The fat melts away: psychiatric drugs and fat–a commentary

So I’m feeling really skinny. I’ve lost about half of the 100 lbs psych drugs put on me.

I do not want congratulations! No.

Really because it generally strikes me as insulting.

There is nothing to be congratulated. I don’t deserve this any more than I deserved to gain the 100 lbs in the first place. I was a fat woman in America for 15 years because of psych drugs. Fat phobia is an ugly, insidious part of our culture and I will always be a fat woman inside my heart now. We are another oppressed group who are routinely mistreated and discriminated against. We hear on the TV and radio and in idle chatter all around us everyday how we are gluttons, lazy,  pigs and have no self-control. We are driving the cost of health care up and it’s all our fault. We are the cause of global warming!!

By the way the links at the end of that article are really great and lead you to some truth about fat. For a primer on understanding the true nature of fat read Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin.

The truth is there are many people with healthy eating habits, who are not lazy, who like to be active, who hike and exercise who are still fat. Alternately there are those who eat really bad, get no exercise and don’t take care of themselves. You know what? There are just as many THIN people who do the same. Fat is very complicated and basically a lot of the “obesity” hype is just that: hype.

There are many body types and it often has little to do with how well you’re taking care of yourself.

Anyway, here I am a woman who got used to being fat over a decade an a half. A woman who never stopped eating well or hiking  several times a week and was never a glutton and who learned that when she got fat people stopped paying attention to her like they did before she got fat. Especially men.

You know what? I’m scared shitless of being thin. Because right now I know who really loves me. I know who doesn’t give a shit about my shell. The world is filled with shallow losers and being fat is a good way of ridding yourself of a good share of them.

Also I lost weight once before and got non-stop compliments. I found it insulting. I suppose I was so disgusting when I was heavier that everyone had to express their great relief that I had lost a bit of weight. I lost that weight by working out 4 hours a day. Not tenable in the real world. Nope. No one except someone who is paid to work out can do that forever. And so it is with many naturally fat people. Not just those like me who got fat on drugs. And even at 4 hours a day of heavy workouts I WAS NOT THIN. I was still fat. Just less fat.

So now I’m getting skinny. I’m not doing a damn thing to make it happen. I’m in a size 14 and they are getting too big. It’s likely I fit in 12s now but I haven’t gone shopping lately. Normal sizes. No more plus size clothes. A whole new world has opened up. My body feels strange. I don’t recognize it.

It also feels good. I like that there are less rolls of fat and that I can lean over more comfortably and cross my legs without discomfort. Sure there are pluses. But dammit. I’m still me inside. I was me before the weight gain and I am now me as it all melts away ever since I got off the last of the neuroleptics. To make things explicit it was first the Depakote (a so-called mood stabilizer) and Risperdal that made me fat, and then once off the Depakote the Risperdal and Seroquel that made me fatter.

I’m having a bit of an identity crisis. I don’t know how to handle it entirely. So far I don’t see people much because I’m housebound so I haven’t had the onslaught of compliments, but eventually I’ll be out there again, once again getting hit on by men—something I haven’t had to deal with in almost two decades. I will loathe those men. I won’t be able to help it. I was invisible to them when I was fat. I was dumped by one of them when I first got on the drugs and gained the weight. My boyfriend of two years dumped me and told me it was unnatural to want to have sex with a woman my size. I was a size 12 at that time. Hardly fat in my book these days.

I have nothing else to say on this topic right now because I’m in process. This, I remind you, is a snap shot. Of this moment. Nothing else.

Just as a side note before I started taking psychiatric meds I was a super fit, slim athlete who was considered beautiful by typical societal standards. That all changed when I got fat. I do have to say, though, I was not as discriminated against as much as some fat people because I always managed to project an air of confidence. So I got good jobs, for example. Not all fat people are so lucky. Fat people are paid much less on average than thin people, for example.

But I still didn’t escape all the hatred that is projected on us as a group and often in large part that hatred is then internalized. So now the future of where I go with what has been internalized remains a mystery. I see and feel my body and it doesn’t feel like mine. I almost want my fat body back.

