I'm Listening

Oh, hi, I didn't notice you there. What's that? You say I haven't written anything since April? My bad.

We Moved

Last Friday, Ruby and I arrived at our new home in Beaverton, a little suburbanville just southwest of Portland. The confluence of factors that brought us here is hard to explain, but the simplest version goes something like this: we're here for our mental and emotional health, and to be closer to Ruby's family. For the truly curious, go check out Ruby's blog posts on the subject.

Moving is an odd thing. When you spend a week packing and unpacking your entire life into and out of boxes, you begin to do a mental evaluation of your existence. What is all this stuff? Where did it come from? Why do I have it? Does it make me happy? What makes me happy? What's made me happy recently? Do I consider myself successful? In which dimensions? Can I improve the others? How? Then, some great realization is made, and I begin forming plans. I assume everyone does this, in some form or another.

Lately, the themes of my life have been health, wealth, and professional development. I'd like the next theme to be helping others in those areas.

Story Time

From 2010 to early 2012, I worked insane hours at AWS, and told myself that because I worked so many hours, I deserved certain things. I deserved to live in a luxury skyrise in downtown Seattle. I deserved a new car. I deserved to eat out for every meal. I told myself, "Don't worry. There's always another payday just around the corner that will wipe the slate clean." I told myself, "Don't worry. You could die any day. Why not live while you can?"

Toward the end of 2012, I was 26 years old, 325 pounds, and smoking two packs a day. I was tens of thousands of dollars in debt from trying to buy my way to happiness (combined with significant back-taxes owed from the last time I worked at a failed startup). I was also unexpectedly without a stable income and living in a foreign country due to a slowly imploding startup and some poorly-timed family business.

And I was a newlywed. Worst husband ever, or worst husband ever?

A newlywed Mason

After two months of living in a country where a pack of cigarettes runs about $0.95 and a four-course meal for two can be obtained for under forty bucks, my body was finally starting to complain. Loudly. At night, I would wake myself up with snores and snorts. In the morning, my lungs would ache, and I had a chronic cough. I would get winded simply walking across the very flat Bonifacio City.

I also felt like I was getting... dumber, somehow. It's difficult to explain, but the world just seemed hazy, all the time. In hindsight, someone might look at these symptoms and say, "Dude, you were overweight, smoking, not sleeping well, had trouble staying alert, and were moody and depressed. You were very clearly obese, had smoker's cough, and suffered from sleep apnea." And that's probably all very true and very obvious. But... denial is a bitch, and I didn't see it.

Mason in the Philippines

And then, I did. At 3am, while sitting our crappy apartment in Manila, where the floors were uneven, and the stove vent emptied into the cupboard above, and the dryer hose connected to, well, nothing, I realized I was unhappy. I was unhappy because, for the second time in two months, I had a bed break underneath me. I chalked the first occurence up to random factors. Clearly, most Filipinos are smaller than me. Thus, their beds needn't support as much weight. And they used cheap, lightweight wood. Of course it would break under my hulking, masculine frame!

But when the second bed—one with a metal frame—broke, I decided it wasn't the bed's fault. It was mine. "You're fat, stupid."

And then I began to look around and realize what else I had been blind to. Why didn't I have any money? Why had I stalled professionally? Why was my beautiful new wife constantly staring off into space and having complete emotional breakdowns?

The new information was overwhelming. I couldn't process it all at once. I couldn't solve all of my problems right this minute. But I could process one of them, if I tried.

In software, it sometimes feels like everything is always falling down around you. There's always a backlog, always a deadline. The code is never perfect, and the test coverage is never really great, just good enough. But you keep making progress, and eventually things work out. You keep an eye open for high-leverage opportunities, and things sometimes even improve! I knew how to apply this kind of thinking to software, but I never applied it to other dimensions of my life.

