By Diane Swift
Alternative to Meds Center
I grew up in a small town nobody’s ever heard of. Childhood was unremarkable, but not at all unpleasant. Our small, war-time house was built within walking distance to the now-abandoned munitions factory where my mom worked during the war. But it was also pretty close to the shores of a freshwater lake where you could wander down and fish from a pier during the summer and skate on its frozen surface during the winter. Being the only girl with two older brothers was a challenge sometimes, but we mostly got along and I wasn’t too much of a brat to them, though they might opine differently.
I occupied myself during the school year focused on studying and after school was my paper route, piano lessons, choir practice, and doing homework. There were yearly Kiwanis piano recitals, which I worked all year to prepare for, and ended up doing pretty well in. I won a brand new shiny bike one year, and another competition resulted in a $25. check, another first prize. My mom helped me open a savings account and I recall how I liked the little bank book they gave me, probably more than the money. They even put my picture in the local paper. You knew everybody, everybody knew you. There was a sense of a safe haven, church pot-luck suppers, and nobody locked their doors. These were some of the small pleasures I was lucky to have growing up in a small town. In modern times of social chaos, I treasure memories like these more now than ever.
Then puberty hit. Wham! Headaches! Gut aches! Moodiness! My dad, being a pharmacist, probably saw this as an opportunity to help me. I know his intentions were from love. So there was a doctor’s appointment and I got a prescription for some pills that would help with my periods. I don’t think it was called PMS back then, it was just called “getting your period”. Dad delivered them to me in person, carefully placed in a crisp white bag from the pharmacy, like a gift. I was thankful. I could trust my dad. I loved my dad.
Ah I recall the first time I took an antidepressant pill like it was yesterday. Leaning back in my dad’s armchair, I got the first high of my life. Wow! This was fabulous! Floating, the whole body became weightless, like nothing I’d ever felt before! Not a single troubled thought in my head, not a single one. But along with that euphoria was another feeling I can only describe now as “detached” – like I was wrapped in soft cotton. Set apart. I was present, but I was not really in touch with my immediate surroundings sharply or clearly. Now I know the term emotional blunting, and that was what happened. At 15, I didn’t have the capacity to understand much of these things. I’m still learning, and I’m now in my 60’s. I only had the one prescription, and it never got refilled.
One night during this time, I was hanging out with my best friend at her house. Her older brother and his friend were there, and these boys began teasing us about something. I don’t even recall what it was about, but I do recall that I felt mildly threatened by them and for no logical reason. Just a feeling. As I walked home in the darkness, this one thought lingered in my mind and began to grow to a nagging and horrible conclusion: I better just disappear! If they want to hurt me (which no one had even suggested, I just imagined that I had become a target I suppose), then the only solution would be that I have to disappear. Stop existing. Then they can’t “get me”. That would be the best way. Now there is zero logic in this, I’m just giving you what was rattling around in my strangely disturbed but still-cotton-wrapped-head.
When I got home, my whole family was asleep. I quietly went into the bathroom and searched for – I didn’t really know – something lethal. I saw a little bottle of iodine and it had a “poison” sticker on it, so I grabbed it and drank it. Ughhhh… still can’t stand the smell of iodine. Then, I spied a bottle of aspirin and promptly downed probably 50 of them, maybe more. I wasn’t counting. And, now I knew I could disappear, and all my “troubles” would be over, because I would no longer exist. This sounds utterly deranged to me now, but at the time, it seemed the perfect solution. I was not upset, I was utterly cool and collected as I planned to execute my own non-existence.
Half-way through the night, however, I awoke unable to hear for the ringing in my ears, puking my guts out, with a startling realization of what I’d done, hardly believing that I could have been so destructive to myself. It took some days to recover, and the cotton-head-no-emotions person DID disappear thankfully, and I returned to full awareness and consciousness, with all emotions intact. No more pills since that time. I never wanted to feel that blunted detached feeling again. Now, I have searched out and learned techniques to resolve pain without drugs. I cry unashamedly when something is sad. I laugh like a fool when something strikes my funny bone. I love deeply and care for people with all my heart. Life is not always balanced. But you CAN learn the skills and like a dancer, you learn to balance through the tricky parts. And the dance of life can be embraced with all of it’s rich emotions, surprises, feelings, and experiences.
This incident occurred in the late 60’s. The drug I had taken was Elavil, and the Black Box Warning on antidepressants for young people did not appear until many, many years later. Now, the market is flooded with newer and “better” antidepressants and these also carry Black Box Warnings, and for good reason.
For anyone who is contemplating taking medications as a first-line treatment, I am not a doctor so I can’t give medical advice. But I would caution rushing to that solution. Drugs are unpredictable, but we know that taking a modern day SSRI antidepressant will likely end a person up in a hospital at some future time for Lexapro withdrawal, or for tapering off their Paxil, or Prozac, or any of the others that millions of people are taking in this modern age.
Some have likened medications to a kind of Russian Roulette. They seem to work for some, though some researchers cite emotional blunting as the basis for concluding they “work” at all. I can see this – I thought I was being utterly logical while planning my exit from life. But in reality, it was a nightmare that I’m so grateful I woke up from, and was able to fully recover my beautiful mind, my deeply gorgeous emotions, and my absolute reverent love of life. All of life.