I’m taking an improv class. The people are upbeat, fun, silly, and just looking for a good experience. I find myself smiling throughout the class from the great creative outlet and clever social exchanges with peers, and I leave feeling energized and happy. (Thanks for bankrolling my fun, Diet Bet!)
The sort of strange thing is that the class meets in an elementary school library. (The school is, of course, closed during our sessions.) It’s probably good juju for us to be subliminally reminded of our free-spirited inner children by the colorful decorations and toys around the room, but some of the set-up is a little impractical. When our instructor wants us to do seated scenes, the only chairs at our disposal are meant for 5-year-old butts, not adult ones. For someone who used to love ass-planting, the idea of sitting in one of these flimsy little seats was an, um, uncomfortable prospect.
This weekend, there was no way around it: chair games galore. I couldn’t shake the gif-style image my brain conjured up of me sitting on one of these children’s desk chairs and having it crumble to smithereens beneath my mass, and the thought of that horrified me. I really wanted to participate in everything, but I was hanging back and hoping to abstain unnoticed to avoid busting a chair and embarrassing myself beyond redemption.
And then I realized: I am a 31-year-old woman afraid of a piece of furniture. CHILDREN’S furniture.
Dafuq? That’s not how a fearless person acts.
So I shook it off. I stopped thinking about how I’m probably the heaviest person in the class — certainly the heaviest girl. I reminded myself that I’ve lost over 100 pounds, and if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t even be in this class entertaining the possibility of putting my ass on that tiny chair. I put my mental gif into my “mind vice,” à la Jack Donaghy, and crushed it. I told myself it would be fine.
And I sat in a chair, like I’ve done a million times in my life, and did not crush it.
It was fine.
I will be fine.
But I still keep having nuisance thoughts creep into my mind. It’s such a weird psychological place to be in, suddenly feeling a spike of nervousness about things I can do now, but that I used to not be able to do when I was at my biggest. When I took a bath last week and could lie in the tub with both of my arms at my side because they fit now — that was a weird naked triumph. When I was charging to work this morning and realized I was flying through the turnstiles to get to the train without making contact with the sides of it, I had an involuntary flashback to when that was impossible. When a stranger sat beside me on the train and spent the whole ride trying to gingerly keep her body piled on her side of the line separating our seats, I remembered when that girl was me. I don’t think people who have never dealt with significant weight loss ever think about this stuff. I wonder if I always will?
Later today, I caught my reflection in the mirror of the bathroom at the office and saw a cheek bone on my face. A cheek bone. I started whipping my face around back and forth, averting my eyes and then quickly zooming them back to look at my reflection, as if trying to catch my cheek bone off-guard before it could run away. It was still there. And it has a twin on the other side of my face.
I couldn’t believe it.
I was about to reach up and touch my cheek bones to make sure they were real, when someone came out of one of the bathroom stalls. It was a co-worker I rarely see, but who has made a few subtle remarks on my weight loss before. She caught me in a weird moment, posed with my hands half-raised to my cheeks and a strange grin on my face.
Instead of commenting on what must have been an odd thing to see, she looked at me and paid me an awesome compliment, with a huge smile of her own: “You look great!”
It turned into a 5-minute conversation about her own struggle with weight loss. She asked me how I had been feeling since I’ve been changing, and I told her I felt better than I looked, and that my doctor was looking forward to not recognizing me soon. She shared a doctor story of her own: her doctor recently told her that she needs to lose 30 pounds. She took hearing that really hard; she had a baby last year and is now back to her pre-pregnancy weight and happy with her size. I told her she didn’t have 30 pounds to lose and she looked wonderful to me! She said she didn’t think so, either; she agreed with her doctor that she could stand to lose maybe 15 pounds, but 30 sounded extreme to her. It was deflating. She said that ever since then, she’s really struggled with motivation. She started asking me how I got started, so I shared a few things with her. Even when she was describing her tough experience at her doctor’s office, she was smiling at me. She ended the conversation with, “What you’re doing is inspiring me.”
That was AMAZING. Honestly, I thought she didn’t even like me; turns out, she was kind of… studying me? All this time, I was misinterpreting her glances and expressions. I never would have known she was quietly cheering me on if not for that conversation.
That’s when I thought of the biggest change in myself: being able to talk about it. I am now talking about it with real people, in real life, out loud. I don’t get all awkward or squirmy, and I don’t avoid the compliments anymore. And guess what? That makes people share more of their own experiences, and it becomes a way to help them. It leads to conversations where you learn something more about someone you were previously making bad assumptions about, and it teaches you something about your place in your environment.
The personal growth during the physical shrinking is the best part of this. It’s better than losing 100 pounds, it’s better than collar bones, it’s better than running a mile without stopping, it’s better than facing down a child’s chair, it’s better than breezing through a turnstile untouched, it’s better than fitting on less than half of a bench on public transportation, and it’s better than visible cheek bones. But it took achieving all of those milestones to get here and finally start to see something I’ve been trying to find all along: my true self.
The next person who asks me how I feel may just make me cry, and that’s the most open and honest answer I could possibly give to that question.