Site powered by Weebly. Managed by iPage
I am honoured to share this story for 2 reasons. 1) Jeff has been apart of a small group of individuals on Twitter who speak truthfully about mental health, politics (even when his passion is taken as aggression) and the world we live in. 2) His story that he is sharing with us today is just another sign of strength of the ones who suffer with mental health. He, just like so many of us, struggle with medications until we find the right ones. Some of us aren't as lucky as others; so we need to keep talking about it all. The good, bad and especially the ugly.
My Early Experiences with Doctors and Prozac - 1992-1994
I'm going to try to keep this at least somewhat organized and on topic so bear with me. I had a lot of things going on in my mind and was on different substances and in the dark with most of them so let's get into it.
A short scene set. I was 18 in 1991 and had just gone to college. My parents had separated a year or so earlier and it hit me very hard. Mom had been going to therapy my senior year in HS and came home talking about depression and medications and trauma and such. At that point in my life, I knew ZERO about psychology and mental illness. I'd never been to a therapist or knew anything about them. I had, myself, noticed some overly intense moods as I neared college and the anxiety which came from leaving home for the first time. I had been a high achiever to that point in my life and was very aware of anything that might interfere with a positive progression. So I went to college for the 1991-1992 school year feeling, what I consider, to be normal depressed feelings over my parents splitting. I was also angry that they had lied to me and not told me the truth about problems in their marriage. I felt I was on point and that kind of BS I didn't need.
So I'm at college and I'm feeling sad. I'm very much a natural homebody and leaving home was tough. I took long walks my first week and tried to look forward to the new college football season coming up. My roommate was an older, legal age Hispanic. First weekend, he invited me to a party with his friends and cousins (he's Hispanic. He has like a million cousins.) I had never partied in high school and had about five drinks of alcohol in my life up to that point. So I go to the house party and get sloshed and had a GREAT TIME. Seriously, I cursed myself for never drinking in HS because I had a complete blast, flirted and all kinds of stuff. It was a pure social thing. I didn't drink on my own later and never have. I had long had crushing social anxiety after growing up being bullied and the booze wonderfully took that away. I felt strong, like I could loosen up and have fun. However, hangovers were tough and I spent the first half of the next day battling sad moods. I suppose my first time getting drunk in college was the first time I'd ever been barraged with major substances in my life. Added to this behavior was my Mom calling me from out of state (where she'd moved) making me very sad by telling me she was so unhappy and how bad a guy my Dad was and blah blah blah. I was 18 and my life was just taking off and I didn't want her messing with that. Her talk of doctors and drugs for depression got my attention, however, as did her talks of how messed up I was and our family was that she was spouting. Wait until I'm completely developed and need to be on top of my game away from home for all this. Thanks, Mom.
So I'm talking to Mom and it's making me depressed and I'm partying HARD once a week. I was very proud that I was fitting in well/adjusting to college. This first year was truly the happiest of my life because I was socially happy. However, there was a nagging sadness weighing me down and a CRUSHING anxiety. So I listened to my Mom and went to a therapist. As far as anxiety went, I couldn't be on drugs fast enough. It was really killing me. I've also always been a perfectionist and self-improvement freak and I was just having problems compared with how I used to be. So I went to the doctor my Mom went to before she moved out of state. He was a GP and that was a major, major mistake right off the bat. However, illnesses or psychology or any of that crap wasn't on my mind, whatsoever. I wasn't feeling well, wasn't functioning as well as I wanted so I went in. Mom came up to visit and we both went. Needless to say, I was put on meds for depression without having a clue what it was. I was very simple. I was feeling sad and, if I had a problem, I wanted to be responsible and treat it. Over time and in retrospect, I had always had a morose side to me, even as a child. I had always been taught to live for now and not go over the past so that's what I had always done. I concentrated on now, my current focus and life and my future. I was about functioning and success, not therapy and examining my past and all that. My view was that all that was crazy people and my family and I weren't crazy so fuck it. I didn't want anything to do with it. So there was a mountain of personal and family denial at the time. Honestly, though, I didn't want to be that deep. I just wanted to have fun and be happy, which I think a lot of 18 years olds want.
So I try to a low dose of Prozac and the benzo Klonopin. It's the second semester of my freshman year in college. 1992. I had just turned 19 around this time. This starts the really confusing stuff in my life LOL. For the next four years, I was on a revolving door of benzos and antidepressants, mood stabilizers and the like and I'm still not quite sure which drug did what at what time. I also kept partying once a week and getting sloshed every time so I was mixing meds and booze. I was strictly act and react depending on how I felt. If I felt sad, it was time for an antidepressant. If I felt anxious, it was time for a benzo. When it was time to release pent up energy, lose my inhibitions and party, that was heavy booze once a week. I was flying completely blind on illnesses and had ZERO clue that I was bipolar or anything of the like. I wouldn't be diagnosed bipolar until 1995 so that's a full three years away. What I had was that intuitive sense that a LOT was wrong with me. I even told my doctor that later on, that I was going to be one of the more messed up people he'd ever treated. So I started my therapy journey, one I wanted nothing to do with. This is when miscommunication and my own lack of knowledge and understanding almost killed me. My doctor, whom I saw about once a month, didn't understand me and I had no clue what he was saying. My Mom was meddling, too. I've since realized Mom is bipolar, too, and has always been really messed up. I'm understanding but, at this time, she needed to stay the heck out of my life but she was sad and all that and would call me and upset me and rip on my Dad. Distractions and all around crap at the point in my life when I needed to be full throttle, 100% focused and going in the right direction (meaning success in the world.)
