Karen, a dear friend of mine, and fellow bipolar disorder sufferer, inquires, when traveling, if her chosen hotel keeps a few rooms/bathrooms with no mirrors. Since I have ballooned up while taking anti-psychotic medications, I so understand what she’s talking about. I believe that when I’m traveling I should look my best, feel my best in order to impart those feelings to the audience. But, when I’m in a hotel bathroom behind closed doors, there’s no escaping the huge reflection of large me. I mutter rude things at myself and feel awful. This encounter is a wake-up call every time.
Wikipedia defines metabolic syndrome as follows: “Patients with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder may have a predisposition to metabolic syndrome that is exacerbated by sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary habits, possible limited access to care, and ANTI-PSYCHOTIC DRUG-INDUCED ADVERSE EFFECTS.” (Capitols are mine) Metabolic syndrome changes our metabolism by slowing it down and can cause massive weight gain. Of course, many people eat the right food and exercise but when psychiatric medications are on board, weight gain is a struggle all too often fought and not won.
My home in Montana has had one small mirror above the bathroom sink since 1996 when I weighed 120 lbs. This mirror is 12”X16” (I just measured it) and frames my head and slightly below my shoulders. I would have to haul my step stool in to see anything further down my body, and I have done just that, but not recently. This was not a plan on my part. What it is, really, is an untoward trick on myself. When I see myself in the hotel mirrors I am shocked. I can go for weeks without seeing below my shoulders in my bathroom mirror at home and here is where the trick happens: I begin to feel thin! Really and truly, I do. I know I’m not thin but it certainly seems like it. Left to my imagination, I’m thin. I have to catch myself in window reflections to have a realistic notion of what I look like. Did I fall out of love with mirrors as my weight gained or have I never thought much about my image? I think the truth is that I was slender for most of my life and didn’t understand anything about negative body image. It’s been a constant shocker for me to see how large my once slim body has become. Mirrors don’t minimize my rude awakening. What mirrors have helped me do is understand just how I look, no rosy glasses involved. And I have actually begun to do something about my weight.
The weight gain from medication is a terrible side effect. If our self-image is already terrible because of our mental illness, then weight gain certainly doesn’t let us feel any better about our selves. I find the weight issue connected to psychiatric medication a sad, embarrassing, humiliating gift of self-consciousness. If we can lift our heads high when we are asked what mental illness it is we endure then, I believe, we can hold our heads high when we, who have metabolic syndrome, see ourselves in a full-length mirror. Could-a should-a… I still feel that terribly sticky emotion of shame but now that shame makes me angry. I need that anger to make me eat more healthy food and exercise even if that’s using a jump rope or bouncing around in the living room or actually taking a walk with my dogs. What am I angry with? My own complacence? My dangerous belly fat? My self-pity? Actually I think the anger helps fuel a strong will, which is what I need to get healthy.
Let me tell you about my son, Calen Pick. Calen is my hero. He was almost up to 300 pounds a few years ago because of his anti-psychotic medication. Then I began using the same anti-psychotic he does and I learned first hand how difficult it is to stay slender while taking clozapine (Clozaril). But as a young man Calen wasn’t surrendering. He lost a ton of weight using the Fat Flush diet and now he exercises everyday with his wife. I used to think that Calen was able to lose because he is young. Nope. It’s what he eats and how he exercises.
I now keep very little food in my refrigerator. This system works well as the nearest grocery store is a thirty-two mile round trip and cravings haven’t yet made me get into my truck to drive that far. I have two servings of carbs in 24 hours. I eat mostly vegetables and protein. I succumb to a chocolate bar (Cadbury with Roasted Almonds) about once a week. If I don’t feel like walking I jump rope outside. If I don’t feel like jump roping, I grab my 5 pound weights and bounce back and forth, sideways and up and down. I hate exercising but I’m finally convinced that diet without exercise just doesn’t work.
Possibly someday I’ll have a full-length mirror in my home. Probably not. I do know, however, that I’m losing perhaps 1/16th of an inch every day. Now, I’ll take my new resolve on the road and see what happens. Those huge mirrors will tell me. And it better be good! (I’ll let you know.)