62 seems so much older than 61. I wonder why? Perhaps it’s because I’ve been in my 60’s now for 3 years? It still sounds strange, to say my age, and I’m not getting used to it. I do have three grown children, a daughter-in-law as well as a son-in-law, and I’m a grandma too; that at least should let me know where I stand in this life! But sometimes I can’t remember how old I am and have to think about it for a second. Does that happen to everyone who makes it across the threshold of 60? I hate these sayings: 60 is the new 50 or 70 is the new 60. How ridiculous! I didn’t feel this way when I was 52. I am beginning to have the aches and pains that come with age. My feet hurt, my back hurts, my neck hurts. Of course they do! I’m 62 for goodness sakes!
But there’s something I’m not telling you. Something that relates directly to having a mental illness. It’s the weight I’ve gained from taking medication that is causing these aches and pains. It’s the hunger that comes with some medications and the lack of direction on how to avoid that weight gain.
Now I’m on the warpath about weight gain and how unnecessary it is for those of us who take medication and who are experiencing these bad side-effects.
There is a young man, Jason DeShaw, who lives with bipolar disorder. He is passionate about fighting the stigma of mental illness and, as a musician, has traveled throughout his home state of Montana (the state with the highest rate of suicide) with a compelling show. He is skinny and it’s because he runs four miles a day. How did he know? Perhaps his doctor warned him about weight gain? I don’t know; next time I see him I’ll ask. The point is, our doctors need to step up to the plate. If, when we first went on medication, we didn’t begin a rigorous exercise program, we are now struggling with the effects of gaining weight.
Over the last eleven years, from when I was first diagnosed until now, I have slowly gained so much weight that I’m now having to use drastic measures, akin to torture, to lose the weight I gained. My risk for diabetes is huge; I am only one point away from it. I am on an 800 calorie per day diet to try to stay ahead of diabetes. My feet hurt, my joints hurt.
But more than anything, I feel ugly. It’s been a joy to lose 20 pounds so far and begin to see my face the way I know it! I will stick with not eating much until this weight is gone. I don’t need to hide behind my weight anymore. Perhaps this is the best part of turned 62; I feel secure enough in myself now to begin this radical change for myself.
I just wish I had known that if I didn’t take care of myself I would be grossly overweight. I wish my doctor had not only warned me but gave me a way to eat and exercise to keep this from happening. My friends who take psychiatric medication have also decided to try to get off their weight. Wouldn’t this be easier if we began warding off weight gain in the beginning?
I think so!
OMGosh this is EXACTLY the struggle my wife is going through! She IS diabetic; both genetics and her bipolar medications make SURE that is the case and she tries SO hard to bring down her A1c through diet and exercise, but it does NO good at all! She hasn’t gained any weight in a few years, however, she just can’t lose any weight at all, no matter what she tries! She cannot go off her bipolar meds; these ones actually work, but the rise in her A1c and her triglycerides are just out of this world terrible! She keeps getting discouraged and it’s hard to keep her on the “healthy diet” train since it seems that no matter what she does, there are no changes!
I recently had the opposite happen when I was on a drug that made me so terribly nauseous, I lost my appetite, and a few pounds. Someone at my church approached me and asked me if I had lost weight. I don’t keep a scale in my home, but I noticed my pants were beginning to fall off me so I responded with, “I guess I have, thanks.” And THEN she congratulated me… I didn’t even know this woman! Who does that?
But what I really wanted to say was, “Was I fat before?! Thanks for reminding me what I think is an invisible illness, is often times manifesting into a visible one by my weight change.”
The doctor switched me off that medicine due to it making me confused and I accidentally overdosed (woke up super early and just took medicine, not realizing it was my PM meds again!)
I’m in my early thirties, and have been battling bipolar for 11 years now, on and off medications that either make me heavy, make me thin, make me throw up/nauseous, give me severe allergic reactions (cardiovascular was the latest fun one – nothing like having your blood pressure and heart rate drop to a death-defying level) … landing me in the hospital multiple times.
It’s hard enough having this disorder of my mind and mood – then dealing with the side effects, and struggle to find that balance of exercise but not too much exercise – food but not too much or too little food. And then the unwanted comments from people who congratulate me when I lose weight, not realizing the struggle to get food in me can be at times, and say nothing when I gain it. I reached out to several friends when I was having a hard time finding things appetizing to eat, because I live alone, and only once did one friend offer to come over and eat with me. Sometimes when it’s a struggle to eat, having someone to eat with makes it less of a struggle. Just some thing to pass along to anyone who has a friend or family member with any illness.
