It may seem cliché at this point to hear that someone who has spent the great majority of their life as a fat person feels like a “prisoner”. Hidden TV shows effortlessly bring out the “fat suit” to mimic what a day or week is like in the life of a fat (incarcerated) person. In my opinion, they can’t even scratch the psychological surface or inward-facing pain that comes with daily body-confinement. Shows can illuminate how horrible other people will act toward random people on the basis of physical appearance, but they can’t capture the clipped mental wings of the actual prisoner.
I try not to dwell on this fact, but, in hindsight, I think a lot of my life was lived looking through bars.
While freedom can be defined in infinite ways, one of the biggest freedoms I always felt robbed of was physical movement, the ability to do what other people freely did without much thought to it. Living in a body that’s beyond the threshold of comfortably chubby or overweight is a disability. I’ve talked about this in a previous post (Fitting In) as it relates to general daily activities – fitting in chairs, walking through tight spaces, getting into a car or plane and having the seatbelt actually fit. The seatbelt extender I bought for plane rides was my best friend and my worst enemy. While seemingly “little”, they are the repeat reminders that can (and did, for me) add up to a collectively huge level of sadness. In understanding that you’re not living fully, you also feel a sense of loss.
There were, of course, bigger things – the things that define freedom at a higher level – that were arguably just unattainable for a very long time (i.e. no level of modification, squeezing or extending device could make them happen). I thought about them less, ironically, because I purposely didn’t engage in them. Recently, through pure trial, I’ve realized those things are (or can be) a part of my life. Small or large, I now don’t have to mandatorily miss out.
In the past, I might have walked without too many issues (say, in a mall), but I wouldn’t have gone particularly far or fast. My feet usually killed me in every shoe (I’m still not a fan of most shoes, likely a legacy of feet damaged by years of supporting a much larger frame). I had plantar fasciitis more than once in my very obese lifetime (if you don’t know what this is, I can only liken the pain to someone shoving a machete into the bottom of your heel every time you take a step). Now, I’ll walk until I’m basically hobbled (in a good, recoverable kind of way) because I love it so much; two to three miles a day is the norm. I would have never EVER (god forbid) dreamed of hiking. It’s not simply because it would have been “hard” – it would have literally been impossible. Embarrassingly impossible. Between the distance and strength and endurance necessary to make it up elevations… these are things I intuitively knew were a no go, particularly at 390 lbs. Consequently, when you know that your body isn’t going to be able to do a something, you often remove yourself from the circle of being either available or invite-able for that same something. Why embarrass myself? Why hold my friends back as well based on my own cruel sentence? Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized that I can now hike with relative ease (though, elevations are still, admittedly, a special accomplishment). I’ve also been forced to take stock of the things I missed in my non-hiking: the views, the smell of a different kind of air (i.e. not pollution-laced), the birds, the general sounds, and even (for the few hikes I’ve been on) the unmatched views of the Pacific Ocean (separated by a thin layer of air and, really, nothing else between the bluffs we hike along and rocky ocean shore)… I MISSED ALL OF THIS.
Maybe people don’t exactly know what they’ve missed until they find it. For me? I knew.
I always knew that I was missing out. Along with the serious walks of the past two years and the hikes of just the last few weeks, I pushed myself to bring something else into my circle of living this past week: a relationship with theme parks. A friend of mine was gracious enough to invite me to Universal Studios Hollywood (with front-of-line passes, no less). I rode EVERY ride. For those who know me – yes, every ride.
There wasn’t one ride I didn’t fit on. Yes, in the past, I did NOT FIT. I wasn’t trying to purposely loathe theme parks or be horribly boring by being “that friend” who always holds everyone else’s crap while they raced around, carefree, throwing themselves on (and likely endangering their lives while I watched) everything with bells and whistles. I hated what theme parks (and fairs and carnivals and anything else where rides were part of the show) represented. I had no choice but to not ride – it was a convenient excuse simply to say that I hated rides. I mean, in truth, I hate theme parks (still) in the summer and insane crowds… but I don’t and never really did hate rides. The seats weren’t wide enough, the bars wouldn’t close all the way, and the restraining seatbelts wouldn’t fully click closed. They didn’t fit me, I didn’t fit them. For years, I wistfully wished I could ride with my friends with reckless abandon as well as I watched their faces and listened to their wild screams of laughter. Knowing that I have the ability to ride some set of rides somewhere in the world (and that they are probably indicative of fitting in rides in other places) is still one less layer of anxiety and missed opportunity. And an added layer of freedom I haven’t felt a part of for a very long time.
Laughing and living with friends more fully remedies my history behind bars.
Having fun defines new freedom.