Gemma - Interview 03

Brief Outline: Gemma, 17, has been on a weight management programme and as a last resort underwent gastric bypass surgery. Ethnic background: White British.
Background: See 'brief outline'.

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Gemma, 17, has had problems with her weight since she was a child. Gemma thinks she gained weight partly because she was binge eating, and that it wasn’t that she was eating the wrong things, but that she was eating too much.
While at school, Gemma experienced a lot of name-calling and physical bullying because of her weight and also because she didn’t have any friends. The bullying got so bad that she had to have lessons on her own, and then be home schooled for the last few months of school. Gemma says it was difficult for her to fit in because she “was the biggest lass in the school”. At her lowest point, Gemma felt like she didn’t want to live any more. Gemma says she’s really glad she spoke out about the bullying.
Gemma feels that she never really could be like a typical teenager because she didn’t go shopping or to the cinema with friends, instead, she would sit in her room on the internet, listening to music, reading or doing her schoolwork. Gemma’s weight also made it physically difficult for her to be active and to do PE at school, but she also says she lacked confidence and didn’t want to be seen. Gemma thinks that one reason she didn’t have any friends at school was because people felt ashamed to be seen with her. Gemma believes you have to block this kind of thing out and not let it get the better of you. Now at college, Gemma says she’s moved on and made a lot of new friends.
Gemma was referred by her paediatrician to a weight management programme 4 years ago. She was upset when he told her he thought she had a weight problem because she says he used a “nasty tone” and treated her like an adult, not a child (she was 13), making it difficult for her to understand what he was telling her. Gemma says the doctors blamed her mum for her weight problem and that made them both feel guilty. Gemma gets a lot of support from her younger brother, and they have attended the weight management programme together. A worker from the programme visits Gemma at home, helping her with exercise and her diet. Gemma used to have problems following the diet sheets, because she doesn’t like vegetables, and substituted them with other foods, like chips. Gemma has found it easy to confide in the leader of the weight management programme because she works with other big people and although she is honest with Gemma, she isn’t judgmental. Gemma has also had support from a psychologist.
Gemma tried lots of things before she had surgery, including tablets – but she had a bad reaction to one of them and had to be hospitalised. She also had a (free) personal trainer at the gym, but found this difficult to fit in because it was on the other side of the city and eventually gave it up because she felt the trainer was pushing her too hard and it was making her feel worse about herself. Having the surgery was a last resort for Gemma, and she did a lot of research. Her dad has also had gastric bypass surgery, and this put Gemma off. Since the operation, Gemma has lost a lot of weight. She takes a combination of different vitamins and minerals, and an antacid tablet. She has to be careful what and how much she eats. She says she has more confidence and more energy and finds being active much easier.
Gemma used to worry about her health and her future, but now she’s focused on her career and is hoping to work with people with special needs or to be a counsellor.

Before her gastric bypass surgery Gemma was thirty one and a half stone and became very scared of...

Because the way my weight were actually going up, I were actually scared of how long I’d have left, really did start getting in my head, and I was scared of all the health problems that would come, were gonna come, ‘cos I were close to diabetes. But I were lucky that I didn’t get it. But I am, it were always in the back of my head, oh what would happen, and what age I’d have, you know, how much longer I’d have left,‘Cos you never know really. It might sound nasty but you can go to bed one night and not wake up. And that were always summat that I were always scared of. So it, that is a big thing that made me go through it. 

Gemma felt negative about everything when she was being bullied but decided to speak out before things got too bad.

And did you get some kind of comfort from eating then or?
You only get the comfort when you’re eating. And then once it’s gone, you just think, “Oh crap, I really wish I didn’t do that.” And then you put more heavy on yourself for doing it. So you feel good when you’re doing it, then afterwards you think, “Oh God. Why, why do I keep doing this to myself? Why, why can’t I just think of doing summat else?” And then it were always a lot of negatives for me, I saw everything as a negative; I saw life as a negative. I thought that I’d been put here to be punished.That’s, that’s really what I made myself believe, that I were just being punished for everything.
And then I realised that there were people out there worse off than me, you know? Being, I had the opportunities that I had to go and have this done, so really I’ve got to be grateful for what I’ve got, even though it’s not gonna, even though it’s not good, it could always be a lot better than some other people, so that’s really what I think of every day. And you go well, if I get bullied today and someone’s that’s gonna be bullied worse than me, for how they look and what they’ve been through.
So its… then another thing I am grateful that I had the opportunity to say out, because there’s people who keep it in their head and you hear a lot about suicide. Now I know I could’ve gone down that route, but I chose to speak out and that’s what helped me.So that’s a big bonus for me that, so that basically all I can say about that bit.

