“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”
~Joseph Campbell~ (Challenge Quotes)
This is a topic I’ve been mulling over since I started this. Why a blog about mental illness & weight loss? I searched for information geared toward the subject several times & never found any. Only talk about weight gain on some psychiatric medications. There’s plenty of sites out there about mental illness & plenty about weight loss, but I wanted to read about other people dealing with both & how they did it. I wanted that blueprint & support. What helped them? Did they have any tricks that might help me stay on top of my plans & finally succeed? What was there to be learned in cyberspace? Nothing.
Granted, the physiological aspects of weight loss are the same, but having a mental illness exacerbates the typical issues & presents some special issues of its own. Here are a few I came up with while writing this.
A lot of psychiatric medications cause weight gain, most notably anti-psychotics. These are being used for broader purposes all the time. I was on one for a few weeks that was used to treat resistant depression & bipolar disorder. I gained twenty pounds in a couple of weeks. Another woman I was in treatment with had been on anti-psychotics for years & gained sixty pounds. According to her, she had been thin all her life, even after having kids.
From my own experience, & that of other people I’ve read about, Zyprexa makes you crazy hungry. I went from not much of an appetite to feeling like a switch had been flipped one afternoon a couple of days after starting the medication. I remember suddenly feeling very hungry & wanting to eat everything – not just in sight, but *everything*. I stole extra snacks that evening & horded them in my room. I snuck off at one point & went to the store for sodas & candy. (Sugar has always been my weakness.) It isn’t hard to see why I gained weight on it. And this doesn’t even start with all the other side effects of head meds.
Focus, consistency, & persistence are three of the most important components of losing weight for anyone. They are also some of the toughest for most people. (Excepting of course the “befores” you see in magazines, who seem to have never realized they were fat till that one fateful day, & they immediately committed to running & yoga & strength training, & eating egg white veggie omelets for breakfast, baked skinless chicken breasts & steamed brown rice with veggies for lunch, & a big garden salad with light dressing for dinner everyday, & they lost a hundred pounds in six months & have never gained back a pound. Never. I don’t know, maybe they lived in some sort of clown cult, where they could only were giant clothes & were never allowed to look in mirrors. I’ve known I was fat & wanted to change, & have changed some for more than a decade now, but it has not been that smooth of a process. But I digress.)
Being bipolar I struggle an extra lot with focus. I have trouble sticking with anything long enough to finish it – like blog posts that take three days to write – because I’m easily distracted & constantly on to the next shiny thing. I have so many thoughts & ideas racing around inside my head, I can’t keep a train of thought on the tracks long enough to pull into the station. Unless of course it’s when I’m completely obsessed with one thing to the point of not sleeping or eating regularly to spend 24/7 on it. I have stories about this, but they make me sad.
And then there’s the flip-side where I don’t get out of bed for days, or just get up then lay around all lethargic like for weeks. I may or may not eat during these phases depending on how bad it is & what’s around, & does it require effort. I do tend to binge eat during these episodes when I do eat. I’m a very emotional & comfort eater. And let’s face it, if you don’t care if you live or die, healthy lifestyle choices are the farthest thing from your mind. The irony of it is, that is also the time you need those things the most. I imagine other mental illnesses face similar challenges, & others unique to their illness.
Speaking of mood swings, there’s also the issue of becoming SUPER motivated during a hypomanic transition out of a depressive episode. When I haven’t moved in days or weeks, & suddenly need to do everything all at once – NOW! I’m a fat, mid-thirties woman who has never run a whole mile in her life, but I can totally be running for the USA in the next Olympics. When are the next trials? I got this.
So here we go with the obsession, which leads to the disappointment because it’s not happening fast enough, which leads to anger & a crushing since of self-loathing because I’m a failure. Why? why? why?? am I such a failure? Rinse & repeat. So now, I can’t become obsessed. I can’t get too excited about anything. I have tried harnessing this natural exhuberance, but it has never worked out for long. It’s kind of a bummer that I can’t get too excited about what I’m doing, because I totally want to be so excited I make myself sick! Literally.
But it’s not all bad! A bonus of living with a chronic mental illness is maintenance. I’ve already accepted this is my struggle for life. Therapy, pills, & lifestyle changes are for the rest of my life, not till I get better. I will never get better. I will not outgrow being bipolar & there is no cure. It has taken me years, almost twenty, to get to this point, but once you do it gets easier. Once you move past denial & stop fighting your own process, you can move on to making the real changes you need to manage your disease.
All of this holds true for weight loss, especially major losses like more than a hundred pounds (I imagine since I have done it… yet). You have to make major lifestyle changes, life long changes. I don’t have the after experience to talk expertly about, but I believe however much I change, there will always be a fat person inside me. She may get quiet & be relegated to the back of my mind, but she will be there. Like the mania & depression when I’m in a stable phase; always there waiting to rear their heads when I’m sad, stressed, lazy, anytime I let my guard down.
Weight loss may be a temporary state, but weight maintenance is forever. I can’t diet to my goal weight, then quit, & expect to stay at that weight anymore than I can expect to take the pills till I feel better, stop, & continue feeling well. And in both there are going to be setbacks & struggles, no matter how long I’ve been on the path. That’s just facts.
I hope this has shed a little light on things for anyone who reads this. Writing it has certainly helped me to get a better focus on my topic. One hope have for this blog is to improve my integration of these two topics. I feel I tend to post like I’m writing two separate blogs; one about weight loss & another about my mental health. That is not my intention.
I want to learn & write about how both of them impact my life, how I’m handling both issues, & how they are both impacted by proper nutrition & regular physical activity. I also want a record of my progress in these areas. I want a place where people in a similar situation can see the benefits of using diet & exercise to battle both problems at the same time.
In my experience, the general thinking in the mental health community is get your mind right & then work on your body; while in the non-clinical world people seem to think if they lose weight they won’t feel as “depressed”* as they have been. I have alternated between those two over the years, & found myself here fatter than ever & just as crazy.
My own research into the areas of fitness & nutrition led me to decide I needed to attack them both at once. Both respond to the same healthy lifestyle changes & they feed off each other. This is the journey I hope to highlight here. Too few professionals prescribe dietary changes & physical activity for mood disorders. Too many people think losing weight will fix their lives – hating yourself does not go away with your fat pants. I’m not sure that last line fits in with the theme of this post, but it’s still pretty damn true.
But hey, it makes a great tie-in to write a post about learning to love my fat body at the same time I’m trying to lose weight. I swear those two things go together as well!
*(I use quotes because many of these people would say they are depressed, but are not clinically depressed. Having suffered from major clinical depression I do not want to belittle the illness, though it is also not my intention to diminish the pain that these other people do feel. Getting fat & hating yourself for it is a hard way to be, with or without a diagnosis.)