the writing disorder


chase wilkinson


New Nonfiction

A Theoretical Transformation

by Chase Wilkinson

      There is a conspiracy sweeping across the town of Katy, Texas, and I believe that I am caught in the middle of it. Somewhere in the time that I was away at college, all the attractive girls in town decided to get jobs at McDonald’s. As a frequent purveyor of the McDonald’s franchise I believe that this staff change was designed as a direct attack on my confidence. I can no longer relish in the sweet taste of the fifty-piece nugget meal while Miss Hottie McPretty-Eyes is judging me as she hands me the bag. The brunette with the cool lip ring definitely won’t give me her phone number after she watches me sulk away to my car with my score of three McRib sandwiches. This is a travesty and a horrific blow to both my libido and my oh so fragile ego!
      The thing that legitimately angers me more than embarrassment and lowering of my self esteem is the fact that this little joke that I’ve been putting together for quite some time now has made me realize the frequency that I actually go to restaurants such as McDonald’s. It is alarming. I began to notice that it was really a problem when I would go to McDonald’s not just twice a day but twice in a single worker’s shift. I never want to be recognized at a McDonald’s or be known as “Mr. One of Everything”. It started to feel like it was time for a change.
      I’ve never exactly been the healthiest kid in town. While I always played sports and had a pretty active outdoor life when I was younger I still managed to find new and exciting ways to pack on the pounds. I ate a lot. That was kind of my thing. I was like the left overs Godfather. No one was allowed to throw away anything from his or her plate without first checking with me. But who can really blame me. I grew up in New Orleans, there were several restaurant owners in my family, the food was ridiculous. And I ate it all.
      Recently that addiction to food has only made things worse. After I got to high school, I chose to pursue theater over baseball thus collectively seizing any strenuous physical activity that I would happen to do. I tend to stick to myself, choosing to stay in and watch TV shows instead of going out and doing things with others. It’s about as boring as it sounds. And because I’m bored I tend to fill my time with my favorite activity, eating.
      The bright side is that I am part giant and therefore have refused to stop growing since I started despite my grandparents’ playful pleas for me to stop. So all my extra poundage is able to spread out and hide away on my now 6’4”ish frame. I still have a gut that I am very much ashamed of but I don’t look as bad as I feel I would if I was have my size.
      For a long time my weight was only really a private insecurity, one readily exploited by my father. Any time I decided to spend the day watching a TV show or made the mistake of walking out of my room without a shirt on, he was there to make a joke or try to persuade me to do some sit-ups during my Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon. But recently I was faced with a new reality that my lifestyle of all you can eat fast food buffets and hermitage is damaging to more than just my ego.
      This past December I went into the dentist for a routine check up. Growing up, my parents were never really strict about making visits to the dentist parts of my routine. I guess they never went to the dentist growing up so they never thought to do it with me. Anyway, as I sat down in the dentist’s chair for the first time in five years I was justifiably nervous. The plucky dental assistant came by to do all the regulation pre-check up activities before the doctor came by, patient history, blood pressure, etc.
      I tried to calm my mind and get all Zen, trying to dispel fears of unnecessary root canals and painful drilling as the assistant wrapped to blood pressure gage around my wrist and waited. I felt the usual discomfort of having your veins casually strangled before the buzzer went off, the wrap deflated, and she checked the numbers.
      “Oh that can’t be right.” She replied in a voice all too bubbly to have just seen something unexpected. “That’s a little high. Are you nervous?”
      “Well now I am.” I said, trying to keep my hypochondria at bay.
      “How about we just try it again?”
      She reapplied the blood pressure gauge and waited again. Anxiety climbed inside of me and refused to get out until the gauge was off of my wrist. She checked it again after it deflated and was forced to accept the result that I had elevated blood pressure. Somewhere in the limit that is not exactly kosher for young men at the age of nineteen.
      Fear set in really quick after that experience. I tried to write the anomaly off. I mean I did just finish a really tough quarter of school and my grandfather had recently passed away. Surely my blood pressure was only elevated due to the vast amount of stress that I had recently been exposed to.
