How I fight back

For days now, I have sat and pondered on the happenings of Charlottesville. Watching the news unfold was harrowing. These are images and videos that people in 20 years will look back on in disgust and further generations will look back as a cautionary tale, or a dark harbinger to come. The fallout, and the leadership disaster that is Donald Trump has truly upended the entire country and the world. This is beyond “not normal.”

The whole episode has me deeply conflicted. I know well the history of fascism and its toxic effects. I have read and studied about the Nazis and they above everything else in our culture is known as the “true evil.” 60 million people died fighting that ideology. I also know the pervasiveness of Racism in the US. I know there was a KKK presence in the area I grew up. And on my last trip to West Central Illinois, we ended up in a town (briefly) with more Confederate Flags waving than American.  I know that there are people I went to school with who would march with those in Charlottesville with the White Nationalists.

Its one of the biggest reasons I left the area.

I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like arguments, and I don’t like fighting. I hate causing harm, and I get upset when people are under duress. I also have a deep faith that people are intrinsically good, and I do my best to never harm or be hurtful to others, even if they are not the nicest to me.  I believe that with time, patience, love, tolerance, and respect, you can reach almost anyone, and you can change any mind. I know that sounds like such a fairy tale, even in the face of such hate and ugliness. It sounds naive and childish and irresponsible. It sounds principled and righteous, and it sounds like something Ned Stark would say as he is about to be beheaded by the King.

Events like this is what tests me the most in my beliefs, and how they threaten my resolve in what I find good in the world. I want to talk this out, but people online have their pitchforks out and Doxxing fingers ready, people in real life have tear gas and mace, clubs and guns. I am frustrated and angry, but I don’t see violence as the only answer. I hope this can be won with words, and not violence. I don’t want to give in and leave our generation with more a burden to bear moving forward.

I understand that violence may be the only answer, I just hope it is not too late to try something else.

In the face of Trump, the President, the man that I cannot speak to, or convince, or have any agency to sway… what can I do? I, sitting in a small South Pacific Island, a single voice in a cacophony of angry… what can I do? So far away, so helpless to join protests, unable to do *anything…*

I sit here, and I’ve pondered. I don’t Dox. I do not crusade online. I talk with people, I try and give them my perspective, and hope it has an effect.

And… I vote.

It is time for every person who rejects this toxicity to push back and register to vote. This is more than about Politics. This is something we will have to fight for a *long* time. We need to be pragmatic and clear-eyed and focused. While Violence will not stop, and may escalate and become something worse, we must work on a way to avoid prolonging this national nightmare.

We need more people to vote.

We need to remove the forces that enabled this situation. Words are no longer enough from the Republican Party on this. It is now time to act. We have a White Nationalist Sympathiser as President, and our best chance to remove him, without violence, is to Impeach him now, or else, we will need to fire the people who are protecting him.

Overcoming a Gerrymandered District is easy: You get more people to vote. You register people who haven’t engaged before, and you get them to vote. Gerrymandering relies on people doing the same thing every time. People who vote will vote, and the people who don’t still won’t. Vote, get others to vote, and you will win. It is *hard* because of apathy, after this weekend, I think there are a lot less apathetic people out there.

We need to begin engaging people now and get them registered. It is easy, and I will make it easier for you!

Here is a clearinghouse website to register to vote. In 31 states, you can register to vote online. Otherwise, you can download and fill out the forms needed to qualify. also, make sure your voting Registration is up to date.

For overseas voters we need to do this too. We need to help out.

Two states this autumn will have Governor’s races: Virginia, where all of the events this weekend happened, and New Jersey, where outgoing Governor Christie has a lower approval rating than Donald Trump. If you are in those states, be sure to register to Vote, and Vote.

These, and all the Governors and state Legislature Races the following two years, are critical, for your States will redraw your districts in 2020, and if you want to have a more fair country, you need fairer districts.

Next year is the Congressional and Senate Races. This is what will likely determine if Trump makes it to 2020, barring any insane things he does before then… which… who knows, or the GOP grows a spine… which… I am not getting my hopes up. Again, Register and push others to vote. The more people who vote, the less power people have to enable Trump and White Nationalists.

In the absence of Leadership to remove a toxic threat in our government, we need to mobilise and vote them out so that we can end this ongoing disaster. We are not the laughingstock of the world. We have become that increasingly unhinged psychopath with a chip on his shoulder and a lot of guns, and everyone is eyeing and shifting the exits.

This is how I will fight. I will talk, I will educate, and I will use the best weapon I have… my ballot.

Help me. Help us. Help the Country. This is more than about politics. Register to Vote and Vote.

 

The realities of Immigration

This week, the Trump Administration announced their intention of changing the immigration code in the United States (link to a GOP senator’s site). The bill, called the RAISE Act, is meant to change the immigration code by:

  • Reducing the amount of Legal immigration by half by 2027
  • Eliminate the Diversity Green Card program, giving 50,000 spots to people from low application countries.
  • Limit Refugee intake to 50,000 a year, and make that law.
  • Introduce a points system for skilled migration based on merit.

The reaction to this has been flying across the internet, with the big talking point about the ability to gain a visa if you are an Olympic Athlete or given extra points for fluency in English. There is a lot of anger, but also a lot of misinformation being bandied about, and I feel that as someone who has now worked through two separate immigration systems multiple times, needs to comment on this.

Firstly, I can only speak about my experiences and my perception. What is true for me may not be true for others, and frankly, being a White American means that a lot of my trials are nothing compared to others. With that said, let’s dive in.

