Bipolar Medications, Weight Gain, and Shame: A Confession

In the late 1980s I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and given Elavil (amitriptyline) to help me sleep. I had been found to have inadequate delta sleep (deep, restful sleep) in a sleep study, and it was thought (maybe still is) that poor sleep and fibromyalgia were related.

The first morning after I took Elavil I nearly wept for joy. It was the first good night’s sleep I’d had in 20 years.

One problem with that drug is that you have to keep jacking up the dose to get the same effect. The other is that it packs on the weight. I went from 135 to 165 pounds, and people were asking me if I was pregnant.

In 1992 I decided I couldn’t stand the extra weight any more and stopped taking Elavil. The weight started to peel off. Then, in December, my sweetheart of 11 years died suddenly, just a month after we finally got engaged. I lost a total of 40 pounds, down to 125.



Now, I looked great at 135, and not bad at all at 125, even though I was 5’10” tall, as I’m extremely small-boned. But in 1994 I had a depressive breakdown and was put on Prozac, which was still pretty new then.

By 1997 I had gained 20 pounds and I did not look good.

In 1999 I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder and began to play musical chairs with meds. More and more weight gain, till I got up to 170. Here’s my medication history from my first psychiatric medications until 2003:


Eventually we found a drug that really worked well for my persistent depression without causing hypomania – Seroquel (generic quetiapine) (seen at left). Mentally I felt much, much better. Physically – I gained another 35 pounds. Seroquel is notorious for causing significant weight gain.

I tried a lot of different ways to lose weight.

  • I spent $2000 on an online program that supplied special powdered drink mixes, etc. – and lost two pounds.
  • I joined a rigorous exercise program, which probably built up my muscles but – I didn’t lose any inches (and my chiropractor made me stop after awhile, as my back just couldn’t handle it).
  • I tried the South Beach Diet but quickly got sick of the lack of variety.
  • One spring I started out walking 5 minutes on my treadmill and gradually built that up to 80 minutes a day walking a trail through the forest preserves. Did not lose a single pound (although I enjoyed myself immensely, and wish I could still do this).

Finally, in 2007, I started tracking calories and exercise. Over 11 months, I lost 20 pounds: down to 175, but then two things happened. (1) I hit a plateau. (2) Radical changes in my life led to dropping the good habits I’d developed.

Gradually over the next several years my weight crept up – and my height went down as I aged. I went down to 5’8”. To me that meant I had to weigh no more than 125 to look the way I wanted. Then another drop, to 5’7”. Now I need to get to 120. And, not surprisingly, I was diagnosed in 2009 with type 2 diabetes. That does run in my family, but I have no doubt the massive weight gain contributed to it.

Late in 2013 and early in 2014, for no apparent reason, I dropped 23 pounds. I was pretty damn pleased about that… but then I slowly gained 30 pounds. I am now back at my highest weight ever, 205, and 3” shorter than when I last weighed that much.

My doctors are all extremely worried, because 85% of the excess weight is in my belly, which is dangerous. I’ve had tests up the ying-yang, and all the results have come back normal. But my psychiatrist and I are very uneasy about the idea of dropping Seroquel from my medication cocktail because it works so well for me.

Then yesterday I saw this video about a young man who had lost 270 pounds over 6 years but was left with all the extra skin and stretch marks from his 270-pound body.

Matt’s Shame-Busting Video

And it made me feel ashamed. I hate my body. I hate the way I look. Nobody believes how much I weigh because I dress well to hide it – but I can’t hide my face or the double chin beneath it. Yes, I’m much older now, but damn it, my friend JoAnn who walks every day and eats only healthy food is my age and she looks 20 years younger.

Yet I’m not doing anything to lose weight.

Years ago I read something that has stuck with me: “You always find time for the things you really want to do.” It’s true. I’ve thought of it often over the years, taking the corollary, “You always give effort to the things you really want to do.” So do I really want to lose weight? At this point, the answer is, “Yes, but I want it to go away by itself.”

I was really, REALLY hoping that some of the tests the endocrinologist ran would find a reason for why I am carrying so much excess fat. I have all the symptoms of a cortisol problem, but the test results didn’t indicate one.

Seems to me I have two choices only: liposuction (which idea scares me to death, thanks to an episode of The X-Files), or doing what I did before: count calories and keep track of the time I spend at exercise – even housework.

I’d love to be able to walk in the forest preserves again, but at present severe back problems make that impossible. And I have no interest in swimming, which is one form of exercise I could do (I think – haven’t tried it). I’m a lousy swimmer, and too embarrassed to appear in a bathing suit anyway (I look 10 months pregnant). Cardio and weight work are out, too, because of my back.

But now, young Matt’s video has shamed me. I couldn’t do what he did – expose my body to the public. He, on the other hand, not only had that courage but had lost 270 pounds.

I need to lose about 80 pounds. To do that, I need to stop living on Starbuck’s bottled Mocha Frappuccino (4-5 a day right now), cheesecake, raisins and other sweets and carbs.

The benefits of losing weight are many!

  • I’d feel a hell of a lot better overall.
  • My arthritic knee would benefit.
  • I’d be able to get out of a bathtub or up off the floor without a terrific struggle.
  • I wouldn’t hate my body.
  • My blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides would all go down.

So here’s the question: Am I ashamed of myself enough to do that again? Or would I rather indulge myself with delicious and fattening foods and continue moaning about my overweight when I’m not even trying to lose it?

My Psych Meds in March 2015

My Psych Meds in March 2015, accompanied by the hatching baby dragon

My medications (Cymbalta, Klonopin, Seroquel and Lamictal) are working very well at the moment. My mood is generally upbeat. I can handle housework in 5-20 minute increments without pain (depending on what the housework is, of course).

So damn it, I’m going to do this. I know it works, because it worked before.

You see, my biggest shame isn’t how I look and feel – it’s that for years I have made no effort to lose weight, in spite of constantly moaning about how fat I am. That has to stop. I need to be positive.

The first step: Replace frappuccino with coffee. Frappucino has 180 calories and 31 grams of sugar. Coffee with a tablespoon of creamer and Sweet’n’Low has about 18 calories and almost no sugar.

I’ll keep you up to date on my progress.

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4 thoughts on “Bipolar Medications, Weight Gain, and Shame: A Confession

  1. I read this feeling nothing but a wow that you were strong enough to put your struggle out there for everyone to read! The med yoyo with weight sucks and has been my biggest struggle with my pdoc to date, trying to avoid cretin meds I have heard cause more weight gain than others.
    I wish you success and luck on your journey!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, I am at the same place you are and need to make some drastic changes, the medicines make it tough especially since one of mine (one of many) really kicks in my carb craving obsession, most notably sweets. Until I was put on all these meds, I never had a problem with my weight, I won’t bore you with all the details, let’s just say they are similar to yours. Please continue to share, I for one really appreciate you.

  3. Same here! Over the past 5 years, I’ve gained 10-20 pounds on various medications, particularly Paxil and Depakote. I had very low self esteem during that time. I too worked out like crazy and watched my diet, but lost no weight. It was a very frustrating time. I switched over to Lexapro and Lamictal, which have helped me shed the pounds along with some extra pounds. Lately, I tend to rapidly lose weight when I try a new meds, I’ve been trying out a few meds recently for my ADHD, which has really affected my body in that I’ve even noticed stretch marks developing. I’m really bumbed about it. My doctor is slowing incorporating the medications so that weight lost isn’t so sudden. I’ve realized with Bipolar II, trial and error are necessary when in comes to treatment and medication.

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