I Am a Prozac Queen

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Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Dear Reader:

I feel anger and contentment, sorrow and joy, anxiety and enthusiasm, along with fear and courage… sometimes all in the same day! And, yet, I am a “Fluoxetine Queen” as defined by the Urban Dictionary.

Fluoxetine Queen

An enthusiastic and outgoing advocate of the drug Fluoxetine, more commonly known as Prozac, especially one who has used the drug and experienced its benefits or one who is dependant on it to function normally.

There are some who will be surprised to hear that, despite pharmacological intervention, I feel every spoke in the Wheel of Emotions. Indeed I once consulted an orthopedic surgeon regarding my ankle.

He perused my paperwork and inquired, “I see you’re on Prozac…so you’re happy all the time, huh?”

He was an older doctor and I believe he needed to retire or take a continuing education course. I never saw him again and I never had the surgery he recommended. Maybe you can tell by my tone that his question miraculously caused me to feel something other than happiness. I was irritated, annoyed and downright angry.

Early in my blogging career, I wrote a post entitled In Praise of Prozac. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve been depressed and that I was brave enough to get treatment. I want to be part of the movement that seeks to destigmatize issues relating to mental health. And, I’d like to reach out and offer compassion and hope to anyone who is suffering.

I decided to re-visit the topic after reading the New York Times front page story  Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit. I had an immediate reaction to the story. (I’m not the only one; less than two weeks after its publication there are over 2,000 reader responses.) You see, I am one of the “many…who cannot quit.”

When I filled my first prescription for 20mg of Prozac, I was a stay-at-home mom with a four-year-old daughter. My 35-year-old brother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer the month before. My husband’s job was demanding and my support system consisted of only a few close friends.

Matt and I had been very close and it wasn’t surprising that I felt overwhelmed and heartbroken. But, it was clear that I was not simply sad. I struggled to get out of bed and into the shower every morning. I was irritable. Each day seemed to bring physical aches and pains, despite the fact that I was not sick or injured. I remember most clearly a feeling of heaviness, exhaustion and emptiness.

I might have continued to suffer had it not been for my beautiful daughter. After I had a panic attack while at the bookstore with her, I knew I needed to do something. I had to take care of myself so I could take care of my child. I set up an appointment with a counselor and saw my general practitioner.

The only question I remember asking my doctor, “How does one stop taking antidepressants?!”

I do not remember his answer.

But, I didn’t re-visit that question for nearly a year because Prozac improved the quality of my life and relationships. It did not deaden my emotions; it made them manageable again. I continued to feel sad, but that emotion did not paralyze me. I often felt tired, but I did not feel utterly depleted. I no longer felt like a detached viewer of my own life. I felt  present again. The random, unexplainable aches and pains disappeared and with them several other prescriptions. And the fear was gone; I could leave the house without worrying that I’d experience another panic attack. I felt equipped to handle the responsibilities of motherhood.

I was not successful the first time I tried to taper down my antidepressant, nor the second time…nor the third. Seventeen years after my first dosage, Prozac still makes it possible for me to live my best life. Why does a strong, content, fulfilled woman need an antidepressant? I don’t know and neither does my doctor.

If you’ve done your research, as I have, you’ve probably seen depression defined as a “chemical imbalance” or a “serotonin deficiency.” But, that’s an oversimplification. Experts really don’t know what causes depression or how it affects the brain, nor do they understand exactly how antidepressants improve the symptoms.

But, this is what I know:

  1. Prozac and counseling helped me face a huge loss.
  2. Prozac continues to help me.
  3. I have no regrets.

Antidepressants will continue to grab headlines and much of the press will continue to be alarming. That’s just the way it works. You are not likely to see Antidepressants Save Millions of Lives Every Year printed across the front page of any newspaper. And yet, I personally believe that is the bigger story.

Prozac hit the market a mere 12 years before I needed it. So, in a very real way, I am a guinea pig. I can live with that. After all, I am a Fluoxetine Queen!

Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Rain, Hail…and Sunshine!

Dear Reader:

It’s been an amazing Spring day. This morning I woke to the sound and the sight of frozen pellets of rain bouncing about in my garden! Hailstorms are not a common occurrence in California. It’s very exciting for us. It brings everyone to the windows to watch. And after it’s over, we must inspect what’s left.

