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OH HEY aka THE INTRO

I didn’t see you there. You skinny vultures. It’s Zach again.

Who? Allow me to refresh your memory glands.

You may remember me from such nonsense as this or that. And guess what?

I’m back. And I’m worse than ever.

OR AM I?!?!? aka TWIST

In some ways, yes. I mean, look at this smug fucking picture. What an insufferable b-hole.

Take these broken wings.

In some ways, always. Life is an inevitable downward spiral. Over time, our bodies and cells break down and we turn to loose-skinned mush. Same thing with our minds. We forget a little, then a lot, then almost everything, before eventually forgetting really essential shit like “how to poop autonomously” and “how to breathe.”

But in some ways, no, too. BECAUSE I AM LIKE TOTALLY FUCKING SKINNY NOW.

^ ^ ^ RECENT AND ACCURATE PHOTO OF ME ^ ^ ^

OR AT LEAST KINDA. Or at least skinny for me. Or at least skinny enough that I’m gonna foolishly rush at you with my marginal/current success like it’s some kind of self-flattering-battering ram.

UGH PART I aka IF YOU STOP READING HERE, I DON’T BLAME YOU

But you won’t stop. You kind of hate me, kind of love me for the opportunity to hate me. I’m like that horrible girl you went to high school with who overposts on Facebook. You’re addicted to being annoyed by her, so you keep reading her shit.

No shame. You’re only human.

UGH PART II aka GET TO THE POINT

This is the point: Over the course of the last month, I’ve lost 18 pounds. Yeah. You read that right.18 pounds.

For a paragraph or twelve, let’s ignore the sad fact that I had 18 pounds to lose. And the sadder fact that there’s realistically at least that same amount more to lose. And the saddest fact that my fatness, while habitual/chronic, is not on the same level of struggleworthiness as the health battles faced by other people, yet I complain about it and expect you to listen.

I MEAN READ SOME ROXANE GAY YOU ILLITERATE B-HOLES.

That said, it was still hard to lose 18 pounds. And this is still my story. (And I’m white and male and something called a ??XENNIAL?? which I think means I survived MySpace, or something. So fuck you. Like Sinatra before me, I’m up in this bitch pretending struggle is my birthright.)

Cue the Friends theme song.

JOKING ABOUT STRUGGLE aka LIFE AS A MATTHEW PERRY

“Wouldn’t Oprah have been a more appropriate reference?”

As I’ve referenced so many times before in so many different formats, since 2012, I’ve bounced pretty fluidly between 230 and 260 pounds.

I have been all types of overweight. Big. Doughy. Ample. Stocky. Chunky. Thick. Plump. Pudgy. And with increasing/alarming frequency, actually Fat.

I carry it OK, sometimes even well, to the point I feel like I’d be hell on one of those “Guess Your Age or Weight!” carnival workers. More often than not, it’s a stealthy kind of fat. The kind that sits well in a hooded sweatshirt. But, it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older because DUH.

Look, you b-holes. I’m somewhat self-aware. I don’t want to make excuses for myself. Compared to, say, living in Haiti, contracting cholera, then dying from dehydration within days, I understand this shit is not important.

But, as much as I posture about my problems being exclusively privilege-problems, I recognize that this kind of self-care/self-assessment has legitimacy.

My rollercoaster chunkiness been difficult, physically and emotionally. My knees are absolute shit, so I get injured more often. When I get injured, I stop exercising and I get bigger. When I get bigger I get sadder. So I get bigger. Eventually, I get so sad that I stop eating and get kind of OK, again.

But goddamn. Where’s the endgame? And how did I get like this? The year 2012 is important.

Why? Because sickness, that’s why.

ACTUALLY STRUGGLING PART I aka LIFE AS A SKELETOR

“Um, I look good. This reference could stand to be more accurate.”

OK, so maybe I didn’t look like Skeletor. I looked like an actual skeleton.

