A young lady at the supermarket called out to me one day. “Thank you!”
She wasn’t serving me at the checkout. I had served myself as I usually do, and had just loaded my two reusable bags into the trolley. I’m not even sure if she was the designated watcher that supermarkets tend to have operating at the self-service area for those customers who sometimes get stuck. But the voice was loud enough and clear enough to have had me momentarily looking up and around for where it might have come from.
Then our eyes met, and in that moment I could tell she really meant it. She was actually waiting for me to acknowledge her sentiment. She was smiling and everything.
Then it happened again, a month or so later. I’d gone to pick up lunch from a nearby sandwich shop. Not for an actual sandwich though, of course; I haven’t had one of those now for many years. But I’d recently discovered they did salad options there as well, so this was a short walk to grab what was fast becoming my usual order there: one large salad bowl with chopped greens and sliced tomato, double meat, double cheese, aioli, salt and pepper.
I swiped my card at the counter, and the lady handed over the goods in return. And she too, like the one at the supermarket, was beaming at me like I’d somehow just made her entire day.
It felt weird. And not only that, but it felt weird that it felt weird.
I reflected on each occasion afterwards, the first one as I was driving home, and the second as I walked back to the office. And it occurred to me both times that the likely reason for the sense of weirdness that followed each moment, was because I couldn’t recall ever really having experienced interactions quite like this before. They felt oddly new to me. I was unfamiliar with the idea that a complete stranger could express happiness or gratitude for my actions to the extent that they both had, with such open, unabashed sincerity.
It didn’t take long for me to soon come to ponder what the rational part of my brain knew full well was a question from which little good would be found in the answer, but there it was, floating around in my mind anyway:
Would they have treated me the same way if I was still fat?
I’ve noticed in recent years how much easier it seems for other people to engage with me in simple everyday conversation. It certainly didn’t come so easily for me back in the day. Some may have wanted to speak with me just as much as they might want to now, but found it hard to do so at the time without necessarily knowing how and where to tread regarding my appearance. Better to just avoid talking to the fatty at all, than risk broaching the subject and making either party uncomfortable.
And in turn, better still for me to stay hidden away myself, so that I don’t present such an awkward dilemma to other people in the first place. Why else would I have been able to find solace in hobbies and interests that were largely both indoors and alone? They can’t hurt you if they can’t see you, I had decided. Inside good, outside bad.
That kind of behaviour, that tendency to want to withdraw from the world, brought with it its own consequences. Recently I visited a long time friend for the first time in a while, who, when the subject of the past came up, described me as once having been a “polite shell” of a person. That was a really interesting pairing of words, I remember thinking at the time, but on reflection, she was absolutely right. I did tend to keep to myself, speaking only when spoken to, going through the motions, minding my manners, and nothing more.
Chapter 2 of The Fat Ginger Nerd – The Escape – discusses the primary coping mechanism I tended to fall back upon instead, both while growing up during Chapter 1, and as an adult during Chapter 3. It may not be everybody else’s cup of tea, but for me, for better or for worse, my personal coping mechanism of the time turned out to be video games.
And it was a long time spent coping, too. For nearly 30 years I had tried my best to mitigate some of the symptoms of my condition through my gaming habit, for no other reason beyond my apparent inability to be able to address the underlying cause. Of course, that underlying cause itself turned out to have been badly misrepresented throughout that entire period, but that’s another discussion for another day.
I actually don’t play video games all that much anymore. It’s not that I don’t like them anymore; on the contrary, a large part of me still misses some of those games and the online friends I made within them. But since having lost the weight by the end of 2016, I guess I’ve felt like there are so many other possibilities available to me in life now, that just weren’t there in the past.
One such example played out over Christmas of 2019, when I had dared to go swimming, in public, in the daytime, without a shirt, for the first time in more than 20 years. I’d already been weight stable for three years by then, but such was the extent to which my brain required more time to catch up with my body, for my perceptions to catch up with my reality, that it was still quite a big deal when it actually finally happened.
And of course, beyond the ways in which I now perceive myself, are the ways in which others now perceive me too. It happened again more recently while walking home one afternoon. The sky was rumbling and the smell of rain was heavy in the air, before it soon began to fall. With a few unsheltered blocks still to walk before reaching home, I paused at a park bench to retrieve my wet weather jacket from my backpack. A lady who had been several paces behind me before I had stopped, approached as I was changing. She didn’t even say anything to me as she passed me by; all she did was smile. And even that was enough for me to still remember it now.
I’m still an introvert of course, and always will be. I still have my limits. But it’s no small thing for me that low carb has helped to improve the quality of my daily interactions with people – and by extension, my very quality of life itself – from a state in which it was merely being endured, to a point where it can now be enjoyed. From a position of escaping reality, to now embracing it. From dreaming of living, to living the dream.
It’ll take some more getting used to just yet, still only relatively recently freed from that “polite shell” that used to weigh upon me so heavily for so long.
It still feels a bit weird sometimes, but at least it’s a good kind of weird, I think.