Michael_A

The power of negative memories

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It was probably 8 years ago or so, that I was traveling from Alaska to Texas with two buddies for an IT conference. I was probably at or near my high weight of close to 300 lbs (I had hit that spot on the scale and then kind of stayed in the general vicinity for several years.) I must not have flown in a while. because at some point I tried to fold the tray table down, and my belly was so large that I couldn't even get it open. It just hit the top of my belly and stopped there, at like a 45 degree angle. I was mortified. I flew again within the next year and just experimentally played with the table and my gut easily intruded into the tray table's space by 5 or 6 inches. I was so embarrassed by this and never again used the tray table for ANYthing.  And every time I flew after that, I was very conscious of how much space I was really consuming, just sitting there.  Every time I got on a plane after that, the tray table stared at me the whole flight, an accuser of how wrong something was with me, and a constant reminder of shame and embarrassment.

Fast forward to this week. I've been traveling a bit more for work lately. Since WLS I haven't dared touch a tray table. The memories of feelings about how embarrassed I was about being SO large, are SO baked into me, that I couldn't even fold the table down. And the feelings are STILL there!!!!  So anyways, this older couple is setting next to me and strikes up a conversation. They are tourists heading to my hometown, and we got to talking. Eventually the guy asked me for locations about various things and I KNEW this was heading toward me drawing them a map. The craziest thing to me about this is, I'm serious for at least three or four minutes I kept mentally looking at my tray table, knowing it was going to have to come down so I could draw the map, and I was DREADING it!! I was already feeling that shame and embarrassment, and even though I knew in some part of my brain that surely I don't occupy nearly as much space anymore, the other part was already gearing up for the embarrassment I was going to fell when I lowered the tray table and I was too fat to do it, and the guy next to me would be watching it all and yeah, fat people problems. 

So finally the moment came, and the tray table came down. And even with my baggy hoodie on I still had plenty of room to spare between my stomach and the tray table. Like 4 inches! But I'm telling you, that moment was truly surreal, because on the one hand there was great relief and pleasure that HEY I CAN FOLD THIS THING DOWN ALL THE WAY, but at the exact same moment I was also feeling that dread and red-alert feeling of a situation that I should be avoiding at all costs!  And even now, sitting here typing this 5 days later, I STILL have the same mixture of feelings when I think on that moment... relief and pleasure, mixed with the complete opposite- dread and embarrassment. 

Since getting to a goal weight, this is by far the oddest experience I've had. The brain truly is interesting.... that the power of a negative moment can permeate you SO deeply, that even when the conditions of that moment are completely reversed, it's still impossible for me to just be happy and thrilled and enjoy it.

 

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I know the feeling. Kind of a mixture of being amazed that things are better and not being able to shake the negativity that's been part of us for so long.

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Michael, this is such a clear explanation of a feeling I’ve had so many times over the past year. Dread, fear, then triumph, then remembering the shame that caused that dread and fear. It’s a bittersweet process - not all happy rainbows. 

We’ve suffered a lot of mental anguish over the years. It’s hard to let that go. 

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I can totally relate. Those experiences have literally become part of us. At least it makes us compassionate people.

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My first flight in a plane with tray tables (and the inability to lock mine down in position) was the trigger for me to really diet hard and lose a ton of weight....this was almost 10 years ago. My sister told me that her defining moment to have lapband surgery also came on a plane. She was watching a seriously obese woman boarding an international flight, and looked at the faces of other passengers first cringing and then relieved as the woman walked past their row. While she said she was nowhere near as large as the woman she was watching, she realised she could be that woman in the future, and needed to do more about her own weight that merely dieting and regaining over and over.

Makes me wonder how many other people are triggered into serious weightloss attempts by plane trips.

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12 minutes ago, Aussie Bear said:

My first flight in a plane with tray tables (and the inability to lock mine down in position) was the trigger for me to really diet hard and lose a ton of weight....this was almost 10 years ago. My sister told me that her defining moment to have lapband surgery also came on a plane. She was watching a seriously obese woman boarding an international flight, and looked at the faces of other passengers first cringing and then relieved as the woman walked past their row. While she said she was nowhere near as large as the woman she was watching, she realised she could be that woman in the future, and needed to do more about her own weight that merely dieting and regaining over and over.

Makes me wonder how many other people are triggered into serious weightloss attempts by plane trips.

I totally agree.

At my old weight, I used to dread flying (unless I was in business or first class).  Having lost my excess weight, I have no problem flying - even in a middle seat in coach.  Weight loss surgery can improve one's life in so many ways.  My only regret is that I did not have it sooner.  

