Why I Say Yes to Drugs

Paxil Zoloft Effexor Prozac nation children may become suicidial antidepressant side effects drugs pharmaceutical kids


By Cornelia Read

When I was a little kid, I used to wonder if I was missing some essential vitamin or mineral, compared to everyone else I knew. I come from a long line of bubbly, enthusiastic women, on my mother's side–a matriarchy of outgoing charmers with mad skills for generating effortlessly effervescent small talk at cocktail parties.

ShirleyTemple

By comparison, I was an achingly serious child, with an affect flatter than the chest of a pre-teen Judy Blume protagonist. Besides which, gothic things that got stuck in my head for days never seemed to faze anyone else in my vicinity. 

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When my most odious stepfather announced over dinner one night that the world was going to be fried to a crisp by solar radiation within ten years because fluorocarbons in aerosol-spray propellants were destroying the ozone layer, nobody else at the table seemed to mind all that much. 

Right-guard

I, meanwhile, spent the next three days silently dispensing an interior monologue of Goodnight-Moon-style farewells to every person and object I saw ("Alas, loyal toaster oven, you've served us well… Take care, o most ill-behaved rental horse we ride in Pony Club, for soon your poignant bones will lie bleached on the sun-charred loam that was once the polo field…  Adieu, watermelon Jolly Ranchers, my favorite candy, and may all who make you possible fly on to the afterlife with my heartfelt gratitude…  Ciao, sixth-grade cheerleading bitches–bet you won't be such nasty hags to everyone on the field-trip schoolbus just because you have five pairs of Dittos each when you're DEAD…)

Dittos-1975

In short, I was a child suffering from depression, and I have little doubt that this has something to do with my early bent for writing–not least since the first time I ever used up-and-down binder paper instead of the pulpy beige landscape stuff with room for a picture on top was to pen an impassioned essay decrying the government's hideously unfair treatment of Angela Davis and the Christmas carpet-bombing of Hanoi. In second grade. (noir much?)

Oddly enough, though I was urged to see a number of therapists over the years (the on-campus counselors in boarding school, and college, and finally at the institution where I taught high school history and English), none of these clinicians ever mentioned depression.

Freudian_slip

I spent a couple of decades wondering whether I just lacked the willpower to manufacture an appropriate level of good cheer, or maybe had iron-poor blood. I spent a lot of time thinking I should be as chipper as people in Geritol commercials, or smiling as hard as contestants in the Miss America pageant (not yet knowing they smeared their teeth with Vaseline so their lips didn't get stuck, etc.)

I remember a week during which I popped two chewable Flintstone multis a day, wondering if it would help. In eighth grade, I discovered caffeine pills, which seemed to produce a little more of the enthusiasm I was after for a week or so–until the vice principal busted me for the bottle of Vivarin in my locker, since Heather Douglas narked on me because she'd seen the V's on the tablets and assumed I was popping Valium. (I suppose I should be grateful that Viagra had yet to be invented.)

Vivarin

It wasn't until December of my twenty-sixth year that anyone brought up the D word. I was in my weekly faculty group-therapy session at the crazy school, and our regular shrink had been out sick for a while so the head guy stepped in to cover for her. The school was a horrible place (see my second novel), so I took my seat on the office sofa between the two fellow teachers I shared the hour with in a morose frame of mind, and shortly burst into tears once it was my turn to talk about how everything was going.

The Big Shrink looked at me for a minute and said, "do you usually feel like this?"

I told him I did.

He asked, "for how long?"

I said since I was about seven years old.

He said, "you're clinically depressed. They have a great new medication for that."

I said, "No shit… What's it called?"

He said, "Prozac."

I handed in my resignation a week later and found a shrink willing to prescribe me some.

Hosanna.

625_PROZAC_HANDOFF 

About a month in, I named my little buttercream-and-celadon capsules "Vitamin P," at long last having found the elusive ingredient I'd hankered after for all those years beforehand.

That was in the Fall of 1989. I've pretty much taken prescription Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) ever since–the class of drugs which includes Prozac, Celexa, and Paxil, among others.

Drugs-prozac

I'm pretty up front about it. Mostly because it would've been damn helpful to me if someone had mentioned depression and the potential medications for it to me years earlier, so I'd like to do my bit to share how it's been for me.

I also tell people about it because I think there are a number of really idiotic medication fallacies floating around, which can keep people suffering from depression from giving these things a try. I don't mean to say that they're perfect for everyone, or that we should spike the nation's drinking water with Eli Lilly products or anything, but since depression can fucking kill you, the bullshit pop-"science" myths about medications that can help alleviate it in a great number of affected people really piss me off.

