Monday, 24 May 2010

The camera never lies

“Just take the photo, quickly before I change my mind”, I said to Himself, as he grappled with his cell phone camera. He has a plethora of reading glasses dotted all over the house but strangely none to hand when the intricacies of reading small print and symbols require the power of a magnifying glass the size of a dinner plate.

And so it was, for the first time in at least five years I allowed a camera to capture my morbidly obese shape, front, back and rear in all its inglorious expansiveness. When we bought this house I was both amazed and horrified to find several full length mirrors dotted all over; every room had a reflective object just mocking my size at every turn. I became magnificently adept at averting my eyes as I quickly sloped past these monstrosities telling it like it was. The camera never lies, nor do mirrors it seems. Like most women who carry extra mounds of flesh, I could just about tolerate blow-drying my hair and applying makeup, never liking the reflection of the bloated face looking back at me from the dressing table mirror. Aversion techniques, if you don’t see it, it doesn’t register.

I steeled myself for what was to come but it was time to really take a good look at what our extended partying, the menopause, depression, giving up smoking and sinking my butt in a chair had done to my body for the last five years. It wasn’t a pretty sight; pretty shocking really, my backside, so big it looked like it should have another pair of legs to support it, my stomach a wheelbarrow to carry it around in, my boobs like two swollen but half depleted water filled balloons with nipples in danger of scraping the floor. But there was method in my madness. And what did I do with the photos? Why, they are on the fridge door to remind me of the reason I am sticking to this diet, to act as a superb guide to my progress and to stop me spending time with my arse hanging out of the fridge looking for something to sabotage my diet with. And proudly displayed alongside are my slimmer of the week certificate and my half, one and two stone weight loss certificates too. I’m stunned at my progress, I’ve lost over 9lbs in the last three weeks – no matter what I tried during the menopause, I’d no sooner lost some weight when I’d stall and dispiritedly watched as it crept back on - okay I lost 21lbs before I started this gig but it was a tough old slog.

My fellow dieters have had their fair share of success too. The support of these women is like a warm bath in scented oils, it is a mutual admiration and support society. How different to when I embarked upon my first diet many years ago. I shared a house with a frenenemy whose sole purpose was to scupper my diet in any way she could. I remembered being shocked that someone could be so underhand. Day after day, I’d come home from work, ravenous and ready to eat the first thing with a pulse that got in my way to the kitchen. Day after day there would be a fine selection of deliciously tempting cream cakes, an array of chocolate bars to send a chocoholic insane with desire and all placed strategically around the kitchen, within easy reach of a starving housemate subsisting on 800 calories a day. But, much to her frustration they remained untouched and as she couldn’t bear the waste, she was forced to gobble these down lest her hard earned money would go straight in the bin. What she didn’t know about me is that cream cakes and chocolate bars and anything sweet turns my stomach, makes me heave and sickens me to the core. I lost the 7lbs I needed to; she gained a size and a half in clothes. The lord works in mysterious ways.

Today my life feels amazing. The exercise boosts my progress and my mood to boot. It helps keep me focused too, I’ve never felt sharper. I wrote over five thousand words of my book at the weekend whilst stopping from time to time to enjoy the green and lush view of my garden from my conservatory where I write; a tranquil oasis that encourages the muse in me. I am calm, centred and excited as to how my life is panning out. I feel incredibly happy and on track to climb Snowdon later in the year. I won’t be shooing Himself away when he whips out the camera to record our progress; I’ll simply smile, pose for all I am worth and know that the camera won’t lie, it’ll simply see me as I will be; a once morbidly obese woman looking slimmer, healthier and with a smile the size of a banana on my face, assuming he remembers his glasses that is.

Friday, 7 May 2010

As I melt away from Wildebeest to Baby Elephant .........

