Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Time My Mother Put Me On Antidepressants

When I was in high school, my mother already had a knack for finding doctors who would prescribe whatever she asked for.  I remember her taking me to an ENT and asking for a specific dosage of Augmentin, and he just wrote the prescription.  I don't remember what was wrong with me, but growing up in a hoard house where the basement had standing water and there was visible mold on the walls, I had a lot of upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, and related ailments.  When I tested positive for a mold allergy, the doctor told me the best thing I could do was avoid having bouquets of flowers in my room.  I spent most of my childhood, as I remember it, on antibiotics.  My mother told me they would bolster my immune system.

I hadn't had a regular doctor since elementary school, when my male pediatrician had insisted on giving me my first breast exam and, subsequently, nightmares.  I'd never liked that doctor, but that was around the time I refused to see him again.  When my mother found out a woman from our church was a hematologist and oncologist, despite my lack of any blood diseases or cancer, she decided to make her my general practitioner.  My first PAP smear was done by that hematologist, though I don't know why.  She was not good at it. 

I remember one day my mother called the hematologist's office while I sat on the couch beside her, and she announced into the phone that her daughter was being "a moody teenager" and needed to be put on antidepressants.  I'd still never been allowed to speak to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist of any kind at that point since, as my mother said, "our family doesn't believe in therapy."  I also made straight A's in school and was absolutely terrified of getting into trouble, so my parents stood to gain very little beyond my own happiness by letting me speak to a professional.  I didn't get to speak to the hematologist either, but she called in a prescription for an antidepressant to our local pharmacy at my mother's behest.

I took the pills my mother gave me.  I thought they might help me get through my final years living in that house, which had been hard.  My mother had been self-medicating with prescription drugs for about three years at that point, some combination of pain killers and muscle relaxants and sleeping pills, though I don't know how consistently she took them back then.  Her behavior was more erratic and confusing than before, but she didn't seem high all the time.

I don't remember what the antidepressant was called, but the pills made me feel self-conscious and anxious in a way I thought I'd long outgrown.  I had been a shy and nervous child, but as I got into high school I'd learned to lock down my fears, put on a smiling mask, and act my way through situations that would have crippled my younger self with social anxiety.  The pills unraveled all that. 

I remember in kindergarten my mother bought me an ugly red sweatsuit with clowns on it and insisted I wear it to school.  It looked like pajamas to me -- ugly pajamas at that -- and I desperately didn't want to wear it, but she insisted.  I sobbed and begged, she called me ungrateful, and I spent the entire day I wore it sure that everyone was staring at me, judging me for wearing pajamas to school.  The antidepressants made me feel like that everyday.  My nerves felt raw.  Fortunately, I recognized it must be the pills doing it.

I don't remember how long I took the antidepressants, but I would guess just a few weeks.  They broke me down pretty quickly, and I remember approaching my mother in tears, telling her honestly but melodramatically that I couldn't go on that way -- that I had to stop taking the antidepressants or double the dosage, but I felt terrible all the time and something had to change.  My mother said I wasn't acting any better yet and therefore couldn't stop taking them.  She looked me in the eye and told me to double the dosage, which struck me as odd because -- even though I'd proposed it -- I knew it was dangerous and a bad idea.  Was she calling my bluff?  Had I been bluffing?  Was she serious?  She didn't call the doctor.  I never saw that doctor -- or any doctor -- about the antidepressants, so I took matters into my own hands and just stopped taking the pills.  I know now that you're supposed to taper them off under a doctor's watchful eye, but I didn't have that, and I quickly went back to normal, mildly depressed but high functioning, feeling better than I had in weeks.

Much later, as an adult, I tried to look up those pills online to see why I'd had that reaction to them.  I'd become scared of ever taking antidepressants again, and I thought maybe if I knew what they were I could be sure to avoid them in future without writing off all antidepressants forever.  I tried to request my file from the hematologist's office, but she had retired years ago, her private practice no longer existed in any form, and no one knew what had become of her records.  I remembered the prescription was a generic, and I know it was the '90s.  I also know it had to be something commonly prescribed in order for a hematologist to feel comfortable doling them out.  I'm guessing it was an SSRI like Prozac or Paxil since these were the most common kind of antidepressants on the market at the time.  What I did learn from the internet is that my reaction -- anxiety, essentially -- is a common symptom of SSRI overdose.  I also learned that the starting dosage for these drugs in the '90s was often too much for a lot of patients -- meaning a lot of people had the same problem that I did -- and starting dosages are generally lower now.  Cue "The More You Know" music.

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