Gemma was badly bullied at school but knew it was important to keep on top of her work.

Couldn’t go to my lessons when I got in about year 9, I couldn’t go to the dining hall or anything like that because I’d always get hit or I had stuff thrown at me, and it got to the stage where I couldn’t go to any of my lessons, I had to stay in this one little room where there was just like one teacher I had to be taken out with, I had to wait for the teacher and then I could go out. I weren’t allowed to go out for breaks. I couldn’t have toilet breaks, I had to wait till the end of the day. Got to the last four month with High School and I had to be home schooled because bullying got that bad. I had an all-time low and I really did wish I were gone, basically because it, I couldn’t really talk to my Mum and Dad because I felt like they’d just think I were lying and then when it all came out I just, it felt a lot better, but in a way it didn’t because then everybody knew that they’d got best of me.
I always made sure I were on top of my work.Always. I’d say if I were off school, even if I weren’t there, I’d make sure I had all my work given to me. If I needed help I’d go and see the teacher, and college, my assignments were always handed in beforehand, done to the best I could do, I’d never let anything get the best of me with that because otherwise what’s the point in going? So I made sure that were all up to date, and even if it weren’t perfect it’s still done.

Gemma became a target for bullies and had to be home-schooled.

Couldn’t go to my lessons when I got in about year 9, I couldn’t go to like the dining hall or anything like that because I’d always get hit or I had stuff thrown at me, and it got to the stage where I couldn’t go to any of my lessons, I had to stay in this one little room where there was just one teacher and I had to be taken out with, I had to wait for the teacher and then I could go out. I weren’t allowed to go out for breaks. I couldn’t have toilet breaks, I had to wait till the end of the day. Got to the last four month I had to be home-schooled because bullying got that bad.
I had an all time low and I really did wish I were gone, basically because I couldn’t really talk to my Mum and Dad ‘cos I felt like they’d just think I were lying, and then when it all came out I just, it felt a lot better, but in a way it didn’t because then everybody knew that they’d got best of me.
I started college. First year were very hard. I didn’t really like to go out, got bullied quite a bit, but then this year’s just been, well the start of it’s been a lot better. Going out, I haven’t been bullied, and I couldn’t really care. Yeah.

Why were you being bullied?

I were being bullied because of the weight but also because I were basically an easy target because I had my head down and I were on my own all the time, I didn’t have any friends, so people saw me as an easy target to bully, which everybody does anyway, but that’s when it started and then like it, every year, if they’d seen that I’d put more weight on they’d start again, and if I lost weight they still wouldn’t realise ‘cos they’d just say, “Ah she’s put more weight on, you know, let’s just get her.” And then, it did start like mental bullying for about the first two years, and then it started getting like pencils thrown at me head, glue sticks, and then the physical bit started in year 10, and then that’s when it got really out of control, and that’s when I had to tell people. And, well my weight did go up a lot in about a year. So it’s been really hard, but you have to find a way to overcome it though.
And so what kind of things were people saying to you?
Oh, anything they could really they’d call… Can you swear? They’d call me “Fat Bastard,” “Mrs Blobby,” start taking the mick out of my Dad ‘cos he used to be a really big bloke. And they’d basically say anything they could, the least sort of thing they could, like if we sat down, they’d start saying, “Oh you smell, don't break the chair, ” I were like the biggest lass in school, so there were nobody to actually fit in with me so, easiest target there, so it’s anything they could really.

How did that used to make you feel?

I just wanted to go. I did, I didn’t want to live anymore, but, I really did come close to it, but then when my nephew were born I had to make that change, and think of him and then that’s when I told everybody. But if it weren’t for him I don’t know what I’d have done really. But now it’s still hard because like you’ve got the scars, because like they say it can’t hurt you for long, but if they haven’t really experienced it they don’t know what it’s like, so it is really hard.


Gemma gave up going to the gym because she and her Mum felt that the trainer was pushing her too...

