One of my friends on Facebook mentioned that at times she envies my ex-pat life. I love Facebook for the simple reason that it allows me to stay connected with people that I don't get to see on a regular basis. I pointed out to her, however, that like most people I only post the good stuff on Facebook (or Fakebook as I usually call it).
I have heard similar comments from others about my life too. I think it is all the travel. These comments got me thinking. If you are really my friend then you should know the real me and my real life. So here are all the things that I haven't posted on Fakebook - my life, warts and all. It may make you uncomfortable. It may make you laugh. It may evoke a myriad of emotions that I cannot even imagine, but it is the real me.
1. I am grossly overweight. My lack of a functioning thyroid has left me fat. Not chubby, not full figured, not curvy, not Rubanesque, but fat. You may notice that I don't post pictures of my full body on FB. If I post a photo of myself, it is usually only of my face or I am strategically placed behind someone else. I hate pictures of me since my auto immune disease altered my physical self. I was not overweight as a child, teen or young adult. I was an athlete. I was on the swim, track, gymnastics and tennis teams. I took dance and was a cheerleader. I was active. And slim. Around age 24 I noticed that no matter how many miles I ran, no matter how many gyms I joined or personal trainers I hired I was gaining weight. It didn't matter how little I ate either. Other physical problems followed. Too many to list here actually.
2. Over the years I have had well meaning family and friends insist that if I only ate what they did, exercised the way do, juiced, fasted, took this supplement, went to therapy, meditated, etc. that perhaps I would get better (ie - I would lose weight). I understand that all suggestions are made in an attempt to be helpful. But all suggestions are hurtful. You see under the veil of my frustration and insecurities about the way I look, your suggestions imply that I don't try to be as healthy as I can. They imply that I am not knowledgeable about my disease and that I don't care. They imply that I am doing something wrong and causing this disease. The thing is I have done all the things that have been suggested to me over the years and I am still sick. And I am still fat. I am not uninformed or lazy. I did not do something to cause my body to rebel against itself. My body simply doesn't work the way it is supposed to. It is just the shitty genetic luck of the draw and I have medical records to prove it.
See, despite comedians making jokes about someone's "thyroid problem" as if it is simply an excuse for being lazy and fat, I want to tell you that no one would choose this. No one would choose depression, memory problems, brain fog, missing eyebrows, hair falling out in clumps, a puffy face and eyes, vision problems, skin rashes, and the frustration of weight gain despite eating less and working out more than everyone else. I had one personal trainer tell me that he worked me harder than any of his other clients - I toned up, I slept better, but I didn't lose weight.
The thyroid is the master gland of metabolism and energy. Every single body function that requires oxygen and energy requires thyroid hormone in proper amounts. That means you need thyroid hormone to think clearly and remember things, to maintain a good mood, to grow hair and nails, to have basic energy to get through the day, to see well, to digest your food, to burn calories, to be fertile, to get pregnant and have a healthy baby and much, much more. I've been told that the thyroid is like the carburetor of your body's engine. I have an experiment for you - go out and remove your carburetor and then try to start your car. That is what having thyroid problems is like - every day.
3. My thyroid caused me fertility problems. I had to take innumerable fertility drugs in order to conceive both of my children. Fertility drugs that I am convinced made my auto immune disease worse and definitely made my weight gain more. But I'd do it all over again for those two spectacular people. My second child, my daughter, isn't supposed to even be here according to medical opinion. Take that thyroid disease!
4. Being overweight means that you are judged and stared at every single day that you go out into the world. I have had perfect strangers say some of the most hurtful things to me. They don't know me. They know nothing about my illness and yet they judge me and hurl their own ugliness my way. And, yes, despite years of therapy, their ugliness lands and hurts me. I tell myself that they are not evolved emotionally. It still hurts.
5. Because of this illness, there are many things that I have missed out on doing with my kids. Because of this illness I am not the mother that I could have been to them. I feel terribly guilty about that. There were years when I couldn't do anything on a weekend except sleep. Taking care of my then small children wiped me out. And it was not the working mom kind of tired. It was an exhaustion that made it so I could not physically move. No matter what. I actually thought once, "if the house catches on fire, I just have to accept that it is my time. I am too exhausted to move." Basically, think about the worst flu you've ever had, and how tired, and achy and exhausted you felt. Now imagine waking up every single day feeling like that and having to get up, go to work and take care of yourself and others. It took all I had to make them dinner. I remember once when daughter at age 3 came up to me and asked me if "today was a good day or a sick day." It broke my heart that she even had to think that way.
6. For years I would wake up and then throw up. I also threw up randomly throughout the day. No matter where I was. Embarrassing.
7. Before diagnosis and treatment, I began to lose my memory and the ability to process written and spoken language a condition referred to by my doctors as Thyroid Alzheimers. So, yeah I sort of know what it feels like to have Alzheimers. Unfortunately, the two diseases are linked.
8. Getting on an airplane is terrifying for me as I am always worried that the seat belt will not fit around me. Talk about public humiliation.
9. My auto immune disease (and weight gain) has also negatively affected my marriage. I went to years of therapy about this. I tried to forgive my rebellious body and accept that it is not my fault and I tried really hard to love myself as I am, fat. The truth is, I simply do not feel good about myself and I probably never will at this weight.
10. Going to my home town is also terrifying for me. I always worry that I am going to see someone that I once knew. And I have seen people over the years. Many times though, old friends simply don't recognize me. That is how much I have changed. It is a blessing and a curse at the same time. Worse is when they do recognize me. The shocked looks on their faces crushes me every time.
11. I dread meeting my kids new friends and my husband's work colleagues because I am embarrassed for them that they have fat me as their mom or wife.
12. So now the truth about the ex-pat life. Yes, the ex pat life is fun and stimulating, however, it also requires that one get really comfortable with the unknown, the uncertain. Nothing is familiar. The simplest of tasks is terrifying when you don't understand the customs, the language or that you are required to wear a plastic glove when choosing vegetables or you risk the wrath of an elderly Italian lady. Everything is different and thus at first almost everything is stressful.
13. When we first arrived in Italy we were all in tears on a pretty regular basis. It was one of the most stressful periods of our lives. The kids were unhappy, Joe and I were arguing. Life was stressful. It was also filled with wonder, joy and discoveries, beautiful new friends and time together. Italy is beautiful, but the stress of an international move was hard on all of us.
14. The first 5 months in Sweden I was a bit of a shut in. The Swedish medical system could not provide me with my medicine thus I was right back to those early days of pure, 100% exhaustion. There were many days when I forced myself out of bed only because the kids were on their way home and I didn't want them to know that I'd been in bed all day. (Explains my prolific activity on FB now doesn't it?)
15. I will admit that the ex-pat life is fun, stimulating and full of new experiences, however, it is also full of many lonely days. It is hard when you miss home, family and friends so much that it hurts.
16. The ex-pat life means that just as you become friends with someone, they move. This bit is particularly hard on your kids.
So there you have it, some of the bigger warts in my life. Not all of them, but some. I am not posting these truths to garner sympathy or to yield compliments. I'm really not. I am simply trying to remind everyone that no matter how wonderful our lives appear to be on Fakebook, we are all fighting individual battles in our own ways.
And with that I wish for all of you to appreciate the good in your life, love the moments and enjoy the uniqueness of your life, warts and all.
American mother of two who left the comfort and ease of life in the Northern California suburbs for an international experience