There is a famous line from a famous movie of which I have never seen: “We’ll always have Paris.” From what I understand it’s a line used in parting as the lead character realizes that the end of their romance is over and he fondly consoles her by reminding her that they will always have good memories.
Obviously since I am quoting this movie, I will have to actually take the time to watch it. This might be a painful experience for me. I am not really big on 1942 black and white movies and no matter how good you tell me it is, I’m going to ask you why you need me to go back and relive the past. However, I can hardly use that as an excuse when that is what I am about to do here today.
Writing a memoir of my good memories and being pressured into watching movies that were made back when we lacked the technology of bright colors and high-definition picture are two very different things. Right? If you feel me here let me know.
I digress. The point here is that I have this amazing experience from my recent trip to Paris to share with you. My photos from it, unlike Casablanca, are in color, so in my mind that makes this entire blog a reasonable time expenditure from my normally busy day.
I’ve already written a very detailed account of my Paris trip that will be posted on The Bari Blog in the near future. I’ll spare you the details that will be given there and instead share the emotional side of my Paris adventure with you.
The emotional reactions that we have to things are unexplainable sometimes. As an example, I really thought that when I crossed the finish line of my first full marathon and completed the Dopey Challenge during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend this last January I would break down in tears of joy at what would be a monumental accomplishment in both my fitness and weight loss journey. I didn’t though. I felt accomplished. I was extremely proud of myself, but there wasn’t an overwhelming emotional reaction to it.
Honestly, I haven’t had that sort of raw emotionally overwhelming reaction to completing a half marathon since the first one I ran in honor of my father on Father’s Day back in June of 2013. I’ve ran a few half marathons since then and while each and every one of them gives me that amazing sense of accomplishment and allows me to experience that all-so-often talked about ‘runner’s high’, none of them had quite touched my heart as emotionally and as deeply as that first one had.
Every run brings with it a different experience. Sometimes the joy I get from participating in a half marathon event is rewarding to me because I’m lucky enough to have the privilege of being next to someone who I have helped achieve the accomplishment of crossing their first finish line. Typically that is one of the biggest motivators and emotionally rewarding experiences there is for me.
Sometimes it’s the simple joy of running next to one of my dear friends. I run with one of my best friends quite often and every time we run together I think of how blessed I am to have a friend that enjoys the half marathon craze the same way I do.
Paris was different. Paris had an emotional charge to it that I am not really sure I can explain, but I am going to try….
When the opportunity to do this event came knocking on my door I knew it was a once in a lifetime chance that I couldn’t pass up. It was an opportunity I knew without a doubt my Father would want me to take. Unlike my previously sponsored runs, this one wasn’t about me taking someone else with me to have their first half marathon experience, it was about me going to France to represent the Bariatric Community and share that experience with everyone and that meant a lot to me.
I honestly believe that when it comes to fighting obesity we can achieve anything through determination, hard work and courage. I think those are three of the fundamental necessities of recovering from obesity.
Recovery from obesity is not a simple process. You have to be willing to keep fighting even when it gets hard. You have to be willing to make big life changes that are not always comfortable, fun, or easy.
You have to have the courage to face whatever is going on in your life on an emotional, mental and physiological level that has driven you into the depths of obesity.
You have to be willing to triumph over plateaus that make you want to pull your hair out. You have to be willing to eat healthy when your emotions are on overdrive and all you really want is comfort food. You have to be willing to rally yourself against the social pressures of using food as method of having relationships with people. You have to be willing to exercise even on those days that it’s hard to talk yourself out of bed.
The fight against obesity is a battle where bluntly often only the strongest thrive.
And yet, each and every one of us possesses that strength. Each and every one of us has it in us. We just find it at different times in our lives and at different points of our journeys. I’m a prime example of this. I didn’t beat obesity the first time I fought it. Heck I didn’t even beat it the third or fourth time I fought it. I tried and tried and I feel on my face time and time again.
