Please note: this article is not intended as medical advice. This is my story and my opinion. Any changes in your medication or health plan need to be discussed with your health care provider, as did I.
If you could lose ten percent of your body weight from taking a script, would you do it, even if it threatened to ruin your health otherwise?
A lot of us would. A lot of us are right now.
I nearly did, albeit at the time I had no idea what was going on. Most of us don’t, which is why I’m sharing this story.
In late 2017, I initiated a process which I slowly but surely cycled myself off some prescription meds. I’d been on several of them since 1999, when a VA psychiatrist prescribed them to control my anxiety and migraines. At that point I still hadn’t gone public with the stories about my military rapes, and I had been carrying that burden for nearly twenty years. Like so many other women, my self-hate and blame resulted in some behaviors that got diagnosed as bipolar, but which were, in fact, PTSD. Yeah, and good luck getting that bipolar diagnosis off my records. It’s nonsense, and I know it, most of my docs know it, too, but there you have it.
Burdened with a bipolar diagnosis for committing the crime of having rage about being repeatedly raped. Yah. But that’s another article.
To my mind, and to quote a brilliant friend of mine who is also a psychiatrist, going to a shrink is too often a lot like getting your horoscope read. They are in many ways as clueless as we are, for they are beset with the same neuroses and psychoses as are we. Good luck getting them to admit that. But I digress.
I was on this pharma cocktail for nineteen years. Things began to change, and not for the better.
In 2017, the drugs I was taking for migraine control and bipolar, the latter of which I didn’t have, began to be a problem. A big one. I began to exhibit a slew of problematic symptoms. As an athlete and someone who eats carefully, the symptoms didn’t make sense. I trusted my docs not to give me meds that would kill me off or cause me to want to kill myself off, but that’s where I was headed.
One day I sat down and made a long list of all the symptoms I was experiencing, ranging from the very serious suicidal thoughts to light sensitivity. There were fully thirty-five discrete presenting problems. Then I researched each med’s side effects and listed those on the same table.
You guessed it. Everything from memory loss, dizziness to dry mouth, dry eyes, panic attacks, extreme worry...every single one could be traced directly back to a medication.
We’re done here.
I called my primary care doc and told her I was initiating a cycling off. I wanted freedom and I wanted my brain and body back on my terms. Gradual, and with her observation. Took four months. Not surprisingly, all the symptoms resolved. Every single one. Interestingly, my neighbor Judy just told me that she had the same results: she was also on topiramate, lost weight she doesn’t have to lose, had serious side effects, got off it. Those resolved for her too. Yes, these are both anecdotal, but the research I’ve tagged in this article below validates our experience.
It took me up until very recently to sort out one that caught me by surprise: the extra ten that slowly crept back on. It comes and goes, but mostly it’s here. Apparently, to stay. I did some further sleuthing.
I’d gotten accustomed to being very light for years. Say in the 118–125 zone, where I am no longer. These days, if you disregard a few extra quarantine pounds, I am closer to about 130–135. Which is very normal for my height, given how muscular I am. That part of me which is still attached to being uber-thin, and it’s a voice I live with, would really love that tiny me back. Not likely to happen. Nor do I particularly care, for health reasons, not vanity.
When you look at the research on topiramate, which has been successful as an anti-seizure and migraine drug, it can used as a weight loss drug. However, as with anything you ingest, you pay a price, as did I.
This description about how obese patients responded to topiramate is from Science Daily:
…. the authors found that patients were nearly two times more likely to stop topiramate treatment because of side effects than were those receiving placebo. The most common side effects, according to Kramer, included a burning sensation (paresthesia), typically around the mouth; impaired taste; and psychomotor disturbances, including slower thinking and reduced physical movements. Difficulty concentrating and memory impairment also were increased.
Aging by Pharmaceutical
Some of what’s described above, difficulty concentrating and memory impairment also were increased, are what we ascribe to aging. Not pharma outcomes. Yet article after article online lists all manner of symptoms caused by meds which we ascribe to age. I beg to differ, in many cases.
Again, I can’t speak for anyone else. As a one-time obese person, I am well aware of how desperately we who have carried that weight might wish to keep it off. But at what cost? Am I willing to addle my brain and my cognitive functions just to be skinny?
If you’ll forgive my pointing out the extremely obvious, those who bark at us to be thin at all costs have already demonstrated that their brains are indeed addled, their cognitive functions terribly impaired, and they are about as trustworthy as the viper in my garden.
Sometimes I’m pretty convinced that instead of fat they simply had their brains liposuctioned out along with any human decency, but I digress.
The meds I was taking were causing me to exhibit symptoms that doctors and society like to argue are part of the natural aging process. No, they aren’t, if you’re physically active, have no history of any of those issues, and eat a healthy diet. In my case, and I can only address my own case, those symptoms came from the meds and ONLY the meds.
Our docs prescribe meds for us while weighing the negative effects. The problem comes when there are too many providers who aren’t consulting each other on our overall health.This is in part what leads to polypharmacy, and that can not only do terrible damage, it can kill us off if we’re not taking charge of our own healthcare.
As for weight loss, that great bugaboo.
Previous weight loss meds have had horrible side effects:
You may remember some disturbing reports about previous weight-loss medications. Dexfenfluramine and fenfluramine were taken off the market after they were linked to heart valve damage. Sibutramine (Meridia) was removed after it was linked to heart attack and stroke in people at highest risk for them.
