When Extra Weight is Your “Cloak of Invisibility”
Cindy’s Journey of Self-Reflection After Weight Loss Surgery
Cloak of Invisibility
Like many people, when I was preparing to have surgery I was excited about the prospects of a “new me.”
I had been severely obese for so long that I couldn’t picture what I would look like after weight loss, but I was looking forward to being able to fit into chairs, sit with my legs crossed, walk through a crowd without bumping into anyone, buy clothes that were not plus size, and the many other perks of being a more “normal” size.
What I didn’t think so much about was the emotional side of significant changes to my appearance.
The inaugural Bariatric Food Coach Book Study met this summer to read and discuss the book Eating in the Light of the Moon by Dr. Anita Johnson.
Dr. Johnson specializes in working with women with disordered eating, and the book, which was published in 1996, is written from that perspective.
The group that participated in the book study found chapter 7, “Feelings…Gifts from the Heart” to be particularly engaging. The chapter begins, “Many people are afraid of their feelings, especially the so-called negative emotions.”(p. 48)
This resonated with many of the people in the group. Another statement that resonated was, “To help us cope with our fear of feelings we learn to block them out. We build dams to stop the natural flow.”
Both of these statements spurred lively discussion in the book study group.
During our discussion, one of the members used the phrase “cloak of invisibility” which described me perfectly.
I’m an introvert who is not really good with relationships. For years, the excess weight provided a physical barrier that helped keep people at a distance and gave me an excuse for hiding away inside myself.
I ate my feelings rather than learning to express them appropriately. This led to excessive weight gain which spiraled out of control. The fat was my “cloak of invisibility” – people tended not to make eye contact and gave me a lot of space. And although I was very noticeable in any room, I felt like people barely saw me there.
In some ways, it was convenient for me not to have to deal with people, but in others, I feel like it drained me of my humanity. Several times over the years I had a significant weight loss (100 – 150 pounds or so) and I noticed that people treated me differently when I was smaller. This was emotionally scary for me, so I would retreat inside my old eating habits and rebuild that cloak.
It’s much easier to hide than to confront your feelings. I don’t blame anyone for seeing through me instead of seeing me. I believe I chose that cloak of invisibility so I wouldn’t have to confront my feelings.
I’m currently six years out from surgery and down about 200 pounds from my pre-surgery weight. I’m working on figuring out who I am and being more comfortable in my skin.
I’m learning to live with being more visible and not letting interactions with other people spook me back into my old eating habits. I’ve also figured out that strangers making eye contact or initiating small talk are not expecting anything from me other than a moment’s diversion. It’s okay to be seen!
Thinking About Therapy
There is a very good reason that most good bariatric programs require meeting with a mental health professional before surgery. You will not see long-term success if you focus solely on the physical side of weight loss and ignore the mental side.
Unfortunately, I treated the meeting with the psychologist as a box to be checked so I could get to surgery and didn’t take advantage of the resources offered. Now I’m thinking that therapy would help get me to be more comfortable with my feelings and expressing them appropriately.
I’m still working on talking myself into it, but at least I’m entertaining the idea!
Advice to Newbies
For anyone who is still preparing to have surgery, pay attention to the emotional as well as the physical changes you’ll experience. Otherwise, it is easy for the emotional to sabotage your progress.
You have worked too hard to get here to allow that to happen! Talk openly and honestly to the psychologist before surgery, and listen to their advice.
I’ll close with another quote from the book, “Feelings are like fluid waves of energy. Like the waves we see in the ocean, they come in, peak, and pass, come in, peak, and pass. They have a natural cyclical rhythm like the ebb and flow of the tides…” (p. 54)
Thank you so much, Cindy, for sharing your vulnerability and honest reflections with us. It is a delight and a pleasure to have you in our BFC Premier Access Community!! – Steph