Weightless

This is not a diet post. But it is all about how I shed some dead weight that was keeping me down.

It all began with blogging.

Some of my friends didn’t like me blogging, they felt it was too public, others commented that I had too much time on my hands or that it was narcissistic. Those comments stung. But blogging has proved to be one of the chief delights of my life. You see, as my health declined, so did my self esteem.  I felt that I grew less useful and more of a burden as time progressed. I watched myself get sicker and less mobile as if I was watching from outside of myself. And there was, at times, a kind of loathing I felt for the girl I saw living in my skin and dealing with those problems. She was living on a different planet, with a gravitational field ten times the weight of earth’s normal. She had sunk low, very low into the quagmire. And she didn’t think she would ever re-surface.

But blogging threw me a lifeline, it kept me present, it forced me to examine what was happening in my life. I smile now to think that becoming a blogger was actually accidental.

Building a blog was a brilliant thing for me to focus on. It brought me out of myself utterly and forced my brain to work in new ways. It gave me further writing opportunities and I had the chance to dabble again with rudimentary graphics, something I love to do. Almost as much as writing the posts!  And the writing was therapeutic. I was on a roll, but still interrupted by self doubt. Then, a few weeks into the course, I discovered blog stats.  A lot of bloggers don’t pay them any mind at all, they don’t like to look at them and they don’t like to attach meaning to them.  But for me, it was like an objective, definitive message every time I looked at them. For the first time in years, I had performance feedback. It was like water in the desert! And then people began to comment on my posts, and I had connection and conversation about my writing. It blew me away.

Since I started blogging (if you average it out) I’ve had 4000 hits a day, according to the stats provided by my web host.  So that is how it began.  My confidence started to grow because something as meaningless as numbers on a screen showed me that I don’t have to be cool to have something of worth to offer.  Well that is how I interpreted it. Every click on my site felt like validation! Blog stats are a funny thing. There’s a big difference between hits and page views, and purists who crunch numbers get really into all the permutations and details of all those stats. I actually don’t give a rats about the technical meaning of those stats. What they meant to me, was that I had something to give. People wanted to read my words.  And that was the beginning of seeing my worth as separate from my health.

Writing a blog opened up other opportunities for me too. I was accepted on to a Leadership Programme for people in the disability community. I was very excited to learn more about social leadership in the field of chronic and invisible illness. I hoped the leadership programme would help me to step into something much bigger than myself.  I listened to some of New Zealand’s most influential leaders in social change.  Every speaker gave me food for thought. Every reading taught me something new. But even better, that programme taught me something you only learn from experience. I learned in a very real way how to stand up for what I believe in. I learned that I can survive judgement and criticism, that it can help me to focus on my core values and test the things that I say are true for me.  I learned that sticking up for myself is empowering and builds strength. I learned that I can cop flak and carry on.  The lesson was painful, but it healed, and I grew.

That particular lesson would prove a very useful tool in my personal growth.  In August last year, I got the opportunity to embark on a new line of work; plus size modelling. It was extremely left field.  I have not felt beautiful for a long time, I wasn’t sure if my outer package could be considered a bankable commodity. But I got signed by Vivien’s Model Management at 41, older and fatter than I have ever been… yet healthier and happier than I remember being.

My year in the Leadership Programme had coincided with six months of immune modulation therapy and a further six months of oral steroid support. It kicked my immune system into line. I was in remission! And modelling, a preposterous concept the year before, was actually a possibility. I went for a test shoot in Sydney. I started work as a model for the agency 62Models.  In October, I volunteered to do a breast cancer fundraising lingerie calendar.  Something well outside of my comfort zone. We were photographed out at Ambury Park Farm on a blustery Sunday, lying in the grass in our bras and knickers. But I did not expect the publicity that it would bring.

 

Photograph by Mike Mikha for the NZ Plus Size Calendar by Regina and Peachtree
Photograph by Mike Mikha for the NZ Plus Size Calendar by Regina and Peachtree

Fatness is a fact of western society. We live in a world of plenty, we are time poor and we are sedentary. We are yet to grapple with the problems that obesity brings us as a country, but let me just address the elephant in the room (no pun intended), it is a real problem.  More than 60% of women are over size 14 and considered ‘plus size’ by our fashion industry; but that doesn’t mean over 60% of women are obese. My own fatness is the result of six years of illness, medications and an inability to exercise. And my love of cake!  I acknowledge the facts of my fat. It would be better for my body if I was not this heavy, yet I am. And my size does not dictate my worth. I don’t celebrate my fat. But I do celebrate having womanly curves and stepping into body confidence regardless of size. I do celebrate honouring our bodies for what they do for us instead of putting ourselves down. These bodies go through so much, and often things out of our control. Fat is a complex issue.

