Identity Crisis: Losing Yourself in the Process & the Fear of Success

Obviously, I was desperate to lose weight.  I had been trying to do that for most of my adult life and had failed utterly and completely.  When I finally stumbled into the right process for me (Paleo living), I was beyond estatic!  I was so happy that I was FINALLY losing weight and it wasn’t coming back and I was not totally miserable in the process! I just wanted to tell everyone: this is working for me!! (LOL- it’s one of the reasons I started this blog!)

I have been at this nearly two years now (I count January 2015 as my ‘start date’) and I have lost about 165 lbs (164.4).  That’s about an average size adult human. I used to look at my total weight loss and tell myself “that’s a toddler” or “that’s a kid” and lately it was “that’s about a whole person.”  At first it was a little funny, thinking I was carrying those extra forty pounds around like someone would carry their child, and then the higher the number the more it was a little frightening thinking I had been carrying so much extra weight on my enitre body.  As it climbed higher into the 100’s, I would think about how my knees and my back and feet would hurt and I’d realize it was the same as carrying around another person with me 24/7.  I’ve heard pregnant women complain about how heavy the baby is and how awkward it can be to move around, and the average woman gains only 25-30 lbs when pregnant.  For someone who was not overweight before, it’s still a lot of weight and it’s mostly located in one awkward area of the body.  I was carrying so much more than that all over my body and it was not a temporary condition! Worse, I kept gaining weight. Before I finally lost weight, I was carrying the equivalent of two large men around all the time (I weighed 438 lbs and I’m 5’4″). I knew I needed to lose weight and that I was unhealthy, but at the same time, the discomfort from my weight gain had been slow and insidious.  I’ve heard it said that if you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump right out, but if you put it in a pot of cold water and slowly increase the heat, the frog will stay there and die ( someone please save the frog! no cooking frogs please!).  I was the frog: I had been gaining at a relatively slow but steady rate and the discomfort slowly increased but like the frog, I was not paying a whole lot of attention. On one level, I knew this was killing me, but it wasn’t killing me so fast that I felt I needed to do something about it. It wasn’t until my health became so bad due to other factors that I was finally motivated to make changes that ultimately led to my losing weight.

Now I’m a little over the halfway mark to my goal weight (150 lbs). At some point, in the rather near future now, I’m going to have to talk to my doctor about getting some of my loose skin removed, although I would prefer to wait as long as possible.  The problem with loose skin isn’t so much that it’s unattractive as it can become a source of infection.  It folds up on itself and rubs in places where it’s not supposed to be and these wounds can easily become infected.  Mine is not that bad yet, but it’s getting there, especially on my legs.  Knowing me it will probably come down to which is the bigger pain in the butt: the loose skin or the surgery?  When the answer is the loose skin, I’ll probably call my doctor.  The bad part about that is that I have a high tolerance for irritation, so I’m hoping I don’t get an infection before I finally decide to go get cut up.

There have been a lot of physical changes these past two years.  The loose skin is only one change and maybe the most noticeable. My body is literally shrinking in on itself. Parts of me are sagging that never did before and it’s a little uncomfortable at times having to deal with that.  I swim a couple days a week, so I am used to seeing myself in the gym mirror in my swimsuit looking like a deflated balloon (even more so since I’ve gone to a smaller two piece). I feel my bones more prominently and there’s a lot less pain in my back, knees and feet. Moving is a lot easier and so is sleeping.  My clothes are hanging on me now and even my shoes fit better. Shoes I could barely fit in two years ago now fit well with a little extra room to tighten them up. My younger and smaller sister has started giving me her old clothes (she’s also lost weight) and I was rather shocked when I got dressed this morning and I put on a shirt that I didn’t think would fit, but it fit just fine.  I really didn’t think I’d lost that much weight.

That statement seems to be at the crux of my current mindset. I am in denial regarding how much weight I’ve lost and how much smaller I seem to be getting.  At first, it was kind of fun thinking I actually need to buy smaller clothes.  I don’t ever recall a time in my life when I was complaining that all my clothes are too big and I need smaller sizes.  I have a couple of shirts that feel like I’m wrapped in a sail and the free t-shirt I got when I joined my gym (even though I got the bigger size) is now my nightshirt since it comes down so far on me.  I recently ordered new swimsuits online and a couple days after I submitted my order, I realized maybe I should have ordered a size down (I was getting in the pool- go figure).  The reason I needed new swimsuits is that the ones I have are starting to slip off in the water. (The new ones fit just fine!) Back in August, as I noticed how my pants flap and a lot of them now have safety pins and binder clips keeping them up, I figured I’d wait until October to buy some new ones.  Now October is here and I’m telling myself, as even the “good fitting pants” now need a binder clip, maybe I should wait until the new year.  I keep telling myself that I haven’t lost “that much weight” and these 3X pants still fit too well for me to think about moving down to 2X.  The size 24 shirts still fit nice enough that moving down to 22 is “probably not a good idea.”  That worked until this morning when the shirt I put on is one of my sister’s 2x hand-me-downs and it fits better than my old sail-size 24s.

