Pre-Dinner Cheeseburgers: Depression, Explosion, Resurgence

I don’t really remember when it started. It’s not like it’s really something that happens overnight where you wake up and you’re 242 pounds. It’s the culmination of poor choices and unresolved emotional conflict that sneak up on you while you’re barely fitting in to your size 42 waist pants. It’s like a car wreck watching yourself expand rapidly. It’s awful, but you can’t look away and there’s no way to stop the madness that’s already taken place.

I’ve never had a healthy relationship with food. My parents got divorced when I was 5. Most of my early memories involve going to McDonald’s with my dad. I think he just wanted us to be happy in such a crummy situation, so that was his solution was to take us to a place with toys, ball pits, and a funny looking clown. I don’t blame him, I’d have done the same thing. He was doing what he could to make his kids happy, and I can’t fault him for that.

Me, in 1998.

I was always pretty active as a young kid, so the calories I was intaking weren’t really sticking to me. Not at first, anyway. I struggled with weight throughout my young childhood and adolescent years. I developed a pretty terrible self image during this time, gleefully reinforced by all of the wonderful folk who made it a point to remind me how fat I was on a daily basis.

Time to quiet these bullies’ words and the awful feelings about myself with more chocolate, that’ll do the trick, for sure. That’ll show them.

Middle school and high school were rough. There was a veritable gamut of different things to target me for, none of which was more important to those wonderful peers of mine than my weight. Even when I started dancing and playing baseball, which helped me slim down to a trim 175 pounds, it was still not enough to stop that verbal onslaught of fat jokes and rude comments. It’s like that thing when you hear a lie so many times, you start to believe it. Imagine hearing how much of a disgusting fat human you are every day. You start to believe that about yourself.

Life marched on, the bullies disappeared into the ether of life – not given another thought after I received my diploma and flipped that awful place the bird, but I certainly left with their mental baggage. Life simmered down for a while, until sometime around March 2010, I went through a heartbreak-inspired depression-filled binge of cigarettes, booze, and leftover pizza. I had dropped about 15 pounds in less than a month. It was an extremely tumultuous time, filled with some serious life uprooting and swift endings to circumstances that did nothing but weigh me down emotionally. It wasn’t so much “skinny” as it was “malnourished.” Soon after, my future wife and I started dating and things got better. Life got larger than I ever expected … as did my waistline. Weight was a constant up and down, but never something that was a concern to my wellbeing. My pants fit fine, so what’s the problem? Sometimes life hits you right smack in the face, like a solid snowball just frozen enough to really fucking hurt.

Me and my wife, 2010.

In 2012, one of the closest friends I ever had in my life died suddenly and unexpectedly, two months before my wedding. I had lost friends and family before, but never anyone that close to me. It was a deafening reaction to his loss, a pain I carry with me still six years later. The circumstances of his death compounded the confusion and reaction, as I had no idea what was going on in his personal life prior to his death. I felt helpless, like an awful friend who had no idea someone so close to him was struggling so much. He had gone under the radar a few months prior to his death. We had done that from time to time to each other but stayed connected through Facebook, constantly spamming each other’s statuses with random and ridiculous nonsense like dropkicking giraffes from a standing position on an ironing board to ending every sentence with “Ha”, at one time made famous by the rapper Juvenile. He was, and is, one of the few people on Earth who understood me and my humor. It’s a numbness that feels like an ambivalence to daily routine, as if your left and right arm are both asleep and someone tells you to lift a piece of furniture.

In 2014, another close friend passed, suddenly and unexpectedly, a result of complications from a typically routine medical procedure. He was in my wedding party, and someone who had helped me through the choppy waters of 2010 while my mental and emotional wellbeing weren’t exactly what you’d call stabilized. It would be nothing for us to sit on the phone for several hours, plotting and strategizing on what the next big idea he had was, and how quickly it would take for him to bring me on as his pitchman to sell it to the world. We spoke about a week before his death, after his most recent flight back from business in Thailand. His surgery was scheduled shortly after his return. I figured I’d wait to call him a few days after his surgery. No sense in bothering him while he’s recovering. I never had the chance to give him a shout.

After his death, I started suffering the effects of severe anxiety that manifested itself into every aspect of my life, whether professional or social. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. My mind would spin so rapidly at the thought of what could happen, what awful impending doom and fresh hell that awaited me in the real world, that it became unmanageable in a way that was truly remarkable. I had lost all control.

