Getting on Medication

Because my parents were alcoholics, I was very opposed to the idea of medication.  Even when I finally had a good experience of how an anti-depressant could work, I continued to try to get off it.  Every time it was a disaster.  My guiding spirits said “medication is neither good nor bad.  Your life needs to be workable.”  I have finally accepted that I will probably have to take my current dose of 3 medications for the rest of my life.

Before I got on medication, I was part of “Journey Into Courage”.  It was a tremendous boost for my emotional health.  A project with a group of women, who I had come to love, telling our truth from the stage, was a wonderful healing experience.  After touring for four years, Bess decided to make a documentary about how we created the performance piece and what it meant in our lives.  The showing of the documentary was the end of our performances.  I suddenly plunged into a bad depression.

(Here’s where Spirit enters the story)  I don’t usually read the newspaper, but I had a copy of the section of some Vermont paper which had us right on the front.  Needing to distract myself from how bad I felt, I started reading it all the way through.  There was an Ann Landers column (or maybe it was Dear Abby) in which someone asked her to remind readers that National Depression Screening Day was coming up in October.  I called the 800 number and was told that the nearest to me were in Concord NH and Norwich VT.  I came to the designated place in Norwich, filled out a questionnaire —  I had a little trouble with things like “Have your sleeping habits changed in the last six weeks?”  No, I’ve always had trouble sleeping.  But I filled it out, and went for my private session with a psychologist.  I expected to be told “What you have is moderate depression.  You should probably try medication.”  What he actually said was “You’re in our fourth category.  You’re in a severe depression.  You should get on medication immediately.”  I was dumbfounded.  I walked out thinking “If this is severe depression, I’ve been severely depressed my whole life.”  That gave my self-esteem such a boost that I was undepressed for a month.  But then I began to go downhill.  My therapist in Montpelier was a psychologist, but she asked around and gave me the name of someone at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

I went to that psychiatrist and she prescribed Paxil.  I started taking it but began to be more and more terrified.  When I asked the doctor, she said “It will get better.”  But it didn’t.  I was experiencing terror through the roof.  On the fifth day I started hallucinating in the grocery store.  So I quit taking it.  Some friends who heard me on the phone with the doctor said I didn’t sound scared.  Well of course I was reporting on my condition from my objective scientist — sort of like the test pilot who’s saying altitude such and such, speed such and such, in a calm voice while his plane is plummeting toward the ground.  That awful experience led to the summer from hell in 1996.  I was prescribed a tranquillizer, but then of course became depressed again.

My friend Eleanor, who is an expert in emotional problems, said she thought my therapist in Montpelier wasn’t able to  help me, and she recommended I see Dr. Cynthia Rankin, a specialist in mood disorders.  The first day I walked into Dr. Rankin’s office, she took one look at me and said “I want you on medication IMMEDIATELY.”  She thought I was a bit too “tender” for her usual psychiatrist, so she found Char for me.  Char was a Nurse Practitioner who specialized in getting women on the right antidepressant.  Over the last year I had tried Zoloft, but it just put me to sleep.  I tried something else and realized I was too scared to take it for five days.  I thought “someone’s going to have to talk to me for the first three weeks or I’ll never be able to get on anything.”  God bless Char, she did talk to me on the phone everyday for the first three weeks.  When I told her about the Paxil episode, she said “You wanted to be un-depressed so badly you kept on taking it, even though it was making you so terrified.”  What a relief.  Most people asked why I hadn’t stopped taking it sooner.  She put me on Imipramine, she said it was the “gold standard” that it had been around so long they knew all about it. I think it took seven weeks before I started to feel better.  But when I really began to feel better, I was amazed.  Life was so EASY.  I had never felt like this before.

Because I had stopped typing my journal into the computer in 1995, that time in my life wasn’t available.  At one point I decided to read through the hand-written journals.  I was blown away to find that the doctor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock had diagnosed me as “Post-traumatic Stress before the age of three.”  At the time I didn’t believe her.  Though my parents were alcoholic, they had never been violent.  It was much later that I began to understand the nature of trauma.

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