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I Gained Weight – and Hope – on My Bipolar Medication

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I have bipolar disorder. I’ve had it since early adolescence, though I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 19-years-old.

Throughout the years, I have dealt with soul-crushing depressions, euphoric manias that made me feel like I could do anything and dysphoric manias that reminded me why bipolar disorder isn’t the greatest gift the universe has given me.

In the past four years, I have gained a fair amount of weight, mostly from medication side effects. And as much as I pride myself on being a body-positive feminist, seeing my rounded face and arms makes me feel, shall we say, uncomfortable.

You see, up until I started taking antipsychotics, I had been thin my whole life. I didn’t always believe I was thin, but that was only because my idea of the ideal body type was rather unrealistic and unhealthy.

By the time I accepted my body for how it was, I was a freshman in college. A depressed college freshman. I couldn’t find the energy and cognitive stamina to study adequately for my classes, which affected my grades. I wasted seven hours of my time online every day. By contrast, I studied for maybe 30 minutes daily. I had a difficult time making friends, so I ate almost all my meals alone. And let me tell you, loneliness by itself can make you miserable, even if you are not clinically depressed.

The most severe symptom I experienced was a pervasive sense of worthlessness. I hated myself. I thought I was stupid, lazy and awkward. I had no friends because I wasn’t good enough for friends. My life was in shambles because I wasn’t strong and worthy enough to put it back together. I had fallen off the wagon, lost my place in life as someone who deserved to be here.

Honestly, the only thing I liked about myself at 19 was my figure.

I was diagnosed in April of 2011, towards the tail end of my sophomore year. I started medication in August, and quickly figured out not every pill works for every person. My depression my sophomore year was the worst I had ever had. For the first time in my life, I started seriously fantasizing about taking my life.

I tried three combinations of medications by August of 2012. One was marginally effective, but I was experiencing side effects, so my doctor and I decided to try for something better.

In early August of 2012, my doctor started me on a new medication. I had no expectation the medication would work, but within a few weeks my life and mood had changed so drastically I forgot I even had a mood disorder. I got closer to the few friends I had and I reached out to make new ones. I enjoyed my classes more, though I still hadn’t recovered my dedication. Best of all, I felt alive again, after feeling undead for years.

I was having such a good time I didn’t even notice the weight gain until November. I got on my parents’ scale while home on break and saw I had gained weight. Honestly, I didn’t even care. I was just so happy to be free.

But the pounds kept coming and coming. Antipsychotics have a strong track record for causing weight gain in patients and my medication is one of the worst ones. My pants got tighter. When my weight climbed again, I decided I wanted my old body back.

A little under a year after starting the new medication, I convinced my doctor to switch me to a different drug. In the summer of 2013 we switched my medication. When I developed severe nausea and vomiting on it, we tried a different one. That one caused my obsessive anxiety to spike through the roof. I was constantly on edge about situations that were unlikely happen, wondering how I would survive if I ever become homeless or if I would go to hell when I died.

By the end of the summer, I was back on my original medication. We knew it worked well, with the weight gain being the only side effect.

By December 2013, the medication lost its effectiveness. I began ultra-rapid cycling, being up and down several times a week. I crashed into violent suicidality every two to three weeks. We increased my medication and then further increased a few weeks later.

By the fall of 2014, I had had enough. The medication wasn’t working and I hated my body. I had gone up a few dress sizes and had gained more weight than I ever wanted. In October of 2014, everything fell apart and I had my first and only psychiatric hospitalization. While in the hospital, I was told I was hypertensive and prediabetic. This medication had to go.

I tried different combinations of medications. In the next year and a half, I graduated from a masters program, got a job I loved, lost that job, began dating the love of my life and started medical school. But one thing I didn’t lose was the weight. In fact, I am now significantly heavier than I was before I started antipsychotics.

I may be bigger, but I also am happier, healthier and more content with my life than I have ever been before.

Four years ago, I was skinny and the only thing I liked about myself was my weight. Now I am chubby and virtually the only thing I don’t like about my life is my size.

I am learning to accept my new body. It is still the same miraculous biological machine it was when it was lighter. And while I still hope to lose the weight someday, I believe my happiness makes me more beautiful than my thinness ever did.

My flabby stomach and lack of a thigh gap tell a story about my life. They are the result of a strong woman getting help for her mental health problem, deciding she didn’t want to be miserable anymore. I am proud I survived the storm. I am proud I was brave enough to seek treatment.

Our bodies are beautiful, regardless of their sizes. Always be proud of who you are and where you’ve been. You deserve to be alive and happy – I can confidently say it is worth it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: December 19, 2016
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