Side Effects

Like most other helpful, healthy new things we pick up in life, life-saving psychiatric medication most often requires us to give up something that we cling to. In my case, it was fitting into size 4 jeans. When I first discovered that the zippers on all of my old pairs of pants were a little tougher to jerk up and that the little dance I did to fit into them just wasn’t cutting it anymore, a few months into finally landing on a medication regimen that freed me from my own mind, it felt like a whole new type of trauma. I was pissed. I remember standing in front of the mirror, scanning myself from all angles and thinking to myself, almost like an angry prayer, “you mean to tell me that not only have I had to go through losing my sanity, but now I have to lose the body I’ve worked so hard for just to get it back? This is BULLSHIT.” 

In the same way that this entire healing journey had caused me to relinquish my need to appear as the most put together, most shiny, most accomplished version of myself, sticking to my medication even though it made me gain a little weight forced me to confront the deeply held subconscious belief that fitting into smaller clothes somehow added value to my existence, that looking a certain way was worth feeling like absolute shit. I even so often convinced myself that I was feeling so stable and so good that I didn’t need these pills, or this dose, or that frequency, as much as I originally had, secretly just so that I could experiment with lower dosages to see if it would make me lose those added pounds. I convinced my psychiatrist of the same idea, and we tried time and time again to reduce my dosage so as to mitigate the weight gain side effect. I realize now that I was holding the number on the scale to a higher degree of importance than my own ability to feel stability and joy. I was, once again, valuing more what my life looked like than how my life felt

“I had to decide: my mental health, or my stupid little pants.”

Eventually, I reached a tipping point. After the third time dancing around lower dosages to see if it would help me lose a few pounds to find myself struggling emotionally again and again and again, I had to decide: my mental health, or my stupid little pants. 

I chose, against all superficial temptations, my mental health. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Deciding not to look back, I shifted my perspective to one that celebrated this new body, those few extra pounds, these curves, and I stepped into a whole new way of walking through life. I no longer felt like an imposter for taking up extra space in the rooms I walked into. I would reach into the refrigerator, spoiled with options for snacks that would fuel me, and wonder why I had ever wanted to be smaller. The nagging thoughts about counting calories, needing to work out just to burn off what I had eaten that day, and the temptations to try every new fad diet that came across my social media feed started getting quieter, and a stronger, more self-assured, more whole voice eventually took its place. I began eating until I was full, and enjoying my food more than I ever had before. Exercise became a practice of expression, of joy, of gratitude for the ability to move, rather than a punishment for the consumption I participated in that day. I confronted those deeply held beliefs that I was groomed to believe since childhood, that women should be small, “petite,” almost fragile. I had to do the actual work to reach the place where I realized value is not attached to body size. Value comes from humanity, from simply existing, not from a number or an aesthetic or shape or size. And people much smart than me are starting to put together through research than health outcomes are not so attached to BMI as we originally thought! My choice to make friends with my new body changed everything, and changed the information I allowed to inform me.

Of course, and like most battles we fight, the healthier road was not linear. Recently actually, after intentionally not having stepped on a scale in about a year (because what good is that going to do me?) I had to get weighed for my annual physical exam at my doctor’s office. I was made aware of my weight for the first time in a year and the number was significantly larger than it had been a year ago, and instinctively I started panicking “how did I let this happen? I need to start a new diet and get these pounds off immediately” and other unhealthy thoughts started flooding my mind. But my real progress (and the power of my treatment) was revealed when instead of trying to fight those thoughts, I just noticed them, gave them their space, and offered myself another set of thoughts to bring to the conversation (with myself lol). What if my natural weight is to be this? What if being a little heavier means I am allowing myself to take up the space that I never did? What if this is the size I’m meant to be? And if this truly is a sign of worsening habits (I mean my workouts haven’t exactly been my priority since moving to New York), maybe I can just use this as a gentle reminder to prioritize movement, but God not for my weight’s sake… for my health’s sake. I’ve never been more proud of my brain for being so gentle with myself, so gracious, while still allowing motivation to make some achievable change set in.  

The series of events that followed was amazing. When I let my body be what it was, and nourished it and moved it for fun and play and expression, instead of depriving and punishing it for responding a certain way to medication, my weight stabilized. I was a new, yes slightly bigger, size, and I felt amazing. My life felt amazing. And that stupid phrase women from all areas of my life used to tell me growing up that says “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” is forever replaced in my mind with “nothing looks as good as happy feels.” This mindset is a side effect I’ll gladly live with.

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