In fact if there was a big boss to fight at the end of a video game and it was named Obesity I would have probably thrown the game controller at the television screaming in a temper tantrum that it was too damn hard.
Once I came so close that I lost nearly 200 lb. and weighed the lowest I had ever weighed in my adult life. Then I gained every single pound back and had that entire journey to have to do all over again.
But my inherent belief that if I can do this, anyone can do this was exactly what was driving me to be at the start line in Paris. That message is the one that I feel the most obligation to convey to my community.
I’d been to Paris before, as an overweight teenager. If you’d asked me to run twenty-one kilometers while I was there I would have told you that I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t at a point that I was ready because we all arrive at that juncture at a different time.
There was another big emotional drive for me in Paris. Several months ago I lost one of my dearest friends. A fellow bariatric patient, and someone whose presence in my life had made a substantial change in my direction. A mental health practitioner by trade, without ever really being asked to, she had assisted me in my pursuit of chasing happy after I had accomplished healthy. A fellow runner and fellow Disney fanatic, she had been a monumental person in my life. Joy was one of my true “ride or dies”. In fact, back at that first half marathon I ran, when I hit my wall and I wasn’t sure I could do it, she had been the one I called, in tears, looking for words of encouragement and motivation.
Finding out that I was going to be running in Paris had been a sudden thing. The opportunity first presented itself when I was in California at the TinkerBell Half Marathon and my friend Jess offered me a place to rest my head if I could figure out how to get myself there. I flew home from that trip and in a two-day turnaround headed out to Nashville to attend the WLSFA Annual Meet and Greet event. It was at that event that I had spoken to the folks at BariLife and knew that I’d be going to Paris for this run. Though that information wasn’t public yet, when I got home the following Monday, Joy was one of the first people who I called to tell it. I knew that as a fellow Disney maniac and someone who had been a pillar in my world, she was going to be super excited for me.
Five short days later on May 21st, when Joy passed away, I felt a grief I hadn’t felt since my father had left the world. It had taken my breath away. It took everything I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Now here I was in Paris, getting ready to run the event that we had talked about over and over again in the days before she had crossed life’s finish line and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt that Joy was going to be with me for each and every kilometer of that 21 kilometer run.
I feel the presence of those I have lost when I run. It’s something I cannot describe or give a real world explanation to. This half marathon had a double dose of that going on for me because I just knew the whole way through that Joy and my Dad where up there cheering for me.
And then there was you. The Bariatric Community and the amazing friends and family that I have within it…
When I woke up Sunday morning and grabbed my phone to rush out the door for the start line I noticed that there was an unusual number of posts on Facebook that I had been tagged in. I wondered what the heck was going on.
When I opened my Facebook app to investigate it, I was literally overwhelmed with emotion. My Facebook timeline was filled with posts of my before and after photo with a caption that said “Thank you Pandora, 260+ pounds lost, 32 Half Marathons, Inspiring Thousands” – Many of the posts included personal comments from people in the community thanking me for what I have done to try to motivate and inspire others as well as offering me words of encouragement for the event.
Tears fell down my face in what was without a doubt the most emotionally charged start line experience of my running career. Even now as I write this my eyes are watering.
I am unsure that words can convey the emotions that ran through me. There was a moment in this journey after I had lost my weight where I decided that what I wanted more than anything was to help other people fight obesity through fitness. When you make a decision like that, you do it because you want to help others. When the people who you want to help and that you care so much about do something like this, without you knowing that it is coming, it lets you know that what you are doing really is making a difference.
I felt something I can’t really say that I have ever truly felt in such a towering way. I felt recognized. I felt relevant. I felt appreciated. As I kept seeing my before and after photo with the words “Thank you” written on it, I kept wiping the tears from cheeks, and all I could do was hold my hand over my heart, try to catch my breath and keep whispering to myself “No, thank you.”
RunDisney uses the slogan “Every Mile is Magical” for all of their events. While I have enjoyed each and every RunDisney event I have done, they are by far my favorite half marathons, this run – this particular event – was by far the most magical run I have ever experienced. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was running through Disneyland Paris theme parks, it had to do with the fact that I had overwhelming sense of love and happiness right there in my heart every step of the way.
