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 

In Praise of Prozac

Dear Reader:

I knew this was a post I’d write someday, and I wanted it to be sooner rather than later! I truly don’t know how much of a stigma still attaches to those who benefit from counseling and antidepressants, but there was every reason to share my experience with you and no reason to keep it secret. I believe Prozac has allowed me to live a better life, and that’s certainly worth sharing!

Let me start with the day I first felt the impact of my new prescription. Three days after I took that first pill, I had the energy to move the refrigerator so that I could clean every square inch of my kitchen, including the floor under the frig!  My 4-year-old daughter was at pre-school, but  Tom Jones kept me company. He provided the background music. I sang along loudly, energetically. “It’s not unusual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual….”

What had become usual were the panic attacks I’d been having whenever I left the house. The first attack came in an unlikely place: a bookstore with my daughter. I was in my happy place with my happy girl and yet I couldn’t wait to get out. My heart was racing and I felt completely out of control. The next day the toaster broke and I found Amazon. You can get anything on Amazon, and yet I knew I’d have to leave the house eventually.

I had the toaster delivered, but by the end of the following week, I’d made it to my first counseling appointment and my doctor’s office. I described the event at the bookstore, my brother’s diagnosis and the general “heaviness” I felt. I was taking care of my daughter’s needs, but not much more than that. I was self-medicating with Starbuck’s mocha Frappuccinos, but I had little energy and had to will myself out of bed and into the shower each morning.   Both my psychologist and general practitioner agreed that I could benefit from counseling and an anti-depressant.

My doctor reasoned it out for me:” People take aspirin when they have an ache and yet they can’t imagine taking a pill to cure another type of ache. Your brother has terminal cancer and you have a young child to take care of. You need help.”

“But what about the end-game?” I asked.  I was afraid to start taking the drug, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop. And yet, I knew I needed help. Children can help clarify many decisions in life.

That was 16 years ago. Since then, my dosage has gone up and down and I’ve tried to wean myself off the drug.  But without it I am surly to my husband, I retreat from my friends, I feel hopeless and listless. I do not still regularly move my refrigerator on cleaning day. It seems that major spurt of energy was just an initial daylong effect of the pill. (I do, however, still accompany Tom Jones in song; it’s not pretty!)

I’ve never had any adverse affects to the medication. It was all good: I even quickly dropped the 10 pounds of Frappuccino weight I’d put on! I remember telling a friend about my treatment plan. She quite innocently asked how it felt to “be happy all the time.” I explained that Prozac was not a “happy pill.” Life was still hard during the year of my brother’s illness and following his death. I was still sad, but the medication and counseling helped. I had both the energy and courage to leave the house; I knew I could manage it.

There is a theory that some people are born with a switch; stressful circumstances or a major life event can trigger that switch and then it’s done. They need the drug and that’s that.  My brother’s cancer diagnosis was the trigger for me. (If you would like to read more about my brother’s death, see my post entitled Happy Birthday, Brother.)

I’ve made peace with myself. I’m a strong woman who must accept that she too needs help. I am grateful that I live at a time when I have the option to help myself. And, I hope that anyone else who needs help will ask for it.

Sincerely,

Michele