Pharmaceutical companies are working hard on pills to solve or ameliorate the obesity issue, if for no other reason than pure profit. A pill that works- in lieu of improved health behaviors, for example- is going to be worth billions upon billions. Too many of us, desperate to be thin, would pay anything and give up much of our future viability even for a few moments of thin.
Even if all we got was a postcard showing us That One Day I Was a Size Six. A one-day vacation from our fat, then we go back to Real Life. Fit for life isn’t thin, it’s just fit, for our body type, age, activity level and all the rest. Anyone who’s ever lost 100 lbs and gotten that After photo? How often do we look longingly at it for years thereafter as the pounds pile back on?
A medical fix to get us there, wherever “there” may be, may well cost us far more than jelly rolls. It may roll us right into a hospital bed or an early grave.
Thin, or healthy and aging?
Kindly, is being thin(er) for a while worth undermining your older years? If you buy the corporate Koolaid that the only thing in life is thin, then perhaps you would. A woman told me once that “she wished she could be anorexic for a few months” just to get the weight off. Not only is that massively ignorant about this horrible disease, it’s a statement of how terribly brainwashed we are.
I got rid of my extra weight not through drugs but through intense lifestyle changes which I’ve maintained for 33 years. An extra ten isn’t going to hurt me one damned bit. In fact, since fat is an organ as important to the body as your lungs or heart, that little extra padding late in life is pretty important to overall health in many cases (Please see The Secret Life of Fat, by Dr. Sylvia Tara). So while yes, it comes and goes depending on my food intake and efforts, I can no longer bank on a pharma fix for that last ten. Nor would I.
Despite very poorly-worded celebrity comments to the contrary, there is no moral superiority automatically conveyed to those who starve, abuse and medicate themselves to a grotesquely skinny body. Again, I did it for years, and I wouldn’t wish that living hell on anyone else.
From the inimitable Ursula K. LeGuin:
There’s the ideal beauty of youth and health, which never really changes, and is always true. There’s the ideal beauty of movie stars and advertising models, the beauty-game ideal, which changes its rules all the time and from place to place, and is never entirely true. And there’s an ideal beauty that is harder to define or understand, because it occurs not just in the body but where the body and the spirit meet and define each other.
Being thin made little difference to my quality of life
Those two decades where I hovered close to 118, being uber thin didn’t win me love, didn’t make me money, didn’t make me famous. None of those things. What the additional drugs were doing were slowly poisoning me to death. Precisely the same way that white lead-based make up killed off its wearers, including Queen Elizabeth I.
Obesity is a deeply complex issue, and as this article points out, there is no guarantee that anything you take is going to work. Many obese people also suffer from other medical conditions, sometimes related to obesity (like diabetes) that those drugs can exacerbate:
Conditions, which, if I may, would be much alleviated with better lifestyle choices around better food and movement.
Which to my mind speaks to the need to work towards functional fitness as opposed to thinness, which is meaningless, given how varied our bodies are.
I would posit we all can learn to get good work out of our bodies at most sizes, if we ask. But not if we sicken and early-age (yes, I made that up) ourselves by taking meds to get thinner.
I see little difference between this kind of drug abuse and the steroids that some of my fellow bodybuilders use to turn themselves into grotesqueries of nature.
That’s just my opinion, but I get to work out next to them. The acne, the rage, the damage to the body and inner organs is the opposite end of the “healthy image” they try to project. Too many of them die very young, their bodies a mass of lean muscle, their organs a mess of dysfunction from drug abuse all in the struggle to GET HUGE.
Kindly, how is that different from the abuse of our health to GET THIN?
I’ve done that. I sit on a slightly more padded ass than back in 2017, due in part to quarantine inactivity and too many chocolate almonds. The way I see it, my long-term health and vitality trump fleeting, short-term results which can have devastating and potentially deadly side effects. When I get back to full workouts, some of this will melt off. Some may not. At this point, that isn’t the point. The point is physical ability, endurance, viability. Those I have in spades. I’d love to have my tiny waist back, but not at the cost of my competence.
Kindly, what good is being super thin if a med that helps me stay there also makes me suicidal? Really? You would put up with that?
We age fast enough already. I hardly think it’s a particularly good strategy to stress, abuse and deteriorate our bodies with drugs to take off and maintain weight (or put it on, kindly) when it can clearly cost us a great deal more in a few years.
If you’re around people who want you thinner for their reasons rather than yours, time to trim the tree. If you’ve got doctors piling on the prescriptions without asking about your lifestyle first, time to trim the tree. If you’ve got docs whose waiting rooms sport huge screens hawking meds, WALK OUT NOW. Question everything. And for heaven’s sake, just because a TV ad for a med suggests that weight loss “might” be a side effect, kindly don’t demand that script from your doc before you’ve studied and considered potential side effects.
There is no fix for your health that’s better than the basics: good food, lots of movements, friends who love who you are as opposed to your waist measurement, and a purpose that has absolutely nothing to do with trying to be what we aren’t for the most part: white, rich, thin, young, beautiful or handsome, and ageless.
Ain’t happenin’ man. What is happening is your life. If my life quality is damaged by an extra inch on my posterior, I am shallow indeed.