Thursday, July 22, 2010

Powerful Words

"Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you"

I am standing in line with my classmates waiting for the school nurse to measure our heights and to weigh us.  I am in the fifth grade in Baltimore, Maryland.   I am oblivious to what is being said or not said to the kids ahead of me as they are weighed, measured and recorded until it is my turn.  I don't know what changed at that moment, and maybe nothing did, but that exact moment is forever locked in my memory.  I step up on the scale without fear or concern totally unaware of how my life will change, perhaps forever.

It is an ordinary day in elementary school. The same kind of day we had everyday.  I have lots of friends, love school (especially the school nurse), and think the whole idea of going to the nurse for these measurements is weird, but just another part of another day.  It is fun to get out of class for a while regardless of the reason.  So we all stand in the line and wait.

It is  my turn.  I step up on the scale without a care in the world and then my day comes crashing down around me.  The nurse has just said my weight OUT LOUD - 135 pounds.  My friends are laughing!  I can't believe she just said my weight OUT LOUD.  More laughter.  Are they laughing at me?  Why are they laughing at me?  I don't remember hearing anyone elses weight as they were weighed.  Why did she have to say mine so loud?  I am ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, and intimately aware that for some reason what the nurse had said that day mattered even though I didn't understand why.

My day went on but it was no longer ordinary.  I found out I was the heaviest of the girls and the boys.  I felt different.  My friends were different.  I was different.  What I weighed apparently mattered.  I finished out the day but don't remember much of it.  When I got home my mom was there and so were my brothers but I didn't tell anyone what had happened.  I didn't want to talk about it.  The one thing I do know for sure about that afternoon was I immediately found something to eat, took it into my bedroom, closed my door  and ate hoping to feel better.

"Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you"

I am a full time elementary school nurse.   I am required by the state to record heights and weights as well as calculate BMIs on all third and fifth grade students.  I am not the school nurse who recorded MY measurements in the fifth grade.  I bring small groups of same sex students to my office, weigh and measure them silently, recording their numbers myself before showing them to the individual students.  I am occasionally surprised by the students who readily share their numbers with others but also acutely aware of the student who says, "I'm not telling" when asked by another student what they weighed or how tall they were.

My battle with my weight continued until I reached my all time high of 376 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches tall.  I joined Weight Watchers and began exercising first at home and then at the YMCA and have reached my goal weight having lost 196.6 pounds.

I have gone full circle.  Did the school nurse say all of the other student' heights and measurements out loud - probably.  Was the laughter after my weight was announced related to my weight?  I will never know, but what is important is I believed it was.

"Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you"

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