How do we unify as a nation again?

In some ways, despite it having happened only five days ago, the election for the next President of the United States feels like forever ago. I think, in some ways, that may be my PTSD coping coming into play – dissociation from it all to deal with the almost non-stop anxiety that started on the day of the election and lasted for the next couple of days.

Since then, there have been so many acts of violence resulting in death and destruction. A lot of the reports are of Trump supporters harassing, threatening, and even killing people whose minority groups were insulted, demeaned, and identified as undesirable residents in our nation. The slogan, “Make America Great Again,” for many people, became code for, “Make America White Again.”

The results of election night seemed to be the eruption of a volcano which had been awakening over the past several years, decades even, as economic hardships, job losses, the battle for marriage equality, the seeming increases of Black Americans losing their lives and their futures to the lethal force actions of the police charged to protect and serve, a protracted war on terror throughout the Middle East, increasing numbers of refugees who share ethnic and genetic backgrounds with the terrorists, soldiers killed and maimed in this war on terror, veteran’s not receiving the care and services promised and needed, an epidemic of homelessness, and the list goes on.

We have long been divided according to the political two-party system of the liberal, leftist, Democrats vs the Republicans of the religious right. This false dichotomy has polarized the people in our country and pitted us against them. The propaganda of it all is quite confusing, until you step back and examine the big picture a little more closely. The professional politicians in the upper echelons of our government, many of whom fall in the category of the 1% and who are often considered to be the puppets of the 1% of the 1%, have done an excellent job of distracting us and pitting us against each other.

I’m reminded of the fall of the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, and the Russian Revolution. In each case there was some combination of over-involvement in the wars of other countries, major economic shifts where the 98% grew poorer and poorer, while the top levels of leadership became more and more self-serving, making governing decisions to increase their own wealth and power. Each of these events had additional factors, however, these are the largest ones and the ones which most closely resemble what is happening in our country right now.

We have a 1% leader who, throughout his campaign, appealed to four groups of people, the first of which are those most concerned with the loss of their way of life, which isn’t just the loss of middle-class comfort and status, but their very survival. The second group consists of those who are fiscally conservative, believing that a large, bureaucratic government, taxing the working and upper classes in order to provide supportive services to the lower classes, who they often deem to be lazy, unwilling to do what it takes to lift themselves out of poverty, and more likely to “take advantage” of the system, thereby costing them their hard-won earnings and way of life.

The third and fourth groups can be found in the midst of the other two groups. The third group, are known as the Religious Right, the ones who have been trained and taught a doctrine based on a fairly modern interpretation of the Bible, which doesn’t take into account the context and the history, the cultural and religious connections to the original people groups to whom the different books of the Bible were addressed and derived from. This third group treats the Bible, its teaching, and its prophecies as if they are the chosen people and the promises are for the new Holy Land of The United States of America.

I think it’s important to note that this is likely the group which is the most diverse in terms of race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, and religious faith. The reason for this is likely the level of and type of education. This is the group that was most likely to vote for Trump, instead of Hillary, because of that education combined with religious beliefs, despite the obvious words, actions, and history of our President-Elect which flouted any true example of morals and values espoused by themselves.

The final group consists of those who believe that anyone who isn’t “white” is an inferior race and should never be considered equal to themselves or have any advantages that they don’t have. They, too, tend to believe the things of the Religious Right, and see themselves, exclusively, as the Chosen and inheritors of the earth.

On the opposing side, we have the Millennials and the Liberal Left. Both of those groups tend to be highly educated, academically, and their academic education came from Liberal Colleges, not affiliated with religion or religious denomination. They’re the ones most concerned with social and environmental justice. They’re also the ones who want human rights and equality to be a given for all human beings, regardless of “minority” status.

Since the election, one side has been reported to have committed heinous crimes against members of the other side. Of course, the portions of that side who don’t share in the overtly bigoted beliefs of the perpetrators are quick to their own defense and to absolve themselves of any responsibility in those actions. On the flip side, many of the members of the other party, have staged protests, intended to be peaceful, which have erupted into rioting, destruction, and violence. Of course, the more moderate of this group are quick to disavow those actions by the anarchists, the angriest, and the most marginalized.

