I was about to board a flight to LA and I was terrified. I probably weighed 200kgs. Not that I knew how much I weighed, I had already maxed out my bathroom scales years ago.
The main thought running through my head was about the seats. When you’re that size you develop an innate fear of chairs. You find yourself preoccupied with questions like:
Will the chairs be big enough?
Will they support my weight?
Will the seatbelt fit?
Will the waiter sit us in a booth?
Will there be adjustable arm rests?
All of those fears were accumulating now as I stood in the queue at the boarding gate. In that moment, I hated my parents for making me come on this family holiday. I told them that I wanted to stay home, that I had ‘important’ things to do. But they insisted, wanting me to experience everything life had to offer. Everything inside me told me to turn and run, to get back home where I was comfortable, where all was known and there was no risk of failure or embarrassment.
The resulting plane ride was one of the most painful, degrading, and spirit-crushing experiences of my life. The armrests dug deeply into my thighs, and when the man in front of me reclined his seat it actually came to rest on my stomach, trapping me in a weird, excruciating torture device for over 15 hellish hours. But this story isn’t about how I got to my destination, we’ll save that for another time.
I didn’t want to go to Disneyland. It was supposed to be the happiest place on earth, the mere mention of it enough to send kids into a state of delirious excitement. To me it sounded like a nightmare full of painful effort. All I could think about was the heat, the crowds, the walking, eating in public, the rides I couldn’t ride and the games I wouldn’t play. People looking at me. Everything about Disneyland scared me. I just wanted to stay in the hotel room where I wouldn’t have to try something new or risk putting myself out there.
But I went. And I hated the place.
One of the ways in which I dealt with fear was to disguise it with anger, hatred and judgment of others. I hated how natural it seemed for people to have fun. I hated the ease with which kids my age could move; dancing and skipping about happily while I was reduced to a slow, painful shuffle, each step accentuated by a strained gasp. I wondered how they could possibly be so happy as I wiped the sweat from my forehead and tried to ignore the pain in my feet and back from walking all day. I wanted to throw things at the kids on the rollercoasters, waving at their parents excitedly as they zoomed past. A young couple wearing Mickey Mouse ears giggled as they fed each other fairy floss.
Pathetic. To my mind every ride was stupid, everyone participating was idiotic and even the actors were morons. I was in such a dark, painful place that in order to make myself feel better I would constantly tear other people down.
(As an aside, America itself was great. I could finally buy clothes that fit me, they had pizzas the size of manhole covers, and I was never the biggest in the room).
And so it was that we came to the white water rafting ride, a Disneyland icon where you sit in a circular boat and laugh as you get sprayed with water. My whole family wanted to go on it and insisted that I join them. I told them to go without me, there was no way I was going to go on that thing. I just wanted to find a nice comfortable chair where I could sit and wait on the sidelines like I’d done my entire life.
But my family would not take no for an answer, stopping just short of physical force. I furiously followed them to join the massive queue with a burning anger building up inside me as the line shuffled forward inch by inch. With each step I took, a ball of anxiousness grew inside my throat until it felt like I had swallowed a grapefruit. My chest was heavy and my face was red. I hated the smiling faces around me and I hated myself for not feeling the same way. And I was terrified.
My heart sank as I saw the turnstiles. These were the stuff of nightmares. I wanted to leave but there were hundreds of people behind me pushing forward. I turned sideways in a futile attempt to make myself smaller and started to push myself through, the arms of the gate cutting into my belly.
The ride attendant stopped what he was doing to watch. I’m sure I even heard a slight hush from the crowd behind me. I painfully managed to squeeze my bulk through to the other side without getting shot out like a cannonball.
I walked over to the boat and carefully stepped aboard, my mind racked with worry. I sat down carefully and looked around at all the people in the boat with me. They were all giddy with excitement. I looked over at the people still waiting for their turn, all their eyes on us, waiting for our boat to leave.
For a fleeting moment I felt like I wasn’t sitting on the sidelines anymore, I had finally joined the party and it felt good. I almost felt happy. I reached up and grabbed the safety bar to pull it down over me. It came over my chest but the metal bar hit my stomach and stopped. I tried again, holding my breath and pressing down on the bar with all my strength. But it wouldn’t latch.
Now everyone was watching me. I was holding up the ride. The blood drained from my face and that grapefruit of anxiety returned. I vividly remember the face of every person in that boat; waiting, wondering.
The ride attendant jumped onto our boat and tried to squeeze the bar down over me. I looked across at the queue to see people starting to laugh, point and whisper.
Eventually, the attendant gave up and stammered something about the safety bar needing to be secured at all times and unfortunately … I had already stopped listening. I stood up and climbed clumsily out of the boat, making my way through the crowd.
I can still feel the hurt and the deep shame with immeasurable ferocity. In that moment, I thought I had found irrefutable evidence for one of my fundamental limiting beliefs. That stepping out of my comfort zone will result in pain, embarrassment and failure. That life was not worth the price of admission.
I sat and cried tears that started as shame but turned into hot anger. At my parents for making me come to America, forcing me to Disneyland and then pushing me to go on that ride. If I had just stayed home none of this would have happened. I would have been absolutely fine just playing video games by myself in the dark. I was angry with myself for not being normal and for being such a loser. I was angry with the world and everyone in it.
The Disneyland experience became my story and created baggage that I carried with me for years. It became my mantra and I would retell it over and over, allowing it to dictate my thoughts, actions and emotions. I was worthless, I was a failure, I was too fat to participate in life. The story held me back from doing all the things I wanted to do and it completely destroyed my visions of the future. For a wife and a family. For happiness.
I felt like the world would be better off without me. So I decided to eat myself to death.
The next year was a blur as I fell into a downward spiral of binge eating and negativity. I watched life passing me by while I was trapped in a deep, dark pit of depression. I was filled with rage, resentment, and pain while putting on my best impression of someone who is “doing fine”.
I gained 50kgs that year before I decided to have my stomach cut open and an inflatable band tied around it to stop me from eating — but even that didn’t work because I was still playing the same story over and over again.
I was still that worthless, fat, hate-and-pain-filled kid that refused to participate in life because he was afraid of what would happen if he did.
The moment I started to change that story was the moment I started to believe in myself. I began to create a new story using strengths instead of weaknesses and successes instead of failures. I found my external body changing to match what was going on inside my head. The better I felt, the more I established a connection with myself. The stronger that connection, the more weight I lost. I realised that I didn’t want to eat myself to death because I had so much to live for. We all do.
Image: Flickr Commons