THE SCALES

NOTE: This is another long one. 2200 words.

The scales were crazy. I couldn’t trust them. Michelle was fed up with hearing about them, and unusually for her, she was prepared to tell me she was fed up. All I knew was that I couldn’t trust them, and I had to have scales I trusted because not knowing my weight from day to day was making me mental.

This was me during a nasty period last year. I was extremely agitated, vibrating with chest-hammering anxiety, and was desperately worried. I forget now what meds I was on at the time, and it doesn’t matter. Because the only thing that mattered at that time was having accurate data about my weight.

Context: four and a half years ago, in December 2012, the same year I shattered my elbow, and required surgery and five long painful months of rehabilitation, I weighed myself on December 28, and found my weight was 165.5 kilograms.

My psychiatrist had been encouraging me for some time to consider some kind of weight-loss program, but I was the fat guy who resisted all such suggestions, or who made only half-hearted, soon-forgotten “commitments” to it. I was a writer, too, and spent most of each day at my desk, in front of the computer, sometimes actually working, and sometimes goofing off, usually on Facebook (mortal enemy of writers everywhere). I was pleased to have my arm back working again with full flexibility and function, and loved to tell the story, because it made me look good. What didn’t make me look good was my ballooning body. Having the busted arm made me even less active than usual, a level of inertia matched only by the likes of materials frozen to absolute zero. I was a blob, and felt like a blob.

Even worse, my knees had been screaming for ages. So loud, so intensely, that I was inclined to believe that other people could hear them crying out in agony at having to support their unbearable burden. My GP had diagnosed osteoarthritis. I had been having cortisone shots, and was chewing through major painkillers. My screaming knees were a big factor in my inertia: activity hurt.

My psychiatrist, one day, in the course of talking more about the need for me to lose some weight, suggested iced coffee protein shakes. There was this whey powder stuff, he explained, and told me all about it. I had tried commercial high-protein diet shakes, and had not liked them. They left a nasty chemical aftertaste in my mouth. Combine that with a general sullen refusal to deal with my weight, and that was that. But this thing my doctor was talking about sounded different. He convinced me to have a go.

The whey powder was a body-building product, which puzzled me. I had been expecting something from the weight-loss industry. It smelled good when I opened the giant container, and when I mixed it up as directed in the blender and tried it–it was good! No chemical aftertaste! It tasted better than iced coffees I’ve paid upwards of $6 for in actual cafes! I could not believe my, well, my taste-buds! This was something that might work.

As well, I signed up for adult swimming lessons. I never quite learned how to swim properly when I was a kid, so had never been much of a swimmer, and never went near deep water for fear of drowning. And swimming lessons, though exhausting, were marvellous fun.

The weight started to shift. The protein shakes twice a day plus a bit of exercise was a difference. I stuck with the shakes, and the swimming lessons. After a while I added pool-walking as well, charging as hard as I can up and down the 25 metre lanes 80 to 100 times, trying to get my heart pounding as fast as possible.

People started to comment about how I looked like I lost weight. They started commenting about my face. My swimming shorts appeared to grow so large and hot-air ballon-like that I needed new, smaller ones.

Then one day I noticed that my knees had stopped screaming. When I went to see my GP, my vital numbers were good. At the pool I was racking up literally thousands of walking laps. People would stop me on the pool deck to tell me how I’d lost an amazing amount of weight, and it looked so good. I needed new clothes. I could finally get all the funny and geeky t-shirts I’d always wanted but couldn’t get because I was too big. So many things I hadn’t been able to enjoy because I was too big.

Example: after I finished my first term of swimming lessons, I felt deeply empowered, that I’d really done something good for myself. What else, I wondered, could I do? What did I want to do? One thing occurred to me. I’d love to try sky-diving. But when I looked up sky-diving services here, they all insisted on a weight cut-off of 115 kg. And at that time, I was still a gelatinous monster.

So I decided: I was going to get to 100 kilograms, and when I did, I was going sky-diving. This would mean a total weight-loss of 65.5 kg.

And, flash-forward four years, I was in hospital (ostensibly to get my medication changed to something more effective, and with fewer nasty side-effects), and, as I had been doing every day for years, I was weighing myself every day, at noon.

I had gotten my weight down to 114.3 kilograms. This was a loss of 51.2 kg over that four-year period.

People would tell me I’d lost a whole person. In the supermarket I saw 25 kg bags of rice, things the size of mattresses, so heavy I couldn’t shift them. And I thought, I’ve lost two of you bastards. I was on my fourth pair of swimming trunks. The shirts I was buying were two sizes smaller than I used to have to get. My knees were silent. At IKEA, I could race up the stairs to the first floor without even breathing hard, and with no knee complaints. My wife could hug me and reach her hands all the way around. I felt light. My older clothes hung on me like curtains, or circus tents.

But I was now in a psychiatric hospital, and the doctors were changing my medications around. They were all agog that I’d managed to lose that much weight while on 250 mg of Clomipramine, notorious for its weight-gain side-effect. My psychologist said I was probably the only patient in that hospital who was losing weight, because psychiatric medication is often a total bastard about weight-gain.

