Sunday, November 2, 2008


i got on prozac in may of 2006. the night i started the prescription was relatively uneventful. t was in town visiting. we sat and talked for just a moment, i paused for a moment to wonder what was going to happen, and then i swallowed my first blue-and-white pill. then we walked to a friend's house up the street to feed her dogs while she was out of town, then walked over to a local cafe to catch a burlesque show and then walked back home. we probably went to Honey's for late-night coffee and biscuits. i felt kind of giddy, in a way that i know now was only psychosomatic. the real effects of anti-depressants wouldn't kick in for several sleepless and sweaty weeks.

depression and other mental illnesses run in my family on both sides. the mom has it, the dad has it, the aunts, the cousins, the sister and probably, eventually, at least one niece. and those are only the diagnosed cases. as my dad once joked with his uncle, visiting from South America, i was born with his mal genia. in my family, these issues take the form of either testy anger or sleepy lethargy, and for me it's been a battle of the former.

it took me years to realize that my experience of emotion was not within a healthy range. [there are plenty of doubters out there who would read that sentence with all the skepticism it deserves, and i was always one of them. even now, as i write this, a part of me protests silently but forcefully: "this talk of the 'unhealthy range of emotion' is a bunch of b.s. and even if it isn't, i'm certainly not included. my emotions are perfectly acceptable."] but the fact is, i grew up in an environment in which emotions were denied, tip-toed around, uncontrolled, projected onto others, blamed on others, and generally feared. you know... the stuff you read about in self-help books about dysfunction: the crying parent who claims to be happy, the quiet child who 'disappears' to avoid unwanted attention, the raging parent who tells their kid 'you put me in a bad mood', the 'bad mood' that involves verbal abuse and holes in walls, the child who shoulders the responsibility for calming angry parents and soothing hurt feelings. it's not an uncommon situation for a family to find itself in. err... i mean, there are many others out there who may relate to what i'm describing. that doesn't mean it's normal or okay. it also doesn't mean those families are 'bad'.

anyway, in that context, i ventured out into the world as a semi-formed adult with completely misguided notions about how to respect others' feelings while honoring my own. anybody who hurt me was a bad person, at least until they realized the wrong they had conferred upon me and apologized for it. i felt no qualms about fighting even (and especially) my closest loved ones, over and over again, when they hurt my feelings. my goal in all those battles was to make them see how they had upset me, and why they were wrong, and to convince them to feel sorry and apologize. obviously, this resulted in only a vicious cycle of anger, guilt and regret. the long-term strategy, of course, was to avoid pain at all costs. that's the war i was fighting: don't get hurt.

so there were these two problems. first was my unhealthy understanding of emotion, my refusal to take responsibility for my own feelings by blaming them on others, my abject failure to even consider the feelings of others. i was, quite literally, looking out for number one. second was this whole biochemical problem that ran in my family. i started dealing with the first problem first, but found that i was facing these incredibly high obstacles. it seemed that every couple of weeks, everything got harder. at those times, even as i could stand outside of myself and see that i was overreacting to something and unfairly criticizing or blaming, i felt this hairpin trigger urging me to explode. there was an overwhelming rage just beneath the surface that seemed to be immune to my rationalizations and applications of all the insights i'd learned about healthy expressions of emotion.

i talked to my doctor about it. he diagnosed it as pmdd. said something about how the second half of my menstrual cycle, after ovulation, my body was likely failing to properly regulate my hormones. he suggested prozac. and, having worked very hard for a very long time, and feeling quite exhausted, i decided i owed it to myself to give it a shot. so i did. which is how i ended up, back in may of 2006, taking my first little blue-and-white pill.

all this reflection today is because my prescription lapsed about a month and a half ago, and it has affected me. the lapse of course has to do with my move, the change in insurance, the law school distraction, etc. but its still a lapse. in some ways i feel back to where i started. yesterday, as t and i were walking back from a downtown shopping trip, i got incredibly angry that we had to stop at a corner and wait for the light to turn red before we could cross. in my head i had this visual of a two-year old melting down and crying on the sidewalk. though i couldn't indulge the same behavior, that's how i felt inside.

i guess i needed to write about all this because when i say to others that i'm "on anti-depressants" i still hear a simple excuse -- like i couldn't hack it, or like i copped out or something. but the reality is exactly the opposite. sometimes i need to remind myself of that. i fought to get to this level of self-awareness. and right now i am very much aware i need to get back on that prozac.


CP said...

isn't it amazing how much hormones control our lives? at least now you can recognize when you nrrd hrlp. i'm just writing a post about my mom's depression and anxiety issues.

je said...

yeah, and it seems the more i understand my body, the more it all makes some sort of sense. (but not THAT much!) i'm interested to read your thoughts on mental health & your mom... when i hear mom and depression in the same sentence, i think naps. lots of naps!

MJV said...

I can very much relate to this post, with a now-deceased bipolar grandmother, a bipolar father and a yet-to-be-diagnosed-but-totally-bipolar father. My mother also had the hormonally influenced rages and the blaming behavior. Turned me into a right mess. I am constantly worried that people hate me and trying to control their reactions by anticipating them. Lovely. And you'd think with the megadose of antidepressant, I'd be more up but I spent all day yesterday crying in my office. Fun. :) Thanks for sharing all of this.