I picked up a copy of Tim Ferriss's 4 Hour Body. After a lifetime of avoiding all forms of exercise, I wasn't yet ready to start, but the chapters on the Slow-Carb diet looked interesting, and made sense. Ruby and I walked to the grocery store and loaded up on approved foods. High quality meat is hard to find in the Philippines. Mostly, we ate a lot of chicken, beans, broccoli, and imported frozen hamburgers. We got back on a regular schedule. Get up, eat, work, eat, work, swim, eat, walk, eat, read, sleep, repeat.

And, after just a couple weeks, I started to see some weight loss, even though I felt like I was eating all the time.


When my startup's CEO announced that, for the second time, they wouldn't be able to make payroll, things got very interesting. I was in the Philippines on a Balikbayan visa-free stay, and I had no local employer, so we had just spent most of our spare cash putting down a six month deposit on our apartment. We had dropped into paycheck-to-paycheck mode under the assumption that we'd be in the clear after a couple months. That annoucement came at exactly the wrong time for us.

Ruby and I had to make an emergency departure from the country and say goodbye to that deposit. In the span of three days, we changed our return flight date and made arrangements back home. We cancelled our lease, which involved multiple phone calls between the local apartment managers and the long-distance owners of the apartment, eventually requiring two local relatives to come to Bonifacio to sign the final paperwork, which we did just minutes before leaving for our flight. We happened to befriend a driver who offered to take us out to Angeles City, where we departed from. We spent the last few dollars we had on the exit fee required to leave the country.

The Journey Continues

Throughout this bit of turmoil, we managed to stay on our new eating plan. By January, I was down nearly 50 pounds, and we decided to switch from Slow-Carb to Paleo. A year later, I had lost another 30 pounds.

Weight change between 2012 and 2014

And then I stalled out. From March to September 2014, nothing happened. So... I decided it was time to finally quit smoking, and start exercising. And then, after I had a handle on that, I started lifting.

Bit by bit, I've been reclaiming my life, starting with the dimensions I could easily control. It would have been hard, or even impossible, to tackle everything at once. But changing what I ate was pretty easy. And once I lost weight, running didn't seem so unreasonable. And once I had exercise as a motivator, quitting smoking became important. And once I quit smoking and started running, strength training seemed like something I could do.

Not a Rose Garden

My life has changed in the last three years. Each small change of habit continues to contribute to the next, with all of them slowly snowballing into what, at times, feels like an unstoppable, positive force. That kind of confidence changes how you live life day to day. I take on more responsibilities at work. I enjoy my work (and I make more money). I stand straighter. I laugh louder. I believe in a future where I've become a better version of what I see in the mirror today, and I see a path toward that future.

Progress from 2012 to 2015

But not always. Some days, it still feels impossible. Some days, it feels like I'm just a hair's breadth away from falling back down into a pit of old, familiar, destructive habits. Social media makes it easy to gloss over those dark days. Facebook and Instagram are a highlight reel. Consciously or not, we only see our friends' successes, and assume we must be doing something wrong to be the odd man out.

This was the "great realization" I came to while unpacking. The FatmanX posts I used to write were as honest as I could make them while still keeping a positive attitude. Photos of weight loss and progress are more often my tools to get myself motivated than anything else. Because this is hard. It's hard for me, and if you've ever gone through a journey like this, it's likely hard for you, too. It's important to be honest about it.

It's important because not everyone has the tools to deal with the hardships. It's hard to say no to every single social engagement because you know it'll fuck up your diet or your no-alcohol policy. It's incredibly isolating not being able to go to a restaurant with your friends. It's a bummer not to be able to go out after work because you're on a fixed schedule: eat from 6p-7p, walk from 7p-8p, and get in bed by 8:30p to get up at 5:30a and head to the gym before work. Deviate and it all goes off the rails.

It's important to acknowledge that sacrifices must be made to effect any great change. And it's important to make yourself available to those going through similar struggles, for them and for yourself, both to help them succeed, and to keep yourself grounded.

So... if you're out there, drop me an email or shoot me a text. I'm here, and I'm listening.