Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The things we don't want to talk about

My first triathlon is at the end of July. I have to swim 500 meters, bike 10 miles, and run a 5K. I have to do all of this without dying (to be considered successful). I started my training about three weeks ago. The training has been new and exciting. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions as I've conquered days that I thought would kill me and struggled through other days that I thought should have been easy.

Yesterday, Eric and I rode our bikes around the downtown airport in Kansas City. It's a 4 mile loop with only a couple hard hills. I felt confident as we took off, but was soon discouraged as people raced past me. My stubby legs can only pedal so fast. My weak legs tried to propel me through the wind. I was mortified as I shifted my bike into it's lowest gear and quite literally inched up the one steep hill. Veteran cyclists whizzed past me, going up the hill. I felt embarrassed. I didn't want to do another lap once I reached the starting point, but I did. I had plenty on my mind to think about.

I've been feeling a little defeated lately, reflecting on years past and the constant abuse I put my body through for the majority of my life. Anyone that reads my blog knows that I've been struggling this past year to feel beautiful, working diligently to create and sustain a positive self image. But I was reminded this month how little those feelings can matter compared to overall health.

I've shared multiple times that I was put on blood pressure medication close to when I started my weight loss journey. I don't know if I ever shared that before that happened, it had been over seven years since I had been to the doctor. Sure, I cut part of my thumb off in college and had to go to the emergency room-but I always skipped those pesky yearly physicals. Why? It was unbearably embarrassing. I felt like doctors looked down at me and I didn't want anyone else in my life telling me I needed to lose weight. I'm fat. I get it. You don't weigh over 350 pounds and think, hmm...I wonder if I'm overweight? It's not like I needed a professional to tell me that. I lived it every day, felt it every day.

So, I stayed away. After I went to the doctor that first time in 2012, it was monthly visits to check my blood pressure. They did blood tests to check for other ailments caused by obesity. They didn't find anything too alarming, so they focused on getting my blood pressure under control.  It was only a year later and more than 100 pounds gone that I got to kiss my blood pressure medication goodbye. I felt vindicated. I felt like I stomped all those health concerns associated with obesity. I am not a statistic. Good blood pressure, good blood sugar, great resting heart rate. I had become an athlete and reversed years of damage to my body.

But here's the thing, you can't just fix everything just like that. Like a smoker who finally smokes his last cigarette or the alcoholic that takes his last drink- I felt new. But some health problems that result from over-indulgence in things like nicotine, alcohol, and even food develop over time.

I found out about a month ago that I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). For those of you not familiar with this, it's a hormonal endocrine disorder that puts you at risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer of the uterus, and infertility. Bummer. It can be caused by obesity and also cause obesity. Vicious cycle.I was sort of expecting this diagnosis, but it was still hard to process when the doctor called. The good news is, I have no signs of insulin resistance. Diabetes and high blood pressure are not even close to on the radar right now. This is probably because I now exercise regularly and try to eat healthy (though not always successful). I'm bummed because if I had never been morbidly obese- I probably wouldn't be facing this health issue.

The doctor said that as I lose more weight, I'll see more and more PCOS symptoms subside. She also mentioned that with PCOS, it's best to conceive all children before I'm 35 years old. With children on the future (but not immediate) radar, I find myself frustrated with..well...myself. There's no proof that my obesity caused my PCOS, but it's likely and I hope I can continue on my path to better me and better health so that I don't face fertility issues in the future.

When the doctor called to confirm PCOS I wasn't surprised. I was surprised when she said, "Your liver enzymes are elevated and I think it would be best if we did an ultrasound." My liver? I don't take tylenol.  I'm not a heavy drinker. What could possibly be wrong with my liver?

"It's probably fatty liver," she told me.

Is that the politically correct term? Do we have to call it fatty liver?

"But it could be lesions or something else so we really need to take a look. We want it to be fatty liver. You'll just live with it and probably have no complications. Very few people develop liver disease from it. Almost all morbidly obese people have it."

Two things stood out to me. "Very few people develop liver disease". Very few? Okay, that's more than zero which was my hope when it came to my chances of developing liver disease. Also, "Almost all morbidly obese people have this."

I'm not morbidly obese...

But I was.

I've never had an abdominal ultrasound. The technician scanned over my abdomen. She kept going back to the same spot and taking more pictures. I started to become nervous and then scared. I was crying by the time I left. I had a million things racing through my mind. What if it's a lesion? What if it is fatty liver? Will that be a problem? Perhaps most prevalent, what if it's cancer?

God. I'm not ready to die.

I had to wait nearly seven days for them to call me and let me know that the ultrasound looked good. They are going to do my blood tests again in a few months and see if anything changed. I felt relieved, and now I feel determined. If this is the life I have and the body I have to live it, I'm going to treat it properly. I know I won't always be perfect. I'll indulge. I'll skip workouts and sometimes eat too much. But gone are the days of treating my body like it doesn't matter. I can't just workout and eat right because I want to feel good about myself and look pretty. Those are great motivators, but my mind and soul will have no chance of succeeding if I don't take care of my body.

I've been seeing a lot of positive articles on body image in regards to overweight or curvy women. It's great. I wish there had been more words and imagery like that when I was younger. If I felt beautiful earlier on in life, I may have been more motivated to take care of myself.

