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Why Prednisone Made My Eating Disorder Recovery a Living Hell

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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 “NEDA” to 741741.

Many people who have been on prednisone before know all the dreaded side effects that come with it. As someone with severe eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis, I can normally expect to do a round of prednisone two to three times a year when my flares are at their worst. This has been the case for the last 10 years or so, at least. So, when I went to see my dermatologist a couple weeks ago and she prescribed prednisone, I can’t say I was particularly surprised. But, I would soon be very surprised just how much it would affect me this time around.

To clarify: yes, prednisone clears my skin within one to two days and that is amazing. I am so thankful when I get the chance to have clear skin — when I can work out without being allergic to my own sweat, when I don’t have to take antihistamines every night because I can’t stop itching, when I don’t have to deal with people asking me if I have poison ivy and when I can actually look at my face in the mirror without despising it. And people notice! I get comments I look healthier, happier and how “I’m so lucky to have such nice skin.”

I smile and thank them … but they have no idea the battle this medication brings. They don’t see I haven’t slept more than a couple hours a night in weeks because the insomnia from this medicine is so bad. They don’t see the headaches and nausea that make it feel impossible to get anything done. And, for me, the worst part right now is they do not see how much this is affecting my eating disorder.

Many people who are familiar with prednisone are extremely familiar with its favorite side effect: weight gain. As someone who was already slipping very fast back into the depths of her eating disorder, this has been a living hell. And going on prednisone in the midst of it … I never could have foreseen how badly that would play out. To make matters worse, I don’t have a therapist because mine stopped taking my insurance a couple of weeks ago and despite emailing and calling over 15 people and offices, I have had little to no luck finding another one.

Without going into it too much, my eating disorder behaviors essentially were extremely exacerbated after going on the medicine. After needing to leave my gym class early and rest in a building before being able to make it back to my apartment because I was so weak, I knew I could not keep doing this — I could not afford to go back down this road. And to make it worse, despite how little I ate or how much I exercised, I found out I had still gained weight. I did not understand and felt incredibly defeated.

But, the more I researched prednisone, the more I realized all of this was a direct effect of the medicine. Since prednisone causes salt and water retention, it raises blood pressure and weight in individuals. While I was still frustrated the situation was what it was, I did feel relief these were temporary effects and there was a legitimate reason behind them. As I was texting a friend about it, she said something to me that really helped me put things in perspective. She said:

“It’s only so much you can control, ya know? Like it’s kinda difficult to compete with a side effect that you have no control over essentially. Like many medications come with a list of side effects like nausea or headaches but you don’t really have control of that lol.”

As simple as it was, she was completely right. And with that, the recovery side of my brain started to kick back in. It said:

You are hitting your rock bottom with this and you have got to step it up. You have no control over this side effect, and I don’t see you trying to control all the other side effects — you’re still doing your best to get work done despite having no sleep and headaches — so why are you trying so hard to control this one? And more than that, despite your best efforts, your attempt to control it didn’t even work, so why continue to torture yourself? You know it’s not worth it. You know there is so much more to life than this. You know you do need real help. You know you have to fight. You’re already hurting so much and have so many other things bringing you down, this doesn’t have to be another. It does not have to be one more. You can do this.

And with that, as hard as it was, I ate dinner, emailed a few more therapists and finally got an appointment set up for next week. I hope it goes well so I can get back on track with recovery and healing, but in the meantime, I know I’ll be OK. I am so thankful to have such amazing friends and such a supportive community who I know are always behind me and rooting for me. Prednisone may have made this fight 100x harder, but I know with the right treatment, I’ll win in the end.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Originally published: February 21, 2020
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