How are we going to become a unified nation? How are we to work toward reconciliation and reparation when everyone is shouting over each other and worse, in order to establish that they are right and the others are wrong?

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

by an anonymous Norman c. 1915 A.D. Peace Prayer

Lord make me an instrument of your peace

Where there is hatred,
Let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, Joy.

O Divine Master grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood,as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Or, as Steven Covey puts it, in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Of Millennials, Protesters, and Anarchists

I live in a city filled with diversity. We are home to a strong, active, civic-minded, engaged, and involved African American community. We have been and are home to refugees and immigrants from various countries in Eastern Europe, India, Africa, Asia, and more. We are home to a large, entrepreneurial,  hard-working, contributing Hispanic community, some of whom may be undocumented, but are valuable members of the communities they live and work in. Our LGBTQUIA community is friendly, fun, fierce, fabulous, and fearless. We have strong, courageous, dedicated women in all sectors: private, government, and social service . We are known as the place, “where the young go to retire,” where the “dream of the 90’s” is alive and well, and where the hipsters, post-millennial hippies, and bicycling eco-activists work hard to honor and respect diversity and work to make inclusivity a way of life. We are a blue city flying a rainbow flag.

Don’t twist it and get me wrong. We have our negatives and our misunderstandings. We have our prejudices and our biases. We have our oppressed and our oppressors. However, we also have enough people willing to have the conversations, listen to each other, learn from each other, and stand with each other against the inhumane things humans do to other humans.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we’ve had three days of protests since Donald Trump won the Presidential election with the electoral vote, if not the popular one.

What was surprising is that last night’s protest turned into a bit of a riot, with projectiles being thrown at police, them firing non-lethal rubber bullets and the like back, windows getting smashed in, property getting destroyed, physical altercations between protesters and frustrated motorists trying to get home after 16 hour workdays or get out of the city to get to an emergency. That isn’t who we are as a city. This isn’t who we are as people . . . most of us anyway.

Since the protests started, I’ve seen a lot of posts by people I know, who are criticizing and dismissing the protesters as entitled brats who are upset that they didn’t get their way in the election. These people, many of whom are friends and family of mine, or people I went to school with 30-40 years ago, are claiming that the protestors are whiny, spoiled children who don’t know or understand what true hardship is and are doing this because too many participation trophies were handed out. This couldn’t be farther from the truth . . . at least for the majority of the protesters.

First off, let me say this: There were people, self-proclaimed anarchists, hiding behind masks and wearing distinctive clothing, who inserted themselves in the crowd of otherwise peaceful protestors. Some of these people may be of the Millennial Generation and may have been handed too many participation trophies, but, their actions have little to nothing to do with the intention and message of the protesters. They just want to cause chaos and destruction. They get a kick out of doing it and their payoff is distracting from and derailing the dialogue which the protesters are trying to have.

Secondly, the true protesters, Portland’s Resistance, have disavowed those who committed the violence and caused the damage. Additionally, Portland’s Resistance is taking responsibility and corrective action. You can read more about it here.

Now, on to what this post is really about . . . clearing up the misconceptions about the protestors and the Millennials among them. What needs understanding is this, the world Millennials grew up on is completely and drastically different than the one I, and others before me, grew up in. The differences go much deeper and are more far reaching than participation trophies. I have some perspective on this because I am parent to a pre-millennial, a millennial, and a post-millennial.

My Millennial child was born in 1993, was a pre-adolescent at the turn of the millennia, and came into adulthood in the 2010’s. She’s an amazing, compassionate, passionate, determined, and civically active and aware woman.

You see, she and her peers grew up in a time of unprecedented globalization. The internet led to social media: Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and so many more online spaces where people of all ages, faiths, nationalities, colors, genders, sexualities, health conditions, family structures, educational levels, and economic levels could communicate with, see, and hear each other. All of these people created and shared the things that represented who they are, where they’re from, what they believe, what they’ve experienced, their gifts, talents, and passions.

