Now that I’m staring age 50 in the face, I’m also dealing for the first time with unexpected weight gain. I’m officially 10 pounds past my peak pregnancy weight and I’m vain enough to admit I’m not a fan of this new, larger, jiggly body.
Other aspects of aging have been easily dealt with: I color my gray hair back to its natural brown; my talented eye doctor adjusted my contact lens prescription so I don’t need reading glasses…yet. But when I see pictures of myself, I cringe. Who is that chubby person?
I’ve definitely had body image issues before. When I was a teenager I contracted a rare auto-immune blood disease that was treated with high doses of steroids over several months. I gained 18 pounds in four months the summer before my freshman year in high school, which is a lot for someone who is five feet tall. I was mortified when I had to start high school and have my yearbook picture taken when I was still very swollen from the prednisone.
But other than the freshman 15 in college (which I lost, plus more weight) I have never thought much about my weight. I ran track and cross country in high school and college and continued running until a few years ago. No matter what I did or ate, my weight fluctuated between 95-100 lbs. And yes, I was secretly smug about it. Even after both kids were born my weight dropped right back to 100 lbs. As I hit 40, I started packing on a few additional pounds but since I continued running and lifting weights, I still looked fit and muscular.
And then the summer of 2013 happened. My multiple sclerosis came roaring back and I went from running every day to barely being able to walk across a room. I lost all feeling in both feet and my left leg. My neurologist started me on a new drug at the same time I began a new job at the local community college that I can best describe as “butts in chairs.” I was used to moving around but since it was a paperless office I didn’t even have the excuse of walking to the printer.
I started packing on the pounds, and a lot of them. I checked in with my neurologist and he said about 1/3 of his patients have significant weight gain due to that medication. I’m off that medication and on a different one now, but my ability to shed weight is gone. I can no longer run or do any exercise that raises my body temperature. Those pounds are here to stay.
The shorts, capris, and jeans that were the staple of my wardrobe have been handed down. Many of my cute (and fitted) shirts make me look dumpy so they are on the way out, too. I avoid mirrors and try not to have my picture taken because I hate the reality of my new, larger, body.
If I’m perfectly honest, some of this is vanity and some of it is my frustration at my illness. Not only has the medication (and middle age) caused me to gain weight, but I once again feel betrayed by my body. It doesn’t work the way I want it to and I’m disgusted by my appearance and my inability to do anything about it.
I try to be grateful that my illness isn’t worse. That I still look “acceptable” whatever that means. I’m trying to recapture the awe and gratitude I felt when my kids were born—that my body created and nurtured those tiny humans through pregnancy, delivery, and the first few months when I breastfed them.
And yet I’m still uncomfortable with the new, larger version of myself, which represents aging and illness. I need to find an “attitude of gratitude” for what I can do today because my future health and abilities are so uncertain. For a hard-core “control freak,” this uncertainty and loss of control put me in a very uncomfortable place. But uncertainty and loss of control comes along with the whole aging process, and I’m going to have to accept it.