Losing a significant amount of weight takes you through an incredible life transformation. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s changing more—you or how people and the world treat you. One of the most difficult situations you could encounter is if you have a friend who faces severe challenges in their life. They see you taking new paths and exploring new opportunities as you gain control of your weight. Life is opening up for you and they are dealing with the same frustrations and problems that may plague their life. I was reminded this past week of my friend Laura. If she were still alive, I’m sure she would never have described her life as tragic but it seemed to me like it was.
Laura nearly died at six years old when she was diagnosed with severe Type 1 diabetes. Sticking herself with needles and managing her blood sugar were a constant in her life. I met Laura in college. She was brilliant and driven. She earned membership in the state’s most prestigious honor society, Florida Blue Key. I’m not sure how she was able to do it given her medical condition, but as a devout Jew she felt an obligation to serve in the Israeli army and spent a few years there. Back in the US, she worked for many years in the PR department of one of the nation’s largest hospitals. She needed the best possible healthcare and she was able to get it. Throughout her professional career, she donated a large percentage of her income to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation because she said she wouldn’t live to see retirement. She was right.
Through the years, Laura struggled with every major health problem that severe diabetes can induce. She needed eye surgery to save her sight. She had a heart attack in her 30s. Her body rejected a kidney and pancreas transplant. The last time I saw her I could barely maintain my composure when she showed me how hacked up and literally deformed her body had become from multiple surgeries. She was forced to end her career and go on permanent disability when she had a stroke in her 40s. I remember her telling me how her ability to think had been affected.
I wrote a blog during the time I was losing weight. Laura commented regularly but mostly she would call me shortly after every new blog post. She either had criticism or “suggestions” for how I could be making better choices. Friends for decades, we started to fight. After awhile, I dreaded her calls. Finally, she criticized a blog post in a way that I thought crossed the line. She sent me an email all about how lives can be ruined if we don’t take the opportunity to humble ourselves and simply apologize. It seemed to be an impassioned, sincere attempt to reach out and save a friendship. But she made it clear she expected me to apologize to her. I never spoke to her again. I got a message from Laura’s sister when she died about six years later.
I’ve known a few people who dealt with life-debilitating medical issues. Eventually, they become bitter and angry. It’s easy to understand. But it isn’t so much that if they can’t control their lives, they’ll try to control someone else’s. Mostly, they are desperate for attention. They want to feel empowered in some way and that means being heard. They want their opinions to be considered important. The situation affects them in another unusual, more inscrutable way. They can become seemingly…a bit nutty. As they struggle to understand why they’ve been robbed of their lives, they may concoct all manner of theories. They will also invent theories that attempt to undermine people who are getting what they can’t have. They’ll be full of criticism for anything that is likely to work out well for you but would be ineffectual, futile, or just plain impossible for them.
If you were training for a marathon or phasing in a vegan lifestyle, you’d be unlikely to get an earful of “advice” from seemingly everyone you encounter. Everyone has an opinion about how to lose weight and manage your health while doing it. Choosing weight loss surgery especially can put you in what feels like an extreme situation to defend yourself. Many people you’d be able to blow off but some will get under your skin. Like everything else you undertake when making decisions for your body and your life, you have to do what’s right for you and you know what that is. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.