I've always been ultra sensitive to anything affecting my body, much more so then because I had never been on drugs and hadn't drunk booze until very recently. What I realize now is that the Prozac had triggered mania I didn't know existed. I started having that "jumping out of my skin" feeling. I was so nervous, almost shaking like I wanted to explode and run out into the street. I suppose that was manic energy. So I'm completely confused about this and very shaken. That's when the miscommunication with my doctor almost proved fatal to me. Reminder that I was taking two different meds, a benzo for anxiety and Prozac for depression. Those two drugs affect the brain in very different ways. Unbeknownst to me, I was taking what was, effectively, an upper and a downer at the same time without knowing it. I told my doctor that I felt like jumping out of my skin. Any psychiatrist would immediately recognize that as mania but this was a GP. I've since become a complete believer that GPs should not be allowed to prescribe psychiatric medications. Anyway, his answer was one that served as a negative crossroads for my life to that point. He said: "It's not the drugs. It's you."
In defense of the guy, there clearly was some kind of misunderstanding. Honestly, I to this day don't know exactly what he meant. I was one way for 18 years, I take drugs, suddenly wig out yet it's not the drugs, it's me? At that moment, I began to identify with my symptoms. I was extremely intense and that jumping out of my skin feeling I came to embrace. It was me. I was powerful and forceful. The Prozac also did its job on depression and I felt chemically happy with whatever I was. In retrospect (that word again), I realize I was also having delusions from rapid cycling. I thought I was THE man. I was confident but it was crazy confident. Forceful is the perfect word. I had no clue what mania was but, whatever I was, it was me and not the drugs. So I was essentially an intense maniac that popped benzos in increasing amounts and self-medicating heavily with booze once a week. I very much had delusions of grandeur. I was also very in denial about any kind of "craziness." I wasn't crazy. Period. Meaning whatever the drugs did they did completely. Whatever the drugs did, they cured what was needed. There was another bad miscommunication at this point. My benzo use was making me feel horribly stoned and apathetic. I told the doctor I should get off them. I believe I said "I need to get off these drugs" but I was not able to differentiate. I suppose he thought I was a lifelong depression case by this time but he didn't tell me. He said I would always be on these drugs. In retrospect (rim shot now), I suppose me saw me as I eventually came to see me many years later but, as a 19 year old with no clue what mental illness was, I was extremely consternated and confused. He clearly meant I had to stay on the antidepressant (the idiot not having diagnosed my obvious bipolar disorder.) I took that to mean all of it and that led to my constant horrible benzodiazepine use for the next four years. I was eventually on 6 mgs of Ativan a day, a massive amount, morning, noon, and night. My memory is very sketchy during this period because, as I learned later, benzos have hypnotic effects, as well as memory disrupting effects. My GP (which won't surprise you by this time) said the drugs I was taking had no side effects other than cotton mouth, potential nausea, etc. I feel like I'm a poster child for what doctors believed in the early days of meds like Prozac and what they know today. All I was told was how Prozac was a wonder drug, how it was only about positives. Never was I told it would make me feel suicidal or trigger a mania I had no clue I had or any of that. It's hard for me not to think I got dicked on the whole thing.
So I was a mess going into taking meds and a complete disaster a few years later. I was a mixed bag of moods and emotions. At times, I felt the meds were my salvation and a horrible, addictive dependence at others. I still wasn't truly happy so I kept switching antidepressants and mood stabilizers. I had gotten the "chemical imbalance" speech from my doctor (and my Mom) so it was all about what drug would make me feel happy. Ironically, I was never more popular with women than I was at this moment. Maybe they saw a wounded man. Mom stumped for me being on medication. Dad wanted the old Jeff and felt like meds were hurting, not helping me. Turns out they were both right and both wrong but I didn't know it then. My life had become erratic. I had started living for fun and just being happy (as it had become so elusive.) Serious things like school just weren't as important. If I was feeling bad, I skipped class. As stated, I was so tired from constant benzo use that I had taken to sleeping through more classes than I stayed awake for. My grades tanked as I tanked. This led to much conflict between my Dad and I. I just wanted to be happy and Dad, who was paying my way through college, became very irate at my lack of success. I don't demonize Dad at this time. I had just greatly changed as a person and so had my life outlook. I was in the middle phase between a relatively healthy emotional state going into college and my full diagnosis as bipolar in 1995. There was a lot of upset in between.
Thank you for reading. I may add to this later as there's a lot more story to tell. As I wrote initially, I hope I've stayed relatively on point with the topic.
Peace. And I very much mean that.