I’ve admitted before that I have food issues.
However, my problems with over-eating are rooted in more than merely my mother’s crazy attitudes toward diet, exercise, and all things weight-related.
Because I have bipolar disorder, I take psychiatric drugs that tend (as my doctor optimistically insists) “to increase body mass.”
How’s that for the fat phobic’s, pound-producing kiss of death?
For folks like me, however, these drugs impact the body in several waistband-expanding ways: slowing metabolism, stimulating appetite, and increasing lethargy.
But rather than bore you with the science behind these unfortunate metabolic facts, I’ll share a story about one of my biggest battles against these drugs—one that culminated in a 1997 when I took the drug Zyprexa.
First a bit of background—
Though I’d not been able to work since 1990 and had lost 5 years cycling in and out of psychiatric hospitals, in 1995 I decided to move from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Dallas, Texas, hoping treatment available in that larger city would de-escalate my ongoing and, it seemed, worsening symptoms.
It was a risky move. I had no money. I had no family support. And I was sick—very sick.
In order to finance the move I donated plasma as often as possible over a number of months—at $40 a shot, eventually enough to rent a U-Haul truck and move myself several hours south—into a tiny studio apartment with a big window, lots of light, and a cockroach population to match.
When I moved to Dallas, I had known since the early ‘90s that I’d inherited the genetic predisposition for what something called schizoaffective disorder—an illness that is notoriously difficult to treat, as it requires doctors to address several separate sets of symptoms at once—for me those of psychosis, depression, and mania. Doctors struggle to treat one set of symptoms without inadvertently activating another.
I, in fact, fought from 1990 to 1995 in an effort to find just the right combination of medicines that would leave me less symptomatic, but those drugs had only managed to make me fat and leave me feeling really, really miserable.
But in 1995, just months before moving to Dallas, I’d become determined to exercise myself thin again. And during my early days in Dallas I’d had some success in this regard—that is, until 1997, when I needed to be admitted, for insurance purposes, to a hospital I’d never been in before and was assigned a new psychiatrist to manage my medicines during that stay.`
This doctor put me on a medication called Zyprexa, one that made the appetite increase I’d experience in the past seem minimal by comparison. In fact, Zyprexa made me so incredibly hungry, I seriously considered gnawing on a table leg or maybe even my own arm, when food was not forthcoming. I was literally overcome by appetite, by a ravenous desire to consume, to eat anything remotely resembling dinner–even dishes in the hospital cafeteria tougher than and not nearly as appetizing as shoe leather or tire tread.
You name it, I ate it, and I enjoyed it. A lot.
Like other medications I’d taken, Zyprexa also made me feel thick-headed—like I had to swim through a fog to interact with the world. I had to fight to stay awake—to keep my eyes open—to carry on a conversation—to process language. Friendship felt nearly impossible—too much work—too much trouble to have to talk—articulate, move my mouth to form the words.
However, unlike other drugs, Zyprexa blunted everything human about me and left me completely unable to function. For example, I couldn’t remember how to complete the most ordinary of tasks, such as how to brush my teeth or when to wash my hair. I had to talk myself step by step through these processes, creating lists of every step involved, and marking them off as I completed each, lest I forget where I was and have to start over again.
Fortunately, I only stayed on Zyprexa for a month, but it was thirty days too long, four weeks of fearing I’d never get my life back.
Today, the medications I take don’t debilitate. Yes, they make me hungry. Yes, they slow my metabolism and make weight-control a challenge, especially as aging, in its own right, has lessened my ability to burn calories as efficiently as I once did.
However, I’m thankful now to have spent that month taking a drug I hated, because now I know just how much I have to be thankful for, especially in dietary terms.
At least now I don’t have to waste calories eating things like shoe leather or tire tread.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever contemplated eating when really, really hungry?
Note: If you are new to my blog, you might like to know that I am writing a memoir and blogging about growing up in an organized crime family. (The post you just read demonstrates the impact that childhood dysfunction had on me as a young adult.) To read one of my mafia-related memoir posts,”Kids Make the Best Bookies,” click here. If you are interested in reading any of my protected posts, please email me at email@example.com or let me know in the comments below, and I will gladly share the password with you.