Alright, the line from a JFK speech in the title might be a tad cliche, but it seemed appropriate for this blog update about my economics studies.
I have been granted special permission by the UVic Department of Economics to enroll in Economics 548: Applied Econometrics this summer. I’m one of eight students taking the course, and the other seven are graduate students working on their Master’s Degrees. Econometrics is essentially a mixture of computer science, statistics, and economic theory. Econometricians work with large sets of data and use various mathematical and computational techniques to uncover underlying patterns and relationships. Being able to detect trends that might go unnoticed when considering policy impacts on a case-by-case basis is crucial in terms of decision-making.
For example, if a new policy is introduced, how do we know if it achieves its expected outcome? All public policy is intended to achieve a particular social outcome, but sometimes the unintended consequences can actually create a net harm to the people for which it has been created. One example we’ve covered in the course so far comes from a study done on inheritance rights in developing countries. The specific policy change was one that allowed both men and women to have the legal ability to inherit land. Previously, only male members of a family could inherit land from their fathers. While on the surface this policy was clearly intended to improve the overall quality of life for women in this nation, the data displayed a curious contradiction. Young girls were now more likely to become sick…
Indicators of health and nutrition for children in areas in which inheritance equality policies had been enacted showed female children there were *worse off*. This was entirely unexpected. The effect was small. There was no way anyone would have been able to detect it anecdotally, especially if they weren’t looking for it, but there was a net harm somehow being caused.
Eventually, it was determined that an unintended consequence of the new policy was parents had started treating their children differently once they knew both boys and girls would be able to eventually inherit land. Knowing a family’s land would be divided among both male and female children, parents had for one reason or another reduced the amount of food and resources they provided to their daughters.
While giving women the right to inherit property was clearly the right decision to make from a moral point of view, this case reminds us that great care must often be taken to try to anticipate and compensate for the unintended consequences of change. Here, it would have been smart for policy-makers to enact secondary measures to ensure that young girls would still receive adequate nutrition and health care despite the change in their expected influence on a family’s overall land holdings. While this isn’t the sort of issue we’d see here in Canada, the techniques used are vastly applicable. Every policy change we make produces consequences — some are expected, others are not expected. It is crucial that we are able to monitor the impacts of changes we make to ensure we are moving in the right direction.
Now, about my cliched title… As those of you who have read my previous posts will know, I left my job in media in 2012 because I wanted to go back to school to finish an undergraduate degree I started in 2000. This degree was only a general sciences one. Because my degree was initially general science studies, I had the first and second year prerequisites for math and computer science I needed for economics. However, I did not actually have any courses in economics. Because I wanted to major in Econ for my undergrad, I had to play catch-up and take all the core Econ courses as fast as I could.
Having completed all of the undergrad Econ requirements, I suppose it would have been easier to just take any two additional upper level courses, get the credits, and finish my degree as fast as possible. But I didn’t go back to school in the first place because I thought it would be easy. I went back because I thought it would be hard. I wanted to test myself and see what I could do. Finishing my undergraduate degree by completing a Master’s degree level course in the area in which I’m most interested will be the perfect opportunity to do just that.
It’s a summer course, which means it’s crammed into two months instead of the usual four, and it’s a graduate level course so I’m looking at doing a 20-something page academic research paper as my final project. It’s going to be so much fun!
I’ve gone from first-year econ courses to fifth-year courses in only 20 months… Six weeks to go.
Now comes the sprint to the finish line.
I usually post high scores, but did I ever tell you about the time I got a zero on a major test in third-year economics? I didn’t? Well, you’re in for a treat because I’ve crunched the numbers for my whole degree so far and put them up here for everyone to see as a way of keeping myself honest.
I’ve just received my final marks for my latest term at UVic, so I thought now would be a good time to write an update. As some of you have already read in my previous post here, as well as my posts on social media, I’ve been working very hard for the last two years to complete my undergraduate degree at the University of Victoria.
Going back to school was something that I had wanted to do for a long time, but the largest cost involved was not tuition or textbooks, it was leaving the workforce and doing without a salary for the years I would be studying. For this reason, I’ve tried to pack as many credits into as few months as possible. I’ve just finished my 6th consecutive term of studies, and I have one more part time term remaining before I graduate, so I thought I would post the results.
