Prozac: the penicillin of antidepressants
Today, I woke up and thought, “Know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna go in the kitchen and make us a full brunch.”
I have never before had this thought, and it struck me that perhaps all my adult life it’s not that I wasn’t a breakfast person or a “making brunch person” but I was just a broke person who never had a proper kitchen.
Not to say I am wealthy (financially) now. Far from it. It’s just that the fact remains, in America (and probably in most countries) being married makes life a little easier — financially. I mean, provided both people are working and they don’t have any children and at least one of them like a good responsible adult has already paid off all her student loans (and I’m not talking about me).
Frankly, I think the reason Sarah and I don’t have more disposable income now is 1) we spent a lot of years (and rent) living in one of Arizona’s most expensive cities, and 2) I stupidly went and got cancer AGAIN and let me tell you, that shit ain’t cheap. It’s not like treating a yeast infection — can’t get no cancer drugs in Aisle 4 of your local Walgreens.
So all this time, I’ve been in the wrong kitchen. Wait! No! I lie! My best kitchen (before the current one) was a galley (with dishwasher) in Des Plaines, IL where I could see O’Hare from my balcony (and once mistook a runway light for Mars). That apartment was decent, and I was on track to make some actual $ working in non-profit development (which I hated — not the non-profits, just the development part; now? I think I’d like and do well at such work), but I chucked it all to get an MFA at an awesome fucking school where I had amazing experiences and met some of my best friends and I don’t regret a damn thing.
Yesterday, Sarah and I were able to really make some progress on setting up the house. We are now down to maybe three or four unpacked boxes. We were both under some dumb impression that since we’re both “working from home” we’d be able to do some of this work during the workweek. Instead, we fucking WORK during the week — work like we’ve never worked before — hid away in our respective offices, maybe we run into each other in the hallway on the way to pee, or in the kitchen for a snack or sometimes (albeit very rarely) our lunches coincide and we eat together on the couch. My point here is that no one working from home is watching Netflix and eating bonbons, at least that hasn’t been our experience.
I once read something about how walking dogs wasn’t merely about exercising them, but about meeting a need all dogs have to know that, in the course of a day, they have gone somewhere outside the den. It makes them anxious, neurotic to be deprived this opportunity. I know Abe is nuts if he doesn’t get his walk by one p.m. — and during the workweek, he rarely does. Hence my students in the afternoon can often hear Abe’s slightly muffled, high pitched, angry/anxious “I need to fucking leave this house or I will literally die” bark.
I think maybe humans are the same. Once a day, we need to feel we have gone somewhere outside the den.
Yesterday, working in my STUDIO (the dresser finally arrived, and it looks badass as hell), I was sorting papers and found the pathology on my last PET scan. I never read through it because sometimes I just can’t — even if everything is “fine.” But in this moment, in my portion of our den, I felt like I had the heart to read the whole thing. I guess there’s something disturbing in seeing your body written about like so much raw scientific data.
Which is all, in the long shot, our bodies are.
Malignancies and the benign both writ with the same impassive casualty — the narrator is merely explaining my body to me. No feeling about that body one way or another. It’s very cold and strange, but I also understand the need for things to be this way and to this way remain.
There were no surprises as I revisited the scan.
I guess if this were a work of fiction, this would be the part of the story where the narrator reveals that as she revisited the PET scan she caught something the doctors hadn’t!
But I didn’t.
I saw what I already knew: Shitty thyroid (but not cancerous). Shitty guts (but not cancerous). Lesions all over my bones where cancer keeps cropping up and being starved by the cocktail of drugs I take and the cocktail of drugs that are given to me by injection. But it made me sad, and I sort of wish I had never read the full report. Then again, I knew the report was there among my rapidly growing stack of medical documents, waiting for me unread as I had already received the summary from my oncologist.
But not reading the report myself because the oncologist “told me what it’s about” was as stupid as someone who says they don’t need to see an important film or read a great book because “they know what it’s about” or they “know how it ends.” (Shit do I ever know how this ends.) And I don’t really want to be that idiot — that idiot who believes beautiful art is always contingent on plot, on narrative. Great art is about the experience, right? Right.