Myth # 1: Prozac will tranquilize you into becoming a cheerful fascist zombie, so just say no to Big Pharma and fight the power, man!

Here's the deal… Prozac does NOT make you feel like this:

Prozac-dog

Or make you love everything cute and cuddly and vapid:

11_hello-prozac-web

And you will not take one pill and wake up oblivious in Stepford, wearing a frilly plaid apron:

07_bonappetite_lg

Though it may help you stop feeling like this:

Rosemary
 

It's not a happy pill, and it's not a tranquilizer–or methadone or valium or thorazine. It's a drug that is helpful to people who have low levels of a specific neurotransmiter in their brain chemistry. If you're prone to depression, it won't make you perfect, but it might well provide a bit of a floor to the depths of abyss you find yourself sinking into.

Prozac-Santa-Claus--25108

Myth # 2: Depression is for wimps, so you should just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stop whining, because life is pain, princess, and medication is the coward's way out.

People with broken arms often benefit from wearing a cast for a few weeks. People with Type I Diabetes have pancreases that don't produce enough insulin. Most people with depression have brains that aren't making enough serotonin. Why is seeking treatment for the third option the only one of these seen as a moral failing? That's just fucking stupid.

Meanwhile, here's a bullshit depiction of what Prozac does:

Propaganda_prozac

(hint: it is an anti-DEPRESSANT, not an anti-PSYCHOTIC. It has no magic powers that will make invisible car passengers disappear. Sorry.)

It also doesn't act like this, in regards to one's neurochemical balance:

How-prozac-works-(webpic) 

It's not like you'll try the stuff and suddenly never feel sadness or any other emotion again, it's more like you can experience sadness without feeling like you want to lie on your sofa for a year with the shades drawn, doing shots of codeine cough syrup with potato-chip crumbs ground into the front of your ex-boyfriend's college sweatshirt, hacking up the detritus of three packs of Camel non-filters a day. (Your mileage may vary. That's just what it feels like to me, curled up in a fetal position down here under the bed with the dust rhinos.)

Here's the best visual depiction I've ever seen of what the stuff does:

Prozac-big

It's still you, you just have the option of stepping back ONTO the cliff, and possibly not dying while you try to make up your mind whether or not that would be a good idea.

Myth # 3: Dude, drugs like Prozac aren't "natural"–your body is a temple and nothing should go into it but herbs and tofu.

News flash: St. John's Wort doesn't work for shit. And even if it (or Vitamin B-12 shots or CoQ-whatever or beet-juice-and-fairy-dust) were effective against depression, chances are good it would be because it had a similar chemical effect on the brain.

Just because something costs forty bucks a bottle and has a picture of alpen meadows on the label down at the granola store doesn't mean it's morally superior to the stuff you need a 'scrip for, mkay? And hey, if yoga and valerian-root work for you, awesome. They don't do bupkes for me.

Plus which, opium is "natural" too–ask the Taliban. Doesn't mean the shit is good for you.

(And why is it the last three people who told me I shouldn't "take drugs" had just finished doing bonghits?)

Cm518can-t-we-just-get-a-bong-posters

Myth #4: Depression doesn't cause writing, writing causes depression.

If you Google "writing and depression," you'll find an awful lot of pronouncements like the following:

Yes, writers do suffer from depression at a higher rate than the
rest of the population…. In
fact, if you wanted to make a cheery person with no predisposition to
depression depressed, you could stick him in front of a typewriter or
computer for hours a day–feed him a typical writer's diet–forbid him
to exercise, isolate him from friends, and convince him that his
personal worth depended on his "numbers." Make him live the writer's
life, in other words, and watch him sag.

(This was Nancy Etchemendy's* synopsis of
an apparently widely held opinion, though not her thesis in the
remainder of the essay.)

And, yes, the writing life can do an awful
lot to prolong or deepen depression. Hell, it's scary, right? You have
no idea whether you're God or wormshit, most days. Plus all that other
stuff.

Still, I don't think this is a chicken-or-the-egg thing.

Chicken-egg2 

It sure wasn't in my case. The depression showed up way before I was even vaguely literate. (Again, your mileage may vary.)

3prozac

When you get right down to it, does it matter which came first? It still sucks.

Myth # 5: Taking happy pills will destroy your creativity–all great art is born of suffering. The real problem is bourgeois society demanding that those touched by the muse be chipper automatons, instead of according their divine angst the worship it so richly deserves.

