Zen Garbage Bag Lady

I went through my closet and dresser the other day and filled a garbage bag with clothes that don’t fit. This time, they’re too big. Last time, they were too small. Too big, too small, and little time in between to wear them out.

I joke that I’ve been up and down the scale more than a stripper on a pole. In thirty eight years, I’ve not been the same weight (ergo, the same size) for more than a few years at a time.

Weight, 1983-present (not to be confused by The Alps)
The actual Alps

Like the scent of an old boyfriend’s aftershave picked up while walking through a bar, or eating scallops in butter and garlic, or listening to a song like “Separate Ways,” my weight, whatever it is, invokes deep-set memories. Looking at my weight charted this way, it becomes a timeline merging with the milestones and the minor events in my life. Pick a weight and I can tell you who I was dating or married to, how old my kids were, where I worked (or didn’t work), who my friends were, what kind of car I drove, where I went grocery shopping, how I wore my hair, where I went on vacation, who died, and who hurt me.

Weight is reflected in these events, relationships, and the simplest of everyday things because I have often let weight define me, or at the very least allowed weight to be a major player in how I thought of myself. But nowhere on this chart can I mark a moment when being a certain weight caused or solved anything. My life went on whether I ate a donut or a carrot.

Weight is tangible and can be plotted, but how do you visibly represent what’s going on inside? The self-esteem, the grief, the anger, the depression? I was thin, getting thinner, and fat whether I was happy or sad, but because it was easier sometimes to manipulate the outside than the inside, the peaks – or rather, the plunges – denote the times when I probably could have paid a little more attention to the inside as well as the outside.

Now here I am again, stuffing clothes that don’t fit into yet another garbage bag and wondering if I should keep them just in case or bring them to Salvation Army. But what I also have to wonder is, how am I taking care of the inside?

I’m eating right, sometimes perhaps not enough, though. Why? For a scale number? Hmmm…

I bought a guitar because I’ve always wanted to learn to play. That’s a good thing, right? But I’ll learn in isolation for now, which, after nine months with little human contact, is wearing on me in ways I’ve not examined yet. Hmmm…

I published my book, but I’m not interested in promoting it. Again, why? Because it’s not good enough? I’m not worth it? I don’t…care?

So much to consider just from plotting a weight chart.

Spring Training (and a book update)

In August I told you about my latest (and necessary) health goal: to clean up my diet for better liver function. So far so good. The scale has been kind and I can fit into jeans I haven’t worn in five years. Go me and all that, but the real success will be determined in February when I have my next blood draw. If my cholesterol numbers have improved, all the white bread, brie, and ice cream I’m not eating will have been worth it. If they haven’t improved, put me on a statin. You’ll find me in line at an Italian buffet.

Here’s a confession: I’m not committed to healthy eating just for the sake of healthy eating. My numbers scared me into it. I cleaned up my diet in order to help prevent heart and/or liver disease. (My father had two heart attacks when he was my age.) Say what you want about that attitude of necessity over lifestyle, criticize if you must, but I won’t deny – like I did back in my 40s – that I love and miss awesome awful-for-you food (and yes, some foods are truly hard on the body, sorry/not sorry). Admitting that makes it real and real I can deal with. Denying that shit just gotten me in all kinds of trouble the last several years.

Speaking of five years, that’s how long it’s been since I’ve ridden a bike. Some of you might remember that I used to write a lot about biking. It has its own category here on my blog and it also has its own chapter in my forthcoming book*.

I started biking in 2007 when my then-husband bought me a bike after I reached my weight-loss goal. My bike became my friend and therapist, and together we rode a lot of miles and worked through a lot of personal issues. Sadly, it burned in a fire in early 2014 and I didn’t ride again until I bought a used Schwinn in the summer 2015, and then I only rode a few times. Grad school, menopause, lack of energy and ambition, depression…whatever it was, I haven’t ridden since then.

