A New Year, or Better Living Through Chemistry


This New Year’s Day began with heavy frost that melted under full sunshine and temperatures that climbed into the forties. This is rare for northern Ohio, where a year typically begins with overcast skies at best and a winter storm at worst. I was able to finish a three-mile walk outside today, and I cannot recall conditions so ideal for a walk at this time of year. If it ever happened deep in the past, I lacked the motivation to take advantage of the weather.

I start this year with the benefit of Prozac, which was the only antidepressant that ever had any real impact on my depression in the past. I took it for four years, and it did so well by me that I did not need an antidepressant for seven years afterward. With the ongoing limbo of my back condition that masqueraded as a knee problem, I felt too worn down and vulnerable to a deeper depression that would be harder to treat and possibly a real threat to the equilibrium of my life that took so long to establish. I cannot consider the return of Prozac as some sort of defeat. Depression crept in, and it needed treatment before becoming a bigger problem.

When I start taking a medicine, I am vigilant to see if it changes my perspective, however subtle or fleeting the alteration may be. For instance, I briefly took Zyprexa, which my then psychiatrist hoped would augment my antidepressant. The Zyprexa added a predictable fifteen pounds to my body in the month I took it, but it also offered the illusion of hypervision. It seemed that I could read tiny disclaimers with ease, and my analog TV looked as detailed as UHD (which was then 12 years away from existence). I omitted this side effect when I asked to discontinue this drug, lest it lend credence to the notion that I needed such a medicine.

With the reintroduction of Prozac, I also started a new medicine for my sciatic nerve pain, Gabapentin. This second medicine is sometimes used for psychiatric reasons, but in my case, it was only used for neuropathy. The combination of Prozac and Gabapentin, each at a low dose, was the mental equivalent of a spent car battery getting jumped back to vitality. During the first day I had the reaction that I had always hoped a medicine would have on my depression. It was like I had been waiting in a room that had slowly filled with uncertainty, dread, and gloom. By the end of my first day on these medicines, it was like I walked out of that room and shut the door, moving on toward better things.

I feel so much better that I recall an early fake Saturday Night Live commercial that starred Jane Curtain and advertised a product called Angora pH Formula 23. When I first saw this commercial, I split hairs over the product title, arguing that it could only be the 23rd formulation since 23 was an impossibly caustic pH. Now that I am well into my years of parenting and housekeeping, I can very much relate to the character that Jane Curtain portrays in this commercial, a woman who has a skin care regime that “washes my brain as well as my face.”

I wish this commercial was available online so I could share it here, but, alas, I have not found it.

I feel like this medication combo has washed my brain as much a possible while letting me retain my authentic self. Sometimes suffering is not an experience that burnishes the self into more wisdom and clarity. When it is nothing more than an aggravation, I appreciate the opportunity that medicine can present to alleviate it.

Author: Michelle Cole

I am a mom, wife, photographer, blogger and inventory clerk from Lima, Ohio.

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