This is the biggie, but it's a little more nuanced. Look, there is definitely a connection between depression and creativity… here are some of the stats I referenced in my ADD post, a couple of weeks ago:

  • Kay Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and
    the author of "Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the
    Artistic Temperament," said writers were 10 to 20 times as likely as
    other people to suffer manic-depressive or depressive illnesses, which
    lead to suicide more often than any other mental disorders do…. —NY Times

  • Almost everyone becomes clinically depressed at least once. Over half
    the general population will experience two or more episodes of serious
    depression during a lifetime. Statistics gathered in a recent article
    in Scientific American indicate that the incidence of clinical
    depression among writers and artists may be as much as ten times
    greater than that among the general population. The incidence of
    suicide is as much as eighteen times greater. —
    Blogger Nancy Etchemendy*
  • There is at least one piece of research which demonstrates that some
    (British) writers have a higher than average chance of being mentally
    ill. The research was carried out by Kay Jamison, Professor of
    Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her study
    showed that 38% of a group of eminent British writers and artists had
    been treated for a mood disorder of one kind or another; of these, 75%
    had had antidepressants or lithium prescribed, or had been
    hospitalised. Of playwrights, 63% had been treated for depression.
    These proportions are, as you will have guessed, are many times higher
    than in the population at large.–
    Blogger Grumpy Old Bookman

  • Female writers were
    more likely than members of the comparison group to suffer not only
    from mood disorders but from drug abuse, panic attacks, general
    anxiety, and eating disorders as well. The rates of multiple mental
    disorders were also higher among writers…. The cumulative psychopathology scores of subjects… represented significant predictors of their overall
    creativity. CONCLUSIONS: The high rates of certain emotional disorders
    in female writers suggested a direct relationship between creativity
    and psychopathology. But the relationship was not necessarily a simple
    one.
    Study by the University of Kentucky Medical Center, Lexington, psychiatry department

[If you're like me, you tend not to have episodes of depression, but a constant low-grade version {with occasional flareups that send you under the sofa with a bottle of dark rum and the dust rhinos} This is called dysthmia. Here's the wiki-synopsis:

The symptoms of dysthymia are similar to those of major depression, though they tend to be less intense. In both conditions, a person can have a low or irritable mood, lack of interest in things most people find enjoyable, and a loss of energy (not all patients feel this effect). Appetite and weight can be increased or decreased. The person may suffer from insomnia or excessive sleeping. He or she may have difficulty concentrating. The person may be indecisive and pessimistic and have a negative self-image. The symptoms can grow into a full blown episode of major depression. This situation is sometimes called "double depression"[2] because the intense episode exists with the usual feelings of low mood. People with dysthymia have a greater-than-average chance of developing major depression. While major depression often occurs in episodes, dysthymia is more constant, lasting for long periods, sometimes beginning in childhood. As a result a person with dysthymia tends to believe that depression is a part of his or her character. The person with dysthymia may not even think to talk about this depression with doctors, family members or friends. Dysthymia, like major depression, tends to run in families. It is two to three times more common in women than in men. Some sufferers describe being under chronic stress. When treating diagnosed individuals, it is often difficult to tell whether they are under unusually high environmental stress or if the dysthymia causes them to be more psychologically stressed in a standard environment]

So, if you treat the depression, will you automatically be less creative?

Prozac 

I can only tell you how it's worked for me, and my answer is yes and no. I started taking Prozac in early 1990, and continued doing so until I decided to have kids, in early 1993. I started up again when we moved from Manhattan to Boulder, Colorado, in January of 1995, and took it until my husband and I both lost our jobs and health insurance in mid-2001. Prior to to 1990, I wrote a lot of unpublished fiction, and a memoir that ran to several hundred pages (that I never finished.)

I gave up on the memoir in 1990. With one exception (an evening creative writing class I took at UC Boulder for a semester), I didn't write any fiction again until the summer of 2001.

This is not to say I didn't write. I worked as the restaurant and art critic for The Boulder Weekly for a year, before my husband's work took us to Cambridge, Massachusetts. For the next four years, I wrote for a developmental disabilities newsletter as a volunteer, and posted 100-odd product reviews at Epinions.com. It's just that fiction kind of faded out as a compulsion for me. I didn't think up phrases for stories that drove me to turn on the computer in the middle of the night anymore (though the advent of twins probably also had something to do with that).

 Dr_seuss_thing1_thing2_plaque

When we moved to Berkeley in 2000, I scored a gig as a writer and editor at a child-development dotcom. When we were all laid off and I lost my health insurance, I stopped taking Prozac. Three months later, I ran across an ad for a mystery writing group on craigslist, joined it, and started my first published novel. I worked on it for two years, unmedicated, before my husband got a job with health benefits again. I finished it on Celexa, another SSRI.