Now, with renewed energy, both physically and emotionally, I am “training” to ride again in spring 2021. I bought a used bike trainer and I alternate riding the bike and my stationary bike several times a week. I’m not killing myself in ninety-minute, body wrecking workouts like I used to, and I’m no longer ignoring painful body parts for the sake of the “burn.” I’m choosing to live the George Carlin way: “No pain? No pain,” and training my muscles and my mind to once again enjoy the bike trails that brought me so much peace through so much crap. (Not that I anticipate needing to work through the same crap again, god forbid.)

What I notice with this more laid back attitude and routine is that I don’t dread working out and I don’t have to force myself to ride for any amount of time. If I wake up one day and don’t feel like it, I don’t do it. But what usually happens is that later in the day, I do feel like it and the ride is a joy, even though I never leave the garage!

I’m not excited about winter, and I won’t lie that a Dilly Bar sounds really good at least once a week, but knowing I’ll be in shape to hit the trail as soon as the snow is gone will make the cold, snow, and Dilly Bar cravings tolerable.

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* The book! I keep forgetting to mention the book, which is a revised and updated collection of my columns and blogs from the last twenty years. The working title (although my publisher hasn’t come up with a better one, so I think we’re sticking with this one) is Weight-Loss Dropout and Other True Stories from the Zen Bag Lady. A mouthful, but small type will get it all on the cover. Anyway, it will – fingers crossed – be out in December.

The Fine Line Between Compliment and Judgement

In all the years I’ve written about weight issues, I’ve never addressed the “compliment.” I thought I had, but I checked the archives and, nope, not a word. I know I’ve had that conversation with all of you before, but it was a conversation only in my head, apparently.

It’s been a while since I’ve written about weight issues, mostly because weight lives more in the periphery than the forefront of my life these days. It’s still there. I can see it. But lately I’m more concerned about crossing my legs before I sneeze than what I weigh.

I’m bringing weight back into the conversation here, though, for a few blogs, maybe more, and it is sparked by a recent meeting with a friend I haven’t seen in many months. When she got out of her car, she was notably thinner. I didn’t say anything about it. Instead, I complimented the necklace she was wearing, a lovely triple circle diamond pendant. She said she bought it for herself as a reward for losing weight. She explained that at her last doctor’s visit, her blood pressure was up and she wanted to try to control it through diet and exercise. Considering she is 59 and post-menopausal, that’s no small feat, so extra kudos to her for her success.

I didn’t want to say anything about her obvious weight loss for a few reasons, one being that if she lost weight because she’s sick, that is her story to tell and not my business to neb. The other reason is that I’m careful offering “compliments” regarding any changes I notice about someone’s physical appearance, particularly when it’s clear(ish) that they’ve lost weight. It’s usually without malicious intent that someone says, “You look great! Have you lost weight?” But often what the recipient hears (or at least internalizes) is, “You weren’t good enough before.”

In recent years, people like Lizzo, Kelly Clarkson, Chrissy Metz, and Rebel Wilson have shut down weight critics, but they also admit that the comments still hurt sometimes. And their body acceptance doesn’t mean that everyone’s lovin’ on their own bodies all of a sudden, either. How someone looks still equals approval. Everything we wear (or don’t wear), what we put on our face, all that we weigh and the way we age… what we look like, and especially what we weigh, is important to someone other than ourselves, often people closest to us, even though it’s none of their business.

One example I will remember forever happened while planning my daughter’s wedding back in the days when I was actively losing weight. I was looking for someone to make cupcakes and a small wedding cake. Several friends recommended a woman who baked cakes out of her home. I made an appointment and went to talk to her.

She’d never met me and so of course had no idea I once weighed more than 300 pounds. At the time, I weighed about 170, and if it was the first time you had ever seen me, the thought might cross your mind that I was overweight. We sat down at her dining room table – the woman, me, and the woman’s 20-something daughter, whose leg was in a large metal brace.

