Twenty years ago when I was a new therapist I was so clear. About so many things. I was extremely clear about anti-depressants.
I thought they were perfectly fine. For other people. Not for me. Or my kids. I could (and did) talk about all the negative side effects to the traditional drugs–Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft–primarily, weight gain and weight gain and weight gain, but I didn’t talk about the other reason I didn’t want to take any of those medications. I mean, you know, if I ever had a problem with depression.
See, I was afraid I’d be like Dorothy near the end of The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard has given all three of her friends what they were seeking and he’s preparing to leave. The Scarecrow frowns at the wizard and says, “But what about Dorothy? How’s she gonna get home?” Before the wizard can answer, Dorothy says with a sad smile, “I don’t think there’s anything in that black bag for me.” And, as it turned out, she was right.
Just like the wizard’s magic couldn’t get Dorothy back to Kansas, painkillers like Vicodin and Demerol that always worked like magic for people around me–taking the pain away and leaving them high and happy only made me nauseated and the pain didn’t go anywhere. So, I had no illusions about a pill relieving my depression. That was in the unlikely event that I was ever depressed, of course.
Now, I admit that I was down more than I was up, but I believed all I needed was some exercise, a little sunshine, and, most importantly, to get up and do something. To stop sitting around whining and feeling sorry for myself. Medication? That was for people who had a serious problem. Like I said, I wasn’t depressed.
Ten years after I started my therapy practice, most of my enthusiastic, newly graduated clarity had been pushed aside by head-shaking, seasoned reality. I discovered that sometimes people just didn’t get better no matter how hard we both tried. Sometimes marriages ended no matter how much people once loved each other. Sometimes parents kept hurting their children no matter how much they tried to love them. Every client I saw taught me a little more about how much I hadn’t learned in school, at least when it came to helping other people.
In case you’ve ever wondered, therapists are not immune to denial. In fact, I have a theory that we’re particularly skilled at it–we’ve studied it after all. I think I honestly thought that if I just kept my mouth shut about what I was feeling, if I never said it out loud, it would never be real. You know?
So I didn’t talk about the deep hole I fell into–a hole where the emotional darkness was as heavy as the lead blanket the hygienist lays on my chest before she x-rays my teeth. I didn’t talk about how often I thought about ways I could kill myself–the pros and cons. Guns were too messy and might not work. I was too afraid of heights to jump off of a balcony although at times it sounded possible. Wrist cutting sounded too painful and it was messy too. Pills sounded the best, but what if someone found me before they worked? What if they rushed me to the hospital and pumped my stomach and I survived? How would I ever face anyone after that? Instead of talking about those things, I continued to talk about why I would never take drugs because those drugs were for people who were depressed. (Besides I kept telling myself they probably wouldn’t work anyway AND they’d make me gain weight. Then I’d be depressed and fat.)
I was like a person with a broken leg who refuses to wear a cast or go to rehab. “My leg is fine,” they say as they limp along, a white piece of bone poking out, “not broken, just a little bruised.” I kept telling myself I wasn’t broken, just a little bruised. I exercised and went outside and tried to stay busy. And, after a while, I hardly noticed the pain. I smiled and laughed. I got out of bed every day. I went to work. I looked fine, but my range of e-motion was severely limited. I didn’t have mood swings. I had almost no moods at all. I wasn’t sad or happy. I wasn’t up or down. I was fine. Really. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
Then almost two years ago, my very insightful, very gifted doctor suggested Wellbutrin. I was instantly adamant and resistant. No! No anti-depressants, period! I did not need drugs. I was not depressed. Just a little down. I was fine. Really, I was. Not.
My doctor assured me that Wellbutrin was different. Might cause me to lose weight. Hah! I thought, when pigs fly maybe. But I liked her and respected her. More importantly I trusted her. I agreed to try. I could always stop if it didn’t work or if–you guessed it–I started putting on weight. As she wrote the prescription, she warned me it could take weeks for the medication to help. I didn’t really expect it to help anyway so I wasn’t too concerned.
Now, you’re probably not going to believe what happened, but my world changed with the first pill. It did. It didn’t take days or weeks. It was like I’d been set free. And I didn’t even know I wasn’t. Sounds dramatic, huh? Trust me. It was. It still is. (By the way, I didn’t lose weight but I didn’t gain any either–at least not because of the Wellbutrin!)
These days I frequently forget that feeling better did not just happen because I got some exercise and sunshine and stayed busy though that might be all some people need (remember, painkillers work for most people).
In my case, it seems that my chemistry needed an adjustment. I had never hesitated to go to my excellent chiropractor if my back was out or to my gifted massage people if my knee acted up, but I had fiercely avoided anti-depressants. Like Dorothy, what I needed had been there all along, I just didn’t believe it. I had to learn it for myself (with a little nudge from my own petite, dark-haired, bright-eyed Glinda).
As I sit here at my desk looking out the window, the lights of the city are fading and a long rectangle of dreamsicle colored sunrise pushes the gray clouds up as if they were a sky sized window shade. As I watch this daily miracle I have to wonder, while my vision was so clear about the medication I didn’t need and I was working so hard to help other people, just how many miracles did I miss?