The internet and social media became the great equalizer, even if anonymous (or not so anonymous) bigots and bullies trolled to see who they could attack, threaten, heckle, diminish, and demean.

Which brings me to my next point: rising awareness and rejection of bias, prejudice, bullying, and violence.

My Millennial daughter and her peers grew up in an era where many of the previously hidden and accepted isms of our society rose up in awareness, because the people who were stigmatized and terrorized by these things courageously began rising up and speaking out about their experiences of injustice, violence, suppression, and oppression. Domestic Violence, Rape Culture, Racism, Sexism, Gender Inequality, the dehumanization of LGTBQIA people, Ableism, Ageism, Body Shaming, Cyber Bullying, Xenophobia have been an inherent part of their lives, throughout their lives. There have been so many actions, organizations, events, and movements to rise against these things and our Millennial children were taught in school, on television, in social media, and even by their parents, that these things are not acceptable and that this is not who we want to be as people, as humans.

We taught and they learned that everyone has a place and everyone has something of value to contribute to the world, even if they aren’t the MVP. That’s what participation trophies taught them.

They learned to use their voices, the privileges they may have, their personal experiences, their gifts, talents, and passions to stand up, stand for, and stand with people different from themselves, to stand against the things which destroy and devour the hopes, dreams, identities, and lives of the people in the world around us.

Don’t dismiss them. Listen to them. Learn from them. They’re the future policy makers, leaders, and caregivers we’ll be dependent on in a few years.

The rising tide of panic inside me

It’s been so long since I’ve written anything here. So long since I’ve really felt able to write anything of any import with any level of coherence. However, tonight, my friend, Rara, challenged me, us, to “do the thing.” So, here I am, doing the thing . . . or trying to anyway.

When I started writing Human In Recovery, nearly five years ago, I was a total, shut-down, big ball of numbed out fear and self-loathing. Since then, I’ve worked hard and come a very long way. I’ve grown up, a lot. I’ve lost and left relationships that I thought I had to be in and thought I couldn’t quit. I’ve fought to rebuild, restore, and reconcile others where I was the one left and lost. I’m a better person. Even though I know I’m stronger than ever before, in some ways, and have traveled farther than I ever thought I could, the tangible evidence doesn’t exist. It’s all thought, feeling, air, and mist. Tonight, I feel as weak and tired and broken and loathsome as I did then. I feel myself becoming that ball of numbed out fear again.

Healing and recovery from a lifetime of trauma and abuse is a very tricky thing. When I didn’t know what was wrong with me, exactly, and just knew that something WAS wrong, I felt out of control, overwhelmed, and lost . . . hopeless, even. I started researching and paying attention to myself and my reactions and realized it was possible that I was on the bipolar spectrum. It never really occurred to me in any serious kind of way that I was also experiencing PTSD. So, I had all these ideas and thoughts about what might be happening with me, but, without insurance and not being able to work for a number of reasons, I didn’t really know what to do with what I thought might be wrong with me.

Then, just before the ACA, aka “Obamacare,” went into effect, my life crashed like a six car pile up at a four way stop. I suddenly had to choose to change my life and who I was or I was going to disappear, fade away, and abandon my child who needed me, in ways I’d abandoned her older siblings and had been abandoned myself. That was nearly three years ago. I’ve gone through a lot in these past three years, much of it is listed in prior posts, so I won’t rehash it here. I’ve survived a lot and I’ve learned a lot. I started regaining hope and letting go of the internal fear I didn’t dare let myself be aware of.

Space opened up in my life where it’s been becoming safe to start looking at working through and processing the trauma from my past. But, then, and now, Trump.

When you were a lost, confused, throwaway, afterthought of a teenage girl in your f****d up family of origin; when you’d survived being seduced and molested as an 8-10 year old girl by your step-father only to have your mother not be able to fight for you enough to hold onto you through your wounded, angry, and confused pre-pubescent tantrums, that she signs you over to her brother, goes back to where you came from, and kills herself; when you lost hope for your future after cleaning up the mess left by the adults responsible for you; when you run away at 16 with a 30 year old man who convinces you that he sees you, loves you, respects you; when you spend three years hitchhiking, living out of cars, manipulating people for your survival and his money, while you’re pregnant and parenting his child; when you are a woman who has lived through all of these things, Donald Trump is a major trigger.

