I heard Joyce before I saw her. She was working on a community radio station where I was hoping to get a job, back in the early 90's. 

And when I heard her interviewing and presenting programmes, I did that thing that you do when you hear a person's voice for the first time. I pictured her in my mind. And the picture I had was of a dark-haired, petite woman with a brunette bob and a big personality.

When we eventually met she was going through one of her 'blond' phases and she was pretty short - or ‘vertically challenged’ as she would say herself - and she certainly wasn’t petite. In fact, she was quite overweight.

Hospital bed 320 kg capacity
A Hospital bed 320 kg capacity

We became close friends but if you asked me to describe her I’d probably never have talked about her weight. The words I’d use would be talented, hilarious, warm and feisty.

Not that I didn’t notice the weight but it was something that Joyce preferred to ignore. The impression she gave was that she thought of herself as being ‘chubby’ and she didn't really care about her weight, certainly not enough to do anything about it. She would generally resist my efforts to engage with her about it.

We've been good friends for over 20 years and in the last five years, Joyce’s weight has become a serious problem that she can no longer ignore.

She is now severely – morbidly – obese.

Table
Joyce is now on a HSE weight management programme

Joyce has a lot of serious health problems, some of which are separate from her weight but most of which are exacerbated by it.

She has very bad arthritis that causes her horrible pain and restricts her ability to move. She has had to give up work as a result and the sedentary, housebound life that she’s been living since the arthritis developed about five years ago has not helped her weight. It has piled on. 

Joyce is all too aware of the judgement that society reserves for overweight and obese people and prejudice is one reason why she finds it difficult to leave her house. From someone who used to work in theatre, loved the arts and was hugely sociable. I've watched Joyce's life reduce and shrink, dramatically. Life is now very difficult for Joyce. She's still funny, vibrant and creative, which in itself shows extraordinary resilience.

When Joyce got a place on a HSE weight management programme, after years on the waiting list, she said she'd let me record with her, to follow her as she tries to, as she puts it, find her 'way back to normal'. Joyce would never have made this documentary if it had been for TV. The medium of radio has given her the protection that she felt she needed to have to be able to talk openly and honestly about the difficult position in which she finds herself. 

Hospital bed extra large
An extra large hospital bed

As Joyce discovers during the process of documentary making, the reasons behind her obesity are complex. Saying just stop eating and move around a bit more doesn't really come close. And it isn't as though she hasn't tried slimming clubs and gyms before; she has. Every time she has lost some weight and then put it all back on, sometimes with an extra stone.

But now, on the weight management programme and with a healthy future in the balance, Joyce has had to delve deep into her past to explore the reasons why she overeats. It isn't an easy journey for her on any level.

It's been a difficult and surprising two years working with my friend Joyce. When I asked her about making the documentary she said that it made her answer questions that she might have avoided otherwise. Apparently, having a 'fuzzy thing', i.e. a microphone under her nose, was a help! And I'm happy about that.

Written by Emer Horgan. 

Does My Bum Sound Big In This? was produced by Emer Horgan and Nicoline Greer Sound supervision by Ciaran Cullen. It was first broadcast Saturday 9th June, 2018. You can listen to it above.