My Experience With Medications

I had been suffering with clinical depression for 9 years before I was ever diagnosed.  When I was, they sent me to a psychiatrist who prescribed me my first medication.   I was not given counseling, psychotherapy, or anything else.   Just pills.

This was my first pill.  I liked it.  After about two weeks, I truly understood what it meant to be happy.  Yes, you read that right.  I had been so depressed for so long, I didn’t even remember what being happy felt like.  I began to enjoy my life.  I also began to get scared whenever that happy feeling felt less happy.  I was worried that it would go away and I’d be left in that lethargic fog that had been my life before.  Every time I felt myself slipping even slightly down, I complained about depression and got my medication raised.  After a while of taking this pill, I realized that I had lost the ability to achieve an orgasm.  One of the side effects was “abnormal ejaculation/orgasm and impotence in men.” Why did they not look into similar issues in their female patients!? Wtf!?  I kept taking it though, because I was happy and orgasms weren’t that big a deal in comparison with being happy.

When I was 24, my parents insurance would no longer cover me.  At about $170 a month and no generic version, Effexor XR was too expensive for a poor grad student.  So I did my best to wean myself off of them.  The results were not pretty.  I drank, smoked pot, and made many bad life choices.  I honestly don’t remember much of that year except as fuel for negative thoughts years later.  I somehow managed to finish my master’s thesis and get a job.

I got my first job and it had insurance.  I went to the doctor’s office to get back on Effexor.  I had mentioned that I didn’t like the side effects, but was too shy at that point to explain which side-effect that was.  The doctor put me on Paxil.  I wasn’t on Paxil for very long because I had put on 10lbs the first month that I was on it.  I later found out that lack of orgasm was another side effect of Paxil as well.

I did some internet research and found an article about SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) and decided I no longer wanted to take any more SSRIs (Effexor, Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, etc.).  The doctor told me that my depression was too bad for other depression medication types.  I dug in my heels and told him that I’ll deal with just being a little depressed rather than to deal with the side effects of the SSRIs.  I actually enjoyed the side effects of Welbutrin.  I quit smoking and lost weight!  Sure, I was down from time to time, but I dealt with it.  I stayed on the Welbutrin for a number of years.

A family member had gotten into one of those pyramid things and had started selling various supplements.  I came across one called Bliss.  It made the following claims in the catalog she had me look at: promotes relaxation without drowsiness, helps maintain healthy levels of both serotonin and dopamine, helps enhance and stabilize mood, helps the body adapt to stress, and increases mental clarity.  That sounded like something that might be good for depression!  I asked my psychiatrist and my primary care physician if any of the ingredients conflicted with those in my medication.  And neither of them could tell me the answer.  They were so well-schooled on medications, but not at all on supplements, they really couldn’t tell me.  I took it anyway.  It worked so well, that I tried weaning myself off the Welbutrin.  I did it with my doctor’s help and my doctor’s consent.  Whoever says that psych meds aren’t chemically addictive is lying.  Even though I slowly weaned myself off of that medication over the period of three months, the week after I finally stopped taking the Welbutrin was HORRIBLE!  I was so depressed I couldn’t move or get out of bed even.  After a week, the withdrawal symptoms started to fade and eventually, I enjoyed being able to say I was no longer medicated for depression. It’s a supplement, so it didn’t count in my mind as medication.    It also felt like I had a “normal” range of emotions rather than a forced up and a down when my brain chemicals rebelled. And at $36 a month, it was cheaper than even most of the generic versions of pills.

There came a point in my life where I just got sick of having to take pills every day.  I weaned myself off of Bliss.  I got a little down, but there was no horrible withdrawal akin to that of Welbutrin.  For the past two years, I have now truly been living medication-free.  It’s not to say that there aren’t some bad times.  I’ve hit a particularly bad patch recently.  But the years of medication must have at least somewhat fixed the chemical imbalance in my brain.  I can still feel happy.  But I also can get very depressed too.  My depression also only will last for a few days at a time rather than a few weeks at a time like it did before I was ever medicated.  I’ll still take a Bliss pill if I know I’m going to need a pick-me-up or if I’m having a terrible day, but even so,  I’ll call this one a win.


