Little Helpers

I am not entirely sure how I first got on anti-depressants.  It was the summer after 10th grade, and I had a summer internship with the Defense Department (yes, really) in Albuquerque.  I was also, for the first time, plumbing the depths of sadness to a degree that surpassed normal adolescent angst.  One day, a FedEx package arrived carrying a bottle of little white pills—Prozac, 10 milligrams.  Somehow my parents had convinced a doctor back home to prescribe them to a patient she had never met.

I can’t remember if I actually asked to go on anti-depressants, but I do remember being full of just the kind of existential questions about them that you would expect from a depressed sixteen year old.  Being happy because of drugs seemed like an exercise in self-delusion, a denial of the fact that I was supposed to be depressed because, as far as I was concerned, my life sucked.  Taking pills seemed like cheating myself of well-deserved misery that belonged to my true self, and after a few weeks, I stopped.

The second time I went on medications, it was somewhat more deliberate but less voluntary.  It was my freshman year of college, and, amidst a complete meltdown, I had checked into the campus health center.  The resident psychiatrist suggested that I go on Lexapro and I acquiesced.  This time I stuck with it—but still secured an assurance that it didn’t have to be on them forever, that it was temporary, and that one day I would stand on my own two feet again.  I still felt like needing to be medicated was a weakness.  Twice, feeling superior and proud of my independence, I tried to go off them.  After a few weeks, I crumpled, and slinked into the doctor’s office and asked for the pills again.

How naïve and how innocent I once was!  Today, my one-time reluctance about medication has been replaced with a desperate faith in it.  The announcement by my psychiatrist in Berkeley that I was out of options that were not “long shots” was what put me into the spiral that brought me home.  How wrong he was, though.  Under new care, I’ve learned about the panoply of choices available to me—and the fact that they are, in fact, choices is part of what makes them so terrifying.  Do I want weight gain or weight loss?  To be dopey or agitated?  The very elective element of psychiatry—by contrast, I’ve never been offered a choice of which anti-biotic to take—is a constant reminder that it’s all guess-work.

I’ve firmly entered the realm of poorly understood interactions effects, of very real side-effects, of weapons-grade drugs in high doses.  It’s a day-by-day nail-biter, waiting for subtle signs of improvement that may or may not ever appear.  I’ve now abandoned questions about the deeper meaning of the serotonin-elevated self.  I’ve resigned myself to the idea that anti-depressants are for ongoing mood maintenance, not a one-time cure for a temporary affliction.  I choose not to contemplate the evils of the pharmaceutical industry; I actively shut out the discussions—common in the lefty circles in which I run—about whether drugs are a subtle way of covering up deeper societal problems.

Jesus, I just want them to work.

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3 thoughts on “Little Helpers

  1. “Ongoing mood maintenance?”

    Wouldn’t you first have to HAVE a mood in order to maintain it?

    My dictionary says that a mood is “one’s state of mind or attitude.”

    (“Moody” is defined as “sullen, susceptible to depression, temperamental.”)

    I’ve taken enough drugs to know that it is possible for drugs to create in you a mood (state of mind or attitude) that you didn’t have to begin with. And, of course, in order to maintain that mood, you’d have to keep taking the drugs so as to avoid slipping back into your previous state of mind or attitude.

    Are you in a medical marijuana state? Pot is very good at changing moods without destroying brain cells the way that pharmaceuticals do.

    Have you read, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, by Barbara Ehrenreich? A very small book but a rather important one. Ehrenreich attributes Chernobyl and Fukushima to the cheerful optimists who said, “It’s perfectly safe–don’t worry, be happy!” (Environmentalist critics were smeared as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”) Presently, a large group of positivists called MoveOn.org have a petition drive to remove TEPCO from managing Fukushima because it lacks the ability–blythely, it appears, unaware that nobody else has the ability either, as it was assumed that nothing could possibly go wrong, at least nothing that people who had no experience handling anything of the sort couldn’t manage.

    They say that misery loves company, and being an unhappy person myself, I think that if more people were unhappy there would be a greater possibility of the hope and change that most people seem to want. It is only when a mood of hopelessness prevails, that people are open to change. If everybody’s happy, the show just goes on and on and on.

    I’m glad you recognize that it is all guesswork, and that you’re enough of a realist to recognize that merely wanting something to work doesn’t necessarily make it happen.

    It set my education back about a decade when Adam Weissman’s reading list vanished from the freegan forum. It took that long before I ran into anarchist reading lists and book clubs. I thought that you and/or your friends were responsible for deleting the list–some of the most important literature any thinking person should read. Not necessarily the most cheerful, just the most important.

    No real harm done–I had the attitude even if I lacked the history and citations, and have been catching up fairly rapidly. But forcing people to reinvent the wheel can retard progress in a way that might induce bona fide guilt.

    Sure there are social problems, but we have no choice but to live with them until and unless they kill us. It is with our personal behavioral problems that we have a choice. Are we perpetuating a genocidal, ecocidal system or opposing it? The rewards are great for perpetuating it, and the penalties severe for opposing it. That’s enough to make anyone depressed, if not utterly bonkers.

    Once again:

    “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” –Jiddu Krishnamurti

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