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I hated the feeling of being crammed into the seat and keeping my arms folded around me not to take up extra space..

i was always worried about the seatbelt not fitting too.  Now, I like to play with the tail on the seatbelt..

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20 hours ago, Michael_A said:

The brain truly is interesting.... that the power of a negative moment can permeate you SO deeply, that even when the conditions of that moment are completely reversed, it's still impossible for me to just be happy and thrilled and enjoy it.

 

Had the same experience last month myself! I never had to get to the point of a seatbelt extender, but I hid the seatbelt below my clothes so people couldnt see it was on its last thread and cutting into my stomach to get it shut. After my last flight a year ago, I stopped attempting to put down the tray table, ever. Last month, I was pleasantly surprised when the seatbelt fit with several inches to spare, but couldn't get myself to try the tray table - until my husband put it down to set my drink on. I was first embarrassed and angry and about to say some very cross words....until it sunk in that the tray was down, flat, and not stabbing into me. Even then, my brain clunked through "Well I've never flown x airline before, they probably have more room in front of their trays" and "do I have my seat back?" before actually coming to the right conclusion. 

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On 6/2/2018 at 10:39 AM, Michael_A said:

 

So finally the moment came, and the tray table came down. And even with my baggy hoodie on I still had plenty of room to spare between my stomach and the tray table. Like 4 inches! But I'm telling you, that moment was truly surreal, because on the one hand there was great relief and pleasure that HEY I CAN FOLD THIS THING DOWN ALL THE WAY, but at the exact same moment I was also feeling that dread and red-alert feeling of a situation that I should be avoiding at all costs!  And even now, sitting here typing this 5 days later, I STILL have the same mixture of feelings when I think on that moment... relief and pleasure, mixed with the complete opposite- dread and embarrassment. 

 

 

I am so happy for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Those dread/red-alert moments become fewer over time. At times I have to remind myself what it was like to be 300 pounds. 

Yes to what @Gretta said about compassion. This weekend my husband and I went to a concert at an amphitheater. The "seats" were concrete benches with your seat number painted on. I would guess the width allocated for each seat was maybe 17". The woman who was about to sit next to my husband was quite large so when we stood up to let her pass, I swapped seats with him and sat close to him to give her extra room. I remember hating the feeling of my chub touching a stranger. 

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@Michael_A  "Since getting to a goal weight, this is by far the oddest experience I've had. The brain truly is interesting.... that the power of a negative moment can permeate you SO deeply, that even when the conditions of that moment are completely reversed, it's still impossible for me to just be happy and thrilled and enjoy it."

So, there is a neurobehavioral trick - conjure up the negative memory, and remember at the same time the joyful one related to it - in your case the 4" of open space you now have. Consciously and intentionally remember the two together. The NEXT time you remember the negative memory it will have linked to it the positive one of the relief & pleasure of having plenty of space. Again, consciously remember the linked memory with the positive one... and over time you can't remember the negative one without the one with joy and relief. I've found this useful as have some members of my extended family.

I've read this trick, recently "invented" (re-discovered) by psychologists, has been standard Buddhist monk practice for a couple of thousand years. Helps one to find balance with all of the suffering in the world. And to find our way to living a compassionate life, free of involuntary emotional triggers, as suggested by @Gretta and @Stephtay ...

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23 hours ago, BurgundyBoy said:

@Michael_A  "Since getting to a goal weight, this is by far the oddest experience I've had. The brain truly is interesting.... that the power of a negative moment can permeate you SO deeply, that even when the conditions of that moment are completely reversed, it's still impossible for me to just be happy and thrilled and enjoy it."

So, there is a neurobehavioral trick - conjure up the negative memory, and remember at the same time the joyful one related to it - in your case the 4" of open space you now have. Consciously and intentionally remember the two together. The NEXT time you remember the negative memory it will have linked to it the positive one of the relief & pleasure of having plenty of space. Again, consciously remember the linked memory with the positive one... and over time you can't remember the negative one without the one with joy and relief. I've found this useful as have some members of my extended family.

I've read this trick, recently "invented" (re-discovered) by psychologists, has been standard Buddhist monk practice for a couple of thousand years. Helps one to find balance with all of the suffering in the world. And to find our way to living a compassionate life, free of involuntary emotional triggers, as suggested by @Gretta and @Stephtay ...