Firstly, I feel that just because other countries use a point system (Australia, Canada, New Zealand), it doesn’t mean it is the best, nor most fair system for immigration. Also, it is important to note that not all visas in these countries require a point system. In Australia and New Zealand, the points system is used only when there are no other “reasons” for the person to be moving to the country. This means that if you are in a relationship, or sponsored by a company already, or anything like that, you are fine, and not covered.

Australia and New Zealand also have “Investment Visa” meaning that if you invest money into the country, you get a visa. There has been an issue in NZ with Peter Thiel being given NZ Citizenship after spending only 12 days in the country, (and paying a lot of money). Unfortunately, money does talk, regardless of the country you live in.

Also, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have very liberal “working holiday” visas, which allow people, usually under 30, to be able to live and travel in the country long term (from 1-2 years in most cases). This is how I originally moved to Australia, and it was a Visa that took about  3 Hours to approve.  These visas work well because it allows people to come see the country, work there (often in casual or seasonal jobs) and then leave (or find another visa to stay). The United States does not have any such visa.

The Diversity Lottery is a truly unique American ideal, and one I feel should stay. The United States is thought of as “the land of opportunity” and the Diversity lottery is one of those things that makes our country look appealing to those in the rest of the world. I have a couple of friends who have moved to the US on a Diversity Lottery, and I feel that the those opportunities represent the best of the US, and we shouldn’t kill that program for political points of the moment. We lose that, and we lose a bit of what makes the US awesome.

The limitation of Refugees is stupid. The world changes and situation may arise when we should (like right now) be allowing more people in. We used to bring in 100’s of thousands of Refugees a year in the US, and it did not make us a worse off country, and the continued vilification of refugees is par for the course for an Administration who equates foreign with bad.

The English requirement feels a lot like a racist hurdle put in place to slow down non-English immigration. It is a big issue I have with the Australian and New Zealand Immigration programs as well. If you do not speak English, your fees to get a Visa double, at the very least. While I understand the fees for translating official documents like Birth Certificates or Marriage licenses, in Australia, there is a straight up fee if you cannot speak English fluently, even if you are not trying for a work visa. The United States should not have an English requirement for their Visas, and to impose one would continue the isolation of the US from the rest of the world.

I think that the skilled Migrant Visa is a good idea… to a point. In Australia and New Zealand, we face skills shortages across the country. In New Zealand, it is actually construction jobs that are in sharp need atm. I feel that having a point system can be beneficial in some areas of immigration, but it cannot be used to cut migration by half, or worse, keep people out that you politically do not like. The United State’s strength is in its ability to accept everyone, and making it work. We want smart, intelligent people, but we also want those who need opportunity, who escape violence and death, or people who are following love. We need to reach out so that young people come to the US and see the amazing diversity, and that it is more than what we see in the news headlines. We want people to come to the US to study, to create value, to broaden our horizons. We need immigrants because without them, we would start losing population ourselves… for a start.

The Trump/GOP immigration plan continues the century long Conservatives hysteria that outsiders are bad and that nativism is good. I feel that, like many situations in the United States currently, there needs to be a change, but destroying the system, and putting a half-assed plan in its place is not the answer. It won’t work with healthcare, it will not work with tax reform, and it is not going to work with immigration.

I wish that political parties would stop using immigrants as their scapegoats and attend to the actual issues rather than blaming those who cannot fight back politically (since we can’t vote for the most part).

To cut immigration by half in the US is to cut off its own nose to spite its face. Isolating ourselves from the world by making it harder to come to the US will only push more countries away and lose our standing in the world. By copying the worst parts of other Immigration policies around the world, the US is showing that is no longer leads, only copies poorly what other nations have done and are considering to change.

My immigration experience has generally been good. Being a white American, who speaks English fluently, and have a degree… I actually wouldn’t qualify for a skilled migrant visa in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK, or elsewhere. The only way I have been able to stay here is through my relationship, or through direct sponsorship, which I was offered at one point, but passed on. I knew the moment I saw the headline “would you be let in with Trump’s new immigration rules?” it would be a no.

To further close off our shores betrays the foundations of our nation, and what we represent. And while I know we cannot stay the same forever, closing our borders makes us a smaller, meaner, and less deserving country. You cannot be the leader of the Free World while slamming the door in everyone’s face.

 

People are fat because…

The Journey is not just physical, its mental, emotional, and psychological. Over the months, I have talked about my sense of self: my changing body, the clothes, the face and I have talked about the emotional side of those topics.

One of the ongoing conversations I have with people is about “Why people are fat” and it is often a hard topic to discuss. For many, if not most people, weight gain, and being overweight or obese is considered a failing. A Failing of control, of discipline, a failing of taking care of themselves. We see this mentality all over media and in our lives. This idea is encapsulated in the quote by Congressman Mo Brook (R-AL) about not funding pre-existing conditions like obesity or diabetes n the US Healthcare system;

“it [creating high risk pools] offsets all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives. They’re healthy. They’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now those are the people who have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

I have come up on this argument a lot, and in many different ways. The idea that being overweight is solely a persons choice, or the result of bad decisions is a tough one. In my daily life, I get variations of this argument all the time, and I find that I often have to defend bigger people, even those who *are* being unhealthy and making poor decisions.

On one hand, being overweight and obese makes you a greater risk for Cancer. There are other issues associated with being Obese all of which can be a detriment to your health. Being overweight is not a death sentence, but it begins the stack the odds against you in terms of long term health and happiness. Also, coming from a community that embraces the “body beautiful” theme, no matter what size, there is that push and pull about loving bigger men, but also recognising that it may be detrimental later in life. I have previously talked about the fear and trouble about losing weight in the Bear Community, and I think I hold onto my defense of “big is beautiful” strongly because of that.