Depression As A Disease

I have been hanging out in the blogosphere for a  few years now and thought it was time I addressed the subject of depression.  Mental illness is still extremely misunderstood and has a negative reputation.  At it’s root, it’s a disease.  If depression were an std, it would be like herpes.  It never goes away. It just hides out for a while and when you least expect it, and when it’s most imprudent, it returns with a fresh outbreak.

Most people don’t see this.  Because the cause isn’t apparent and because the symptoms are changes in personality and/or mood, most people often write it off.  Who hasn’t been depressed in their life?  What many people don’t understand is that depression, as a disease, is not something that can be shaken off when your life gets better.  It’s not something that you can exercise away, although exercise CAN help with milder forms of depression (my theory is that the increased endorphins supplement the lack of serotonin in the brain).  It’s not something that will improve by trying to have a sunny outlook on life.  Honestly, could you imagine someone telling someone with herpes that if they just look on the bright side, their outbreak will go away!?  It’s that stupid of an idea for people who have depression as a disease, too.

That sort of thing happens to people with depression all the time.  Why?  Because most people who have experienced depression often experience it as a result of something that happened in their life that MADE them depressed.  The death of a loved one.  A horrible break-up.  A financial disaster.  People who experience depression as a disease have chemical issues in their brain that make them depressed.  These negative thoughts are not the cause of my depression, but the end result of the chemicals in my brain making me feel bad.  Eventually, my brain just finds some part of my life I’m not happy with and dwells on it.  It takes every thought and perverts it to the point where there is nothing good and nothing worthwhile in my life.

And that’s pretty much the worst part of depression.  It’s dwelling on all of the horrible and nasty things in my life.  Depending on the level of depression I’m feeling on that particular day, it could be anywhere from a minor sad feeling or true self-hatred because I said that one stupid thing 15 years ago and I’m still kicking yourself for it.  Of course, there are other signs and symptoms, but once I get into self-loathing, it’s all over.  Sure people suggest things that may help if you were able to actually pull yourself out of your funk enough to do them.  But there’s always depression putting those horrible thoughts in your brain:  Why would I want to exercise when I’m so fat it won’t make any difference?  Why would I want to hang out with friends when they all hate me anyway?  Why would I want to apply for that job when I have no hireable qualities?   And it turns into a spiral of self-fulfilling prophecies.  I don’t exercise, so I get fatter.  I don’t hang out with friends, so I don’t have a close connection with many people.  I don’t expect to get jobs, so I get stuck in a dead end job that I hate or don’t put my all into applying for a job I want, so I don’t get it.

Of course people who live like this have trouble advocating for themselves and for their disease.  We’re all too busy trying to overcome this giant hurdle just to do “normal” things that “normal” people do on a daily basis.  It’s a struggle just to make money, pay bills, cook, clean, and keep good hygiene.  Most of us hide the fact that we’re have depression.  Why?  Because half of the people we tell don’t take us seriously.  They hit us with some of the stupidest things you can say to someone who actually experiences depression as a disease (borrowed from this website it’s from a list compiled by people who have depression):

