Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Flowers for Algernon

When I was a young girl, my class was assigned a book to read called "Flowers for Algernon." It was a story about a mentally disabled man named Charlie, who had an IQ of 68 and went to a special school for "Retarded Adults." Somehow, he was chosen to take part in a research project where he would have surgery to improve his intelligence. The experimental procedure had been tried on a little white lab mouse named Algernon, who had become super-intelligent as a result.

After the surgery, Charlie's IQ gradually increases to 185. The story is written as if from Charlie's own pen, and you can see the improvements in his spelling, grammar, and thought processes as time goes by. His awareness increases; while he used to not notice people making fun of his disability and used to laugh along with them, now he understands the jabs and is hurt by the way he was treated. He sees the whole world with new eyes. His entire life has changed.

But then, sadly, Algernon starts becoming confused. He can no longer do complicated mazes with amazing speed. The little white mouse starts to regress and become less intelligent, until finally he is as "stupid" as he ever was, and died. Charlie, still a genius, now understands that his gain in intelligence is temporary. And he is absolutely pained by the thought that he is about to return to the mental state he was in prior to the surgery. He does, in fact, regress. But he remembers how he used to be. He has new insights that pain him, even though his IQ drops back to the "mentally retarded" category.

Why am I retelling this story? Because I feel like there is a parallel to losing weight. I feel, sometimes, like before I lost 100 pounds, I really had no idea what I was missing. I just went along, living my life as it was, doing the best I could, thinking it was fine. And then I dropped those pounds, and as they were shed I gradually began to understand exactly what I had done to myself... what I *could* have... how life *can* be. It was like the scales had fallen from my eyes. Blinders were off. Wow, is this *really* what life can be like? I am free, I can move, I can do so many more things than I could ever do before. People treat me differently. My brain actually feels clearer. My life is so much richer. I have so many more opportunities that I did not have when I was 100 pounds heavier: I can ride a horse, go on amusement park rides, ride a bike. I can roller skate, walk for miles, fit in booths. I can go in a rowboat or canoe, play soccer with my kids, sit in lightweight lawn chairs. I have more job opportunities, I can buckle any seat belt, and shop in the regular clothing department. It is a whole new world.

I admit that over the past few months, there have been times of great struggle. Instead of awareness, some days I'd revert back to old habits of mindless eating and even binges. Sometimes I have gone for days or even a whole week just ignoring my body and eating stuff that I *used* to eat in the manner I used to eat it. And I'd gain weight. And I'd think of Algernon, and Charlie.

It would be easy to slip back, I think. Scarily easy. Blacking out the new awareness I have, going back to old ways, and I could go back to the state I used to be in... forgetting the new life I once had, the opportunities slipping away through my fingertips. I could be the 278 pound woman in black stretch pants and a stained 3X tee shirt sitting on my couch all day eating Doritos and Little Debbie cakes. I could. If I let it happen.

I don't want to go back, and the thought is frightening. But unlike Charlie and Algernon, I have a choice. The regression is not inevitable. I *can* stay aware and in control. I *can* keep the new life I have found. It is completely up to me.

And I am choosing to keep it.

24 comments:

Healthier Me said...

That was so inspiring!!! and your right, we all have a choice and just like you I want to continue to push forward I'm not looking back I'll only see whats in front of me! Thank you for writing this :D

LHA said...

The struggle to maintain weight loss has been harder for me over the years than actually losing the weight. This is an excellent post about determination and free will when it comes to our health and fitness. Years of abusive behavior toward our own bodies can't dim the hope of a better and healthier life ahead. Here's wishing all of us sharing the struggle great success in making permanent changes!

He Took MY Last Name said...

I read Flowers for Algernon too. It was a really inspiring book.

Keep fighting

Lori said...

I love the parallel! This is one reason I love blogging. I never read that book (although I might now), and never would have come up with that on my own. This is one of those things that will come to mind over & over for me and help me stay on track.
Thank you!!
Lori

Dillypoo said...

Beautiful analogy!

Diana said...

Wow, you have no idea how many times I've thought of that story (I read it when I was in high school), and compared it to my weight loss saga. Probably at least a thousand times.