The greatest work cannot be summarized, but I’m here to tell you that the body, as a beautiful work of biology, can be properly and precisely summarized faster and easier than any text worth its salt.
This is great (for all people for whom bodies are important) and also sad (for all people for whom bodies are important).
So I read the report.
And the truth made me sad, not because it was actually bad, but because it was a casual rundown of a body that is both sick and aging.
This is why I have a therapist right now. These are the questions I so often grapple with, the questions that bring me such confusion and pain: why does a report that is, generally good, make me feel so fucking sad?
This morning, the sadness has abated. Which, thanks to a combination of Prozac, self-awareness, therapy, and sometimes cannabis, abates with relative quickness.
** True story time: I’ve taken antidepressants twice in my life. The first time, I was in my early thirties and recently diagnosed with cancer and they gave me Effexor because back then they believed other types of antidepressants (like Prozac) could interfere with the cancer treatment. Doctors now know this is not true in many cases — TEN LITTLE YEARS LATER and medical knowledge progressed that much.
I mean, they don’t even blast women like me with chemo anymore because TEN LITTLE YEARS LATER they know that DOESN’T WORK.
— Anyway, the Effexor made my brain feel like a smooth marble, and I did not like this feeling, so I stopped taking the Effexor (without consulting my doctor) and went completely mad for like two weeks and then swore off Effexor forever.
Fast forward ten years.
I’m in my early-soon-to-be-mid-forties and an oncologist in Arizona finally got me on an antidepressant that works with my brain and it’s one that’s been around FOREVER: Fuckin’ Prozac.
Like that’s the OG antidepressant.
All this time.
All these years spent spinning in anxiety for days and days — just whole days and nights sacrificed to paralyzing anxiety — and all along
the answer for my condition was: Prozac,
the Penicillin of Antidepressants.
Moral of this story: get your doctors to try different antidepressants until you find one that works because there probably IS one that works and it might be one from like the Dark Ages, as was mine.
Shit, maybe you’re not clinically depressed/anxious — maybe you just need a good ol’ fashioned blood letting, or a nice lukewarm leech bath . . .
Anyway, thanks to antidepressants mostly, I was able to let go of the (very valid and normal) sadness reading the PET scan report caused me to feel.
Prozac doesn’t keep me from feeling sad, nor should it. Some things we should feel sad about. So I felt my sadness, cried a little, talked to Sarah about my feelings, but then I went to bed early, slept and by morning had basically let it go. I mean, I let it go enough to write about it. Mortal/Existential sadness always has a lingering, unpleasant aftertaste that no antidepressant can touch.
Without Prozac, I do not think I would have been able to mentally handle this current (and last) cancer dx without breaking. Before this simple, magical drug, my brain simply would not allow me to let go of worry — both large and small. When it came to concern, when it came to sadness, I had no self control: the feelings would engulf me, taint and ruin everything. This is no way to live. If you simply cannot ever put the anxiety/sadness away, or mostly away (corner might be stuck out), you might benefit from western meds. Seriously.
Prozac does not make my brain feel like a marble, but functions as a kind of lead to my brain chemistry — a voice that says, “All right. We’ve worried about that/felt sad about that for an appropriate amount of time. Move on now.”
So I was able to move on this morning — from the report, from the sadness of the world, and to brunch in my beautiful little (but not too little) kitchen in the Sonoran desert. The sadness wasn’t all gone, but it was behind the curtain rather than on the stage.
I made us french toast from a loaf of country bread I baked myself. I scrambled eggs with pico de gallo an dhot sauce (really embracing the southwestern identity thing — I saw a guy in the dispensary the other day who was wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots like it was NOTHING and no one batted and eye and I was like, “Fuck. I want to dress like this dude. I feel it is my right as a Tusconan. Even though I’ve only been a Tusconan for about a month.) Then we sat at our proper coffee table on our proper couch in a proper living room with coffee and brunch and watched the news because we are those old people now.
Prozac + proper kitchen = my wife gets brunch of a Sunday morning.
Thank you Prozac. Thank you doctors and scientists. Because of you, even though this is the shittiest holiday season ever, I am able to be alive and just well enough to make french toast.