Friday, 7 August 2009

Chubby Chops - a life in pictures. Part 8, Final

Crunch Time
My father developed Parkinsons in around 2002 and eventually his heart stopped beating in 2004, five years ago last week, at the age of 84.
Picture № 34 of my father, taken in the early 1940’s.
His career had been in the ceramics and glazes industry, and he loved pottery and china. At other people’s dinner parties he would put my mother on edge by lifting up a delicate porcelain dinner plate to the light to see if he could see his hand through it, then holding it to his ear, ping it on the rim between thumb and middle finger to see what the quality of the sound was like…while the hostess smiled nervously. He was a good and kind man who loved jokes, and was a supportive father always. Here he is performing the porcelain ritual with my best china, this time with Mum looking anxious behind him!
Picture № 35, Dad, Christmas 2001

My Mum carried on, on her own in Spain at her request, till a fall in early 2006 made it clear that she could no longer live alone. My sister helped her sell up and she moved to England to live with me, while we built her an annexe where the garage had been. Sadly she wasn’t destined to enjoy it for very long as she died from previously unsuspected ovarian cancer in early 2007, a fortnight after we learned she had it.

Picture № 36 of my mother when she was nineteen. In preparing it for this blog I realised that she was the same age as myself when Picture № 6 was taken in 1973. I wonder what she would have said to her earlier self…
She was a strong character, a headmistress for most of her working life. I attended her school from 13 onwards, and far from being treated with favouritism, she ensured that nobody would think so. I did reasonably well without being outstanding (how could I, when I did everything I could to get out of sport…) so we were both happy. Of a more thorny temperament than my father, she was our moral compass, and we understood each other very well. I grieve that I was not able to enjoy her opinionated views and wagging index finger for very long before she was taken from me.
Picture № 37 taken in Barcelona, around 1992

Family disagreements followed, and at work there were changes taking place which I knew would in time affect me. In October 2007 I and several others were made redundant – in my case after 19 years with the company. It felt like being banished. I loved the agricultural trade and had grown very fond of several of my colleagues; anyone who has faced redundancy will know what I mean when I say that it’s not merely a question of ‘keeping in touch’. The working colleagues who also became friends were still part of the business, and in addition to their feeling slightly awkward about it, I no longer wanted to hear about their daily adventures anyway. It’s not just the job you lose, but most of the relationships you enjoyed there too.
One good thing came of it though – I decided to use some of the money to travel back to Argentina for a visit after a 14 year absence. For the past couple of years I had been translating an English book into Spanish in my spare time, the memoirs of a young English girl who had a golden childhood on sheep farms in Patagonia at the end of World War I and up to 1923, and here was my opportunity to visit the places where she had lived, a part of the country I knew very little about.
Picture № 38 Río Colorado, north eastern Patagonia

Picture No. 39, a guanaco keeping an eye on me

Picture No. 40, Estancia Huanuluán, north western Patagonia, near the foothills of the Andes

I had a busy and very enjoyable month, but returned to what I had before I left – unemployment.

It was a sort of mid-life crisis, a limbo. I didn’t know what I wanted or where to go. I was too old in some ways, yet too young to give up on myself. The return to Argentina had made me wonder what it would be like to live there again after 35 years in Europe, and yet I didn’t think I had the courage to leave the network of friends and support in Britain. The previous four years had taken their toll and my spirits were very low – even John could do nothing to pull me out of it. And here I was filling out job applications back to back, complete with aspirational statements in 200 words or less…
I wonder what the job market is like in the countries where you live – if you’re female and 55? Here it means that it could take you a long time to find a job, however good your skills are. Prospective (male) employers may tell you earnestly that there’s no age discrimination in the workplace, but I saw it around me when I was on the other side of the fence, and watched my male manager colleagues interviewing for admin vacancies and choosing young, attractive girls every single time. It took me ten months to find a job, and it was made possible because a friend recommended me as a possible temp, and I stayed on.
One particularly hideous day when I was at an all-time low I forced myself to think about my health: I now weighed 18 stone (252 lbs/114 kg) used very large quantities of insulin to keep my blood sugar under control, my ankles – their former slimness my secret pride and joy – were permanently puffy and swollen, I had constant backache if I stood or walked for longer than a couple of minutes, air temperatures higher than 24ºC (75ºF) made me feel so hot and uncomfortable that I just wanted to lie down in a cold bath.
Picture №s 41/42 - Maldives, July 2007

On a very special visit to the Maldives in 2007, John’s treat, I could appreciate that I was in a living postcard, that I was surrounded by such beauty as I had never seen before, with not even any unpleasant wildlife to threaten our quality of life, wonderful food, and so on, and yet the 36-40 ºC temperatures and 85% humidity made me forget about photographing such a paradise, indulge in the only exercise I liked, which was swimming in turquoise lagoons, and all I wanted was to get back into our darkened, dry and air-conditioned room. The 11 hour flights with a budget airline were purgatory, as (for the first time) I found the seats terribly tight and needed a special extension to my seatbelt.

The main health issue was that I was becoming increasingly immobile. I had started to plan my life so that I didn’t have to go out if it involved walking, I had to park very close to where I was going, I couldn’t possibly talk or listen to anyone unless I was sitting down – and so on, I’m sure you recognise all these signs. I felt very strongly that I wouldn’t live to old age. I was eating myself into a standstill.