Everything is changing so fast in so many ways.

More posts on psych meds and fat here.

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

25 Responses

  1. OMG I get this.

    I was fat ( at my heaviest pushing a size 18) my whole adolescence and adult life, except for a blip when I lost 45 lbs as a teen and then another blip when I lost 45 lbs on speed. Then after my divorce I starved 90 lbs off my body and got down to a nice healthy size 0. Scary!

    Now I am a size 6-8, relatively slender by societal standards. Two years after losing the weight, I’m still shocked at how differently I am treated. the praise, the adulation, as opposed to the disapproving eye flicker that people give when you’re heavy. Last night at Passover, I was praised by my family for keeping the weight off.

    I feel like a strange social experiment, so I get what you’re saying. I completely get your anger and resentment at our shallow image-obsessed society.

    Yet I can’t deny it, I do prefer the lightness of my body these days. There is a buoyancy and it makes me feel good.

    I am also very much in solidarity with the fat acceptance movement, and support people to live free at any size. In fact I admire their courage. It’s not the easiest thing to be the fat girl in a weight obsessed world.

    check out this link, I think you’ll love it:

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  2. “The world is filled with shallow losers and being fat is a good way of ridding yourself of a good share of them.”
    I love this quote.
    I think that losing weight is one of the most difficult and brave things that a person can do. I’ve lost about 10# – but I’m conflicted whether I can lose anymore. I’m a size xl or 14/16. but was going to 18.
    I find that being thinner is difficult for women. There’s more protection in the fatness of a body and I think that’s why I gain weight.
    I’ve been battling the SAME 5# the last 4 mos. It’s ridiculous. But maybe when the sun comes out and I’m more active I’ll lose again.
    God bless Gianna and keep it up! It’s only a shell – not the real you.

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  3. kim

    without clicking on any of the above links (and I will eventually) this is my two cents:

    First of all, a Hollywood reference, from (big surprise) me. Some of the well-known actors 30-50 years ago were on average a size 12-14. Marilyn Monroe for example wore a size 16 at one point (probably related to the drugs she was on) She was 5’5″ and weighed around 140-150. Although clothes were different then. Shelley Winters is another example. Montgomery Clift (my favorite actor) gained quite a bit of weight on psych drugs. Today, anyone over a size 12 or 14 is usually discriminated against. And so for those of us that have been over a size 12 or 14, well, it’s not easy getting past the hatred that was projected towards us. Moving on….

    Let me rewind back 20+ years before psych drugs. I was 5’7 to 5’8 and weighed 99-105 pounds. I was constantly made fun of in high school. I could eat anything and not gain a pound. I felt extremely uncomfortable in my skin. I clearly remember looking in the mirror and seeing a ‘fat person’ and I was not anorexic or bulimic. I was an athletic, played soccer and basketball, and I’m sure that helped keep the weight off plus my grandfather was very thin-it was in my genes I suppose.

    And then enter psych drugs: I’ve taken countless over the past 20 years and it’s shocking to look at pictures from these years-I look different in every picture. I refuse to look at pics from my Seroquel days but I also gained weight on many SSRI’s throughout those years. Three years ago I was only on Lamictal, weighed 140ish and felt extremely healthy. It was during my active acupuncture phase, I was walking 5 miles almost every day and then I was diagnosed with Adenomyosis and possibly Endometriosis. Shortly after, I had a back injury at work and was diagnosed with sciatica. Needless to say, I’m now often in pain. I was prescribed a painkiller to treat these issues and quickly gained weight-similar to what happened on Seroquel. The next thing I knew I could not fit into anything (and I have clothes in various sizes because of my weight fluctuations) During my last doctor visit, I weighed 187.

    But, throughout the years, I have never felt comfortable in my skin, regardless of my weight. During my ‘skinny’ phases I experienced things like you did. I used to (almost daily) hear from complete strangers-do you know who you look like? I would always quickly answer, yes I know, Kate Hudson. One man actually chased me through a building demanding an autograph-it was disturbing. And today-I maybe hear it once every other month or so, if that. Men pay no attention to me. And that’s fine but it speaks volumes about the society we live in.

