If you can’t tell by now, I’m a music fan. I find lyrics peppered throughout my life that fit in and narrative my story pretty well. Today I share with you a line from the Belle and Sebastian song “Family Tree.”
The way they act
I’d rather be fat
than be confused
When I was in high school, my sister was diagnosed with anorexia. She did a good job of hiding the fact that she had dropped to only 80 pounds before we figured it out, and she went through a rigorous recovery that took years. Ever since then, I’ve been pretty sensitive to issues of body weight, especially for women. It’s hard to be a woman in a media-obsessed world, in which there is constant pressure to be skinny, unhealthily skinny.
With this awareness, I agree with Belle and Sebastian when they say that it’s better to be fat than “confused,” as they put it. But I have the privileged perspective of someone who is not fat as I make this point. I’m sort of like the opposite of fat. I’m extremely active, often times for upwards of 3 or 4 hours a day. I love almost all physical activity. I had really bad asthma as a kid, and the strained breathing led me to having six-pack abs when I was in only 4th grade. The thing is, I haven’t lost the physique. I’m fit, healthy, active, proud of my body, and I can get away with pretty much eating whatever I want, whenever I want. You might be thinking “this guy is also an arrogant asshole,” which may be the case, but in the same way that I can objectively say after being alive for long enough that I have gotten enough positive feedback to indicate that I am an attractive person, I can also say that I have a good body, and that I get away with murder by not having to worry about it at all. Being in shape is just like tying my shoes, it doesn’t take much thought or effort.
So when I say “it’s better to be fat than to be skinny and deal with really awful head-case issues,” I’m like the guy sitting at home on his couch, yelling at the TV and telling professional athletes how to do their job. I’ve never actually had to look weight gain in the eye, I just watch as others confront it, and tell them to not worry about it. Because I don’t have to worry about it. So of course my perspective is skewed.
My wife is a beautiful woman. That is a subjective but also objective observation. She is the type of woman who quiets a room. Many of my guy friends typically come up to me after they first meet her, a little sheepish, to point out that she is extremely attractive. I usually like to respond to this comment by saying, “No shit, you should see her naked.” That typically gets them even more worked up, because as I pointed out before, I am a bit of an asshole.
However, my beautiful woman, like so many women, is critical of her body. She is also extremely active, but isn’t blessed with the young-man metabolism that I have, and so she has to be more careful. She has struggled with compulsive-overeating for several years, which is a terrible disorder. You eat to punish yourself, then work out to punish yourself for over-eating, and then eat more to punish yourself more. She never purged and so wasn’t bulimic, but she really worked to get herself to the gym to keep the weight off from her binges.
This, by the way, is all pre-hospital, and more importantly, pre-medicine. It’s extremely well-documented that antipsychotic medicines tinker with your metabolism, and typically lead to weight gain. Cognizant of her weight issues, her doctors tried to start her on non-weight gaining antipsychotics, most particularly Geodon, but she ended up having heartbeat irregularity on that medicine. The combination of not finding any other medicine that worked, and the long duration of her delusions, the doctors finally resorted to Zyprexa. Zyprexa is one of the most effective antipsychotics on the market, and it brought her back to reality, but it is also the most guilty of the guilty, on the top of America’s Most Wanted for antipsychotics that cause weight gain.
The result of the Zyprexa, and the follow-up Risperdol that replaced it, was a weight gain of about 50 pounds, or about 35% of her body weight. That is not unsubstantial, and she has certainly noticed it. For most of the time, she was indifferent too it, far too concerned with whether or not she wanted to stay alive to give a shit about putting on some weight. But as the suicidal thoughts have faded, the weight gain has become more obvious in her mind, and she has struggled to process it. Her emotional breakdowns, when she ends up collapsing into her most gut-wrenching of sobs, are not necessarily about the devil delusions or the suicidal thoughts anymore, but about the weight gain, as “one more thing to add to this. As if devil delusions and wanting to kill yourself isn’t enough. The shit really hit the storm here.” (That, by the way, is one of my favorite mistaken idioms that my wife uses, in which she is mixing “shitstorm” [as in, wow, this place is a shitstorm] with the far more popular phrase “the shit hit the fan.” The result makes me chuckle every time, which I often have to swallow because she’s often times crying as she says it.)