Undergraduate Degree: 60 Credits
Credits from my previous (2000-2002) Uvic studies: 19.5
Transfer credits from my Diploma in Applied Communication at Camosun: 1.5
Credits needed to graduate: 39
In May of 2013, I enrolled in what was my first course at UVic in 11 years. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I decided to take a first year psychology course in May to gauge whether I was going to be able to do as well as I’d hoped. It worked out, so I enrolled in another two courses for the summer session: the second section of Psych 100, as well as a second year political science course.
Marks for Summer Term 2013:
Psych 100A: Introductory Psychology: I – (A+)
Psych 100B: Introductory Psychology: II – (A+)
Poli 210: Comparative Politics – (A)
Summer 2013 GPA: 8.67
Credits earned: 4.5
Credits remaining to graduate: 34.5
Confident in my abilities to succeed in an academic environment after so many years away, I registered in five courses for the fall session. A four year degree traditionally consists of 40 courses, each providing 1.5 credits. I had 21.5 credits from my previous studies. I needed another 38.5 credits to graduate in any program. Because my low level elective credits had essentially already been spent, I needed only to plow through the core courses as fast as possible. With this goal in mind, I registered for five courses in Fall 2013. At that point, I was aiming for a double major in Economics (of which I had not yet ever taken a course) and political science (of which I had only taken one course). With precious little knowledge of either of these fields, beyond that which I learned on the job in media, I jumped in.
Marks for Fall Term 2013:
Econ 103: Principles Microeconomics – (A)
Econ 104: Principles Macroeconomics – (A+)
Econ 245: Descript Stats+Probabilty – (A)
Poli-Sci 101: Canadian Politics – (A+)
Poli-Sci 202: Intro Political Theory – (A)
Fall 2013 GPA: 8.4
Credits earned: 7.5
Credits remaining to graduate: 27
Wow. That was a little more difficult than I had expected. Econ 103 and 104 are the first-year microeconomic and macroeconomic courses, respectively. Microeconomics is basically the study of individuals and how they make choices in terms of spending a limited budget on different combinations of items. Macroeconomics is the field with which I was more familiar due to my years in media. Macro involves the study of large economies, such as those found in nations. It focusses on things like interest rates, banking, and GDP. If you’ve heard a pundit in media talking about economic issues, the chances are those issues were probably of a macroeconomic nature.
Econ 245 is less of an economics course, and more of a statistics course, it’s designed to give second year economists the mathematical tools they will need to move on to fields such as econometrics (a combination of economics and statistics). Because I was taking all of these courses simultaneously, I was actually being introduced to economic concepts, like an indifference curve (a mathematical model of different combinations of goods that will make a given person equally as happy) in Econ 245 before I had learned of their existence in Econ 103. It felt a little like watching a movie out of order. By the end of term, all of the concepts fit together much more intuitively. With my first year requirements satisfied, I jumped right into five more second year Econ courses.
Marks for Spring Term 2014:
Econ 203: Intermed Microeconomics I – (A)
Econ 204: Intermed Macroeconomics – (A+)
Econ 225: Writing for Economists – (A)
Econ 246: Statistical Inference – (A)
Math 208: Math: Economics + Econometrics – (A)
Spring 2014 GPA: 8.2
Credits earned: 7.5
Credits remaining to graduate: 19.5
Alright, now we’re getting somewhere. Econ 203 and Econ 204 are, once again, the courses for micro and macroeconomics. However, these are the second year versions of those I had taken in the fall. Econ 225 was a writing course that I greatly enjoyed. It was a break from the rest of my courses because I found it to be much more intuitive than the firehose of numbers and new economic concepts that I had been trying to wrap my head around for the last eight months.
Math 208 was the course that had me the most worried. Math 200 was the course I had failed at UVic more than a decade before. When I work very hard in math, I’m able to get good marks, but I don’t find math intuitive. My brain seems to be better wired for language, semantic memory, and abstract reasoning. As soon as that reasoning gets boiled down to manipulating algebra with pencil and paper, things tend to go wrong… It was only by sheer will and days upon days of repetition with the practice problems before the final exam, which was worth 60% of our course grade, that I was able to secure an A in Math 208, but I did it!
In eight months, I had satisfied the requirements for the first two years of an economics degree. Here, however, I faced a difficult choice. I had originally intended to complete a double major degree in both economics and political science. In truth, I found political science to be much more intuitive and much more enjoyable. As I said above, when courses move strictly into the realm of numbers, my brain finds them less intuitive. In Poli-Sci, I can read a passage once and recall all the key concepts, usually verbatim, for the remainder of the course. I did not find economics like that. Economics required nearly endless practice sessions in order to develop the intuition needed to solve novel problems.