I fell into a deeper depression, still working through the death of one friend when I lost another. Couple this with serious turmoil in my professional life and fatherhood twice in the span of 18 months, it was a perfect storm of emotional carnage. Luckily for me, food was there. I ate, a lot. I kept eating until the pain I was feeling quieted down. I ate even after I was full, pushing my body to the limit while indulging past the point of unhealthiness. I was excellent at convincing myself I didn’t have a problem. I was suffering. Dealing with horrible, unregulated anxiety issues as a result of the deaths of two close friends, coupled with a severe and ages-old depression that seemed never ending. Food, as always, was there.

I lost my job, food was there. It was a stressful day at my new job, food was there. Someone looked at me funny, food was there. Each instance was an excuse to hurt myself with food, stuffing it, as well as all of my emotional baggage and undealt with issues, as far down as I possibly could. It was way easier to do that than deal with anything.

Your friends died, you lost your job, and your life is spinning out of control. At least this Whopper tastes good. Better make those fries large…

242 pounds: How did this happen?

It was nothing for me to polish off a giant bag of fast food. I used to call my routine “pre-dinner.” I’d stop at the local Wendy’s, order up three Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers, large order of fries, and a big-ass soda, and sit in the parking lot. I’d tell my wife I was running late or there was traffic coming home, just something long enough to buy me some time to scarf it down. It was a degrading experience, and embarrassing to think back on. Humiliating doesn’t quite scratch the surface. I’d make my way home and have my actual dinner, prepared by my wonderful wife, followed by seconds of that dinner. It was truly a sight to be seen.

I’m sure everyone around me noticed how far out I had spun. No one ever really said anything. Not to me, anyway, but I’m sure there was conversation about it. It didn’t matter if they did, though, because I was fine. I could eat whatever I wanted, and how much I wanted, and I still looked okay. At least, I thought I did …

It wasn’t until a physical with my doctor when I realized how bad things were. The nurse had me step on the scale. 242 pounds. I was flabbergasted. How did this happen? This fucking thing must be broken, there’s no way it’s accurate. I had her weigh me again, just to be sure. 242. Son of a bitch.

He ran me through the ringer, blood tests and all. A few days later, he told me to stop back in so he and I could chat. He told me he was worried about my weight and that, based on the blood tests, I was pre-diabetic. Diabetes: the family curse. I was terrified of the disease. Most of my family, who are also large people, have it in some capacity. I wasn’t about to let this happen to me. No way. I started paying very close attention to what I was eating. I counted calories literally like my life depended on it, making sure what I was intaking was less than what I was outputting. I was walking over 10,000 steps a day. I lost 10 pounds in just shy of two weeks. I was working it, finally in a groove to get the weight off. Since then, it’s been an up-and-down ride of progress and regression, as well as some serious emotional redefinition, reflection, and exploration.

“I’m 80 days strong at the gym. I’m shrinking in my waist, stomach, chest, and my arms and legs are growing.”

It hasn’t been easy, and I haven’t always succeeded. I fell off pretty hard this past holiday season and, after seeing how horribly all the wrong features were accentuated in a teal T-shirt I bought over the summer, I took control again. As of this article, I’m 80 days strong at the gym. I’m shrinking in my waist, stomach, chest, and my arms and legs are growing. The weight is rapidly shedding. I still have a way to go before the weight’s completely off, but I’m motivated like I’ve never been, and I have no plans on slowing down.

The hardest part for me still is the self image. For the first time in my life, I’ve become largely okay with what I see in the mirror. It’s almost like, no matter what I do or how much progress I make, I only see the fat kid staring back at me. People have told me how much progress I’ve made, and I appreciate hearing the positive feedback, but I don’t see it. I know it’s a part of the progress I need to make on a mental level, surely much delayed self-worth work I need to address. My anxiety and depression have decreased immensely, thanks to the exercise and a well-regulated regimen of medicine. I still struggle with the loss of my friends. It’s hard to truly express how much I miss them, and how profoundly large a hole their absence has created. I often think of them and, although I still become overwhelmed at the magnitude of the loss of them in my life, I’m making strides in coping and finding peace with it. I find peace in focusing on the wonderful memories I have with them, the impact they left on my life, and telling stories that keep them alive, in my mind and in spirit.

This is a lifelong commitment to staying healthy, both physically and mentally. I can’t stop or slow down, because once I do, I fall right back into the trap of convincing myself that falling off is okay. I refuse to let my weight, or this depression, conquer me and my well being. It’s going to take hard work, dedication, and discipline to achieve these goals, but I’m getting there. Every day is another opportunity to make progress, and I’m just getting started. I’m lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to turn things around, even when it seemed impossible.

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