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What Gaining Weight Meant to My Depression Recovery

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It had been a few months since I had gotten out of the hospital, and it was time for my psychiatrist follow-up. When I first got out the hospital, these visits were every two to three weeks. Now that I was more stable, I had one every two to three months or so for refills.

One of the first things the kind nurse does is weigh me. I stepped on the scale and watched the numbers soar.

It was like counting medication — it would not stop.

I let out a “Whoah!”

The nurse merely laughed. Certainly, she was as excited as me.

I had gained a good amount of weight over the course of about five months. While many would be alarmed at a great increase in weight, I was not. It was a triumph.

I had always kept my torso area toned ever since middle school when the physical education teacher would measure how many sit-ups we could do. I, of course, had to beat as many people as I could. My weight had stayed the same since middle school, so did my height. So from ages 13 through 21, I stayed at the same numbers.

At the height of my depression and anxiety, I would not eat.

Sometimes I was just too tired, fatigued by work, school and my suicidal thoughts.

Sometimes I was just too busy. It seemed I was always running, whether it be to the pharmacy or just in my bed, head beneath the sheets, thoughts racing through.

Sometimes I just completely forgot.

My weight started dipping lower. In truth, besides the whole abs thing, I never was too self-conscious. I saw weight as something to manage with exercise. The only times I really got on myself for being “out of shape” was when I couldn’t shoot around in my backyard without having to take several water breaks. I was also very active, having played tennis in both 7th and 8th grade and basketball in 8th and 9th grade. Being in basketball made me want to be stronger, not necessarily thinner.

At the peak time of my illnesses, I didn’t want to not eat.

Sometimes, on my lunch break at work, I was too worried about what I had done wrong, too worried about not messing up, that I often spent my breaks alone, just thinking. And crying, overwhelmed by my anxiety.

I don’t know how many times I went out to my car, head down in between my knees and the steering wheel, just bawling my entire lunch. I would make excuses to my co-workers, that I was just tired. School this. School that…

Even after a long shift, 10 hours sometimes, I would spend close to an hour after work there in the parking lot just running over the events of the day, beating myself up for having said the wrong thing, for having done something wrong, or for forgetting to do something. They were always minor things, like not following up on that one lady’s insurance rejection or not sending that refill request.

No one was going to get hurt. These were easily fixable. But my mind told me I was so inadequate, I should know better by now and I sucked. My mind said I was an idiot.

I felt like it would be justice if I died because I forgot to order someone’s medication. Remember, there is usually no logic with mental illnesses.

The month closer to my near-suicide attempt, I would cry, safe from anyone else knowing, in my Corolla, praying for those suicidal thoughts to just stop, but also praying that no one gets hurt or dies because of me. By the time I would get home, I would shower, do some homework and sleep. Eating was not on my mind.

So when that scale soared, it was a triumph. It was a physical manifestation of how far I’ve come.

It started in the hospital, actually. Not the NPC, but the longer term mental health facility I was in. Believe it or not, the food was really good.

We were served three meals a day, but we had plenty of snacks, juice cups and coffee in between.

When it came to meal time, the technicians would line us up near the entrance of our locked unit, make sure everyone who could go was in line, then take us to the cafeteria. (Fresh admits could not go with the group until the psychiatrist had evaluated them.)

We grab a tray, plastic utensils (no knives allowed), choose from the entrees and dessert, pick from the juice soda-like fountain, then sit down at the designated table. (There were groups from other units, like the chemical dependency unit, at their own table.)

There was always a salad cup offered at lunch and dinner. I always had it with ranch, but once or twice I tried the vinaigrette. It was mostly lettuce, which I love, with nothing weird in it, like cheese, nuts, or fruits. I don’t like those too much.

The entrees ranged from pork chops to chicken cordon bleu. Sometimes, they would even have left-overs from lunch, and if it was good, I’d take a plate of it again at dinner. The cornbread was my first cornbread outside of a school lunch setting. I liked it a lot, and I couldn’t believe I had spent so much of my life avoiding it. Breakfast always had grits, eggs, bread and some meat —sausages or bacon.

I didn’t quite understand the grits. It looked funny, all lumpy and coarse. Then I would see my unit-mates add stuff to it, from milk to sugar. I didn’t dare try it.

I also found out that Americans have dumplings, but it’s not the Asian ones with meat inside, steamed and dipped in soy sauce. This dumpling was in soup. I was mind-blown.

I missed rice. After all, it is a staple in my culture, eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Still, it was hard to complain because the food was better than what I would have ever expected of a mental health hospital.

Of course, not everyone agreed. One of my unit-mates asked the table if this was what people ate in prison. Someone was quick to pipe up “no” from her experience: prison food you couldn’t tell what it was. It’s always awkward when one asks a rhetorical question everyone else is supposed to laugh at, but someone answers.

For the first time in a very long time, I was eating well. Heck, I even grabbed snacks, mostly Fig Newton’s or the like, in between activities at the snack cupboard in our unit. It may not have been Starbucks, but the coffee was quite good. My appetite grew and eating became part of my day again.

It continued even after my hospital stay.

It got so that I would spend a lot of my paycheck just eating. It wasn’t necessarily fast food, but I made sure to eat well. I began to actually think about food, as in, what should I have for lunch today?

Between a food thought and a suicidal thought, I would gladly take the former.

My therapist didn’t discourage it at all. In fact, she explained how different people do different things to unwind, to do what it was that made them happy.

A trip to Starbucks to get iced coffee and a brownie, or iced coffee and Kroger cake, or iced coffee and cookie were my happiness.

If I wanted to get cake, I was going to get cake. At first it was this tiramisu obsession, until I found another cake at Kroger that is part mousse with a chocolate filling on top.

Eating meant I was alive.

It seemed like every visit to the psychiatrist, I would gain more and more weight.

We had a discussion about being active and healthy. I told him, I eat a salad every now and then.

I’m aware of how much I’ve gained. When your skinny jeans tells you your fatter, it’s unsettling. My thighs never used to ripple. I got away with small boobs because my stomach was flat, but now my abdomen was catching up. Back then, I was so thin, my pharmacist bluntly asked me if I ate at all. I would say of course, hiding the truth.

However, as I look at my flabby tummy in between trying to do leg lifts, I can’t say I miss the more toned version — that person, that part of my life, was pain.

I like to joke that some of what I gained isn’t just fat cells, but boldness. Maybe some fortitude. But it’s just adipocytes; I’m alright with that.

I see my body as a triumph. Through all those times when I would worry instead of eat, my heavier body becomes a testament to how far my mental state has come.

No, I wouldn’t mind toned abs again, nor fitting into my old jeans. But I am also very comfortable in my present state. While I have set a goal to work out more, eh.

I adapt. And hell, if I want one, I go out of my way to grab a slice of cake.

And coffee. Always coffee.

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Getty image via DMEPhotography

Originally published: March 25, 2018
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