Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Better Living Through Chemistry

Monday -
I am so tired I could scream ... if screaming was my style, which it is not.  I had a massive burst of energy during the day which allowed me to charge through a bunch of stuff and still able to make it to court where I functioned in a reasonably coherent, professional manner.  Earlier in the day I was feeling positively chipper, so much so that I felt like I was in a State of Yo.  Mellow and motivated.  Everything was so green.  Life was beautiful.  Even the orchestra was beautiful.

Came home and crashed, and in retrospect I must admit that the burst of Yo was the result of my daily dose of Cymbalta, chased with a side of Inderal and two large cups of black coffee.  Late last night I realized I had not taken my daily dose for at least two days, and I was starting to feel the effects of what was essentially withdrawal, and it did not feel good.  So I took my meds like a good little girl this morning, and all was well with the world.

I am the last person in the world to abuse drugs, including legally prescribed medication.  I don't like taking medication anymore than I like horse racing, and I have whittled down the list to the absolute bare minimum.  In 1998, when the medical community finally realized what I needed was an antidepressant, I was given Effexor.  After a few weeks, I started to feel human again.  Drugs had given me my life back, which was pretty ironic since drugs also altered my life in the most terrible way possible.  I lost my mother to drugs, specifically to alcohol and heroin.  She was 29 and I was just short of my eighth birthday.  I lost my father to drugs, as he could not deal with what was happening to my mother and took off.  Even before her death, I had lost my mother because she had become one with the drug culture of that time and place, and from the time I was four and my brother not quite three years old, we went to live with our maternal grandmother and grandfather.  And we all know how that turned out.

Before the Dark Times ...

Effexor was a wonder drug.  Up until that point, there was no real medical treatment for depression and anxiety.  There were some pretty heavy duty psychotropic medications out there, but those were for the seriously mentally ill, people who rarely touched base in the real world.  The side effects were hellacious.  For us neurotic types, there were tranquilizers like Valium and Librium.  Neither was effective at addressing long term depression, and both were addictive.  But the new wave of antidepressants and antianxiety drugs like Effexor and Prozac and Buspar recognized what I had learned through long years of talk therapy - there had to be a genetic, biochemical component to what I continued to experience.  The ideal combination of treatment involves talk therapy and the right medication.  For starters, Effexor was the right medication. 

The problem with medication is that there are bound to be side effects.  Sometimes these do not became apparent until several years have passed.  Eventually I came off the Effexor and moved on to other kinder, gentler medications.  Anyway, because I've been off Effexor for such a long time, I'd forgotten one of it's most annoying side effects:  brain shivers.  Yeah, they are as freaky as they sound.  If I was to miss a dose, I would shortly thereafter start to experience physical withdrawal, the most obvious symptom being the feeling my brain and my head were in constant motion, but at two entirely different rates.  At some point I thought I must be having petechial hemorrhaging in my eyes from the violent shivers.  One does not experience that type of withdrawal from Cymbalta.  One also does not gain 80 pounds while leaking memory out one's left ear.  I told you those side effects can be rough.

But, if one fails to take Cymbalta over a period of several days, one will start to feel a bit dysphoric, and the brain, while not in full metal shiver mode, will engage in small shudders.  Withdrawal at a much slower, milder level, but withdrawal nonetheless.

All I can say is, crap, I did it again.  Feeling much better now, though.

The single most painful experience in my life was chicken pox.  So I have never been comfortable in facing the fact that I might someday experience shingles.  I fear shingles almost as much as I fear Alzheimer's.  So it was with some concern that I read an article in the Times (the New York Times - is there any other?) regarding pervasive shortages of the vaccine Zostavax, which has been approved for old aging mature folks like me, who have been carrying around that chicken pox virus, like an unwanted boarder, for fifty years. Not that I would ever take the damn vaccine - I don't take flu shots either - but it bothers me to be reminded that having to take drugs is for all of us, at any age, the terrible norm.  I don't have to like it, and I don't have to play nice with it, but there it is.  Better living through chemistry.

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