Tuesday, August 31, 2010

You've got to be on drugs

May 2009— Where does one start?

Does one start where the darkness bleeds into the day? When the clouds
pour over one’s soul?

Well that’s quite the downer.
But it is an expression of a disease that takes hold of many people — leaving them depressed, seemingly forever locked in what the poets of old called the melancholia.

Severe depression should not be a death sentence; it can be, though, if

Enter yours truly.

I have put off writing this for some time — notably because of my fear of
being stigmatized: characterized as, from henceforth, being devoid of his
marbles, a witless wonder.

When people learn you are taking anti-psychotics for major depressive
disorder, the changed perception of you flushes over their faces. You become a changeling — a thing pretending to be the ‘you’ we always knew.

I hope ‘outing’ myself as a victim of depression will help reduce the tension that inevitably arises, even among good friends.

Each of the two medications I take daily works to affect the transfer and-or
uptake of neurotransmitters across a gap between brain cells. Celexa affects serotonin uptake, while Seroquel inhibits communication between nerves of the brain. (See <MedicineNet.com>.)

I was initially averse to the whole idea of taking these medications. (I had stigmatized myself!)

But they are effective; that is the only test for me. I am less restless and anxious.
I don’t stew as much about things I have no control over. And I’m generally upbeat, when before I was inclined to take the downside in most situations.

In some sense, depression became a ‘learned behaviour’. It was refuge for
my roiling psyche. I was assailed by many stresses that squeezed at me from all directions. Instead of addressing the issues that gave moment to my stress, I dragged myself through each day of mounting ennui and melancholy.

I had not come to terms with the deaths of my mother and brother, deaths
that came within five months of one another. Nor even the death of my father 21 years ago.

The chemical habit of my brain turned my perceptions, crowding out what
might be called a normal way of thinking.

I recall a boyhood friend of mine. He was always getting in trouble — cursing his parents, getting in fights, being up and happy one moment and down and bitter the next. His first wife would leave him, fed up with his harangues and mood swings.

When I last heard from him, he was upbeat; had met another woman; and
was actually making well-thought plans about his future. The keystone to his turnaround was that he was finally diagnosed manic-depressive or bipolar. This is a disease that is easily treated with drugs, lithium notably. One might say — incorrectly — that he became a changed man after the therapy. Instead, he became the man he should have always been, but for the disease that robbed him of the early years of his life.

One does not lose one’s critical thinking skills because she is taking pills for a brain disorder. But there remains a concern that we are losing something of ourselves.

I recall a book by B.F. Skinner, the scientist who established a theory known as behaviourism. Behaviourism is, usefully, able to predict some behaviours, as outcomes of rewards and punishments.

The famous pigeon pecking for pellets or Pavlov’s dog come to mind. In
both cases, we see animals ‘conditioned’ to in the pigeon’s case peck interminably for food, and in the case of the dog salivate when a bell rings (the dog having learned to associate the bell or buzzer sound with food).
In his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, Skinner took the fruits of behaviourism to a new high (low). He posited that behavourial techniques could be used to make us all feel content in our lives, irrespective of the pressures we face. One could, theoretically, produce medications that would make all of us docile and compliant — without being aware of the effect.

In effect, Skinner was suggesting that whole populations could be duped into feeling they are happy. It’s a theory tinged with the trappings of George Orwell’s 1984, a work in which the famed British essayist frames a brave new world in which everyone must speak the same language and pay homage to Big Brother.

So that is the qualified fear I have taking my anti-depressants: That I’m acquiescing because I am taking the medication; that I would ‘think’ differently if I was not taking the medication.

It’s an open question whether I think differently because of the medication. I think, actually, that I have changed my way of thinking many times in my life.

The brain is resourceful but sometimes, because of injury, trauma or prolonged personal stress, its capacity to respond is diminished — diminished to such an extent that harm may be caused if left untreated. That’s where therapy and drugs can be the best course.

UPDATE: After one year of taking the drugs prescribed, I quit cold turkey. Probably not a good idea, but I was broke, couldn’t afford the meds and thought a year was enough.

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