I haven’t tried Ozempic yet, but I know what it feels like | Megan Nolan

MNormally, walking through the streets of New York in the spring sunshine is the cinematic, euphoric ideal of what it is to be alive. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for decades. To me, as a child in Ireland listening to songs about Lexington and 14th Street, it meant freedom: an almost crazy amount of freedom.

But sometimes walking through the streets of New York in the spring sun is both physically and mentally painful. This could be the case, for example, if you have no health insurance and are very stupid. Like me. That was in February 2023. I had been in increasingly acute pain for days, but due to a stubborn ability to ignore physical breakdown and also an unwillingness to spend money on health care in the US when I was just visiting, I carried on until I collapsed. to an urgent care center that I luckily passed by one evening while manically dragging myself to another dinner party despite barely being able to walk.

After a consultation and a dash to the ER, I underwent a minor surgical procedure and was back in bed within twelve hours with the small, traditional bag of American opioids I was sent home with. I was given a heavy course of antibiotics. I recovered from the original illness within weeks, but the antibiotics caused me a terrible reaction, a whole-body exhaustion, which caused me to completely lose my appetite for about six months and therefore lose a lot of my body mass. For the first time in my life I lost weight without wanting to.

While I lost my appetite and experienced mild but incessant gastrointestinal symptoms, many people began paying handsomely for the exact same symptoms. Ozempic was on the rise. A drug used to treat diabetes, but in the spring of 2023 it became increasingly available for weight loss and there were many articles about its new use. It was supposedly only available to people over a certain weight, but already thin, wealthy people found it easy to obtain in their quest to get really, really lean. Magazine articles quoted anonymous users, but no one knew that in New York this would be made public. As I continued to lose weight, girls at parties, if they were drunk enough, would ask me, seemingly jokingly, “Wait, girl, are you on Ozempic?”, and if they were really drunk, they would drag me into bathroom stalls and continue: “No – wait, girl, tell me really, are you on Ozempic?” A friend in London asked me how I was doing and I happily replied that I had actually been ill.

In a way, this was the dream – this had always been my dream. Being thin without effort. There had never been a time when I didn’t know how to be thin. I knew full well that I could be thin, due to my years of youthful, life-destroying food restriction. I was 15, eating a bagel a day and losing a quarter of my body. It’s just that I eventually learned that it wasn’t worth the incessant mental gymnastics it required of me, nor the operatic self-blame. I found myself not having the energy to do as well as all the other tricky logistics of staying alive. So I relearned eating and got it wrong, loved it and hated it, went up and down 50 lbs in a small number of years, unable to understand what was natural to want, what was greed and what was normal desire, what was an expression of a joyful libido and what was a sign of depression. I ate too much when I was happy and I ate too much when I was sad. I’ve never stopped eating as a sign of sadness. No matter what happened, I always wanted to eat.

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So not wanting to eat at all, and therefore not having to keep your eating brain quiet all day long. Even after I was no longer sick, I lost my appetite for years. What could be better? I hated it though. I hated losing my appetite. I hated the strangely flat video game landscape that meant a lack of appetite. It made me numb and indifferent to the world at large. Some on Ozempic for weight loss say it makes them relieved to no longer think about food. I discovered that without the daily pleasure and obligation of eating, the world yawned before me with a menacing formlessness. It is a threat that always lurks, that always lies beneath everything, but I knew now that in my previous life the life of appetite, the interludes of nourishment and pleasure, had sustained me when that threat became overwhelming.

I also knew that food meant love to me in a very direct way. My friend John took me to a fancy restaurant and I got dressed and could barely eat any of my ridiculously expensive steak. I felt defeated, wasteful and insignificant, unable to talk to him or care for him as I normally would. My friend Emmie hosted a dinner party on a rooftop and all I could bear to eat was some lettuce, while everyone else was busy with a real meal. The view from the roof stretched around us, mockingly, obscenely perfect.

Such a strange concept, to rid yourself of want. What is a person without desire? I discovered that without it I was very small at all. It is not good to be completely captivated by your desires and whims. I know this as well as any addicted person. But it’s also not necessarily a good thing to chemically rid yourself of desire. My desires are me, they are what I am made of. I gained weight again, which was both scary and a relief. When I was sick, I looked better in photos. I received messages from dozens of people saying how good I looked when I couldn’t eat. But I looked like someone I’m not, someone with no appetite, someone who doesn’t need anything. Last weekend I sat next to my boyfriend in bed, laughing, while I ate a huge bunch of green grapes and a cookie that I had warmed up in the oven, and we talked while I ate, and licked my fingers and unintentionally made a disgusting sound of pleasure. . And I received the best compliment from my friend, who said admiringly: ‘No one knows how to enjoy life as much as you do.’

Megan Nolan’s most recent novel, Ordinary Human Failures (Viking), is out now