‘Side Effects’ by Felicia Ryan

soft cartel may 2018

I can feel the knot in my stomach tighten as I wriggle my foot back and forth trying to squeeze it into my sneaker. The mouth of the other sneaker is flopped open and its defeated tongue is hanging out just mocking me. My feet are swollen and my cankles spill over the edges. Such a lovely term, I first heard it used by another weight loss group support member Tina M. describing her Old Greek Yia Yia’s ankles. There was no delineation between the ankle and calf. It is common when you are overweight or a Greek Yia Yia to sport some hefty cankles. Then I remember how my back aches and that I feel soooo old. I yell in desperation at my sneaker “I am only thirty years old and fat.” I kick the stupid thing across the room.

This constant utter disgust of my body is more motivation to try a new medication that the annoying woman at the weight loss support group suggested. I go begrudgingly because I am trying to work through my food issues but I can’t stand the people in this group. Annie K. hides pizza in her sock drawer and whines about how guilty she feels about it. Peter R. dips circus peanuts in cool whip crouched on the toilet so no one sees. I like to eat full bags of Cool Ranch Doritos and fold the empty bag into a tiny square and hide it in the trash. Then I spend the next twenty-four hours stewing in a puddle of self-loathing and nausea on the couch. But unlike the other group members I politely keep my suffering to myself. Is any of our “secret eating” really a secret? No one scratches their heads about why we can’t fit into the subway seat next to them.

So when “sock drawer Pizza girl” mentions this new weight loss medication has both an X and a Z in the name, it must be good, right? Having studied Marketing in school I know that the drug companies put Xs and Zs in the names of medications so that they sound scientific. I have tried everything to lose weight. I have seen every dietician in the greater Boston area, had massages, gone to weight watchers, drank disgusting shakes, starved, binged and now here I am lost in a sea of my own sad stories and drowning in fat. I am usually not a sucker for those quick fixes but I am so desperate to lose weight I might forgo the conclusion that pizza is Annie’s only friend and consider trying this medication even though she suggested it.

I pop two pills out of a blister pack and put them on the table. I know I could avoid all this misery and drama if I just swallowed them now. I bet I wouldn’t hesitate to take them if they were dipped in chocolate or deep fried. Great, now I’m hungry.

A fun day on the Charles River kayaking with my best friend; what could be better? Wendy drove up from New York with her kayak and we made this date because it is something that I have been dying to try. I sit on my couch frozen in place as waves of terror, guilt and exhaustion envelope me like a sad blanket. Maybe I should give up right now, curl up on the couch and give into the siren song of a bag of Doritos?

I live in my head a lot perseverating. I think through worst case scenarios to try to minimize my own embarrassment. My body size is already off putting so I don’t want to further burden the public by showing up somewhere sweaty, disheveled or out of breath. I plan my navigation routes for contingencies like stairs and give myself extra downtime to move from heart attack beet red to a more normal skin tone depending on how far it is to walk. I need time to be able to hold polite conversation without sounding like I am dying. I can’t stand it when some concerned citizen asks “Are you okay?” I want to collapse like a folding chair.

I start to worry about the logistics of the kayak rental again. Will I even fit into it? If my feet barely fit into my sneakers then how will my full body cankle fit into the kayak? I can see myself rocking back and forth trying to squeeze my mid-section through the kayak blow hole opening. My “leftover” rolls flop over the sides. Whew, I made it! Then I realize that the kayak is sinking in slow-motion.

Enough already! I breathe out a heavy sigh and swallow the two clear pills. I cough a little as they get stuck in my throat. I swallow again hard forcing them down. The side of the package says results may vary. I shrug.

Calm as always on the outside, my internal anxiety attack continues. “What will I do if the kayak sinks? I will flail my swollen limbs in a vain attempt to retrieve the donut thingy they throw at me. Ah, donuts even now you fail me. Finally, I just grow tired and give up. I will drown and my body will float because of the fat. I assume someone will want the kayak back (it is a rental after all) so the Coast Guard will be dispatched. Does the Coast Guard even patrol the Charles River? Leaving a bloated carcass floating in the river can’t be good for the tourist business.  The firefighters and EMTs will struggle in the mud and muck trying to drag me into the shallows of the banks of the Charles River. Maybe they can put pontoons under my body and float me in like a damaged cruise ship?

As creative as my nightmare scenario is, I have had enough. I am sick of myself. I am forcing myself to go and meet my friend propelled by guilt and shame. I sit forward on the edge of the couch and rock a little to shift my body weight forward and then slowly stand up. I feel a little light headed but that is sort of status quo for me.

I look for my car keys. My clothes are a litter baggier than I remember. My body is a prison of my own design. Even if you paint the walls it’s still no place you want to live.  The hardest part of my weight has always been my harsh inner critic who is very LOUD and has a negative attitude. Poor Pizza Annie already knows this. It’s triggered by stares in public loaded with judgement, echoed by well-intentioned family members who tell me what a beautiful face I have but do not go below the neck it’s the fat DMZ, when I am struggling to fasten the airplane seatbelt (because I would rather die in a fiery plane crash than ask for the seat belt extender) and definitely shopping for plus-sized clothes. My drawers are filled with a large supply of novelty socks, baggy black pants, and plain solid color three-quarter length sleeve tops to cover my “arm wings”. Time to go, I put my hat on and check my hair in the mirror. Not bad. I don’t look like a complete moron or adult sized baby.

I feel light headed again and sit down. I scan the side of the medication package.

Side effects may include:

  • Back pain
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loss of existential sense of self
  • Bloody stools
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction
  • Animus towards people who hide pizza in their sock drawers
  • Burning, crawling, itching, numbness, prickling, “pins and needles”, or tingling feelings
  • Coughing up blood
  • Barking like a dog
  • Difficulty with breathing or swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Itchy fingernails
  • Rapid changes in weight
  • Blurry vision
  • Partial or complete evaporation of feet, hands or other body parts

 

I look down for my cankles: yup, they’re gone. And so are my feet! What the fuck? I search frantically for the toll free number on the box. Cheerful hold music greats my terror and finally someone named “Lisa” who is definitely not a Lisa says “How can I help you?”

I explain that my feet have disappeared and she asks me a few questions about when I took the pills and how many. I can hear her typing. I scratch at my fingernails with impatience.

Lisa says “Ah, yes. Well, what were you thinking at the time you took the medication?”

I stammer, “I… I was thinking about how much I wanted to be thin. How I wanted to be inconspicuous. How I wanted to …disappear.”

Lisa states matter of factly, “Yes, that’s the thing. I am afraid you have triggered one of the side effects. You are disappe…..”

I dropped the phone and was unable to hear the rest of her sentence. I had gotten the gist. I look down at my hands and they feel light and airy and see-through because they are see-through.

The panic has left me and I feel strangely calm. I am a huge dissolving bath bomb in warm water. My body fizzles and tingles. I slowly fade into nothing and I imagine my molecules swirling around in my absence like the Star Trek officer who has beamed down to the planet using the transporter. What meets me on the other side is unknown.

Felicia is driven by curiosity. She takes things apart and puts them back together: dryers, door handles and ideas. She values directness as well as kindness. In life or salsa class she will be moving in the opposite direction of the crowd (sometimes not on purpose). Her family is nice enough to leave all the drawers open for her to push in so she feels useful. She lives outside of Boston on the North Shore with a large man with a heart of gold, a tween who sings like an angel but can’t remember to wear her own coat home from school, and a greyhound named Arnie.

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