Let me count the ways:

  1. I’m a woman
  2. I’m half-Mexican
  3. I’m a single-mom
  4. I’m obese
  5. I have chronic physical illnesses
  6. I have chronic mental health diagnoses
  7. I have a child with a developmental disorder
  8. I have half-Mexican grandchildren
  9. I can’t hold down a job because of my anxiety issues
  10. I don’t have the capacity to become work ready because I’m fighting to parent my special needs child
  11. I’m dependent on public housing
  12. I’m dependent on SNAP benefits, aka “food stamps”
  13. I’m dependent on “Obamacare”

Therefore, in Donald Trump’s purported worldview, I’m a fat, lazy, crazy, free-loading, useless piece of brown trash, who has created more of the same and can’t be trusted to do anything of any import because of my genetic heritage.

Oh, and it was perfectly acceptable that I was sexually used and manipulated as a teen, because I’d been sexually initiated as a child, and, since I’m female, I’m only good for what I can take and put out between my legs . . . and since I’m closer to 50 than I am 40, and the give and take are distant memories, what use am I to anyone anyway?

Of course I don’t think or feel these things and these ways about myself, right? Well, uhm, actually, I really kind of do. I mean, that’s kind of what PTSD looks like for me, right now.

I’ve spent the last two and a half years, working hard on relationship building and trusting some people in my son’s adoptive and extended family, some of who are also extended family members of mine, all of who are part of his faith community. I’ve spent the same time, opening myself up to and building relationships with people in the faith community I call home. Essentially, for the past two and a half years, I’ve attended worship and teaching services with two different church communities, at two different times on Saturdays.

Just when I was starting to be able to relax, breathe, and trust myself to be safe around these people, the men, in these spaces, I start finding out which of them supported and voted for Trump, the same as my ex. I’m wracked with shock and disbelief, and the cacophony of the internal dissonance is disorienting and deafening. I feel myself freezing up inside when I see their names on Facebook. My chest grows tighter and my breathing more rapid at the thought of seeing them face to face this weekend.

Except, I’m going to go watch my grandbabies this weekend. Now, I can breathe a little.

Preparing for a New School Year: Calm Parent = Calm Child

Autism Society of North Carolina Blog

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This article was contributed by Nancy Nestor, an Autism Resource Specialist in the Charlotte region, an autism mom, and a former teacher.

With all the hot weather we have had this summer, it is hard to believe, but summer is fading. Before you know it, yellow school buses will fill the streets, packed with students excited to start another year. The change in schedule can be hard for families; transitioning is not usually a strength for people on the spectrum.

Recently I created a chapter presentation on preparing for the new school year, and I wanted to highlight here some of the information others have presented, as well as add a few tips that I found while researching. With a few changes to your life at home, you and your child will be ready for school this year. If you are calm, your child will have an easier time with…

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Moms need mothers, too

I’m in the midst of this weird convergence of time, age, and life experience. It’s not quite an existential or mid-life crisis . . . or maybe it is and crisis is just normal for me.

Perhaps what I’m going through is what others experience as “Empty Nest Syndrome.” My nearly 30-year-old son is happily (or at least healthier) married to his second wife and they just moved into their first house. He’s the first member of my family, at least the family I grew up with, who is a homeowner since my maternal great-grandmother. I’m so happy for them.

The pride I feel for him, in him, is solely because of how far he’s come and how hard he’s worked to overcome and rise above the life he experienced growing up with me as his mother. He’s broken away from and out of some generational cycles it seemed that he would get taken down by. I’m also grateful for God’s grace, mercy, and people who have healed him and supported him so he could reach this point.

That pride is tempered with dissatisfaction with myself. At 29, he’s a first-time homeowner and I’m in a semi-homeless limbo between a Section 8 apartment and my ex’s couch, and I’m turning 47 in two weeks. I don’t see a clear path to changing my current circumstances in the near, or not so near future. Some of that has to do with his sister . . . the middle child who made me a grandmother, twice.

