“Maybe you could try this, Mom, you know…if you need to do something more,” my 11-year old daughter says to me, as I’m busy chopping vegetables for the meatloaf I am making.
“What?” I ask.
“You know, what’s on the television?” She’s never sheepish, but I detect hesitation in her voice.
“I’m not watching the television, I’m…” but then I look up, and see what she’s talking about. It’s a Jenny Craig ad.
The realization hits me like a ton of bricks: spring is around the corner, which means the new onslaught of post-New Year’s resolution, pre-summer bathing suit weather weight-loss commercials is gearing up. Gah.
“Jenny Craig?” I ask, making my voice as neutral as I can muster.
“Yeah, you know…like I said…if you need to do something else. Or Weight Watchers. Oprah is doing Weight Watchers.”
I gulp a little harder than normal, then make eye contact with her, try to soften the features of my face, and say the only thing I ever say now with regard to comments about my weight, “Thank you for caring about me.”
Sometimes, this is my way of exclaiming, “Please stop talking to me, please, please, please, stop already!” With my daughter, though, this sentiment is genuine. She understands. She’s problem-solving. She’s on my team, and I’m on hers. She’s seen me through surgery, after all.
In December of 2014, I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, a bariatric surgery. Since then, I have lost over 100 pounds, plus or minus the same fifteen pounds I have bounced in between for almost a year.
At my heaviest weight—my guess is somewhere in the mid- to high-330s, although I don’t really know for sure—I knew, with certainty, that I was dying. I could feel it, and it terrified me.
I went to doctors, to nutritionists, to trainers, and to therapy. I completed a masters’ degree studying health behavior change. As I got heavier and heavier, I found thoughtful medical professionals who conceded that their field had not cracked the code on metabolic disorders like obesity. Surgery was recommended as a last resort, and once we could figure out how to pay for it out of pocket (it wasn’t covered by insurance) I grabbed at it like the life-line that it was.
My life now, versus my life then, is essentially the same on paper. My experience of living, however, has been transformed.
I can go to movies with my husband and daughter without worrying about fitting in the theater seats. I can fly without the humiliating fear that I’ll be asked to purchase a second seat. I can spend an entire day doing active things with the people who I love the most and not be sore for a week.
My daughter bore witness to all of this. My worried face as I entered voluntary surgery—only a desperate parent risks surgical complications to try to make their life better. My post-op soreness, and my broth-based liquid diet. My dinners of sugar-free jello and mashed-up turkey while she and my husband ate lasagna I’d baked for them.
She’s also seen my elation as clothes started to become so big that they fell off. As people began to compliment me. As travel and entertainment options opened up to all of us.
I have tried not to obsess over weight loss, but rather, to celebrate working hard and reaching goals. This is a tough line to walk with a young girl in your home, watching everything. I don’t always know how well I am doing in this regard.
What I hope has been clear throughout, though, is this: I am not fearless, and she needn’t be fearless, either. I simply need to accept my fear, and do what I have to do, anyway, even if I do it while afraid. I was terrified I was going to die of morbid obesity, I was terrified to go under the knife, and I was terrified to adopt a new lifestyle to manage my disease…and I did them all, anyway.
Some days, I really mess up. I readjust as best I can, and I feel all the fear and shame and anger…and I try to keep at it, anyway.
When I winced with pain following my surgery, I could see the anxiety on my daughter’s face. Was her mom okay? In a moment like that, I could reassure her, and talk through the (very normal) worry. I know that recognizing her deepest fears won’t always be so easy.
I hope she knows, based on living through this process with me, that we must all save our own lives. We can (and should!) ask for help, but we must be willing to face the scary stuff and push through it, anyway. It doesn’t matter if the process looks ugly, or emotional, or fearful, we just have to do it.