Apr 13, 2007
I've always been called "fat". As a toddler, my mother called me "her little chub bucket", which I believed for the longest time was a term of endearment. After I found out that a chum bucket carries goopy raw fish parts used to attract other fish, it seemed too coincidental and I wasn't so sure about the whole endearment thing.
By the time I was 7 years old and in public school, I wasn't topping the weight chart at the pediatrician's office but I was noticably above average compared to the other kids who called me fat. Being both socially and physically awkward just made the situation worse. The picture is from 1971 when I completed both second and third grades. My parents thought it might do me good to be in a different social group but the result was simply to add being the smallest kid in the class to the list of other issues.
Toward the end of 3rd grade, my teachers and family noticed I was having short staring spells. If I was still, I would just remain frozen in place but if I was moving, I would continue along the same path and speed until the seizure ended or I ran into something or somebody. My classmates, of course, had noticed it months earlier. Initially the teachers just thought I was being disruptive and sent me to the office. Eventually it was diagnosed as a mild form of epilepsy.
The epilepsy diagnosis took about a year. Dad was a disabled Navy veteran so we traveled on military transports to naval hosipitals all around the country. Eventually we ended up at Johns Hopkins where they finally got the seizueres under control. By the time this picture was taken at age 11, I had not had a seizure in a couple years. Which is good because there's no way I'd have been allowed to venture out onto the waterfall otherwise!
If I look a little small to be a 7th grader, it's because I am still one of the smallest kids in my class. But now with a little pot belly I could threaten to sit on people even if I couldn't win in a straight-up fight. Not the best way to fend off bullies but if you can't get taller, you can always get wider. Everyone, even family, already called me fat anyway, so I had nothing to lose in that regard. I learned to deflect a lot of teasing and attacks with humor. I had an encyclopedic memory for trivia and the 7th grade curriculum so I kept some of the bullies at bay by helping them with homework or tests.
In high school I finally got some height but also grew to 180 lbs and 38 inch waist. I figured joining the wrestling team would give me some self-defense training and possibly some allies against the bullies from the football team. But at 180lbs, I was wrestling in the unlimited weight class against guys who were practically giants. In order to wrestle someone closer to my own size, I had to drop 20 lbs. So by riding my bike 7 miles one way back and forth to school, plus another 20 to 30 miles a day and weight training, at the age of 14 I get down to 160 lbs and 36 inch waist. This is the first time I've ever dieted or lost significant weight and it is the smallest I'll be ever from this point on.
Being on the wrestling team didn't save me from the football jocks though, and in January of 1978, a week before my 15th birthday, one of them attacked me from behind, shoving me face-first into a brick wall. My upper lip is split all the way to the base of my nose, the gash in my forehead is to the bone and the marks under my eyes in this photo are where my glasses broke and cut into my face.
After this incident, I stop trying to make peace with the bullies and fit in with the jocks and instead start hanging out with the stoners. They are a much more low-profile and mellow group who tend to fly under the radar. While I'm learning how to be in "stealth mode" at school, they also teach me about smoking pot and getting the munchies. It's part of the stoner curriculum and it distracts you from all your problems - at least until the pot and the food run out.
I carry my weight in the middle and due to the size of my hips and butt, I was buying Sears Husky jeans and then taking the waist in from 38 to 36. Even at 160, I was not able to buy clothes in the regular men's or boy's section of the store which seemed to confirm the diagnosis - I was fat. This is also why you don't see any pictures of me in profile. Ever.
By my junior year of high school I've turned into something of a basement chemist and am making rockets, including mixing my own propellent and making engines. Turns out there is a fine line between rockets and bombs and I manage to cross it. A rocket engine blows up in my hand as I'm filling it with propellent, takes off my left pinky finger and shoots into my thigh exposing but not cutting my femoral artery. The doctor tells me that if I were 10 lbs lighter the artery would have been cut and I'd have bled to death before help could arrive. On release from the hospital, I immediately put on 10 lbs just for good measure. I stop making rockets and go back to riding my bike. That summer I lose the 10 lbs and am hovering just above 160.