It's always sadden me to lose the weight then gain it back. And inevitably it has happened every single time. Even this time, when I thought I'd conquered my demons, I'm still struggling. My size 12s are tight. I'm slippnig backwards, just like Charlie. But now I know what it was like to be healthy.

Like you said though, we're not like Charlie. We have a choice. Thanks for the reminder. :)
~Diana

Cris said...

An excellent lesson, Lyn. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with LHA. It seems that the weight loss journey is very difficult while one is in it. But there is an end in sight, although it may be in the great distance.

Maintaining a successful weight loss is more of a challenge on the long term for me. There is no end in sight and I must come to terms everyday with the fact that most days, my body can only handle 1000 calories to maintain. This is very difficult for women, I think...as we get older our bodies are very adept at using less energy, no matter how vibrant a life we lead.

But I adhere to the low calorie restriction. As I do want to live the vibrant life that I have.

It is difficult. I wish everyone strength and success!

beerab said...

Gosh I LOVE that story- it's so beautiful I read it years ago :(

I feel the same way at times- sometimes I wonder what happened those times I was doing good. It's like I remember them but can't get back to them :( But I never give up trying!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I can relate to the blinders coming off -- I can run now, if I have to or even if I WANT to. I can wear "normal" clothes. I am willing to try sports and exercise that 77 lbs ago I'd have never contemplated.
I am making this particular choice, to be healthy, every single day.
There's no going back.
Life is too short.

Name: Lynise said...

I have never actually read (or even heard of that book) but wanted to say that you are an EXCELLENT writer and have a real gift for articulating things so very well. That synopsis could have been written straight off the dust cover of the actual book and I'm sure people would have picked it up and been compelled to read it. (which is exactly what a book summary is designed to do).

You write you blog in exactly the same with, with a chronological sequence that is easy to follow and keeps the readers attention.

Your writing is a true gift and could be something you may consider taking further in the future. Your a natural.

N.R.E. said...

I remember that story; it made me cry. However, I have confidence that yours will have a happier ending. I think it'll always be a struggle -- at least for me -- but we have to remember to keep looking forward.

timothy said...

that's the danger isn't it, fat is a prison but it's also a security blanket. that's why many go back to the evil they know. just stay focused and do not let fear or doubt creep in, you have been successful and there's no reason at all you won't continue to be!!!! you've got this one pound at a time!

RhubarbLady said...

You are a fantastic writer-you have the ability to articulate things that many of us feel but are unable to effectively communicate. Thank you!

We watched the movie when I was in school. I agree with your post that one of the hardest parts was that he realized what was going to happen but was unable to stop or change it. We do have a choice-we just have to remember that we don't have to beat ourselves up when we maybe don't make what we think is the "right" choice. The choices just have different consequences. We can make our own choices-we just can't change the consequences of a choice unless we make a different choice.

debby said...

Oh yes, I totally relate. That story was very poignant for me as well. I have related my weight loss to the more recent movie 'Awakenings' and have also been scared that it is 'all going to disappear.' But you are right. I do have a choice. Good post.

Karen said...

I loved that book and had forgotten about it! I have the 3x clothes and am just starting to lose weight and make healthy choices for myself... I so admire your persistence and enjoy your blog. K

Cinner said...

What a powerful post you have wrote today. And you are right we have choices. Thank you for this post, just what I needed to hear today. take care.

Rae Komonski said...

I remember reading that book in elementary school! I can definitely see how that would correlate to your new life choice.

You're so inspiring, even for a 17 year old girl like me. Thank you so much...for just being strong enough to do this for those who feel they can't.

Thirteenlbs said...

Now I want to read this book.
Thirteen Pounds

Fluffy said...

Have you ever thought of writing a book about your life? You are a gifted writer and you are an even more amazing person! Your blogs make my day!

Lyn said...

Fluffy~

Yes, I'd love to be published! I have a lot to write about. :)

Lynna said...

I am SOOO jealous that you have hoards of people entreating you to write a book! Although, I quite agree that you DO have a gift; and, more importantly, have things to say that help people. I have one question: How will you do book signings with your head convered? :)

Mary said...

I absolutely loved that book and movie with Cliff Robertson. But I never looked at it from the weight loss point - this is great insight - Thanks for this!

Christina S. said...

Amazing analogy and one that I will definitely remember.