When I was 20, I dropped out of University, and moved in with three gay guys (the fact they were gay is relevant to relieve you of the notion I was a complete floozy). We had fun. We had a lot of fun. In fact, with my share of the rent coming in at $162.50/month, no car and no responsibilities, I spent most of my time having fun. Dancing, performing, playing games, hanging with friends, staying up all night and sleeping all day. I also lost 80 lbs without trying. It was, quite possibly, the best time of my life. Yet, one night in the dead of winter, I found myself wandering around an abandoned parking lot with my parka over my pajamas sobbing. Trudging through the snow, around and around, I was overtaken by grief, hopelessness and despair – and I couldn’t figure out why. Convinced I had lost my mind, I feared the police would cart me off to the loony bin and found my way home.
Shortly thereafter, I went to see the doctor. That wasn’t normal behaviour, was it? Not that I’ve ever been a fan of normal, but parkas, pajamas and parking lots is a special kind of weird. The doctor suggested I might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and told me to take Vitamin D and get more daylight. Considering my lifestyle and short Canadian winter days – I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen the sun. The diagnosis made sense.
He put me on Prozac. I stopped crying. And laughing. And being angry. And being much of anything. Prozac turned me into an emotional zombie and I stopped taking it. And I began wondering when depression started for me could it be playing a role in my “weight problem?” Was it possible that I had been self medicating with food and that when I slimmed down and ate differently that the depression, now “unmedicated,” showed up? And it dawned on me: I started using food at six years old -when my parents separated.*
I was sad and too young to buy crack, so I went to the refrigerator instead. While I don’t have a ton of memories from around this time, I do remember saying two things out loud to my mom:
1. I cry a lot more now than I used to; and
2. I’m going to start liking eggs now.
The fact those two declarations of a six year old are the ones that remain in my memory 37 years later is no coincidence. I was sad. And my mom was sad. And me eating what I was told to eat made my mom feel better. And that made me feel better. So, according to my little-girl logic, eggs made me feel better.
It was the early ’80s and the next few years were tumultuous. Living with a single parent, baby sitters, back-and-forth to dad’s house, figuring out expectations, step-parents and, of course, leg-warmers. Slowly, I got chubbier as I turned to treats to make me feel less stress, less responsible, less vulnerable. Interestingly enough, when I look back at pictures of myself when my parents were expressing concern about my weight, I wasn’t that big – especially by today’s standards. But my parents were concerned and started putting me on diets – so I saw myself as a fat girl, even though I was plump at best. And that made me sad too.
My weight fluctuated with my emotions. When I had lots of friends and lots to do, I maintained a relatively normal weight. When I went to a new school and couldn’t make fast friends, I gained. For the most part, I had friends, had lots to do, played sports and was a relatively happy teenager. Boys weren’t banging my door down, but that may have had more to do with my attitude and outlook than my actual appearance.
My first year of University, I gained the freshman 50 as opposed to the 15 most people gain. Each pound made me more self-conscious, more withdrawn and more depressed. The pressure of post-secondary weighed on me – literally. Until, one day, I quit, moved into a house with three gay guys and mysteriously lost 80 lbs living a life I loved.
Of course, I couldn’t be a post-secondary drop-out forever and come March of my “year of freedom,” my dad came knocking on my door with post-secondary course calendars asking me to choose where I was going to go next year. And thank goodness he did, or I might be a 41-year-old fag-hag** bar star who the young ‘uns call granny behind her back. And school stressed me out and stress made me gain – about 100 lbs in two years. And that made me sad.
After that initial dose of Prozac, I eventually graduated from Seasonal Affective Disorder to full-blown depression. The doctors experimented with various drugs until we found Wellbutrin which I took for 15 years with varying levels of efficacy. Through weight gains and losses, at best it took the edge off, at worst I was bawling my eyes out on the couch in the middle of the night stuffing my face with chips. As I’d lose, my mood would improve – exercise, confidence, getting outside, eating right and drinking water all contributed to an improved moods. And then something would change (still trying to figure out what) and the depression/weight-gain cycle would start again. In many ways, I’ve been fortunate: I’ve never had a serious urge to end my life. Many times I fantasized about getting beat up. I thought that if I was physically destroyed, I could start again somehow. I had compulsive thoughts of taking a knife to my belly and cutting away the fat. But I’ve always been able to keep a job, support myself and be independent – and for this, I’m truly grateful.
This past winter was one of my worst. Finally, I thought to myself: “I’m miserable AND medicated. Why not try it without the meds?” So I started lowering my dosage and then stopped taking my pills altogether***. My loved ones are watching me closely for signs of returning depression and my doctor knows to keep an eye out. But for the first time in nearly 20 years, I am free of medication. I feel great and ready to take on this challenge, one day at a time.
*I want to make it very clear that I don’t blame my parents for my “weight problem.” I know they loved me and did the absolute best they could with the tools and knowledge they had available to them. But I can’t talk about how I ended up here without talking about my childhood – so please know I hold no grudges or resentments against them. They were (and are) good people with good hearts.
**Another disclaimer. Please know I use this term as a comedic device with the utmost respect and love for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
***In the interest of complete honesty, I didn’t consult my doctor before stopping my meds – but I should have. And he knows now.