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:

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Now I Know Why I’m Wobbly

It's all in my left ear

It’s all in my left ear

It isn’t ataxia at all. The reason I can’t keep my balance, even though I don’t get dizzy, is “vestibular dysfunction” in my left inner ear.

Even though my worst fall was precipitated by being dizzy from meds, it’s possible I wouldn’t have fallen if I hadn’t turned out the light, leaving the room in pitch darkness. You can compensate for poor balance with your eyes, to some degree.

And that’s what the physical therapy for this balance disorder does. Combining visual cues with a wobbly platform, the exercises retrain your damaged inner ear – somehow. They tell me that six weeks of twice-a-week therapy should be sufficient. Continue reading