I'm here to tell you that there's a definite connection between the abyss and the urge to create. The trouble is, the abyss can just as easily suck your artistic will bone-dry as enhance it–it's merely a matter of degree.

Author Elizabeth Moon put it beautifully:

Speaking
from experience (several bouts of clinical depression), I can guarantee
that depression beyond the very mildest level (which makes you just
miserable enough to stay home and finish the book rather than go out
and have fun) destroys creativity–and that treating depression
enhances it. Why? Well, depression doesn't just make you miserable.
When you're depressed, you have no energy–and writing books takes hard
work, which takes energy. When you're depressed, you find it hard to
start new things (like books, chapters, the day's work), and hard to
make decisions (like which book, or which character, or even which way
Albert will turn when he leaves the throne room…) When you're
depressed, everything seems futile–you are sure the book will be lousy
even if you do write it. When you're depressed, you have less courage,
less resilience, less ability to handle ordinary stressors. So…you
can't summon the energy or the courage to write…every little comment
throws you back into your misery…and the next thing you know you're
in the midst of a full-fledged writer's block.

To put it another way, would Van Gogh have been a great painter if he weren't shithouse-rat crazy?

Story

Well, guess what–we can't know. Maybe he would've been a really mediocre stockbroker, instead. Or maybe he would've produced an extensive oeuvre of dogs playing poker. Had he been treated, however, it's a good bet he would've LIVED quite a bit longer.

Would Prozac have helped Hemingway, Plath, or Virginia Woolf produce more great art? Well, it's hard to produce ANYTHING if you're dead, so I'd give that a qualified yes. 

All I know for sure is that I probably STARTED A Field of Darkness because I was off my meds and my life and marriage and financial prospects sucked hugely, but I FINISHED it and had the mojo to attend conferences and go after getting an agent and a publisher because I was back *on* the stuff.

And hey, if I hadn't lost my job, I'd probably still be a very smugly complacent $40-an-hour editor at escore.com, too, instead of prospecting for loose change in my sofa so I could attend Bouchercon and LCC every year. Granted, I miss being able to afford the '84 Porsche I scored in my dotcom blaze of financial glory–not to mention the sushi and non-second-hand clothing–but I wouldn't trade having two novels out in the world for that, you know?

And then there's the whole thing with self-medication, which I think is the basis for the incredibly high rates of alcoholism among writers.

Prozac-shmo-napkin

(William Styron was hospitalized for depression shortly after he had to give up his evening cocktails, due to an unrelated medical condition. He'd never suffered from the "black dog" before. Coincidence? I think not.)

I tried the alcohol route myself, in college, along with a variety of other distractions. There are probably a great number of my Sarah Lawrence classmates who imagine that I died under a park bench somewhere, of either acute beer poisoning or syphillis or both. Enough said.

The Down-Side(s) of SSRIs

Like any drug, these things have side effects (these can of course strike in different guises, and affect people in different ways Some of the major ones to look out for are sexual dysfunction (often lack of interest in women, occasionally priapism in men–the same stuff they warn you to go to the ER for after four hours of non-stop Viagra effect).

There's an increased risk of suicide for teenagers and people in their early twenties, on SSRI's. EVERYONE should pay attention to whether or not they feel more depressed or anxious on these drugs, especially during the first month or so.

If you're bi-polar, rather than depressed, SSRI's hugely increase your chance of having a manic episode. A friend of mine who didn't realize she was manic-depressive ended up in McLean's hospital outside Boston for a month, after taking Prozac. Another had to do a 72-hour involuntary stint at a mental hospital here in California. If anyone in your family has bi-polar disorder, please have a thorough workup done by someone who knows what they're doing before trying this class of drugs.

(Even if you don't have relatives suffering from that disorder, it's a good idea to consult with a reputable psychiatrist or psychopharmacologist about getting a prescription for any anti-depressants, rather than your family doctor. Yes, a lot of people take them, and yes, they're generally very safe, but that doesn't mean they can't really mess with you under certain circumstances a GP might not be familiar with.)

2005-ProzacNation

Also, different people respond differently to each of the drugs within this class.In some cases, you may have to try more than one to find one that works the best for you. (If someone who's a close relative is taking a specific SSRI and has had a good response to it, that might be the first one to try.)

             *           *            *

At the end of the day, if you've tried scrubbing, soaking (those dirty rings!) and still feel like crap and are having trouble getting off the sofa, medication might be something you want to try. If you have hardcore depression–especially ANY thoughts of suicide, it's something you definitely should try. (Here are some more good resources for depression of that severity–whether it's yours or someone you know's.)

