FRIDAY EDITORIAL: A Reflection On Obesity

henryfinger

For the past two months I’ve been on what we humans traditional call a “diet” in order to lose a large amount of weight that I’ve acquired over the past five years of my life. It’s a challenge in this modern era to be an obese individual not just from a physical health perspective but from a mental health perspective as well. To have your portion of society referred to as an epidemic and to be treated like you are global problem really forces you into two mindsets. For the most part I can take it in my stride and completely agree with the assessment that we all need to lead a balanced healthy life that is funded by good food and exercise with the occasional indulgence in the spirit of celebration. I don’t want to look like this and I don’t want the limitations that come with being an obese individual. What I’m not in favour of is the irresponsible way in which the obese individuals of our society are treated and quite often poorly judged by humans with a very limited struggle. It doesn’t matter what type of human you are, cruelty should never be tolerated and it’s unfair for anyone to be judged or ridiculed or punished for being obese. It’s counterproductive to the idea of equality to settle for cruelty in place of compassion and understanding.

All of this rage I feel towards other humans who mistreat anyone does stem from a career of being bullied, misunderstand and simply hassled for existing. I have no special diagnosis or have never been the kind of person to subscribe to the limited boundaries of depression but I do understand and empathise a great deal with those people who exist inside that dark cloud. A big part of the reason why I can empathise is because I have tasted and felt the sting of that darkness. I’ve had a great number of periods in my life where I’ve just wanted to remain numb. I didn’t want to die but I didn’t necessarily want to live either and it is when I’ve had to exist inside this crumbling and torturous reality that I’ve come out the other side with the most clarity.

The reason why I’ve slipped into these moments of darkness has always stemmed back to my struggle with body image issues and my struggle with being obese. For my whole life I’ve always been a big person and as I grew from boy into teenager into man I went from slightly overweight to morbidly obese. I have the benefit of a gene pool that favours bigness and also an enjoyment of food. For as long as I can remember “being fat” brought with it a number of different rhythms and limitations. As you grow and develop as a human these rhythms and limitations turn into insecurities and an unquenchable sadness which damages the way you interact with the world around you. Part of the rhythm process of “being fat” is the bullying that is forwarded to you via your peers and complete strangers. I’ve never really had a victim complex about any kind of bullying I’ve received which says a lot about the extreme degree of love and guidance given to me by my friends and family. No matter how strong or empowered I have felt to ignore the taunts and intensity of the bullying it did leave certain psychological scars that affected the way I developed mentally.

In primary school and high school this bullying can be forgiven as being simple growing pains that allowed me to grow an understanding of resilience and how best to interact with the world around me. I have become so accustomed to being stared at, laughed at and openly abused by other humans that it carries no level of shock anymore. From my early days in primary school being cornered by the older students who used to steal my lunch, steal my hat and run off (knowing full well I couldn’t catch them) to the perils of high school where the bullying got more verbal and vicious. I’ve managed to hear and experience the full range of verbal and physical bullying courtesy of my school life and it has taught me a lot about survival and finding some kind of strength to fight through the pain and rejection.

The second component of this bullying process was the danger of venturing out in public at all stages of life and having complete strangers yell at me from their car windows, openly point and laugh in shopping centres to the latest trend of young teenagers snapping photos of me on their smart telephones which I’m sure they’re posting online for the purpose of a cheap laugh. No arena has or will ever be safe from this cruelty and as I’ve gotten older I’ve simply gotten better at blocking it all out and have managed to find ways to express the angst that this bullying can sometimes cause me.

This bullying had a brief period where it stopped because from 2005 to 2007 I lost 150kgs and reached a point where I was a thin person. While I was blessed with a new lease on life I found out quite quickly just how damaged my mental health was by the years of bullying prior to this. It felt foreign to be in public and to not be laughed at or stared at and I found it incredibly hard to fathom a life without the bullying. I almost became addicted to the rhythm of that lifestyle and of that feeling and how it pushed me to behave a certain way. Prior to this weight loss I went through a six month period (January 2005 to October 2005) where I was at my lowest. I lived by myself in a one bedroom apartment and instead of going to university or working I just dropped out and became a recluse. I have never lost my mind or anything but for that period of time I felt pretty crazy. I would binge eat and drink every other night and even though I ventured out occasionally I clung to the desperate feeling of being numb. It was one of those moments where I stood so close to the edge and understood exactly what it would have taken to jump off but for some reason I didn’t and I think the safety net of friends and family pulled me back to a position of well-being.  

It was during this period of time that I escalated to the biggest I’ve ever been and I was 200 plus kilos and life was extremely difficult as a result. When I lost all that weight I regained a lot of my youth and my confidence but I also learnt a lot about my relationship with food. I started to understand just how compulsive I am as a human being and that I had all the text book signs of a diagnosed emotional eater and over eater. The pain of my existence caused me to escape into a place I could control and at the end of the day all food related issues and body image issues came back to control. I could control what I put in my mouth and psychologically I reached a point where I almost used the overeating to ease my pain and to also help build the walls. There was a weird safety net to being so obese and I was almost fearful of what lay on the other side if I chose to lose that weight.

