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July 07, 2008

Where's my magic bullet?

1 We've all seen this commercial for the anti-depressant Cymbalta.  As sad music plays in the background, we see depressed people sitting in darkened corners, their heads hung low as their kids look puzzled and their dogs remain unwalked.  Then we see the Cymbalta logo, and a flash-forward to these same people in their new Cymbalta lives.  Families are happy and frolicking outside.  A woman has acquired what appears to be the cutest kitten ever. 

Cybalta is just the anti-depressant advertisement du jour.  Before that there was the one for Paxil (or was it Zoloft?) where everyone is represented by little blobs, and the one several years ago where the depressed woman is caught in a rainstorm while the sun shines down on the rest of the world. 

No matter the drug, the basic premise is always the same.  Bad life --> drug --> good life. 

You would think I would know better than to believe anything I see in an advertisement.  After all, I don't really believe that if you drink a particular brand of beer, hot women in bikinis will come to your house.  But somehow, I allowed myself to believe that antidepressants would be a magic bullet.  Swallow a few pills and life goes from pure drudgery to absolute bliss. 

And yet, four months into taking antidepressants, I have no perfect life.  I have no cute kitten.  What I have are a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of side effects. 

I started meds after weaning my son, during what was a pretty tough winter.  This was not my first bout with depression, but it was certainly my toughest.  Something about having a little person demanding your attention, no matter what your mental state, makes depression a lot worse.  And it also makes a person a lot more desperate for a quick fix. 

I knew from my own experiences and other people's that antidepressants are a trial-and-error process.  And I've been completely supervised by a knowledgeable doctor throughout the process.  But saying, "Oh, it takes time to find the right medication and the right dosage," is one thing.  Being forced to be a human guinea pig while still trying to be a mother, wife, and employee is quite another. 

So some part of me kept up hope that I'd find my magic bullet.  I'd be one of those people who could say, "Everything was terrible until I swallowed such-and-such a pill, and now life is great!"  My frustration was further compounded by the fact that there are people out there who make these kinds of statements, but I suspect we aren't getting all the details.  Depressed people are like jurors;  you often don't hear the whole story until after it's all over.  When summarized in hindsight, these people's stories do seem to take the trajectory of bad life --> drug --> good life. 

For me, I guess the reality is that it's currently going more like bad life --> drug --> better life, but not the life I aspire to have.  As a person who spends her workdays doing math, I like to come up with little mathematical models to explain my depression.  I think of my absolute lowest point as analogous to playing a game where my score was -100 points.  Slowly, through meds, the support of family and friends, talk therapy, exercise, and yoga, I have earned back points.  Ten points here, 5 points there.  Sometimes I lose points, both from hormonal changes throughout the month and from actual life events like my grandmother's death.  At present, I'd say my score is something like -40, which is still negative, but I have to remind myself that I've earned back an astounding 60 points!

It is with a lot of trepidation that I post the details of my mental health on the Internet.  I guess I'm posting here for a few reasons.  First, because I want to seek the support of others who have been there.  And second, to erase any misconceptions about antidepressant medications being "happy pills."  What the drug does, is get you to a place where you can takes steps to make yourself happy.  When I had those -100 points, there was no way I was willing to go out and exercise or practice yoga.  I could barely get out of a chair.  Now I know that my wellness is as much up to me as it is to some drug.

Which brings me to the final reason for my post.  I want to say, in a very public forum, how proud I am of my progress.  The road out of depression is a long one, but it is one that I am proud to still be walking.  Sure, a magic bullet would be great, and some days I still want to believe in one.  But I know a magic bullet can be removed.  It is the recovery that I earn that I can proudly carry forever. 

Original Chicago Moms Blog post.

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