On a far more serious note, I am one degree of separation from three people who took their own lives last week, and these are perilous times for people with a tendency toward depression. Depression can kill you, or those that matter to you. Let's all take it seriously, okay? Not with judgments, not with discouragement or dismissive attitudes or half-assed advice.

Let's just look out for each other, the best we can, all right?

Since I'd like to end this on a positive note, here's a link to what is officially my new favorite meal: Sherry Miller's recipe for…

Prozac-4 


http://www.sherryart.com/prozac.html

Dude… awesome.

So, Murderati peeps… what bums you out? What cheers you up? How do you fight off what Winston Churchill called "the black dog"? Share, please.

28 thoughts on “Why I Say Yes to Drugs

  1. Laura

    Lat year I went through a really bad patch with my epilepsy. The drug I had been on for years stopped working and they couldn’t find a new one that worked that I didn’t have a nasty reaction to. I can’t tell you how many people said to me, “you know, if you’d switch to an all-organic diet, you wouldn’t need to take those drugs. They’re poisonous.”

    Well, yes. They are. No two ways about it. Anticonvulsants can kill you. So can SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy). So can a seizure while standing at the top of the stairs. My answer to those people was “I’ll go for the all organic thing and stop taking my drugs if you send me your kids and allow me to chauffeur them all around town.” No takers.

    We finally found a drug that controlled the seizures. It has side effects, it’s true, but I’d rather be fat and bald than convulsing, which is why I say yes to drugs!

    Reply
  2. Rae

    Such a wonderful post, Miss C.

    To answer your questions, what bums me out the most is feeling hopeless or victimized, or being treated unfairly with no recourse.

    What really cheers me up, if I’m solvent, is a nice bout of shopping. Reading favorite books and watching favorite movies or TV shows also helps.

    As far as fighting off the black dog, it’s a matter of seeing him coming. If I know he’s waiting to pounce, I can take preventative measures. If he sneaks in when I’m not looking, then it’s a bit more difficult.

    Reply
  3. Judy Wirzberger

    I am fortunate. Each weekday morning I head from Fremont to Pleasanton over the hills on a patch of 680 that has not been walled in. Short of seeing the ocean, it is the most beautiful drive in the Bay Area. It changes with the seasons and the day and the mood of the fog. This week the cattle have been brought down to munch on the growing grass. Their fur coats, a luxuriant black against the lush green, wait only for a photographer looking for a jig saw puzzle. Fat and happy enjoying their today not caring or knowing what tomorrow brings. Each day a present awaits me as I approach the Sunol rise. The fog meanders through the valley like a marshmallow creek, or spreads itself like an ocean with hilltops as tankers. On occasion snow powders the hills. My heart fills, my soul smiles and I wallow in the joy of being simple minded.

    Reply
  4. Ginny

    THANK YOU!

    I began taking Celexia on Monday. Life has thrown a few tough things my way, and I was being devoured by your “black dog”.

    I haven’t had any improvement, yet. I know it takes weeks, but the sleeping pills I’m also taking have been a godsend.

    Looking back (after talking with a therapist) I have had 4 major depressive episodes in the last 25 years. I’ll do everything I can to make this my last.

    Thanks again for both the encouragement, and for telling others about this.

    Reply
  5. Jake Nantz

    I tried a couple of SSRIs, and you’re right, they can really suck for manic-depressives (I hate the term bipolar, ’cause I was bipolar before they had a nice shiny new fucking name for it that lots of people who DON’T deal with nearly as much could cling to and claim and insult the rest of us, thank you very much). The worst for me was Prozac, and after landing on that one and what it did for me, I quit ’em altogether and decided I could better make my way on my own. Results are mixed, but I’m still here and no suicides.

    See, I’m lucky enough to be dystopic manic-depressive, as opposed to utopic. If you don’t know what either name means, don’t let them fool you. Utopic sucks too.

    The difference is, Utopic manics–when in the mania–tend to be OVERLY excited/upturned (I refuse to say happy, ’cause they’re not really), and they spend a shitload of money they don’t have.

    Dystopic manics–when in the mania–tend to be OVERLY irritable, short-tempered, irascible, and fucking difficult to live with. They also spend a shitload of money they don’t have. And I mean the manic version of pissing in everyone’s Corn Flakes cause misery loves company and miserable people don’t like the cheerful is like the irritability of the depressive side, but on Bonds-esque steroids (but without the man-boobs).