I still think she looks beautiful, again from a subjective and objective perspective. She could weigh 2,000 pounds and it wouldn’t change her eyes or her smile, which drive pretty much everyone into hysterics they are so stunning. But she’s not really “fat,” she’s just full. I like to call her a Renaissance Nude, not to her face, but in my mind, in the same way I called her Sonya in my mind when she was delusional in the hospital. Because that’s pretty much what she looks like…a full, pale woman from the Renaissance, when fullness was considered a status symbol, and therefore beautiful. So she’s kind of like a fuller version of Titian’s “Venus of Urbino.” (I always wondered what the hell that little girl was doing in the background, looking for a toy or something while another woman posed in the nude.)
While I wax poetically and compare my wife’s weight gain to works of art, it has been pretty awful for her. She pretty much only wears sweatpants now, because no other clothes fit her, and she’s embarrassed to try them. I remember the shame in her face when she tried on her snow pants to go skiing with her mom a few months ago. She ended up borrowing mine. I was so mad at my mother-in-law. My wife wanted to try the pants on with only me there, but my mother-in-law barged in our room to watch her daughter struggle to suck her gut in to fit in pants that were not budging. I am still very mad that she invaded my wife’s privacy and forced her to share that moment, and that look in her face, of self-loathing and helplessness as she knew she was going to have to borrow her husband’s pants, is also in my mental hard drive as one of the more painful and sad memories that will haunt me for some time to come.
I bring this up because she is out of town visiting my brother and his fiancee, and this is a very weighted visit (pun intended). They are getting married in two months, and my wife and I are in the wedding; I’m the best man, she’s a bridesmaid. The problem is, she got measured for the bridesmaid dress a month before hospitalization, and she was 50 pounds lighter. She brought her bridesmaid dress with her on this visit, and they are going to the dress maker in two days to get re-measured, to see if it is salvageable. They’ll measure her up, and then try to expand the existing dress to make it work. My wife is afraid that they won’t be able to make it fit, and as such, she will have to be left out of the wedding as the “fat cow who couldn’t fit in her dress.”
She has been anxious about this dress for a while, months even, and in two days she has to face this…without me. I’m nervous about it too. I feel guilty about outsourcing this huge moment onto my brother and his fiancee, but I guess that’s how it has to be. She is extremely close to them, but I think it will also force her to protect herself through this, which will hopefully turn into something positive for her. But she’s had a few meltdowns about the dress, most recently just before leaving. I sat her down, held her hand, and wiped her tears for her. She is afraid that everyone will look at her as she walks down the aisle and see a once beautiful girl who got fat. What I told her, and what I really believe, as that they won’t be able to see her physically. Her spirit, which has held on through an emotional beating that no one should have to suffer, will shine through her smile and it will blind anyone from seeing whatever else she looks like. For those that know she has been sick, they will see in my wife a brave and strong hero. Because that’s what she is, much more than someone who gained weight because of the medicine she has taken.
I remember at our wedding, and she graced down the aisle like flowing gold to marry me. I was so proud of her then. I look ahead to two months, and I think that I get to walk alongside her this time, since it’s not our wedding. I get to hold her hand, to connect to her as my wife, and I get to be a part of her heroism. I get to walk and show the world the woman who has overcome the stuff that most people only dare to have nightmares about. We will walk down this aisle, whether she fits in her dress or not, as a couple that has saved each other from wretched suffering and fear.
I don’t give a shit that she’s overweight. What I give a shit about is that she’s strong. And this summer, I will walk by her side and will worry that my heart might literally explode with pride.