    I am lucky (like you) that my husband loves me regardless of my weight. He’s known me for 11 years-he’s seen all of my weight fluctuations. My weight has always revolved around medications-not diet or exercise and that is the disturbing part. When I would go off a med, the weight would drop, quickly. When I would start a med, I would gain 20-40 pounds within 1-3 months. (Lamictal was the exception)

    Now, it’s simply (or not so simply, actually) about finding a balance. I want to be healthier-I don’t like the way I physically feel with the extra weight. I haven’t been on psych meds or the painkiller for several months but the weight is still there….this time it’s not going away. And that is because I’ve been living a very sedentary life and well, I don’t know how else to explain why it’s still there.

    I understand (I think) what you’re saying. Yes, regardless of our weight-we are still who we are inside. It’s just not easy when our lives/weight have been controlled by the medications we’ve been on. Just learn to embrace your new body-ignore the comments/the flirtations and be happy that you are on the path to recovery. That is most important. You said, “I will always be a fat woman inside my heart now” and I don’t particularly agree with that. I thought my heart would be forever closed (to men) after I was raped 20 years ago and yet, now it is OPEN, finally. Anything is possible. I hope you understand what I’m saying.

    When you mentioned this, “My body feels strange. I don’t recognize it.” that leads me to believe that you are much more comfortable with your body than you think. Simply because you recognize the feeling. So many people aren’t even able to recognize that. Again, I have always felt uncomfortable in my skin and I think it has something to do with the rape. After that night-I completely disconnected with my body for many, many years.

    And lastly, you can rid yourself of the shallow losers, no matter your size. You are one of the smartest, most compassionate woman I have ever met (even though we’ve never ‘met’ but you know what I mean) You will figure this out. It might take a while but you will.

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  4. Grainne Humphrys

    There’s no denying it, we live in a Fatist (sounds like facist, hey!) culture. The way people respond to so-called fat people has always intrigued me… it brings out strong responses in so-called thin people. What’s that about?

    This may sound wierd but I’ve always said that inside me is a big, fat Mama just dying to get out! That’s how I see myself, big, beautiful and generous, LOL. Genetically, I was always skinny, but now after 2 kids I’m a bit more curvy (YES! Big asses are the BEST!) I always steer clear of men who only chat up skinny asses (control freaks!) In relation to the ‘feeling lighter’ comments, I understand that it must be somewhat uncomfortable being very large (health-wise, weight-wise) but maybe it’s a form of protection too… whatever, it’s a pity people can’t just see beyond the shell. Our bodies are merely shells that house our spirit and our person.

    In other eras it was fashionable and desirable to be fat, in fact if you were fat it denoted that you were rich. It just so happens that in this era it is fashionable and desirable to be thin, like the saying goes… “you can never be too rich or too thin” (if you want to fit into the norms society has carved out for us). Personally, I think big is beautiful, much more attractive than skinny-skinny…

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  5. Darby

    Ah… this is such a loaded topic… The fact that Marilyn Monroe was a size 16 always makes me smile! At my healthiest, working-out-5x-a-week phase of life, I was a size 12 & felt great – this b.s. that there’s something unhealthy about that is so bizarre.

    On the other hand, the fact that some psych drugs cause people to gain 50-100 pounds IS terribly unhealthy – and what does psychiatry not GET about that?

    Which leads me to my favorite current rant – all this talk from the feds and national mental health groups about the fact that people with psych histories die 25 years early barely mentions the negative health impact of psych drugs. It’s all about “you people should quit smoking and get off your fat butss and excercis…” How about dealing with the REAL issue!

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  6. Doe

    This is very interesting. I’ll bet it is scary losing weight after being “overweight” for so long and seeing what assholes people can be and how their tune changes when you’re thinner.