I need to try this with biometric screening events for insurance.  I am so triggered by "weighing in public" that I get great anxiety and almost throw up when it's time for the annual company biometrics.  Even when I KNOW that my weight is "normal" and my blood work is normal and no one is going to scold me for by bad behavior resulting in my bad body/blood/health/life, I just have had so many negative experiences over the years that I just can't seem to help my response.  Time to reframe and reclaim that!  Thanks for the reminder @BurgundyBoy

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41 minutes ago, msmarymac said:

I need to try this with biometric screening events for insurance.  I am so triggered by "weighing in public" that I get great anxiety and almost throw up when it's time for the annual company biometrics.  Even when I KNOW that my weight is "normal" and my blood work is normal and no one is going to scold me for by bad behavior resulting in my bad body/blood/health/life, I just have had so many negative experiences over the years that I just can't seem to help my response.  Time to reframe and reclaim that!  Thanks for the reminder @BurgundyBoy

@msmarymac, I used to feel the same way. Now, I will tell anyone how much I weigh. Not that it comes up often but if it does, I tell people what I last saw on the scale. I think I do it for two reasons: to shed old shame about having a high number and because I weight more than people think I do. The sound of 176 for a woman sounds big/fat/too heavy, etc. But it is just right for me. 

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4 hours ago, Stephtay said:

@msmarymac, I used to feel the same way. Now, I will tell anyone how much I weigh. Not that it comes up often but if it does, I tell people what I last saw on the scale. I think I do it for two reasons: to shed old shame about having a high number and because I weight more than people think I do. The sound of 176 for a woman sounds big/fat/too heavy, etc. But it is just right for me. 

It really isn't so much about the number for me now and I will tell people how much I weigh if it comes up.  It's more the standing in line waiting to be weighed and measured in public.  Brings back those gym class experiences where public humiliation was the norm.  I think it was part of the "President's Physical Fitness" or something like that back in the day.  They not only measured ht and wt (and of course I was always the tallest and the fattest) but also how many pushups, etc you could do.  It was a horrible experience for me and these biometric screenings bring it all back.  My brain knows I am not that girl but my heart and my gut aren't so sure.  We used to have the option of having the screenings done at our Dr. office but a new company manages employee health now and they insist on everyone doing it at their event.  If the premium discount wasn't so significant I'd boycott the whole thing.  

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2 hours ago, msmarymac said:

It really isn't so much about the number for me now and I will tell people how much I weigh if it comes up.  It's more the standing in line waiting to be weighed and measured in public.  Brings back those gym class experiences where public humiliation was the norm.  I think it was part of the "President's Physical Fitness" or something like that back in the day.  They not only measured ht and wt (and of course I was always the tallest and the fattest) but also how many pushups, etc you could do.  It was a horrible experience for me and these biometric screenings bring it all back.  My brain knows I am not that girl but my heart and my gut aren't so sure.  We used to have the option of having the screenings done at our Dr. office but a new company manages employee health now and they insist on everyone doing it at their event.  If the premium discount wasn't so significant I'd boycott the whole thing.  

You've described our old school medicals to a "T". Of course we were standing in line waiting to be weighed and measured....in our underwear....boys and girls together. It was absolute humiliation, a day when I learned how to be too sick to attend school as I got older. I wasn't really faking it, I was so stressed I actually did make myself physically ill. If I ever had to do that as an adult, I would definitely be boycotting and discount be damned. Your employer should at a minimum be providing a room where these measurements could be taken privately.

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3 hours ago, msmarymac said:

It really isn't so much about the number for me now and I will tell people how much I weigh if it comes up.  It's more the standing in line waiting to be weighed and measured in public.  Brings back those gym class experiences where public humiliation was the norm.  I think it was part of the "President's Physical Fitness" or something like that back in the day.  They not only measured ht and wt (and of course I was always the tallest and the fattest) but also how many pushups, etc you could do.  It was a horrible experience for me and these biometric screenings bring it all back.  My brain knows I am not that girl but my heart and my gut aren't so sure.  We used to have the option of having the screenings done at our Dr. office but a new company manages employee health now and they insist on everyone doing it at their event.  If the premium discount wasn't so significant I'd boycott the whole thing.  

That sucks. I am so sorry. It sounds simply awful. 

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9 hours ago, Stephtay said:

That sucks. I am so sorry. It sounds simply awful. 

Thanks, it is.  But, I am going to try @BurgundyBoy's suggestion and associate it with the triumph I felt when the staffer said, "Wow, I've never seen anyone with an HDL of 77 at one of these events, good job!", and try to consciously reframe and reclaim it.  I am not the fat girl in gym class anymore, so it's time I stopped experiencing that shame. 

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On 6/4/2018 at 11:51 AM, BurgundyBoy said:

So, there is a neurobehavioral trick

I will have to try this, but I'm probably broken in some way by now... for REALS just thinking about that stupid tray table again while reading your responses just now.... dread and anxiety. 

