There was nothing challenging about Facebook’s #10yearchallenge. Like fashion’s latest wrinkle, it was a mere excuse to post a photo or two—an act of sheer narcissism, if you ask me. How difficult is it to post a picture of yourself now beside the version of yourself ten years ago? Yet we succumbed to another social media fad, supposedly meant to spice up our feeds already made up of niceties.
What this “before and after” selfie did, however, was take me back to that decade, to my personal journey all those ten years. The year 2009 was the juncture where so much was happening. I was at my lowest weight—190 pounds—and I was a proud peacock. It was a five-year struggle to drop almost half of myself, and at the same time I was laboring through the most pressure I had encountered in my career. On top of this, those were trying times for my marriage.
I was then consumed by so much stress. I could no longer manage the cool, calm and collected façade that I had worn for decades. I was obsessed with how I looked, how people accepted me—yet I could no longer handle the role playing. Being too much of a people pleaser had finally taken its toll. Let’s just say, in one quick moment, I lost it. I ended a rising career in a place I considered my home. I opted to retire with the hope of rebuilding my life as I would have wanted it.
Clothes from the “fat period”
I first looked to sorting out my demons. So much has happened in 10 years, after all. I began to embrace the important things, accept my true self, speak my mind, display my true emotions, and yes, wear my style as I please.
But as I was working towards starting over, the weight I worked so hard to lose was creeping back. I would tell myself, Well, I lost it before, I can do it again. Except I was numb to the fact that I couldn’t get up as early as I did to train. I opted to sleep longer and hibernate. My mind was healing slowly, but my body wasn’t in sync. I could no longer manage both at the same time, so I let go.
In this period I had gained about 70 pounds, and as I went through the old clothes of my “fat” period, I adjusted accordingly. I was then consumed by the fact that I couldn’t lose the weight. There was this desire to be the old thin me, a strong need to show I could do it again, and in the process communicate a peg, a (life long) style sense.
In the first few years of this period, I became much of a hermit. I kept to myself, and worked on projects far from the klieg lights.
As I looked at my photos pre-retirement—I was thin, dressed loudly and flamboyantly with my colored ascots, pocket squares and Spanish-styled colored trousers (in red, long before it was acceptable)—I realize I didn’t like that episode of me. I made myself a target for all that I was not. Polarizing was always how I was perceived – and I know that my sense of style only enhanced this image. As I gained weight, I slowly embraced the more monochromatic shades, with a color popping out but only ever so slightly. I opted to move from my blazer + dress shirt + jeans to linen barongs and grey trousers. It was a deliberate effort to just flow with the crowd, blend with the rest. It was about simplifying choices.
Through thick and thin
Then came my stroke, a warning. In one fell swoop, I had completely lost control of my own body. I literally collapsed and found myself at the hospital drugged out, with occlusions in my brain. It was the body saying I was putting too much pressure on the mind and my state of being. I was in the hospital for close to two weeks, in ICU for almost half that time.
After the recovery came the desire to get things on track and begin the weight loss. Again, I opened my closet to see much of the same clothing, now in different sizes—each size marking a memory of my journey. I guess you can say I now had a wardrobe that could get me “through thick or thin.” The blazers, pocket squares, dress shirts and jeans, paired with slip-ons or moccasins were my daily wear. The barong took out much of the daily decision making. The color kept me neutral. As my wife now constant companion Margie would say, “You need to be less polarizing.”
Today, I had lost a total of 40 pounds since resuming work on my weight— nowhere close to my 190 pounds of ten years ago but I am in a place where I can better control how I live. I owe a lot to Crossfit, and now I am back to indoor rowing to keep me going.
I still get dressed as a way for me to express myself. From the “look at me” peacock, to adapting a more sedate sense of dress, the past ten years mirrors how I felt inside. Now at a comfortable weight (I can now find off the rack clothes, for example), I keep things simpler. Colors are more muted, but the clothing much the same. I learned that our style sense is really a reflection of where we are at a particular moment in time. As clarity set in on my own passions and pursuits– triggered by the bumps, bruises and arrows – I came to a balance.
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