    I’ve always just been a little “chubby” by society’s standards…10 or so pounds “overweight”, but I have found it disturbing how people gush about how good I look on those rare occasions when I’ve lost some weight (for me that’s usually when I’m feeling most miserable….there was the Topomax period where I got down to 113 pounds where I felt suicidal…and then break ups of romantic relationships where I lose weight). Part of me is insulted and thinking “What was I before, chopped liver?”.

    And the men do look more, and it makes me feel uncomfortable…not unlike “prey”. Although I’m thinking getting older, and the invisibility of that, will help me feel more anonymous. My new grey hair will keep the men at bay, I’m sure. It’s scary either way for me…if they don’t look, if they do look.

    But I haven’t been at a svelt weight for awhile. I’d like to be a little thinner just for the ease of movement, crossing the legs, not feeling the tire in my middle make everything cumbersome. Also my knees and feet hurt, which I think might be part of the extra weight. It’s hard to know what’s what when you’re withdrawing from meds.

    It must be strange too, kind of “uncovering” your body…seeing what’s there..the shape…I’ll bet your waist is nipping in.

    Seems like your body is just reflecting what’s going on in this whole process…a gradually uncovering of the layers…distilling everything down to the essence. Aw, that’s probably way too corny. Maybe it is what it is.

    Weight is such a loaded issue.

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  7. Selene

    Klonopin withdrawal does take the weight off, that’s for sure. It’s amazing how much of an influence the Klonopin has had on my appetite … especially the withdrawal. For me, there’s a period of absolutely no appetite, with quite a rapid loss of weight … followed by a voracious appetite and rapid weight gain when I stop tapering to stabilize. I’m trying to minimize both simply for health reasons.

    Yes, the focus, especially for women, on whether they are fat or thin is tremendous. I’ve been agorapobic, depressed and nearly suicidal for 15 years while on benzos … There were times when I went a week without showering. I left school and quit work and barely took care of my children. I’d lost my soul and it was obvious.

    No one said a word. Nothing. No one even asked me what the hell happened to me.

    But when I lost about 25 lbs recently (long ago gained after starting benzos), everyone had something to say. Wasn’t it a marvelous thing that I wasn’t fat anymore!? My father even took photos of me around to relatives to show them how good I looked now. No one mentioned, or seemed to care, that I hadn’t seen those relatives in years because of benzo tolerance induced agoraphobia. The important thing to all is that I’m not fat.

    So, for me, it feels like there’s near complete invisibility whether I’m fat or thin or somewhere in between. Others only see the fat person or the thin person … they never seem to see me.

    Hugs,
    Selene

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  8. At age 29, I was not on psych drugs and weighed 155 pounds. That’s awful scrawny for a guy 6′ tall… I had a girlfriend who thought I was cute but too skinny, and she and all her friends spent three years trying to fatten me up, laughing about my “hollow leg” and such. At the end of three years, I weighed 165.

    However, in that third year, she got some doctor to put me on lithium carbonate. By the time I was 34 I weighed 245, and kept going. In November 2003, when I took my last psych drug, I weighed 305. (At that point I was taking Zyprexa, Lexapro, Topomax, and one or two other things.) Within four months I dropped to 265… and held. I got down to scaring the hell out of 250 — and then had foot surgery, so no more exercising for Mossypoo. I’m back up in the 266 range.

    I tried to hit a more-intensive exercise program. I don’t think I overdid it. My body disagreed with me, and I was on my back for two days (after about 2 weeks of this program) — no cold, no flu, just no energy.

    Recovery is a relative issue. I truly believe I can get back below 230, and don’t intend to do much more than that, but I’m not moving right now. I truly believe I have the brains to hold down a full-time job, but I know I do not have the stamina.

    Rather than beat myself up, I make sure I have lots of little things to do, people I’m talking to (to help them or me), activities, etc. My friend Sky has said a few times that I’m doing more than any TEN activists she knows.

