Life at 350 plus

Okay, so I’ve been a bit snippy about the media deciding to “expose” what it’s like to weigh 350 by putting Tyra Banks and an ET correspondent into a fat suit and then parading them around with a hidden camera. Of course, what both of them made a huge deal about was the “horrible” way really fat people can get treated.

Well, I’m not sure whether these ladies were reacting to the difference between the way they are normally treated as beautiful people versus how they were treated as fat or whether it’s that New Yorkers are a rude lot (both shows were taped there). And I suppose that the “people are mean” angle is a “better” story.

But what I know is that I weighed close to 400 lbs for a period of years and I didn’t experience the kind of “horrible treatment” shown (or at least alluded to) by these folks. Could my experience be so unusual?

when I was 350 plus, it was really hard, and sometimes painful. Alas, the 5-minute clips we got out of Tyra and ET just didn’t come close to getting at some of the pain I’ve experienced.

Here are some of the things I found really difficult, hurtful, or embarassing about being 350 plus (in no particular order).

Restaurant anxiety. This was a nightmare for me. I was good when I was with close friends, as I could basically make sure we went someplace that worked for me. The biggest problem was when I was invited to be part of a larger (usually work-related) group. Then stuff that they would take for granted, like walking 3 or more blocks to get there, or booth or bar-stool seating, would lead to major anxiety for me. In fact, I’ve managed to get out of such lunches, typically by calling in sick. Or one time, I called and made sure that our group’s reservation was at a table rather than a booth. That didn’t always work. I had lunch with some co-workers and some rather well-known authors a year ago and we had to sit in a booth. God, it was awful. I was hanging out all over the place, to the point that my lunchmates felt compelled to make a point of asking if we should go somewhere else.

Restaurants were the worst, but I also had anxiety about fitting into seats at movie theaters too. Concerts and so on weren’t really an issue, since I pretty much didn’t go anywhere I couldn’t scope out beforehand.

You probably never think about it, and maybe I’m just built weird (since I’m so short), but going to the loo was often literally a pain in the ass. Here was what I found: if the stalls weren’t sufficiently wide, I couldn’t get my legs far enough apart to do a decent job wiping. This was the same when it came to changing a tampon too. You’d think that handicap stalls would work, but because of my short legs, those taller toilets meant that my feet wouldn’t reach the ground, so I had no leverage to get back where I needed to be.

Finding a bra that fits. The largest I ever was able to order (a 48I) was a Glamorise support bra. I probably could have used larger. When I lost weight in ‘92 and didn’t spill over my cups and/or have a uniboob, I was thrilled.

On a related note, any time I spent in a pool (which I did do occasionally given young nieces and a nephew) meant that I pretty much did the t-shirt over a bra thing. Then again, I’m not sure I would have wanted to wear a bathing suit that had my 48I boobs out at attention!

Sitting. Now obviously sitting is not exactly a hardship. But watching the women on Tyra’s show reminded me that I used to have to do the “fat girl sit” all the time. This is the one where you just cannot stand having your arms at your side for some reason, so you sorta cross them over in front of you. And in my case, my boobs were large enough that I couldn’t really cross them like normal people do. It’s more of a wrist cross, where you grab one wrist or another. When I started at my therapist last year, I wondered if she thought I was expressing some resistance because I sat with my arms crossed all the time. And really, it was just because there wasn’t any other place to put them.

Speaking of sitting, what to sit on was also always good for some anxious moments. Those plastic chairs? Yikes. I remember waiting for the ferry from Victoria to Seattle, and seeing these chairs marked with a weight limit of something like 190 or 250. Or you go to a friend’s for dinner, and you look at the spindly dining room chairs and just pray you don’t wind up on your butt. And I worried even if the chairs weren’t that cheap. I’ve been terrified that one of these days I’d be in our company’s big conference room and wind up on my butt in front of 100 of my co-workers. I’m not sure which was worse. That anxiety, or the real pain I felt sitting in the chairs in our smaller conference rooms, whose metal arms left bruises on the sides of my legs after a morning-long meeting.

Walking or standing. This is the one that was finally my “chair” (my sister and I used to joke that we would change once we were humiliated by actually breaking a chair with our weight). I both work and live in high-rises, and drive to work each day. Between the lack of physical activity, the weight gain, and my huge boobs, mobility and standing became incredibly difficult. I adapted by changing my patterns so that any social activity I did involved choosing a place where I could park practically by the front door. Doing touristy things (like walking on the beach) was impossible. So was doing any kind of reception, as the back pain meant that standing and chatting for more than about five minutes was my limit.

