“Have you taken your meds today?” Sometimes this question is a serious inquiry made by medical professionals in a formal medical setting. Sometimes it is a (lame) attempt at humor by a friend who has noticed that you are a little off your game or maybe a little more serious question from a loved one who is concerned that you aren’t quite yourself. It’s one I’ve heard many times, one I’ve even asked myself in moments of confusion, honestly wondering if I had, in fact, swallowed the allotted pills in my daily pill organizer, that thing that one usually associates with senior citizens who take dozens of pills a day, a separate little compartment for day and evening of each day of the week. Believe me, that thing is a lifesaver. Without it, I never would keep my meds straight. Yeah, that’s “meds”, short for “medications”. That’s the lingo in this business. Glad you’re keeping up.
There are far too many people in the world suffering from mental illness that are untreated, tragically, but most people with diagnosed depression and/or bipolar disorder are prescribed some kind of medication. Some choose to take it, others prefer to wing it on their own, not liking the side effects, or fearing becoming someone else other than themselves on the drugs. I am considered an ideal patient because medication has worked for me at least some of the time and I trust it and my doctor, to a degree. I know that bad things happen when I try to go off meds entirely and that I will likely be on some form of medication for the rest of my life. I can live with that. Whatever keeps me far away from the deep, dark abyss of depression, I am committed to that. When I talk to people who are going off their meds, I congratulate them on their bravery, but inside I’m thinking, “FAILURE! DOOM! DON’T DO IT!CHAOS! HELL! MISERY! SADNESS!” and I pray for them. I don’t want to hear about another suicide. I’m a believer in pharmaceuticals, because they have worked for me, sometimes.
I first began taking anti-depressants as a freshman in college. I was depressed before then but never got professional help until I was on campus at the University of Alabama. I was dating my future ex-husband, and my ex-boyfriend, whom I was still in love with came down to visit me and told me, in one breath, that he was joining the Navy, his girlfriend was pregnant and he was getting married. I didn’t cry. I just hugged him and said it was ok, everything would be ok. Later, I cried, and apologized profusely to my current boyfriend, swearing I only loved him and I didn’t know why I was crying. Then I didn’t sleep for two weeks. So I went to the student health center and saw a psychiatrist and a psychologist and was diagnosed with depression and given a prescription for Pamelor, an old school trycyclic. This was pre-Prozac days. I finally got some sleep and started feeling better and started talking to a therapist and realized I had been depressed since childhood. This was sad, of course, but in a strange way made me feel somewhat better. I wasn’t just weird. Something had been wrong with me. and it had a name, and now I was getting help. I felt hopeful. Over the next few years I was fairly stable with a few adjustments to the dosage level of my medication. Then I dropped out of school and got married and moved to Atlanta and instead of looking for a doctor there, decided as many wrongly do, I was all better and didn’t need meds anymore. I had worked out all my childhood traumas in therapy and I was fine. I didn’t need any help. I wasn’t suicidal, so I didn’t think I needed meds. I convinced everyone around me of this and no one argued. Within 6 months of marriage, I was miserable. We both were. It was a disaster, for reasons I don’t have room to write here. Just that our relationship had run its course before we had gotten married. We never should have done it. We had broken up before and should have stayed that way. But there we were. He decided to be as bad as he could be to make me divorce him. I was not brought up to believe in divorce so I clung to him like a snapping turtle. I was determined to make my marriage work. My husband started seeing a therapist and got a prescription for Zoloft. That same day, I got a call. He was on the top of the parking deck at his work threatening to jump off. He was taken to the psychiatric hospital where I was allowed in while he was admitted. They gave me his belt, his tie and his shoe laces to take home with me. They asked him what was going on with him that made him want to take his own life. He looked me right in the eye and said “My marriage.” Thanks for nothing, you bastard, I thought. Rather be dead than live with me? Fine. I asked if there was anything he needed. He wanted me to call his parents and tell them but ask them not to come. I agreed, but told him I couldn’t prevent his mom from coming over. That was the hardest thing, telling his mom over the phone. She thought I was about to say he was dead, so she was a little relieved but, the hurt in her voice when I said he wanted to die. And then that he didn’t want to see anyone, not even her. She probably blamed me. That’s ok, if it made her feel better, may she rest in peace. I went home and got the best night’s sleep I had had in a long, long time. It was a peaceful few days that he was gone, but it had to end. He came home, and all I can say is Zoloft may cure depression, but it doesn’t make you a better person. It just made him more of a self-absorbed jackass than usual. He became the “victim” in our relationship, according to his therapist. I was the bad guy, though not quite sure what I was supposed to have done, since he was the one with other women on the side and I was just working and trying to be a housewife, the latter of which has never been my calling. We inflicted ourselves on each other another year until he forced a separation by giving notice on our apartment, knowing I couldn’t afford rent by myself. I resisted. We fought all night. I remember throwing a Bible at him, screaming scriptures at him. “God hates divorce!” Then I found a leftover bottle of Pamelor and took what was left and swallowed it and went to hide in the closet. He dragged me out and took me to the hospital, more angry than concerned. The nurse there caught his vibe and asked when we were alone if he was abusive. “Not physically,” I answered. I convinced her I hadn’t taken enough to harm me and she let me drink charcoal instead of pumping my stomach and he took me home. We separated a month later.
On May 1. 1995, the day I separated from my ex-husband, I took the first pill of a new prescription called Prozac and my life changed forever….
to be continued in depression…part three: Prozac Princess