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.