I love my job, I really do. I love the children I get to work with, and as cheesy as it sounds, I live for the moments when something I've been teaching a child finally clicks. In those moments, they just look so proud of themselves. Also, I usually really enjoy getting to know the families of the children as well. One of the last families I worked with before going on break started out as one of my most positive experiences to date. I was working with a brother and sister who were great, and I quickly bonded with the family. After a few sessions, the family started inviting me to stay for dinner. So I did once or twice. Their father is a slightly immature man, and a bit of a tease and a prankster. And in the last few weeks, he started to make some jokes towards me that could definitely have been perceived as fat jokes.
The first two times he said something, I was working with the kids, so I was able to kind of just pretend that I didn't hear it. But the more it happened the harder it was to keep ignoring him. It really wasn't anything major. Just some little digs here or there. For example, once he had asked me if I felt the earthquake that day, and I said "No," and he replied, "I meant the one when you came up the stairs." And in our very last session, they asked to take a picture of me, and while he was snapping the picture he said, "I don't know if my camera can take a big enough picture to fit you in it." Another time his brother just happened to stop by, and he turned to him and said, "Oh you haven't seen my wife in a long time have you?" (points to me) "She sure has gained a whole lot of weight hasn't she?” All of this bothered me of course, but not for the reasons you might assume.
It didn't bother me so much that he was making fun of my weight, I am fat, I'm aware I'm fat. I've been fat since I was 8 years old; I mean the jig is up. But yes, the fat jokes did make me want to cry, and I may have cried a few times. But mainly it bothered me because I wasn't quite sure how to handle the situation. Do I say something? Do I pretend I didn't hear? Do I just laugh it off? Mostly I was just mortified that people were around hearing these jokes. I wonder if they felt just as awkward as I did, because they never said anything. And here is the slightly ironic part, they baked me a cake to take home during our last session. You have to laugh at that.
I know when I say this I’m going to sound slightly naive, but you have to know this man to understand. I don't feel like he was saying these things to hurt my feelings. By all indications, he really liked me. I just feel that he was so clueless and so immature that he just didn't get it. And the saddest fact of all is as much as I love the children, I won't be working with them next year, because I started to dread going over to their house. It was making me so anxious that sometimes I felt like I was going to have a panic attack before I went to work. Part of me just wishes I had said something, but I'm just not that kind of person. But at the same time, maybe if he knew how much I have struggled he wouldn't have said it all.
I have had problems with food since middle school, and no I'm not bulimic nor anorexic. But I have a disorder that hasn't yet been classified by itself in the DSM-IV yet, I am a non-purging bulimic (or a binge eater). It all started when the first break with my father occurred, and when my relationship with my stepfather had deteriorated so much, that we were living in the same household and were literally never talking to each other (something that continued until after I left for college). I had always been slightly pudgy, but at that point I really started emotional eating. I ate when I was upset, I ate when I was mad, I ate when I was bored, and I just ate so I didn't have to sit around and think about things. I ate until I got to the point that I thought I would puke, but then would continue eating.
And it wasn't just that I was eating a lot, I was secretive about it. I would do things like ordering pizzas and chicken wings in the afternoon while my mother was working, eat all of it, and then hide the boxes under my bed. Once my mother went to sleep, I would throw the boxes in construction dumpsters around the neighborhood. I would eat cartoons of ice cream, and bake myself a cake that I would eat in a half hour. I kept records of what fast food restaurants I went to and on what dates, so I wasn't going to the same places so often that the person might notice. I was binging at least 3 times a week, and my whole life was centered on food. Thinking of what I would eat and when I would get to eat, etc. I would try to eat modestly in front of family and friends, although sometimes I would feel like I failed and would feel mortified. This would lead to another binging cycle after I got home. For a few years, I even skipped lunch at school, because I didn't want to be seen eating in front of my friends.
Binging only felt good when I was eating, but when I was done I was awash in guilt and shame. And the shame only made me want to eat more. It was the most powerless I've ever felt in my life. But I really didn't know how to articulate to anyone what was going on. I didn't have an eating disorder that I knew of. I wasn't throwing up, although to be honest sometimes I tried. I definitely wasn't starving myself. I just thought if I had enough willpower it would all just go away.
I know more now than I understood then. The binge eating was fueled by my anxiety, and my unhappiness with my life. Of course I wasn't happy, you don't get to that weight when you are happy. I couldn't gain any self-confidence because I was devoting so much of my life to trying to gain my dad and his family's approval. An impossible task, because they lack the ability to ever be happy for me. Secondly, the more weight I gained, the worse I felt about myself, keeping me in a cycle of shame. Also because of my issues with men in my life, I struggled to trust men. I still struggle to trust men, they still make me nervous at first, but I've come a long way (heck I made my first male friend this year, other than my husband of course). So I think the weight gain served as an effective barrier between me and men.
My problems first started to lift after I begun therapy. Binge eating was not even something I talked about in therapy really. Because like I said before, I didn't consider myself as having an eating disorder. But as I learned about myself and my anxiety lifted, I was able to control my problems a little more. However, the biggest change occurred after I got married, and I had the final fallout with my dad. For so many months after everything happened (read about that here and here), I thought I would never get passed it. I was so devastated about my father, so hurt, and I was having so many panic attacks. But then something amazing happened, members of my dad's family tried to contact me and were pretending nothing happen. And I finally got to say my peace and get in the last word. I finally feel like I get to move ahead. Somehow one of the worst things that has ever happened to me turned into one of the best.
The peace and happiness I've experienced in the last few months is amazing. I'm so in love with my husband that sometimes it physically hurts. I don't have the life I imagined, but my life has turned out so much better than I could have ever dreamed. I've finally started to get some control over my emotions and my eating habits. Do I still struggle? Of course I do. I still binge occasionally, but I try not to beat myself up over it. And I've worked/and am working to not do things in secret. And in the last year and a half I've shed a total of 47lbs so I must be doing something right.
One of my new favorite songs is, "King of Anything" by Sara Bareilles. In it she sings, "All my life I’ve tried to make everybody happy/While I just hurt and hide/Waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide/ Who cares if you disagree?/You are not me/Who made you king of anything?" And that is exactly how I feel about my life. I am now focusing on what is good for me, irregardless of what others think. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that it doesn't matter what some immature guy said to me at work. I know who I am, where I've been, and how much stronger I am now than I once was. And I want to celebrate that.