How I Got Here
… and why I'm blogging.
This is a picture of my wife and I back in 2007, and I weighed roughly 340 lbs. We'd been married for 4 years at that point and our primary forms of entertainment were watching TV/DVDs, playing World of Warcraft and reading. I was working as a Systems Engineer for the University of Alaska Anchorage in the Information Technology (IT) department and Julie was (and still is) working as a Intensive Needs Special Education Teacher for a local elementary school. In general, life was good for us, we had all we stood in need of with a little extra, but this was roughly the beginning of a long, slow decline in the quality of my life. A decent, if you will, from the living to the unliving.
The Subtle Slide Into 'Zombification'
As I mentioned before, my wife and I were playing World of Warcraft, a Massive Multi-player Online Game (MMO, for short), and it provided easy excitement and distractions as video games often do. It provided a safe means in which to be competitive and advance myself through the game mechanics. Since I was playing with other people, a sense of team and belonging become just as important as playing the game, I was accepted for who I was, and what I brought to the team. No one scoffed at my physical appearance, nor mocked me for getting winded by walking from my car to my apartment. In this illusionary world, those problems didn't exist for me.
This world also give me a structure for which I could easily track my advances and fine tune my performance through geeky observations and discussions. This illusion of mastery kept me safely engaged for, sadly, many years. Hours upon hours of engagement into this game provided me with a sense of belonging, a sense of fulfillment, but most importantly a sense of progression. While I was involved with those friends within the game, my real life troubles were diminished and anxieties were less troublesome. I'd discovered a means in which to self-medicate my anxieties of the real world. (I'd like to clarify this point, this is where my personal interaction with this game took a much too serious turn. I fully recognize and concede that this is not a reaction for all people that play. For example, my wife never had these issues with World of Warcraft, only me.)
However, I was essentially eating mental and spiritual candy, and as with eating any sweets for too long you become sick. I become soul sick. I was quite unhappy with myself, my life, my marriage. My health was poor and my weight had risen higher, my absent minded eating caused my blood sugar to go crazy and my personal neglect had allowed it to advance into type-II diabetes. Additionally, my focus and dedication to this illusionary world blinded me to other opportunities that were the equivalent of eating vegetables and would've allowed me to grow as a person, but I passed on them in favor of junk food of choice.
What do you do when you feel sick? You take your medicines, and in my case, I played more World of Warcraft trying to rid myself of these feelings. And, thus a vicious cycle of blind flailing was introduced. Much like an alcoholic that drinks first thing in the morning to rid himself of the hangover from the previous night, I played found myself "plugged in" a lot.
During this time, I ate whatever, whenever, and as much as I wanted. My sense of diet was a fear of deprivation, and as such I ate as if it were my last meal. Eating in such a fashion, especially when you have plenty is incredibly unhealthy. I felt bad about my weight, and so would play more World of Warcraft, and would eat to feel better about playing.
This life style created a mental stupor that I hide from my troubles, my challenges that could've helped strengthen me as a man if I had but faced them. Instead, I hid from the world and did not grow, did not become more than I was. I was stagnant.
Luckily, as with all junk food diets, you eventually get to the point where you decide that enough is enough, and I was finally able to walk away from World of Warcraft and all the reassurances that it provided me.
Change Isn't Easy
Around the Fall of 2008, I decided to quit my full time job and go back to school. I'd realized part of my issues that I used World of Warcraft, Food and movies to medicate was the fact I was very unhappy in my job, and had been so for several years. A serious life lesson had been learned: Don't stay in a job that you hate, you pay more with your body and soul than you'll ever get in pay.
Once in school, I had a lot of anxieties to face. I was pursuing my goals, and embracing change, which was a great start, but success was far from assured. I kept plugging along, barely successful, but doing well enough to continue. Then, during the Fall of 2009, I'd signed up for 19 credit hours of classwork, assuming that one particular class would be as easy as the two prior classes in the sequence. I was wrong and it turned out to be a significant investment of time and energy. I ended up dropping a class, and squeaked by with Bs and Cs.
Then in the spring of 2010 I was exhausted and quite fed up with school. I cratered pretty hard. I was carrying around a lot of fear and uncertainty about investing so heavily in myself that it I was uncomfortable, and more so when my grades were not of my perfectionist standard of As. I fell into a deep depression for the next few months. Nothing mattered. This was in late January.
"Blooood! Sweet Blood!"
Fast forward a blurry few months to May, and my wife and I went on a road trip to Valdez. My mother-in-law had finished her associate's degree and the whole family congregated to celebrate. During the trip I stopped to pee roughly ever 30 minutes, over the course of a 6 hour drive, I became quite frustrated. I was insanely thirsty, and found myself drinking quarts of water at a time to try and keep up with this thirst, and as a result I had to stop every 30 miles. Luckily, Alaska is pretty sparsely populated so I could jump out into the woods quickly without much hoopla with passing travelers.