When it comes to studying, I like to say doing math is like doing push ups. Everyone knows how to do a push up. We can watch others do push ups all day, but that doesn’t make us any better at them. Even if I spent the last year watching other people do pushups, having never done any myself, you could put a gun to my head and tell me to do 50 in a row and the chances are I’d fail, regardless of natural athletic ability. The only way to get good at doing pushups, and gain the ability to do 50 in a row (like during a final exam) is to do pushups. Over, and over, and over, and over. At first, they are very difficult, and maybe a person can only perform a few at time. However, a person’s muscles and neurons eventually adapt to become more proficient at the task. Doing 50 push ups can be easy for athletes who spend their days performing pushups. Natural ability isn’t enough. Watching other people exercise isn’t enough. Unless we actually do the exercises ourselves, we never actually get any stronger. I know an economics degree was going to require a lot of pushups, far more for me than would a degree in political science. Furthermore, doing the double degree would require more time than just the economics degree. Given a choice between pursuing just political science or just economics, I chose what I believed to be by far the most challenging of the two: economics.
Eight months after starting my first-ever economics course (well, three of them simultaneously, I suppose), I began 3rd-Year Economics. Summer 2014 also saw a change to the way the University recorded marks on our transcripts overall. Instead of a simple letter grade, exact percentages would now also be included. Every single percentage point would make a difference in terms of our permanent records.
Marks for Summer Term 2014:
Econ 305: Money and Banking – (97%, A+)
Econ 310A: Competition Economics I – (82%, A-)
Econ 325: Public Economics – (76%, B)
Summer 2014 GPA: 7
Credits earned: 4.5
Credits remaining to graduate: 15
Alright, It’s possible I may have become overconfident in my abilities and let my confidence get the better of me here. Econ 305 is Money and Banking. It’s a third year course that introduces students to the global financial system and central banking. I loved it, and my mark reflects that. I didn’t even really need to study much for it. I found it so interesting that all the concepts and mathematical formulae needed to do the exams just stuck with me. However, the 97% proved to be both a blessing and a curse. It may have given me just a little bit too much confidence in terms of what I was capable. The next two courses in the summer session where Econ 310A, Competition Economics, and Econ 325, Public Economics.
Econ 310A includes topics such as Game Theory and anti-competition laws. Until this point, my only exposure to game theory was seeing various mentions of it made on the internet and in movies. I knew who John Nash was (Russel Crowe played him in the movie A Beautiful Mind), but I understood precious little of the field of study that he had helped to invent. That didn’t matter though! I had just gotten a 97% in my first ever 3rd year Econ course. I was unstoppable! Or so I thought…
Econ 310A had a different marking scheme than the previous courses I had done. It consisted of weekly tests, each of which held equal weight for our final grade, and no final exam. This was not good for me… Traditionally, I’ll have a basic or adequate understanding of a subject in the first half of the course, and that understanding will usually crystallize during the week or so of intense studying I do before a final exam. For example, in Math 208 the previous term, I went into the final exam with a mark in the mid 70s. In order for me to get an A overall in the course, I had to get a nearly perfect final mark on the exam, which I did. This style of learning would not help me in my new summer course. Every Thursday, we had a test, and the average of those test marks would make up our overall exam/midterm marks.
The highest mark I got on the weekly tests was a string of 100%s, and the lowest mark I got on a weekly test was zero. Yes, zero. This was largely a math course, and the professor was of the mind that if the final answer of a question was incorrect, the entire question was incorrect. Each test was limited to 20 minutes and consisted of three long answer math questions. One week, due to rushing myself, I managed to make mistakes in all three.
The test came back. And it was marked Zero… Ok, I was now worried.
Once again reminding myself that math was like pushups, I started doing the practice problems over and over and over. The string of 100% tests I mentioned above were the ones that came after this. I was capable of getting 100s, but they required much more preparation and work than I had anticipated. By the end of the course, I was able to secure 82%, an A-. While that’s not a bad mark, this was the first time since returning to Uvic that I had dropped outside the A/A+ range. Admittedly rattled, I finished up the summer by focussing on Econ 325, Public Economics.
