Believe it or not, I have three separate wardrobes: one for when I’m underweight because I’m not eating sufficiently due to my depression, one for when I’m maintaining a healthy weight for myself, and one for when I’m overweight due to weight gained from antidepressant medications. I’ve grown used to it, but it still doesn’t change the fact that when I’m overweight due to medication, my self-esteem rapidly decreases. I prefer to be in my “healthy weight wardrobe” and when I’m not, it affects my depression in a very negative way.
When I heard the laundry list of side effects of the various medications I naively thought that probably only happens to a small percentage of people. Boy was I wrong. Each person’s body reacts to prescription medication in its own way. I learned that my body is very sensitive, and with each new medication I tried came new side effects—dry mouth, hot flashes, weight gain, nausea, vomiting; I’ll spare you from the rest. I’m always nervous when I have to change a medication because it worries me what side effects will come with it, and whether this medication will actually help. Will the pros finally outweigh the cons?
Before starting on medications 18 years ago, I was thankfully not one who had struggled with a negative body image. Then the medications began and so did the weight gain. A lot of the older antidepressants are known for causing weight gain, but I was certainly not expecting to gain 40 pounds over the span of four weeks! I usually ate well and exercised, so for me this was a complete shock. Then I couldn’t fit into my clothes and had to get new options to substitute for my old wardrobe. I tried to have a positive outlook on the situation thinking, “At least I get to buy new clothes,” but that only lasted for a little while.
Then the questions and comments started coming from others: “Are you pregnant?” “When are you due?” “I had no idea you guys were expecting!” My negative response was followed by a very awkward silence and I would try to change the subject very quickly. I began to stop going out in public. I couldn’t find a dress for shul that didn’t make me look pregnant, which caused me to not go to shul anymore.
As I’m sure many of you are aware, it is a lot easier to gain weight than it is to lose it. I was eventually able to return to a more normal range with diet, exercise and some medical intervention. With every pound I lost I felt better about myself. At first it felt like an insurmountable goal but with the encouragement of my friends, family and medical team, it gradually got easier.
When I reached the halfway point of how much weight I needed to lose, my whole perspective of the situation changed. I realized that my first thoughts about medications were far from correct. I now keep all three wardrobes handy in case of weight fluctuation, which I’m going through again right now, and I’ve completely changed my mindset on the matter. Do I get upset when I’m starting a new medication that causes me to gain weight? Of course. However, at the same time I try to remember that my doctor prescribed the medication for a reason and that the benefits of it outweigh all possible side effects for me. We always make sure to give the medication some time to work (which for antidepressants can take at least a month) unless the negative side effects outweigh the potential positive ones. Thank God I have a great medical team that works together, listens to me and always has my best interests in mind.
It’s difficult to have positive self-esteem when living with treatment-resistant depression, especially when so many of the medications make me gain weight. I just always try to remember that this medication can be a great benefit, and possibly become a game changer. It’s worth taking the chance to live a happier life without depression, no matter what I look like on the outside.
Shelli Sussman is the founder of RinaLi Mental Health, a comprehensive worksheet of mental health providers recommended by others in the community that can be viewed anonymously. Most of the providers are in network with insurance. For access to the spreadsheets and updates, follow RinaLi Mental Health on Facebook or Instagram, or email [email protected]