Thursday, October 15, 2009

You look 200 times better!

The end of INFORMS is always sad – saying goodbye to your friends and realizing the realities of everyday life will return. It is amazing to me what good friends I have made in this community. Honestly about half of my friends are folks who are in operations research so it is always good get together. It’s even better if we’re able to get together somewhere nice like San Diego, and all at the same time to have a major catch up session!

When saying goodbye, one of my friends told me “You look 200 times better than you did last year!” and told me how happy he was for me. I’ll be honest, at first I was slightly like “Eww, what a jerk basically telling me I looked like trash last year,” but just seconds later I was like “Wow it is amazing to me what changes have happened over the last year.” And, honestly, he is pretty much right. Shervin was never one to sugar coat the truth.

I thought about that brief exchange for a few minutes and explained to him that I was so much less depressed than last year and that is so true. I’ve dealt with tons of issues over the last year. Many are professional (don’t want to go into the details) but common themes include lack of confidence, lack of support, not feeling sure if I have picked the right career, egos and stupidity of others, etc. For awhile I essentially defined myself in terms of my career and when that started to go poorly things went really downhill. In addition to struggling with my professional life, I have really struggled to make friends in Arkansas. Many of my hobbies are not overtly social – for example, it’s tough to meet new people when you’re going to the theatre – so that did not provide a quick and direct outlet to meet new friends. I tried to find a church for two different phases (one lasting about 5 months, another lasting about 2 months). I really felt like I didn’t fit in at any of them and it was pretty depressing. I felt that my job made me somehow seem really intimidating to people once they found out what I did. Similarly, I struggled to find much in common with them. I mean obviously developing a deep and meaningful relationship with others takes time – but I did not feel the “click” with anyone in my search for a church. It was quite hard and made me question myself a lot. Eventually I kind of gave up on finding friends here – I wasn’t closed off to the possibility, but I felt like I had wasted a lot of time and effort on something that bore no fruit and decided it wasn’t worth spending energy on anymore. I felt sad and like a failure and obviously really lonely. I sunk into a pretty deep depression. It was not pretty, and I ate. A lot. And I got fatter. By a lot. And I got unhealthier. Also, unfortunately, by a lot.

Everything kind of peaked one day in the second semester of this year. The details are not actually that important but my work life felt absolutely hellacious. One afternoon (it was a Friday I believe), I just could not take it anymore and was unable to stop crying. The cumulative stress of what had been going on was just way too much and I could not bear to have one single other thing piled on me. I could not stop crying. It was absolutely terrifying to not feel in control of you body and of your ability to hold in emotion (nothing acute happened to set any of this off, making it even tougher to understand and scarier to experience).

Around the same time, a family friend had had a stroke. She is not old (I don’t think she’s older than 60), so it was a scary realization about how weight, stress, and blood pressure problems can cause so much bigger health problems so early in life if you are not careful to manage them. My mother had been concerned about my health as I re-gained the weight I lost in graduate school but had been good about not badgering me about it or expressing this concern so often that it lost its effectiveness. However, when this friend had a stroke it freaked all of us out, including me. I knew I had to have my blood pressure checked. The day I couldn’t stop crying, I finally did.

As I entered the doctor’s examination room, I felt so ashamed. How had I let my life get to this incredibly low point? My life was a mess and I had completely let myself go. I felt even more like a failure.

My primary care physician is such an asshole. I try not to swear much on this blog but he really is. I need a new PCP. Anyway, he walked in and saw me crying and the first words out of his mouth were “So do you need something to take the edge off?” Nice bedside manner, eh? I swear he would have written me a prescription for whatever I wanted. I hate to be medicated (see Vicodin post) and so I declined but realized I really needed to do something about my mental helth, fast. I simply had reached the breaking point past which I was unable to function in everyday life. Even getting up some days was a victory. On days I could not function, I cancelled class. It was a terrible feeling. This jerk PCP checked my blood pressure, and it was something like 145/100. He put me on Lisinopril. I felt, again, like a failure being less than 30 and on BP meds. However, I knew I needed to take them in order to not ruin my blood vessels.