After some brief chit-chat, and apropos of absolutely nothing, the woman outright apologized to me for her daughter’s weight. I was speechless, and the poor girl looked mortified. But she seemed used to her mother’s behavior and launched into an explanation (read: she was apologizing, too) about how she used to be on some high school sports team when she was in a horrific accident that crushed her leg. Subsequently, she spent months in rehab, and, apparently, gaining weight. Her mother then said…and I’m sure you can guess what’s coming…“She has such a pretty face, doesn’t she? If only…” and at that moment, I thought I was going to lose my sh*t all over her unforgivable parenting a@@, but I didn’t. I just smiled at the girl and told her how sorry I was. I didn’t get specific.

So what does this have to do with complimenting someone who has lost weight? Everything. Anytime we comment on someone’s weight, we’re making a judgement, even if we mean it in the most sincere, kind way. I know some of you might think it would be rude to ignore the obvious, and really, who doesn’t want to compliment a friend? I get that, and I’ve learned to frame a comment in a way that starts a conversation. Saying something like, “I notice you’ve lost weight. What made you decide to do that?” allows the person to talk about their feelings about their weight rather than us interjecting our feelings (as sincere as they might be) about their weight first.

Just know, if you lose weight because you want to, I support you. But also know this: you look great, you are great, just the way you are right now. Don’t let anyone (especially someone who’s supposed to love you) tell you otherwise. Trust me. As an ex-member of the Pretty Face Club, I know what I’m talking about.

 

Laid Bare By a Questionnaire

Talking to a stranger about ourselves can (sometimes) be fun at a party or on a first date; cathartic when the stranger is receptive or being paid to listen; marginally OK/not OK standing in line at the grocery store; and downright disconcerting when the inquiry is particularly personal and your life kinda sorta depends on how you answer.

In preparation for my hip replacement on Wednesday, a surgical nurse called Friday to ask me questions about my medical history. Even the blogger in me, whose “job” is to write stuff about my life and share it with strangers, is unnerved by the medical interview because who doesn’t want to bring their best to an interview?

Martha, the surgical nurse, seemed very nice. She’d had her hip replaced last year, so she was empathetic. She started with the easy questions. Well, easy questions to answer, but not so easy to feel inside. Date of birth? How tall am I? How much do I weigh…? Apparently “Not what I’d like to” isn’t the right answer. Old habits die hard, and I made an excuse for being overweight again and vowed to her (reminder, she is a complete stranger who I’ll never meet) that I would lose 50 pounds once I had a new hip.

I could hear her typing and she offered no response, so of course I thought, ‘Crap, maybe she’s overweight, too, and I’ve insulted her!’, but I didn’t go there. Apologizing would maybe have furthered an even bigger cluster f*** than I’d potentially created.

My mind was everywhere it didn’t need to be at that point.

*deep breath*

Martha moved on. She asked about what surgeries I’ve had, how my various body systems were functioning, and how I responded to anesthesia. I gave short, succinct answers. She didn’t need to know that after I had my tonsils out, when I as 17, when I woke up after surgery, I lifted up the sheet and cried, “I’m naked! I want my mom!”

Martha asked if I had children. I said I did. God love Martha, I dodged a bullet when she asked, “When were your babies born?” I answered, without hesitation and with a deep breath out, “1983 and 1984.” In prior medical interviews, the question was phrased, “How many times have you been pregnant?” That’s a red-flag question for anyone who has had a miscarriage or abortion, and the response can trigger a shit-ton of regret and sad feelings. Thank you, Martha, for not making me go there.

Any depression or anxiety issues? Well, now, that’s complicated. I blabbed on for a while, giving her way more info than she probably needed, but then, I wanted her (again, a complete stranger) to understand that I wasn’t always depressed or anxious, and that lately, things were going well and…and… and… She listened patiently, and when I was finished, she simply said, “Take an Ativan the day of your procedure.” End of convo.

There’s so much about our lives we want to keep private, and it’s in our protective nature that we don’t want to offer full disclosure about things that, to non-medical folks like me, don’t seem relevant when being interviewed for a hip replacement. Just like a job interview, you want to stay upbeat and say what you need to in order to get the job.

Was I 100 percent truthful? Not really. But I doubt that the joint(s) I smoked when I was 16 (to 24) preclude me from getting this hip. I’ve had five other surgeries since that last high and I’m alive to tell the story.