This need for control also extended into little habits that I would submit to in order to feel some comfort. A lot of simple OCD formulas involving numbers and counting that would become ritualistic routines I’d need to complete in order to control and feel some level of comfort. I’d flirted with these behaviour’s when I was younger but in my teen years and especially during my twenties these little habits grew to a mammoth level. I still wrestle with these routines and habits but as I’ve matured I’ve managed to develop a mantra to stop myself from needing to count and to avoid numbers and all those other little habits.

All of this psychological damage has come as a result of being obese and this lifetime of cruelty. Where I once thought I was brave I now see that I was suppressing the pain and as a result it has manifested in other ways causing a certain kind of damage. One of the biggest components of my personality that has been affected by this lifetime of being obese is the way I generally interact with a room of strangers. I always feel incredibly judged and that I have to prove something and this is part of my personality that has been heightened in the past five years after I managed to put on a lot of the weight I lost back in the mid-2000’s. The burden of assumed judgment just infects my atmosphere and I feel like I’ve got to fight that little bit harder to express my intelligence because people are looking directly at my body and are already make assumptions as to who or what I am. This is not a unique quality of humanity because everyone is being judged at every point of their day, but being physically different to everyone else amplifies this process and the way in which people will arrive at their perception of you.

When my intelligence and mind is tasted through any kind of performance I do with my band or writing I do with Heavy and Weird a lot of people are quick to say “I wasn’t really expecting that” – which is a very subtle backhanded compliment which has essentially sold them out as being someone who was judging you hardcore prior to your performance. There is nothing wrong with this, it is simply human nature. When these types of interactions hurt most is when you feel almost betrayed by humanity and that people think or assume that a certain level of intelligence and creative thought comes from a certain type of person. In short it is the age old idea of people listening with their eyes and not their ears. Add into this the other daily misconceptions about you – I’ve had at least 4 to 5 different people in the last 2 months say to me without really being prompted “You must be a Gamer Dan?” – to which I always reply “No I’m not and What Makes You Think I Was?” to which you get an empty back peddled response. Does my weight and general demeanor signal a love for a stereotyped idea of what obese people enjoy and in reality is that fair to assume? The mechanics of these assumptions are the same mechanics that funds racist or misogynist behaviour. All in all it is a gross misunderstanding that has been birth from a limited knowledge of an individual and it places certain stigma’s that does not exist for everyone in that feared minority group.

To wrestle with these daily battles can put you in a state of bitterness and general malaise at the overall dense and suffocating cruelty of humanity. To face the daily questions that “If I was thin, people would take me more seriously as an artist” or “If I was thin I’d have the confidence to ask the human I am secretly in love with out for dinner” or “If I was thin I wouldn’t have to worry about if I fit into the seats” and it goes on and on. It pushes you to do some pretty extreme things to yourself and some days I get so disgusted with myself that I starve myself of anything and everything and just lay in bed wallowing in my own disgust for myself. It can cripple every inch of your desire to live and the only relief I get is stepping on a stage and expressing all of this rage and disgust via my vocal performances with Galapogos which ends up being the only time I truly feel at peace and emptied of all of that self-doubt and angst.

When I’m committed to a healthy lifestyle and treating my body like a temple all signs of bad mental health are erased. I don’t feel depressed and I feel 100 per cent alive. I feel like a million watts of light are pulsating through me. My current journey is about taking care of my own body and to live a pollution free existence. In December 2013 and January 2014 I took a break from the “healthy living lifestyle” and drank a lot of booze and also ate some food that I see as pure pollution. It took my self-esteem away and dulled the light and love I felt for myself. I enjoyed the binge and the self-destruction of it all but over the last two months I have realigned myself with my original 2012 and 2013 commitment to a pollution free lifestyle.

So what is the point I’m trying to make here?

It is as simple as this, love yourself above anyone else. Be kind to yourself and be kind to everyone around you. Don’t make a commitment to fear and diet in order to fit into what society wants. Don’t invest in misery, invest in being yourself and invest in not polluting your body. Protect your mental health and don’t forget to communicate how you are feeling every step of the way. Don’t sink into the darkness, talk talk talk and express how you are feeling. It is okay to feel down and it is okay to not feel normal but you have to keep the lines of communication open at all times. The breakdown of communication is the fastest way to a decline in anyone’s mental health.

Finally, resist the urge to make fun of overweight people or anyone who looks different to you. The people you are making fun of are quite often in the fight of their lives to change but if they aren’t allowed to express themselves and be who they are then your judgment and your misunderstandings do nothing more than fund the cruelty and break down the lines of communication causing more people to invest in self-pollution. That is when people drift deeper into misery and deeper into a zero care factor and that is the birth of bad mental health.

In 2014 it is time for the human race to start accepting each other and to choose love over fear.

I often find myself saying to myself that someone as overweight, obese, big or as large me doesn’t deserve to be as happy and as driven as I am but the truth is I am incredibly optimistic and happy. This has come from learning to love myself and accept who I am and to avoid self-pollution and in turn doing my best to keep the lines of communication open with the world around me. I just want people to be accepted for who they are and for the cruelty to stop and I think if anyone makes a change in 2014 it has to be because they want to be an example of change, not a victim of it.

I love you all deeply and remember my line is always open. I look forward to communicating with you all in 2014.

Big Love

Dan Newton xo

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