Gemma: I used to go to gym, that weren’t through, but used to go to the gym - packed that in ‘cos they started treating (I had my own trainer and that) but they started treating me like an adult and I were about eleven, twelve.So that were really hard.
When you say the, the guy at the gym, the trainer, was it a guy? At the gym started treating you like an adult. What do you mean by that?
The hours he were making me do, the strictness, absolutely everything. And like pushing me to things that I couldn’t do, and like if I couldn’t do it he’d just basically say, “Oh, you just don’t want to do it, you’re not trying.” And it were just the amount of hours and the amount of things that he wanted me to do.
Gemma’s mum: Right from the first.
Gemma: Yeah. It just, I mean my Mum used to do it with me, she used to go with me, and even for her she found it hard. So for someone of my age, it were really, really difficult.
Gemma’s mum: Yeah, he told her to try this rice diet and we had to be on it for 10 days, you couldn’t heat it up, you had to have it cold with veg in and everything, and ‘cos she were like eleven, I turned round I said, “Right, I’ll do it with you.” Horrible. Then we had to try this other diet didn’t we? But every time she met his targets, he pushed her, and pushed her further and further, so one night she says ‘No. I’m not going back no more’. What eleven year old, she were beating targets what I weren’t reaching and, not so, ‘cos there were no other kids that were actually allowed at the gym at that time. So every time she did she said you should be privileged, we’re trying to help her. Yeah, every time she met it, right go for this, go for that.
Gemma: It weren’t like an extra five minutes like, say like on treadmill, it weren’t like an extra five minutes, it were like an extra half hour.And then it started building up from being like half an hour on the treadmills to like two hours on the bike. And that for me was just…
Gemma’s mum: Or like joining a full class of exercise.
Gemma: Yeah, not, way too much.
So they were pushing you too much too soon, or?
Gemma: It were just, yeah really. And like the amount of things they wanted me to do as well like, after I’d done bike, over treadmill, after you done treadmill go do weights. And like there were no breaks, and I couldn’t do it.
Physically couldn’t do it?
Gemma: Yeah, and it started off like going at weekend, then he wanted me to try and go every single day if I could. I couldn’t have done that. As well as school, and then going there, I couldn’t have done it. 

Gemma thinks people are ashamed to be seen with her.

You said just then that even prior to that you didn’t have many friends. Why, why do you think that was? What was going on then for you?
I don’t think people really wanted to be seen with someone like me really, because I’ve always kept myself to myself, and, like I did use to have friends but then because of my lying I just decided that I should keep myself in, so I always used to just stay in the house ‘cos I was scared that, only time I would basically leave were to go to school and to go up to my Gran’s. And that’d be it. I wouldn’t go out anywhere else, just come in and lock myself in my room and that’d be it. So that’s basically why I didn’t have any. But I mean, I made one good friend in High School and then once I’d left I haven’t heard from her ever since. So to me they weren’t really a good friend, they just let me down, I were just there for the taking really.
You said ‘people like me’ - What did you mean by that? They don’t want to know people like you? Or be seen with people like you?
Some people can be ashamed of me, like they have admitted it to me before, even if, like even if I were a good person, they don’t want to be seen with me because of my outside. Like because really nowadays people don’t really care about the person on the inside, they want to see people who are thin, you know? Like to be seen with me, they’d be ashamed, and that’s basically what they admitted to me before. So, it’s not my point of view because I mean everybody’s an individual, and everybody has the right to be here, so it’s just their opinion really.

Gemma explains why the decision about whether to have treatment needs to be taken seriously and...

It has been one long journey. It’s not been, ah this is fun you know? I knew what I were gonna go through, I watched all the shows I could, I went on all the internet sites I could, spoke to a lot of people from England and America, I did the lot, just to make sure that I were fully aware of what I were doing and, but at my age I mean, it’s summat really, really, really scary. Summat, it wasn’t summat I thought I’d have to go through but it’s done now, can’t go back.
So what were the, tell me what were the reasons against doing it. And what were the reasons for doing it, from your perspective?

The reasons against it is having all the problems my Dad had, like I was I was scared in case it bust open, in case I didn’t wake up from the op. And the pain.  But on the good side, well my nephew, that were, I’m a career girl, I really wanted it for that, and also because I wanted to better my life, and I mean to, if I could better my life by going through with it, and actually achieving losing some weight, then I mean like, put it this way, 14 weeks ago I wouldn’t be doing this.

I wouldn’t be doing it, my confidence has just gone up, I mean I didn’t even go back to college and then I’m three week into it now, I’m back there, I’ve got my head held high, couldn’t care less what anybody’s got to say. I’m sitting outside at break, I’m eating outside, I couldn’t care.
I’m not that little kid hiding hiding in the corner, and like that’s just 14 weeks into it.
And like I’ve already, like it feels like I’ve changed so much already, but there has been a lot of problems like I stopped breathing, I couldn’t breathe after my op, I’ve been back in since ‘cos I couldn’t keep things down, but it’s a journey that you go through and you begin to think, well this is gonna be expected, you know?

