My heart sunk when I looked at my screen and saw his birth year: 1985. A scant 25 years old he was, and hauling around 500 or so pounds. He came in with his mother, but he was the one that sat in my office chair, not really able to support his own weight for very long.
To the standard question, “Do you have any disabilities that limit your ability to perform normal job duties?” the most likely response, if affirmative, is back problems. When I clarified his answer to this question, his response was more an outline of his perception of self; his overall health was good, despite his massive weight.
“Joe” was close to 6 feet tall, with his round face topped by untamed black hair plastered forward and down over his forehead. He had kind, dark brown eyes and an easy smile. His mother was a small woman, a retired bank teller, that was kind, soft spoken and caring towards her son. Both were very willing to share and seemed to do so honestly, a good indication that they had reached out for help before.
Last year, Joe had lap band surgery. “I lost 70 pounds and felt better. I wish I could feel even better. But, I didn’t follow the… I love food too much.” I don’t remember what he called it, but I believe it was the liquid diet given after surgery. Mom said something about getting more because Joe returned to eating almost right away after the surgery. His favorite: Sweet tea from Sonic. Mom said his stomach may be smaller, but he drinks while he eats, washing everything through and right into weight gain.
Joe likes computers and customized cars. He said that he would like to do something, learn something, to move forward, but he was afraid. He feared and the fear prevented him from trying. He liked school because of his friends, but he hated math, and without math, he feared he was stuck. What can he do?
The reason Joe was in my office didn’t allow for much history gathering, but I recognized a lot of myself in him. I saw his sensitiveness, his low self esteem and his fears as the same ones I’ve battled. I gathered that his mother raised him alone, but maybe his father was in the picture long enough to attack and wound his son irreparably. He had friends, but I imagine he was bullied in school. So, I decided to offer ways to reframe his fear and stuck-ness.
And, I started down that path with a vengeance. “You know what? County employees are walking around the park, and the county judge is one of them. It would be so cool to go there and walk and observe them” and “I hate math too. But, math is just one small step to the fun stuff…” and “I bet you’d love graphic work too. Download Gimp. It’s open-source and just as powerful as Photoshop.”
Everything started somewhere, and it would take a perspective adjustment to unlock fear’s strangle hold. The thought of getting outside to exercise is less than attractive, so the idea is to make the exercise secondary. Walking around the park to observe others would be a chance to let the imagination run wild, observing others and inventing the words to the dialogs out of earshot. The required math course would only be for one semester, only 15 weeks, then the rest would be fun. That math would fire up the left brain, forging pathways to thinking in a more balanced manner that will come in handy in programming. Maybe start a blog to chronicle experiences. Blogging would open the door for others to walk through too.
I saw a few sparks in Joe’s eyes during our conversation, but no fire. I had to ask him if he had considered counseling. “Yes, I think I will do that. I am depressed. Very depressed.” He said I gave him a lot to think about, and think is what he would do.
A few more brainstorms, a few more jokes about the county judge and Joe stood up to leave. His smile was light as he looked down at me. “Thank you. Thank you for believing in me.”
Yes, Joe. I do believe in you. I do. You can reframe your fears and get yourself unstuck. I know you can. You can live.