    There is a place for each of us. Gianna, you inspire more people every day. I know you’re not happy with your strength… and can identify, even though I get out a lot more than you do. “Good enough” is a hard term to define, and should not be based on any one criterion. You’re doing great — wish *I* could say I lost another 50 pounds. Or 30. And it’s bad karma to tell people not to give you strokes for what you’ve accomplished, so give it up. LOL

    Hugs,
    Moss

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  9. Oh, the thing about “bipolars” and “schizophrenics” (tending to) have “metabolic disorders”, causing the extreme weight gain and early death if it were true, or even had a shred of evidence behind it would point to *some* sort of physical/genetic marker for so-called “mental illness”. And, it doesn’t.

    When are they just going to “get it” that giving these drugs, especially “major depressant” class drugs (AKA “antipsychotics”), cause people to sleep, not wish to move or do anything, and they get fat. Many of the “so called” mood stabilizers and antidepressants (drugs fighting “major depressant” drugs) greatly increases the appetite at the same time. So, they have chemically altered the metabolism! THEY cause the problem. It’s common sense. And, they don’t seem to get it as a “problem”.

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  10. “I will loathe those men”. Is your body something you inhabit, or is your body you?
    Men and women are visual, we look at food such as apples or grapes and judge if they are good to eat or not on their appearance. If we see a new car (for most) it looks better than a rusted out one. We, men+women both look for aesthetic beauty in things.
    It depends on the individual and on current social norms of what a “good” looking weight is.
    You will have to learn to take “the look” as a compliment as it is intended as a compliment, such as one likes the look of an apple.
    As a man, I can get “the look” from women, but I don’t have any money. As soon as a woman learns the guy has no money, they are out of there. Women can be just as superficial as men.

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  11. Hi,
    Well, I don’t know if I dare say what I think. I have never been mean to an obese person, but when I do see a person who is very overweight the first thing that jumps into my mind is: “I bet they are on psychiatric meds.” I also think that something in their life must not be quite right. Either they truly have a metabolic problem or they are eating more food than their body needs as a way to comfort themselves.

    It was a good thing for me that I valued being thin as did my mother who had a medical background. I was put on Risperdal and then Zyprexa, I ballooned up. To us this just wasn’t acceptable. My mother was so scared that I was going to get diabetes. She spent a lifetime as a health educator. She was very, very pro-medication BUT she was also very much pro health and she knew I was on the road to diabetes. Having all that weight be unacceptable was on of the best ways for me to convince my mom that psych drugs were not the answer.

    My husband sometimes gets a 30 to 40 pounds overweight and quite frankly it bothers me. Sometime right before bed he will eat enough for the whole day, even though he has already had three meals and a couple snacks. I know his body doesn’t need it. It is just fullfilling some need he has. I can’t stand to watch him. I think it would be similiar to watching someone bite their nails to the nubs or some other bad habit. I have to just leave the room when he does this.

    Last year my cousin gained 40 pounds in 30 days because he was put on Zyperxa. I felt so bad for him. The first thing on his mind was food. I knew he couldn’t help it. I was nice to him. He went out and bought boxes of high calorie treats. He then asked me to hide some of it.

    Shortly after that he quit taking the Zyprexa. His dad and brothers wondered why he had gained so much wieght. I told the pro-drug family exactly why.

    I am sorry if you don’t like what I have to say, but it is what I feel.

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  12. it’s a feeling a being “prey”
    Rightfully so, but you should blame Mother Nature for instilling the urge to have sex. Unless men are supposed to be robots, until you give them permission to look.
    The strict Taliban make their women cover themselves. You could voluntarily cover your body if you don’t like men looking at it.

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  13. kim

    “oh by the way Kim…when I say I will always be a fat woman in my heart…I mean that I will always stand in solidarity with my fat sisters!!”

    oh….i see…I 100% agree with you! In fact, when I meet someone for the first time, I immediately look at/into their eyes. And then I feel an overall vibe, of sorts. Never in my life have I ever looked at someone’s color of skin, color of hair and on and on. That is unless I’m casting-it is sometimes a requirement for my job. And lastly-I have never paid attention to someone’s size. It doesn’t matter to me. That is no important whatsoever. Too bad their are many men who can’t say the same thing.

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