Tuesday, 17 December 2013

...people look like...the stars on a clear night, in the wilderness.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine re-tweeted the post of a mutual co-worker.  It was the blog post of a gentleman who works as a massage therapist in Portland, Oregon.

In one of the most compassionate works I've ever seen posted in my 20+ years online, Dale Favier reassured and comforted every average person out there; people like you, and me, and anyone with any tiny bit of insecurity about how they look.  He wrote:

"... nobody looks like the people in magazines or movies.  Not even models.  Nobody."


He ended by saying:

"I’ll tell you what people look like, really: they look like flames. Or like the stars, on a clear night in the wilderness."

With all my heart, I wish that I could be one of those stars.... just a point of light in the cosmos, glittering and shining down on a benevolent Earth.

But the truth is that I don't feel that way, and this Earth is not benevolent - especially not to people like me who don't "fit"the standard of beauty accepted in Western society.

When I first started to gain weight 20 years ago the instant response of the medical professionals around me was "stop eating - exercise" and then to throw the infamous Fen-Phen combination at me, without a single test.  It was 2 more years before surgery revealed the cysts on my ovaries pumping out excess testosterone, causing me to gain weight, my skin to darken in patches, and my hair to fall out in clumps.  The next "solution" was high-dose estrogen coupled with prednisone, which is noted for causing people to have a "moon-face".

To say that I ballooned would be an understatement.  As two doctors fiddled with the combination of medications to control the development of the cysts, my size 6-8 self quickly went to a 10, jumped to a 14, and then, size 18 by the time I moved from Toronto to Ottawa in the summer of 1996.  I also went from being one of those annoying women with short, painless, clockwork periods to weeks-long, severely painful episodes that kept their own schedule.  My Ottawa doctor tried other drugs that failed to control my symptoms before recommending surgery to at least stop the periods.  It also meant I could ditch the drugs since I wouldn't have the side-effects of the cysts.

The weight has stuck - no matter what I do short of starvation.

So I made the decision to have my body mutilated just so I would stop being such an affront to the society I live in.  Grown men think it's sport to oink at me as I pass on the street, or hang out their car window and yell "hey fatty, get off the street".  Other women feel free to comment on what I eat: "why do you eat salad all the time?" from someone I used to work with.  I wanted to say that if I didn't eat salad she'd probably ask me if I "really should be eating *that*?"

Being single all my life and using internet dating has been especially soul-destroying.  Unsolicited messages from men telling me to get off the site and leave it for the thin and beautiful girls.  And heaven forbid you turn down a man's overture:  "I was just going to throw you one since you're so ugly, I'm sure you're desperate for it".  Strange women telling me that I "owe it to the men" to post full-length pictures of myself to prove that I'm fat, despite my bluntly-worded profiles through the years.

In one of life's fabulous ironies, it seems that I fall into that odd category of "in-between" - too fat for the "normal" people and too thin for the men who like larger women.  It also made me a target for some pointed comments when I went to the orientation for weight-loss surgery.

Where I live, a team of medical professionals must assess your fitness to have the surgery.  Your family doctor sends an application to an assessment centre and you then go through physical and psychological testing for these individuals to decide if you will be one of the lucky few.  They play god with your life.

However, the assessment centre for my location is in another city about 2.5 hours away from me - and I don't drive.  Due to cutbacks in trains and buses, travel times are at odd intervals, and with appointments scheduled during working hours, I certainly can't ask any of my friends to drop everything to drive me.

I arrived at my orientation session after a long, nausea-inducing bus ride, got a ginger ale, and settled into my seat at the front as I wanted to be able to read the slides and take notes.  After detailed explanations of the surgical procedures involved in weight loss, a dietician went to the podium to talk about how to eat following surgery.  She was going through a long list of what could and could not be eaten and then stopped and looked pointedly at me.  "You will never be able to drink another carbonated beverage in your life," she said.  "This means no beer, no champagne and definitely NO ginger ale", the last said loudly with a glare in my direction.

I was taken aback, but that didn't prepare me for what came next.  We had taken numbers when we arrived and were called up to get our packages of documents to be filled out for the ensuing appointments before surgery.  The nurse who had explained the surgery to us took down information on each person and, asked each if they had any type of weight-loss surgery before.

Until she came to me.  I provided my name and address and, then, without looking up, she said "and you've had weight-loss surgery before."  It was not a question, but a statement.

"No, ma'am, " I replied.

Her head shot up and she had a clear look of disbelief on her face.  "YOU haven't had a lap band?" she asked, in a tone I can only describe as a sneer.

"No, ma'am," I repeated, as levelly as I could.  I was the smallest potential patient in the room.

She showed me where to sign that I had received my package and handed it to me without another word.  I made my way out of the building to a taxi stand to go back to the city centre, where I waited 5 hours for the bus home.

With a few words, these two women had made me feel that I was unworthy of their time and attention.  I shrank inside in a way that my body refuses to follow.

It was several weeks before I got the letter detailing my first set of appointments.  We had been advised that for those from out of town, every attempt would be made to schedule two appointments in a day.  Mine were one each Thursday for a month.  Each visit would require my taking 2 days off work to travel to and from the other city, plus hotel, taxi and meal expenses.  None of which is covered by the universal health care plan in my province, nor by the private extended insurance I have through work.

I called to explain my predicament and ask them to reschedule and was told that was impossible.  The woman on the phone said that if I couldn't afford to attend the 20 or so appointments that I wasn't a good candidate for the program.  That shocked me, because we were informed that there were a dozen appointments involved before surgery was scheduled - and that would be in yet ANOTHER city several hours in the other direction from my home!

I was informed that 12 was the minimum number of appointments, but there could be twice as many and they would deny the surgery if THEY felt you wouldn't be an appropriate candidate.  At a minimum, I would be out-of-pocket over $2,500, possibly more than $5,000, with nothing to show for it.

When I put the phone down, I realized what millions of Americans go through with their health care system on a daily basis.

After talking to my doctor, I called them back and cancelled the appointments.

I haven't complained about my treatment to either the Ministry of Health or the board of directors at the hospital.  At this point, it would be ridiculous to do so since a few months have gone by.

Shortly after all this happened, I learned that the medical profession has once again revised the BMI calculations.   Taller people have lower numbers than previously calculated, but for short people they've revised our numbers upward.  My BMI is now calculated at 49 instead of 43.

I am in awe of anyone with the strength of character to accept themselves at any size.

But the truth is that I can't.

I go through contortions of self-loathing on an almost-daily basis.

And that's no way for anyone to live.

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