The Before: Trapped In My Body

It’s June 18th, 2022. Currently it’s 83° and sunny here at Winstock Music Festival. I’ve been here camping since Wednesday night. Now it’s Saturday night, the final night of music, camping and friends. But this year at Winstock just hits different. 2022, in general, has hit different; not financially, not socially, but physically. With every staircase, every long walk, my body just screams at me. Whether I’m profusely sweating and out of breath, or I start to feel pains in my legs, feet and lower back, walking anywhere is a challenge. Sometimes I feel like one of those robots when you try to use the very last bit of their battery life. You start out all bells and whistles and a few steps in, you feel the power draining out of you until you have to stop.

This is a humiliating experience for a 42 year old mom. A mom that not only works in the public eye, but that is surrounded by people who are so much more fit than she. That mom is me.

I try to hide the “pains” of obesity. There are so many that are never spoken of. I can currently hear Gary Allan singing “Smoke Rings in the Dark” from my camper. Right now my amazing husband is inside the concert bowl without me. He has met up with friends. But it’s not the same. You see, if I stand up for too long, my left leg goes numb. My weight, which is mostly carried in my belly and hips, is too much for me now. Add in the beat down sunshine, that is still so hot in the sky, and I would feel like passing out.

Then there is the chance that you are seated on a chair that will not support you. Seats at concerts, festivals and events are like playing Russian roulette. They are either way too small to fit, too flimsy to support you or just right. The odds of ‘just right’ are totally against you and the house usually wins. There is nothing more mortifying than being a woman who gets to her seat and when she tries to sit in it, has to squeeze so hard to get in or sit on the very edge because you don’t fit. This is where you have to fold yourself so much to get into the seat that within 3 mins your body is sweating and cramping. One of Charlie and I’s favorite things to do is watch UND Men’s Hockey. We have season tickets. I only went to one single game last year because it was so uncomfortable for me to walk to the arena, walk up the stairs and then fold myself into a chair for 3 hours. My body ached the entire game. Then the days following my outer thighs were sore and bruised from where the armrests dug in.

I have to be strategic when offered a chair anywhere. I have literally broken people’s camp chairs upon sitting. I have broken folding chairs and wound up flat on the floor. This is where I either quietly apologize for the broken camp chair and offer to replace it, or in the event of the flattened folding chair, lay on the floor and laugh along with everyone around you taking videos because if you laugh too it’s less embarrassing right? wrong.

We are staying in a beautiful new camper our radio partner, Pleasureland, is loaning us for the festival. I was so excited to see that the table wasn’t bolted to the floor so I could move it out and have enough room to sit without my belly and chest spilling onto the top of it. I literally pick restaurants that I know have ample enough space in their booths now.

As a woman of size, there are two other challenges that no one talks about. Like literally no one. They are two things that are the most mortifying for me. When you are obese it becomes harder and harder to keep yourself clean after using the bathroom and your body becomes a bacteria factory leading to odor and skin issues. I’m not talking about normal armpit odor here. I’m talking about literal body smell. Ever since I was young and a couple of my acquaintances that were obese and had terrible body hygiene and odor, I’ve been hyper-vigilant to combat body odor for myself.

From hair removal to help with cleanliness, to sprays, powders and even using gauze under what is called my apron, it’s the only way to combat both odor and folds of skin from becoming irritated and infected.

I can almost guarantee at this point, you’re envisioning someone from the My 600lb Life show, right? Someone bed ridden who just sits and eats thousands of calories and has no way of caring for themselves?

Well, the reality is, you don’t need to be 600lbs to experience the same issues and the same emotional challenges of obesity.

About 10 years ago I started a journey with JR Burgess and Dr. Joel Baumgartner at Rejuv Medical. At that time, it was just a small startup. But that small startup was about PEOPLE and that was the difference. Within a year I was down 75lbs and 42 inches. I had gone from 315lbs and a size 24 to 240lbs and a size 16/18. I felt amazing. I was completing 5ks, running the Warrior Dash and feeling so damn good in my own skin. I was proud. Then the ultimate goal happened, I got pregnant.

Pregnancy & motherhood are such an absolute blessing. It would be almost 10 years later, that I would be diagnosed with PCOS and a Progesterone Deficiency. I then realized, Rejuv was my saving grace for getting pregnant and having a beautiful & healthy baby boy so many years earlier.

But with pregnancy came weight gain. 40 pounds of weight gain and a less than active lifestyle. I was so relieved to be pregnant, I ditched the workouts and took full advantage of my excuse to eat when I was and wasn’t hungry and nap whenever I chose. Little did I know, this would eventually launch me into a cycle of shame that would change me for the worse.

I took a full 12 week maternity leave, found a nanny to help at home and upon the first day back to work at the radio station I felt different. I found myself feeling anxious, tired and combative. I was fine with myself, my body and my choices at home, but when I approached work I had this anxiety and shame for showing up with what physically was 40 steps backwards in my revered fitness & health journey pre-pregnancy.