0. “What’s *your* problem?”
1. “Will you stop that constant whining? What makes you think that anyone cares?”
2. “Have you gotten tired yet of all this me-me-me stuff?”
3. “You just need to give yourself a kick in the rear.”
4. “But it’s all in your mind.”
5. “I thought you were stronger than that.”
6. “No one ever said life was fair.”
7. “As you get stronger you won’t have to wallow in it as much.”
8. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
9. “Do you feel better now?”(Usually said following a five minute conversation in which the speaker has asked me “what’s wrong?” and “would you like to talk about it?” with the best of intentions, but absolutely no under-standing of depression as anything but an irrational sadness.)
10. “Why don’t you just grow up?”
11. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
12. “There are a lot of people worse off than you?”
13. “You have it so good, why aren’t you happy?”
14. “It’s a beautiful day!”
15. “You have so many things to be thankful for, why are you depressed!”
16. “What do you have to be depressed about”.
17. “Happiness is a choice”
18. “You think *you’ve* got problems…”
19. “Well at least it’s not that bad.”
20. “Maybe you should take vitamins for your stress.”
21. “There is always somebody worse off than you are.”
22. “Lighten up!”
23. “You should get off all those pills.”
24. “You are what you think.”
25. “Cheer up!”
26. “You’re always feeling sorry for yourself.”
27. “Why can’t you just be normal?”
28. “Things aren’t *that* bad, are they?”
29. “Have you been praying/reading the Bible?”
30. “You need to get out more.”
31. “We have to get together some time.” [Yeah, right!]
32. “Get a grip!”
33. “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
34. “Take a hot bath. That’s what I always do when I’m upset.”
35. “Well, everyone gets depressed sometimes!”
36. “Get a job!”
37. “Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.”
38. “You don’t *look* depressed!”
39. “You’re so selfish!”
40. “You never think of anyone but yourself.”
41. “You’re just looking for attention.”
42. “Have you got PMS?”
43. “You’ll be a better person because of it!”
44. “Everybody has a bad day now and then.”
45. “You should buy nicer clothes to wear.”
46. “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
47. “Why don’t you smile more?”
48. “A person your age should be having the time of your life.”
49. “The only one you’re hurting is yourself.”
50. “You can do anything you want if you just set your mind to it.”
51. “This is a place of BUSINESS, not a HOSPITAL”; after confiding to
supervisor about my depression
52. “Depression is a symptom of your sin against God.”
53. “You brought it on yourself”
54. “You can make the choice for depression and its effects, or against depression, it’s all in YOUR hands.”
55. “Get off your rear and do something.” -or- “Just do it!”
56. “Why should I care?”
57. “Snap out of it, will you?”
58. “You *want* to feel this way.”
59. “You have no reason to feel this way.”
60. “Its your own fault.”
61. “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
62. “You’re always worried about *your* problems.”
63. “Your problems aren’t that big.”
64. “What are you worried about? You should be fine.”
65. “Just don’t think about it.”
66. “Go Away.”
67. “You don’t have the ability to do it.”
68. “Just wait a few weeks, it’ll be over soon.”
69. “Go out and have some fun!”
70. “You’re making me depressed as well…”
71. “I just want to help you.”
72. “The world out there is not that bad…”
73. “Just try a little harder!”
74. “Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days.”
75. “You need a boy/girl-friend.”
76. “You need a hobby.”
77. “Just pull yourself together”
78. “You’d feel better if you went to church”
79. “I think your depression is a way of punishing us.” —My mother
80. “Sh*t or get off the pot.”
81. “So, you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?”
82. “What you need is some real tragedy in your life to give you perspective.”
83. “You’re a writer, aren’t you? Just think of all the good material you’re getting out of this.”
84. This one is best executed with an evangelical-style handshake, i.e. one of my hands is imprisoned by two belonging to a beefy person who thinks he has a lot more charisma than I do: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” This has actually happened to me. Bitten-back response: “Who are ‘our’? And don’t do me any favors, schmuck.”
85. “Have you tried camomile tea?”
86. “So, you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?”
87. “You will be ok, just hang in there, it will pass.” “This too shall pass.” – Ann Landers
88. “Oh, perk up!”
89. “Try not being so depressed.”
90. “Quit whining. Go out and help people and you won’t have time to brood…”
91. “Go out and get some fresh air… that always makes me feel better.”
92. “You have to take up your bed and carry on.”
93. “Why don’t you give up going to these quacks (ie doctors) and throw out those pills, then you’ll feel better.”
94. “Well, we all have our cross to bear.”
95. “You should join band or chorus or something. That way you won’t be thinking about yourself so much.”
96. “You change your mind.”
97. “You’re useless.”
98. “Nobody is responsible for your depression.”
99. “You don’t like feeling that way? So, change it.”