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The rising cost of holding on

It didn’t take long in this journey to figure out that the physical weight was only a small part of it all.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to lose the weight, otherwise what the hell am I doing busting my ass everyday?

But, I have baggage.

Everyone does.

Sometimes people have more than others.

And, if I had to guesstimate, I would say that I have more than most.

And throughout this process I’ve let go of a lot of things. I really have.

Just two weeks ago I was proud of walking around in a t-shirt for example. Well, now I’m swimming. In a public pool filled with other self-conscious adults.

Some of my body issues can be traced back to a swimming pool. One summer I went from swimming every day in a pool with my shirt off, to hiding in the corner of the pool with my soaked to my skin.

In fact, after that summer I didn’t swim again until, well… last week.

There’s a bit of a learning curve. I snorted a lot of water. It wasn’t cool.

But, it felt good to stare that little devil in the eye and tell it to “shag off.”

It’s an odd feeling being completely submerged in water. Weightlessness is something that takes time to get used to, especially when you’ve been moving as much weight as I have over the past ten years or so.

I’ve hit the 60lbs mark in weight lost. I still have more to go. Like, a lot more. Realistically 60lbs is about one third of what I need to lose. But I‘m proud of hitting that mark, I earned every bit of it.

The point I’m trying to make here is — baggage has a way of taking all that pride and happiness and contorting it until you can’t even muster a smirk about it all.

It’s a voice that echoes in your ear all the things that forced you down the unhealthy paths that you’ve travelled. It’s a trickster.

It does nothing but add more weight into the equation. And, God knows I’ve got enough of that.

So, this week I’ve decided to let it all go. Every speck of contention I feel about the world, and my placement in it. I’m happy where I am, and with what I’ve become.

And while I know I’ve still got miles ahead of me, I have no doubt the weight will soon be in the rearview.

As for holding onto old baggage?

It hasn’t brought me anything but darkness. And it’s about time I let some fucking light shine in.

Now, where are my sunglasses?

What you lose along the way

For almost my whole life I’ve been ashamed of my body.

It’s big and lumpy. It’s been described by others in every way imaginable.

In many ways, I’ve been trained to loathe it. For decades — yes, decades — I’ve viewed my body as broken. An eyesore that should be covered with as many layers as possible.

Which, I think is perhaps a shock to people to hear. Because, most of us view the male ego as something that doesn’t have time for body issues.

Now, I can only speak for myself here, but I’ve been littered with them. And I hardly think that I’m special enough to be the exception to the rule.

But these body issues have impacted almost every facet of my life — from relationships to venturing into public spaces, to any number of things. I’ve always felt as though I had to apologize just for being who I am. As if to say “yeah, I know I’m huge. I’m so sorry you have to see that.”

The shift

Last week, Caitlin and I hiked from Logy Bay to Quidi-Vidi. A section of trail that is just about 9km in length, and a truly challenging way to spend Canada Day.

Trail 2

It was, and this is no exaggeration, the most challenging physical act I’ve ever attempted.

Now, I’d love to sit here and tell you that I breezed through it tickety-boo.

But that would be horseshite.

It was hard. Real hard.

Prior to the final ascent I flopped down onto the ground and refused to budge. Mainly because I didn’t trust my legs to get me where I needed to go. Not my proudest moment.

At some point though, I got my bearings and stood. I reached the top of the ridge that overlooked historic St. John’s, and felt proud of the accomplishment…. that pride was somewhat buried beneath a layer of “get me off this fucking ridge.” But it was there.

Now, a couple of things happened on the hike. The first of which: I began the hike with a t-shirt and a collared short-sleeved shirt on. And during the initial ascent over Logy Bay to a place called Sugarloaf Head, I said shag it and just wore a t-shirt.

Sugarloaf

Here’s the thing: I’ve not worn “just a t-shirt” in public since I was 16 years old.

That was 21 years ago.

That’s 21 years of hiding.

And here I was, over two decades later, shedding a little piece of that. Not only that, but I allowed myself to be photographed wearing a t-shirt. Which, in my mind, is a huge step forward.