At the start line I vowed that I would do nothing but enjoy every moment of this experience. I stopped for any photo I wanted to take. I took moments to stop and appreciate every little thing that caught my eye and capture it to share with those that had touched my heart so much. There was never a wall where I was running out of steam or where I worried about reaching the finish line. There wasn’t a moment that I had to push. Every single mile was pure joy. This was by far the most beautiful, magical and emotionally rewarding run of my career.
Every moment of running through the Disney theme parks, running through the residential streets surrounding it, running through European countryside, cornfields, seeing castles off in the distance, every kilometer marker, every Disney character standing on the side of the course, every marching band and group of cheerleaders, each one was viewed with an appreciation and emotion I have never experienced during a run before. It was magic. Pure magic. And I had all the most important people in my life in my heart sharing it with me with every little rapid beat as I ran.
Leading into this run I had concerns. I’d flared up my achilles tendonitis really bad trying to switch over to new running shoes and I was having to take extra special care and precautions to try to ensure that my ankles were not hurting too much to be able to run on them. Just a couple of weeks prior I’d had the experience of having to walk the last three miles of an event I was running because the pain in my ankles would not allow me to run. Yet on this day, on this run, for 21 full kilometers my ankles never once complained. All my worry and fears were gone and the only thing I felt was this overwhelming sense of love, appreciation, and closeness to those that mattered most to me.
If you had told that overweight teenager that was in Paris twenty-five years ago that someday I would be back here, and that I would spend nine months of my life on the year I turned forty, participating in a Disney based running adventure where I ran a total of 84.1 miles with countless training miles in between, I would never have believed you. Heck if you had told me that six years ago the day I was having my surgery I wouldn’t have believed you then either. I wasn’t ready to be that girl yet. I was nowhere near ready. I didn’t have the determination or the courage yet. Like I said earlier, we all get there at different times in our journey.
But when I crossed that finish line… or I should say when I flew over the finish line, with my arms stretched out like wings and the RunDisney volunteer put that Castle to Chateau medal around my neck commemorating my journey from the Dopey Challenge in Orlando to the Pixie Dust Challenge in California to this Inaugural Half Marathon in Paris, I started to cry.
I knew that something extraordinary had just happened to me. I knew that my Father, Joy and my community were all proud of me, and I knew that I had just done something I would be telling stories about for the rest of my life.
The finish line in Paris doesn’t actually say “Finish”. It’s in French, so it says “Arrivee” which translates literally to “Arrival” and somehow, this particular finish line had a completely different meaning to me. I knew the moment I approached it, because of the emotional response that I had to it that I had just arrived at a new point in my weight loss journey.
This was a defining moment for me.
This moment changed something inside me.
I knew, with more certainty than I have ever known anything before, that I was and am headed in the right direction and that I am nowhere near finished yet.
Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
Have you been following my guest blogs on the Bari Life website? If not you can check them out here.
Please Support My Sponsor! Visit the BariLife Website for all your Post Operative WLS Protein and Vitamin Needs!
I have a lot of photos of myself from days long past.
Photos of myself at an extremely unhealthy weight.
Photos of myself at a time that I was eating as a way of dealing with my emotions.
These pictures represent a time in my life where I was constantly sad, constantly depressed. They represent a time when I felt completely unworthy. They are pictures of a woman who put on a fake smile to hide all the pain inside.
They capture a woman who felt like she was drowning in the co-morbid conditions that the disease of obesity had brought her too.
I was full-blown diabetic, I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, severe edema and severe depression. There were days that I was simply non-functional.
I knew that my weight was causing these medical issues and truthfully, I didn’t care. I had given up on life, love and the pursuit of happiness. I very consciously made the decision to not care about what my lifestyle behavior choices were doing to my health and to my body.