Winnie is ever curious, but she returned to the warmth of her cozy bed shortly after her first encounter with ice. I imagine her paws were very cold.

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Winnie’s First Hail

A couple of hours later, the sun appeared and our little four-legged trouble maker resumed her exploration of the garden.

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Look Who’s In the Lemon Pot!

What was the weather like in your neighborhood?

Michele

Beauty in the Ordinary

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Dear Reader:

There are so many ways to feel happy. Sometimes, a moment can bring on a smile that lasts for days.

I showed up at the gym for cardio today, as usual. I was feeling exhilarated and energized at the 35 minute mark on the arc when a young man climbed on the machine next to me. I had met him the week before. It was impossible for me to forget his name.

I removed my ear buds and said hello. I was feeling so good that I couldn’t resist teasing him.

“Oh, Matthew, that was just a talk test,” I said.

The look of terror in his eyes was amusing, but he was too sweet to torture. I’m into humor, not cruelty, so I quickly assured him that I was fine. I imagined him imagining me collapsing near his feet and requiring immediate emergency care!

Five minutes later my workout was done and he peaked at the numbers displayed on the screen of my machine.

“Wow, you just did 40 minutes on that thing,” he exclaimed.

Not long ago, I felt self-conscious when I found myself sweating next to a young, fit person. But, today I was impressed …with myself. I knew his praise was genuine. That was a gift, but it wasn’t the only one he presented to me, without knowing it.

If you know me or have read my posts, you are aware that I lost someone very special to me in 2001. He was 36 at the time; I was 40. I will live the rest of my life looking for him… and finding him.  My brother, Matthew, seems to appear in the face of any young man who is kind to me…and also happens to call himself Matthew.

Look for the beautiful, in the ordinary, and you’ll find it!

Michele

 

 

 

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Balance is Important

Dear Reader:

You could say that I was “unbalanced” before I started working out. I’m not talking about the fact that walking, quite regularly, led to falling! I’m referring to “life balance”.

In the words of the incredibly bodacious Jennifer Lopez, “Beauty is only skin deep. I think what’s really important is finding a balance of mind, body and spirit.”

I’m a natural-born student. I love to learn and I love a challenge; my mind has always been a priority for me. I’m blessed to have a loving husband, an amazing daughter and generous friends. My outlook on life is positive and my faith is deep. Before I began training, I had two of Jennifer’s bases covered.

Since November, I’ve integrated the “body” component into my life. I’ve got a routine: Tuesday/Thursday for strength training, Monday/Wednesday/Saturday for cardio.  I have a more balanced life and it feels good. Exercise has given me more confidence and energy.

Thanks to all of you who have supported and encouraged me. I hear you: I’m sticking with it!

Michele

 

 

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Cardio is Not a Walk in the Park

Dear Reader:

OMG, I knew so little the day I walked through the door at Zone Fitness! During my first meeting with my personal trainer, Jonathan, we discussed the importance of both cardio (fitness slang for cardiovascular activity) and weight training. I told him that I was intimidated by weights.

“But, I like cardio,” I offered. “In fact, I exercise four days a week and count my steps!”

I learned very quickly, though, that my idea of cardio was not the same as Jonathan’s. I discovered that I fell far short of meeting the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association and by extension my doctor. Intensity matters! It only counts as cardio when you elevate your heart rate into an aerobic zone, which is 55 to 85 percent of your maximum. Any movement is good, but I was really short-changing myself. I was not working or sweating enough to achieve my weight loss goals or maintain my health. 

Real cardio is hard. The machine I’m sitting on in the picture above is a Cybex arc. I’d never given one a go and, let’s just say, the first time was an experience. I felt like I was going to die after 5 minutes, but I needed to make friends with that machine because it’s designed to be easier on the joints than an elliptical and burn 16% more calories than a treadmill.

I’m proud to say that I can now burn 400 calories in a 35 minute workout on the arc. Getting there required me to trust my trainer. I’d constantly joke that I hoped picking me up after my heart attack was included in my dues. But, honestly, I was scared. I had to learn that I couldn’t/shouldn’t jump off the machine when my inner monologue changed from…you can do this, Michele to …this feels horrible, Tom will kill me if I die in the gym, I don’t know if I can continue, I hate this blanking machine!