I know this may sound strange to some people. But this is the depth of the shame I have felt about my body for years. It makes me uncomfortable to even say these things out loud. But, that lack of comfort is all the reason I need to say it out loud. Because, I know damn well I’m not the only fish in this bowl.

The more you learn

This particular hike taught me to love myself a little more. My body impressed me. It got me through a tremendous challenge. If I could, I’d give it a gold star, or at the very least a purple ribbon for participation.

When Caitlin and I first began our walks nearly six months ago, it seemed impossible that a day would ever come whereby I could achieve these milestones. We began by walking around her neighbourhood, which was pretty much flat. And even then I would need to stop six or seven times to catch my breath. She was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get through it.

Fast forward to Canada Day. To this photo:

The trail end

It makes my heart swell. And sure, my legs are still a little tired — and yeah, I may have lost a toenail. But I battled my way through it.

And a big part of what brought me to the end of this trail, apart from my desire to see another sunset, was this body.

This body that has shielded me in times of pain. This body that has held me back enjoying the world around me.

This complex creature.

This dichotomy.

This is my body.

And I’m learning to love it.

Ain’t No Mountain Low Enough

 

 

 

Have you ever sat back and thought about something you’d love to do, but then thought “God, there’s no way I could ever do that.”

 

For me, that thing was to hike what’s known as the Signal Hill Trail. For those of you from far reaching places, Signal Hill is 500 feet high, and it’s the sight where Marconi, in 1901, received the first transatlantic wireless signal. This is Marconi… he looks pretty stoked, doesn’t he?

mar3

For me though, the hill was more than a National Historic site. It became a roadblock — something that I thought that I’d never be able to overcome. I can think back to times in my life where people close to me would head out to the trail to hike the hill, and I’d sheepishly back off and head on down to the basement for another burger or two. It would never be brought up as an option to join in on the fun because it was clear that I was in no shape to do that kind of thing.

It was a point of shame, in a way. Shame that I wasn’t healthy enough to attempt the climb to the top, that I’d let myself slip to a point where I couldn’t do the things “normal” people do. It set me apart from the people who are enjoying life, seeing the world, and loving every second of it.

It, for me, was a symbol of my fear. The mountain I would never climb.

Well today I climbed it.

Dave on the Hill

I sucked wind like a Hoover on crack, but I made it to the top.

Each step felt like I was pounding back the years of doubt that I had built up in my own mind. It’s funny what you think of when your body is under duress like that.

I didn’t do it on my own. The support that Caitlin has given me throughout this whole process has been tremendous, and I am so blessed to have her in my life. She is, as my Mother pointed out, a keeper.

Today was a huge leap forward for me, not only physically — but psychologically.

I’m no longer the man huddled in a darkened basement hiding fast food wrappers. I am the man that moves. The man that has stepped out of his shame, and into a life I’m proud to live.

I am the man I once envied.

And that is an incredible feeling.

The fine art of being hard on yourself

“My skin is a song

A fleet-footed dream

Of a dancing God

With harpsichord arms

That made me

Just as much a masterpiece

As anyone else.”     Joshua Bennett

 

So, here I am. Slightly less fleet-footed than the above quote would have you believe.

The last post was about sickness and listening to your body when it needs healing.

Well, I’m still healing. I wound up with viral pneumonia and a couple of infections on top of it. Which, unfortunately, meant my running career has been put on hold until I’m better.

I’ve been on and off work for the past two weeks, mainly off — which I hate. The worst thing you can do to a workaholic is take away the work. But, alas, I’m without options, I need to heal. The good news is it’s on its way out. After tomorrow I should be grand. I only discovered it was pneumonia this morning. Luckily I’m at the tail end.

Recently I had a full blood panel done, along with several tests on my ticker. Heart disease moves like a freight train through my family, so the new Doc and I figured it wise to get it all checked while I’m in the process of working out and running. Seemed smart.