She’s an amazing mother. She’s turns 23, the age I was when I became pregnant with her, in five weeks. She’s also very much the overwhelmed mom, fighting valiantly against the currents and waves which drag her under and knock her down. She juggles mothering two toddlers, being in relationship with their papa, and working. The housing market where we live has exploded into this ever-expanding bubble, thanks to gentrification, the film and tech industries, and other factors I can’t even fathom. It’s nearly impossible to afford housing if you are making under $50,000 yr. Her part-time, slightly above minimum wage job, yields between $15,000 to $19,000. With the cost of childcare and the seemingly increasing incidences of abuse and pedophilia being revealed, they won’t put the babies in childcare. So, papa is a stay at home dad, at 23. Lots of people have lots of opinions, many of them negative, about their lives and life choices.

I refuse to allow my grandchildren to experience homelessness, they way the rest of us have. So, the four of them occupy my apartment. I love her boyfriend, but, he and I have a lot of things about each other that trigger not so good things in us. Their relationship is stressed, as any would be in similar circumstances, exacerbated by similar backgrounds. It’s painful and stressful for me to witness their struggles. I’m overwhelmed by the physical environment of six people, three of whom are children under ten with two of them being toddlers, crowded into a tiny, two bedroom apartment. Their day-to-day way of life is not really compatible with what my youngest and I need. So, my “home” has turned into their home with me and my youngest as intermittent visitors and we’re spending more and more time at my ex’s. So, lots of people have lots of opinions about my choice and decision to “allow” this to happen.

I’ve been like them. I’ve been where they are. It is an unrealistic expectation that they would have more skills and capacity than I and the other caregivers/adults in their lives had at the same ages and in similar circumstances. As a matter of fact, in my eyes, they already are doing better in many ways than I ever could. Yes, there are challenges, problems, and issues that are different or in addition to the ones I experienced. However, I see how hard they’re working and trying to do better and be better. So, I have to support them the best I am able, while giving all of us the space we need to become who we need and desire to be.

My mama’s heart constricts and expands as her heartbreaks and victories ebb and flow. However, she’s an adult and a mother and a life partner. She’s her own responsibility and her children, as much as I love them and want what’s best for them, are her responsibility. My influence and voice only matter if and when they are requested. This is as it should be. I have one more child who IS my responsibility. The last, the one I’m most equipped for, but who I feel like I’m struggling the most with. The heartbreak and exhaustion of trying to understand and meet her needs are juxtaposed with the concern and drive to do better by and for her than I was able to do for her adult siblings.

Despite, or maybe because of, all of these mothering experiences, I’m realizing that I’m a child who needs a mother, a mother I’ve never had. Someone to show me how to love and how to be loved in ways that matter. Someone to run to with my hurts and my fears, my joys and victories, who will lift me up, hold me tight, and let me go until I need to return. Someone to teach me to be the mother my children need.

This is a realization that has been a long time coming. My sense of desire and need for a mother figure was buried and distorted even before my mother’s suicide when I was 12. Just like looking for a father’s love, without realizing it, in all the wrong places and with all the wrong men, I have done the same, on a smaller scale, with women throughout my life.

All of this came rushing to the surface, resulting in a suffocating cascade of tears, when I read “I’m never going to be your mama, but . . .

Moms need mothers too.

Lonely but not alone

I think we all pretty much know this, but, as a reminder, depression sucks!

It makes dealing with my life’s choices and circumstances really, freakin’ hard…especially because I’m doing it on my own.

I’m not “alone,” exactly. I have some friends I can call, some online groups I can reach out to, and two faith communities which offer spiritual support and help me reconnect to God’s presence when I’ve gotten overwhelmed and forgotten to let that divine presence in.

However, I AM doing it on my own. 

I reside in an apartment with five members of my immediate family during the week, then I sleep on my ex’s couch on the weekends, so our daughter, who experiences the special needs of high functioning autism spectrum disorder, can be around her dad despite his weekend work schedule. The expense of child care, especially overnight, isn’t affordable.

