Sunday, July 09, 2006

Prozac. And the horse it rode in on.

Type in the annoying unreadable alphabetic script that Blogger tortures us with, hit “publish.” – and there it is, your very own Blurted Tactless Opinion, in print in the Comments section of another person’s very good blog.

I can be unreasonable on the subject of anti-depressants. And let me say, before I launch myself into no-man’s-land again, I have taken anti-depressants and been damn grateful for the relief. And I have many close friends who’ve fought their way to solid emotional ground through a combination of prescribed brain-altering chemicals and therapy. Let me be that fair, at least. Let me admit that sometimes people hit a point when they can’t pull out and some intervention is called for…

Let me also emphasize the part where the brain-altering chemicals are combined with therapy, with the process of learning to manage moods and emotional triggers, to understand them as something that did not drop mysteriously from the sky.

I don’t trust the pills. I haven’t trusted the pills since a psychiatrist diagnosed me with this mantra of the trade: “One depression – six months of anti-depressants; two depressions – a year of anti-depressants; three depressions – you’re on them for life.”

That was over ten years ago. I quite seeing the psychiatrist. I flushed the prescription down the toilet.

I had been thinking about a Native American belief that depression means you have lost your soul. I wanted my soul back.

At age sixteen, having lost my mother, having a father who absented himself emotionally on the better days and was downright abusive in his own grief on others, I became “depressed.” And the solution? Hospitalization, with shock treatment and a diet of tranquilizers to calm me down and speed to cheer me up. This was accepted medical practice at the time. Sound medical practice.

In what world, in what universe, I have to ask, do we medicate every grief? Do we medicate what Pema Chodron calls, “the genuine heart of sadness”…that human opening that allows us to feel compassion, understanding, acceptance?
In what world do we have so little patience with our own processes – and such high expectations of perpetual happiness that the natural lows of life have to be medicated instead of used as an alert that, possibly, something is wrong with reality in general – or at least our perception of reality? That we ignore the fact that life and mood is cyclical, that highs and lows are normal?

I am in full-rant here. And I have to apologize to anyone who is presently taking or has taken anti-depressants at the point when they could no longer put one foot in front of the other. I know. I know. And it isn’t that one-time intervention I’m furious with, but the assumption that our brain chemistry alters arbitrarily, with no reason. I’m furious with the doctors who pass it out at the first sign of depression, with no reasonable follow-up and no recommendation of therapy. I’m furious with the Canadian medical system for covering treatment by psychiatrists, but not psychologists, not alternative medicine.

At age sixteen, I was given to believe that I had a “condition”…some awful brain anomaly that made me different, made me inevitably sad. A condition which would make me a patient, a victim to my own chemistry for the rest of my life. I’m pretty furious about that, too.

I’m frustrated with a medical model that treats us like machines. I do not believe that there is no place for western medicine, no place for drugs, surgical and pharmaceutical interventions…but I despair of a culture in which it is not profitable to look into the why of disease, into what makes us healthy. I despair of a culture which has no room for the “genuine heart of sadness” common to us all, and which teaches us that it is unacceptable to be deeply quiet or have stretches of time when we are not all that damn perky and upbeat.

I have not put an anti-depressant in my mouth for many years and I assure you that I never will again. Have I been depressed? Yes. Here and there. Sad, too – which is a different thing. And I’ve been down at times because I needed to deal with things which hadn’t quite surfaced to consciousness – where I could have the realization I needed, or take the action required to ease the stress.

Depression, a very wise woman pointed out to me, literally means, “pressed down.” So it’s a signal. What is being pressed down? And when we’ve pressed that something down out of an instinct for self-protection, what strength have we buried with it?

And how do we ever find out if we medicate the signal away? How do we retrieve our souls?