I also know that we are not in an Obesity Epidemic world wide because people make bad decisions or are lazy, or whatever. Worldwide Obesity levels are rising with 1/7th of the world considered overweight or Obese. So this is not just an American issue, or just an issue in the West. This is a health issue that affects the world. This is less about poor choices, and more about how we educate people, how we frame the food and exercise debate, and how we change our relationship with food from a consumer level. There needs to be systemic change in how we make mass produced food and drinks so that the factors that can lead to obesity is minimised and taken away.

The problem is that you can’t have that conversation every time someone says “They are fat because they made poor choices” It is esoteric, and it is such a large issue that people just glaze over it, which doesn’t help. It also goes into the old arguments of the responsibility of businesses in the realm of societal movements and personal buying (and eating) choices and that never ending fight.

I try to explain that for many people, they didn’t have a choice in their size. From  their biology to their upbringing, to age, to their socio-economic status and more, the factors that set in motion their current weight may have started well before they (or anyone) knew the effects of their actions. And when people *want* to change, then there are factors working against them, even from their own bodies.

This is why surgery, at least for me, was *the* tool I needed to help me win this battle. It took surgery for my body to align with what I mentally wanted; to be thinner. The surgery was only a tool that helped change how my body reacted and processed food, and because of that along with my mental attitude and determination to lose weight, I have been able to lose double what is considered the normal weight loss for my surgery type. I would not have been able to lose 58 kilos and maintain my sanity or stay healthy if it were not for the surgery.

And it affects me as well.

In the past, I have seen several “ex fat” people become very judgmental on other bigger people. I remember, back in Sydney, someone I knew lost a top of weight, became a personal trainer, and then berate all of his former bigger friends for not losing weight. As I lose weight, I am super conscious about not falling into that trope. While my journey has been transformational for me, there are others who are not ready, or don’t want to. There are people I know who strive to become bigger, I have friends who love the size they are. My new found weight loss may not be the goal for someone else right now, and I think it is important that my journey, and other people’s journey will be different. We will have different trials and tribulations. It is also important to keep an open and empathetic mind towards everyone; not every big person needs an intervention, and not every skinny person is the paragon of health.

Every time I hear “People are fat because of *insert reason here*” I hope that I will always try and defend and be even handed in my response. Life, and bodies are much more complicated than “lazy” or “choices” or whatever criticism people want to place on them.

The 4th of July

A few years ago, my mother said I was a traitor to my country.

It came up in an argument about being critical of the United States. I was living in Australia at the time, and my mother said that criticizing the US while not living there made me a traitor to my country. The conversation did not continue much beyond that.

But it is something that has come up from time to time when I am critical of the US or its policies. Some form of “Well, you don’t live here now so you don’t get a say” usually comes up, and I find that for many people, it is easy to dismiss me because I am no longer living in the US.

This always makes the 4th of July a weird holiday for me.

I have another American working in the office. He is what you would think of a patriotic American: He is wearing American Flag branded stuff today. He is flying a 8 foot by 6 foot American flag from his house today, and he is wishing everyone a very happy 4th. He is also a Trump supporter… which I have done very well to avoid any conversation on that topic (or much about America honestly.)

My…”Patriotism” is a mixed bag of sorts. Much like my family, I have a very complicated relationship with the United States. There are aspects of America that I absolutely love: I love how amazing the people can be. I love the diversity of the nation, from landscape to culture, to people, I find that every corner of the US has something of value, and something worth showing the world. When I take my Husband to the United States, I love to show him parts of America you do not see in the media, or on TV. I show him the hidden gems of the Midwest, or the surprise awesomeness of the South, or even the awe inspiring landscape of the West. From cities to the country, I am most proud of the United States when it does something that helps everyone, and when it does something amazing. I love the quiet moments when the amazing value of Americans come out, and people are constantly surprised by our curiosity, our interest, and our perspective.

But, the United States is a bit of an Asshole as well. When I see the Country’s stance on Immigration, or Refugees, or its views towards others in the world, or when the country seems content on being divided, it is hard to watch. And this is not just at the National level either. I am watching states shut down because they are no longer interested in working together. My home state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for 3 years now, and it is likely not going to change until the next election… next year. We are having basic arguments over how much we should care for our sick, and what is our responsibilities as a nation… and for many, that is “none” and it is frustrating and disheartening. We have a broken political class who seems hell bent on passing legislation that is so unpopular, you have to ask why they are doing it outside lining their pockets for the next election. It feels like the Politicians in power have no party platform, only “stay in power” and with each action, it seems to cement that feeling.

It is not like the United States is alone with these issues: the UK and Australia are also grappling with these sea changes in our nation’s conscience. I could write a very similar post about both countries, and there wouldn’t be much difference.

So, coming back to the 4th. Is it uncouth to redress the Government on the 4th of July?

Last month, there were several protests at US Gay Pride Parades. These protests were not from the Right, but rather, from the Left. Many in the LGBTQI community push harshly back, decrying the protests during a time of celebration. The irony of course was that the first Pride marches were very much protest movements. It seems almost fitting to do the same with the 4th, as it represents the United State’s biggest, and lasting example of Government criticism and redress. As the 4th is now a day of celebration, I think it is appropriate for us to also stayed cleared eyed about the United States. It is not a happy place right now. I have friends who are afraid of their rights. I have friends who are worried if they have a job this year because of politics. I have friends who are worried they will lose healthcare. I have friends who are scared they will lose insurance because they can’t currently afford it. I have friends who have just had babies and their world has gotten more scary because of all of this stuff around us. I have friends who fear that when a cop pulls them over, they will become a victim. I have friends who openly worry about whether they can stay in a city because they are being priced out.

As I watch, from the outside, but with a ring side seat at many who are struggling, it pains me to watch it continue, being unable to help outside of a kind word, or a sympathetic digital shoulder.

