Sometimes people can be insensitive without meaning to be. It happens, and you have to smile back at them and not say anything to correct them because to do so will usually start an argument or at least, push that person away. After all, their intentions were complimentary, and when someone rebuffs a compliment, the one giving it feels spurned. I’ve been running into this quite a lot and I am honestly not sure how to handle it. You see, over the last couple years I’ve lost a lot of weight. In late January of 2011, at my last weightlifting meet, I weighed in at just under 340 pounds. As of last week, when I stepped on the scale, I was a svelte 255 pounds.
That’s great, right? 85 pounds gone over the last 3.75 years or so, I should be toasting to my health, right? I get a lot of compliments from others who think I look great! They can’t believe how much I’ve shed. I’ve been told that my weight loss is “inspiring” to others, but I somehow doubt it would be as inspirational if they knew the journey I’ve been on.
I didn’t set out to lose weight. Prior to that last weightlifting meet, I hadn’t competed in a while, but I was still regularly lifting weights and training. I had an anxiety attack about 2 months before that in November of 2010 I thought was a heart attack and I went to the ER. After getting out, I decided to rededicate myself to my training and cleaner eating, and I did really well. The result was that at my competition, I went 5/6 at the lightest I had ever competed and had my second-best total ever, and I felt great. I could see a path here, right? Keep dropping weight over time, and increase efficiency, and I can be competitive in the years to come.
Then, one day in April, I got a pain in my right shoulder, and soon it was all-encompassing. Nothing made it go away, not drugs, not massage, nothing. My right arm became useless for a time. I lost most of my grip strength, and even today, part of my forearm muscle does not flex. My guitar playing suffered as well, that’s my picking hand. My right thumb has been partially numb since then, too. After a month or so the pain gradually subsided and I got most of my strength back. I began to train again, and then, one day… I noticed another pain, this time in my left hip area.
Try as I did to manage it with stretching and other types of rehab/prehab routines, it got far worse and soon eclipsed the pain I had felt when my shoulder was affected (turns out that was a pinched nerve in my neck). Trips to the doctor netted me nothing but bills I couldn’t afford to pay and prescriptions for painkillers that didn’t work. In November of 2011, I lost about half the sensation in my left foot. It felt like I had rocks in my shoe. For the last three years I’ve been dealing with this numbness that fluctuates in severity, but is always present. I also want to reiterate that at the time this was happening I asked everyone I could for help, and though I got lots of advice and moral support, I didn’t get any actual help. Not having health insurance was a huge barrier for me, I just was not allowed to see anyone who could really help me because I couldn’t afford the price of admission. Waiting lists for publicly funded MRIs were two years. Qualifying for them was a nightmare of paperwork and when you’re in the throes of panic and depression, it’s almost impossible to get through it. I knew from my own research that this was sciatica, a condition caused by nerve impingement, usually by herniated discs in the lower back, but without a clue as to where the injury was, I had no way of treating it at the source.
So, I gave up. My days of lifting were finished. In 2012, the back pain subsided, and then got worse. A bout of bronchitis caused a flare-up in February that lasted until the end of July. On my wedding night in May, I had to go to the ER again. I wanted to die. I had never been in so much pain and I did not see this ever getting better. After July of 2012, it seemed that the worst had passed, and though I was no longer wishing for death, I knew my life was going to be different. It took another six months before the residual pain went away… mostly. I always, and still do, have to think about whatever I do and how it will affect my back. As the months passed, the only remnant of that attack was my persistently numb left foot and a general tightness in my lower back that will never recede. Imagine the fun surprise that happened in June of 2014 when I had an attack on my right side!
Though this one wasn’t as severe and didn’t cause the same numbness in my right foot, although there is some, it served to remind me that I will not likely ever be a physical, athletic person again. I was hoping to climb out of the well, you see, and start from the ground up and rehabilitate myself, not in hopes of competing, but in hopes of feeling better, and being in better health generally speaking. Guess it wasn’t meant to be.
So, through all of this, I somehow lost 85 pounds. I know I am not as strong as I once was, but my clothes fit much looser. I can wear an XL shirt with no issues. I can shop in every store for clothing now. All of my friends from back in the day can’t believe how much I’ve lost and they say I look good. Even healthy. But I am not. I get winded walking up stairs now. I eat horribly. Outside of vitamins, inconsistently, I don’t supplement, and I rarely if ever exercise. I have a squat rack, barbell, and plates that have been collecting dust for three years. I feel weak, tired, and unmotivated much of the time. I’ve lost a lot of muscle mass and definition. I’m not even close to the person I was.
But at least I am skinnier, right?
What a horrible way to judge someone’s health, because really, you don’t know. It causes me a lot of inner anguish to hear people say I look good when I really feel like shit. I’ll gladly take that 85 pounds back if I could be training the way I was, have full sensation in my tootsies, and not be in varying degrees of pain and discomfort every day. There’s no nice way to say it, but I hate this, and every time someone compliments me on my weight loss I want to bite their nose off. I know they mean well, but I’m not happy with it at all because of what that loss is the result of.
I didn’t diet or exercise or make a conscious choice to lose weight, it’s the result of a three-year plus ordeal that has taken a lot out of me and trainwrecked my life. It’s the result of a condition that robbed me of lifting, which was a huge part of my life, and caused me to suffer in pain to the point where I wondered if it was going to be this way until I died, just constant pain and being a burden to others around me. It was horrendous and it’s not the program I would recommend to anyone who wants to drop some pounds. I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy.
Through it all, though, I just want to feel good about myself. I don’t mind being smaller, I mind that I have chronic problems that won’t go away, that prevent me from getting my head back into the idea of physical exercise or really giving that much of a damn about what I eat. Whenever someone tells me I look good, all it does is remind me of what I can’t do anymore. I’m sure that’s something I need to face and address, but if others could please stop assuming that I am healthier because I don’t weigh as much, and stop telling me how I should feel instead of how I actually feel whenever I sigh at such a compliment, that would be great.