Determined not to take a drug for depression unless I had exhausted all other options, I decided to go to a counselor. He really helped me to turn my life around (if you need a recommendation for a counselor in NW Arkansas, please let me know – I would recommend this counselor without reservation). He made me realize how I was mourning the “death” of my former life – the one where I had friends, the one where I felt successful at and fulfilled by my job, the one that was full of fun activities, and the one where I felt spiritually fulfilled. He nailed it with his insight and I knew that I could trust him. I don’t feel that way often.

Eventually we started talking about food. I immediately started to cry. I knew I had issues with food, but I had absolutely no idea how deeply these issues affected me until he made a brief comment about some of his work with bariatric patients. I identified with every single thing that he said. I felt like he really understood me and could help me work through this.

However, I have to admit that at first I was incredibly reluctant to let him work with me on my food issues. Food had been such a crutch for me for so long I felt unwilling to let it go. My goodness, I had worked on navigating through so many of the personal and professional issues I outlined above with him and those were not trivial at all. He was also helping me to navigate through as set of family issues that were incredibly touchy as well; these also took a lot of emotional energy. I was not sure that I was willing to give up one of my main coping mechanisms that helped me to deal with all this stuff.

After all, food was there for me 24-7. Food helped me when I was lonely. Instead of having to deal with emotion, I could turn to food. It had an incredibly numbing effect. Was I willing to give that up? It seemed too hard. I was unwilling at first.

However, I started to exercise. It did help me to feel a little bit better but not all that much honestly. I think the truth is that it’s just pretty difficult to feel good when you’re almost 300 lbs. The body is simply not designed to bear so much of a burden; similarly at least for me it was tough to have any sort of a positive self image at my highest and clearly unhealthy weight. Exercise was one step, but I could not get to my desired physical state and a healthy self-image with exercise alone.

Eventually a conversation with a friend helped me to realize I was excellent at pumping out BS excuses about weight. I don’t remember exactly what it was that he said or how exactly he phrased his comments, but something about it really stuck and ignited my competitive spirit. I had to win at basically everything else, yet I was losing in the game of life. That was massively messed up. I joined Weight Watchers on April 21 and everything started right then. When I started feeling results, I started really realizing that in most aspects of my life, I had turned a corner and for the first time in months began to feel hopeful about the future. It was an incredible relief after feeling months of despair.

This post is pretty long winded and, honestly, very emotional to share. It hurts to remember, yet it is so helpful to realize how far I’ve come in the last 6 months with so many different aspects of my life and mental health.

Though I am sure Shervin was exaggerating when he told me I look 200 times better (he is very prone to such things, after all…), I think he is exactly right. He is not one to sugar coat where it is that he is coming from. The thing that is amazing to me is how quick, dramatic, and comprehensive the changes have been. I am much less stressed. I have lost 45 lbs. I care less about what other people think, and I am starting to have a social network in Arkansas. I am starting to make some progress at work and finally feel like I have someone who is in my corner.

I still have a long, long way to go. I need to work on my relationship with my family members. I am still obese and have 95 lbs to be at the very top of the “normal” weight range. I only have a couple friends in Arkansas and would like to have a bustling social life. I really need to step up my game if I have any hope of getting tenure and, more fundamentally, I need to figure out what my longterm career plans are. I need to get my relationship with God back on track and hopefully find a church that I like and feel like I can belong and contribute to. I could continue the list but you get the idea. I’m not there yet.

The best part, though, is that I feel like I can do these things. It won’t happen overnight but it is possible. I’m finding that the changes I’m making are spiraling upward – that is, instead of a downward death spiral, success in one area of my life makes me feel like I can be successful in other areas of my life. Having hope is such a beautiful thing and, after a very long winter, such a welcome breath of fresh air. Thank you for pointing out to me that it is visible to others, Shervin. I am glad I look 200x better; I feel infinitely better.

1 comment:

  1. Sarah, you already know this but you really got to me with this one. Thank you for the comfort and for the tears.


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