I spent 2010-2012 being sick. Sick in a lot of ways. Sick in my glands. Sick in my heart. Sick in my head.

July, 2011. 155 lbs. Keep that number in mind.

There aren’t a lot of photos of me from that period of time, and I’m simultaneously OK with and not OK with it. I just spent 47 minutes on Facebook, trying to find a particularly scary one from a hot day when I was at my lowest weight. It’s buried somewhere in the the digital ruins. E-luding my best e-Lara Crofting.

At my lowest weight-point, I was 130 lbs.

I was, by a lot of metrics, actually dying. Slowly, eating myself whole.

ACTUALLY STRUGGLING PART II aka LIFE AS A DARIA

Being sick was not my fault. I have to remind myself of that. A therapist even told me I needed to. Like, a lot. So much and so repetitively that I quit going to see him. And still ALLEGEDLY owe him money.

Now, getting to the point of almost dying? That was ALL ME, BABY.

The volleyball is personal responsibility.

When I found out I was sick, I did nothing.

It was November of 2010. I was living in Lawrence, Kansas, where I was going to school. I’d lost a good deal of weight but thought it was due to a few different factors. Not that I’d had a bad body leading up to the weight loss. I was always a bigger-framed guy, but I was healthy and athletic. I played soccer and lifted weights. I had a low body fat percentage. I wore medium t-shirts and they looked good.

I just figured it was inevitable. I was depressed, I was poor, I was lonely. Exercising the same. Eating less. Simple math.

One gloomyguss of a Saturday, I went to Kansas City to get an ingrown toenail removed. I had to drive 43 miles to a free clinic because I didn’t have health insurance (AMERICA!!!). I mentioned my weight loss to the med student as he cut out my nail. He drew some blood. Two days later, I learned I had a reasonably common autoimmune condition called Grave’s Disease.

Why was I in Kansas? (The decision to move to back to Kansas is, in and of itself, another long and shameful story, which I spare you b-holes from having to read. For now.) Let’s just say, in the summer of 2009, I’d decided to move back.

I instantly realized it had been a mistake. I was in classes I hated (when I went) and a long distance relationship (that was the only thing I could think about). I couldn’t seem to find a job (when I was looking) and couldn’t settle into a good living situation (because I had no money).

My life, which over the summer of 2009, had seemed so promising and full of love/potential, was a FUCKING SHAMBLES.

It was embarrassing. Crippling. Shameful. So I did the only thing I have ever really been good at.

Lie to people I love.

ACTUALLY STRUGGLING PART III aka LIFE AS A LIAR

Pretending became my whole life. I would lie to people about being fine. Anyone who asked. Some people who hadn’t. Anyone who would listen.

I’M FINE, PANERA CASHIER. I’M FUCKING FINE, DAMMIT. GIVE ME MY SIERRA TURKEY.

Shit is delicious. That ain’t no lie.

I was 25 and I was desperate. Desperate to prove to everyone—my boyfriend, my friends, my siblings, my parents—that I’d grown up. That I was an adult. That over my two years in D.C., I’d become someone different. A new person. The kind that wasn’t a chronic depressive and underachiever and self-saboteur. That didn’t need any help. From anyone.

My disease only compounded things. It took money to buy pills. It took a job to get money. It took energy to get off my ass and get a job. But I’d already sunk all of my energy into pretending. Keeping up appearances.

I did nothing. My health got worse. I left school. My health got worse. I set a date to move back to D.C. My health got worse. Oh, D.C. Where I thought things would be better.

They, of course, weren’t.

ACTUALLY STRUGGLING PART IV aka LIFE AS A HOUSE(GUEST)

Oh, fuck you.

Things got worse. Allow me the privilege of compounding the narrative.

January 2011 – I briefly have a job, but still no health insurance.

Also January 2011 – I move in with my boyfriend, promising that it’s temporary.

March 2011 – I lose said job, but promise that it’s temporary. 