Now, Public Economics is the topic in which I’m primarily interested. This is essentially a course that examines how various public policies impact the choices of consumers and businesses, and therefore, the economy itself. I knew most of the topics in this course before I ever enrolled, but for some reason, I performed only adequately on the midterm and the exam. There were no glaring errors on either of them, but there were a number of small mistakes that prevented me from even breaking into the A- range. I ended up with a B, (worth five grade points instead of nine for an A+) and I took August off.
Admittedly, I was getting tired by this point. I’d been in classes nonstop for just over a year, and I was trying to assimilate three years worth of material. I thought that maybe I was trying to do things too fast, that perhaps I’d be better off not trying to jam four years of economics into two. Maybe that was the case, but I wasn’t ready to scale things back just yet. The end was in sight — only two terms until graduation. With that in mind, I registered for the final 11 courses (Yeah, I know.. let’s make things even harder, right?) of my Econ undergrad: five courses in the fall, and six courses in the spring. Oh, and I registered to write the Law School Admissions test in December as well, because why not, right?
Marks for Fall Term 2014:
Econ 313: Intermed Microeconomics II – (80%, A-)
Econ 337: Hist Econ Thought to 1870 – (80%, A-)
Econ 350: Math Econ I: Intro Statc Methd – (70%, B-)
Econ 365: Econometrics:Part I – (73%, B)
Econ 457: Computational Economics – (81%, A-)
Fall 2014 GPA: 6
Credits earned: 7.5
Credits remaining to graduate: 7.5
Ok, time to reconsider my strategy. Over the last three terms, my GPA had gone from 8.2 to 7 to 6… I even got sick in December — really sick. I spent most of the month fighting off a fever and I didn’t perform particularly well in any of my exams. It didn’t take a math genius to see the trend here. My course load was too large. The courses listed above cover the spectrum from pure computer modeling and math (Econ 457, Computational Economics) to a purely language based history course (Econ 337). My marks were sliding across the board. It wasn’t a matter of simple willpower, it was a matter of me being human. I wasn’t going to be able to do all of my economics undergrad work in only 5 terms and maintain a decent GPA.
Marks for Spring Term 2015:
Econ 311A: Analysis Proprty+Contract – (89%, A)
Econ 351: Math Econ II: Intr to Dync Met – (80%, A-)
Econ 366: Econometrics:Part II – (86%, A)
Econ 407: Market & Govt in Econ Thought – (90%, A+)
Fall 2014 GPA: 8
Credits earned: 6
Credits remaining to graduate: 1.5
Yay!! With my course load reduced to four, my marks went back up into the A range again. These courses are particularly good examples of the trend because three of them are actually continuations of the courses I had taken in the fall.
Econ 351 is the second part of Econ 350 (My grade went from 70% to 80%).
Econ 366 is the second part of Econ 365 (My grade went from 73% to 86%)
Econ 407 is an upper level continuation of Econ 337 (My grade went from 80% to 90%)
And Econ 311A is really a new course that involved concepts I’d never seen before, so I’m happy to get a solid 89% the first time around. As I sit here writing this, I only need two courses to finish my undergraduate degree. You may have noticed I only need 1.5 credits, the equivalent of one course to have 60 credits overall. However, there are certain sub-requirements that need to be satisfied in order to meet the specific thresholds for different types of economic degrees.
If I take any two 300-level or higher courses, I will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics in June. If I take a particular 400/500-level econ course and any other 300-level or higher course, I will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. Right now, I have the two options, depending on how fast I want to graduate, and with what degree.
So that’s my update! I’m almost there, and while I may have pushed myself a little too hard last fall, I’m back in action and ready to finish strong!
Before I finish, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the people without which these marks would simply not be possible. I’ve had amazing support from both my family and my friends since I took the plunge and went back to school. I was prepared to live on my own and exhaust my savings. Initially, I had literally calculated the exact date in the future at which my years of savings would hit zero — and it was far sooner than I was comfortable considering. I stayed in my apartment by the Hillside Mall for the first few months, but my family then graciously offered me a place to live while I was studying full-time, literally saving me tens of thousands of dollars in what would be debt at this point. It wasn’t easy to move away from my home in Victoria to the West Shore. I still miss my old neighborhood by the Hillside Mall… but accomplishments require sacrifice, and if a long bus-ride everyday to UVic was the only sacrifice I had to make, then I considered myself lucky.
