During my last and very last trip to the psychiatric ward, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and an extreme case of OCD. After taking the antipsychotic Zyprexa, mostly on but sometimes off, for twenty years with poor results, I am now taking Abilify. Considered an atypical antipsychotic, my life has made a dramatic upturn since prescribed Abilify, but there are side effects that have proven problematic.
First, my weight has increased from one-hundred-forty pounds to one-hundred-ninety, which isn’t too bad considering I once weighed two-hundred-thirty pounds while taking Zyprexa. To get my weight down to a miserly one-hundred-forty pounds I did the Gandhi diet. Not because I was trying to lose weight, but because I didn’t think I needed food to live. I simply didn’t eat for three or four days at a time. Weight gain is a common side effect in almost all psychiatric medication, and I shouldn’t have been surprised. I didn’t take my medication for over a year, and the weight dropped dramatically.
I knew I didn’t look good at one-hundred-forty pounds, but during the quarantine, it seemed that no restaurants were open. Even in New Orleans where I lived the summer of 2020, it was burdensome to find a restaurant, and Bourbon Street was shut down for most of the summer. No medication. No restaurants. Forced to feed myself, I ate Hello Fresh ten meals a week and was running thirty minutes every day.
But it was more than the diet that caused me to gain weight. Yes. I continue to binge eat ever so often, but Zyprexa has the most unusual quality of making you hungry as hell and slowing your metabolism at the same time if you can believe that. I don’t even know how that’s possible. However, I had a psychiatrist tell me that, and I would testify under oath that I believe it to be true.
I’m starting to suspect the same quality in Abilify. It is difficult to gain fifty pounds in a year though I did consume much alcohol, mostly because another side effect of Abilify is insomnia, which is the opposite of Zyprexa where I required eight hours of sleep a night. In the past year, I shit you not, I’ve averaged no more than three hours a night and several times gone through the night with no sleep and remained functional.
In the beginning, the lack of sleep amused me because I possessed so much extra time to get things done, but it wasn’t healthy awake hours. My concentration stooped to the level of a hyperactive five-year old. I told my nurse practitioner. (I haven’t spoken to a psychiatrist in over a year. Hence the way mental health treatment seems to be heading). For the past month, I have been taking Trazodone, one of the first antidepressants that proved relatively ineffective, and is now typically prescribed for insomnia. I still don’t sleep more than four or five hours a night tops, but I fall asleep when I want to, and I couldn’t possibly stay awake through the night. Plus, there’s not the groggy feeling like one gets from taking Ambien when a person needs an hour to recover and that includes a coffee IV drip.
My attention span remains low, and once again I told my nurse practitioner and rather than prescribing Adderall or God forbid, Ritalin, we’re going with Wellbutrin. I took my first dosage today. Hopefully, I will achieve similar results that I did from the Trazodone.
My point is that with psychiatric medication, some things are out of your control, but if the sick and suffering is not doing as well as he or she would like, consider trying another medication and not accept the status quo. Never give up. And thank Heavens you weren’t born one-hundred years ago. If I was, I would be in a strait jacket right now. . .if I was lucky.