Better Living Through Chemistry

Sometime in 2004, I was incredibly depressed. Long distance girlfriend, lonely, grades slipping, and I couldn’t seem to find any energy to work or even enjoy my free time. After struggling with this for a long while, I finally gave up and decided to see a doctor about it. The student medical facilities at Dartmouth were pretty good, and within a few days, I had my first prescription for Zoloft, an SSRI that was supposed to be useful for my depression.

That’s when my on-again, off-again relationship with medication began.

For the longest time in my life, I came to the conclusion that if I were taking meds for my depression/anxiety/whatever else was wrong with me, I was being lazy. I was basically admitting that I couldn’t fix my own life, and I was taking the easy way out. I was completely convinced that the things that were percolating in my head were stupid, idiotic, and worst of all, completely fixable by myself.

I was sick, and I’d basically decided to ignore medicine for an approach that could best be described as “tough it out.”

Zoloft was awful. It made me feel completely blah all the time; nothing made me sad, but nothing made me happy. It was weird to have the upper and lower 25% of your emotional spectrum cut off. I used this one bad experience to solidify my approach of, “I should do it myself!”

Clearly, if it didn’t work once, it would never work again.

I went through the rest of college, my band directing gig, and my DC work without any sort of medication, and I was miserable. Depression would swell up like this giant wave of awful. The anxiety would make me feel like I couldn’t breathe every time I thought about my depression and my perceived failings. The ADD made sure I couldn’t do anything to get myself out of that hole. It was like being beaten up on by three people over and over again, and every time I managed to drag myself to a safe place, I’d get dragged back into it. Maybe I could have handled just one; maybe these things always come in threes, like celebrity deaths.

After feeling the same pangs on graduate school (and having awesome health insurance), I gave up on going at it alone. “Better living through chemistry” became my motto. Now, a few years later, I’m on a few different medications, and as of today, I think I’ve finally got the last one’s dosage figured out. Today, I got things done, feel pretty good, and didn’t crumble when I thought about something negative that happened 10 years ago.

I feel normal.

My least favorite part about this whole process is the endless trial and error that we go through to balance the medications out. One gave me hives and a rash. One made it so I couldn’t sleep, because every dream I had was like a 3D horror movie. Some didn’t work. Some were too weak. This kind of tango can be frustrating, especially when you have to make time to go back in to the doctor’s office if something doesn’t work. It’s not like a powerful antiobiotic – take this, and so long strep throat! It’s a delicate balance.

I’m the kind of person that feels like I should nail everything the first time – trial and error is for the weak. I do it, I do it right. The whole tap dance to make my medications level out was frustrating, but in the end, something that seems to have worked well.

Occasionally, I still feel guilty about being medicated for these things. The more I hear about my friends that are various versions of what I’m taking, though, the stronger I feel about my decisions. Some decidedly not weak people I know take the same kinds of stuff I do, and it’s because of that that they can be as strong as they are. They aren’t taking the “I can fix it myself” path.

They have a disease, much like mine; instead of burying their heads in the ground, they’re using medicine and science to fix it. Exercise helps, as does meditation and other non-chemical solutions. When you’re depressed, though, getting to exercise is hard enough. Depression is this awful, self-harming disease that makes you basically unable to treat it. It would be as if your flu were to slap you every time you tried to make an appointment to get medicine.

I’m living better through chemistry, and while I don’t know if I’ll always need it, having it right now makes me feel like a more complete, capable, normal human being.

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3 Responses to Better Living Through Chemistry

  1. Melissa L. says:

    here here! zoloft (and a light box) let me survive Dartmouth. once i got back to california, i was off it within 6 months. the sunshine helps tremendously (SAD on top of regular depression and anxiety), as does getting away from the pressure of having to perform at all times in all activities. at the time my 3.0 was a source of tremendous shame, but after i got through it all, i realized i’m not stupid and not a miserable failure at life.

  2. bluelotuslife says:

    Ah, another eerie similarity. I was prescribed Zoloft and took myself off for the same reason you mentioned. I’d rather have some highs and a lot of lows than all flatlines. And you right, sometimes no matter how much exercise, sunlight, St John’s Wart, Valarium, Sam-E, and unprocessed foods it won’t go away on it’s own. I’m so glad you found your balance. No everyone does.

  3. SNslim says:

    I was prescribed something called “Hudak” and it stole my car, dancing partner and drank all my booze. But it was a real blast! “Better living through chugging.”

    Seriously though, appreciate the post and keep ’em coming. You’re a brave, deep man for sharing these things and making our days better for it.

    Much love buddy.

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