Just don’t tell Martha, OK? (Or my mom.)

 

 

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and Face…What’s Changed. It’s OK.

Many of you “met” me years ago through my Lynn’s Weigh blog, the space where I wrote about (mostly) weight and all the issues surrounding it (the good, the bad, the recipes, the exercise). I believed then, as I do now, that there is no easy fix for the physical and emotional complexities of weight, both gaining and losing.

I also believed, and I don’t anymore, that I would always be in control of my physical and emotional world if I regularly (obsessively?) did ABC. In doing so, I would maintain the results I’d worked so hard for: a (too) thin body and the (faux) happiness that it brings. I believed I had to be a certain way – the Lynn’s Weigh – in order to have a voice in the subject of weight, and when the physical changes and the weight gain started about four years ago, I felt I’d let everyone down – my readers, my children, my boyfriend, my doctors (some of whom kept the People magazine in my folder to inspire other patients). But mostly I’d let myself down.

And so these last 2½ years since absorbing Lynn’s Weigh into Zen Bag Lady and not writing, I’ve been quietly trying to make peace with my physical and emotional changes without laying blame, feeling guilty, or being angry and frustrated.

And the results? I fail miserably sometimes on all points. But I don’t fail all the time. In fact, I fail less today than I did a month ago, and less a month ago than six months ago, and less six months ago than a year ago. In widening my field of vision, I was supported by and found comfort in the words of former weight loss bloggers Jeannette Fulda and Shauna Reid, both of whom wrote pieces in 2017 that spoke directly to me.

In April, Jeannette wrote: “These days the internet seems like a much more misogynistic, judgmental place, like a flood of tourists have swarmed the local bar and you never know what asshole is going to show up, start a fight and then breeze off, never to be seen again.”

We see this all the time everywhere these days, way more than when we all started blogging in the 2000s. Some people have no filter, no compassion, and no common sense. Words hurt, especially mean and hurtful words that come from some anonymous little puke hiding behind a computer screen. People say to ignore it, but I’m not emotionally built that way. I never have been and I never will be. I’m fine with constructive criticism that comes from a place of love and concern, but it takes me an inordinate amount of time to unfeel the pain of hurtful and untrue words. While I didn’t have many trolls on Lynn’s Weigh and none on Zen Bag Lady, “coming out” like this, with the (not so surprising) revelation that I’m not the same person I was 2, 5 or 12 years ago, might cause some people to gloat or to throw my past words in my face. But I’m going to take that risk because speaking up for change rather than staying silent and hidden is worth it. As Jeannette reminded me and everyone else, “people have the right to change”.

Indeed.

In September, Shauna wrote: “What I struggle with is contradictory. First there are the feelings of failure for not remaining the After photo, like that invalidates any value of the book (The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl) entirely. I wrote about the After photo struggles on my blog for awhile, then slinked away from the topic. I avoided people and places. There’s been so much shame and fraudy feels… Then there is the part of me that is so bloody done hiding and ready to make peace with it all.”

Amen!

Sometimes I look at my After photos with a bit of regret, but I don’t regret the journey one bit. Like Shauna and Jeannette, I hope my words helped people on their own journeys. Gaining weight after my journey has been humbling, especially given the myriad physical shitstorm that’s been my life the last several years. But looking at the Afters also reminds me that nothing is permanent.

I don’t owe the Internet an apology. However, I would like to continue the conversation with all of you in this different chapter of my (and your!) life. You’re not the same folks you were 2, 5, 12 years ago, either, right?

So what’s new with you? What has changed? What have you held on to? Leave a comment, and please don’t be bothered by the fact that I have to “approve” (or not) all comments. While I’ve learned I am not in complete control of my physical or emotional life, I can definitely control what gets said on my blog 🙂

Also, I dusted off my old Twitter account. I’m @TrixieB1963 (after my beloved childhood book heroine, Trixie Belden), if any of you want to stalk me and I you.

Thanks for being here again. And welcome if this is your first trip here! Namaste.