And that was the problem, right there. I was terrified, after four years of continuous, obsessive, grinding effort, of the weight coming back. The thought, and the fear, obsessed me.

I needed to know what my weight was doing from day to day. Needed it like oxygen. Needed it like water. Like heroin.

And I could not trust the scales.

We had bought them years ago, once my weight-loss campaign showed signs of success. Prior to that I borrowed my parents’ bathroom scales. It was on their scales that I first learned about the 165.5 figure. A figure so horrifying, so mortifying, that when I posted about my weight-loss efforts on Facebook I referred to it as OMG! kg, and each successive milestone as OMG! minus the total I’d lost, such as OMG!-51 kg.

That figure was and is important to me. Everyone in the family understood that, but even I didn’t understand how OBSESSED I had become about it.

We bought our own set of scales. When they arrived, the first thing to do was to calibrate them against my Mum and Dad’s scales. The new scales showed they varied from the others by about +1.3 kg, so whatever figure they showed, I had to subtract 1.3 from it, and the data would be consistent.

This was fine for a long time. I periodically checked again with the parental scales to see of the error remained the same. Here you can already see the beginning of the obsession, the madness.

Because, after a while, the amount by which our scales varied from the parental scales changed. Sometimes it was +0.8 kg, and sometimes as much as 1.5 kg.

By the time I was in hospital last year, our scales were about four years old, and they were showing truly distressing numbers that made no sense. My weight appeared to be climbing. I asked my parents to lend me their scales. They showed I was not gaining weight.

But sometimes they did show that I was gaining. During my first hospitalisation, at one point I was put on Seroquel to help me sleep, and to help with anxiety. This first hospitalisation was also the worst, the most harsh and distressing. I was in a terrible, deeply fragile state, barely holding myself together, even worrying my doctors. Seroquel was a wonderful drug for sleep, but it has a dreadful reputation for weight-gain. I keep a daily chart of my weight, and it showed a sharp upturn corresponding to the time I was put on Seroquel.

There were, across all three hospital stays, and even since then, since I’ve been home, numerous incidences where a medication seemed to make me gain weight. Between the effects of being strung out as I went from drug to drug, and my worries about my weight, and the NEED to preserve the weight-loss I’d achieved, I needed reliable data, dammit.

Michelle allowed me to buy new scales. I could, like a Cold War spy in a LeCarré novel, no longer trust the old scales. I lashed out and got the Fitbit Aria scale, which looked truly space-age, all white and sleek, and supposedly just bursting with all kinds of chewy data, and dying to work with my Fitbit Flex wristband thingy. It was fabulous, and I was dead excited.

Except, once it arrived, Michelle rolling her eyes by this point because she had had a gutful of me and ScaleGate, it didn’t work. In fact it would not work. I Googled support forums, and found loads of disappointed customers, who had found, as I had found, that the scale used a different wifi protocol from what we used in our household wifi. I either needed to buy new scales (Michelle’s patience gossamer-thin by this point), or buy an older modem that supported the older wifi protocol.

I could see this was deeply upsetting for Michelle. My parents, too. They essentially gave me their trusty, reliable scales to use in the interim. Michelle took the Aria unit back, and got a refund. I swotted over the JB HiFi and Officeworks sites online, looking for new scales, because I had to have reliable data.

And all the time I could see in Michelle, when she came to visit, how stressed she was. It made me ache and burn with shame. I was doing this to her. My stupid, pathetic, useless anxiety, and my even more stupid, pig-headed pride, was doing this to her. And yet I could not let it go. I had to have reliable data. Had. To. Have. It.

Had.

To.

Michelle agreed to one, final set of scales. But she told me This Was It. I felt cold all through. I found a new set of scales, a German brand which looked reliable, and the unit seemed to offer lots of data. It was also much cheaper than the Aria. When it arrived, it worked. When checked against Mum and Dad’s old reliable unit, the new scales agreed with it perfectly. It was weighing-machine kismet.

Peace reigned across the Kingdom. Birds chirped, bunnies hopped, and the sun shone. All was well.

Then, right at the end of my third hospitalisation, my doctors, in despair over what they could give me that was strong enough for my “treatment-resistant major depression”, and yet whose side-effect profile was “weight-neutral”, they fell back on another tricyclic antidepressant, the same drug family as the

Clomipramine from which I was released back in my first hospitalisation as we began to see what else might work. We had gone through everything, and now we came back to the tricyclics, and of those, Nortriptyline was said to be the least obnoxious in its side-effects.

Except for the weight-gain.

And the increased appetite.

The struggle against my weight continues. Nortriptyline seems to be a terrific drug. I give it four stars! But my weight is nuts. Since leaving hospital six months ago, I’ve regained nearly ten kilograms. Right now I’m trying diet and exercise ideas to try and get back to where I was, but it’s hard like calculus and hard like breaking rocks. My psychiatrist has some medication ideas he wants to try. I’m doing mostly okay. The frenzied, fluttering-bird anxiety has eased off to a great extent. I’m 90% fine.

And godammit, I’m still planning that sky-diving trip.

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