To say that I was terrified about the results from either test would be the understatement of the century. I knew something was wrong — you don’t walk out of years of fast food addiction unscathed.

As I waited, every burger, French fry, ice cream, and cookie I’d ever piled into my mouth was recalled. When the day came to receive the blood work results I walked into the Doc’s office coated in sweat, sat down, looked him in the eye and said, “alright, it’s time I knew. Go ahead.”

“You’re fine,” he said. “Your cholesterol is a little higher than I’d like it. But all in all you’re great.”

The cholesterol, by the way, was lower than it was eight years ago, the last time it was measured.

Two weeks later I went back for the results of my heart tests and it was the same thing.

“You’re normal,” he said.

Not even normal. Better than normal. The last time I had my heart rate checked by a doctor it was resting at 105 BPM. A lot of that has to do with the immense amount of white coat anxiety I carry around with me.

My resting heart rate was down 30 BPM to 75, which is, as the good Doctor said, “normal.”

This is going to sound a bit strange, but I felt kind of depressed. I felt as though I didn’t deserve the news I was getting.

You often hear stories of people who drink and smoke anything that they can get their hands on and eat all kinds of crap, and yet they outlive many of their friends.

I felt like that guy a bit.

Here I was shamefully abusing my body for years and years… and yet… nothing. Apart from the tremendous weight gain.

I felt as though I’d gotten off easy.

It took me a couple of days to really come around to the fact that the work I’ve been doing in the past five or so months has had an impact on my overall health.

I’m not talking at the moment, because I’m a dirty old state at the moment.

But the truth of the matter is that I’ve made changes, and these results are proof positive that they’re having an impact.

It struck me that I was searching for punishment. A slap on the wrist for being so awful to myself. As if I’d not been punished enough.

How foolish is that?

I think. It’s about time I gave myself a bit of grace.

And in terms of this current predicament I’m in with the pneumonia shenanigans — it’ll pass. I’m chomping at the bit to get back at it, and I will soon. These harpsichord arms are itching to lift things.

 

 

The King of Hubris

I’m not great at giving myself breaks. It’s something I’ve got to work on.

Last Tuesday I took my first running clinic. And, as luck would have it, the following day I got sick. And, in fact, I’m still sick.

And I hate the whole mancold thing. I try not to subscribe to it. But I’m sure I’m as guilty of it as anyone else.

Here’s where I’m struggling — I don’t want to stop exercising or working out. Even though my body is clearly saying “Dave, seriously? You’re seriously going to do this right now?”

Saturday I hiked up Signal Hill. It’s a big hill. I’ve never done it before. We used a path that I’d never heard of, it wasn’t the “big hike”, but there were stairs and inclines and I was… well… sick. And it was… well… stupid of me.

And even though it was a foolish thing to do, and I’m really paying the price for it now, there’s a part of me that is happy about the attitude that I’ve developed. This willingness to keep going. But, that leads to other problems too.

Like fear. Fear that if I stop for too long I’ll lose all momentum. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, right?

I never want to retreat, I always want to be advancing. Moving forward towards health.

So as I lay here crumpled up, about to dive into season 2 of Orange is The New Black on Netflix, and sidelined for at least another two days due to nothing more than pure hubris on my part. I’m reminded of the words of Friar Lawrence in Bill Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.”

From here on in, I’ll try to be wise. And as far as speed is concerned — I’ll be mindful of that too.

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Girth

I reflected a little bit this weekend. On a time when I was inactive. Just eating my cares away in negative space.

I began to think on my friends and acquaintances that undertook a lifestyle change. The jealousy I felt. This misaligned resentment I had towards them. How uneasy it made me feel. It was childishness really. A reflection of my insides at the time.

I just want to say that if there is anyone out there that’s reading this thing. Anyone at all. You can do it. I know how hokey and Dr. Phil-ish that sounds. But, it’s legit.

The negative space is only as negative as you allow it to be. Anyone can inject a little light into the dark. And once it’s in there the whole place can and will light up eventually.

God, I love mixed metaphors.

