by Aurore B. Reales
I saw the film The War on Kids and was shocked by how frequently drugs seem to be prescribed for children. It was especially horrifying to hear that many of the kids involved in school shootings and other crimes had been on anti-depressants. I want to describe my own experience with anti-depressants, with an accurate and personal perception on how they manipulate the neuro-chemistry. Having been "treated" with five different anti depressants over a period of three years this is an essay in what potential damage anti-depressants can cause in the human body.
While I was going through my divorce my father died. Dealing with this heavy grief was difficult while raising a small child. I was stuck in a foreign country (the US) and my support system – my family and close friends – was on a different continent. The additional grief was not being able to my home country with my child, which possibly was the worst of them all. A well-versed psychologist would have said it was a reactive depression, or simply call it by its true name: grief.
I found that the psychologist I was seeing was ill-equipped to hande this huge life transition. When I started crying, he quickly handed my the tissue box, telling me with his gesture to quickly stop, because it was too much for him. I couldn't let go around my friends either, since the new friendships weren't established enough and I found no person who would just hold me and let me sob it all out. A natural bodily function like crying helps restore balance in the chemicals that are released in the brain naturally, and help us deal with a situation like that.
We are social beings and the comfort of others is crucial. Also I was used to and spoiled by the possibility of sobbing heart-wrenchingly and loudly with my close friends in my home country. That helps you heal a lot faster. In this country, however, I did not find it OK to do that. Health professionals "helped" me by prescribing anti-depressants.
I started with a drug called Lexapro, which made me feel exactly like when I was pregnant. A friend who is a neurologist thought this was interesting. I was in my own bubble, my eye-sight was reduced to a radius close to my own body. My mind stopped wandering and I was in a lala-land that did not help. I could only focus on practical matters. Now, I am a very fast person and my mind works quickly. Just as during pregnancy, my mind slowed down significantly. I would forget words and could not bridge my thoughts to my reference package stored somewhere in my brain. My pupils were constantly dilated and that gave me an air of being non-stop enamoured. But it worked. It made me feel better – or rather, it just made me care less.
The psychologist who prescribed this drug was well-versed in prescription drugs and was proud of his knowledge on the side effects. But what would really have impressed me was for him to point out my blind spots, help with child-rearing issues, and understand the grieving process I was going through. To me, being a big fan of Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowens' theories of bio-energetics, not being able to sob was a big deal. It was like a vital natural function was cut off from me.
Another drawback was the price of the drug: around $90 a month (at Costco around $80). For me at the time that was too much. So I received a different drug, a generic drug after Celexa. That one was a lot milder and I felt less drugged, which was fine with me since I didn't want to be on drugs really. This one was free. The only thing was that I had to stand in line for hours at SF General Hospital – in line with the very poor and the very desperate. An eye opener. When I talked to health care professionals about tapering off the drug they advised me against it.
A year later the drug didn't work on me any more so I was prescribed another one: Effexor. Effexor was fine at first but extremely strong. I felt like in a constant bubble, removed from the rest of the world. When I would occasionally forget a pill I would get brain-zaps, incredibly unpleasant micro-second long dropouts, and I would feel a "clack, clack" hammering feeling and was afraid to pass out. I talked to a friend about it who was on the same drug and she had the exact same brain-zap experiences.This freaked me out. I asked for the prescription of another drug, Wellbutrin. This one was supposed to help quit smoking. And it more or less worked, by making you nauseous while smoking.
Meanwhile my grandmother died and I suffered from yet another heart-ache. My counselor persisted in labeling me as depressed and was not ready to handle grief. There is a significant difference. Grief is a natural reaction to loss. It can turn into depression and would be called a reactive depression linked to the event. A chronic depression is often unresolved and accumulated issues from long ago that aren’t really around in the everyday life anymore.Or it can be purely chemical.
I know myself well enough to know that these blows and life transitions were a lot to bear and I refused seeing myself as simply depressed. I got up every morning and worked hard on finding solutions to my difficult everyday-life. I wasn't happy, no, but is that directly translatable into a depression?
The drug that was supposed to help me quit smoking also made me feel like wandering in a constant fog. Also, one of the side-effects was weight-loss, which is bad in my case as I am underweight already. I started to work more as a writer, and needed my capacity to think quick and hated the uh, uhmm stage. I called the stop-smoking helpline and they told me that I would need to deal with my grief first and wasn't ready to quit. Upset at this comment, I quit just fine anyway.
I wanted to get off the drug and all the health care professionals advised me against it.I had just gotten a new job and didn't want to come in, lulled in fluff. I quit those too. I can't say it was easy but the alternative was so much worse.
Of course taking drugs does not solve any problems or help you work through your grief. I felt that by taking a pill each morning I was giving myself the message: "Something's wrong with you, something's wrong with you." It is much more important to face your emotions and to go through the process. It is very individual and for some people this process takes many years. But you come out stronger, more multi-facetted and wiser, unless you have fried your brain with drugs.
I'm not saying that drugs don't help or that people shouldn't take them. In many cases they might be necessary. I'm critical of the need in this society to find instant solutions, to suppress all life expressions – especially the painful ones – and to pretend that everything is OK. Death is natural, loss happens to everyone – so what is the big deal about showing loss and grief and pain, especially if it makes you feel so much better afterwards ?
I think it is especially important to think of these issues in light of the over-medicating of youth and children that is going on. What emotions are those that we are trying to suppress in children? What message are we giving to children by putting them on drugs? And what real solutions are we depriving them of?