My “Sick” Body
*I wrote this piece in 2013. I was told to hold on to it, to wait until the anger dissipated. It never did.
Please don’t congratulate me on my weight loss. I like to think I’ve accomplished many praiseworthy things in my life, but this is not one of them. Dropping 15 pounds was a side effect of what really was my biggest achievement of the summer: I sought treatment for my recently diagnosed OCD. I gave myself over to Prozac, the antidepressant that in extra large doses treats the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and also happened to dull my appetite. Suddenly I didn’t need a special diet plan or a magic cleanse, no self-help book or Weight Watchers app. Instead, I swallowed my pills and I reduced my exercise and ate cheeseburgers when I wanted to, and I started to shrink despite myself. I’ve spent my entire life fantasizing about a time when losing weight would not require a feat of willpower or the hiring of a personal trainer, and it finally happened.
But my weight loss itself is not a moral victory. I take medication that makes me nauseous, that makes me tremble just enough that I always look like I’m having terrible stage fright or a moderate case of the DTs. I have less strength than I used to. Sometimes I twitch. When I mentioned my struggle with Prozac side effects, my psychiatrist asked, “Do you want to tremble a little, or do you want to obsess all the time?” “Neither?”, I answered, although I knew surely I couldn’t have both, not yet. I resigned myself to tolerating the drug’s negative consequences and slowly I’ve become more clear-headed and less prone to panic attacks. I also, consequently, happen to be thinner than I’ve been in years.
I was a size 8 and now I’m a size 2, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel good about being able to fit into my skinny jeans again for the first time in ages. But I also try to remind myself that I was just fine when I was a size 8. I was healthy. I ate plenty of vegetables. I took long walks. My Type I diabetes was always in terrific — you might even say, obsessive — control. There was nothing wrong with me except for my tendency to ruminate incessantly over minor insecurities, or things that happened in the past that I couldn’t undo. I couldn’t get particular thoughts out of my head even though I desperately wanted to. It felt like negative thoughts were taking up all of the space in my head and I couldn’t imagine ever having enough room left over for productive or creative thinking.
I didn’t make an official announcement when I was diagnosed — how do you mention your problem with obsessive thinking to acquaintances? So the way people began to talk around the issue was by talking about my weight. It was the outward manifestation of the work I was doing. I was discouraged by some of the reactions I’ve received from well-meaning onlookers: the co-worker who motioned to my belly with a wink and said, “you’ve lost quite a bit of weight”, the neighbor who said, “Whoa, you got skinny! Nice work.” I love a good compliment, truly, but the state of my body is not a reflection of some inner determination or lack of cheese-eating. It only reflects that I was willing to make myself uncomfortable in order to take care of my mental health. I wish I had not had to do it.
Thinness does not always equal success, no matter how much that message is ingrained in our brains. Thinness might be the result of grieving for a loved one, of being ill, of being too stressed out to care about food. The terrible possibilities are endless.
I don’t know if I’ll be on this high dosage of Prozac forever. But I do know that eventually if I stop taking the medication, my curves will likely come back. I keep promising myself that I won’t be ashamed if and when I regain the weight. I can’t take it as a personal failure, and I hope no one else does either. So please, if you’d like to congratulate me, congratulate me on doing what I needed to do to make the symptoms of my OCD melt away, and not the inches off my waist.