Getting The Full Picture
Ever notice things in a photograph, you didn’t see while you were posing for the picture? Here is what I have learned about my own behavior and mental health with a “photograph perspective”.
Finding the right antidepressant is no easy task. So when we find one that does the best job with no side effects, or manageable side effects, it’s like someone threw a dead tree in your path, and the only way is to climb over it. Of course, after taking a medication for years, I don’t always keep up with updates. Every medication is not for everyone. It’s a fact and quite honestly, it seems like common sense, but most of us never read labels. Think about it. Labels are updated as more information becomes available through research. I don’t know if you are like me, but when I pick up a prescription I have been taking for years, I get a ten page document citing possible side effects and risks, and I hand it back to the pharmacy technician, and tell them to shred it. I could wallpaper an entire housing development with all the medication information I have received.
A few days ago, I was reading a blog post about a woman who quit Cymbalta cold turkey. Sure I was a little shocked by someone talking about quitting a medication cold turkey with a possible side effect of suicide for some. But this post by Crystal Lindell about Cymbalta, taught me an important lesson about how I form some opinions. I put down my iPad and started writing about how wrong she was, until I realized I was on a rant. So I went back to her post, and followed links to her referenced prior blogs for more of her experience.
In an earlier post, she talks about how Cymbalta saved her life. You should read it,
Ms. Lindell’s post struck me on a personal level because my depression triggered by the pain and progression of my chronic illnesses changed the chemistry of my brain, and I nearly died. Our experiences had similarities, but they were not the same. I found myself comparing my issues to hers and thinking, “she’s wrong”, when it was I who was wrong. Sometimes, I think I am using empathy, but it’s really not. Instead of imagining what it would be like for them, I imagine what their experience would be like for me. Yep, that sounds about right. I make it all about me. It kind of reminds me of “Do unto others, as you would have done to you.” But most of the time, what might be right for me, would not be right for others.
I’m not sure if it’s because I am selfish. For years, I have had to advocate for myself as a woman in a health care system designed for men (Veterans Healthcare) with two rare progressive, degenerative and potentially fatal conditions. I realized I might be too self focused the day I brought my newborn son to his first pediatrician visit. His doctor asked for my son’s medical history and out of sheer habit, I rattled off my own medical history. It wasn’t that I put myself before my kid, it was just that answering that question had become so routine for me, I had an automated response.
I talk about it in a prior blog post. and since seeking treatment for depression in 2000, I have changed medications many times. There were medications that put me to sleep, some that killed my libido and I have skipped doses of Cymbalta waiting for my prescription to arrive by mail and I can say that having sex during that time is pretty good, sex. But taking myself off medication that did not reduce my libido, but my libido increased without them, was not worth risking my mental health. Luckily, thanks to age and wisdom I know that if I have amazing sex once, it can happen again. So I need to train my brain, so to speak. Our mental state affects our sex. The actual sex organ is our brains. I know it doesn’t seem like that, but the response to it, is made by neural transmitters, nerves and hormones. Look, if a medication completely shuts off your libido, like Paxil did to me, it was the right decision for me, to change meds. For me, Cymbalta had some side effects, but they were solvable with the addition of Welbutrin and training my brain. The cool thing about that, is you can always find a willing participant (in the name of science, of course) to experiment with sex by trial and error. And as the brilliant Amy Schumer put so eloquently, “…I can catch a dick whenever I want.”
For me, going off Cymbalta was not an option. I did it for two months. I handled the brain zaps and withdrawls with a little help from sedatives and pain meds prescribed by my doctor. I was closely supervised by my psychiatrist and General Practitioner. After two months, the symptoms of my depression came back. Lucky for me, I have a support system in place to check my depression.
When there is a change in my medication, or a potential trigger, I reach out to three people I would trust with my life, and ask them to watch for symptoms. They don’t watch over me 24/7. But they check in with me and ask me about triggers.
Triggers and Symptoms
I am diagnosed with Major Depression and Anxiety Disorder. I’ve had years of therapy to determine my triggers, like specific people or events. The people or events can be present, noticed and experienced without going into depression, but symptoms can be triggered by these events and or individuals. Individuals do not trigger things on purpose, but we all have friends or family who bring us stress with their behaviors or conversations. I had to learn to recognize the symptoms of the beginning of my triggered depression. One of them I did not identify until 2004. It was just after my son was born. I was driving home with my sister in-law and my nephews and I had to drive on an overpass. If you’re a southern California resident, it’s the one that takes you from the 91 east to the 15. I was about to drive onto the ramp and I felt a nearly crippling fear of going on to the over pass, but because I had people in the car and it was in the middle of the night, I slowed down and drove extra careful. I calmed down as soon as I was on the 15. I had recognized this feeling before, but my fear was so intense, I knew I needed help. I spoke to my therapist, and sure enough, an extreme fear of going over bridges is actually a thing. The depression had affected my “fight or flight” response by making it sensitive to activities.
Unlike Ms. Lindell, Cymbalta does not kill my creativity or sex drive. I guess I’m just lucky. Not every medication is for every one and not every pharmaceutical company labels their medication as accurate as they should be, I have been on perhaps a dozen antidepressants in the past fifteen years. There were some that gave me no sex drive, there are some that put me to sleep. Right now, I’m on Cymbalta & Wellbutrin, with no sedatives. I have some, but I don’t take them. I guess it’s comforting to know they are there. And I have to agree with Ms. Lindell that exercise is the best medicine for my pain. But to battle my depression without meds, I need to do at least ninety minutes of cardio twice a day to keep me from falling into the abyss. So exercise once a day and meds is a good mix for me. Cymbalta may not work for millions of other people, but right now, it works for me. And when Cymbalta stops working, I will tell my support system what’s up. I don’t need to be watched like I’m under house arrest. But by letting my friends know, they are more likely to answer my phone calls when they are busy, or return my call immediately if they miss it. There’s nothing wrong with having a plan.
About the good sex: Well, I went from having no interest in sex because of my meds, to finding the right med that would allow me to feel like I might be interested. It took changing medication, yoga and exercise that helped and now my sex life is pretty damn good. Like anything, it’s trial and error, having a good team of doctors ad having a willing participant to help with training your brain.
As for quitting any antidepressant cold turkey, I would not encourage anyone to do that without a doctor’s supervision and a group that will help observe your progress. You don’t need to make a big deal of it. Take three people and use them. I never use only once person,because one observation, could be the wrong observation and two others can help counter the error. One way to think of it is, when you are getting your picture taken, you really don’t know what’s going to show up in the photograph, until you can look at the picture itself. Those three friends of mine help me identify what I can’t see while I am present in the “picture taking”. It never hurts to have an extra set or two of helpful eyes.