But there are some hard truths we need to face. I don't want to talk about my health issues or battles I'm still facing as I try to overcome my demons and live right. It can be embarrassing. I sometimes still feel guilt for living like I did. It comes and goes. I'm starting to also feel victorious and accomplished for deciding that my life was worth enough to try...try to reverse some of the damage my body faced.

It's  great to feel beautiful, but healthy feels even better. I want to tell you something that no one wants to talk about anymore....

You can be beautiful and obese, but it's really difficult to be obese and perfectly healthy.

 I really wanted to ignore that fact and prove science wrong. Look world, I can be obese, successful, beautiful, and healthy. My genes have me programmed to be overweight and to support the extra weight. Larger heart, strong legs. I should be perfectly fine. But things aren't perfect, even though they are fine for now.

 I don't want people to look at the idea of weight loss as giving into some sort of societal expectation. When you're extremely overweight, eating right, working out, and losing weight is not saying to the world, "I don't feel beautiful how I am." It's about saying to yourself, I am worth it. I am doing this because I am beautiful.

The journey continues for me. It will be a lifelong journey of ups and downs. I hope my overall health will continue to improve. I'm going to try my hardest to not get embarrassed by my lack-of-speed or poor technique. At least if I'm out there...I'm trying. I'd love some company. If there is anyone out there ready for a change, big or small- just let me know. My biggest ally in all of this has been this blog and the people who have helped me through the difficult times. We can do this!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The day the world didn't stop

Dear Mom,
I thought about you on my drive home tonight. They are predicting storms all weekend and I drove through one of them tonight. I remember growing up how storms never fazed you. You didn’t care if there was lightning, thunder, or tornado sirens going off.  You would just sit there as I gathered up all the animals and all my favorite belongings (like my NSync cd and disturbing collection of furbies). I never understood why you didn’t seem to care. You’d just keep reading or writing or balancing the checkbook. Before you died, I dreamt of a tornado hitting our house, you refusing to come downstairs and continuing to do the dishes. I’ve had that dream since you died too.

Mom. I remember how sunny it was the day you died. Or was that the day before? Or the day after? It all runs together. But I remember standing in the driveway thinking, this is not how I pictured this. Shouldn’t it be pouring rain? Shouldn’t the world be flooding with tears? Why does this feel like I’m going to go to sleep tonight and actually wake up tomorrow? How is that kid still riding down the street on his bicycle? How are phones still ringing? Wouldn’t it make sense that when this Earth loses someone as important as you, the world just stops?

But I guess I was wrong about that. I learned that lesson the day you died. I learned it without you. I’ve had to learn a lot of things without you. I had to learn how to pluck my eyebrows and curl my hair. I still pretty much suck at both of them, but I can do it.  I had to learn how to talk to guys without sounding like a complete whacko. I had to learn to not be a complete whacko. I had to learn how to interview for a job, write a professional e-mail, and dress for success.  Although, based on the things you dressed me in during your lifetime—that last one might be for the best.

I’ve stumbled through all these lessons because I have great support. Kudos for having Rikki and I 17 years apart. Who knew we’d end up actually liking each other.  I can hear you in her voice and see you in her strength. I catch myself wondering what it would be like to have you both in the same room again. I think that every time I see Aunt Vickie too. It’s the way she tilts her head when she’s listening and that smile.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of things lately. They are life things that people just have to face as they get older, childhood becomes a thing of the past, and we move forward. I think I’m handling things okay, but it sure would be nice if you could be here. I’m afraid I’ll scare Eric off by word-vomiting everything that young women usually say to their mothers. I’m sure he’s tired of hearing about my cat,  the money I saved by buying off the clearance rack, and laundry. But seriously, I put a shirt in the dryer today that needed to be hang dried and it was super upsetting.

Eric has asked me before if you two would have gotten along. Frankly, you would have loved him. I’m fully confident that you would be one of those people that would break through to the best part of him in no time at all. He is so funny, witty, and smart. I wish you could see him smile when he’s really tickled about something. It’s the sort of thing kids write home to mom about. See what I did there? Write to mom about…I also know that you would have irritated the crap out of him by calling him unnecessarily and checking in with him regularly. I think that thought delights me the most, but only because it’s sweet in your own way.

I sometimes wonder if you knew your time on Earth was short. Can God communicate that in some way? Is that why every feeling you had seemed so passionate? Happiness, sadness, anger, and love. All of them seemed so intense for you. Is that why you never seemed fazed by impending doom? Perhaps, to you, the thought of sitting through a tornado seemed no more risky than walking out the front door in the morning. Maybe you knew the storm would pass.

When you told me you were dying, you held my hand, and through tears told me, “I’ll always be in your heart.”

 I wanted you to know that’s true. You must have known it was when you told me. I wanted you to know I’m doing just fine. I’m making it through this crazy life. And thanks to other great moms and a lot of prayer, I’m learning the things I need to. There are days I wish you were here in person. Days I wish you could hug me and tell me everything is going to be alright. There are still days I wonder why the world didn’t just stop the day you left us.

The sun will come out tomorrow (or the next day). The phone will ring (likely before I want to wake up). I’ll ride my bike (I’m training for a triathlon , ya know). Life on this Earth will continue. But I’m happy to say that I know, you’ll always be in my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day.