I want to help, but I can’t until the US admits it has a problem. Many in the US will point that finger at Trump, or the Republicans… but I feel that this has been happening for a while, and that our politicians have gotten away from us. I think we have allowed ourselves to be divided by something as arbitrary as political opinion. We have cultivated a society that values loyalty over common sense, Jingoism over openness, and has devalued the value of admitting when you are wrong.

Our leaders have become as blind and uncaring to the needs of the people as King George III was blind and uncaring to the needs of the Colonists.

I love the United States. It is my home, it will always be my home, and when it is needed, or warranted, I will defend it with as much fervor as anything. But right now, it needs some help, and I don’t feel like celebrating when I can see it in such self-inflicted pain, and it is unwilling to change itself for the better.

 

 

Healthcare through Charity

I have been struggling to talk about the Healthcare Repeal law sputtering its way through Congress. Having kept up with the news, it is hard to find a way to discuss this issue in a way that may shine a light on the insanity of the situation. Today, a poll came out saying that just 17% of people approve of the Senate Healthcare repeal bill. In a normal world, that would spell political doom for the party in power. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to change the bill enough to have a vote by this Friday.

4 out of 5 people against the bill or don’t know enough about it to support it, it feels like the opinions of the nation is taking a backseat to the pathological need to repeal this legislation by the Republicans. The CBO came out this week and said that 22 million people will lose their insurance, 15 million as soon as next year. It is tough to think of those numbers and not get angry. That is almost the population of Australia, that is 5 times the population of New Zealand. That is nearly 60% of the population of Canada, and about 7% of the United States.

The issue is that even if you are not apart of that 7%, you will feel its effects.

Today, I went to GoFundMe, a website where people can raise money for just about anything. Over the years, I have seen people use the site for trivial things like trips, gym memberships, and computers, as well as important things like recovering from a house fire, or funding school. The big one however, and one that is featured on their site, is Medical need.

From the website:

Even with insurance, medical bills can be a financial burden. How do you get help with medical expenses that aren’t covered? From doctor’s bills and insurance co-pays to travel costs and lost wages, you can get the financial assistance you need with a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign. It’s fast, easy, and free to start a GoFundMe.

– Gofundme.com

This reminds me of the “Cancer Jar” I would see in stores as a kid. The one where it would have a picture of the kid, usually during treatment, as well as information on a raffle/fundraiser in the community to help the stricken child.

Those jars were always empty.

The site goes on to say that they have raised millions of dollars to help people with their medical bills. I look at this and I just wince.

The United States as a nation gives a lot to charity.  It is something that as a nation, we are proud of. We give to our churches, we give when there is a disaster, we give to people around the world when things happen. We also give in other ways: by donating blood, by giving time, food, and compassion. As a nation, we are a giving people. GoFundMe exemplifies that. The problem is… why is medical care considered charity? Why, as a nation, are we reduced to beg for money to be treated or taken care of? Why is that so normalised for us now?

If 7% of the nation is going to lose their insurance, not to mention the people who are *still* without insurance, we are all going to know that person who is going to be begging for money for their life saving treatment. Will our charity continue? 28 million people are currently estimated to not have medical insurance in the US right now. Add to that the 22 million estimated to lose their insurance, and you are talking about 50 million people, we are talking about 15% of the population of the US with no coverage, an average of 1 in 7 adults you see will not have healthcare.

Will our Charity continue?

When someone you know is affected by this repeal (and lets be honest, it is a repeal, the talk about “replace” has long been forgotten now), will you be able to open up your wallet to help save them or their family from financial ruin? What about when it is your family, or your parents, and you have to go to GoFundMe to beg for enough money to save those you love. Maybe you will plead to your church, and perhaps they can help, but with an aging spiritual community, there will be many in line, and at many mega churches, pastors are more concerned with their own prosperity gospel than to help those who are sick.

Charity as insurance, relying on the goodness of others to get the medicine that may mean life and death for you.

Having GoFundMe Medical Insurance is going to become the reality to many more people. Even in my example above, insurance doesn’t cover everything as it is. For those of us who need to take care of elderly parents, this burden will compound. Unable to save for our own retirement, having to balance your own insurance, forced to pay extortion prices for our parents…. a Pre-condition may ruin you if there is ever an accident, or for many, something completely out of their control.

How long will the Charity hold out when you have to take care of your own family first?

There is a better way, there is a moral way, there is a kinder way to solve this problem. The United States is the 3rd most populous country in the world. The combined leveraging power we have *as a nation* is immense. Drawn together, we could easily fund the medical expenses of the nation AND negotiate better deals to be more economical. Just like Costco or Sams club, when you buy in bulk, you save… so having individuals buy their medical care one by one… that is never going to work, and we will never be able to afford it. but 330 million people banding together to make sure we are all healthy? Much easier, and much cheaper.

When I think of this debate, and the America debate in general, I am reminded of Upton’s Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” I read this when I was in High School, and it is about the story of an immigrant family in the Meatpacking District of Chicago. The story chronicles how the family, who starts off in the “land of opportunity” slowly succumbs to the issues facing the impoverished: they can’t make enough money to live off of, forcing more and more of the family to work low paying, dangerous jobs. As they become injured and unable to work, their situation quickly deteriorates. Being immigrants, they cannot get better paying jobs, and being uneducated, they qualify for precious little. The bias people have against being Slavic immigrants is strong in the book, and the while there are people of charity, it is every bit every person for themselves.

And we are seeing that again.