      Since that day I’ve had my blood pressure taken three more times. The first two by different dental assistants who displayed the same reaction as the first which makes me think that they were all rehearsed in training as to how to react in situations such as mine. The last time was in a Kroger’s pharmacy last month.
      I had visited the grocery store with my roommate and his girlfriend and spotted the damned machine as we waited in line at the pharmacy counter. It was old and worn. The stickers and instructions peeling from the wall. But I was curious. It had been a month since the dentists. I had calmed down considerably. Maybe nerves and stress might not be such a factor now. However the armhole for the gauge looked a little slim for my big masculine arms and I was terrified of getting stuck. So my roommate decided to test the death trap for me first to put me at ease.
      He stepped up, sat down, and slid in his arm. A few minutes later the procedure was over and he was able to safely remove his arm without the help of the Jaws of Life. So I sat down and slid my arm in and hit the button. I took several deep calming breaths and meditated on the peaceful image of baby otters. But as the blood pressure band began to tighten around my arm I began to feel nervous. There was a very real pinch and my fingers began to go numb. My left arm was caught in this vice grip as my arm began to slip into a state of pain. I struggled to remain calm as I watched the device try to calculate its specific numbers. I was loosing patience as my arm began to feel more and more uncomfortable. I looked at George to make sure that this was supposed to happen.
      Finally the mechanical beast let go of my arm and spat out two numbers on its red digital screen. 153 over 90. Stage one hypertension.
      I removed my arm and from the stand and stared at the readings in disbelieve. This wasn’t just stress or nerves. This was my body saying you are killing me. My blood pressure was easily thirty points higher than where it is safe to be.
      “Cool, I’m gonna die now.” I said to George before continuing on with my day, now thoroughly depressed.
      I spent the next few weeks researching ways to lower my blood pressure without having to start the endless cycle of medication. All my research came back to the single, unavoidable, goddamn irritating conclusion: Stop eating so much fatty and get your ass on a treadmill.
      The solution is so easy it’s almost a joke. Eat better foods and workout. I tell myself that all the time. It’s so easy. It’s so easy. It’s so easy. But I still haven’t done it. I still frequent McDonald’s on a quad-weekly basis, I still get winded from walking up the stairs in Arnold Hall, and I still am forced to hate Tom Welling every time he takes off his shirt while I’m watching Smallville.
      I’ve never been very good at self-discipline. At least when it comes to being physical. I can force myself to write a twenty page paper in a night because I’m bored but when I can’t seem to get myself to do more than five pushups a week. But I have the drive. I sincerely do. I make plans and do vigorous amounts of research. I read all the latest fitness magazines and jot down helpful new workout plans. I have them written on dry erase boards all around my room. But I can’t stick with anything.
      I live in fear lately about what might happen to me if I don’t make some attempt at self-improvement. I have always suffered from an irrational fear of death, whether it be from a burglar or a drive by shooting or a tiger that escaped from the zoo. But the beauty of irrational fear is that it is in essence implausible. But when I read in Men’s Journal that men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five with high blood pressure are at a greater risk of stroke I can no longer hide behind the defense of irrational fear. It’s very rational at this point. I can’t cross my legs for more than a few minutes before my foot goes numb. So I get scared every time I lay down because it’s like playing Russian Roulette with my circulatory system.
      I recently started reading books by a writer named A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs is an editor for Esquire who writes books and articles about these crazy social experiments that he performs on himself. He has read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z and he’s lived an entire year of his according to all of the laws laid out in the Bible, among other experiments. I find myself envying him. This man devotes huge chunks of his life in the pursuit of trivial bullshit while balancing a family and a demanding career. I can’t muster the discipline to get up an hour early to go for a jog.
      But during spring break I decided to take a page from his playbook and bestow upon myself a challenge. I drafted what I call the Superman Challenge. It is in essence a month long challenge to fulfill a set of goals from three different categories: Health and Fitness, Literary and Creative, and Disposition. It is designed to test and mold the body, the mind, and the soul. Basically it is my blue print to turning myself into a superhero. And for a reclusive nerd like me, the prospect of becoming a superhero is the exact motivation that I need to actually take positive steps at self-improvement.

