Any morbidly obese person could give you a strongly reasoned argument about how their weight impairs their life. Being over 40 BMI brings problems with moving and breathing, creates heart issues, and can lead to diabetes. However, it is important to know that, as far as the federal government is concerned, being obese is not a disability in and of itself. Currently, the only Federal Court of Appeals to have ruled on the issue of obesity concluded that obesity alone does not count as a disability under the ADA.
Now, as much as many of us may disagree with that, there is a whole subset of those of us suffering from morbid obesity who are still affected by the ADA. What about those of us who are dealing with morbid obesity and a second disability?
From Bad To Worse
When I was diagnosed with Adult-Onset Epilepsy in 2004 I was already heavy. Tipping the scales at around 240 pounds thanks to too much beer and pizza, I fought my weight off by going to the gym and practicing with my band 3 nights a week. I told people I was the “strongest fat man” they knew.
The arrival of epilepsy coincided with two things that were detrimental to my weight. First, I stopped being active. I couldn’t go to the gym any longer, had no interest in music, and just wanted to sit around the house and mope. Secondly, the initial seizure control med I was put on, Depakote, had the side effect of creating weight gain. Those two factors, working together, meant I gained 40 pounds in about 3 months. I was now officially morbidly obese.
Let’s face it: disability sucks. Most of us who are disabled are too busy figuring out how we are going to get through our day-to-day lives to worry about losing weight. For many of us, food is the only real comfort available. We stay home, we avoid the world, and we eat, because that is something we can exercise control over. The thought process is something like this: I may never know true love, or go white-water rafting, or even drive a car, but by God, I can sit here and eat this whole meat-lovers pizza. So we do just that.
I remained in that mindset for 12 years. There is a reason that alcoholism, obesity and drug addiction are rampant among those of us with disabilities: it hurts to go on living, and we reach out for whatever will bring us a little comfort. Those of us born disabled may have been going through this since the day we were old enough to realize our limitations.
Kicked Off The Couch
I’ve written elsewhere about the decision-making process that led me to bariatric surgery. The short version is this: I finally got to the point where my obesity scared me more than my disability did.
Last March, during my first talk with my doctor about bariatric surgery, the subject of my epilepsy was front and center. This surgery had the potential to impact my seizure activity – to make my condition even worse. What did I think about that?
Though I could not have articulated it then, I think I can now. I was already trapped and limited by my disability. I did not want to become even more hemmed in by my obesity as well.
Each of us will have to make this choice. Specialists should be consulted. We should ask our friends for their opinions. Most importantly, we should engage the input of our loved ones, especially those who are our caregivers. They will be the ones to bear the burden if something goes wrong.
I was lucky. Every single person I spoke to about the surgery was almost relieved – as if they had just been waiting for me to bring the subject up. Not everyone will enjoy this kind of support. Many loved ones will object, reacting out of fear. Since you are already limited, they will ask, why would you risk making life even harder for yourself?
Risk vs. Reward
My case is nothing special. Hundreds of thousands of us in this country face the same choices I do every day. Is this really worth it? we wonder. Is what I can gain worth more than what I might lose?
In my case, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” I may have traded my beloved beer and pizza for a cocktail of daily medications and supplements (see picture above) that I will be on forever. But I have also been able to move out from under the shadow of my obesity. My self-esteem, never great since developing epilepsy, has grown by leaps and bounds. For the first time in a long time, I am actually overcoming something, not being victimized by it. I am steadily fighting my way to a place where I am suffering from only one disability, not two.
Because I don’t care what the ADA thinks. I know for a fact that morbid obesity is a disability. I would give whatever it takes to overcome epilepsy. Why would I feel any differently about the other condition that had wrested control of my life away from me?
Yes, I have been lucky: in my medical providers, my wife, and my loved ones. But I also made the choice that enough was enough. Regaining some control of my life started with my decision to go forward with bariatric surgery. Only one person can decide what it will take to get your hands back on the wheel.
Here’s To Fighting Back,