Resilience And Forgiveness

Resilience And Forgiveness Forge My Path

June 7, 2023

Resilience And Forgiveness Forge My Path: Living with the disease of obesity has taught me many life lessons. At the age of fifty-four in 2012, I had weight loss surgery. Eleven years later, I understand how my many years of struggle have helped me adapt to my new life post-surgery, with primarily good days and a few hard ones.

For many years, I tried every diet and hoped and prayed each time that "this was the one". However, my hunger urges always overpowered me, and the weight came back plus some.  

No matter how many diets I tried, I kept believing that someone would understand my struggle and that one of these times, I would prevail. So, as hard as it was, I kept trying repeatedly.    

Resilience And Forgiveness

Resilience: "the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands."( 1) American Psychological Association

Everyone has biases of some sort. Before surgery, I experienced prejudice when I ate in public settings, tried to sit in restaurant booths, bought a car, applied for new jobs, or met new customers in my employment "in person" after a telephone conversation. People have opinions about obesity, and many feel that they need to express their thoughts to "help" or just because they feel a sense of empowerment regarding the obese person. No matter the reason, it can be exceedingly hurtful to the person living with the disease of obesity. 

Often, I would have to make a conscious effort to be seen and heard. Although my body size was large, my voice felt invisible, and many times people dismissed me. My opinion, thoughts, and concerns didn't matter.  

One example was in my Primary Care Physician's office. I suffered from skin infections in several parts of my body. My Primary Care Physician would enter the room with his computer open, holding it with both hands, wouldn't make eye contact with me, and always tell me that he was having a busy day and did not have much time. Several times I would ask if I could rebook another visit so he could spend the time I needed to help me. He always told me "he had a busy practice and limited time every day." I had difficulty understanding how my time felt compromised until he clarified his reasoning. He told me that "skin infections come from skin overlapping skin, and until I took control of my life and lost weight, the problem would continue no matter the treatment." I want to state that I have seen many primary care physicians throughout my life and have received similar reprimands from most.

My physicians did not understand that their attitudes of aloof behavior toward my disease of obesity were causing me to shut down mentally because I came to them for help, not a lecture. I felt I had nowhere to go. I was screaming internally for help, to no avail.   

The decision to seek out weight loss surgery was my own; at no time did my primary care physician mention surgery; or bariatric medicine. As I learned about obesity and met with bariatric physicians that embraced me and all my challenges, I had to come to terms with the feelings of anger that resonated when I thought of my past experiences. For the first time in years, I felt a sense of hope, a new beginning, and I wanted to move forward. I thought, "here is my second chance at living a better-quality life." I consciously decided to "forgive" my previous physicians for their lack of knowledge, empathy, and compassion.  

Forgiveness: "letting go of angry feelings and thoughts toward somebody who hurt you and replacing them with positive feelings and thoughts. It does not imply forgetting the feelings; it is about pushing past them to heal and move forward.”  

After my surgery, I was amazed at how my life changed. I felt 'energy' for the first time in so long, and as the weight left my body, I felt a confidence that I believed was always there, just stagnated by all the weight. My skin infections were gone, my legs and ankles were no longer swollen, and I could breathe when bending over. At work, I started to attend networking events, meet customers in my office or go to their homes and wear clothing I had bought in retail stores that fit. I could change beds, do laundry, and go up and down the stairs at home.

I could also participate in caring for my grandchildren, which I could never have with the extra weight. My new life was more than I had ever dared to imagine.  

Something that got my attention during the eighteen months of losing weight was that some people that had not "seen" me before were now speaking to me. Doors were opening when I had packages in my hands by people whom I had seen for years, but I was invisible to, or my size made them uncomfortable. Several friends and family also spoke to me differently, which I had difficulty working through because I was still me.   

I began to feel that same sense of anger that I had felt before my surgery. But, this time, forgiving was easier because I knew the relief of "not holding on to the hurt" would benefit me as my journey progressed. I decided to take the energy that was starting to consume me and turn it into advocating for others who felt trapped within their bodies. I have never looked back.  

Cathy Arsenault is the Bariatric Patient and Family Adviser on the UNC REX

Resilience And Forgiveness
Cathy Arsenault


Cathy Arsenault is dedicated to Bariatrics and Patient Experience. She serves as the Bariatric Patient and Family Adviser on the UNC REX Patient and Family Advisory Council and co-chair, sits on the Bariatric Surgical Service Line and Peer Rounds on Pre-Op and Post-Op Bariatric patients daily.