May 2011 – I move out of my boyfriend’s house because I had promised it was temporary.

July 2011 – I run out of money and move in with my brother and his fiancée in their one bedroom apartment, promising that it’s temporary. 

Also July 2011 – All of my personal identification is stolen during the move. Birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, social security card. All of it.

August 2011 – My boyfriend dumps me, which based on how much I loved him, I thought would be temporary. 

September 2011 – I take the reasons he dumped me to heart and start to get better. I take medicine. I find a little work. I think I can win him back.

Also September 2011 – I find out he is already dating someone else that he met on Match.com three fucking weeks after he dumped me. [Remainder of rage paragraph redacted.]

Also September 2011 – My life goes black.

After That – I freefall. I have no ID. I have no health insurance. I cannot afford medicine and will not take it when someone buys it for me. My brother and his fiancée keep me fed. My body gets worse and worse. My disease multiplies into diseases. I weigh 150 lbs. Then 140 lbs. Then 130 lbs. I think about killing myself constantly. Constantly. CONSTANTLY. Every seventh minute of every waking hour. Every time I pass a mirror. Every time I think about him. Every time see a squirrel. I write long lists of how I would do it in Word documents on my computer. I send him too many emails about my feelings, but leave out the part about killing myself. Just in case he wants me back. I keep, in whatever way I can, pretending that I am OK and lying to others. I am not OK. I am not OK. I am not OK.

ACTUALLY STRUGGLING PART IV aka LIFE AS AN EQUATION

If it’s in Comic Sans, it’s funny, right?

It turns out I was too sick and tired to even kill myself. To even try. How sad is that?

ACTUALLY STRUGGLING PART VI aka LIFE AS A THYROID STORM

We all saw it coming.

Instead, I had a seizure. It should have kinda maybe probably killed me. It didn’t.

I went to the hospital. They sent me to another hospital. I stayed for as long as they could keep me before I would have qualified for a program wherein people without insurance can receive the bulk of their care for free. They discharged me an hour before I hit the threshold. And then charged me more money than God (AMERICA!!!).

To the doctors’ credit, they did their jobs. Fed me pills. Looked at my blood. Specific markers. And it turns out, in my negligence, I had managed to become [dramatic music] exceptional.

I was a fucking disease anomaly. A glorious set of numbers. A mystery to behold. I was sick in ways they rarely saw, a shining example of what not to do, of the how far a person can let him or herself go, and still provide living tissue samples for studies. I was a star. They sent me to the National Institute of Health.

Which I did not want.

ACTUALLY STRUGGLING PART VII aka LIFE AS A MAMA’S BOY

Hi, mom.

But guess who did, you b-holes?

I will always owe my brother and his fiancée (who is now my sister). In ways I will never, ever, ever be able to repay. A sick skeletonman suddenly camping on their futon WAS NOT what a young couple needed, on the cusp of their transition to D.C. and adulthood. But they made it through my nonsense, the incredible strain of my personality and presence, and I hope, came out stronger and more together for the experience. I love them in ways this inadequate paragraph will never describe.

That said, despite all the things they did to help me, they were ultimately only able to be caretakers. They could not fix me or force me to fix myself. Only one person could do that. Enter my mother.

There is no shame like a mother’s shame.

She flew out. She told me to get up. She set an itinerary. Forced me to go get medicine. To take my medicine. To go see the doctor. To follow up. To talk to the NIH. To schedule my surgery. To start the process of healing.

ACTUALLY STRUGGLING PART VIII aka LIFE AS A MAMA’S BOY II: DR. KEBEWBEW AND THE ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

Hi, doc.

In March of 2012, I had my surgery. No more thyroid. Thanks, Dr. Electron Kebewbew.

Things somewhat improved. I started to gain weight. I physically got better. I was still an emotional wreck.

I took my old apathy and replaced it with mania.

