Patient Blogs | Schizophrenia
How I Learned to Accept the Side Effect of My Medication
photo of young woman taking pill

Before the age of 30, I was healthy without needing any medication and never had to understand the idea of side effects from medicine.

After I had a mental breakdown and was prescribed olanzapine to take daily, my body changed, specifically how my brain and hormones reacted to food. I didn’t know and wasn’t prepared for it. The side effect of taking olanzapine is weight gain, which can be 100 plus pounds for some people.

I ate and ate and stopped feeling full when a sensation I knew and depended on all my life disappeared overnight. Looking for fullness, I continued to eat three meals a day as I had done in the past. I don’t think I changed how I ate, but my memory may not be reliable or scientific. Originally being the same size as my boyfriend, I gained 30 some pounds in a short time.

The first thing that affected me was none of my size 2 clothes fit me anymore. Without thinking much about it, I bought new ones that fit. The eating and buying new clothes went on and on from size 2 to size 8 and 10. When I stopped taking olanzapine unplanned, my weight went down without any effort. But when I resumed, the weight came right back.

My father had taken a picture of me and my boyfriend and sent it to me a few days later. I saw myself in the photo and was shocked at how much heavier I was. At first, I was confused. I hadn’t changed my diet or eating habits. Why was this happening? I felt that taking my medication traded hearing voices for weight gain. To not hear voices, I couldn’t eat “normally.” For the next few years, I was not happy with my body, believing that it was the fault of the pill and not what I was doing. Medicine should improve my life and not create problems.

After a period of denial, thinking "why should I change," I realized that I had to deal with this side effect. Schizophrenia was a chronic condition for me. The side effect, even though its name suggests its role being on the side, was here to stay in my life for as long as there was the need to take medication. For the next few years, I tried to adjust how I eat and had a hard time. My father had always said to me growing up, “The reason we work and make money is to enjoy life and food.” It was hard to change something so fundamental in my life.

The human body is an amazing biological machine with intricate parts all working together. Since the first time I took olanzapine, the sensation of being full has come back to me somewhat after 10 years. But now I have to deal with aging. With the help of a friend, I eat healthier now, trying to reduce my sugar and carbohydrate intake. I still enjoy food, but I have accepted finally that my body handles food differently from my pre-schizophrenia years and that I must change to manage the side effects that come with my medicine. To have a good quality of life, the side effect requires as much attention as the brain disease itself.



Photo Credit: d3sign / Moment via Getty Images

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Mindy Tsai

Mindy Tsai

Diagnosed since 2004

Mindy Tsai’s schizophrenia surfaced at age 30. Symptom-free for 10 years now, she shares her personal and non-clinical perspective on schizophrenia in her book Becoming Whole, A Memoir. She is passionate about patient advocacy and clinical research. Tsai lives in Massachusetts and works at a digital health consultancy. She enjoys food, books, salsa, piano, walking, and hiking. Connect with Tsai at her website or on Twitter.

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