The picture at left was taken when I was 17. By now I had dropped out of school, earned my GED, completed a semester of college, moved away from home, and am back up to170. I was alternating between riding my bike everywhere and having a working car. My stoner friends and I have mostly parted ways and when I move from home I go to the next town, start using my middle name and start a whole new life.
By the time I met my future wife at age 19, I was up to 190 lbs. If you are detecting a pattern here, you are right. I would continue at roughly 10 lbs weight per year of age, putting on another 160 lbs over the next 16 years. 200 at 20, 250 at 25, etc.
My wife and I were married 6 months after we met. Here I am (on left) at 19 years old in Busch Gardens Tampa Florida with my new bride. She still looks that good, by the way. I have a more reliable car now and am doing fairly well selling cameras in the mall and freelancing as a photographer. But the thing that's defining my life as I approach 20 is that I've already broken the 200 lb mark. I don't have as much time to ride my bike but I'm determined to lose the weight. When I do ride, I still take 20 to 50 mile trips and I still consider myself to be somewhat athletic.
I haven't lost my indelicate sense of humor either, so here I am at Easter the next year eating barbequed skewered bunny rabbit peeps. Mmmmmm, toasty! This was the first time I can remember feeling embarassed for looking like I did and eating something "inappropriate" but you have to really commit to a good joke and it got the laughs I wanted.
In size 40 pants now, I'm starting to recognize the guy staring back at me from the mirror as "fat". I've been in denial up to now but after hearing it all my life I'm not only believing it but starting to live up to it. My self-image is finally starting to reconcile with other people's perception of me. Although there are degrees of fat, the names I get called and labels used to describe me don't seem to change much as I put on weight. So my experience of how people treat me doesn't change but how I treat myself is finally in alignment with the rest of the world. If you are gonna pay the price, you might as well have done the crime, right? Funny how we find ways to justify feeling bad about ourselves.
When my wife was pregnant, I changed careers and took a corporate job working in the mailroom of an insurance company so that I could get group health coverage. Computer programming was always my fallback if photography didn't work out, but I had dropped out of college when I moved away from home so I could work full time. In order to get out of the mailroom and into the computer programming department, I had no choice but to go back to school while still working full time. At this point I had so little free time that riding the bike was a luxury. Regular physical exercise was a thing of the past.
Now that I've resigned myself to living up to my own and everybody else's expectations of my weight, and of course now that I'm married, I continue to put on that 10 lbs per year. Here, holding my newborn son at age 21. I'm 210 lbs and those size 40 jeans are getting tight.
Fast forward to 1986. I'm still known as "Rob" and have left my old life behind. The only acknowledgement of my past life is that I sign official documents as "T.Robert". The manager at my 2nd job thinks this is hilarious and somewhat pretentious, so he dubs me "T.Rob". Despite my objections, the nickname takes on a life of it's own and I can't shake it. After a year I give up trying and just accept it.
By the time this photos is taken, I'm 25 and and have dropped almost 20 lbs from my top weight of 250. This is the second time in my life I've lost significant weight but it was mostly from depression and being too broke to eat much. I carry it well - from this angle anyway - and the few people who know my weight are shocked when I tell them. But the face is rounder, my belt buckle has disappeared and I'm up to a 42 waist. I'm also in the process of getting divorced and this photo is during one of my weekend visits with the kids.
Shortly after the divorce is final, my daughter is diagnosed with diabetes and must take insulin injections several times daily. Due to the medical expenses, I work two full time jobs totalling 88 hours a week. I am diagnosed with high blood pressure and asthma, and I have developed sleep apnea which will go undiagnosed for another decade. The medical crisis with my daughter brings the family back together and my wife and I remarry. That year my son is also diagnosed with diabetes. The debts and expenses mount up and I continue to work two jobs.
In 1993 we pack up and move to North Carolina. I am now 300 lbs and 30 years old but I'm still strong enough to climb all the trails at Chimney Rock with my family. One time at an amusement park my son and I boarded a flume ride with a bench seat and a single bar that was intended to restrain 4 people. When the guy clamped the bar down on my stomach, it wasn't even close to the two young girls sitting next to me and they had to move. That was the last time I went on an amusement park ride, to this day.
