We all have a story to share, and here is my story...
My struggle with Obesity
Obesity is something I’ve been dealing with since I was about 8 yrs old. I dreaded going to the doctor because the focus was ALWAYS on how imperfect I was. Constantly a lecture that I was overeating and so I must clearly be sneaking food. For the record, I wasn’t. Bullying and weight bias was something I experienced a lot, but sadly, more so in my adult years.
When I met my husband, several of my mother’s friends would make comments that I was LUCKY to have found a guy, especially a good looking guy and one that was kind and educated. That I better make sure I kept him happy because he’d be stolen from me. WOW! My jaw still hits the ground. For the record, we’ve been happily married for almost 28 years, despite all of life’s imperfections, ups and downs.
Weight bias is a real thing
Finding employment was difficult. Being bullied and harassed in the workplace was all too common and happened on almost every job I’ve ever worked. People who’ve never experienced this tell me I was imagining it because I was self-conscious. They just don’t want to believe I experienced this, let alone at almost every place of employment.
Avoiding going to see a doctor, especially having to make a trip to the ER, is something I dreaded. No matter the issue, obesity was always the blame and focus. If I hit my finger with a hammer, somehow it was related to the fact that I needed to lose weight. Even now, after weight loss surgery (WLS) and losing around 160 lbs, I have to deal with this weight bias when a certain doctor is on duty at the ER in Windsor. It used to be about making me feel emotionally small for being overweight and now it’s sarcasm as to how I lost the weight. Clearly demonstrating his lack of knowledge about the entire process.
I lost a lot to even qualify for surgery, and I’ve maintained my weight loss for almost 4 years. Pounds are starting to come off again, just very slowly. It would be easy to make poor choices and gain the weight back due to discouragement because I haven’t lost more/faster. I work hard EVERY day to ensure that doesn’t happen.
I did end up with a couple of GPs along the way that did believe me and in me. I received a diagnosis for an endocrine disorder that contributed greatly to weight gain. After years of telling doctors and my parents that I was sticking to my diet despite gaining weight every week, this was a bit of a relief, yet many still chose not to believe me.
Weight loss surgery... the waiting game
By the time it was suggested that I get WLS, I knew it was the way to go. I needed help. I was discouraged by so many. Stories of how so & so’s sister’s friend’s mother had such a bad experience and so on. However I had to wait 10 years (6 due to a couple of errors that were made, no point getting into that, and then 4 from when my referral was actually sent in). I was lucky, the website at the time said it was a 10 yr wait to get into the WLS programme, though I did have co-morbidities which I’m told helped me qualify sooner. When I did get the call, I was ready. I had tried to lose weight so many times on my own and failed. I was so afraid I would die while I was on the waitlist that, with my physician’s knowledge, I put myself on the WLS pre-op diet and had lost 25 lbs, so I knew it would work for me.
In the meantime as I waited, my blood sugar was no longer being controlled by oral meds, so I requested the doctor put me on insulin. However, when I was sent to the diabetic clinic, they did not support the WLS diet and put me on a diabetic diet, which in my opinion, is still too high in carbs for people like me. After finally getting my blood sugar under control with over 200 (no that’s not a typo) units of insulin a day and ‘graduating’ from the clinic, and gaining most of that 25 lbs back, I happily put myself back on the WLS pre-op diet and fortunately a few months later received the phone call with an appointment to meet with The Obesity Network.
It was such a blessing to meet with medical professionals that truly understood me and supported me, as I was willing to do whatever it took to be healthy.
My journey wasn't easy, but I was stronger than all the weight bias
As I followed the programme and the weight came off, exercise was also something we as patients had to do. So I started out with DVD workouts in the safe privacy of my home. Eventually, though, they were no longer a challenge and I knew I had to step it up. I had to go into the big mean world to exercise. That wasn’t something that came easily to me.
Unlike the rural area where I live now, when I lived in the suburbs eleven years previously and would go for walks to get healthy or walk from point A to B in the city, I would have obscenities yelled at me as cars drove past, items, trash, thrown at me, people cursing at me, making fun of me, spitting on me and once while waiting to pay for gas at a gas station, I was threatened with physical violence all because, based on their words, I was fat. The staff at the gas station wouldn’t even phone the police to help me. Fortunately, they did not follow through on their threats. Nonetheless, this behaviour contributed greatly to me being afraid to leave the house alone. I know I wasn’t the only obese person to experience this. To this day I don’t understand the mentality. Make fun of people for being overweight; make fun of them for trying to get healthy. SIGH!
My husband and I drove around a few parks in our area and a cemetery. Turns out the cemetery had the most walking paths and enough for variety, and they were also the longest. One lap of the perimeter was shy of 1 km, it was divided into four, so this meant there were four smaller loops as well. The smallest was at the back and it was 0.25 km around. There were benches to sit on if I was tired or hurting and above all, except for the two or three staff in the summer, I was far from the road and no one could see me, well except as I discovered, the other people who used it as a walking track too.
It took me 20 minutes to walk that 0.25 km when I started. I hurt all over. It was like my hips would seize up, my lower back and abdominal muscles hurt as though I’d performed a million sit-ups and I’d get cramps in my calves. So many times as I walked, stopping at each corner, I would literally cry, wondering if I’d ever be healthy. Would I ever be able to walk around this little loop? Would I ever be able to do the entire cemetery? I persevered despite the pain, walking there every day and the answer is yes. I started walking in June of 2013, had my surgery in November of 2013 and by that time I could do two laps of the perimeter.
Today there is no limit to my walking. I easily do the 6.25 laps there that makeup 5 km daily or switch it up with a few other locations for variety. I don’t allow myself to do less than 2.5 km per day and almost every day I do 5 km with my furry sidekick (that would be my dog, not my husband). Our weekend outings and vacations consist of hiking and camping at places that have many hiking trails and canoeing. Both my husband and the dog accompany me on these adventures. I can honestly tell you, that before surgery, I NEVER would have chosen these activities for fear of the lack of ability to do them and the embarrassment that would follow, and let’s not forget the fear that people would laugh and stare at me. Honestly, that was probably the biggest deterrent.
2012 vs 2016
Weight bias still exist because people don't know... well it's time to change that
Some still say things that show their bias and lack of education on the subject. I patiently wait for the opportunity to open their eyes a little. It works on some and others still say I’m a failure/the surgery didn’t work because I’m still ‘large’. They don’t understand that the bigger you are to start with, the bigger ‘small’ is. I’m always amazed at the rude things people feel they have the right to say! I’m working on not letting their ignorance and rudeness get to me. I won’t lie, it’s hard!
In the end, I found support, inspiration, and community
One nice thing I did discover along the way, in addition to all the support I had from my family and friends, which was and is amazing, is the friendships that have formed. I’ve made friends with others that share this struggle in our Facebook support group and I also made a walking buddy on my many laps at the cemetery. She has become one of my biggest cheerleaders. I have received a lot of acknowledgement from other walkers who have seen me get healthier. I’ve even been told that I’m an inspiration and now have the joy of seeing them walking laps, graduating from one lap to several and one lady has even been able to stop using a cane. They, in turn, inspire me! The circle continues.
My health has improved dramatically! I am no longer on insulin, I haven’t required medication for asthma since the day of my surgery, I’m employed, I have much more confidence than I used to and I’m no longer afraid to leave the house.
Weight loss surgery and the Halifax Obesity Network not only saved my life but gave my life and quality of life back to me.
- Maureen Hirschfeld