The truth of the matter is, getting started isn’t half as hard as you think it is. That’s the shit people don’t say. It’s easy. We overcomplicate things to a point where it seems impossible and out of reach, but it isn’t. Is it hard work? Yup. You’re darn tootin’.

Is it hard work like brain surgery and rocket science? Nope. Not at all.

It’s an easy concept that you have to work hard to maintain.

Are there bumps in the road? Yup. My road is a little like postwar Paris, and even that can be navigated.

Five months ago I thought that I’d be buried in a piano box, by a gathering of 15 or so volunteers after being cut out of my house. I’ve since changed that narrative. I did it through demystifying what it means to get healthy.

Does it take courage? Yes.

Is it scary? Damn right.

Is it complicated? No.

Right now I feel legitimately empowered. Like I could take the world by storm if I wanted to.

I completed my first run at the running clinic tonight. I ran 2.18km. Which is probably 2km longer than I’ve ever run in my entire life.

I’m fifty pounds down with a considerable amount to go. But, now, more than ever I know, without a doubt, it’s going to happen.

And, I know people say this all the time, but — if I can do this, anyone can.

For those out there struggling, you don’t have to. You really don’t. You can choose to change things. And you can find people who will help facilitate and support that change. They’re out there. You have to find them though.

 

Take a Hike

This weekend I’m participating in something called the Tele Hike. It’s a fundraiser for the East Coast Trail here in Newfoundland and Labrador. National Geographic Traveller named the Avalon Penninsula as the top coastal destination in the world. And a big part of that distinction is this trail.

If you feel like sponsoring me and my team “The Barasway B’ys” in the walk, that would be fantastic. It’s a worthy cause. And something that really has to be seen to believed. I love it.

http://www.gifttool.com/athon/MyFundraisingPage?ID=2023&AID=2689&PID=435798

It’s all in the figurin’ out.

I’ve spoken before about what hard graft it is to change a lifestyle. Particularly when you’re changing it to something that’s completely foreign to you.

I have no muscle memory for lunges. Not that anyone would want that memory. It’s more of a nightmare — I kid… kinda.

I struggle from time to time. It’s normal. It can be a bit of a roller coaster. There are days when I can set the world aflame with positive thinking. It’s as if Dr. Norman Vincent Peale has taken over my brain. And then there are days where I’m frustrated with how long it’s taking. And I whip myself for not being farther ahead.

I’m trying to learn to give myself a break. To love me a little more — as hokey and Oprah Winfrey as that sounds. I’ve spent years and years being ashamed of my body, and the core of who I was as a person. The addiction to food was the mechanism I employed to protect myself. And as most ironies are cruel, it also contributed to the self-loathing I had already deeply established.

When I say I’ve been ashamed of my body. I mean it. (This is going to sound a little odd, so be warned. It’s odd to write about, trust me.)

I avoided mirrors. If I did stand in front of a mirror I’d shut my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see myself. I’d wear two shirts all the time (still do). One as a protective layer, just in case a button were to fly off and reveal what lay beneath. I’d try and hide in clothes that are much too large for me. When I was in public, I’d sometimes contort my body to try and make myself smaller — which, for those who know me, is an impossible feat.

When this is part of your routine, it’s impossible to be happy. There’s no joy in mudville, or anywhere else for that matter.

How does this happen? How does somebody develop this kind of self-loathing?

I was subject to what can only be described as extreme bullying. I spent a fairly good chunk of my childhood being pelted with words like fat, ugly, useless, stupid, idiot, etc. I’ve endured schoolyard beatings. I’ve been spat upon. I was once held down in a driveway while a young man urinated on me.

That’s the image.

That’s what was drawn for me.

And that’s what I’ve spent the first 36+ years of my life fulfilling. It’s put a wall between myself and everything that I love. It’s what brings anxiety into my life. It’s why I sweat bullets in a closed room filled with people, even to this day. The trauma of being preyed upon like that ended at the age of 15, but the reality has reverberated into my mid-to-late thirties.

But you know something? I’m so fucking done with it.