I’m the support person for the family in my home, sort of: My 22 year old daughter, her 23 year old boyfriend/partner, and their two toddlers – my 2 year old granddaughter and her 1 year old brother. My youngest child is 7. My adult daughter works outside the home and the daddy takes care of the g-babes at home. Everyone’s stressed and relations are strained and we’re all in survival mode – mutual emotional support is in very limited supply.

At my ex’s things are a different kind of stress, as might be suspected. The atmosphere when we’re both there is tense and angry. My PTSD is triggered and I basically shut down, emotionally – except that the sadness, anger, and resentment tends to result in tears and irritability.

In the midst of it all, I’m trying to work through my emotional trauma recovery and learn how to manage the triggers and symptoms of Bipolar II Disorder and PTSD. Plus there’s the fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, and diabetes.

Parenting, learning how to parent, a child on the spectrum is painful and exhausting, despite the good parts, which can be overshadowed by almost daily meltdowns. The joy and love I get and feel from her and the grand babies is wonderful and keeps me from going too deep into the depression, but the physical  and emotional exhaustion of sibling rivalry between the three of them and tantrums wears me down.

There’s no money, no time, and no space.

I don’t want a man because I need one to make me feel whole. I want a partner to help carry all of this. I want someone I can trust to do what needs to be done when I need the space and time to take care of myself. I want someone who will take the initiative to do the things that need to get done that I. Just. Can’t. I want to be able to hug and be hugged, just because. I want someone to have meaningful conversation with, to laugh with, to just be…with.

Except, I don’t have the wherewithal to be and do those things for him. Then there’s the whole issue of what sane, secure, stable, and capable man would willingly enter this chaos? What man wants a mentally and physically challenged, middle-aged, obese woman with the responsibilities and entourage I have?

Who has the time to “get out there” and look. Not I. Who has the energy and the confidence? Not I. Who has a broken picker and doesn’t trust herself to attract the kind of man with the character, integrity, and capacity to enter this world? Yep. That would be me.

Loneliness sucks about as much as depression. At least God loves me.

An open letter from a fat woman

Dear Everyone (including fellow fat people),

I realized something yesterday. I don’t enjoy being asked if I’ve lost weight or gotten smaller. This question is usually asked by those who are slender, generally healthy-looking, and physically fit. However, others who are also overweight will ask the same question. Often this question is accompanied by facial expressions and asked in a tone of voice which indicate the person is issuing a compliment and an encouragement. For those who are aware of the mental/emotional health issues I deal with, this question is followed up with, “You look happy, like you’re doing good/better.” It occurred to me that I feel neither encouraged or complimented most of the time. In fact, part of me feels frustrated and defeated, less than.

I had two people who I know love me and care about my well-being ask me at two different times yesterday if I had lost weight. Last weekend a third person asked the same and two weekends ago, someone asked me if I had gotten smaller. Four different people over a two-week period of time, all of whom hadn’t seen me in a month or more, asked me if I had lost weight. Each time, I felt obligated to say, “Thank you.” However, because I’m almost compulsively honest, I followed that up with, “No, I think I got smaller but then got bigger again,” because I know how the mental health disorders I experience have manifested in the past three months, as stressors in my life have multiplied, almost exponentially, and that I’ve been abusing myself with food. I know how my body feels, how clothing feels on my body, and how body has changed shape again in response to the binge eating and unhealthy food choices I’ve been struggling with.

Why not just accept the compliment and keep the rest to myself? It’s dishonest. I feel like I need to be truthful with myself and with others. If I were to say, “Thank you,” and move on, then, part of me would believe the lie that I’m doing better than I am and that the issues I’m having around food aren’t “that serious” or of concern. In the world of addiction and recovery, that’s part of the slippery slope of denial and it’s dangerous on many levels: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

For me, being fat is an outward sign of my food addiction and binge eating disorder. It is a sign that the depression aspect of the Bipolar II Disorder and the anxiety part of the PTSD are in more control than my rational self and spiritual being. If I accept the compliment and move on, then, I experience a sense of shame about these things, because I’m keeping them hidden from people I care about and who I know care about me. They need to know that I’m not okay. I’m not doing better, and that I still need them to be aware that I need them to see the truth that I’m not well and need their continued awareness that I’m still at risk.