Picture № 43, March 2008 (9 months before banding)

So that brings you up to date. In October I read about a British TV personality who had been banded very successfully, and I looked up about it on the internet. With growing hope I absorbed every morsel of information I could find, particularly from the blogs (Melanie Matters was particularly helpful I remember). In the past the stumbling block would have been the cost, but I still had half my redundancy money. I talked to John about it and was astonished that he supported such expenditure, and then I talked to my doctor and was astonished that she supported it too… A few phone calls later it was all arranged for the week before Christmas last year, and I was on my way.
For the first time ever I had real hope that one day I would feel normal again.
I got John to take the “before” pictures which make me squirm just to think about. I’ll show them in a future post only when there are updated ones which show a noticeable difference! Perhaps when I’ve lost 25 kg, probably the half way mark, though I’m not setting targets. That is 9 kg away.
The lapbanding operation and the slow but steady progress since then have all been recorded in this blog, and are no different to the other blogs (thankfully). The modest success so far has amazed me, for there has been very little willpower involved. It gave me the courage to attempt to face the story of how I got to this point.
If you want the weight loss badly enough and you’ve gone to the expense of a private gastric banding operation, you’ll be willing to stick to the few basic rules. In my own case the blogging has worked well for me: to record the bad times and the good, and as a form of group therapy to exchange information and goodwill with others in the same situation.
So there you are – Around My World in Eight Posts. In the next post I’ll pick up on the very positive and kind comments I’ve received.


Reddirt Woman said...

You might think yourself weak, Caroline, but you are so very strong to have lived with all the pain that you have carried with you all these years. You never cease to amaze me with your honesty and straight forwardness. You have done an incredible job in recounting your journey. All I can say is thank you for your inspiration and courage. While the things I've dealt with in my life have not been weight, the lack of self confidence and self image has threatened, at different times in my life, to make me want to hide away from the world. I gather strength from you, my friend, even though we've never 'met'.

Thank you for being you and sharing your journey with all of us out here in blog land.


THE DASH! said...

Caroline, I have enjoyed every one of these last eight posts. Putting yourself out there is not easy and yet you did, and what a ride. Just brilliant :)

Unknown said...

You have written these posts so brilliantly Caroline, it has honestly been an absolutely fascinating read.....I hope you have got as much out of it as we have.....

You are CLEARLY a woman of great inner strength, I really commend you for that, you are really very inspiring.

I love the photos of your "young" mother and father - I can see both of them in you for sure.

Are you in a support group following your band operation or have you created that support group yourself....just wondered?

Great writing Caroline....I would love to do the same thing myself, looking at myself from a young age, but I don't think I would do it nearly as well.

Best wishes,

Tina said...

Great work Caroline. Now you get to start the new 'life in pictures' This time your journey with the band. It is amazing that what seems slow and never-ending at some point becomes clearly doable. I know you will be showing us all your before and after (or progress) pictures soon!


Lonicera said...

Thank you, thank you for your lovely comments. I want to gather them all together from the 8 posts and devote the next post to replying.

Ramón Minieri said...

Hola, Caroline! Me gusta mucho la presentación de tu blog, las fotos tan bellas, y especialmente la gran valentía y honestidad con que narrás tu historia. Nos enseñás a todos tus lectores a tomar nuestras vidas en nuestras propias manos y atrevernos a transformarnos y mejorarnos. Un fuerte abrazo, y que sigas en este camino. Ramón.

Zanna said...

Hi Caroline, I stumbled across you from Tracey's blog and I've just spend the last hour reading your posts right from the very beginning. You write so well - and I guess being of a similar age I identified with many of the things you said. I look forward to visiting again. Z xx

Zanna said...

Re the blog layout - I've just played and experimented with whatever layouts I can find on Google. This is the first time I've managed to get a 3 column one going but had a lot of rework to get it right particularly transferring all the gadgets I already had. Now Argentina is a real possibility - Bloss and I have always wanted to visit South America and now that Clive has met Luana - we are almost certain to visit Rio (and Angra - which is where she is from ) so while we're there we need to see as much as possible. If that gets to be a definite possibility I'll be right on to you asking for advice! And hey I just want to say that you're a fantastic lady - (and truth be told I'd like to slap your ex-husband round the chops for not realising what a gem he had!!)but have to say that John sounds like he is a delightful man who I think sounds like he might be worthy of you!! Z xx

Lonicera said...

Thanks Zanna! I've been so touched by all the support I've received following the 'historical' posts, I never thought it would go beyond mild interest in someone else's story. It's certainly helped me a lot just to see it all written down before me. I just wish I hadn't left this positive journey till the age of 55 (well, 56 now).
If at some point in the future the possibility of travelling to Argentina becomes more real, I think it would be a fun post for me to describe briefly what there is to see, with the help of Google images perhaps...

DocSly said...

Wow Caroline, I just love to ready what you write. You are a most gifted storyteller. Your words are compelling and you have a gift for expressing the difficult. Your pictures and words have allowed all of us to really know you. I so wish we could share "tea".

Diz said...

You are one amazing Lady. I can only aspire to the courage, grace and strength that you've always possessed (but may not have recognized). I'm inspired by your life, your pictures, your writing...everything!

And I have to say that in your partner John, I recognize my husband. Someone who believes in me, thinks I'm beautiful no matter what, supports my decisions, but has never once asked me to lose weight. Just loves me. A fantastic man behind a phenomenal woman!

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