These days I look into the mirror a little more each day. I’d be lying if I said I was healed. Because I’m not. It doesn’t happen over night. It’s a process.

It was Bob Dylan’s birthday over the weekend. I listened to a couple of songs. Just to mark Bob’s big day. One of my favourites is “To Ramona.”

I came across this lyric from it. It struck me on Saturday in a very profound way. Here it is:

“You’ve been fooled into thinking
That the finishin’ end is at hand.
Yet there’s no one to beat you
No one t’ defeat you
’Cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad.”

Ain’t that the truth?

So, do you know what I did when I woke up Sunday morning? I went straight to the Running Room and signed up for the Learn to Run Program.

Because if I want to run, I’m going to run. And God help the poor bastard that says I can’t.

And you know what? While I’m running, I plan on loving myself in every huff and puff along the way.

Picture that.

On your mark, get set, and…

Three weeks ago I set a goal. I wanted to run. I’ve spent years wondering what the hell everyone was running from. But now, now I wanted to be one of them. For no other reason but to do it. In my mind, running is as far away from where I once was as I can possibly get.

I’m still a big guy. I’ve got a long road ahead. I know that. Just starting to run like a madman down the street is not a smart idea right now.

So I thought about how I could start without destroying every last joint in my body. Increments. I’ll walk — typically around Quidi Vidi now — and I’ll pick a spot and run to it.

Last night. I ran. Three times.

And later on in the night it hit me like a hammer. Not the physical stress. But the emotional release of how far I’ve come in five months.

From depressed fast food addict, hiding wrappers from nobody in particular, to a man who decided to run.

It may not have been the Boston Marathon — but to me, in ways I cannot appropriately capture in words, it was.

It’s complicated

A few years ago I had the opportunity to play Hamlet on Signal Hill. For those of you who don’t know, Signal Hill was the site of the first wireless transmission across the Atlantic Ocean by Marconi in 1901.

One of my favourite lines from Hamlet, which was cut from the version I was performing, is the following:

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.”

What Hamlet is saying here, is that even in this confined life he is living, so filled with complications, he could still have the world by the tail — if only he could reconcile the past that haunts him.

That’s kind of how I feel from time-to-time.

Recently, I’ve taken up hiking. Recent as in last week. But I’ve gone on three so far. This past weekend was spent on the Discovery Trail, where Caitlin and myself hiked the Skerwink Trail. What a beautiful hike. It’s one of the blessings of living in a place like this. You can exercise with some of the most beautiful views you could ever possibly imagine. Talk about infinite space. Yowzers.

20140517_142109

Anyway, after Saturday’s hike I felt awesome. 5.3km of rising and falling. And the next day not an ache to be felt.

You see recently I’ve been struggling with the void. The reasons I filled my body with food. It’s not so much struggling as it is coming to terms. I hate that phrase — “coming to terms.”

I know why I did what I did to myself. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. I let my past creep into my present. It took hold of me and controlled my self-esteem, choices, behavior — and it moved me about like I was some sort of marionette, all strung up and out of control.

And sometimes, even when I’m feeling the strongest, I can still sense the strings tightening around me. The hard part is cutting them loose. Feeling good with the movements I make on my own, and not the ones that were set out for me.

I don’t struggle with this every day. These moments are few and far between now. However, when they present themselves, they are still potent, and they still take their toll.

It’s a struggle that a lot of people who are overcoming addictions and weight issues have to deal with. Anybody can stop overeating or feeding an addiction, but staying that way is another thing entirely.

Cause, it’s hard. Facing what you have spent your whole life trying not to face is very difficult. But, it is the most important thing you can possibly do for yourself. Because without that reconciliation, you can eat all the salad you want — you’re still destined to fail.

This is where help is needed. If not from a friend or a family member, then from a professional. Reach out. It’s the best possible decision you can make. Untangling this mess of wires we call life will make you happier than you could ever imagine. I did, and it has brought me nothing but positivity.

Now, along this road there are bound to be curveballs. And that is what I experienced just yesterday. A blip in the cosmos. A signal that was interpreted incorrectly, Marconi would have been pissed.

