I was thinking (IT HAPPENS, OK??), as I stood by the grocery store pharmacy, waiting for my Xanax refill, that I have been medicated for a very long time. Not by the Xanax, which I use only in emergency situations, and to be perfectly honest, give more away that I use, but by other SSRI’s.
It started at the therapist’s office. I started going there when the relationship I was in started heading south, and by south I mean SOUTH POLE, and then just kept going as life continued around me. I picked this particular therapist SPECIFICALLY because she was a psychologist, and couldn’t prescribe. I think I was clinging to that desperately American pipe dream of pulling myself out by my bootstraps- that there was no funk I couldn’t fight back, that it was probably my period anyways, and if it would just motherfucking stop raining already, everything would be fine. But my period came and went, and it’s Seattle, you fucking tool, so it never stopped raining. And still I walked into her office every Tuesday afternoon, hoping THIS talk therapy session would make this, whatever this was, go away. I wanted to be happy, dammit, and while I caught glimpses of it, I could never catch it and hold on.
Until one afternoon, when she said: “Everything seems to be going well- you have a girlfriend, and a house, and a cat. So why are you still unhappy?”
Well, shit. That was like playing chess and being in check from all directions- the only thing there is left to do is to lay down and give up. Give up this idea that I could WILL myself to be better, happier, calmer. That if I just ran longer, or lost weight, or found a different partner, my life would magically transform itself into something you might see on TV. I took that referral to a psychiatrist with a really heavy heart that afternoon, because now I had to say “I can’t.”
You don’t come from a family of Holocaust survivors and hearty Midwestern pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap types and cop to “I can’t” with any ease. Telling my parents I needed help, and I needed help of the pharmaceutical variety was pretty terrible- I was still fighting the idea that I needed the pills at all, and now I had to convince the original do-it-yourself-ers that I DID need them, and the alternative was the equally troubling calling my mother sobbing from under my desk at the office. It took my mother YEARS to accept that her preshus unicorn wasn’t the most mentally stable carrot in the bunch.
I didn’t want to take those pills AT ALL. But I did, once a day, and for the first month, I felt like a complete lunatic. They made me tired and cotton-mouthed. I’d forget what I was saying in the middle of a sentence. I’d sit and stare at nothing.
Wait- sit and stare at nothing? This was new. I can say this because I have the hindsight to do so, but before then, I thought EVERYONE had a Greek chorus of voices in their heads. Chattering, churning, always rolling things around endlessly, manically. A constant stream of consciousness that NEVER turned off, ever. But now, oh, under the sweet spell of Zoloft, there was silence. There was sit and stare at nothing silence. And dear god, was it heavenly. The silence in my head made everything so much clearer, so much easier. Calling someone didn’t require thirty minutes of worrying if they were going to like me, or if they would know I was nervous, or if it was even ok I was calling at all. I should note that by calling someone, I mean “to make a doctor’s appointment.”
Which is not to say it was all yellow pills and pink roses. I packed on fifty miserable pounds and had to keep upping my dose as my mind got used to the medicine. I stopped feeling much of anything, good or bad, as the Zoloft tamped everything down, including my ability to empathize- someone close to me lost a grandparent, and I didn’t really think it was that big a deal. It became painfully obvious I needed to do something- anything. Because now I was just as miserable on the fucking pills as I was off, and I was fatter to boot.
So I did what any sensible nutjob does and tried to taper off my doses of Zoloft, thinking I could probably get by without them now, right? WRONG. OH MY FUCKING GOD, SO SO WRONG. The thing “they” don’t tell you is that a depressive episode isn’t a singular event (if you’re nutty like me- more neurotypical people CAN and DO use SSRI’s as a temporary crutch, but I am not one of those people), but that each episode increases the odds of having another, and that each successive episode will be deeper, darker, and harder to medicate your way out of. But I thought that I could beat the odds, because I am a special individual snowflake, and furthermore, I want it bad enough, and further furthermore, I am not one of those people- the crazy ones, the ones who pop pills daily for THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.
Except for the part where I am, and the month I spent off any sort of SSRI was the worst summer I’ve ever had, including the one where I got my period in a pair of white shorts in front of a bunch of 14 year old boys and didn’t know it until a camp counselor yelled it at me across the courtyard. Imagine yourself at 30 years old, locking yourself into the bathroom at your corporate job, the one that’s your career, that you went to some ridiculously expensive Seven Sister’s college to get, the one that pays the mortgage, and sobbing until you get the hiccups, and THEN going back to your shared office to call your mother, because you’re so far gone you think she can help you from 3000 miles away. Clearly I was chest deep in shit creek, nevermind without a paddle.
I swallowed my fears about changing medications and the risk that this new one might not “work,” and started taking Lexapro instead. And I know this is my own personal experience, and not everyone reacts the same, and everyone is the guardian of their own reality, and so on, but it turned out to be just that simple. A tiny white pill turned my whole life around- I am now who I really was always meant to be. I gladly inhabit my own reality, my own mind; I even, OH DEAR GOD, like myself. Sure, there was other work to be done- the work of self-acceptance isn’t swallowed as easily as those pills, but there was finally space to work on the things that needed working on. It was FREEING.
I’ve been on the Lexapro for OMFG, five years now, and I don’t forsee that changing at any point (please, holy being of your choice, let me always have health care, because that shit is expensive). And I am finally ok with that being my row to hoe- I am one of those people, and I’m not too shy to tell you about it.