I often call the time we are in The Gilded Age 2.0, because we are seeing the same time of wealth disparity, exploitation of people, and the lack of protections for every day people that we saw back during the hey days of the Industrial Revolution. From a political standpoint, both parties seem to be unaware, or uncaring of the disaster that is coming, instead trying to furiously get the best seats for when things fall down. With healthcare being the flash point at the moment, if the repeal happens, you will see a further radicalisation of the fringes of society. You will see more desperate people doing more desperate things in order to survive and life a normal life. You will see more of your friends fall further into debt and despair. It may happen to you. Will you be one of those 7 people?

Will the Charity be there for you when you need it?

How often will you give to those in need, and how long will it take until we can’t give anymore, because we have no money left to give? What happens when it is *you* who needs Charity, and the line is too long?

This is why we need to stop this repeal. This is why we need to fix what we have and not go back to before. This is why we should move forward, creating a better healthcare system, and not backwards to some fetishized ideal of the past when “things were simpler.”

Of course, 17% approve of this bill and they are still moving forward with it, it seems that even our voices are not enough.

Maybe the ballot box will have to do.

The fear of failure

Yesterday, Husband and I needed to do some domestic errands around the house. Living in an urban apartment, as well as being our first home, we needed to borrow some tools from the parents-in-law. Now, for the record, I have pretty amazing In laws, so a trip to see them is nothing stress inducing. So we went over, and chatted a bit before husband and I go to the hardware store to pick up the rest of of needs.

During the conversation, the topic of my weight loss came up, but in particular, my clothes. I mentioned that pretty much everything in my closet is now too big for me, and that I am slowly rebuilding my wardrobe. My Mother-in-Law said, “You really should just throw those clothes away, and start fresh!”

This is not the first time she has brought this up.

I tell her that I am planning to, and that most of them are sitting in a big duffle bag in my closet. I file it in my mind, and a few minutes later, we are off.

*Flash Forward to this morning*

I am searching for some socks and something to walk in.  I go back and forth between my closet and the clean clothes basket. As I am going through my things, I keep going “Too big, Too big, Too bulky…” and it is the same refrain I have said for the last couple of weeks now whenever I am trying to get dressed.

“I really should get rid of these clothes” I think to myself.

But then, I hesitate.

For anyone who has done the diet cycle, you know that the clothes you have may not fit you in 3 months time. You may be bigger, you may be smaller, but rarely do you stay the same weight for very long. Since 2008, I have experienced over a 55kg/121lbs swing in my weight. This covers four major weight loss periods (including the current one). I have pants that range from 36 inch waist to 46 inch waist. Shirts that go from XL to 6XL. This vast coverage of clothes is a line of defense in many ways. It means that I have clothes that will fit me wherever I am in my cycle. If I am big, I have big clothes, if I am small, I have small clothes. It works well… if you cannot control your weight.

It is a defense against my fear of failure.

In so many ways, my big clothes is my insurance plan. That *when* I fail, I will have clothes to cover me. It is not so much a question of *if* here as well. In the past, I always held onto my clothes because in the back of my mind, I felt my willpower was not enough. I knew that the weight loss was through extreme methods, and that the current cycle of weight loss couldn’t sustain itself. I would get to a point, and I would start to gain weight again, it was inevitable. And to give away my clothes would be arrogant, because it means I don’t think I will fail when history has proven that I always did. It would be hubris to throw out your clothes, only to buy more when you gain weight again.

I have a closet full of clothes that don’t fit me because I am afraid that they will fit me in the future. And when I step back and think about that… that needs to change.

With the surgery, and with The Journey, you have to confront a lot of things emotionally about how you look, view, and treat yourself. You also have to come to terms with the fact that paradigm of how your body works has fundamentally shifted. While I am now 4.5 months into this Journey, and 5 months from my peak weight, things are starting to shake out in important ways. In the past, when I lost weight, I usually ended around this time. My body would be in an all out war against my mental and emotional willpower to lose weight. I would crave food constantly, and I would be so obsessed with food and weight that I would think of nothing else. Once I have hit that new “lowest weight,” (or nearly there) I stop.

Not this time however. This time is truly different.

Holding onto my clothes is security, security I don’t really need anymore. While I have always loved to lounge in baggy hoodies, I don’t need 6 of them. While I fear that one day, I may gain weight again, holding on to clothes I bought a decade ago will not make me feel better. And letting those clothes go, says to myself that I am no longer afraid that I will be that size again… I am breaking the cycle.

I wish I could say it is empowering to think about, in reality it is terrifying… but that is not a reason to not do it. Too often we let fear of failure guide us into doing nothing. We fear change and failure so much that we would rather do nothing and continue the cycle, because it is something we know, and we have dealt with that before. The fear of “what if” can often paralyze us. For me, I can’t stand it. I cannot stand doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a new result. So when I see myself in a cycle, a negative cycle, I do my best to break it and do something new, even if it is terrifying.

So, very soon, the clothes are going to go away. Given to a consignment store or to LGBT organisations, or somewhere that someone can use those clothes (and believe me, in this country, these clothes would be a god-sent to someone who is bigger but poor). The closet will be emptied out for the most part, and I will need to rebuilt, slowly but surely.

I will still keep an over sized hoodie (or two), and a couple of my all-time favorite shirts… because every mid 30’s guy has that shirt he has kept for way too long to the amusement of those around him.

But it is time to let go… and embrace the new me.

Dear Vern

It has been a while since I have written to you, but today is a tough one, so I thought I would drop you a line.

Today is the first Anniversary of your death. The year since, has been one of the toughest I have ever had. The shock of your passing, the depression and grief that followed, the slow journey out of that fog, and the drive to pick myself up and to achieve the things I needed to do… it has been a long year.