      I look at myself and then I compare myself to Tom Welling, who played the young Clark Kent himself on TV’s Smallville. And I see many similarities. More or less we have the same body type. We are both tall, broad shoulder men who are ridiculously attractive and irresistible to the ladies. The only difference is, you know, fat is keeping my muscles a secret and the ladies still make fun of me at McDonald’s. But my point is that I can look like that if I wanted to. That’s not me being factious. That’s the honest to god truth. The way my body is designed is to look more like Superman and less like the Michelin Man. So that’s stage one, workout, eat better, and become Tom Welling. Easy.
      Superman was also a writer and what a coincidence, that’s what I want to do with my life! So stage two is basically designed to strengthen that area of my life. I want to read more. And I’m talking literature, not Maxim magazine. I want to eat Russian novels for breakfast. I’d probably get more fiber in my diet if I went that route. I want to write more outside of class. I want to seek out publishing. Basically I want to do all the things that I find are holding me back from being really successful. But that whole section is more for the sake of general self-improvement and not directly related to lowering my blood pressure. Unless I read more medical texts. Maybe I should add that.
      Finally the third category is the key on which this whole challenge rests, disposition. I am a hopelessly negative thinker. I’m not sure if that is evident in my self-deprecating approach to humor but it’s true. The biggest thing that has held me back from actually making a difference in my own life has been the fact that I deliberately tear myself down. “You’re never gonna stick to a diet.” “You can’t look like that if you tried.” “Just eat another hamburger. If you die at least you’ll be full.” These are the things that I tell myself every time I start to stumble in my self-improvement plans. It’s also why I’m so stressed all the time. I turn insecurity into internal self-hatred. I hate myself a lot of days and I get angry with myself. The habitually stressed and angry also deal with a great deal of blood pressure issues. I bring all this upon myself and then I tell myself that I don’t have the power to make it better.
      But I do. For the third part of the challenge I began to study Buddhism. It was always a fleeting curiosity for me. Since the ninth grade I have always wanted to call myself a Buddhist but never actually knew anything about it. I changed that recently. The biggest aspect of Buddhism is love. Not just of a girlfriend or of Miss Hottie McPretty-Eyes that you stalk at your local McDonald’s. But of everyone and everything. And that starts with you. It’s not vanity or narcissism, but the profound belief that you can be the best you can be and that you can affect the world. Through love. And that’s something I need to be reminded of from time to time.
      I was supposed to start the Superman Challenge at the beginning of spring break. Since the starting date I have eaten at a fast food restaurant probably fifteen or more times and worked out once, but that was a grand total of five pushups and a few stretches. It’s shameful really. I had all of these plans, this passionate rubric to make so much better than I thought I could be. I had to the key to changing my life in the palm of my hands and I let it go, just like I’ve done so many times in the past.
      But the thing that makes superheroes so interesting are not all the things that make them “super”. It’s the things that make them human. And who doesn’t love a story of triumph. Who cares if the big villain in my piece is myself? There is a part of me that legitimately believes that it’s not too late. There is this one bit of hope in me that believes that I’m not a total screw-up. I’m nineteen years old for Christ’s sake. I talk like I’m on my deathbed!
      For the first time in a long time there is more hope than fear in my mind. I believe in myself. I can turn myself into someone that people can look up to. And isn’t that what a superhero is? Someone who inspires you to be better than you thought you can be. It all starts by inspiring yourself. And let me tell you, I’m really inspired right now.
      Up, up, and away … to the Stairmaster.

Chase S. Wilkinson is a multi-genre writer, storyteller, and humorist. Currently enrolled in the Writing program at Savannah College of Art and Design, Chase strives to expand his talents across as many fields of writing as possible. He is a successful playwright, winning many competitions including the Houston Young Playwright Exchange at the Alley Theater in Houston. He has also participated in The Moth’s StorySLAM events in Savannah, Georgia. Recently, his creative non-fiction essay “My Imaginary Competition with Aron Ralston” was published in SCAD’s Literary Journal District Quarterly.

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