Also, I’ve made a bunch of great and talented new friends while in the program. My marks are pretty good, but compared to the abilities of some of the gifted young people with which I’ve been studying, mine are nothing. I had the privilege to spend time with people who’ve never actually not gotten less than an A+… in anything. I share classrooms with people from all over the world, who speak multiple languages fluently, and still manage to get better marks than I do, even though it would be the equivalent of me trying to learn economics in Hindi or Mandarin. The abilities and the dedication exhibited by both the Canadian young people and the exchange program young people in my program is nothing short of astonishing.
Econ friends, you’re all awesome and I learned as much spending time with all of you as I did from the professors. All of you are going to go on and accomplish great things. I’m truly lucky to have had the privilege to come back as a mature student and learn with you. I’m looking forward to see where each of you make your mark.
As for me, I’ve spent all morning writing about school, so I think I’ll take a break and go do some political canvassing.
With school almost finished, I should have more time to write these updates, so until next time!
(June 2012: 280 pounds — April 2013: 165 pounds — September 2013: 185 pounds)
Sorry for starting with the most click-bait-worthy title in history, but it seemed too good not to use…
Welcome to the newest update on my blog! I’ve been meaning to write this piece for a number of months and I was just telling some people on twitter about my experiences, so I figured now is as good a time as any to write it all down.
While I was doing some fill-in talk show radio work this summer, the tragic news broke that Robin Williams had died. It would later be learned that he had taken his own life and was suffering from the onset of symptoms consistent with Parkinson’s Disease. While it’s not known what the exact reason was that he took his life, it was known that he had battled depression for many years and had openly sought treatment in managing his mental health and addictions challenges. Indeed, it seems a cruel irony that fate would choose one so gifted in making others laugh to bear such a heavy emotional burden. I thought of all the people out there suffering with their own depression who might hear of this and worry that if even Robin Williams, a man the world loved, a man who had all the success and admiration anyone could hope for, lost his battle in the end, what hope did everyone else have? I knew fears like that all too well, because I had fought my own private battles with the illness years earlier.
I always kept my own struggles private not so much because I was embarrassed, or because I was concerned what people would think, but because I thought I didn’t need help. Indeed, in terms of response to treatment, I was quite lucky. I responded very well to medication, once I finally got around the seeking it years after I should have. When I heard about Robin Williams death, I was sad, but I also knew that there was still hope for others because while I had been there, I had also recovered… then a thought occurred to me: because I was so fortunate in terms of how I responded to treatment, nobody actually ever knew that I had dealt with depression. Indeed, it seems the only time we ever hear about anyone’s issues with mental illness, either on the news or from those we know in the community, is when something goes terribly wrong. The stories that catch our attention are ones like that of Williams’… The tragedies… Because of this, I think we as a society have developed a skewed perception of not only how common mental health issues such as depression are, but also how commonly they are addressed and treated, allowing people to live full, productive, and happy lives. I decided that I would offer my own story of hardship, and of recovery, as an example that there’s hope for everyone, and that the number of success stories out there are far more numerous than any of us realize. More importantly, I wanted people out there who thought they were totally alone, and that no one would understand what they were dealing with, that they weren’t alone…
I happened to be doing a couple of weeks of fill-in talk show hosting at the time. I mulled over the idea of telling my story with a good friend of mine, one of the few people outside of my immediate family who knew of my past struggles. As an aside, I owe a debt of gratitude to this person for their support, their compassion, and their kind reassurance. It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done, but it was a lot easier knowing somebody out there had my back and had already accepted me for who I was, regardless of what everybody else would think when they heard the news. You see, not even my coworkers knew about my previous struggles. I told management that morning what I wanted to do, and the general manager of the station was totally supportive and promised not to tell anyone else in advance. The people I had worked with for years found out at the same time as the thousands of people out there listening.
It starts about 10 minutes into the podcast below:
I didn’t write anything down in advance. I tried to put together a list of points that I wanted to cover, but I couldn’t find anything that I liked. In the end, I just decided to start talking and see how far I could go. The next 20 minutes are a blur. I listen to the tape now and I cant believe how coherent it all sounds. Adrenaline does funny things to our memories.
