Sunday, April 18, 2010

a love story

Turn on the tellie these days and it’s awash in ads for one antidepressant or another. Twenty years ago, depression was still closeted, rarely discussed.

This, my first award-winning piece, came about after a casual comment to a colleague writing a feature on the new “miracle drug” Prozac. I told her I would do a first person side-bar detailing my experiences with the drug.

When the story ran, my world cracked open. I was totally unprepared for its effect, among my colleagues, the public at large and my own parents. It had only taken 20 minutes for the words to pop up on the computer screen. But in truth, it had taken three decades to write.

When I called my parents to suggest they pick up a copy of the paper, I had no idea my shocked mother would read it while waiting to pick up an order of Chinese food

A door opens to a world of glorious color

This is a love story.

Not between me and a drug, but between me and my life – a late-blooming love story at that. One that began the last day in May, a few days shy of my 43rd birthday.

Let me back up just a bit to a year ago last St. Patrick’s Day. On that day, my younger brother died, having swallowed more than 400 assorted pills. His act ended more than 20 years of depression and substance abuse that only the ultimate act of self-destruction could penetrate.

He was never to reach 40 years, and I had begun to despair of seeing the other side of 50. I was tired – plumb worn out – from the constant fight just to remain vertical through an ordinary day. Sometimes, I didn’t make it out of bed. And often when I did, it didn’t seem worth effort.

Since early adolescence, I have lived in a world whose colors slid from ash gray to soot black – a world of chronic depression.

For those of you who naturally live a more colorful existence, I will try to communicate what it’s like to live a constricted world: Image a dark, dank day – not a refreshing spring rain – but a day in which the rain never quite stops. Now imagine years flowing in decades of such days.

I don’t know what day my depression started, but I can tell you the day it ended – June 19. It was a Tuesday, exactly 20 days after I began swallowing a yellow-and-blue-green Prozac capsule every morning. It literally was like a switch being flipped in my brain. The lights went on, and stayed on.

The decision to give the controversial drug a try was mine, much to the surprise of my psychologist/mentor of 20-plus years. With my brother’s history of drug addiction, the psychologist knew my fear of medications and had long given up suggesting that I might find relief in them.

With his help, I survived a failed marriage, graduated from college with a degree in psychology while raising two children on welfare and part-time work. Even without the constant weight of depression, it would have been tough. But the overload of responsibility also served to keep the darkness at bay.

Work served the same purpose. If there is one thing that can be said about working for a daily newspaper it’s that it absorbs you. It will take every effort and every second you will give – and never be sated.

My world held no joy, no music and precious little passion. All my energy was being used to hold my head above a sea of depression. I was treading, just treading my life away.

My brother’s suicide and my own impending middle age put and end to that. I was running out of time and couldn’t seem to push myself past functional on any sustained basis. I tried everything from exercise, to subliminal and hypnosis tapes. Nothing lasted.

Then I heard about Prozac, a new drug, totally different from any other anti-depressant on the market. I read everything I could and watched all the talk shows, considering the pros and cons.

When I found out that a first cousin was suffering through a debilitating episode of clinical depression. I decided it was a family illness, and thought I’d give Prozac a try.

My internist prescribed the “marvelous drug,” as he called it, on a trial basis to see if I could tolerate the initial side effects, which can be frightening. He cautioned me it might take 21 days to kick in and to be patient.

The first week was not pleasant.

I was restless and suffered digestive upsets. It caused sleep problems and anxiety, especially in the beginning. Since I refuse to take any of the habit-forming tranquilizers, like Valium or Xanax, I talked myself through the anxiety, telling myself over and over it wasn’t me, it was the Prozac.

I soon discovered that any activity, even something simple as getting out of bed – banished the anxiety. Almost from Day One, I felt an infusion of energy, a zest.
By the start of the third week, the undesirable side effects began to fade. I felt different somehow, but not necessarily better – until I woke up that Tuesday in June.

If I were Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, it would have been the moment when the door swings open revealing a world of glorious color and infinite possibilities – a world I never knew existed.

Without the need to bathe my depression in chocolate, I have lost about 20 pounds. Without the extra physical and mental weight, I have physical and emotional energy left over for work and family. Without the need to guard my emotions against depression, I even experience occasional joy.

But even Oz had its wicked witch, and Prozac does not ward off all ills like Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Objectively, my life has not changed. I still deal with all my other psychological issues of self-esteem, success, intimacy and the like. I didn’t get rich or win the Pulitzer Prize. Nor am I a size 8. I still get impatient, angry, stressed-out, lonely and sad.

And while my life has not changed, my perception of my life has. It’s really amazing how manageable problems seem when you stand upright and look them in the eyes.

I am not a new person. In fact, my daughter thinks I’m more like the real me. Now when I’m down, I generally can point to a reason. And it lasts at the most a few days – not a few years. Blue is a color, not a lifestyle.

Prozac didn’t change my life; it introduced me to life. I’ll take it from here.

And so I have...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

以簡單的行為愉悅他人的心靈,勝過千人低頭禱告。 ..................................................