I was officially diagnosed with post-partum anxiety and immediately started working with my doctor including medication. I have never been ashamed to admit that I take medication for anxiety and depression, but this was not a smooth road to recovery. From extreme mood changes to 3 medication and 1 doctor change, I finally had my anxiety/depression at a manageable level.

By the time my son was 6, I found a tribe of women at the office that would change my perspective, trajectory. They would help me truly see myself and the culture I wanted to cultivate in my relationships. As we all dove into our past & present and started to really see ourselves, I realized that even though I had been on a legitimate mental health journey, it didn’t excuse the way I spoke to and/or treated others along the way. I had this immediate feeling of shame and guilt. I literally wanted to seek people out and just plain apologize for my behaviors. I also learned how to say no, draw healthy boundary lines and increase my emotional intelligence.

I started to change the way I spoke to myself and others. I started to see things through a different lens. So many things looked different except one: my body. I remember feeling so aware of myself including my weight gain. I would literally see people from my “past fit life” and immediately think, “they are looking at me and judging my failure.” “They are probably disgusted at my waste of great results.” “I bet they are embarrassed to see me like this”.

These types of thoughts didn’t end there. They bled into so much more of my life. I would see coworkers going to lunch together or having beers and think, “Did I not get invited because I’m not pretty enough? or skinny enough? Did I do something wrong?”

If I asked a friend to do something and got a no, I would immediately think “They don’t like me” “I must have done something wrong”.

My negative, victim based self-talk was attacking me from the inside out. I felt alienated. I felt alone. I felt worthless. My lack of self-respect and worth brought deep valleys in my marriage. Times when I look back and see how not kind I had been to my husband.

So I fed this demon with the only things I knew; Food & Shopping. I remember my husband telling me that a credit card for me was like a bottle of booze for an alcoholic. This stung so deep. There were times I would order fast food and eat it in my car so no one would see. Until the statements came in and Charlie would ask why thought it was ok to use the credit card, especially for fast food over and over.

I had a serious problem, but it wasn’t until I saw my son picking up the same lifestyle as me that I was jolted awake. How could I sit here and let my son develop my same hazardous thinking and eating habits. I had struggled with my weight everywhere from the fitting room to the lunch room all my life. I didn’t want my son to have the same struggles and negative self-talk.

No matter how much Brene Brown or tribe talks I had, I knew I needed to PHYSICALLY DO SOMETHING.

I picked up the phone, swallowed my shame/pride and called Rejuv.

Starting Monday, June 20th, I will be starting a new journey to health and wellness. I am so humbled to share this journey with you here online and for some in-real life. This will be difficult, but I know in the end it will be rewarding in endless ways. If you have ever struggled with anything from weight loss to addiction to even just workplace unhappiness, take my advice: Swallow your pride, take a deep breath and reach out. You’ve got this!

-Brook Stephens


8 thoughts on “The Before: Trapped In My Body

  1. I felt every word of your blog post! Count me in if you need another cheerleader or person in your village. I restarted my own journey at the start of the year – I’m working with CentraCare weight mgmt and my local gym. I refuse to let my PCOS and hypothyroidism beat me this time. Having the support of a medical team has really helped me thus far – 40lbs down! You’ve got this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Our stories are almost the same minus the pregnancy. I remember seeing you in the gym when I was training with Tim Moes and was so inspired by you. 2 years ago I let myself fall back into my old patterns (which COVID made easier I do). I am hoping to refind that motivation and maybe see you on the green. Thank you for sharing your story, I look forward to seeing you become the healthy mom you know you can be.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well said my dear! I share some of the same. One or two steps back can turn into many missing steps and a journey of failure. I keep saying tomorrow, tomorrow. LET IT BE TODAY THIS TIME!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi! I saw you at Rejuv yesterday and immediately noticed your positive energy. My daughter and I have both worked with Sara (I am currently working with her) and I can’t say enough about how much she has helped and inspired both of us to work towards different goals through very different challenges. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ll be reading your updates. Sending positive vibes your way!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 12 Years ago I also worked with JR Burgess as my trainer and I did great!!!! Of course the weight is back and I’m in the: “I don’t care mentality”. No energy, no motivation, horrible eating habits etc. To me JR was the best person that ever happened to me. I don’t believe he’s part of Rejuv any longer. I miss him! As everyone I also face many medical and mental health issues. For 5 years since I retired I’ve been trying to deal..It’s so hard sometimes I just want to give up. Anyway…maybe if I follow your story something will be sparked again in me to try again…..you are brave and if you have trainers like JR who actually care about you, are patient, kind, and go easy, not hard on you…you will be great again!!!! I wish you health and a wonderful journey with REJUV!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What you have blogged here is so familiar. Do it for you! The rest will follow. As you know already, Rejuv is a great place to find support to get back your health. I will also be cheering for you as you transform yourself! . Like Barb posted, following you on your blog may be the thing to get me back on the green …. I have slipped back to my starting point and miss the satisfaction of a good workout and following my plan….. share a “high five” with Jake from me. Beat to YOU!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As an avid and enthusiastic member of Rejuv, I welcome you to the family! We will all answer any questions and fully support you in this journey.

    Liked by 1 person

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