Jonathan identified this highly unpleasant feeling:  metabolic pain. (I’ll let you google that for the scientific explanation.) I only needed to know that it wasn’t a sign that I was going to die, but instead a sign that I was getting a good work out. We monitored my heart rate and Jonathan checked in frequently to ensure that I was expending the correct amount of energy.

“How are you doing?” he’d ask me. In those moments, I wasn’t sure I liked him.  My inner monologue went something like this…Can’t you tell by the look on my face?, Didn’t you notice that drop of sweat that just fell to the floor by your foot? Can’t you think of a better question? I later learned that Jonathan was administering the “talk test.” (You should be working so hard that you can’t carry on a conversation, but easy enough that you can contribute short sentences.)

After the first week of cardio training, it did get easier for me to keep pushing. I know what to expect. I can sense what my heart rate is before I check my reading. In short, I know my body better. Cardio has become a three-day a week activity, but I’m not saying it’s easy. Just when I’ve got my workout nailed, my trainer tweaks the settings! That brings me to my third bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong.

You only improve your fitness when you challenge your body.

Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2: Look What I Can Do!

Dear Reader:

I’m a visual person and this seems to be how I decide what I want to invest my energy in. Last January I pictured myself blogging in my pink shed. By March, I was writing to you!

This year I pictured a stronger me; I never thought I’d say that. I’m lifting weights; I never thought I’d do that! And, I’m making progress!

When I hobbled in to meet my personal trainer, I was nine pounds heavier with a swollen, blue ankle. Jonathan was supportive and instructive. He was careful to reinforce the correct position for every exercise so that I would not experience a “gym injury” of any kind. After all, I confessed that I am an extremely experienced and talented klutz. My friends asked if I felt that he was pushing me to my max, and I had to respond negatively….until.

I made a quick trip over to see my daughter who is an active college student. Her routine includes Boot Camp in the Park every Sunday. How could I say no?! The trainer modified some of the activities to take into account my weak ankle, but I pulled my weight…figuratively and literally! I felt so proud of myself that I sent a photo to my trainer.

Oops! I returned home to an amped up routine.

“Ack, you don’t feel sorry for me anymore, do you?!” I asked Jonathan.

“Nope, think I saw you dragging a weighted tire through the park!” he answered.

When, way back when, I was in high school, kids divided themselves up into four groups: jocks, brains, socials and stoners. I fell into the “brains” group. I’ve always felt most comfortable pursuing intellectual goals. My recent foray into the gym has not been easy and so I feel that much more pride in my commitment and effort. I am getting stronger! I love that. This brings me to my second bit of newly acquired wisdom on My Journey to Strong.

We are capable of more than we think! 

Michele

 

 

 

 

My Journey to Strong: Chapter 1

 

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Chapter 1: Fear is an Excellent Motivator

 

Dear Reader:

The day I met my personal trainer, my ankle was still swollen and blue from the fall I’d taken the week before. I wore work-out clothing and furry slippers. My husband chauffeured me to my appointment as I hadn’t driven since my mishap. Indeed, I had barely left the couch.

We pulled up to a small office building where the first thing I noticed was the stairs leading to the upper floor. Thankfully, the gym is tucked behind the stairs on the ground floor. I hobbled in and Jonathan greeted me with energy and enthusiasm (two things I lacked).

“We’re lucky you’re on the bottom floor,” I said. “And, by the way, I’m so nervous that I need a drink!

He laughed and offered me something to drink. I declined feeling sure that he meant to bring me nothing more potent than a glass of water. And, of course, it was a joke (sort of)! I had come ready to talk about getting in shape. We began by discussing my goals. They were as follows:

  1. Fall less often
  2. Fall less often and
  3. Fall less often

I told him, what only those really close to me know, that I fall with some regularity. My last meeting with the pavement really scared me. I explained that fear was my primary motivation:  fear of injury, fear of doctors and hospitals and fear of aging badly. I was anxious to know if my goal was doable and he assured me that it was.

“Balance is strength,” he said, and “strength is balance.”

To prove his point, he asked me to attempt the 1-legged standing balance test. I passed! I was even able to balance on my still recovering right ankle! He explained that strength would determine my ability to respond to challenges to my balance. I could offset my inherent klutziness and my tendency to spend too much time dreaming, plotting and planning rather than observing my surroundings.  I was elated… for a brief moment.

