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How my anxiety disorder got me into shape

13 December 2016, 13:14

An anxiety sufferer shows how she beat the side effect of weight gain and changed her life for the better.

Anxiety and I had always been inseparable.  But in my second year at varsity I'd had enough. I found myself at Groote Schuur Hospital one night convinced I was having an asthma attack that would take me to the crematorium. Turned out it was a panic attack.

I was referred to a psychiatrist and after an assessment, learned that I had an anxiety disorder. Medication and therapy were prescribed and thus my chemical life began. I won't lie and say I was reluctant as many people are, due to the stigma of medication. So desperate was I for something to quell the chaos in my head that I jumped at the prescription.

After a week, when I realised I wasn't obsessing about a conversation I'd had a month ago and why I'd said what I said. Or my pap smear results that may actually reveal cancer, I felt light. Is this what 'normal' people experience, I wondered? The ability to compartmentalise? Up until then, my mind had felt like a cupboard with no shelves into which I'd packed too much; the contents therein tumbling out always leaving me exasperated and overwhelmed.

It was truly wonderful to be able to deal with an issue at an appropriate time as opposed to spend my whole day devoted to it.

Life no longer threatened to swallow me. Until I noticed my waist expanding. I felt defeated as I began to piece together the relationship between SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and weight gain. 

SSRIs cause the side effect of weight gain in up to 25% of people. I would spend the next few years abandoning my medication on and off as I saw myself enlarge -  but then plummeting, devastated right back into my cupboard of precious worries, to the point that I was not doing necessary things like eating or getting work done.

In one of my fits of angst I mentioned to a friend that I was going to stop taking my meds because I was fed up of the unrelenting weight gain. He gently told me, (being a person who lives with anxiety himself) to follow his lead. To take my meds, eat sensibly and exercise six days a week. It didn't seem like too far-fetched a solution given the evidence before me. He looked like someone who could easily grace a Men's Health cover. His abdominals gave me hope.

And so that's what I did. I found myself a program, trained six days a week and continued taking my meds. After four weeks of training, I was astonished by the results. My arms assumed some definition, my waste shrunk and my core felt strong.

It occurred to me what I had done. I had turned a negative (my anxiety disorder), into a positive - and with noticeable results. I've backslidden but try to focus on getting up again. Being a cover girl is not foreseeable in my future. My abdominals don't make the grade. But my body now feels as healthy as my brain as I intentionally make time to move. A boon had been born of what I perceived to be blight on my life.

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