1996: Dr. Brunette & Prescription for Paxil

From my journal for February 7, 1996

I’m feeling some fear, most likely I’m scared of seeing Dr. Brunette this afternoon.  I find that I’m really terrified at the idea of taking an anti-depressant for the rest of my life.  This is not how I felt last fall when I first read the book about the new drugs — it seemed like such a sensible solution, but I think I had the illusion that I could take it til I was better, and then quit.

Dr. Brunette was late.  I found myself crying as I waited which lets me know how fragile I am.  The receptionist was one of those people who is a little stupid, but manages to make me feel like I’m the one who’s done something wrong (“We don’t have any appointment here for Dr. Brunette.”) 

Dr. Brunette was thin and dark, looked a little worried.  She asked good questions, described how I was feeling as “no future.”  Yes, exactly.  She doesn’t think there’s an underlying thyroid problem (no weight gain).  She said I was dealing with classic depression and post-traumatic stress.  That was a bit of a shock.  I was feeling like I was complaining about nothing much, but to her it sounded like someone who’s been traumatized.  She thought I should try anti-depressants.  When I expressed fear about having to take them the rest of my life she said that wasn’t necessarily true.  She said “It’s your life and your body.”  She recommends taking it for six months after you feel better, since people often relapse.  She said for someone like me, who’s had three major depressions, chances of another one were very high, but that people sometimes decided they preferred to take the risk.  She gave me a prescription for Paxil, since I didn’t feel good about Prozac.

So I have very mixed feelings.  I felt sad and defeated, yet I also enjoyed the beauty of the landscape as I drove home.  I thought about what I was afraid of: 1) that the drug would damage my body, 2) that it would prevent me from doing the underlying work that needs to be done.  Then I saw that this was exactly what happened to my parents with alcohol, it damaged their bodies, and they used it to avoid facing and dealing with their conflicts.

I read through the record of the days when I was taking Paxil.  It’s not very clear.  I obviously was having a hard time. I felt a lot of fear.  What I remember was that I took it for five days, getting more and more scared, until on the fifth night I couldn’t sleep at all, and started hallucinating in the grocery store, and stopped taking it. But my journal shows a very different picture. It looks like I started taking it on February 19, and stopped on or before the 27, which is nine days. I don’t even mention being up all night, calling a suicide hotline, hallucinating in the grocery store. I do mention feeling like I wasn’t myself, talking to Dana about it, and having him reassure me that I talked the same way I always did.

I was fine for a while, didn’t feel depressed at all, but gradually I began to have trouble eating and sleeping.  In the hot weather I began waking up in terror, soaking wet, after only 90 minutes of sleep.  I would be able to sleep again, but for no more than 90 minutes when I would wake terrified again.  My weight went down to 105 lbs.  I was in a pretty constant state of terror.  I called it the “Summer from Hell. Because I had such a bad experience on Paxil, I decided that Dr. Brunette was wrong when she diagnosed post-traumatic stress.

The story of how I got on medication that worked is in a blog post.

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