Media interest in the plus size lingerie calendar resulted in a long discussion on TV3s facebook page. A number of people wrote deeply hateful things about fat girls in their comments. I watched with dismay as the brave, lovely ladies who posed with me for such a good cause, became targeted by the comments levelled at the models.

“They should all be taken back to the farm and trained like the pigs they are”

“I would not want any of these women to be role models for my daughter”

My dismay was not about the comments, although they are awful. My dismay was that some of the girls were letting nasty words decimate their sense of self. Opinions are cheap. I see now that any person delivering criticism at my door has to be someone I really respect for it to hurt. I know this, because I wasn’t hurt in the slightest. In fact, I wanted everyone to ignore those comments rather than bite back. I have reached a place where criticism has found it’s proper place in my head. Realising that I wasn’t hurt by those words made me pause and think about how far I have come.

I’m just being me. Doing my thing. Using my voice about the things that I feel strongly about. My voice won’t always agree with everyone else’s. My thing won’t always be your cup of tea. Who I am might cause you discomfort or make you feel like judging me. And finally, at this ripe old age, I am okay with that. When I started blogging in May of 2014, I had no idea that I was really starting a journey in knowing who I am, what I stand for, and what I will put up with. I had no idea that I was girding myself with the truth of who I am as a human being. Learning how to activate my force field and deflect the worthless words of detractors.

If you are feeling weighed down and your self esteem is at an all time low, please find something to do that brings you joy. Take a step into the passions that give you a sense of success and provide you with useful feedback about who you truly are. Every single person on this planet is worthy, has something to give and a soul purpose.  Ignore those stupid detractors in your head or in your ear. Tell them where to go. You have much more to do than spend your life anchored to a negative perception of yourself. Find your thing. Find your self.  Let go of the shackles and heavy burdens you carry, you’d be surprised how much easier it is to travel without the weight of all that.

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Here is one of my favourite songs of all time, oh James Taylor! I referred to it in a competition I entered the other day run by a NZ designer label, Euphoria, it’s all about how confidence is beautiful. If you are interested in helping me out with a vote,  you can find my entry heremine is the one titled ‘Up On the Roof’. 🙂

…and listen to this soul-weight-lifting song all about getting away from the quagmire, here:

Going Up

oing up

For the chronically ill there are a lot of visits to the hospital. Not just admissions, there are also visits to specialists in hospital outpatient clinics. I am very familiar with the Level 6 clinic at Auckland Hospital.  I’ve been going there for years.  Gastroenterology, General Surgery and Immunology all run their clinics from the same place, the pathology rooms are just down the hall. The neurology clinic happens just upstairs. On a regular rota I have been seeing all of them. And today, I went for what I hope will be the last time. I know I can’t expect it will be forever, but why not hope?  So many of my wishes have come true lately, so many lucky things have been happening for me.

My immunologist is a quiet-spoken man. I’ve written about him before, he is a superhero, that kind of doctor who restores your faith in the medical system. After he invited me into his office he said in his measured voice “What’s been happening?”

“LIFE!” I enthused, “I’ve been busy living life!” His lips twisted in that lets-be-scientific way and he asked a different question, followed by some more. He looked at my file, shook his head and smiled. We discussed how strange (but welcome!) my remission is. He used a word not many doctors use: “miraculous”. And he used it without even a hint of tongue in cheek. He explained that they had searched high and low for an objective test that could unequivocally demonstrate the difference in my condition from before, to now. They just can’t explain it. I observed his wonder at my remission with mild surprise. I forget sometimes, what a different person I must seem to him, this new life fills me with joy, but I think the shock of the change is fading for me. Today, I’m wearing bright clothes, coordinating accessories and my face is fully made up. Even my nails are done, thanks to my new side job. The Rachel he met a bit more than a year ago sat slumped in the same chair, colourless, exhausted and nearly defeated.

“You were so symptomatic…” he reflected. “And look at you now!”

He agreed that I don’t need to attend clinic anymore. And that means no more Auckland City Hospital!!! I’ve never been so happy to farewell someone.

“Come back if you need us again, you may need to have another course every few years, but hopefully not,” he smiled.  Then he stood and said “…well then- give me a hug!”.  We hugged, patient and doctor. We hugged in that slightly awkward but full of feeling way, and I hoped that flowing through my arms he felt my gratitude. I stumbled over my words, something about wishing there was a way I could adequately…
“Just keep doing your good work” he said.

I grinned at him, waved, and walked out of that clinic.  Past all the chairs where people less lucky than me sat, round shouldered, weighed down by their health burdens. Past reception, where my file would be handled for the last time. Through the foyer, past the best barista in Auckland, who has served me more coffees while I’ve been in my hospital nightie than in my street clothes.

By the time I reached the carpark lifts, my heart was already soaring.
The elevator doors opened “…going up?” asked the man in the lift.

“I believe I am” I smiled, stepping inside.