Have I mentioned that I’ve had depression for close to 20 years? I’m medicated of course, have been for a long long time. I take Prozac (Fluoxetin, SSRI’s) daily and dutifully.
When I was first prescribed antidepressants there was no question that I needed them. My family doctor explained depression in overly simplistic terms to me really. irresponsibly so I now think…
He encouraged me think of depression like any other physical sickness…he used the example of a sore throat. If you get a sore throat you go to the doctor who prescribes some medicine to make it better, you take the medicine for the prescribed time, the throat is mended then you stop taking the medication when its all better.
The only problem is it never did get all better… I was under some false pretense that a period of medication would reset things and when I stopped Id be back to normal. I tried a few times but always relapsed into that dark place within 3 months or so, with the exception of my pregnancies…I never medicated during these times and was always fine..hormones my doctor told me, they protected me against the dreaded serotonin imbalance. But when I tried to stop taking the drugs and fell back into depression, I felt duped, like I’d been mislead somehow.
The depression, characterized for me as being constantly tearful, impatient, intolerant and infinitely unhappy, with very little hope of anything ever getting better. I’m sure I was a very difficult person to be with during these times, a sad, mad and bad mother, wife, daughter. completely self absorbed and oh so negative.
In more recent years the symptoms have changed for me and its much more an anxiety problem, feelings of overwhelming guilt and dread that something terrible is about to happen. It is devastating to not be able to trust your own intuition, knowing it is making you fearful and anxious without cause. The impatience remains and I become very hard on those around me, with little or no tolerance for them and their ways, very grumpy and angry indeed. I hate myself in this state, but seem powerless to do anything to reverse it.
I toddle along to the doctor once a year for a review and a chat. After my second child was born I confessed to him that I didn’t think I really had depression anymore but that I also did not think I could cope without the med’s…didn’t think I could get through the day doing all that I needed to get done without them. I was simply to busy to cope or manage daily life without the drugs. He told me on that day that if they made the journey easier then he was OK with that. I think what I secretly wanted at that time was for him to say..there is another way. we can stop taking these pills every day.
I went through a series of sessions with a psychologist or counselor or some such person too for a while. It was definitely helpful, analyzing myself and my motivations and patterns of behavior. The crux of it, I was, and am a perfectionist. I want to be all things to all people, do all the stuff that to me makes me a value to my family and society, the things I mistakenly believe I need to do in order to be good. A good Mum, a good wife, a good daughter, sister. A good team menber, business woman, and on and on and on it goes.
Would I consider lowering my expectations of myself? she asked. Could I reconsider my priorities to consider my mental and emotional health? she said… No was my answer. I don’t want to stop doping any of those things, filling any of those roles. I want to continue to do it all and be it all. I was not willing to compromise, preferring to take the medication forever.
At first I tried to wean myself off them a few times over a few years, but was back on the drugs within 3 months, FAILED! That period of time when you first wean off, there is a deep dip in serotonin levels, worse that the original depression I think and very difficult to manage. It is a horrible horrible dark pace with very little hope of escape. I tend to take to my bed and hibernate, unable to do much of anything during these times. Showering, eating, getting dressed, all on the back burner. Waiting it out never seemed possible..so back to the doctors I’d drag myself. After a while I resigned myself to taking antidepressants forever. I was at peace with that, could cope with needing them forever, if it meant avoiding the dark place.
I realize that over the 20 years I’ve been taking the medication, I’ve also been drinking. Since I was about 22, I have not been able to go more than 12 days without consuming alcohol. I realize this is not the best plan when suffering depression and that alcohol consumption makes this infinitely worse. Hey, there are so many things I could do, behaviors I could adopt that I know will make me feel better, heaps better, but do I do them? No. Why is it that we know what will make us well but we don’t do it?
I’m conscious of some days feeling so good and well and happy since giving up drinking that I worry its not normal to feel so great, perhaps I am bipolar or manic, perhaps this feeling is not right either. Am I the only one who feels this way, or is this how all non-drinkers feel and operate every day, in this happy energetic space. I wonder if it might be too good to be true and that I’m not really well at all.
Since I’ve stopped drinking, 75 days today!, I feel for the first time in years that I might not need the Prozac. For the first month, I was feeling so well, I actually forgot to take them. When I realized I thought maybe I should just stop..but I’ve been having second thoughts about that and not wanting to jeopardize my sobriety by rushing into this, doing too much too soon. Heading into the dark place where a glass of wine looks mighty tempting. What I’ve settled on is taking one tablet every second day rather than daily. I’m going to do that for 6 weeks and see how it goes. Then perhaps a visit to the doctor to discuss further withdrawl if all is well.
Coupled with the quitting of the drinking, I’ve made some big decisions about my life next year. I’ve resigned from my operational role at work and will just sit on the board focused on governance and strategy. That means I’m unemployed, retired, reducing my monthly work hours to a very small commitment of just a few hours per month. This is going to give me a wonderful chance to re-establish some new routines where self care will be my top priority. I’ll finally take the hint my counselor was trying to send me and slow down, do less, smell the roses, start yoga, walk the dog and generally take better care of myself. Do spome of those things that I know make me feel better and well, but that I just don’t get around to.
I’m excited about this new beginning, about the energy and enthusiasm I have found in sobriety, about the possibility of not needing this medication anymore.
Its feels good to be alive!