I had a lot of days that I really wished I wasn’t even there. I was very aware that I was digging a grave with a fork and a spoon. In fact, if I am being completely honest, that was very much my intention.
These photos portray a woman who truthfully didn’t love herself. A woman who didn’t believe that she was worthy of being loved.
They portray a woman who was still very much caught in the survivor mentality of life. A woman who had grown up a survivor of physical, sexual and verbal abuse. A woman who was psychologically using her weight as a way to build walls and keep people out.
Sometimes I post photos of my transformation, a before-and-after photo of myself and I look at it and I think “Oh my god, who is that girl?” or “I don’t recognize that woman anymore.”
Almost instantly someone will see my photo and tell me that I was just as beautiful then as I am now or that I have always been the same person.
I very rarely respond to these comments because I really don’t know how to explain. Really, that’s your interpretation, not mine. I don’t need you to qualify my beauty and I don’t need you to diminish the celebration of my transformation.
Let me pause here and clarify something – if you have ever been one of those people who came on to my post and made a comment like this, I am not spanking you. I realize that you’re trying to be a positive voice in a negative world. I realized that you are trying to be supportive and kind and I appreciate that. I try to do the same and there are far too many people out there that are willing to tear each other down rather than to build each other up.
What I am trying to do is maybe get you to see the situation through a different perspective. I’m trying bring light to the fact that sometimes what we think is positive and supportive, if contrary to how someone feels about themselves, really isn’t.
Sometimes I think we are so busy trying to make sure that those that are dealing with obesity do not feel shamed or stigmatized that we forget that obesity is a very complex disease and that it can be caused by many different things.
If I was a recovering drug addict and I posted a before and after photo of myself with a tourniquet around my arm and a needle in my vein would you tell me that I was just as beautiful then as I am now?
I am one of the first people to stand up against weight bias, weight stigma and weight discrimination. Nobody should ever have to experience those things and I spend a lot of my free time trying to help educate and raise awareness to fight these societal intolerances.
I am also the first person to stand up and say that obesity is not healthy. Obesity isn’t a pretty disease. It is as unkind and ugly as any other deadly disease. Just like you can’t look at a photo of someone and decide that the reason they struggle with their weight is because they make poor lifestyle choices and over consume food; you also can’t look at a photo and assume that it’s not.
As a recovering food addict, someone who used food to feed my feelings and someone who was purposely and systematically killing herself with food, when I look at a photo of myself and say “I don’t recognize that girl anymore.” — I don’t need someone to tell me that they do.
I’d much rather see my transformation acknowledged in a way that doesn’t focus on looks but rather on the accomplishment. “Way to go! What an amazing transformation.” “That’s awesome, congratulations on your health accomplishments!” “What a great job. Look how far you have come.” There are a ton of ways we can acknowledge before and after transformations without using beauty as our quantifier.
As someone who has very openly discussed body images issues after weight loss, I can honestly tell you that when someone tells me I am just as beautiful then as I am now I have to remind myself that they are talking about on the inside. Because just a couple of years ago a comment like that would have me standing in front of my mirror wondering what I needed to “fix” about my body to make it noticeably different.
When I look at those before photos and all they represent, I don’t think I was beautiful then. I think I was suffering. I think I was in a very dark place and I think my obesity was a very physical symptom of that ugliness. I’m relieved everyday that I was able to bounce back from it.
I look back at those photos and I am thankful that I have managed to find a way to maintain my recovery from obesity and food addictions in a world that is food centric. I look back at those photos and I am grateful that I wasn’t successful at trying to end my life via obesity.
Some people look at those photos and think that I hated myself because I suffered from obesity. The truth is I suffered from obesity because I hated myself. The moment I learned to start loving myself and finding myself worthy, I started making healthier lifestyle decisions.
I am not the same person in those photos. Not on the outside. Not on the inside. I have successfully navigated a lifestyle transformation. If I was the girl you see in my before pictures, you likely wouldn’t have the pleasure of knowing me today, my friends would have been shopping for a casket by now.