    So basically dystopic manic-depressives are in a foul mood 90% of the time. Thing is, I must have a pretty light version of it, ’cause I have taught myself to function well without the meds, whereas I was mean as a snake when on Prozac. Now I’m just terminally sarcastic.

    Ms. Read, thank you so much for this post. Not for me, and not really for the people who suffer from this shit, but for the ones who don’t REALLY understand what it’s like. It sucks worse than most of the “Oh, stop your bitching” crowd could ever handle, and I hope a few of them see the light after reading this (even if it is the oncoming train, that would still do the trick). šŸ˜‰

    Reply
  6. Keith Raffel

    Cornelia, when it comes to drugs, you’re a Bodhisattva — “a person who already has a considerable degree of enlightenment and seeks to use their wisdom to help other human beings…” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhisattva)

    BTW, if the choice is between you 1) being non-depressed and 2) writing your wonderful novels, I pick 1. But aren’t we all lucky to have won the exacta and gotten both!

    Reply
  7. Cornelia Read

    Dusty, I think writing is ALWAYS fucking agony. It’s just that the non-writing portion of my day is slightly less horrible.

    Louise, I’m so sorry you’re going through that. Hope it feels better when you’re back here in the fog. Hugs and lots of love to you.

    Laura, good for you. I’m so sorry that the new drug has bummer side effects, but I hope it continues to work for you really well. And good for you for smacking down the “go organic” crowd. They make me nuts.

    Rae, I’m with you on the shopping. And movies and TV especially. And thank you…

    Judy, gorgeous writing.

    Ginny, keep the faith, sister. I usually start feeling better in about a week when I’m back on meds. After that it just gets more “solid.” I hope Celexa works as well for you as it has for me.

    Jake, thank you very much for sharing your insights into all this. I think if all of us who struggle with mental crap just speak up, the paradigm will change. And I’m fascinated by the “utopic” and “dystopic” variants. Hadn’t known about that before your comment–thank you!

    Keith, you are the coolest, and thank you very very much for your kind words.

    Reply
  8. Catherine

    I can relate to Rae’s comment about the difference being if I see it coming. When I was depressed I went from carrying a heavy load, to having that load squash me…For me it’s also a matter of degrees. On a day by day basis I manage anxiety. If I don’t manage anxiety I can submerge bit by bit into depression.Then it’s like walking and breathing molasses.

    Cornelia, I’m glad you were able to find a medication that helped.After a car accident I was on something that helped me not climb the walls, but after a while it felt like there was a wall between me and everything else…so I phased them out.This has turned out to the right thing for me…and I’m actually finding ways to deal with the anxiety that work, again for me.

    I need to see movement in my life.My lodestar is little bits of progress…little recognitions that although it may not be perfectly done, there is forward momentum.

    Reply
  9. Laura Benedict

    What a brilliant and enlightening post, Cornelia. I love your honesty and wisdom. (Hey! Don’t roll your eyes. It’s true!)

    I had some post-partum depression after Pom was born and enjoyed a year on Buspar and later a year on Prozac when we lived on Lake Michigan. (It was SAD–a lightbox probably would’ve been more useful, I think.)

    I think my ADHD and anxiety has actually kept me from most situational depression, lol. Ironic, huh? I can’t stay sad for long because my brain just moves on to some other shiny object and I forget.

    What bums me out? I can’t even think about the current economic/political climate w/out breaking out in hives. Mostly, though, it’s the giant freaking busted concrete hole in our bathroom from where the tub got ripped out last year–I see it several times a day (so I can’t forget it!) and I keep waiting for snakes and spiders to emerge.

    Dorky as it sounds, the coming of spring, singing birds, and getting a whole task accomplished all make me outrageously happy.

    Reply
  10. Andi Shechter

    Sweetpea (to use our bandmate’s fave), this was fucking brilliant. Say it, sister!

    I’ve not been depressed my whole life, but went to the doctor after one of several episodes of anger where i realized that i was close to damaging important stuff (like books, and the stuff on the walls and STU’S ARTWORK, which matters. A lot) and while she opined, “well, from what I know, this stuff works best on people who don’t know the causes of their depression, and you DO know. your father recently died and you’re having to take a lot more pain meds. Let’s try it anyway.”) and as I described it, things went from black to gray. I can DEAL with gray. (It’s my favorite neutral – that and denim blue).And help it did. Enough. And I’ll go back if I need to.

