I recently read an article about a writer who had to choose between gaining weight or staying sane. In that moment, I wondered whether the weight gain I’ve been experiencing went further than a bad diet.
I’ve always been sensitive about my weight. Growing up, I was reminded that I was the fat child. I was made to feel bad that my clothes didn’t fit the same as on the mannequin. I grew up hating the girl in the mirror. Hating her not because she was a bad person, but because when she stepped on the scale, the number was higher than her friends’ was.
I can’t remember when it happened, but as I got older, I became very conscious about everything I put in my body. I refused to drink because those were empty calories. I changed the manner in which I prepared my food, before eventually changing my diet in its entirety. I went from being a meat-eating biltong lover to being vegan. I exercised every day. Where possible, I exercised twice a day.
This would have continued had I not been hospitalised.
While in hospital, my activity levels decreased because my exercise was monitored. I refused to go off my vegan diet, so they increased my calorie intake the best they could. I had developed an eating disorder and being hospitalised forced me to realise that.
I clung to my eating disorder because at least I stayed skinny. Yes, I was sick but at least I looked good. I ignored my psychologist when she tried to encourage me to work through my emotions about my body. Instead, I stuck with this toxic “friend” who wanted nothing but the worst for me.
My weight has been the basis on which I chose all my medication. If the pills had even the slightest chance of making me gain weight, I refused to take them. A tactic that worked… until I was in hospital.
I had no way of verifying the side effects of the medication I was given or considering any possible interactions with other medication. I was forced to take my pills daily and, to make things worse, I was denied access to a scale.
I remember the day I left hospital. It was a Wednesday. I got home and the first thing I wanted to do was wear my favourite “home” pants and go to bed. As I pulled on the pants, I knew something was wrong. The pants that once fit so loosely now hugged my thighs. I had gained weight.
I was fat again!
I couldn’t breathe. I could hear someone crying, only later realising that person was me. Tears ran down my face as I wondered how I let this happen.
Immediately my brain went into crisis mode and thought of all the ways I could lose weight fast. Starvation. Purging, maybe. Anything for the pants to fit. They just had to fit.
And for a few days, that’s what I did: Starved myself and purged. I would take food to work only to throw it away so that people wouldn’t notice how little I was eating. One day, I found myself unable to stand up after a terrible purge. I was lying on the floor, asking myself why it had to be so hard. Why was being skinny so painful?
In that moment, I longed for the comfort I felt while in the hospital. Although confined, in there I was free. All that existed was me.
In the hospital I didn’t obsess over food. I didn’t feel the urge to obsessively exercise. For the first time, both my bipolar and eating disorders were well managed.
I was happy… until the bloody pants decided not to fit. And then the comments started.
People came up to me and straight-up called me fat. I was told to start exercising again and to stop letting myself go. The world around me was telling me that the body I finally started feeling comfortable in was not good enough because it did not meet their standards of beauty.
The comment that hurt me the most came from my mom. During one of my study breaks, I decided to join her in front of the TV. As I sat down, she looked at me and said “you’re getting so fat. You better start eating better or else you will end up like your cousin”. I looked at her, got up and retreated to my room. I cried so much. Even the person who gave me life didn’t see my value beyond my weight.
Without people even realising it, they had pushed me back into the arms of my eating disorder.
Weeks of secret eating and binges were followed by stretches of purging and starvation. Food was all I thought about – from when I woke up to when I went to bed at night. I was back to obsessing over my weight and nothing my psychologist said could stop it.
Then one day, the article by Duckie May made it into my inbox. In her article, she spoke about how bipolar made her fat but happy.
But food tasted better and my new love for life caused me to start cooking and baking and thus, snacking and sampling even more. My waistline grew as my hunger for life grew and I no longer self-inflicted starvation as some warped desperate way to slowly off myself. I ate food and it was good.
I was at a crossroad. I was happy but I was gaining so much weight and gaining it fast. With every kilo I gained, I slipped into depression. Not because I was having a dip in the rollercoaster that is bipolar disorder. But because everyone made me feel ashamed for being 80kg, even though I was finally feeling happier.
I wish I had Duckie’s courage, but I don’t. Instead I went to my psychiatrist to ask for a change in medication. I specifically requested medication I knew did not cause me any weight gain. The doctor explained that the medication might cause my mood swings to return. And that was a risk I was willing to take.
The first two weeks were terrible. I could hardly keep food down and I constantly felt faint. I found myself crying at the simplest things. I withdrew from everyone around me. Choosing to watch YouTube videos over spending time with my family. I was spiralling and fast, but being skinny felt more important.
It’s been six weeks. Although the nausea is gone, some other side effects still linger. I can now stay for longer periods without eating, which is probably why I’ve started losing weight again. YouTube has been replaced with hours of yoga and reading. I think I’m still spiralling but at least I exercise while doing it.
I’m not sure why I am sharing all this. Perhaps because I want people to know that sometimes weight gain means the meds are finally working. The weight gain means I’m finally happy.
And now… I’m not so sure any more.