceedingly overweight.  In clothes all was good and I felt nice, out of clothes it was as if nothing had changed.

One of the most important parts of losing weight has been adjusting my thinking and behaviour, on so many levels.  I’ve had to look at my relationship with food, understand why I felt the need to eat all the time and find different ways of managing myself.  I’ve also had to accept that I’m no longer viewed by others as overweight and so need to stop thinking of myself in that way.  I don’t imagine I’ll ever not feel fat but hopefully it won’t dominate my thinking so much or prevent me from trying new things or living life the way I want to.

Two years on and ten stone lighter I have just had a lower body lift to remove the excess skin from around the belly and tidy up the thighs, buttocks and mons. Although I’m still early into recovery I can am pleased with the difference it has made to my buttocks and mons and can’t believe how much better my belly looks.  I still have a muffin top that is a little out of proportion but I’m hoping it will settle down somewhat or I may need to have some further work done down the line.  Now, however, I need to adjust to what I have had done and get back to living my life!