I relayed this frustration to my in-laws, in jest, once we had arrived in Valdez. They grabbed their blood sugar testers and poked me. I didn't have much choice, or honestly much inclination to resist, and the test was done. The machine beeped and the numbers 382 displayed. The walls of my denial once again crumbled and reality set in. The number was almost 3 times higher than it's suppose to be, and it meant that I most likely had Type-II Diabetes (something I long suspected but never confirmed).
This prompted numerous tests with the doctor when we returned back to Anchorage. The summer sucked. I had two "procedures" and ended up with Appendicitis by the end of the summer. My mortality was becoming increasingly apparent.
Oddly enough, with the guidance of my doctor and the strategy she offered to improve my health, genuinely increased my sense of well being. I wasn't alone, and had help to start looking at the problems I'd allowed to build up. I started school in the fall, and felt more determined to see it through to the end. The semester was challenging, but I met new friends and began to expand my social circle to those that were my age walking the same path as I (mainly, going to school).
I completed the semester with some struggles, but on a high note.
Within days of my semester ending, my father-in-law was admitted to the hospital. He was having serious medical complications from the very aliments I had just been officially diagnosed with the previous summer. So I watched in fear and grim acceptance as over the next five weeks my father-in-law slipped away from us. His passing was a welcomed relief for him and a huge wake up call for me. I wrote in more detail about it here.
My professors were awesome in allowing me time at the start of the semester to tend to my family and their needs in my father-in-law passing. I spent a few days in Valdez and did what I could to support my wife's family, and when we returned I started this new semester roughly 10 days behind schedule.
I felt the same struggles from the previous semester creeping in and I had a thought. If my doctor could help me with my health issues, maybe they could help me with this. A friend of my commented in passing once that my struggles could be related to A.D.D. or something, and not to just give up. I waved him off at the time, but it was worth a second look.
So I made a doctor's appointment, and a few days later went in for a consult.
"Your Brain Doesn't Fire Fast Enough"
"Did the Doctor just call me slow?" I thought when my doctor explained to me what Attention Deficient Disorder (A.D.D.) was really about. After having success with doctor's help for my health issues, I decided after a conversation with a friend, to talk to her about my struggles in school. After walking through a checklist on A.D.D. and finding symptoms dating back 20 years, finally I had answer. Apparently, how the doctor explained it was my brain processed information at one speed and did other functions at a different speed. This disharmony caused some misfiring in my brain that resulted in being easily distracted. My doctor offered some medications to try out.
Turning to the doctor for guidance turned out to be a wise decision. The medication prescribed literally changed my life. I was able to think clearly for the first time that I could remember, and my mind was calm. No anxieties, no racing thoughts about any of the "what ifs" or "should-a-dones." It was at this point I realized how noisy my anxieties actually were and how much of my unconscious energy went into filtering this squelching background noise.
For the first time in my adult life I had command of my mental faculties, and I went to work with a new found energy and zest to prove myself. This was a turning point for me. Being able to think clearly, and to have a focus for a specific direction to lead my life was a huge benefit. I took my wife and I to a weight loss clinic, we discussed it and joined up.
Over the last 5 months we've lost close to 30% of our original body size, and I'm fast approaching losing a 100 pounds.
"The Sleeper has Awakened!"
I remember watching the 1984 release of Dune and towards the end, when the main character, Paul Atreides (played by Kyle MacLachlan) stands and shouts to his deceased father, "The Sleeper has awakened!" Being a Dune fan, I found the movie decent overall, but this particular scene struck a cord of resonance with me and as such has stayed with me over the years. It's sums up what's lacking for so many people in the world, including my own. We are asleep. The routine of the suburban life has lulled us to sleep, and stole the fire from our bellies.
Now as I've lost significant weight, I'm able to think clearly, and I'm able to self-guide my life towards a directed goal, I'm alive! I'm eager to face the challenges presented to me now, and I no longer fear tomorrow. I feel for the first time in my life that I've awaken from a long restless slumber and I stand in amazement at all that I can now do.
Why I'm Blogging
This blog is not a monument to the past, or an attempt to elicit sympathy for the fat man, but rather a story of the road I traveled to return to the land of the living. I share it in the hopes that others lost in this land of obesity struggling to find their way back can use it as a beacon, or at least, a safe harbor of encouragement on their way back. I think Western culture has been solid a poisonous pill of convenience, and has lost something vital to their spirit, their fire for life. As with any fire, one flame can be passed to another, and the whole is brighter. That's something I want to be a part of, and add my voice too, if only for a little while.