I Gained 22 Pounds After Starting Anxiety Medication But I’m Happier

It’s just a number, I told myself, the way one does when they’re dating someone 15 years their senior. I stepped off the scale and planted my bare feet back on the cold, hard ground. This was the second time in five minutes that the nurse at my doctor’s office recorded my weight—the same doctor that for years dissuaded me from taking any medication due to his holistic approach. The first time I was told that the number glaring back at me was an error, one that could easily be fixed with the reset button. But when I got back on the scale, the same number lit up on the screen like a shabby neon motel sign, washing away any doubts I previously had about the machine’s skewed functionality.

In less than a year I gained 22 pounds. Ta-da!

The double digit reverberated in my mind like a pounding headache lodged between my temples. I could feel all those familiar panicky feelings churning in my stomach. Maybe there was something wrong with me. Perhaps the sudden weight gain could be attributed to diabetes, which runs in my family, or something worse, something deadly, something that would prevent me from fulfilling my dreams of a career and a family. But in lieu of spiraling too far into a rabbit hole of ruminating thoughts, I remained calm.

Finding a Silver Lining

When I was in the throes of my OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) a couple of years back, remaining calm was next to impossible. My doctor visits were frequent. I became the girl who cried wolf, begging any doctor who would see me to assuage my fears that a slight ache or pain wasn’t the cause of a malignant disease, but my anxiety in disguise.

Thankfully, my doctor beamingly explained that there was no need for concern. If anything, this was an accomplishment. I went from being in the 10th BMI percentile to the 50th—a perfectly normal weight for my height. For years he’d been asking about my eating habits and for years I would tell him the truth: I had my cake and ate it too. Which is to say, I ate (mostly) what I wanted in moderation, stayed active, and was able to keep the weight off. For the most part, this could be attributed to my anxiety, which kept my metabolism going faster than you can say ‘check please’ on a date gone awry.

Like an outsider preying on every fiber of my being, my anxiety left me to the wolves; to fend for myself. When the light I never thought I’d find finally arrived at the end of the tunnel, I was blinded. A pill the size of an M&M that I started taking 18 months ago stopped the repetitive thoughts, the stomach pains, and nursed my lifeless body back to health. For so long I raved about this miraculous antidote, countering those who stigmatized medication by telling them I experienced no side effects. But when I learned that I’d piled on close to two dozen pounds, I blamed my SSRI for the new stretch marks running up and down my thighs, and the new rolls hanging over my waistline. After calling my psychiatrist (and one too many Google searches later) expecting him to confirm my assumption, he told me there was less than a 5 percent chance that my medication was the culprit. To be sure, I’d eat healthier for the next month and exercise more regularly to substantiate his belief.

But for now, instead of lamenting my former figure or attempting to wiggle my way through last year’s jeans to no avail, I’m choosing to celebrate a body that held me like a newborn child during a dark time when my mind could not. A body that reclaimed its appetite, which was once taken away from me. I celebrate the rolls on my stomach, viewing its cushion as a form of protection, the way a mama kangaroo’s belly pouch protects its babies from harm’s way. I celebrate the cellulite forming on my butt, even though an ex once shared his disapproval for such basic human anatomy. I celebrate the new curves my laser lady called beautiful last week– even though she back handed her compliment by warning me to keep them flawless long after I have kids.

Embracing My New Figure

What I should’ve told my laser lady and that man with unrealistic #girlfriendgoals is that my body isn’t a Nicholas Sparks novel with a predictable ending. There will be ups and downs and plot twists. Age and pregnancy and so many other factors will undoubtedly change my appearance. It’s like being in a relationship, with unromantic scenes that are truly unexpected. It’s easy to love something during the good times, but what truly sustains a healthy relationship is to love during the bad times, too. That means loving my body, which I’ve always felt comfortable with, when my jean size is no longer a zero. It also means buying a size up, pushing my old jeans to the back of the closet, and going about my day without filling my brain with ruthless obsessions.

Granted, last year’s jeans that now barely fit over my thighs were purchased during a time when my anxiety turned my already scrawny body into sawdust. I cinched those waistlines at the tailor because they’d fall loose on my hips. Now thread by thread, I’ve snipped them off like one would at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, revealing the grand opening of my new body. It felt liberating. Besides, if it weren’t for the scale I wouldn’t have believed that I gained more than a few pounds.

Ironically, I gained as many pounds as years I have lived on this earth. It was as if the universe was giving me my life back, one pound at a time. And I’m happier because of it.

Featured image by Leighann Renee

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