Then it was time for me to be weighed, pinched and measured.  I turned away when Jonathan checked my reading on the scale. I did not peak at my measurements as he listed them on my chart. And I displayed no curiosity about my fat to muscle ratio. I just submitted to the process. I was focused on getting stronger. I’d worry about getting thinner later. That brings me to my first bit of newly acquired wisdom on my Journey to Strong.

Wriggle into your black leggings and check your vanity and embarrassment at the gym door!  Just do it!

Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tutto e Possibile!

A look inside from the pink shed
“I Dreamed I Could Fly” by Los Gatos artist Maralyn Miller.

Dear Reader:

The first thing I see when I enter the pink shed is the image of a young girl, dressed in pink, flying over her suburban neighborhood.  I purchased it fifteen years ago to hang in my six-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Natalie, who turned 21 a few weeks ago, re-gifted it to me as she felt it would be perfect in my writer’s shed.

I know that flying is common in dreams, however I never fly. Actually, I fall in my nightmares. (I believe this is related to my severe acrophobia!) But, the painting was a simply lovely artistic representation of the hopes I had, and still have, for my daughter.

I imagine the young girl in the painting feels strong, free, capable, gifted, independent and joyful. When I was young, my Italian grandmother, Nonnie, was my cheer-leader. “Tutto e possibile,” she’d enthuse. I’ve tried to carry on that tradition with Natalie.

We all need someone to remind us that “anything is possible,”especially as we begin a new year!

May 2018 bring you success and contentment.

Michele

 

 

We’ve Been Married Forever

 

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A tiny chocolate bar to share!

 

“I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”

Rita Rudner

Dear Reader:

Well, the chocolate wrapper and Rita both said it well. But, I’ll add my voice to the chorus.

Thank you, dear sweet husband for:

  • picking me up when I fall, literally
  • racing to the store to buy me Motrin and forcing me to ice my ankle
  • understanding when I want to throw a rock through the tv screen
  • remembering the details of my life sometimes better than I do myself
  • eating at my favorite restaurants over and over again
  • helping me when I have a technology glitch
  • picking me up when I fall, figuratively

During this month when I reflect upon all of my blessings, I begin with you.

Love,

Michele

P.S. Not really forever, but 32 years is a long time!

One foot (ouch!) in Front of the Other (ouch!)

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Dear Reader:

This is the third day in a row that I’ve spent on the couch! Despite my recent Lazy Post, this is not like me.

Last week on November 8, I tried to forget what happened last year on the same day. But, it was time to acknowledge that I’d coped with a difficult year by agreeing to a second glass of wine and a decadent dessert a few too many times! And, I have 5 pounds to show for it. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that I am in good company as both Stephen Colbert and Barbara Streisand have both blamed their weight gain on the POTUS.

Anniversaries can bring about reflection, and it came to me that we’ve (most likely) got another three years of this administration to suffer through. I may be able to accept a five-pound weight gain, but I’m not about to accept a twenty pound gain. So, I decided it was time to re-commit myself to my exercise routine …and to stop buying ice cream.

Next day,  I hit the gym. I hit the stair-climber; that was a mistake. I overdid it and spent Tuesday on the couch icing my overworked, arthritic left knee.

During my down-time, I took the opportunity to finally call the personal trainer my friend recommended many months ago. My goal is to improve myself, after all, not incapacitate myself!

“Don’t worry,” he assured me, “there are many things we can do without further straining your knee. I’ll meet you at the gym tomorrow.”

Next day, I woke feeling exhilarated with the Rocky theme song playing in my mind.  My knee was better after my day of rest and ice and elevation. I felt lighter and healthier, as a result, of simply making the right decision. I’d see the trainer in the afternoon and resolve to do better.

I began the day with a few errands and it was in the parking lot at the grocery store that I tripped and came crashing down. Hard. I had twisted my right ankle and scraped my left knee. I was lucky my husband was there to pick me up and get me home.  We applied an ice pack and I called the personal trainer to reschedule. And so I spent another day on the couch.

When I woke this morning, there were no theme songs playing in my mind. I knew I’d be spending the day on the couch…again. The dogs were happy enough, though. They spent the day draped all over me.

As they say though…one day at a time! And, one foot (ouch!) in front of the other (ouch)! I’ll let you know how it goes at the gym next week.

Michele