But it’s what you do with these feelings that really define the journey. You either stew over it, and let it eat you alive. Or, you do what I did, you call up the missus and go for a walk.

All I can do smile, and keep dancing to the beat of my own drum, no strings attached.

This is the bit about mental health

A couple of months ago I was chatting with a very close friend of mine. I was grappling with the idea of becoming human again — that’s a dramatic way of saying “becoming more social.”

I’d spent a fair amount of time in hibernation over the past few years. Both pre and post divorce. Partially to heal/partially to hide. No matter the reason, I was out of touch with people I once called friends. And, once I hit a place where I could muster the gusto to get outside and be around people again… well… there was nobody really there. Or, I didn’t really know how to go about making that happen. I’m still not really sure, actually.

Regardless, I asked him “be honest with me, is there anything I can do to make people accept me more. I know I’ve pushed a lot of people out of the way, what can I do to bring them back in?”

And being a no-nonsense good friend, he just said to keep doing what I was doing. He then explained to me that sometimes people don’t know how to talk to those who have dealt with mental illness.

And my heart sunk a little.

It was the first time I realized that people knew. I thought, in my delusion, that I was doing a “grade a” job of keeping it under wraps — which is absurd.

Immediately I felt exposed. Embarrassed about it all. Even though, at that moment, I knew that I had come out of it to the lighter side. It was an odd feeling. I was happy and strong, but knowing that others still saw me as sick, made me a little queasy.

I’ve been partial to the conversations where people describe somebody as “crazy” or “fucked up.” I’ve been a participant in that line of chatter, even in periods where I was at my lowest points.

Now, my mental illness isn’t anything fancy. It’s depression and anxiety. It’s run of the mill stuff. Not to belittle it, it can be debilitating, if left untreated. But so long as you stay on top of it, you can — if you’re lucky — manage it. And, I do count myself as lucky.

In recent weeks in Newfoundland and Labrador there has been a lot of talk about mental illness. Largely due to Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard speaking up after the death of their son Louis. These two are the sweetest people on Earth. Andy has always been somebody I look up to. At times in my life he’s been a mentor, friend, and even a business manager. And to watch both he and Mary Lynn create this dialogue, even after everything they’ve been through. It really has made me think more about not only my own struggles, but how I’ve viewed others.

First and foremost, I’ve attempted to strike the word “crazy” and “nuts” from my vocabulary. As somebody who cringes every time I hear the word “retarded,” I understand the power words can have. And the feelings they can evoke.

And just today, an old friend of mine Jeff was speaking about his struggle to find help for a friend in need. How he felt completely helpless.

All of these things are worrisome. People talk a lot about supports that are in place. But, I fear, that sometimes it’s mostly just talk. I was lucky enough to have the resources and the self-awareness to reach out and find help. Others may not be so fortunate.

And if we keep viewing mental health through this broken lens, and we keep keeping our distance. Then how in the world do we expect there to be a change? Because, there has to be a change. You ask any teacher in the school system today, or any professor, and they’ll tell you that there is an increase in mental health related illnesses. And that is a trend that is only going to grow.

So instead of turning our backs because it makes us feel uncomfortable. It’s time we face it dead on. And see it for what it is. An illness. Yes, it’s complex and messy sometimes. But it’s still an illness.

I believe that if more people stood up and told their stories — just as the “It Gets Better” campaign has done — it would go a long way in removing that stigma, and repairing that lens.

Now, I’m not cured. I still have anxiety. I sweat bullets for no damn reason at all. Which is shite. I’m not fussy on it. But, that’s part of being me. And I like me. So I’ll take the sweat… whatever. And I still have no clue as to how to rebuild a social life. I’m still working on that.

All of this is to say that it’s time to think differently about this stuff. It needs to be demystified. Gone are the days of Randle Patrick McMurphy and the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s time we put down the sink, stop the rhetoric, and bring forward a bit of peace, love, and understanding.

 

 

 

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