The other day my sister, Michelle, posted the following to my Facebook page:
“Why are you skinny people doing this to yourselves??? I thought insanity was designed for overweight individuals???”
As you might imagine, the “insanity” to which she referred is the Insanity Workout exercise program by Beachbody and led by Shaun T. Nine days ago, I decided to take the 8 week challenge and have been reporting my progress to friends and family via Facebook. I am happy to say that I have completed each day thus far and intend to continue so doing.
Now, back to my sister’s comment.
You see, she is right. I am not overweight and thus it would seem that I would have no just cause to take on such a workout program. Right?
I decided to take on the Insanity Challenge, because I wanted to prove two points to myself:
- 1. I can achieve a high level of fitness as a person with fibromyalgia; and
- 2. I can take care of my body as I choose to without fearing input from others.
A world of secrets…
Back in 2008 when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my body had been changing rapidly. As I wrote in my recent posts, I had gain a significant amount of weight in only a couple of years. You see, before I started graduate school, I worked as a personal trainer and fitness instructor from 2002 to 2004. That period of my life was one in which I experienced a high boost to my body image. I was strong and healthy.
My weight then was higher than what it is now, but it was never a concern to me. My major concerns: strength and endurance. And if there is one thing that I have lamented greatly since having fibromyalgia was the loss of my physical strength and endurance.
With my weight gain came real health concerns, such as being warned about my blood pressure and having some other health issues being labeled as “due to excess weight.”
It was frustrating to find myself in that state and feeling that I couldn’t do anything physically about it…like exercise in the way that I had in the past. I was too tired. I felt too much pain. There was a bigger issue though…
As many of you know, I am an art therapist and counselor. I specialize in the treatment of eating disorders. This area of specialization developed from my second year internship and subsequent job. So, why would working within this area create a problem for me? Simply this…
How does a therapist embark upon a health improvement that would mean significant weight loss while reinforcing to her clients that their desire to lose weight was unhealthy?
For a long time, I did not have an answer. I worked in a place where there were strict rules on how food could be discussed and what foods could be eaten. Discussion of weight loss, weight loss programs, and diets was forbidden. This is not to say that these rules were always followed.
The reality was that a majority of the staff was female, White and American; and the fact is that a majority of White American females struggle with body image and disordered eating. This is not to say that women of colour are immuned to such an experience. So, as the saying goes, don’t get it twisted.
Being a therapist…
Also, there seems to be a very strange expectation, i.e. that all Black women are happy with being overweight. I write this because of various experiences I had while trying to manage my weight issues. The most memorable of these was an experience I had with an older White female nutritionist who worked at a local hospital.
I was given a referral to visit this nutritionist because both myself and my doctor believed that it would be good for me to have professional advice on how to safely and slowly lose my excess weight through diet, since exercise was proving difficult for me. At that time I was about 50 pounds overweight.
I sat with the lady and stated my reasons for coming to see her. From her lips came the following response:
“But you’re Black! Why would you want to lose weight? Aren’t all Black women a bit fatter that everyone else? Aren’t you people use to being like that?”
Now, some may believe that I am exaggerating…but I kid you not. Those were her exact words that are engraved upon my heart and mind. I was in disbelief.
There I was seeking help to lose the weight that was causing me severe health problems…and there was that lady telling me that I didn’t need to lose the weight because of my skin colour. Huh?
So, I realized that I had to do it on my own. I decided to take matters into my own hands as I wrote in my previous post. The thing was that at work, although I had explained to some that I was planning to lose weight, there was apparently discomfort that I had made such a choice.
Moreover, I did not discuss just how much weight I intended to lose, because that was no one else’s business except for me and my doctor. Looking back, perhaps it would have been better if I had simply stated a number, even though I did not have a number in mind.
The world in which I worked during that time became closed. I watched as people stared at me with curious and suspicious eyes. I listened as people made side comments about me. I answered as people kept asking me, “haven’t you lost enough now?” or “why are you still losing weight?”
And then there were the painful rumours regarding eating disorders and even my sexuality. It was a truly discouraging time. I often felt alone; and between having fibromyalgia and being the only Black clinician on staff as well as the only art therapist, I often felt misunderstood.
My studio space became a place of refuge during the last year of my weight loss. I watched as people, who were once willing to speak with me or were friendly with me, stop interacting with me. And, in all honesty, the decision to move to Italy came at the right time as who I had been no longer was. The new person did not fit in with my old world.
So, why have I written about this or about anything else?
Because it was time. Especially as a counselor specializing in eating disorders. You see, even counselors are human. 😉 Even we struggle with our bodies, including food concerns, weight and body image.
It is a strange paradox about the world of psychology. As a counselor you are expected to help others in overcoming their problems. At the same time, however, it is seemingly frowned upon by peers if you have problems of your own.
There is a reason why…
research has looked into the suicidal tendencies of psychologists (counselors/therapists/social workers, etc.).
There is a reason why….
some of us feel that there is a need to be invincible. That there is a need to hide what hurts us, to hide our struggles, to hide our true selves. We walk about attempting to be the tabula rasa (blank slate) for everyone, including our peers…and it just doesn’t work.
There is a reason why…
many of us, who were once bright and shining candles, finally burnout.
There is always a reason why…
I write about this, as well as the previous blog post, to write the truth about a topic for which I held tremendous fear: my weight loss.
I write because I believe that it is the job a therapist to be human and to show his or her client that there is always a path to be found out of the difficulties of life, not just via book lessons but through setting the example by how we live our own lives and how we take care of ourselves.
Until Next Time,