Not being able to go on rides with my son is the first thing I can remember giving up due to my weight but many more would follow. Over the next couple of years I would stop riding my bike entirely and chronic back and joint pain would set in. Simple things like putting on socks and shoes are now difficult.
That winter I am in a sledding accident in my neighborhood and break a rib. Not knowing how bad I'm hurt and fearing further damage like a punctured lung, the paramedics tell me to sit still while they try to get a vehicle to me. But I'm in a valley between two steep hills and the firetruck slides right past me on the icy road, is unable to drive back up the hill and becomes wedged sideways between the sidewalks. At this point my options are to wait for the swiftwater rescue time to bring a sled and a winch or to walk up. I'm not about to be seen in my own neighborhood getting hauled out on a winch so, with the help of two firefighters, I manage to make my way up the icy hill to the ambulance.
My sleep apnea is finally diagnosed in 1998. For the last decade my doctors had refused to refer me for a sleep study advising instead to simply eat less and exercise more. When my average-weight brother is diagnosed we now have a family history and justification for the study. Turns out I am waking up as much as 100 times an hour and my pulse-ox dives as low as 60. They slap a mask on me and I get my first good night's sleep in over a decade.
A few winters later in 2001/2002 I went on Body for Life. I dropped 30 lbs eating a restricted diet of chicken, rice, vegetables and protein shakes, combined with walking 8 miles a day and weight training. This worked in the short term but was simply too extreme to live with and I eventually stopped. By the time this photo was taken, I had gained back about 10 lbs and was 330 again. Over the next year, I would regain the rest and again level off at 350 lbs.
That same year I am dealing with a sick building problem at work. A restaurant has opened on the first floor and the exhaust from their grill vents out close to the air intake for the hi-rise part of the building. Some days the inside of the building is actually hazy and it always smells like burnt vegetable oil. On one particularly bad day my asthma kicks in and I pass out in the narrow hallway near my cube. Unable to manuever the gurney or lift me in the confines of the tight space, the paramedics revive me on the floor so I can get up and walk to the gurney. During the follow-up my doctor and I discuss surgery seriously for the first time and I make my first attempt at insurance approval. I am turned down. My insurer does not consider gastric bypass routinely under any conditions. I've been thinking about changing jobs and this helps make the decision.
With a 13 year job history, I realize that I need to buy a house before I change jobs so I can qualify for a loan. Having lots of motivation, we locate an close on a house in a few months. While moving in I injure on knee. Over the next few months we treat it with anti-inflammatory drugs but it gets worse. Soon the other knee is injured from bearing most of my weight all the time. When I finally get surgery, I do both knees at the same time. At the rehab center they have treadmills that actually work under my weight! They also have a stationary bike and I finally get to ride again. By the time I leave rehab I'm riding several miles and have maxed out the leg press. The staff is not used to working with someone at mysize and are concerned when I get to 300 lbs on the leg press. I'm over 350 at this point so, by definition, I need to press that much just to stand up. They reluctantly assent to let me use more weight. the machine only goes to 500 lbs which is me + 150. That's a fairly respectable number and helps me get signed out of rehab.
The house sits on almost an acre of land and I discover that I like to garden. I work hard in the yard and garden but it doesn't seem like exercise because there is the reward of having produced something. This is good because I hadn't realized that owning a house is in itself a hobby. There's yardwork, painting, improvements and maintenance. And if you have a garage, the first thing you do is fill it so you can come back later and make a project out of cleaning it. Still not exercise but at least less sedentary than before. My lot has a 60 ft rise in elevation from front to back so just walking around the property is a little challenging.
I'm officially closing the book on my old life and starting a new one. The new me will have all the best qualities of the old me but without the shame, self consciousness and physical limitations. Kinda like that beer that used to be less filling and tastes great. the best of both worlds.
One final note...if you've read this far, you deserve to know. People always ask me what the "T" in T.Rob stands for. It stands for Todd, but the "odd" is silent.