Anyways, this was my “chair” because it had gotten so bad last year that I had to back out of a work trip that involved working the exhibit area of a conference in Las Vegas. I knew I wouldn’t be able to physically get from the hotel to the exhibit area easily, and I surely wouldn’t be able to be on my feet for 8 hours shmoozing with attendees. So I backed out. Talk about denial. It’s not like my weight hadn’t interfered with my job before (see point above about restaurants), but this one I couldn’t use some other lame excuse to get out of.

Flying. Now here’s something I just avoided at all costs. This too wound up causing some problems at work. But at 350 plus and 5′ 3″, I needed two seats to fly. For me, the cost wasn’t the issue as much as the hassle of trying to get two seats together. These days, if you’re not paying $$$ and you’re not a frequent flyer, it can be nearly impossible to get seat assignments before the flight. So you want to talk about anxiety, try buying two seats and wondering if you’re going to have the airline attendant making an announcement to get someone to give up a seat next to you.

Also, sometimes the two seats trick doesn’t even work. I bought two tickets so my sister could attend a family reunion and on her way back, she was in the bulkhead, where the arm rest (and tray table) are fixed. So she spent two hours on a plane not fitting into one seat. (The airlines did reimburse the unused “ticket” though.)

And let’s not even talk about what it’s like to use the loo on the plane when you’re 350 plus. Also, flying means airports, and I don’t know why, but every time I’ve flown, the gate seems to be the furthest one from ticketing. At least with airports there are gates in-between that I could stop and take a break in.

So, avoiding flying meant that I sometimes wound up taking ridiculously long car trips. I’ve driven 8 hours or more to get to Boston or Nashville to avoid flying there. The Boston trip was horrible, since that was at my fattest. My butt was so large that I basically had the arm on the driver side door cutting into one side, with the seat belt cutting into the other side.

Medical care. This past June, I had a three-week long period. By this time, I was down to 320, but my weight was still a major issue for me. I don’t think many women really like going to the gynecologist, but at 300 plus, trust me, it sucks. Now, I didn’t meet any rude health-care workers, but I did have to deal with the hassles of trying to get the necessary procedures done. Apparently all the belly fat makes it really hard to get a good ultrasound done. And talk about anxiety: I didn’t know which was scarier, worrying about being too big for the MRI machine, or worrying about whether I could lay flat on my back for 45 minutes without being in serious pain.

Tieing my shoes. One thing that Vanessa showed on ET was true. Tieing my shoes was hard. My boobs and stomach got in the way, so what I had to do to tie my shoes (or put on socks) was to sit at an angle on my bed so I could put my foot up on the bed. Frankly, I made it easier on myself by tieing my laces on my sneakers with a loose double-knot so that I could just slip them on and off.

Doing much of anything. Ultimately, it finally got to the point where I was pretty much a couch potato all the time. It got to be that it required way more energy than I felt I had to do much of anything, whether it was doing something fun with my nieces or whether it was taking the trash out. This certainly turned into a serious Catch 22 for me: I didn’t feel I had the energy to make the changes in my life that would wind up giving me more energy. Instead, I kept doing the easy things (eating junk and watching TV) that kept my energy levels really low.

What makes the list above more difficult for me (compared to the nearly non-existent harrassment from other people) was that one or more of these was pretty much a regular occurrence. Strangely, I didn’t have the problems with heat rashes at 350 plus that I had had at much lower weights. But when you add up the above, it certainly begs the obvious question.

Why in the hell didn’t I do something about it sooner?

I wish I knew. That’s part of what I’m trying to work out here. I know that a big part of it was what I called “just one-more-daying myself” to nearly 400 lbs. Every morning I’d wake up, feeling sick about how much I ate and drank the night before. I’d start off the day meaning well, but by the end of the day, I’d be right back there again.

I’ve written before about what I’m doing now and one of these days, will probably write more about what I did to get on track last February, as best as I can remember.

The better news is that I didn’t need to become thin to have these things improve. I’m just under 300 now, and most of the above hardships are now becoming memories (save for the bra issue…I’m in a 44G now :).

Anyways, that’s what life was like for me at 350 plus. I don’t speak for all really fat people. I know there are those who are much more fit than I was/am, and their experiences may be very different. But for me, what was hard about that weight had little to do with the way I was treated. It was all about how I experienced things that thinner folks completely take for granted.

Worth a visit