May 1, 1995…This is the day that everything changed in my depressed world It is the day that my ex-husband and I (FINALLY) separated, and the day I filled the new prescription my psychiatrist had given me for a new drug called PROZAC. I had never heard of it, but the doctor said it was fairly new and initial results were promising. So, why not. The demise of my marriage had proven to me that I was clearly NOT OK on my own and I hadn’t liked the weight gain that had come with my old anti-depressant, so I was game. So, I asked. How long does it take this stuff to work? Doc said I might start feeling a little better pretty quickly but it takes a few weeks to get into your system, about a full month before you start feeling the full effect. He was correct. I did feel better, though almost certainly the cause was psychological, separating from my miserable marriage and moving in with a fun friend from work and planning a new life for myself. But I felt more energetic and cheerful in those first few weeks. Then, almost a month to the day, I remember the moment I felt “IT”.
When I left our old apartment, I moved in with a friend from work, Darlene. Darlene was a party girl. Darlene was fun. Darlene was a bit of an alcoholic, I think, but I loved her to death. Good times! Her complex had a pool. We worked together at JC Penneys at Perimeter Mall and both worked night shift and sometimes we would get up in the morning and lie around by the pool before work. One morning, we did this, right around June 1st I believe, about a month in on Prozac and it was a beautiful, warm, breezy morning, and I floated on my back in the shallow end and closed my eyes and felt the heat of the sun on my face and body and the cool water under me and I spread out my arms and sort of took it all in and a wave of something nameless washed over me. It was like happiness, but it was more. Like everything was right with the world. Like bliss…like euphoria…and then I thought. “That Prozac is some good shit.” And it didn’t go away. It lasted, for days, for weeks, for months. I went through some bad days and I didn’t feel euphoric, but I felt OK. Like I could handle it. Like I could take whatever life dealt me. I stopped crying. I found that I COULDN’T cry, even when I felt like it. That was the strangest thing. I used to cry over the least thing, like a commercial or a movie , and then all of sudden, nothing. I worried briefly that the drug was changing my personality. I decided it didn’t matter. I liked the new me. I felt bolder, more confident, and more positive. I had always been so pessimistic, so negative. The new me could do things, make things happen.
After several months, I made the decision to go back home to Cullman, and from there try to get back in school. I remember the day I left Atlanta with my dad driving me home, moving all my stuff. I didn’t cry, naturally. I played a tape of Stone Temple Pilot’s “Interstate Love Song” over and over all the way home and drove my dad crazy. I was pumped! Prozac and I had my future all planned out. No looking back. My ex and I were separated, but as far as I was concerned we were over. I just wasn’t giving in. I told him if he wanted a divorce he would have to file and pay for it. It took him a year and a half to do it. Meanwhile, I went back to school and got on with my life and when he finally sent me the divorce papers, I signed them, put a stamp on the envelope (the only thing I paid for) and went out to celebrate with friends. I had done my grieving during the marriage. Thanks to Prozac, I stayed pretty evened out and made pretty good grades. And then I got stupid. I succumbed to some faulty reasoning that plagues many well-intentioned mentally ill people. I thought I was cured. Prozac has cured me, I thought. Therefore, I DON’T NEED IT ANYMORE. So I stopped taking it. And for a while I was OK. Prozac stays in your system for a little while. I didn’t tell anyone what I had done. I didn’t tell anyone until the night I called my mother up talking about wanting to die. I think I may have called my dad too, I can’t remember. But I was deep in depression and desperate or I never would have called her. In my right mind I would never say a thing like that to my parents. That’s just a bell you can’t unring. Once your mother or father has heard you say you want to kill yourself, they don’t forget it. and they never look at you the same way again. Every time they see you, every time they talk to you, they wonder if it’s the last time, and they wonder if it’s their fault. And you did that to them, and you have to live with it. Their guilt is your guilt. A parent shouldn’t have to wonder these things about a child they brought into the world. So I promised my mother I would go to the psychiatrist and get back on Prozac. And we joked about me signing a contract stating I would never go off my meds again. I got back on the Prozac and was feeling better within a few weeks. But things were becoming more complicated. The doctor no longer felt Prozac was enough.It was becoming standard to have patients on a “cocktail” of drugs designed to treat their illness and I began taking more drugs. I started taking medicine for anxiety, ADD, extra drugs for depression. I started to feel like a guinea pig. I was constantly coming home from the doctor’s with samples to take, dealing with side effects, going off and on new medications. I would get to a combination that seemed to work for a while, and then I would start getting depressed again and we would try something else. Always, the Prozac stayed the same, because whenever we altered it, I became extremely depressed. Was I addicted to it? The doctor said no, you can’t be addicted to anti-depressants, but I had my doubts.
During this time, thanks to Prozac, I was able to overcome a major obstacle in my life, a severe debilitating phobia of driving. I was in a terrible accident with my mother when I was five years old and had blocked out most memory of it but was left with this terrible fear that I didn’t realize until I had to take driver’s ed in high school. Even in the simulators in class, I was terribly nervous and my performance was awful. When I had to get in the car, just sitting in the driver’s seat gave me panic attacks. I drove once and scraped the side of a bridge near school and never went back after that and failed the class. So my entire adult life up until I was 30, I had to rely on someone else for transportation. It was embarrassing, humiliating, inconvenient to myself and others, and really caused problems in my relationships, especially my first marriage, because I was so dependent. The fear was so strong that I couldn’t even try to overcome it. But after I started taking Prozac, I started feeling strong enough to at least try and I began to practice using an old truck of my dad’s. Finally at age 30, I got my driver’s license! Once I started driving, I couldn’t imagine how on earth I had survived up until then. How had I made it through all those lost years? How would they have been different if I could have been driving and independent. I probably would have never married my ex at all. But all we can do is look ahead. Eventually, I got my own car and haven’t been the same since. In recent years, I’ve had periods of illness where the fear has crept back in and I’ve had to stop driving for a while or take anti-anxiety meds but today I am fine and savor my freedom. And Prozac is still part of my daily drug “cocktail”.
I did learn the hard way over the last few years that Prozac can build up in my system and stop being effective, and when that happens, I have to replace it with something else temporarily and get it all out and then restart it later. I say “the hard way” because I became depressed a couple of years ago and went to the hospital and the doc there took me off of it cold turkey and substituted something else and sent me home a few days later. A few days after that, I was back at the hospital, suicidal, and a different doc put me on something completely different. It was a few months before everything got straightened out and when I started back on Prozac under my private doc’s care , it worked just like in the beginning. So, about that contract my mother was talking about…:)