I miss you terribly. In the year you have been gone, we have seen Brexit happen, Donald Trump Elected, and hold power. We have seen terrorist attacks across the world, we have seen celebrations and heartache. Elections and mass movements, events, large and small. The world marched on, as it always does, none the wiser that you had left. For me I would sit there and say continually, “I wish Vern was here.” And I know there are many who know you who have felt the same way.

I miss our conversations, our political arguments. I miss having a foil, someone whom I trust, and someone who will challenge me. Not because you thought I was wrong, though you thought I often was, but because you knew I could do better with my argument. And turnabout was fair play. We challenged each other politically, socially, and emotionally. I miss having that confidant who would tell me the blunt side of things. Being a bit rough to get the point across, but having the love behind it to know you actually cared.

There has been a hole in my life, that you have left behind, and I struggle every day with it.

In the last year, I see more of you in me. The way I approach things, or how I view perspectives. A few months ago, I realised that I am almost to the age where you met me, and thinking back, what it must have been like to have an upstart 22 year old challenging you left, left, and center. I feel like I get you better now than I ever have before, and I don’t have you to talk about it.

I am still working on the things we discussed in our last big discussion. I am still trying to find a way to get that PhD. It may take time, but it will happen.

I miss your inappropriateness. How you would make that off-off-off color joke and everyone cringe. I miss how you always went for the crass joke, even for the 100th time. I miss your hobbit references anytime New Zealand came up, even if I was annoyed at them.

I remember, in Iceland, the guys staying at our house played King/Asshole, and over the night, we talked about life, goals, where we wanted to be. We asked each other probing and heartfelt questions, and it was an incredible evening. I wish we could have had more of those.

I think back to this day last year… and… its nearly impossible to contemplate how I was able to keep it as together as I did. The trip back to the US, the mourning, the grappling without you to somehow guide us. I remember sitting in your office the previous May, talking about “If things progressed” not knowing that 6 weeks later it would be reality.

*sigh*

I want to close before I get too emotional… I know that I have always been the more emotional one between the two of us. But… I miss you deeply, and I hope you are proud of me. I hope that I have done you well in this last year handling this, and I hope that I can achieve those things we talked about. I am on my way, and trust that in many ways, you a reason why I push so hard on myself, your belief in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself, is why I always strive to be the best I can be.

Take care, I miss you, until the next letter.

Love,
Squared

ps: Bailey the pug is amazing. She is everything I have ever wanted in a dog. I know you would love her so much and be thrilled at all the pictures of her.

113

Early February, 2010

I had just finished a grueling 2.5 hour workout, the second of the day. It was after work, and I had done 1 hour of treadmill work, 30 minutes of weight lifting, and then another hour of treadmill work. During the course of the workout, I stopped three times to see my weight. As I walked up the stairs for the fourth time, weighed myself on the scale just inside the Men’s locker room.

It was 4 and a half days since I last eaten, a day and a half since my last drink of water.

I had to stop several times in my workout that day to avoid passing out. I would move slowly outside working out to make sure I didn’t get dizzy when I walked. When on the treadmill, I would put it at a 7% grade, and walk as hard as I could, often using the rails for support.  I was 2 weeks from visiting Australia and New Zealand for the first time, and my goal of getting to 240 was in reach.

249 pounds. (113 Kilos). I had lost 110 pounds in 9 months.

I was happy.

I was miserable.

My entire world had become being focused on the weight loss. In the aftermath of my breakup with my fiance in 2008, I went into an eating spiral, which lead to (at the time), the largest I had ever been. I went for several months losing weight, but things got more serious, and dangerous, after I decided to go to Australia for Mardi Gras. For me, the goal was everything, and I would post on social media how excited I was that I was the lightest I had been since college. I was getting compliments from everywhere, and while some were concerned, I ignored them with the sole goal of losing more weight.

Having achieved my goal of getting under 250 pounds, I went to my car, and sat in it.

And cried.

It was devastating.

I was so hungry, so thirsty, and I worried that every ounce of water would help defeat my goal. I wanted to eat so badly, that it was the only thing I thought about. To me, it was the force of will that was important. To withhold is what people say. Calories in, Calories out, and I was in such caloric deficit, I should be dropping in weight.

But the nearly 5 hours of working out for days on end, and I just could barely get under 250.

Back then, after days of not eating, I would go to Outback Steakhouse, sit in the same booth, at the same restaurant (On Lee Highway) and have the same thing every time: A 16oz (450 Grams) Rib Eye Steak, Sauteed Mushrooms, and steamed vegetables and lots of water. Along with the loaf of bread you get at the beginning. That night I did the same thing. Euphoric and devastated, I ate the dinner in silence (as I usually did), playing on my phone. I went home, and sat there. Trying to figure out how to get lower on the scale, knowing that I had just defeated myself by eating so much food.

The next day, I woke up at 5:15, so I could get to the gym at 6 for another 90 minute workout.

I woke up, laid in bed, and admitted to myself that I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t go to the gym that day, or the next. I didn’t eat until the third day, but in my mind, I had failed. I reasoned with myself that Australia is only a couple of weeks away, and you can ease up until you get back, and that may be a good thing.

I never reached that number again, though I had tried, using the same brutal tactics that I used before, each time giving me diminishing results.

June 16, 2017

I walked back into my apartment after a 9 kilometer walk in around 90 minutes. It is my 5th walk in 6 days, and I am nursing a small blister on my right foot, a result from walking in my new shoes.  (hense why I didn’t walk yesterday) Generally, I do a shorter walk (6km) on weekdays, but because it is Friday, and I am working from home, and I was awake earlier than usual… I decided I wanted to see the Bay down by the Harbor Bridge. The morning was chilled, but pleasant, and with headphones in ears, I listened to songs to motivate me as I went through walk. I thought about the Pride Flag Arguments, about the Apartment tower fire in London, about Heroes of the Storm, and how wonderful the city looked in the pre-dawn light. Getting home, I took the dog out, and then prepared breakfast for her. After that, I went and weighed myself.