.......I ponder the moment in February 2010 when I reaffirmed my belief in a higher power looking out for me. Shocked at the unbelievably high number glaring back at me from the bright red display on my scales, I sloped off, shoulders hunched with disgust and disappointment at this depressing state of affairs: total weight loss from March 2009 to Christmas - 28lbs, total weight gain over the festive season to February 2010 + 7lbs. A grand total of 21lbs loss in a year; less than 2lbs a month – dismal, totally dismal; one step forward, a few dozen back, as usual. If I could have kicked my own arse all the way down to the kitchen where I was heading for an early morning cup of tea, then I would have done so before kicking it all the way back upstairs just to hammer the message home; too many calories in, too few expended by settling said arse in the world’s most comfortable recliner in preference to a bit of exercise here and there. It’s not rocket science; even an eejit like me can work out the basic formula of a calorific deposit and withdrawal system but sometimes logic gets lost amongst a sea of inertia, unreasonable expectations, and a lack of willpower.

As a lapsed Catholic, I don’t subscribe to the weekly knee bending and humble adoration repertoire that organised religion demands for the saving of my soul. But I regularly have a word with the big guy above and a few saints to boot - St Jude being top priority as he’s the patron saint of hopeless cases and without a doubt I am his top groupie, a challenge, someone he’s surely ready to wash his hands of. I like to round off my iconic crew with Mary the mother of God, a matriarch of great serenity and grace who quietly goes about her way managing the men with words of wisdom when the situation seems bleak or I’ve asked for a bit too much, too often. Add to that a couple of female saints whose achievements I admire, (and ashamedly is something of an egotistical choice, simply because I am named after them), then you have the full suite; a quango of reverence for me to plead with, bargain with and just plain toady to when the chips are down. I like the eclectic mix; I like the gender mix; and sure, wouldn’t the big guy abhor the presence of a glass ceiling and welcome his female reports onto the celestial board of directors without the bat of an eyelid? Besides ,who else but another woman or two could empathise with the futility of pulling on your humongous elasticised trousers only to find the seams giving way because even elastic has a finite ability to go beyond the call of duty.

Too many failed attempts can knock a girl’s confidence and so it was with a sense of desperation and caught up in the slipstream of Hope beating a rapid exit from my life that I invoked a few incantations. I engaged in some impressively naked self-serving grovelling, some over the top bartering and promises on what I was prepared to do in return for a bit of direction, willpower, even.

Well, when it works it works, is all I can say. No sooner had I trawled my online news pages when I saw an article on six women who’d lost a staggering amount of weight, each using a different method that worked for them. It was a truly inspirational piece of before and after pictures to stimulate my interest further. I almost cried tears of joy and relief at such celestial intervention; the turnaround time on my pathetic cry for help through to delivery of said solution was remarkable even for the big guy and the board of directors. No doubt about it, they have a customer for life after that kind of service excellence. And as everyone knows, the best kind of marketing is word of mouth so here I am doing my bit for the organisation, (not the organised church you understand but the high heed yins up above).

I could have chosen any number of plans to start my attack on fat central but who hasn’t tried the bacon and egg diet, the cabbage soup diet – highly anti social and a real deal breaker in the marriage stakes, food combining, the eat once a day then drink and smoke yourself to death for the rest of it diet or the one where you drink a turgid shake then have a teaspoon of food and a salad leaf to see you through the evening?

I’d tried the Weightwatchers diet about fifteen years ago. It wasn’t for me; I remember abject hunger and a loss of a will to live as the plan they used in those days was all about denial, denial, denial to the point you caved in and would have happily snarfed down road-kill. Their diet philosophy was fine, their plan wasn’t. I could have made a killing selling junk food heaven to those poor saps who, in their desperation to eat something substantial, would leave en masse to sate their ravenous appetites only to spend the next week working it off before the next weigh-in. Somehow the possibility of being trampled to death by the human equivalent of a herd of rampaging wildebeest didn’t appeal so I consigned my entrepreneurial aspirations to the bin. I have no doubt that the WW’s eating plans have moved with the times but my previous experience and the all prevailing air of a victim support meeting prevented me from galloping enthusiastically towards them.

So, who did I choose? Why no less that the saintly Rosemary Conley; my new guru who surely deserves beatification for the cleverly designed eating plan and innovative exercise programme. I like the psychology of this approach which encompasses a thoroughly modern methodology that encourages ownership and control of your weight loss progress with not a whiff of victim or nanny lecturing permeating the air. What a revelation to bounce out of a class, high on endorphin overload, thoughts of binge eating banished to the bad old days. I’m never hungry, eat a well balanced diet and my gym equipment no longer gathers dust.