Rather than re-write the whole 20-minute off-the-top-of-my-head monologue here, I’d encourage you to listen to the words as I spoke them, but here are some key points: I talked about how I had problems in school focussing when I was younger and how I wasn’t very social and I didn’t have much drive or energy. I related stories about how I’d always have report cards sent home to my mom, talking about how much potential I would have if only I applied myself. School was always challenging, but things didn’t start to get really bad until I graduated high school and started at the University of Victoria in the year 2000. I did all right at first in terms of marks: mostly Bs, a few Cs, but nothing stellar. Something started to happen though… It was so gradual I barely noticed at first, but I started to lose my ability to concentrate and think clearly. My memory started to lapse, and my test scores started to drop. Still, I refused to believe that there could be anything wrong with me.
Depression runs in my extended family. In terms of heredity, I knew I was at risk, but I refused to admit it. I soldiered on and studied harder and harder, but my marks continued to slide. In retrospect, I should have sought help or at least applied for an academic concession due to health reasons from the University, but I was too proud. I failed a second-year math course in 2001 and that was it. I decided university wasn’t for me… At least, not then… I left, never having sought help for what was at that point a slowly worsening medical condition. I thought that getting away from the stress of school was all I needed. I was wrong. As the months went by, I found fewer and fewer things enjoyable. The idea that depression is sadness is a common misconception. Depression, at least for me, wasn’t so much as presence of sadness, as much as it was an absence of happiness or enjoyment. It’s more of an emotional paralysis than anything. Having lost the ability to experience pleasure, many sufferers simply stop seeking out enjoyable activities. I tried to have fun. I went bungee jumping. I went sky diving. I watched funny movies. I told jokes and made people laugh. While I would laugh too on the outside, on the inside I was just numb. When there’s no emotional payoff in life, everything becomes a waste of energy. Nothing is worthwhile.
It was at this point that I began to wonder whether life itself was worth living. Thankfully, I understood the dangerous significance of these thoughts. While at the time they seemed totally reasonable, thankfully I was still lucid enough to realize they were anything but that. It was at that point, in the spring and summer of 2002, that I decided I had nothing to lose by seeking help. The worst case scenario was that treatment wouldnt work for me, something I was sure would happen for some odd reason. But I realized that treatment failing to help me wouldn’t leave me any worse off than I was at the moment. But if there was a chance, just one chance, that I could be better, that I could be happy again for both my friends and my family, I had to take it. So I did…
I went to my doctor and described my symptoms. I dont know what I was really expecting, but it was the lack of some earth-shattering irrevocable diagnosis that surprised me the most. He was courteous and professional. He told me about how he had treated many patients with issues just like my own and that there were a number of treatment options available. After our initial assessment, he started me on a low dose of an SSRI medication and told me to come back in a couple of weeks and tell him how I was doing. Nothing happened at first. I felt like I was taking a placebo, but he convinced me to stick with it, saying these medicines take a long time to work. Eventually, after months, I noticed a change had taken place. I was more like my old self — laughing more, more energetic, more interested in things. But I also noticed something I hadn’t been expecting: my focus and concentration had improved to a point beyond what they had ever been before. Suddenly, I wasn’t foggy and unfocused. My brain was working better than it ever had before. I was ecstatic. There was a problem though… which leads me to that series of pictures above this blog post…
Weight gain is a common side effect of antidepressant medications. The exact mechanisms through which this takes place are still under debate, but it is believed that some individuals may experience negative hormonal complications. Unknown to me at this point, I was one of those people. I was 180 pounds when I started treatment in 2002, and over the next 7 years I literally gained 100 pounds. Now, you might think there’s no way you could ever gain that much and just accept it, that there would be a point where you just stopped eating, but you’d be mistaken. The brain is a funny thing. It finds ways to rationalize unhealthy behavior. Because exercise was something that I found so difficult, and my appetite was artificially increased due to the medications, I found it nearly impossible to keep the weight gain under control. I would have small victories — 10 pounds lost here, 5 pounds there, but it was a war of attrition, one I was losing. In the end, the hunger would always win and I’d rationalize a reason for why that particular time wasn’t a good one to start a healthy lifestyle, and that I should try again when it was more practical. I know… lamest excuse ever, right? You’d be surprised at how good we are at believing what we want to believe. Anyway, it turned out that during this time, my anabolic hormone levels were also falling, likely as a combination of both the medications and the natural complications associated with obesity. I got more and more tired and it took more and more effort just to get through the day. At the same time, during 2012, I was also working on the CFAX 1070 morning show every day as the main news anchor. This meant getting up for work everyday at about 2:45am. My body just couldn’t take it anymore and I got sick.