113

I blinked.

I stepped off, waited a few moments, and stepped on again.

113

There was no ambiguity there. I turned around and took a shower, the number rattling in my head. After the shower, I got out, dried off, and then checked again.

113

“Fucking hell, I did it”

55 Kilos lost in 4.5 months. (121 pounds)

This time I didn’t cry. It almost doesn’t feel real in a way. I went out, grabbed my water and my multivitamin and had a little bit of hummus (as I often do in the morning, I will have 1-2 spoon fulls).

This time I didn’t starve, this time, I didn’t become manic. This time, I didn’t wage war against my body in order to get to a number I shouldn’t have been achieving. Last night, I had 275 grams of chicken, basically the same routine I have had for the majority of the last month. I am drinking tons of water each day, and here I am… at 113.

I never thought I would reach this again. Even in my most manic moments of weight loss, I felt like I was chasing the white dragon, hoping for a goal I could never achieve. The last week, as my weight started dropping again, these feelings kept bubbling up. The Husband and I spoke the other night about my progress, and asked where I feel I could get to in terms of weight, and for the first time, I actually contemplated, seriously, about a number lower than 113. 110? 105? 100 or less? These numbers are truly uncharted territory.

I have said throughout this, that I would listen to my body, and that when my body stops, I will stop. Right now, I don’t know where it will stop. In the back of my mind, I thought that 115 would be the place it would force me to stop, being that was the wall I hit last time. That is looking to not be the case.

To say that I am happy is an understatement. I am thrilled and humbled to be in this position. I do my best to not focus on the number, and instead focus on clothes, activities, social stuff, and the general goal of fitness and being healthier… but today, the number is important because of how important it was to me back then, and how I have learned… the hard way… to not solely focus on that.

Happy Friday.

-W

 

The Journey: Uncharted territory and sabotage masquerading as Support

It has been a while with a Journey story! I will give an update on me, and then onto something that happened this week that has been on my mind.

Last week, I developed a pretty painful blister on the heel of my left foot. The area had been irritated for a while, and it basically came down to the fact that my shoes were breaking down. I took off walking for a few days to recover (mostly because my Husband forced me to), and bought a new pair of shoes (New Balance!) On Saturday, I was off walking again, and things are going well.

My weight loss in general has been slowing down. which is to be expected, so I wasn’t surprised when my weight bumped up a bit immediately after I stopped walking. It slowly lowered over the next few days, but very slowly. When I started walking again, I was just back at the 50kgs loss mark (118.6 kgs).

Since Saturday though, I have lost 3.5kgs, and am sitting at now an even 115kgs/253lbs. This means I have lost almost 54kgs/119lbs, which is definitely in uncharted territory for me. Also, 113kgs is the lowest I have weighed since college, and that is literally right there. If this trend continues, next week will truly be the lightest I have been since I entered adulthood.

Mindblowing.

But I have also had a tough time on the support side of things.

I found myself frustrated with the Bariatric Support Social group I joined on Facebook when I started on The Journey. The group is well established and has thousands of members. People in the group come from around the world, and are at all stages of the Journey. Some are trying to lose weight so that their insurance will cover the surgery (and honestly, there is a lot of heartbreaking and cruel things insurance companies do to make you prove you need the surgery.) people who are in pre-surgery phase, immediate post surgery phase, and long term maintenance phase.

Lately, however, people have begun posting more and more “alternative” recipies to favorite food. I stepped in it the first time a few weeks ago when someone in the group, who was post surgery, and still on her liquid diet phase, asking desperately about alternatives ingredients to Nachos and Burritos, because as she said “These foods are important to me.”

Most people went in with tons of suggestions for ingredient replacements. From cauliflower tortillas to alternates for veleeta cheese (though several argued for Velveeta) and so on. I decided, in my infinite wisdom to challenge her on why the food was important to her, and that part of this process should be re-evaluating your relationship with food. This did not go over well with her, and she yelled at me and called me evil. We had a bit of back and forth, but it quickly boiled down to the fact that she has these foods weekly before the surgery, and she will continue to do so. She didn’t have “food issues like many of the fat monsters here, so don’t group her with them. and my Nutritionist said it is ok to have these foods anyhow sometimes.”

I tried to explain that “sometimes” didn’t mean weekly, and her response was again, not kind. So I walked away.

Then there was the recipe that called for a cup of “sweetener” and people were raving about how sweetener is not sugar and totally fine to have as much as you want. I said nothing there.

This week, someone in the group posted an article about how TACO BELL was the “Healthiest fast food on the market.” Soon, people where talking about how much they eat Taco Bell, and how their Protein Bowl is awesome, and it is totally ok for us Bariatric people to eat. There were several people who pushed back on it, but hedging their reasons why.

I had no such qualms in pointing out how insane it is for a Bariatric support group to be advocating fast food to the group. Again, the reaction was harsh.

“I would like to have a life sometimes, unlike you, and enjoy food on occasion.”

“I have kids, so I don’t have time to make pre-made meals, so I need this.”

“It is ok to loosen up, and cheat once in a while, you must really suck at life if you never cheat.”

“You are a food shamer and making this group look bad.”

I was livid. Three post down, someone was struggling losing enough weight for their insurance company will approve them for the surgery, and people were giving incorrect advice and information about a fast food place. And I did check, the Taco Bell Protein Bowl has more carbs than I should eat in a day. It is NOT a healthy option for Bariatric people. Yet, to bring that up, I was attacked.

After a few fruitless back and forths (Remember wanderlust, it is useless to get into internet fights), I unsubscribed from the page and left the group.