The physical changes and the denial about the overall weight loss are only one part of the problem.  I’m pretty used to the saggy skin and not too concerned about it, and while the baggy clothes are becoming more of a problem (buying new clothes has always been so depressing!) The bigger ‘problem’ is that I’m changing in ways I never thought about and while you wouldn’t think it would be something that upsets me, it really does bother me more than a little.  Whenever I notice it, there is always a feeling of disquiet in me, because it feels like I am losing who I am.

Fear of Success

And I think that is exactly what is happening: the person I used to be, the person I am familiar with, is no longer entirely there.  There has always been a lot of attention given the fear of failure and how to get over that, but not so much to fear of success.  Some people have never heard of it and automatically dismiss it as one of those psycho-babble ideas: “Really?? You’re afraid of succeeding?? Of winning?? Of completing what you set out to do??”  Ask any athlete who has won Wimbledon for example: how much pressure is there to win next year, and the year after?  Ask Tiger Woods after he won the Masters: any pressure there, Tiger?? Once you do what you set out to do, there is enormous pressure to keep winning.  You don’t just “win and leave”: you are expected to keep performing at the same level! A band puts out a fabulous album: automatically, critics put out the idea that the next one might not be as good.  An actor wins the Oscar: the next film is automatically compared to the “Oscar-winning performance.”  While everyone is familiar with the price of failure, there is a hidden cost to winning as well.

With weight loss, it’s pretty straightforward: “she lost the weight, yeah, but can she keep it off?” Anyone who has lost weight knows the mantras: “don’t gain. don’t eat. don’t gain. don’t eat.”  It’s usually followed by the dreaded daily self-interrogation: “are my pants getting tight? why doesn’t my bra/ shirt/ socks fit as loose as they used to? does my face look fat?!” When it comes to weight loss & keeping it off, most battle-scarred veterans are used to the war never ending; we don’t “win”- we just keep fighting.  People tell us the greater the battle, the greater the glory, and they leave off the part about defending that win.  I remember how devastating it felt when I gained back the 40 lbs I had lost on NutriSystem, and then I gained more back as well.  (Haven’t we all been there?)  It’s salt in the wound honestly.  It’s like the weight is dancing on your grave: “yeah, you thought you’d ditched me but now I’m back and I’m bigger and stronger than ever!! bwahahaha!”

It’s not enough to succeed in losing weight and getting fitter; you have to maintain that fitness.  This is where so many people just pack it in and go home, usually because the changes they made to lose the weight were not permanent lifestyle changes.  They monitored what they ate long enough and consistently enough to lose X amount of pounds, but once it’s gone, they go back to the way they ate before which led to the gain of X amount of pounds. This is the “revolving door dieting mentality” that keeps the weight loss industry flourishing. For anyone to keep winning the “weight loss war,” we must make permanent life style changes: we keep making healthy food choices; we stay active; going to the gym and/ or walking daily are now normal habits and eating unhealthy foods are the exception rather than the rule.  It’s not so much that our habits need to change as much as we ourselves need to change.

This is where I find myself: I am changing into someone else and that is causing a little bit of an identity crisis (‘little bit’- eye roll!!)  I find I am experiencing some anxiety when I find myself not falling into my regular old habits.  This is actually a good thing because my regular old habits were the habits that led to my being 438 lbs.  I know what the old me would have done (bought at least two pieces of Safeway carrot cake!) and the new ‘transitional’ me would have looked at the cake, wanted it and walked away from it, but this new healthier me is not even noticing the carrot cake and walks right by without even looking (she’s looking at the eggs of all things!), and when I find myself doing things like not paying attention to things that formerly were important (either as ‘bad for me treats’ or ‘things to be resisted’), I feel a little bit of anxiety, because I don’t know who this person is, and worse yet, I don’t know what her pitfalls are.  The old me was pretty easy: carrot cake, pasta, bagels, cookies and yeah, yogurt, cheese and anything with cream sauce.  The me I thought I was (the transitional me) is a little harder but still a known quantity: bacon, broccoli, salads, chicken and Epic bars.  This new person? So far I know she’s not into carrot cake, apple fritters, chips and cheese toast.  Beyond that, she’s still pretty nebulous.  I get to find out what her strengths and weaknesses are.  I’m not even really sure what she looks like, but apparently, she’s thinner than I am and getting thinner.

I am also having anxiety when I find I’ve lost weight.  (What the hell is THAT all about?!?) I have to admit, this would make me laugh if it didn’t cause so much disquiet in me.  I am actually stressing about LOSING weight and  NOT having a problem resisting the carrot cake kryptonite!! I used to wish for problems like these, so now- wish granted! Frankly, it’s all part of the ongoing transition to someone healthier, fitter and hopefully, happier than the person I used to be.  Yes, there is anxiety involved now with not only learning the new healthier habits but maintaining them and the weight loss as well as finding new strengths and probably the weaknesses as well.  I am becoming someone new and it’s a little hard letting go of the person I used to be.  For so long, she was the devil I knew, even though she was 370+ lbs for more than ten years, wearing size 4x pants and size 24/26 shirts, and could hardly walk from one end of the mall to the other. When I looked in the mirror, I saw someone I recognized even if I didn’t like her very much.  For many months now, when I look in the mirror, I saw someone who surprised me and who still surprises me.  Honestly, I don’t handle surprises very well, but I’m getting used to them.  I suppose I’d better.  This new person looks like she’s making herself at home.

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