Say No to Drugs. That’s been my mantra for the past five years. After trying every psychotropic pharmacology had to offer, which either had no effect or made my bipolar symptoms worse, I chose to manage my illness drug-free. I take a sleep-aide when insomnia pops up, because that can mess me up fast and hard, but that’s it. I had to get over my dream of a Magic Pill.
A year or so ago, I also gave up the dream of losing weight. I’d used every kind of diet and non-diet, mindfulness training and behavior modification, but compulsive eating always won in the end. I felt it was time to shake hands with that old nemesis and accept it in the pantheon of players. Better to accept all of me, I thought, than keep bullying the parts that didn’t behave well.
I’d never talked about my compulsive eating with the nurse practitioner at my psych clinic, but this spring I did. It was part of my bi-annual check-in, a commentary on my relationship with myself. But she had a different take on it. Sarah said I was a poster child for Binge Eating Disorder, and that there was a drug that might help.
Was I leery? Yes. Skeptical? Of course. One of the things I love about Sarah, though, is how conservative she is about medication. She’s my loudest cheerleader, and our brief sessions usually consist of her grilling me on what new tools I’m using to manage drug-free. I know to keep an open mind when Sarah makes a suggestion. So, we talked about Vyvanse being a “clean” drug—it’s in your system or it’s not, no lingering effects, no weaning on or off it like the psychotropics. Any side effects should present themselves right away. We would start with the lowest dose and work our way up to find a level that would (ideally) curb the compulsion without throwing me into mania or insomnia. I said, yes, let’s give it a try.
I tried not to have any expectations. I turned down the volume on The Song of the Magic Pill. I didn’t want to set myself up for another round of disappointment and failure. Sarah encouraged me to focus on changes in the compulsive thinking and my feelings, not weight. I created a chart for the back of my journal to keep track of those parameters. I was ready.
Three weeks in and I’m cautiously, furtively whispering, It’s a miracle.
The first thing I noticed was the sensation of fullness. I never felt full when I ate, not even after bingeing for hours at a time. What allowed me to stop was a weird click in my head, like a timer that said I was done. Feeling full was a totally alien concept, and I was astonished at the minuscule amount of food that produced the effect.
I also noticed when the Vyvanse wore off and the compulsion returned. It was like fire ants scuttling over my brain, a swarm of nattering food-thought—What do I want? What do I need? Where? When? How much? What else?—that hadn’t been there a moment before. It was fascinating. And it helped me identify the compulsion more clearly. I could see the difference between the frenzied drive and habit.
Habits are the things normal people deal with—popcorn at the movies, a snack with TV, a trip to Dairy Queen to celebrate. I found that without the engine of compulsion pushing my habits, I could brush them aside. I spent a couple of hours reading without eating. I watched a movie without a snack. Habit carries its own power, so I have to be intentional and mindful, but now mindfulness actually works. I still overeat and make crappy choices otherwise.
With time and attention, habits can be changed. This is my hope. I went to Starbucks the other day and stopped before I ordered. I thought my regular Venti latte might make my stomach uncomfortably full. I was perfectly satisfied with the Grande I ordered instead. I can’t adequately express how weird and wonderful that little triumph felt. With nary a fire ant in sight.
I’m on an Adventure.