This compliment is also an unconscious form of fat-shaming. It sends the message that I’m more acceptable if my physical appearance fits into an idealized shape more like theirs. These same people wouldn’t express their concern for my mental or physical health by asking me outright, “Have you gained weight. Are you doing okay? Is there something going on?” That question doesn’t get asked because it’s considered rude to comment on someone’s obvious weight gain. Why is it rude? It’s rude because gaining weight is often accompanied by a sense of shame, a sense of failure, and we are conditioned to avoid pointing out people’s shameful things in public ways . . . unless we’re doing an intervention, we’re assholes, or we’re talking about celebrities and other public figures.

Complimenting a fat person for losing weight sends the message that you believe they are less acceptable when they look more fat and that looking less fat makes them more acceptable. It reinforces the belief that no one wants to see a fat body, therefore, as long as I’m fat, no one wants to see me, because they won’t see me, they’ll just see my fatness.

In some ways, being fat and trying to lose weight is like being poor and trying to get rich. Society sends the message that being fat isn’t acceptable. You can exercise it away, you can eat it away, you can choose whether to be fat or to be thin. To some degree, those are true statements. Society sends the message that being poor isn’t acceptable. Get a job. Get an education. Get a career. Save money. Set a budget and stick to it. These things are also true, in certain ways. Yet, none of these things acknowledge very real barriers and systemic forces which exist and make those things more than challenging for people experiencing obesity or poverty.

Root causes of obesity go beyond eating too much of the wrong food and being physically inactive. I can’t tell you how many thin people I know who eat junk food all day long and live primarily sedentary lives. As a matter of fact, I lived with one for 18 years. There are genetics, mental health issues, ingrained generational patterns of lifestyle, physical health conditions, financial capacity, and life obligations which all factor into whether a person is fat or not.

Root causes of poverty are equally complex. I know people who work multiple jobs, don’t spend their money unwisely, shop with thrift, and work to save their pennies, but who remain poor. It takes money to make money. In order for someone to get an education that, MIGHT, lead to a good paying position, on a high earning career track, there has to be enough money to pay for the right education, often at the “right” educational institution. There has to be enough money to keep the bills and basic necessities, such as housing and food, stable. There has to be enough money to pay for the supplemental educational tools. In order to save money, the student repayment debt, as well as the costs of housing, food, transportation, clothing, and health insurance cannot meet or exceed net earned income. There has to be enough time and peace to allow for homework to be focused on and done well.

The correlation between poverty and obesity is also a real thing. If you experience poverty, then your ability to afford the healthiest foods is compromised. Your access to those foods is compromised if you are reliant on public transportation because you can’t afford a vehicle. The time you have available to prepare home cooked meals is limited. If you live in poverty, you typically are either living with a lot of other people in a small space or may not have a home at all, so buying in bulk and storing food is not possible. If you are a parent of young children, living in poverty, you can’t afford to pay for childcare while you go exercise. Being able to afford a gym membership is out of the question and the money required in order to pay for supportive footwear for walking, jogging, or running is needed to pay a bill or buy school clothes for the kids.

I experience poverty, as well as mental and physical health issues which are all interconnected with the fact that I am morbidly obese. I’m working on all of those things and I have a lot of things going on in my life which demand my time and attention. I don’t enjoy being fat. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally painful. I don’t enjoy being poor. It’s also a painful experience. I am doing what I can, as I can, to work on both of those things, but, I don’t know that I will ever be able to do enough to change either of those conditions in order to be acceptable enough.

So, please remember, complimenting someone who may look like they have lost weight, but you may not know if they’ve been working to do so, is not necessarily a compliment. Even then, compliment something other than their loss of fatness. Compliment their clothes. Acknowledge that they are exuding a sense of self-satisfaction and happiness. Or just tell them how happy you are to see them and spend time with them, without commenting on their appearance at all.

Sincerely,
A Fat Woman