Now, I know what you’re thinking at this point: why in God’s name would I still be taking the drugs if there was a possibility they were what was making me overweight? Well, I had tried to stop taking them a few times in the past, and I had started sliding back into a depressed state. I’d also tried switching medications as well, but while the new medications worked in terms of treating my mood issues, they were just as harmful to my waistline… Given the choice between a healthy body and a healthy mind, I chose my mind… But in the end, even my mind suffered due to my failing health. At 280 pounds, I decided to try to taper off the medications and see what happened. After fighting through the initial withdrawal period, which was anything but easy, I recovered and started to feel better. I had more energy, wasn’t as hungry, and most encouraging, the numbers on the scale were dropping! And I mean really dropping. I felt so good that I decided that I wanted to pursue a dream and go back to school and finish the degree that my depression had stopped me from completing in 2001. In the fall of 2012, I decided to leave my permenant position in the media, take a few months off to focus on healthy living, and go back to school. In the end, I went from 280 pounds in spring of 2012 to 165 pounds about 10 months later…
It wasn’t *all* from the medication, but it was a huge factor. Free of the constant hunger caused by the meds, I found it much easier to eat healthier portions of things. I also found exercise itself much easier. I started running and weightlifting. Soon, I came to really enjoy exercise. I went from being a guy who had trouble finding shirts big enough to fit, to being able to buy anything with a “medium” written on it and know it would fit just fine. Even better, I found that I actually had a six-pack. It’s hard to describe just what six pack abs mean to a morbidly obese person in terms of what’s realistic. It’s like going to try out for beer-league hockey and telling everyone you’re going to go pro. People say things like “good for you! That’s a great goal!” But nobody thinks you can really do it… Privately, they think you’ll be lucky to ever cross the line from “obese” back into “overweight.” I didn’t just cross that line — I destroyed it. I made it down to below 10% body fat. To go from a BMI of over 40 to that in such a short time is very rare. Things should have been perfect… But there was a problem…
I was the healthiest I’d been in years, physically, but I noticed some of my old issues returning. Slowly but surely, I could feel myself sliding backward. In the end, I had to go back to my doctor and admit that while being off the medications was great for the way I looked, my emotional health was paying the price. He started me on a combination of different medicines to address the side effects I had encountered before while trying to preserve the gains that I had enjoyed in terms of mood, energy, and focus. As of right now, we’ve struck a balance between a healthy brain, and a healthy body. I don’t automatically have the six pack abs I did before… I have to watch what I eat and work at it (which I haven’t been doing enough lately, causing me to redouble my efforts to stay slim), but I’m a lot stronger on the inside now than I was then. I’m still working on getting back to that picture on the right, though… I’m somewhere between pictures 3 and 4 in that montage as of this writing…
So that’s my story… I’ve been up… I’ve been down… I’ve been fat… I’ve been fit… It hasn’t always been easy, but that’s ok, because nothing truly worthwhile in life ever is easy. I’m writing this for the same reason that I did the radio segment that day. I know there are people out there right now who are suffering like I did. I know what it’s like to feel like nobody would understand, or that even worse, people would label you and you’d be a social outcast. I can tell you with total confidence that those feelings are lying to you. Depression thrives in an environment of social isolation, of secrets, and of fear of judgement. Brutal honesty is its worst enemy, so I hope that people like me being brutally honest and sharing our stories will give hope to those of you out there still looking for a way back. I also hope that if you’re reading this, and you need help, that you don’t make the same mistakes I did. I lost years of my life and dropped out of school because of my foolish pride. While I’m back at UVic now finishing what I started, I’ll never get those lost years back. Please don’t make the same mistakes I did. See your doctor now. Don’t wait until you’re so deep in an emotional hole that it takes months for you to climb back out.
I also hope that those of you who are in treatment don’t needlessly put up with side effects like I did for years on end. *Never, ever* go off your medications without the advice of your doctor, but also don’t be afraid to ask for alternate treatment options. Not only are there a number of different medications that can be used, but there are any number of combinations in which those medicines can be used to best suit your particular biochemical makeup. The chances are you are not the first person in history to encounter your particular problem. It’s likely someone has already found a solution.
In short, the help is there if you need it. All you need to do is reach out and accept it.
Thanks for reading.