I mean, it’s made me more mature and more wise about life and like. If I could help anybody else who’s thinking of it [gastric band surgery] at my age, then I know what I could say well, you know, in a way it’s helped me but it’s not for everybody, you’ve really got to research it before you actually go and do it because it’s not summat you can just think oh right, say “Oh I’m gonna have that done.” You know, you can’t think like that, you’ve gotta really put your head into it, and do that research, ‘cos you if you go in, I mean my Dad, for example, he did not know what he were going in for. And basically when he came out of it, it were like a shock because I mean, yeah he knew what it entailed but he didn’t know fully. Whereas I knew what were gonna happen in surgery ‘cos I’m that gory I had to watch it, ‘cos I knew all about, I knew the after effects.

Because they, I’m not being nasty to everybody but, but not a lot of people are mature enough. They’re not fully aware of what they’re going to be putting their body through, I mean, 17, I still think that I were fully mature enough, but, I knew because I’ve always seen myself as more of an adult than a teenager that I did have the maturity and because I did was, because I were actually watching the programmes and everything, ‘cos of I knew what my Dad had been through, that really helped me so, what I would say to anybody is if you’re thinking about it, just really do your research first. 

And go to appointments because otherwise you’re just gonna be putting yourself in for a big shock. ‘Cos you don’t actually realise how much pain you’re putting yourself through. I mean because like I couldn’t move for 5 days, couldn’t get out of bed, nothing. Like lifting my head up off the bed was a trial for me. It, I mean you always felt like you were going to pass out, didn’t feel comfortable at all.

Gemma describes the after effects of her gastric band surgery, including the vitamin and mineral...

Gemma: I can’t eat meat. I, well I can eat lamb but any other meat I’ll be sick. So I can’t eat that, I can hardly eat bread, pasta I can eat a bit, but too much and then you’re sick, so basically now if you go, if you go too overboard, or if summat, or it if don’t agree with you you will get this big almighty pain like someone’s just punched you right in your stomach, and then you’re sick.
Eleven tablets a day?
Gemma’s mum: Yeah.
And what are those tablets for?
Gemma’s mum: There’s Calcogen which is calcium, twice a day. There’s an anti-acid tablet twice a day, ‘cos she kept being sick there’s a sickness tablet three times a day, there’s a multivitamin once a day, she has iron three times a day, and she also has zinc once a day.
And do you have to take those because of the op?
Gemma’s mum: Yes, ‘cos basically, ‘cos they’ve bypassed her small intestine and her large, and her bowel, it don’t absorb all the nutrients. So you’ve got to have more vitamins and all that, but they’ve also told her as well that if she plans to get pregnant she’s got to let ‘em know ‘cos she’ll need double the vitamins and calcium ‘cos the baby’ll take everything.‘Cos it’s like robbing you from all your goodness. So if you don’t get them from your food, you’ve got to get them from supplement, and you need them at double strength so. That’s only the lasses, ‘cos like she has iron three times a day, he only has it once, so I think it’s ‘cos she’s a girl. He only has one lot of iron, she has three.

Since her gastric bypass surgery, Gemma has lost five stone and is amazed at the positive impact it's had on her life

Like I said before there is so much more plus sides to it then, then if you think of before I mean a really big plus side for me is I’m more energetic. And movement...
[Laughs] Movement has just become so much, more I mean like now, I, when I go out, a typical day for me now is like I get up go to college, from college I’ll be running up and down stairs, well walking up and down stairs should I say. And we do that so many times like there’s me and these two mates of mine, my mate she is a big lass, so I feel like I fit in. And we go out, we go on buses, we go up to Tesco, walk about supermarket, we, you just generally having a laugh and then we walked it up to Tesco the other day and that were like about a twenty five minute walk. Now for me to do that were just, it were weird but you’ve got so much more energy you think, well for my size you should I really be able to do this? And sometimes I can walk as fast as my sister. Well she can walk, and it’s just really, really weird. And like clothes, I got, well from [my friend], her mother knows someone who had gastric bypass done, now so I didn’t have to buy any clothes she gave me absolutely loads, so that really, really helps me and like this, this coat that I actually have on, wouldn’t even go to there on me. And now it fastens, but it’s tight, but it’s, you know, it’s just amazing to see how in fourteen weeks how it can just put so much in, good impact on someone’s life. But I mean it’s not like that for everybody else. Well might be like that for some but not for everybody, but it has made one big difference for me. 
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