Writing An Article For the Spondylitis Association

Last updated: December 2021

Editor's note: This article discusses weight and dieting.

Have you ever heard of the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA)? I have been a passive member for about three years, and I value the association. They operate a terrific advocacy program, including hot button topics like lower medication prices, more access to treatment, and research. Plus, membership is cheap, and if you sign up, you get an excellent print and online magazine called Spondylitis Plus. The magazine connects me to the latest research, events, and incredible people who deal with AS.

The magazine is the basis of my post today. This summer, I talked with an editor for Spondylitis Plus, and she said they were looking for articles. She asked if I had a story that could be published. So, I pitched one. To my surprise, it was accepted. But the catch, I had to write it.

How do you author a story about yourself for publication, and second what story will I write? As I said, I have that I thought might publish. Most of you know that I love walking. I could write about discovering and using trekking poles? But could I draft a story of 2,000 words about walking poles? I did not think that was compelling. I thought of pitching a story about kyphosis and the recent surgery, but that seemed dreary and not the best for a mass market. Then I settled on a story that I thought would be interesting but potentially controversial.

Writing the story

The story I pitched was about my weight loss journey. I was reluctant to talk about it in public for two reasons. First, I understand how sensitive it is to talk about weight loss in a community of people with a chronic condition. Let us face it, so many of us go to the doctor, and every issue we bring up is attributable to weight. I recall saying my knees hurt. My hands hurt. I am exhausted. All those things were met with the same answer; lose weight. So much so that it was just easier to say I am getting along well, even if I was not. I think people with AS are beat up enough about their weight, and they do not need me telling them to do better.

The second reason is that I knew how overweight I was and how much I needed to lose weight. I know what I looked like at 370 pounds, how I could barely move, and frankly, I was embarrassed by it. Telling this story meant exposing myself. The pictures, the issues, those things were going to be exposed. So, putting it all out there was not the most natural thing I have ever done. I know that sounds odd coming from a guy who has written about many personal things about my journey with diabetes and arthritis.

Let us face it after writing a personal blog like Pickles Are Important on my blog could my weight loss journey be that much more embarrassing? The answer is yes, it was, which shows the power of weight stigma. When comparing pickles to weight loss and saying weight loss was more embarrassing? That is saying a lot. But the editor suggested I put all of that aside and see if I could write the weight loss story. I agreed and decided to do what I always do when I start authoring personal stories; I went to the beginning.

Demons confronted

Thus was born the title "I was the fat kid." I struggled to author the article and decide which pictures to include. Most of the pictures I submitted were not used, and if you look at the story on its face, you might think it is simply about going skydiving. That was a big part of it, but not the real story. The real story was that I had finally faced a demon that had haunted me my entire life, and at least for now, I put the demon in its place. I say for now because I know weight gain is right around the corner. No matter how much progress I make, I can slip up and gain it right back.

I began my weight loss journey with a broken sternum at a weight of 370 pounds. I point out that the surgeon said he would not operate to repair my sternum unless I lost at least 100 pounds and that I should get to 250 before he would even consider surgery. When he sent me away, I knew that he thought he would never see me again. Now I do not want to bash the surgeon here. He had good reason. My sternum had been repaired once, and he felt (rightfully so) that unless I lost substantial weight, any fix he applied would break again. This time it might be worse.

At first, I thought weight loss surgery was the best way forward. But I was determined, driven chiefly by pain and the feeling of my sternum shifting each time I moved. It was a grinding feeling, and frankly, it freaked me out. So, I knew I had to do something. I entered a weight loss program that was driving me toward surgery. I met with the therapist and passed the psychology exam, lost the designated amount of weight that the surgeon required for surgery, and then met with him once again. But a funny thing happened as I was waiting to see the weight loss surgeon; her medical assistant asked if I had explored a medically supervised diet for weight loss. I had not.

Eventually, I got to an endocrinologist in my diabetes practice who managed a restrictive diet that helped me lose 120 pounds in about ten months which qualified me for surgery. The surgery worked, and after, I started WW (formerly Weight Watchers). So far, since 2015 (yes, it has been six years), I have lost about 180 pounds total. I work it every day, and I still have at least 10 pounds to lose. Incidentally, I have been stuck at this last bit of weight to come off for over a year. During the year, I have gone up to as much 205 pounds and as low as 193. But the 185-pound goal has been elusive. Still, I keep trying.

Lessons learned

The skydiving which was featured in the article was an interim goal. To skydive in my area, one must weigh less than 235 pounds. I thought I would never get there. Yet one day in the summer of 2018, my son and I were in an airplane waiting to jump out (each of us with a tandem guide). Oh, and to be clear, I am overwhelmingly afraid of heights. So, on that day, I worked on another demon.

Now for the great lesson? I do not have one. I only have my story. It has been a struggle, and there are no shortcuts. I have set goals and achieved rewards. My first reward was getting my sternum repaired. My second was to go skydiving; I wanted to confront that fear head-on, and I did. It was important. Now when I get to my 185-pound goal weight, I have another goal. I want to go on the National Park Service exploration trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on a mule. To do that, I must weigh less than 200 pounds. Most days, I am there. But I set 185 as my goal to have some margin for error. Now I must keep going. Who knows when I might find the underlying cause of the Grand Canyon? But I am determined, and that is about 80% of my journey so far.

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