Preach on sister!
Jessie, I really appreciate your vulnerability, candor and that you brought this up. It’s such a common side effect of psychiatric medications. And sadly, it’s so common for doctors to have little to no training on this topic.
And very sadly our society has such stigma about body sizes that are larger.
Before everyone goes off on me about diabetes and heart disease I’d like to suggest taking a look at the concept of Health At Every Size (HAES). It doesn’t mean don’t pay attention to your health. That’s what I used to think. Linda Bacon (yes that’s really her last name) does training on the concept and how it’s much more effective (and humane) to work towards gaining health than to restrict calories. Here is a link to her site https://www.lindabacon.org/haesbook/
I work with parents who have kids with eating disorders and most eating disorders begin with a weight loss diet. In the right brain, it can become deadly very quickly.
Existing on only 800 calories a day is not healthy for body or mind. Please see the Minnesota Starvation Study to see why. https://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/6/1347.full.pdf
Jessie, you are such an amazing advocate for mental health, I hope you’ll consider learning about HAES. Finding joyful movement and working with a qualified registered dietitian may be worth considering. Please don’t starve yourself.
Thanks for reading and for all you do!
I also struggle with weight issues and have found a free resource to help. Sparkpeople.com has menu plans, exercise videos and all sorts of motivational help. It has really helped me come to terms with my weight problem, caused by both medication and thyroid disease.
Yes!!!! I have experienced weight loss and weight gain over the years, and people often make rude comments about the weight loss…a lot of judgment…I don’t tell them why, but I do say things like, “How about you take me for who I am? Why are you commenting on my body you barely know me, and I am fully aware of how I look.”
I mean, it’s as a result of medications…I feel like saying, “Yo, I CANNOT help it.”
Thank you for writing this and sharing your story. It is creating a necessary dialogue and creating change!
My 22 year old daughter has bipolar disorder (with severe mania) and schizo affective disorder. She has been hospitalized multiple times. The medications she is on are making her gain a great deal of weight, and she is extremely upset over it. Problem is, these are the ones that *work* to stabilize her well enough so that she is starting college this fall. The weight gain has made her very self conscious, and she gets depressed about her appearance. I hate to see her so unhappy.
Jesse, congratulations on losing 20 pounds. I know how hard that is. I worked really hard to lose some of my weight gain. Many psychiatrists are dismissive of how very difficult it is to lose the weight. The medications change our metabolisms, our cravings, our ability to feel full and our energy levels.
We must limit the calories we eat, especially the empty simple carbohydrates that some meds cause us to crave like never before. You’ve lost 20 pounds, and I’ve lost 20 pounds. No small achievement. We may have more to lose. We may not be as slender as we once were, but we should acknowledge our achievements along the way.
Jesse, I enjoyed your website having recently read your book. I must say this blog post is something people don’t talk about much. My daughter does. She is 19, diagnosed as bi-polar since 14 or so, and off her drugs since she turned 18. She talks about the weight as one of the reasons to be off them. Unfortunately, being off the drugs make it harder for anyone to deal with her.
I have no answers for her on the weight issue. She loves junk food and finds it very comforting. I’d like her to cook a meal with vegetables. Having a Mom who is a vegetarian must be hard.
Nevertheless I did want to add that I admire you and your sister for creating this website. And, I guess especially I admire you for being so candid in your book. I learned so much and I thought with Lea in my life I knew a lot. My daughter seems to pick up men all the time. For her, weight is never an issue.
What I learned from your book is that excessive sex (the need for and enjoyment of, I guess) may be part of the bipolar experience. I spend hours telling her to be careful because of the STDs, etc. She on the otherhand is enjoying the romp.
I will share your website with her. One day, we decided to write our own book. We’ll go back and forth. It will be interesting to see how our perspective in life (one we shared) differs more. What I also learned is that a lot of adopted children have mental illness. You learn so much more when the teenage years kick in. My wife and I adopted five children, so we’re ever learning.
Thanks again to you, your sister and the Bring Change 2Mind crew for all you do. You look beautiful, weigh gain or no. Cheers.