Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to have many people from all over the US contact me because of the article in Woman’s Day Magazine. Most inquiries are from women who share their own struggles with weight loss; others offer encouraging words or have questions about how I’ve been able to maintain for so long.
This weekend I received an email from a woman who asked this question:
What snapped you into action? I read in the article that you decided to lose weight shortly after your dad’s death, but was wondering if there was a specific moment that made you say to yourself, ‘from today on, no matter what, I’m never going to be this heavy again.’
I think that maybe what she was asking was whether or not I had experienced one of Oprah’s ‘aha’ moments – an event or significant happening that started my path towards a healthier lifestyle . Let me share with you this story:
When I started college I had no idea that I’d gain roughly 15 pounds every year for the next 6 or 7 years. By the time I hit my all time high, the only medical problem I had was degenerative disc disease, aka: a bad back – though I wouldn’t be properly diagnosed until many years later. One thing I did know however – the more weight I carried, the worse my back became.
One day, my mother called and asked if she could bring my oldest brother over for a visit. My brother, who is mentally handicapped, had come home for a few days and wanted to come over. I had some laundry to do so I let my mother know that I’d be leaving the front door unlocked in case they arrived while I was still in the basement.
I put a load of laundry into the washing machine and walked up the stairs. There was some mail on the counter that I quickly perused; when I turned to toss the junk mail into the trash, I felt a rippling sensation in my lower back that brought me to my knees, then flat on my back onto the kitchen floor. Every time I tried to move, the spasms knocked the wind out of me. I was literally paralyzed from pain.
It’s okay. It’s fine, I thought. Mom will be here any minute and she’ll help me up. I heard the doorbell ring and yelled, ‘Come in! I’m in the kitchen!’ Moments later, I could see two pairs of legs walk up towards me and heard my mother say, ‘Good lord, what happened to you?’ I tried to explain that my back went into severe spasms every time I attempted to move, but my brother, whom I’d already forgotten was standing behind my mom began singing in an amused voice, ‘My sister’s having a seizure! Are you having a seizure Ellen? Mom, Ellen’s having a seizure! Seizure, seizure!’ **Side note: if you’re wondering whether its appropriate to laugh at this part of the story, the answer is yes. In fact to this day, my brother who never forgets anything, still asks me when I’m going to have another seizure because he wants to be there when the fire trucks come!** Both Mom and I tried to explain to him that I was NOT having seizure; I’d simply hurt my back but he liked his version better – way more exciting!
My idea of being helped to my feet was a joke. Any attempt to lift my legs from the ground sent my back into wild, debilitating spasms. If I lifted my head the same thing would happen. Finally, with my mother’s urging and brother’s observances, ‘Ellen’s going to swallow her tongue’ , yes she is.’ I relented and allowed Mom to call for an ambulance.
Less than ten minutes later the front of my house looked like the scene of a recent crime. There was a fire truck blocking the street, with lights flashing. Two police cars pulled up behind it, and an ambulance was on it’s way. The firemen arrived in the house first and one of them was carrying a backboard. I panicked and my first thought was: how many of them is it going to take to move me from here out to an ambulance? To make things even worse, I knew one of the firemen. We hadn’t seen each other since high school. At first he didn’t recognize me. The vulnerability and humiliation I felt dropped like a lead balloon when my mother told him my name. I watched as his shock quickly changed to composure.
Have you ever been so overwhelmed by something that your mind makes the decision to shut itself down in order to refrain from having to deal with what’s happening? Yeah well, I tried that and it didn’t work. So, I made the decision that no matter what I was simply going to keep my eyes closed so I didn’t have to look at anyone or anything around me.
I heard things like my mom talking on the phone trying to make arrangements for someone to drive my brother home while she accompanied me to the hospital. I listened and answered questions as the paramedics took my medical history and blood pressure. I heard the firemen discuss how many of them it would take in order to get me safely down two flights of steps and out into the ambulance (the answer was four). I kept my eyes shut tight as I held a death grip onto one of the firemen’s arm as they tilted and angled me from side to side until we were safely on the sidewalk; my eyes remained closed as the kids from the neighborhood asked ‘Did that lady get shot? Is she dead?’ I wished for that moment to end – not because of the excruciating pain I was in, but because I wondered if it were possible for someone to literally die from embarrassment. On the street waiting for me was a gurney to which I was transferred. They lifted my body into the ambulance and closed the doors. Slowly, I opened my eyes.
It took over 10 days before I would recover enough to return to work. From that period and for the next 5 years my back would go out 3 more times. I have permanent damage as a result of these bad discs but luckily since meeting my goal weight, my back hasn’t gone out since.
Not until that day had I ever been more conscious of how heavy I was. I can still feel my cheeks get warm when think of the embarrassment I felt. I’d like to be able to tell you that on that day I made the decision to change my life and begin a healthier lifestyle. It would make for a great ‘aha’ moment, but it simply didn’t happen. I continued to gain. Then my father died. It’s true that shortly after the funeral I awoke and knew that on that day I was ready for a change, but it wasn’t immediately after his death. I remember using food to numb my grief long after the funeral was over.
My thought is this: maybe some people have an ‘aha’ moment. Maybe a major event takes place and at precisely that time a wave of energy floods that person and he or she feels forever changed. I do believe that for ever action there is a reaction, but sometimes our reaction to negative things comes in the form of a seed that’s planted. For every embarrassing moment, every humiliating experience, I tried to carry on the way I always had because I thought it proved I was strong enough to rise above it. Though I didn’t acknowledge it at that time, those seeds were there – and they were growing. The day I decided to change my life was most likely a day like any other, except for the fact that I had outgrown the ability to ignore what was happening within me. I couldn’t shut my eyes any longer so I opened them, took a deep breath, and started a new path.
Perhaps some of you can help answer this woman’s question from your own point of view. Did you have a moment that snapped you into action, or was it small changes along the way that brought you to a better place in your life?