It wasn’t easy to get going, but my energy levels have increased tenfold. A body that ached at every twist and turn as the exercise programme demanded much more activity than I had been used to of late has become more fluid in its movement. The loss of the use of an arm and a hip as stiffness and pain rendered me immobile for a week at a time were a small sacrifice on the road to fitness. The embarrassment of resembling the old bloke dancing at a wedding as I tried to master the aerobics routine is long forgotten as I comfortably complete the routine like an old pro. The abstinence from calorie ridden rich food and alcohol has been a doddle, a cleansing experience in mind and body and an easily maintainable practice. I’ve cemented my friendships with my girlfriends who are on the journey with me and we delight in each other’s progress. I’ve dropped several dress sizes and joy of joy, I can wear my standard sized welly boots as my calves have slimmed down from billiard table size; tree trunks in rubber was never a good look. Oh and finally, I’m forty five pounds lighter than I was this time last year with a resolve to embrace this new programme as a life-long commitment. I have a long way to go but every pound is a pound less than I was before. I might end up with a slimmer face that looks like it needs like a good iron but hey ho, you can’t win them all, but what I’ve achieved already feels like the best lottery win ever..

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Chink Collector

All it takes are the days staying lighter for longer to remind me that the worst is over, that the darkness of winter and severe depression, an insidious invader, a mental Trojan horse, are behind me. The parallel of emerging from bleak winter days with their interminable winter nights into the early signs of spring, dovetailing the abating of my depression, does not escape me. It seems almost poetic in its timing. Perhaps the extra daylight is a placebo aiding and abetting me to think sunnier thoughts; there’s no doubting in its therapeutic effect, I embrace it every year. Conceivably the emergence of the green shoots of Snowdrops with the promise of delicate white flowers bursting into bloom provides all the hope of a new dawn; that the eventual hum of bumblebee’s busily collecting their golden nectar signifies endless dazzling days and the heat of summer sun warming bones too deeply chilled by long winter months. But perhaps this rebirth and awakening elicits a more intensive appreciation, simply because the tyranny of my five year depression is over. A Placebo then? Quite so, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? I’ll hug each chink of light to me as though entrusted with the care of a newborn child, for my very survival is intrinsically linked, to its healthy development and greater presence in my life. Depression is a protracted sentence in a mental dungeon for a crime you didn’t commit. You are hopelessly blind to everything that once made your life challenging but worthwhile. A chink of light, signalling hope, is a precious gem that you crave to possess, or a fragile silken thread, a lifeline that you are desperate to grasp, but are terrified to touch lest it rupture and be beyond repair. I am one of the lucky ones. In time, those chinks became shafts that were strong enough to grasp my way to total daylight. The seven dwarfs of menopause – itchy, bitchy, sweaty, sleepy, bloated, forgetful and depressed have been beaten with every step of the way. I’ve become a collector of chinks, a chink collector, all shapes, sizes and wattage welcome here because there is strength in numbers and a girl can’t have too many precious gems to illuminate her journey forward.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Depression is for the Middle classes.....

.....the rest of us have to get up for work in the morning. That’s a quote from a Mike Leigh film that resonates strongly with me - a wee working-class lassie from Glasgow; a straight talking Scottish lass that was raised with a strong work ethic and the ability to get on with things no matter what life threw at me. I thought I knew a bit about depression; my uncle descended into a no-man’s land of desperation before being hospitalised and eventually managing his quest to take his own life; my old friend Ella battled long term first and then secondary cancer whilst seesawing between hope and very dark moments; I tail spun rapidly into a reactionary depression when my parents and three others of my family died over a period of a few weeks some fifteen years ago. I paid special attention to the modules on depression when I was doing my Psychology degree, bringing with me my firsthand experiences which afforded a deeper understanding of the academic knowledge I was attaining. So I was bound to recognise it wasn’t I? Ah, you’d think so wouldn’t you; apparently not.