Why it has stuck with me two days later, (and why I felt compelled to write this) is that the self-sabotage was so strong with many in that group. The hoops they jump through to justify what they shouldn’t be doing was mind-boggling, and while I could have engaged in a less direct way, previous experience showed me that I would have been ignored, like many others who disagreed with the article. I even re-examined my own eating, and realising that over the weeks, my food intake had started to grow more than it should. (It has been reset, and I think is also contributing to the increased weight loss).

How do you stop a support group who is sabotaging others unknowingly? What is the right kind of support in those situations?

For me, support is to celebrate the victories, be there for the challenges, and help beat those challenges by giving the tools necessary to overcome them. I am not one for allowing people to wallow in their challenges and backslide. I am always someone who is looking for a solution to get back on track, and move on… even if it takes a while to get to that point. There have been times where I have had great pushback against that type of support, and I am always confounded by it. I have done the silent support at times, and while effective in the right moments, I find that after a point it is never enough, and it often enables inaction. I felt that not putting a warning, or sounding concern/alarm was appropriate, but others felt I was being bossy and mean.

So… I left the support group because I felt it didn’t actually support, and increasingly enabled bad behavior… and I am sad about that. I also didn’t want to see bad recipe videos of food I really shouldn’t be eating every time I went to Facebook.

I am not sure if I will seek out another support group, or go on alone. It has weighed on my mind, and I am still not sure how to proceed.

So, all in all, a mixed bad this week.

Always ever the Happy activist

Today, as I was sitting in the break room, I was talking to a couple of co-workers, the question of Makeup came up. The conversation was how Chanel Mascara doesn’t go as far as it used to.

“I personally use Mac Cosmetics for my makeup needs” I quipped.

The person talking about the mascara laughed and my other co-worker, an Indian woman, honestly inquired, “Oh, do you use makeup?”

“Only when I do Drag.” I said, “But honestly, I have only done it a couple of times for big parties.”

She gave me an inquisitive look, and blushed. “I don’t really understand… is this common in the United States? Men wearing makeup?”

“Oh, no not usually. But it is more common in the Gay Community.” I said.

“Oh I see, I have never seen this in India, and I don’t really think we have a … community like yours in India…” She then spoke up, “Well, we have 1.25 billion people, so I assume there is one, but I have never seen it anywhere. You are the first… of your community, I have ever actually met.” Her voice hesitant, and you could tell she was struggling to find words that weren’t offensive.

And suddenly, I was in happy activist mode.

I explained that, yes there is a large Indian Gay community in India, but it is likely hidden because many societies and religions feel that being gay is wrong. She wanted to counter that as a Hindu, there is no issue, but socially it is considered “not normal.” Not being an expert on Hindism and LGBTQI rights, I let that go, though I know India has begun in the last few years to talk about and discuss LGBTQI rights in the courts and around the country.

The conversation progressed, and we talked about the path the United State had taken with LGBT rights, and how it is still in progress. We talked about being Out, and what that means, and why I am relentlessly out in my life. (I have a wedding photo as my Computer background as an example).

She asked if my being gay was a “state of mind, or a physical thing?” and I spoke about the arguments of Nature vs. Nurture, and the idea of epigenetics possible influencing DNA so it could be a mix of both. We talked about my Great Uncle, who is also Gay and how he lived in the 50’s, and how he hid himself and his partner relationship from most people = for years… which lead to a talk about gay persecution during that time, as well as Alan Turing.

It was an interesting conversation. She was clumsy with her words at times, and never actually used the word “gay,” but she was honest, and inquisitive, and open-minded. She said that she really liked me, and she didn’t want to offend me by asking silly questions, which I quickly calmed her down about, saying that I have been an activist since coming out at 18, and that as a natural teacher, I want to help people understand that we *are* normal, and that this is just how we approach it.

After the conversation, I somewhat realised that I haven’t had in that situation in a while, being the sole representation of the Gay community. In some ways, I cringe. I am literally the vanilla of the LGBTQI community, the proverbial entry point. I am not genderqueer, I am not Trans, I am not the flaming queen who wears feathers into work (but omg that would be awesome if I did…) I am the happy activist, the person who patiently explains our world to outsiders in the hope to broaden their perspective. But even my perspective is limited. It is based on where I have been, and what I have learned, but the LGBTQI community is so vast, different, and far ranging, I feel I can’t do it justice.

But in reality, I feel that has always been my strongest asset to the community. In social movements, you have ideologues, you have extremists, and you have moderates. Each group have an important use in the movement, but too much (or too little) of one can be detrimental to the others and the greater community as a whole. I have always sat squarely in the Moderate category, trying to take the ideologues and the extremists issues and bring it to the fore in a way that outsiders can engage in, and in a place where I don’t condemn, but rather teach.

For me, I have always wanted inclusion, but also understanding, and my method of activism is what I would call “soft activism.” With this mode, I explain, teach, and inform, and through that plant the seeds of tolerance and understanding. By accepting and being kind, I hope to change the pre-conceived notions of what being Gay is, and subvert it, allowing them to confront their bias and change their minds. It is often a slow, long process and it doesn’t always work. But it has always been my way.

And today, I fell into that role again, happily and honestly using my life as an example to prove that we are not so different and just as normal as her and her family. And it is something I still do not tire from. Each conversation is a chance to change minds, and even in the most unlikely of places, you can leave a mark. As we ended, I told her to not feel embarrassed in asking me questions, that I would rather her ask me, than not knowing. She smiled, and said “I really like you Aaron, you are very kind.”

And I hope that with that, she learns a bit more, expands her perspective, and one day, maybe remember me when she sees something on TV or the news, and see past the stereotype or the negativity others put on us.