Seven months. Seven months that feels like a total lifetime. Seven months is how long I’ve been struggling with an active, head-rearing, rampant eating disorder.
My eating has been on the “disordered” side of the eating disorder spectrum, without being a fully fledged, diagnosable eating disorder, for a long time. It all started in September 2015, which is when I got my first mental health diagnosis of Bipolar 1 disorder. While, as you will know if you’ve been reading along, I do not actually HAVE this disorder, I was treated for it for the better part of a year. This treatment was mostly the introduction into my system of harsh mood stablizing, anti-anxiety, anti-depressants and anti-psychotic prescription medications. Lithium, Seroquel, Ativan, Cipralex, Olanzapine, Rispiridone, Venlafaxine, Abilify, Prozac, Valproate. This huge medicated cocktail of a body (note, I did not take all of these all at the same time, but many of them were taken together to create the aforementioned cocktail), was turned into practically a walking, talking side effect. I got tremors from the lithium, I got muscle stiffness from Rispiridone, I was drowsy from Ativan and Seroquel. And nearly every single one of these medications had a side effect of weight gain.
Starting out, I was on Lithium, Rispiridone and Seroquel. Here, Seroquel is the biggest weight gain-inducer out of the bunch – naturally I hate this medication. To this day, I have an aversion to it, along with most of my other medications. So, in order to try to prevent this imminent and seemingly inevitable weight gain, I went on a diet. It seemed the sensible thing to do. I started slowly, by eating less dessert, eating smaller portions and small things like this. Slowly, very slowly, it started to take over my life. I began counting calories. Then I started to restrict my calories. Then I banned certain foods altogether. I would get undeniable cravings – I would stuff myself full of food, until I reached my calorie limit (which at one point was as low as 1200 kcals a day, but usually averaged around 1450 kcals a day). I would eat my entire days worth of calories in a 30 minute binge, then continue to not eat anything for the rest of the day. The worst part of this situation? I actually thought I was being healthy, and making good decisions for my bodily wellbeing. While I obsessed over my weight, and over calorie content and over food, I actually ended up losing weight while on this diet/medication combination. Not a lot of weight, but around 5-7 pounds were shed during this phase of my life.
When this combination of medications didn’t seem to be doing the trick, and the side effects were outperforming the functionality of the medications, I switched from everything I was on to a singular force: Olanzapine. Also known as Zyprexa, this is an interesting medication for me. I have an absolute burning hatred for this medication, and for what it did to me. Unfortunately, this is at complete odds with the fact that it actually seemed to keep me stable. I functioned pretty optimally, if not slightly drowsy constantly, while taking Olanzapine. Of course this would be the case.
While on Olanzapine, my anxiety started to worsen, and with that, the food cravings followed. I would binge regularly. Inevitably, with the extreme medication and the extreme food related behaviors, I started to gain weight. I stopped counting calories, and started eating my feelings. I didn’t stop eating, not until I had gained 30 pounds in under 3 months.
Finally, come December, the last straw was accounted for, and my eating disorder came into being. It was not all at once, but rather piece by piece. I began taking laxatives purchased in secret from the pharmacy, occasionally at first, then transitioning to a regular occurrence; perhaps even daily. Then, Christmas day, I became a member of the full-blown eating disorders club, when I purged (vomited after eating) all of my giant turkey dinner.
So that was how it all began. It would continue to grow, transform and mutate over the next seven months. My new year started with me stopping my Olanzapine and starting on a newer drug called Abilify. It was supposed to have no weight related side effects, and it proves correct. This is the mood stabilizer/anti-psychotic/anti-depressant/amazing, calming medication that I am currently taking.
In addition to stopping my intake of Olanzapine, I stopped eating almost altogether for a month. I was restrictive to the extreme. During a whole day, I’d consume a singular rice cake, plain. This amounts to a whopping 50 calories per day. I lost 10 pounds in 2 weeks.
It progressed from there into utter bulimia. This means cycles of bingeing and purging, eating and vomiting. Flash forward to present day, and you will find me in a desperate situation: with intense cravings and compulsions to eat. These get so bad that sometimes while at work, I will even eat soil from the plants, paper from the receipt printer.
Food is such a multifaceted concept for me now. I both love it, am a slave to it, worship it; and hate it, despise it with all of my being. I am obsessed with it, constantly craving, always wanting. I feel so much guilt. Plagued by this guilt, I eat to comfort myself, then I purge away the guilt. The cycle continues, feeding into itself and fanning the flames.
I am now at a completely normal weight, having lost all the weight that I had previously gained while on Olanzapine. However, my bulimia persists.
But, I too, persist. I fight, every single day. Battles against urges and compulsions and cravings; wars are waged inside my body on a daily basis. I feel sick if I eat, I feel sick if I don’t vomit. My body has no clue as to what to do with the foreign concept that is food. But still, I eat. Still I try. I wake up every day with mountains to climb. My eating disorder clings to my heels as I hike, but on good days, it falls behind and loses momentum – in other words, I emerge from the rubble victorious.
Will I ever recover? I must believe this. Will I ever be able to go back to “normal” eating? I think not. I will always be wary of chocolate cake and bacon. I will always consider the calorie content of food. I will always be cautious of going to the toilet after eating. But I have faith in myself, that I will learn to appreciate the art of food once more, that I will return to a place of functionality in my eating. This is my dream. I will, eventually, eat and be happy.