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February 26, 2008 7:30 PM
I know from experience that SSRIs like Prozac are not the answer to depression
I’m more anti-anti-depressants than the Pope is anti-femidoms. Except, while the Pope wouldn’t be directly harmed by femidoms (unless we all launched thousands of them at Vatican City, twanging them like rubber bands), anti-depressants depressed me till I prayed to God to make the pain stop. To my mind (which produces decidedly more seratonin without them), SSRIs like Prozac are the devil’s own medication, the bitter, useless soul-destroyers he glugs down with his Alpen. As today’s major review concludes, they don’t make anything or anyone better, yet doctors dish them out like Chat magazine.
Aged 19, I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t tell my doctor why, and he didn’t ask. I just remember saying, “I just want to feel better. I don’t want to be like this any more.” I know less about medicine than Ann Widdecombe knows about threesomes, but I do know that if a friend came to me in pain, I’d try to find out what was wrong. I’d listen to them, attempt to convince them life was worth living, then encourage them to stop taking any and all mind-altering substances (including drugs and alcohol), drink lots of water, get some sunshine (or bright light), cut out junk food and exercise for at least an hour a day.
But I wasn’t the doctor’s friend: he was time-poor with a queue of half-dead people pressed outside his door, and I was probably number 18,753 that week in the Everybody Hurts brigade. To his credit, he asked whether I’d tried psychotherapy. I replied that I had, and that it hadn’t worked. So the doctor stared at his screen, tapped away at his keyboard, and handed me a sheet of paper. Next!
The first drug was the SSRI citalopram, which made me shake and sweat as though I were being chased down an ever-thinning tunnel by a furious ten-foot group of shotgun-toting pro-life Republicans. So I returned to Doctor Drughappy, who decided a trip on the anti-depressant rollercoaster was just the ticket, with paroxetine (Seroxat – one of the drugs studied in the review) as the first bend. It made me feel even lower, though this might have been because I was vomiting hourly (I couldn’t eat without throwing up) and lost about 12 pounds, giving me a BMI of 17.7.
And so I went back to the middle-aged man with the computer. I was hoping that maybe he might say, “Miss Sherine, these drugs are clearly very bad for you, and probably for everyone else too. Shall we try something completely different?” But he was truly at a loss as to what else to suggest, and merely tapped at his keyboard again, muttering determinedly, “One of these will be right for you, it’s just a question of finding out which one.”
I was his guinea pig for five in total. And if I lost weight on Seroxat, Mirtazapine made up for it – I was lying awake at night with what felt like evil gerbils gnawing at my stomach, then giving in to the hunger and coming down in the dark to eat the fridge. Ironically, Mirtazapine (not an SSRI, but a tetracyclic) was the only drug to make me feel happier, but if I’d kept taking it, I’d now be taking up the whole back row of buses. But if that was the rollercoaster’s highest peak, the last two prescriptions took me down lower than I’d ever been. I just remember thinking, “Enough. Drugs can’t make me better – I have to make myself better.” That was in 2000, and I haven’t taken an anti-depressant since.
I’m no saint (I don’t think the Pope’s going to touch me after this). I do a lot of stupid things on a daily basis – but taking SSRIs isn’t one of them, and I’m a lot happier without them. And if you’re depressed, I’d urge you not to take them either. Scream, cry, accept that life is sometimes painful and unfair. Get good people around you and talk to them – if not family, then friends – and please be kind to yourself. Just don’t put anti-depressants in your mouth, unless you want to end up in hell.