Five years ago I was preparing to complete my year end exams, get married three days later and move house a few weeks later before preparing for Christmas shortly after that. It was a time of stress, conflicting emotions of excitement and sheer terror that we could fit it all in without something giving. But we managed it with minimal collateral damage. I remember feeling overwhelmed and exhausted at the lack of sleep that is synonomous with a racing mind trying to manage a schedule of a thousand pieces of detail that remained up in the air. About the same time I started to notice some distressing physical changes that worsened as time went on. Severe blood loss for three weeks of every month and cramping that felt like I had a knife lacerating my womb, coupled with sharp lightning bolts of pain across my breasts whilst my skeleton groaned in agony every time I moved; all disabling me into a foetal position of agony for much of the time.

My mood swings became almost legendary in their extremes. If I wasn’t sobbing at an RSPCA appeal on telly, I was raging at the world and giving Himself hell. Our relationship gradually descended into one of backbiting, sniping, pleading and threats. In time, my capacity for attention to detail failed and with only two modules of my degree to finish I capitulated and threw in the towel. For someone who was attaining distinctions on my written course work, I had deteriorated to the point where I read and reread paragraphs over and over before crying in frustration at my inability to absorb the simplest of detail. With even less to occupy my mind I became much too obsessed with the minutiae of life; much too self absorbed in my pity for my situation. I became the menopause, it defined me and in my frustration at living this hell, I bored for England about it.

When Himself and I met ten years ago, we delighted in the shared humour, deep love and respect we had for each other. We had both been in two consecutive long term relationships apiece that ended when our respective partners cheated on us. It was easy to bond in our shared grief and anger of the agony of betrayal within a committed relationship but finding each other cemented our resolve to enjoy our lives to the full. We indulged our love of wine, (me), Guinness,(him), good food and our local Inn. We had five tremendous years of harmony and couldn’t believe our good fortune at getting together at such a stage in our lives. When Himself took early retirement on a good pension our socialising took on another level; free from the shackles of the daily grind we went to bed later than ever, spent much more time in the pub than was good for us, we were in a hedonistic fug.

But the life of a permanent holiday without goals and boundaries began to pale for me, long before Himself was prepared to relinquish his participation in it. The more we drank, the more my darkness deepened. It was a vicious cycle of needing the socialising to lighten my mood and give me a goal for the evening whilst exacerbating my low mood each day. The more we led this lifestyle, the more I was incapable of finding the energy to haul myself out of the mire I found myself in. I knew I was in trouble when I would wake in the small hours with thoughts of suicide on my mind. My recurring dream of opening the hatch to the attic, throwing a rope around a beam and hanging myself would wake me in a jolt of terror. I cannot imagine a more heinous thing to do but I was consumed by my subconscious battering away at me – telling me to find a solution. My life had shrunk to eight walls - my home and the pub. I had begun to find the simplest of tasks such as brushing my teeth or showering an enormous task. I’d sleep in and shuffle around in the same clothes for days at a time not bothering to brush my hair which now resembled a burst couch. I had all the allure of a bag lady, whilst lurching from one HRT to another, each producing limited results. I gave up caffeine, tried every available alternative medicine, drank Soya milk and ate avocados by the bucket load and all to no avail. I had read that the menopause could last for up to twenty years and I was in despair that that was to be my future.

In desperation I gave Himself an ultimatum; he could spend as much time at the pub as he liked, as long as he didn’t put me under pressure to accompany him otherwise I saw no option but to leave him. It caused many an argument between us and I feared for the permanency of our relationship but I feared for my life more. Slowly but surely I divested myself of the negative influences that sought to bring me down. As I regrouped I felt much more in control of my life. Progress was slow but it was there nonetheless. It was my good fortune to encounter a new doctor at our surgery, one who took time to listen to me and treat me with a new approach. Quite simply he coached me through coming off the HRT to see how I would cope and promising new hope to find alternative protocols if this failed. In conjunction, I finally relinquished my devotion to the Atkins induction phase of that vile diet and started a healthier GI diet to include vegetables, fruits and nuts. I had become morbidly obese and giving up smoking had added to my girth, hence my need to control the ingesting of any kind of carbs. I was also physically deficient in many of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that I needed to create the hormones that my body needed to cope with such demanding changes. There is much research being done now on the effects of poor diet, the lack of hormones and the resultant criminal behaviour. I’d happily provide them with my anecdotal evidence of proof. Oh, and as I was to discover much too late ladies, should you be a devotee of the contraceptive pill, your chances of having a symptom free menopause are high. Shite, if only I had known that, I’d have downed a pack a day.

