When you are an obese child there is nothing more than you want than to be invisible. “Out of sight….out of mind” would be the best slogan for this mentality, for if the kids don’t see you they won’t be as apt to ridicule.
The best example was class participation. Simply put I would not volunteer to talk in class. Why would I if it gives anyone an excuse to make a remark? Naturally though I would be called-on in class. Many times in elementary school if I was called in Grammar (yes…Grammar) I would hear the occasional snicker or “Hey…hey….hey!,” but as soon as the next person was called on it would dissipate. The worst case was class participation. I absolutely DREADED speeches, diagramming sentences, or math problems on the board.
Why? Because unlike sitting in your desk being asked to choose between we or us in a sentence, the class was expected to focus on the person in front of them. So all eyes were on me for several minutes and I felt them. So in case someone had forgotten about me or what I looked like, they had plenty of time to assess my rolls of fat, outdated clothes, and sweat dripping from my brow. The sweatiness would elicit even more snickers and laughs.
On some occasions the teacher would have me sit down to avoid the prolonged embarrassment; others didn’t. I really don’t know which was best. Either way, after it was done I would sulk back to my desk (which hopefully would be in the back) and try to calm myself.
Even in my post weight-loss years I had problems with public venues. Most of my college years I was okay, but in the last few years of college I began to have sweat attacks in class. For example, I would walk into Poly Sci and sit down. Even on pure lecture days, I would begin to sweat and so to avoid people noticing it I would excuse myself to go to the bathroom. There I would pat myself down with tissues all throughout my sweaty clothes.
Afterwards I would endeavor to return to class only for the sweating to ensue again, and so on and so on. There were numerous times in college and grad school where I wouldn’t return to class at all. The same would apply to social events. Having to enter a crowded room and flee once a drop of sweat was detected.
I let it get in my head so much that my choice of graduate school was determined by it. I chose to attend the most remote 4-year university in the U.S.: University of Alaska!! “Well if I am in cold weather I’ll be less likely to sweat” I reasoned. It was specious logic, but it somewhat worked. I was a Teaching Assistant there and my role was to lecture when the professor was out as well as lead study groups. Strangely, I don’t remember having panic attacks in front of the class.
What did emerge was my fear of speaking in class…which stems from my childhood obesity. Graduate school classes are either seminar in style or straight lecture. In seminar, you are expected to read the assigned books and then share. I dreaded having to speak in class. I would just look down or assiduously take notes and pray the professor wouldn’t call on me for the entire 90 minutes. The lecture classes were fine and I aced those; most of the seminar classes I either dropped or sweated through.
Later, I managed to gain admission into the University of Texas PhD program. The rigor of those classes were higher than those at Alaska. All seminar classes. The sweat attacks returned fueled by the sheer thought that I had to speak in class. It was horrible! The grad students even made snide remarks about my inability to speak (“Silent Al”) and having to leave class repeatedly. The anxiety got so bad that I eventually dropped out of the program. I felt utter shame.
The irony of all of this that I was not fat! I had lost my weight 5-10 years earlier, but this is my point. Fat kids, even after they lose their fat, still carry all the insecurities that they had when they were fat. It just doesn’t evaporate into the ether. We are still fat kids in a skinny person’s body. People would look at skinny me and not know my history and couldn’t get understand I had these problems. Maybe they thought I had Social Anxiety Disorder or something.
After my careers in the health care world, I became a medical teacher and was expected to speak in class. If you ask any of my students, they would tell you I have no problem lecturing! LOL (I tend to pontificate and/or go on my tangents about the harmful ingredients in our food.)
The irony is that speaking in front of the class is a requirement for my classes. You must present a medical article every month. I know that some students don’t like this, but I instruct them that public speaking and learning how to articulate properly is crucial in being successful in life. I have yet to see a kid have a sweaty panic attack and they know my story well enough to know that I would be sympathetic to their plight.
The sweat attacks went away about 10 years ago. I learned that being self-conscious about it made it worse, for letting the anxiety flow, embracing it, and just notifying people to whom I am talking about my history generally lessens the anxiety. It went away during my process of understanding the “Why” of the obesity of my formative years and addressing it.
My point would be that trauma that you endured as an overweight child lingers through your adulthood unless you work on it. We eat to numb the underlying trauma that occurred to us. For us to truly heal we must identify the trauma, name it, own it, and then develop corrective measures to alleviate us of it (sounds eerily similar to an exorcism.)
Reach out to me…I am here to help you achieve your goals!
A. Gregory Luna, double-certified Health Consultant
(Please offer your insight or share your story in the comments below.)