You probably did not know or realise but Sodium Valproate has controlled my life for the last few years. It has. Valproate has been one of my main medications since I had brain surgery in August of 2015. There is a reason Valproate has not featured prominently in my posts, or thoughts. Basically, I have never had any reason to think that Valproate was that…‘special’. When, it turns out, it was. More so, the kind of ‘special’ I’m referring to was not one that is…desirable. Allow me to explain.
This medication is used as an anti-convulsant, among other things. That was the intention for my use, while I know it is also used for some other things for other people. I can attest to the potency of this medication when it comes to sleep benefits. What I did not realise, as I was prescribed to a “relatively low dose”, is that when on Valproate there has been a known increase in weight. Not due to increased appetite such as we see in medicated steroid consumption. Nor was the weight gain related to bloating and water retention, as is the case with some prescribed drugs.
2018, Valproate and Me
Over this past year, what had been happening to me was the slow deterioration of the effectiveness of the Valproate in my body. Why this happened was unclear. I did not make much of it. To be honest, the shake-up I experienced in 2017 in my mental well-being had been such that I took a lot of pain and difficulties in my 2018 on alone. I tried to not make too much of my situations as I was facing just too much for me to think too much about. It was no wonder I didn’t notice my medications effectiveness wearing off. What I can, and will, say is that I experienced situations that placed me and other people at more risk than I would reasonably ever want to do. At the same time, I was starting to make plans for my future and decisions over where I wanted to go. I had hopes and plans for how my health would be managed long-term. Nutrition and exercise were high in those plans. It was these plans that saw the undoing of my Valproate.
Towards the end of last year, I began taking notes. Notes of everything. How many steps I was taking each day and how much exercise I was undertaking. The foods I ate were documented, by weights and at which times. In sugars, carbs, calories, proteins as well as nearest estimates on nutrients. The foods I ate were purposefully chosen and created. I would prepare recipes in advanced, shopping to a very specific list and dedicating special time to food preparation and management. The anal attention became so…annoying…as I had to impose my behaviours on those I lived with, as well as intentionally driving locations when eating out so as to be able to pre-plan my orders and select portion control. If you think this sounds tedious, boring and ridiculous, you aren’t the only one and you needn’t worry, as this did not last long.
Reflecting on my food and exercise diaries of the end of 2018, one thing became horribly but abundantly clear. It did not matter what I ate, I could not lose more than 500gm of weight. Yep. I ate…stupidly. Unrealistically. I was unhappy. And exercise? Only for one and a half hours a day. Every day. Who needed a shower to get wet when I was sweating that much every day?! Yet, the result was the same. Those centimetres did not disappear from my waist, stomach, hips, calves, neck or breasts. In fact, in November I began gaining weight. I wanted to scream. And drink water. And live off celery. Which is where I realised I could start to question what was changing in my life around the time of these increases that may have triggered the gains. I was not happy with the lack of control in my health and I was not happy with the weight changes in my body. Now, I do not think I am a vain person. The stress and unhappiness I felt about my weight gain do not suggest my feelings over body size, mine or others. I did not think my body was too big or that I was ashamed of my size. My feelings came from frustration. I was eating well, exercising and I do not have a disposable income, or much, if any, control over my body. The frustrations came from a loss of control in an area I should be able to manage.
My Body, My Health
The week after Christmas was about the time that things started going my way. All of the research in the world had brought up no results or help for me. That is, until I came across the blog of an epileptic American woman. I found her on Reddit, and I wish I could steer you her way now, but I can’t find her sorry! This woman was medically or chemically trained, as well as living with her disease and she explained things in the most blunt and easy-to-understand way I have ever come across. “The thing about being on Valproate is that you can basically live on lettuce leaves and run marathons. Regardless, you will still gain weight and keep it on. You cannot lose weight on Valproate.” Now. I do not like sensationalists that make dramatic statements like this. I feel there should be some give room, for the outliers of any bunch. Except I am one of the many that can attest to her words. Tru dat, sister, tru dat. And as the Valproate was being increased, and my weight increased, the reason for the increases did not seem to be resolving themselves. It wasn’t doing its job.
2019, Valproate and Me
Last week my health took a turn again. This time it landed me in an unsafe position, one I am ashamed to know I was in and have made a decision. No more. I will not stay on a medication making me so unhappy. Nor will I stay on a medication that does not seem to be working as it should. Upon discussion with my medical team today the decision has been made. Just like with all life-long, life-changing and life-giving medications, to move myself from one to another will take time. It will be hard. There will be teething issues for sure. But there is also hope. For a healthier, happier me. In a body I feel I can trust to act in a way I expect it will. Is that asking too much?