I’d had so many false starts where I thought I was on the road to recovery only to have them dashed some weeks later so I have been reluctant to write about it all. In the one week a month where I was virtually normal, I would manage to write a post for my blog. I am forever grateful for the comments and the feedback you have all given me. They provided me with laughter and a small thread of hope that I wasn’t completely useless.

Now? I am virtually post menopausal as the physical symptoms have mostly gone and the mood swings have gone to the point I am at peace and almost Zen like. I feel amazingly happy and positive. We had the happiest and best festive season we have had in a long time. Old friends that I had dropped have come back into my life and understood that my reluctance to see them was through sheer exhaustion and a need to protect them from my caustic tongue. I have apologised to the people that matter to me and feel humbled by their generous spirit and forgiving nature. But then, they knew me before I degenerated into the monstrous creature I had become. I am blessed with the close friendship of three good women and our time together is one of laughter rather than gossiping and moaning. I have convinced them that as we all keep bemoaning our respective weight gain that we should be emboldened and join our local Rosemary Conley diet and exercise club. “It’s our year”, I keep chanting just to keep the motivation high. We’ll see how effective I am as a cheerleader when we go for our first appointment next week; but for now the enthusiasm is high and I find myself almost having to book time for myself in our gym as I share it with my fellow lardybutts.

In addition, I have discovered Linkedin, a database of professionals that has a great deal of my old colleagues and friends from my time at Unisys registered on it. So many of them now live around us and we have been having a blast catching up, with more meetings in the offing. It’s like coming home, mixing with my fellow nerd-heads for whom laughter is the name of the game.

I gave Himself the worst of times but he saw it through because he knew the real me and kept the faith that I would return. I’d rail in desperation at him for his stubborn refusal to accept a change in our lifestyle but eventually he acquiesced and that intractability became my strength as he refused to let me go when my bags were packed and I foolishly believed that a life on my own was the answer. We drink moderately now but rarely during the week and as such enjoy the experience much more; my energy levels have risen

So what about Mike Leigh’s statement? Perhaps if I had been working I would have had less time to indulge myself in self pity but depression is a serious illness and mine was compounded by but more likely caused by the onset of the menopause, too much vino, a very poor diet, being overweight, unfit and a lack of any exercise – oh and not being on the contraceptive pill. By all accounts I fit the demographic of a middle class life. But then I hate the outmoded bigoted snobbery and segregation that the class structure condones; that is a topic for another post. But if I am to place us within a demographic, we are comfortable, don’t have to work and enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle. There was no outward reason for me to be depressed but then, it is indiscriminate of class, culture, gender, age, position and wealth. Just look at the documented accounts of the very successful and popular author Marianne Keys, currently laid low by a crippling black depression to the point where she cannot write her monthly blog post or how Annie Lennox has been dogged by severe depression for most of her adult life.

I didn’t realise the depth of my depression until 18 months ago, and by then I was in the grip of it. The reactive depression I experienced when my family died was loaded with grief and as such was a natural companion to the grief with the deaths being an obvious cause; this new depression was entirely different and much more destructive, and as it was a slow burn with no discernable cause, I failed to see the enemy within. Hindsight is an exact science, and as I look back and see the road I travelled I can see the wrong turns I took. Was I being very middle class and self indulgent? Perhaps up to a point as work can be a salve for all sorts of problems but sometimes it just delays the inevitable but let’s not lose sight of the fact it is a chemical deficiency. There are many levels of depression from blue to grey to black. You know you've hit the black when you are consumed with fear, anxiety, self loathing and the terror that you might end it all and you see no way out. I’ve always held onto the belief that suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem and that kept me on the right track – some people get so much deeper into depression that any kind of rational thought is beyond them, I consider myself lucky I never reached that point but I knew I was teetering on a precipice. I am eternally grateful for the love and support that my closest friends, family and Himself gave me. I wouldn’t be here today without it.