    What i fear most is that, while I’ve been on serious pain medication since I was about 20 (that’s 35 years folks) and have gone from codeine to Vicodin to Oxycontin and expect to continue on this road for the remainder of my life, what I fear most is that I’m losing intellectual capacity and don’t know it. I’v actually had to ask Stu to let me know if he sees anything. Running a convention in 2007 was insanely stupid on my part, but i had no idea in 2004 or so when I began planning it that this would be the case. Reviewing has become much harder and I find myself in the bizarre positon of almost hoping that my inability to concentrate well is age-related rather than drug-related.

    That argument about how awful it is that anti-depressants might “change your personality” has baffled me from day one. WTF? So?Um, you mean they drag you out of the pit and let you lift your head up? And that’s BAD because “it’s not natural”???? I once had a housemate who spilled a bag of brown rice on the front steps and when I said “you gotta sweep that up. Someone might slip on that rice.” He looked at me wide-eyed and said (I swear to you) “But, it’s organic.”

    Years back, I had a fascinating email conversation with someone on DorothyL who was a cop and who worked on those “DARE” programs (Dare to keep kids off drugs yeah, right. I bet that works just as well as “just say no.”) I told her how sick to damn death I was about all the “drugs are bad, drugs are bad drugs are bad” messages that made many of us out here in the world appear to be crazed addicts (insert images here of “Reefer Madness” characters) when goddamit, Some Drugs Are Good. She got that and we talked it over for quite a while.

    Suffering often can bring creativity. It can also bring misery. The idea that “all the greats have suffered” is as bogus as believing that living in a cold, drafty, miserable, mold-infested “garret” will bring out your best work. It’s really hard to write, dance, paint if your hands are too cold to hold a pen or brush, and doing jetes sucks when you are wearing everything you own.

    Apologies for the ee cummings-like text. Some of the laptop keys are having problems and my hands aren’t doing all that well on the shift key..

    You are just fabulous.

    Reply
  11. Kathryn Lilley

    Really wonderful post to read, Cornelia! In my own extended family, a relative of mine was prescribed, not Prozac, but something related, and it “uncovered” an underlying bi-polar condition. She was plunged into a manic episode. Later on the family found a specialist who determined the proper type of medication for her condition, but unfortunately the first doctor was simply not equipped to properly diagnose her situation.

    More recently I’ve been doing some reading about research that’s being done by Dr. Daniel Amen, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, who does brain imaging in clinical practice. In addition to medication, there’s some evidence that intensive physical exercise and other therapies can be helpful to brain health and mood stabilization. If you would like to read more, go to http://www.amenclinics.com/clinics/

    Reply
  12. toni mcgee causey

    Laura, that answer was brilliant.

    I am astounded, constantly, that we live in a world where anyone thinks it’s anywhere *near* their business to try to tell someone else how to manage a medical issue, as if said issue was some sort of moral conflict and the person suffering was kneeling in supplication of some sort of intervention. You do whatever you need to do to feel better. Period.

    Reply
  13. Jake Nantz

    Thanks, Ms. Read. Want to know the best part? I’m one of the 70% of people in the world with psoriasis in my system. Know how I know that? Because even though it lies dormant in most of the 70%, certain drugs like…oh, say, the Escalith I was put on at 17 when first diagnosed…can trigger an outbreak of psoriasis, and once it’s active, there’s no true cure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not cancer or AIDS by any stretch, but having the special brand that also grows in your joints, and having psoriatic arthritis at 21 sucks.

    Okay, now I really am off the soapbox. Sorry everyone.

    Reply
  14. Emma

    Thank you for bringing up the simple fact that if you’re depressed, you can’t write. You can only be creative if you’re not depressed because dealing with the depression leaves you too worn out to write. Depression may take you places that gives you insight or inspiration, but you can’t actually do the writing unless you have the energy to do so.

    Funny how the “anti-drugs” brigade are only anti-drugs for mental health problems and bolt for nearest pain-killer for physical pain. To counter that there are also people who think it should compulsory for people with mental health problems to be medicated, but that’s not helpful either. Naturally the answer is for each person to discover what works for them and stick with it.

    Thanks for raising this.

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  15. Catherine

    One of many things I don’t quite get, was even when I was ‘depressed’, I could still appreciate nature, I could still feel joy at a sunrise, even though I’d been awake all night with churning thoughts…couldn’t find my wallet or keys, or bills safely squirrelled away but I could still connect with nature.

    For me anxiety is a problem when my thoughts and ideas are buzzing so fast that none of them land…although sometimes I think that is still better than the trapped in amber feeling (with moments of joy)that depression was.So I have a new benchmark of success; movement. Which in a way segues into the therapies Kathryn mentioned.