I spent hours on the elliptical at the apartment complex gym, watching Fox News and sweating into my open windsock of a mouth. I did push-ups and sit-ups and push-ups and sit-ups and the muscle came back in tidal waves. I started to look for new ways to be unhealthy. I started drinking a lot during the day. I fought the impulse to steal from the grocery store for the rush. I had revenge sex with pseudo-strangers, a month-long, late-night fuck rampage all over the aptly named Ballston.

I wrote long letters to my ex and did not send them. I wrote longer letters to myself. I did not sleep for days. My heart still raced, despite the beta blockers. I barely thought. I barely breathed.

I still had no job or ID or motivation to improve my overall life.

So she flew out again. She forced me to get up. She drove me to the last place I wanted to go, my ex-boyfriend’s house, and sat in his driveway while I pawed through the boxes I’d left there for old bills and school IDs, pieces of expired personal identification that might prove I was who I said I was.

Her mothering is what made me get better. She didn’t fix things for me. She helped, but she made me do it. She spoke to me in the only language I was ready to hear:

The Language of Embarrassment.

There I was. 26. With my mother hovering over me. In the post office, at the DMV, in line at the bank, sitting next to me as I filled out form after form after form. Living, physical proof of how childish and sad I was.

Of how much I needed to grow up.

STRUGGLE AS RELEVANCE PART I aka WHAT I DID NEXT

October, 2012. 215 pounds. Thanks, Mom.

I started to grow up.

STRUGGLE AS RELEVANCE PART II aka LIFE AS A MATTHEW PERRY PART II

“I still resent this reference.”

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t hard. It didn’t happen overnight. But it happened.

Now we are now.

Over the 5 years since my surgery, I’ve been mostly fat. It was, in some ways, unavoidable. My internal chemistry changed. It had to. I no longer own the part of my body that controls my metabolism. It’s in a jar or a tube somewhere in Bethesda. I start every day with a pill, which creates a synthesized version of the hormone(s) I need to live. Or something like that. Science, science, science, blah, blah, blah.

Being mostly fat has taken me to a different place of pain. Taught me to hate myself in new and interesting ways. Taught me that, even if we say it doesn’t, fat matters to people, no matter how middling, no matter how marginal. It’s made me feel uglier than I can ever describe. It’s nearly convinced me I would never be loved.

It’s also taught me patience. Taught me resilience. Given me perspective. Shown me that I need to be kinder to others about things I may think they can easily control. Because you never know.

All struggles have a root truth, you b-holes. All struggles have a root legitimacy.

It turns out, I’m fucking Matthew Perry. A sad funny-man who, be it fame or drugs or or attention or the love of a good (wo)man, is always going to struggle with addiction.

Before I was fat, I was addicted to the idea of love. Then I was addicted to being sick. Then to being sad. Even at my lowest points, I still wanted to matter. To take up space in this world.

My addiction now is food. Which the therapist I ALLEGEDLY owe money says is a logical next step on my journey.

I love food and would be hard pressed to explain to you how happy eating makes me. I eat as if I live in my old body. Before I was sick. Before I was cut open. Before I was shamed back together. Which is too much food for this new body. Which my brain knows but my heart struggles to understand.

And I gain weight. Maybe lose a bit. And I gain weight. Maybe lose a bit.

And so it goes. My (Vonne)gut grows.

OKAY aka THE OUTRO

So there you have it, b-holes. Some of the story.

Like sandwiches through the hourglass figure, these are the days of my lives.

My fatness is not insurmountable and my situation is not ultimately dire. The sicknesses of my body and my mind that have led me here are not as bad as ones others have and will live and die through.

I am working on my body and hope that I can continue to live a more healthy life. I am working on my brain, which will always be a harder task.

Even still. I’m trying. I swear to God I’m trying, Mom.

18 pounds is 18 pounds.

The number helps me measure hope.

Zach Straus

Zach Straus peaked at 15 and is mostly held together by masking tape.

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