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16 hours ago, msmarymac said:

It really isn't so much about the number for me now and I will tell people how much I weigh if it comes up.  It's more the standing in line waiting to be weighed and measured in public.  Brings back those gym class experiences where public humiliation was the norm.  I think it was part of the "President's Physical Fitness" or something like that back in the day.  They not only measured ht and wt (and of course I was always the tallest and the fattest) but also how many pushups, etc you could do.  It was a horrible experience for me and these biometric screenings bring it all back.  My brain knows I am not that girl but my heart and my gut aren't so sure.  We used to have the option of having the screenings done at our Dr. office but a new company manages employee health now and they insist on everyone doing it at their event.  If the premium discount wasn't so significant I'd boycott the whole thing.  

I just think some experiences are SO emotionally potent in the area of our brain that processes "awful", there is not much to relive the discomfort except maybe lots of years lol. I'll let you know in about 20 if my seatback tray emotions have improved.

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On 6/4/2018 at 9:27 AM, Stephtay said:

I am so happy for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Those dread/red-alert moments become fewer over time.

Thanks Steph :-)  I'm so much happier now than I was a few years ago, and truly enjoying life in a way that I haven't in probably 15 years. It was just so surprising that something like that could come from out of nowhere.

Edited by Michael_A

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On 6/2/2018 at 11:32 AM, Jen581791 said:

then remembering the shame that caused that dread and fear. It’s a bittersweet process

Bingo.

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9 minutes ago, Michael_A said:

I'm so much happier now than I was a few years ago, and truly enjoying life in a way that I haven't in probably 15 years. It was just so surprising that something like that could come from out of nowhere.

I agree. 

Once you reach your goal weight you are not a normal thin person - instead you are a formally overweight person who is now thin (and much more healthy). 

Thus, your life and experiences at goal weight are forever impacted by your prior life and experiences as an overweight person.  Some of these impacts are positive (for example, I truly appreciate my newfound ability to be active and not to be judged by my overweight appearance), but other impacts can be (as you know) less positive.  Our past life is a ghost that is with us forever.

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I haven't been on here in a while, but your post caught my eye. I can SO relate. I'm actually flying on Friday and I'm totally nervous about this stuff even though I know I don't have to be. I flew to Paris 25 pounds ago and the tray table and seat belt were all totally fine for the first time in FOREVER, but I'm terrified that even though I've lost more weight since then, I will have problems. I've been kicking myself all day for throwing away my seat belt extender even though I know I won't need it. It is amazing how deep-routed anxiety and fear trumps my ability to think logically.

I still have a ways to go with my weight loss, but I know one thing for sure. The emotional scars will take much longer to heal than the physical ones!

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Powerful set of comments @msmarymac @Michael_A @Aussie Bear @Boho Rosy

The trick mentioned earlier has helped me to heal from some scarring experiences. Aussie and others have recently posted about being held up as an example of success - remembering that kind of positive attention and joy at the same time you remember being scarred by gym class in school, or the airplane seat indignities, doesn't change the past but it does help the healing process and achieving emotional equilibrium...

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On 6/6/2018 at 9:44 AM, Res Ipsa said:

Once you reach your goal weight you are not a normal thin person - instead you are a formally overweight person who is now thin (and much more healthy). 

Thus, your life and experiences at goal weight are forever impacted by your prior life and experiences as an overweight person.  Some of these impacts are positive (for example, I truly appreciate my newfound ability to be active and not to be judged by my overweight appearance), but other impacts can be (as you know) less positive.  Our past life is a ghost that is with us forever.

Seriously, this is profound.

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@Michael_A, there is so much about this post that I know most of us can relate to...but your description of your experience really brings home the amount of suffering we go through as obese people. I truly hope this gets easier for you with time, because all of the hard work you've done to get where you are now deserves to be celebrated! But that's hard to do when you have all the negative feelings attached to it. 

I've only flown twice in my life, and both times I was under 200, so I don't have the tray table or seatbelt anxieties related to flying. But car seat belts are a whole different story. If I ride in any other car besides my own, I still, to this day, fear that the belt won't fit. I've been in cars several times where the seatbelt didn't fit...or if it did, it was so tight that I had to get out of the car. I literally could not force myself to go because it caused so much claustrophobia I'd make myself sick. I have more than enough room under that seatbelt now, in any car, but it still pops into my head every time I get into someone else's car. The other one for me is auditorium seating. I missed my youngest daughter's last 2 orchestra concerts before she graduated high school because the seats are so small and so close together. I stayed home because I couldn't suffer through being crammed into those seats like a sardine, and the anxiety of just thinking about going caused severe panic attacks to the point that I had to miss them. I can't go back in time and go to her concerts now :( She graduated 4 years ago. The anxiety that our obesity caused us is very real and, in my case as well, long term damage. 

I think giving @BurgundyBoy's suggestion a try is a great idea. I know I'm going to.

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