    Without a time of medication I don’t think I would of gotten to a time where I not only want to exercise, but plan it and do it on a semi-regular basis. Exercise calms me down, clears my mind, relaxes my muscles, whole host of good things.

    The worst thing a ‘friend’ said to me as I was actually emerging from the depression was that I had dark energy and it made it hard to be around me. If nothing else it served to infuriate me to the point where I was a little more careful who I sought out.

    Cornelia these words are so on the money…

    ‘Depression can kill you, or those that matter to you. Let’s all take it seriously, okay? Not with judgments, not with discouragement or dismissive attitudes or half-assed advice.’

    Hell yeah.

    Reply
  16. rgiraffe

    I’m not going to go all Tom Cruise about it but I know first hand that for me taking anti-depressants gave me flat affect. My mom acted like a loon (and consequently made many life choices during the time she was taking anti-depressants that were more than questionable). When I took anti-depressants nothing made me mad (even when it should have) and nothing made me overly happy – I was just a flat plane of nothingness (this was effexor). I took Zoloft and Wellbutrin at other times – and they both gave me never-ending back of the head buzzing headaches. I’m not against AD if they fix what ails you – but neither do I think they work for everyone – even those who are clinically depressed.

    I get frustrated when someone overly defends them because I feel that point of view undermines what I have actually experienced.

    We are all different – my mom cries hysterically when given laughing gas. Others get a great high feeling from oxycotin (to the point of stealing it from pharmacies to get that feeling again) and it makes me sicker than I’ve ever been in my life – fucking miserable.

    Something that alters your brain chemistry shouldn’t be taken lightly – and I think too many people take them instead of dealing with what is causing their situational depression. On the other hand I think they are fantastic for those with clinical depression who finally feel like that black cloud has been lifted.

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  17. Donna Barlow

    I was depressed before my husband died, thought I had got through the black thoughts but I find I haven’t. I’ve been having health problems lately and have started working part time. Working less has helped but it gives me more time to think. I really don’t find much joy in life, this shouldn’t be and I find myself arguing that everything isn’t all that bad. I’ve thought about talking to my doctor about starting anti depressants.

    Reading a good mystery with many plot twists and turns helps immensely. When I was younger and lived with three foster children reading was my escape from reality. I know I was clinically depressed at a young age.

    People say that the past can’t hurt you but I feel that I carry it around with me. I have filled up many a journal with my thoughts. It does help to get the jumble out of my head and on paper.

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  18. Denese

    Very brave post. VERY enlightening and very educative.

    I love Kay Redfield Jamison. She taught me so much when my dear friend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

    Any mood disorder will eventually debilitate you, regardless of how you good you feel for a short period of time.

    Denese

    Reply
  19. Fran

    I’ve used Prozac for two periods in my life, and the first time, my mom was afraid of all the strange things that could happen and watched me like a hawk to be sure I didn’t go completely nuts. We were all pleased at how it worked.

    One of the things that helped me get past my ongoing depression was giving up Judeo-Christian guilt. It works for lots of people, but it made me suicidal. I’ve found another path, and am much happier, and nicer to be around — generally!

    I’m a firm believer in better living through better chemistry. Sure, I believe in getting to the root of a problem to dispell its hold on you, but I also believe you don’t have to do it alone.

    Thank you, Sweet Cornelia, for another timely and brilliant post!

    Reply
  20. Cornelia Read

    You guys, thank you so much for the wonderful, thoughtful comments. I’m at my mom’s house again (since last night) and her internect connection keeps crapping out just when I’ve answered everyone. Am going to try to post this before it goes on the blink again….

    Reply
  21. babs

    Hurrah for better living through chemistry. You cannot allow the biases of others to stop you from doing what’s right for you. Thanks for sharing your journey so others can get their own courage.

    Reply
  22. pari

    Holy cow, Cornelia.

    This is brilliant.

    I’ve never taken Prozac or any of the others, but did wish I’d known about them at a certain time of life when I had a very difficult time getting out of bed every morn. Depression sucked.

    I know many people who might not even be around save for these drugs.

    What bums me out?

    Mortality.

    Reply
  23. David Feldman

    Cornelia,
    I just finished reading your quite exceptional first novel and turned to the internet to learn more about you and your subsequent work. I'm pleased to find your site and to read what you have written about depression. I wholeheartedly agree. I'm 61 and have had depression and dysthymia since adolescence. But I only decided to step away from the abyss and try medication about 3 years ago. It was a relief to, while still knowing the abyss was there, have my path moved so that I finally walked several yards away from the edge instead of a constant teetering. Your words are eloquent and apt.
    Thank you,
    David Feldman

    Reply

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