I was thrilled when I lost eight stone. Then something unexpected and wonderful happened…
By Charlotte Owen, 31, from Eccles, Manchester
I grinned as I waddled into the kebab shop, and repeated my usual takeaway order. It had become a habit for me to have a kebab and chips every night, following my shift behind the bar at the pub next door.
As a result of my nightly kebabs – and the mountain of junk food I ate on a daily basis – I soon weighed in at a hefty 18st 10lbs and a wore a huge 24.
I hadn’t always been so big – when I was younger I dreamt of being a professional footballer. I had a natural talent for the game but a knock-back at a semi-professional trial sent my confidence plummeting and my weight soaring as I started to comfort eat to make myself feel better.
I loved crisps and would scoff several bags a day, and it wasn’t unusual for me to eat an entire block of cheese in one sitting.
I failed every diet I tried, telling myself that I would be better the next day, but it never happened. The worse I felt, the more I would eat. I felt like a big fat failure.
Although I was always outwardly confident, inside my insecurities were crippling me. Every time I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw.
Clothes shopping was an absolute nightmare and I always ended up having to just buy the first thing that fitted me – rather than the outfits I actually liked. As a result, I wore a lot of frumpy, shapeless outfits to cover up my flabby frame.
In March 2008, it suddenly got a whole lot worse. I had been suffering with really bad headaches for a while, when I woke up one morning and realised I could hardly see out of my left eye.
Panicked, I went to my optician, who immediately referred me to the local hospital for tests. I was horrified when a few days later, I started to lose the vision in my right eye too. That’s when my doctor delivered the bitter blow.
“You’ve got idiopathic intracranial hypertension,” he explained. “It’s when fluid builds up on the brain causing a huge amount of pressure on your eyes. It can be caused by things such as weight gain.”
Medics carried out a lumbar puncture to drain some of the fluid, but when my eyesight didn’t improve they started to fear the worst.
“You can turn the lights on now Dad,” I said, blinking rapidly after the procedure, but then I heard him sob quietly to himself.
“The lights are on love,” he soothed. “Try not to worry.” Panic rose in my chest at that moment, as I realised my eyes were open but I just couldn’t see anything.
“Will I ever see again?” I wept, but the outlook was grim.
“It’s very unlikely,” the doctor replied. “I’m sorry Charlotte.”
I couldn’t believe it. There was every possibility that I was going blind – all because of my sheer size.
I was horrified – and full of shame. It felt so unfair that there were loads of overweight people in the world, who hadn’t lost their sight. Why me?
Somehow, I had to adapt to my new status. I was officially registered blind and was forced to learn to walk with a cane.
I even had to have a laptop fitted with a vocal recognition device. Depressed in my world of darkness, I comfort ate more than ever. I felt like food was the only thing I had left.
It was easier to stay in than go out, so I became virtually housebound. Sometimes, I would cry myself to sleep, wondering how I was ever going to meet someone and fall in love if I couldn’t even see what they looked like.
I gave up on ever finding a man who would see past the blindness and who would love me who I was. My life seemed hopeless.
Then a year later, in July 2009, my brother Stuart came around to fit some surround sound in the living room of my flat.
“Alright Charlotte,” he said as he walked in. “I’ve brought my mate Tom with me to help, if that’s ok.”
Tom, now 26, plonked himself next to me on the sofa and we started chatting. I couldn’t see him of course, but it immediately it dawned on me what a warm and friendly person he was.
We hit it off like a house on fire, and when he asked for my number I could feel my cheeks blushing red. I couldn’t believe a person as nice as Tom would ever take an interest in me.
After a few months, Tom and I were in a relationship, and I felt like a light had shone on my lonely world. Even though I couldn’t see Tom, I started to fall for his personality.
He was amazing, he would take me back and forth to the hospital for my appointments, and we spent hours with each other, laughing and joking around. I felt like I had discovered my best friend – as well as my soulmate.
In May 2011, Tom proposed to me in front of my whole family. I cried tears of joy when he slipped an engagement ring onto my finger, and I couldn’t remember ever feeling happier.
People always said Tom and I were such a great couple – I couldn’t believe that I had found my dream man, despite everything that had happened to me.
But gradually, the dream became a nightmare – as I had a vision of me stumbling down the aisle with my white stick, in a tent-like size 24 dress. I needed to shape up.
Tom pestered me to book a date for the wedding for ages, but I kept making excuses to put him off – I just couldn’t even face trying on an extra large dress, let alone arriving at the church in one.
“I don’t care what size you are,” he said. “I just want you to be my wife. I want to marry you for the person you are – you know that.”
“Just let me try to lose a bit of weight first,” I would reply, wondering to myself how I was ever going to manage to lose my bulk.
I managed to put the wedding off for three whole years before I finally decided it was time to act. In August 2014, I joined Slimming World with a friend, and was thrilled when I lost a stone in three weeks.
My success inspired me to keep going back, and for once I believed I could shift the pounds for good. It felt so good to finally believe in myself after years of feeling like a hopeless failure.
Then as the weight fell away, something incredible happened. My headaches started to ease off and for the first time in six long years I began seeing flashes of light and colours.
“I think I’m starting to see things again,” I whispered to Tom one morning when I woke up and could see daylight streaming through the window.
I could scarcely dare to believe it, but slowly, as I lost more and more weight, I started to regain my sight! It was incredible.
I knew that Tom had brown hair but for the very first time I started to be able to make make out his features and smaller details, like his eyes and his sweet smile.
I can’t describe the thrill I felt when I saw my fiance for the first time – and I fancied him more than ever!
“You’re gorgeous!” I laughed as I peered at his face. His grin told me he was thrilled too.
Doctors were amazed and confirmed my weight loss had eased the pressure on my brain, relieving the strain on my sight. Now, after shedding 8st 2lbs, I’m a slinky size 8 and I can see a bright future ahead of me.
Although I’m still registered blind, I’ve ditched my cane and have even landed a job as a mental health support carer.
I’ll never be able to drive, but my sight is a thousand times better that what it was and I lead a completely normal life now.
Since losing my weight, I’ve become a Slimming World consultant and I love sharing my amazing story with others. I was crowned Miss Slinky and Woman of The Year 2015 and I’m so proud of myself. Tom even joined Slimming World a few months ago, and has lost two stone so far.
But the most amazing thing for me is that I can now stare into the eyes of my wonderful fiance, Tom. After six years in the dark, I feel like I’m seeing things for the first time.
I have so much to look forward to – now the idea of being a blushing bride fills me with excitement, rather than dread.
I can’t wait to see Tom’s face when I walk down the aisle in July 2017 to become his wife. I am going to be the happiest woman in the world.