My father’s two sisters, my aunts, were obese; one morbidly so. The elder had diabetes early on and lost her toes. Aunt E had lost lots of weight but being a member of my father’s family did not believe in exercise, light or fresh air. She had all this loose flesh under her arms. As a child, I loved to scrunch it up and play with it. She died when I was a freshman in college. Aunt L, the younger, was morbidly obese. She was 4’9 or 4’10” and over 300 pounds. When I was little, she always told me that next year I would be able to sit in her lap. That never happened. She was straight from top to bottom. Indeed, she became larger. As I became older and she became larger, she no longer wanted to see me. I was thin and healthy until college. My parents never let me think I was as they were terrified I would take after the aunts. I kept on assuring them that I loved clothing too much for that to happen. I also liked boys and people. I had seen what it had done to the aunts. Yes, from time to time, I have used weight as a shield but only a temporary one. I like being part of the larger world too much. I worked in fashion and finance. This is not to say that overweight people do not work or succeed in these industries but I was and am consumed with my appearance. I also am my very own person and early on had determined that I was not going to live anyone else’s life but my own.
After Aunt E died, Aunt L did lose some weight. However, following the paternal family inclination, she never ever exercised. The loss coupled with her height resulted in a medically necessary operation which removed 75 pounds of excess flesh. After being smug for years that she didn’t have diabetes, it hit with a vengeance. Her eyesight went. Aunt L had lots and lots of issues. This is also around the nascence of the Internet, the change in fax machines and increasing frequency of phone orders. Aunt L found it possible to stay inside most of the time and order most of what she wanted and needed for home delivery. My mother often said that with the increasing ubiquity of the internet, Aunt L would never have had to leave the house. My mother didn’t live to see Amazon.
I was told when this journey started that diabetes was an autoimmune condition. Hmmm. I was quite determined when this journey started that I would not be confined or defined by this condition. I was adamant. Well, easier said than done. The almost 10 years since this has begun to afflict me has seen significant changes. I obtained the “spectral leg”. Initially, I only wore it to and from work. I worked in NYC and commuted through Penn, Times Square and Grand Central Stations daily. I used to wear it on the outside so it would be a visual clue to people that I might be slower or a bit stumbly. I still mourn my black leather pants – spectral didn’t work with them. I still wore heels at work, just not the 3.5 – 4 inchers that I liked. Then I started to have to wear spectral all the time. New shoes were called for. I wore “crazy” sneakers, lacy oxfords and mary janes. It was not me but afforded a modicum of style.
I started to use a cane. Again, as with the spectral leg, initially it was a visual clue. A fellow commuter used to tease me that he was waiting to see me whack someone with it. And again, per define and confine, my canes are seasonal – summer is a pink floral, fall a rich paisley, winter and evening shimmery silver grey.
I started to find it harder and harder to do things other than work. I hated the perceived pity people had for me. On the flipside, I hated, hated, hate being inspirational. I am me and this is it. I was let go from my job. The world started to become narrower as I wasn’t up and out every day. I became dependent on the cane, rejected the latest incarnation of the spectral leg currently known as Frankie for Frankenstein.
Then the walker which I haven’t decided will be known as either the gladiator or the chariot became how I need to perambulate outside. I am considering Washi tape. And the world shrinks yet again. Grocery shopping fills me with dread. The combination of a heavy cart and a poorly graded parking lot sees me relinquishing my list to my husband and sitting in the car. Recently, at BJs, the greeter has been offering me the motorized cart. I decline it as Tom and I have visions of my knocking down piles of groceries and children as I speed along ( I do like speed), forgetting or unable to brake. Lately, I am having enormous difficulty getting back into my home via its two little front steps. It involves swinging my left leg to build momentum and then using the railing to haul myself up. That’s on a good day. On a bad day, it’s Tom arranging my legs which stiffen and hauling me up. Not pretty.
One thing that I have had is the ability and knowledge to sooth myself. I read. Reading has always been my drug of choice. For several years now, I order books and Tom runs in, picks up and drops off at the library. Did you know there is a version of HIPAA for books? I had to sign a form so that he can get my books. I craft and calm down. However, I haven’t been to Michaels Crafts for months. I received an offer last week for 40% off online delivery and in-store pickup. And yes, I could designate him to pick up. He picked up at the library and then picked up at Michaels. Easy. Too easy! I flashed back to Aunt L. What happened to not confine and not define? I have goofed, big time. I don’t want to hear about you are doing the best you can or you are doing so much better than other people. Not a viable option. Yes, it limits me. It can confine me if I succumb. Other people can decide to define me but that’s on them. As I made up my mind when I was small, I need to live my own life. I have to remember this and confront and overcome.