The Quest for Normalcy

There are four words you never want to hear your doctor say. Now you might be thinking those words are something like, “You have bone cancer,” or “Sorry man, wrong leg.” But actually the four worst words your doctor can say are these: “I’m a writer too.” At least they were the worst words that I could have heard when my doctor said them to me.

You might already know how this story begins. It starts with me making a blog post a few weeks back about how I had been fighting some serious depression. I figured I couldn’t be the only one who was going through something like that and I wanted my fellow-writers to know they weren’t alone. Well you people, being the wonderful human beings that you are, responded with many encouraging words, as well as one comment that respectfully suggested I look into some sort of chemical solution to my problem.

At first I was hesitant to even consider such a thing. After all I wasn’t that bad right? I mean, sure I had been having more bad days than usual lately, but was it really worth pursuing medication?

But the more I thought about it the more I realized that I did have a serious problem. Over the last few months my writing output had taken a nosedive, and I had even been affected to the point where I was unable to continue a project that had been very dear to my heart.

So I mentioned it to my wife in passing, half expecting her to dismiss the notion out of hand. But instead she agreed that maybe I did in fact need to try something drastic to get out of the rut I was stuck in.

Of course I put it off for a few weeks even then, but the idea wouldn’t go away, and I knew I needed to make an appointment with my doctor anyway to renew my asthma inhaler prescription, so why not bring up my other concerns at the same time?

I finally set the date and on a beautiful Wednesday morning my wife went with me to the doctors office. But that day there were complications, meaning that the wait time was far longer than anticipated. If there’s one thing in the world I absolutely hate it’s waiting, sitting there with your butt in the same uncomfortable chair for hours on end, thinking about how your never going to get those hours back, wishing you could at least just get up and walk around the building until it’s your time to see the doctor. (That last one might be only me. I can’t stand sitting still for very long.)

So after about an hour and a half I turned to my wife and said, “I don’t want us to waste our whole day here. Maybe we should just go.” Her response shocked me. “No,” she said. “We’re staying. You need this. I need this. Because if something doesn’t change I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle it.”

That was when it really hit me what a burden my foul moods had been on those around me. So I sat my butt back into the chair, buried my nose in my book and waited.

Eventually they called us back, and we waited some more in the room for the doctor to show up. And when he came in I realized this was a new guy and not the doctor I was used to. We got the basics out of the way and talked to him about my asthma troubles, and before I knew it, it was time.

I had psyched myself up for the moment I knew was coming, the moment I was going to have to bare my stricken soul to a total stranger and ask for his help, but when the moment came it was even more difficult than I had imagined. Still, I did my best. I told the doctor about how I hated my job, how that every day I went in and did my work knowing that nothing I did would ever matter or be remembered, how that I had dreamed of being a writer for years and now my failure to attain that dream had turned into a mocking voice in the pit of my soul, a reminder that I was no one and nothing and always would be.

And that was when he smiled and said, “I’m a writer too.”

Oh. Great.

I don’t mean to be dismissive of other’s dreams when I haven’t exactly done very much toward achieving my own, but in my experience when someone tells you they’re a writer you’re usually about to be in for some mind-numbingly bad advice.

This time was no exception. “I’m not sure you need antidepressants,” the doctor told me. “I think maybe you need to keep pursuing your dream of being a writer, so you can get out of the job that you hate.”

Never have I so badly wanted to punch a human being in the face. Follow my dream? Get out of my dead-end job? What did he think I’d been doing for the past five years? Looking at a typewriter and twiddling my thumbs? Did he care that my problem was getting so bad that I couldn’t write anymore?

But I stayed calm. I explained as patiently as possible that I couldn’t climb out of this pit of despair on my own. At which point he said, “Have you ever heard of a guy named Dan Poynter? He’s got some really great books on self-publishing.”

I have looked up Dan Poynter since then, and for what it’s worth he seems to be an interesting guy with a lot of experience in self publishing as well as being, and (this is true) a world premier expert on the subject of sky diving. But on that day I really really wasn’t looking for another self-publishing guru. I just wanted to feel better. I wanted to feel like a real person again. I wanted to have the emotional energy to do the things I loved. That’s why I went to the doctor.

Only after accepting the a card on which the doctor wrote down Dan Poynter’s name as well as the title of his book was I able to convince him to write me a prescription for a low dose of Prozac. (Actually off-brand Prozac, which I was disappointed to learn is not called AmateurZac.)

That was two weeks ago. And in spite of the hoops I had to jump through to get here, I’m happy to report that I’ve been feeling better than I have in a long time. It’s still not all sunshine and roses. I still have down moment here and there, but on the whole I’ve been happy and, more importantly, productive. Of course I still have to sit down and do the work. As far as I know they haven’t yet invented a pill that cures laziness. But now I don’t have to fight against the nagging fears and crushing doubts that plagued my way before.

I was afraid at first that taking antidepressants would somehow change me, make me a radically different person, but I’m happy to report that still feel like myself.

To those of you who offered me encouragement in my dark times, thank you. And if you’ve been going through dark times of your own then let me be the first to say that there’s no shame in looking for help. If you let it depression will crush you and wear down the ones who love you.

But you don’t have to let it. You can fight back.

10 responses to “The Quest for Normalcy

  1. Thanks for posting your story. I knew someone else with a similar experience, a fellow student when I was in a masters program in psychology. She was feeling a bit like a failure, because she ought to be able to fight it herself, or do the work with her therapist, right? In fact when she got the right level of meds, she said it simply returned her to some kind of baseline where she had the energy to do her part.

    Very valuable information for people to have. Ah yes – doctor’s waiting rooms. I always feel like my dog’s behave at the vet – barking and whimpering.

  2. I’ve personally always been scared of medication. I always thought: What if it changes me and makes me a completely different person, someone who I’m not? But then, I read the comment about your wife and immediately understood what a selfish reason that is.

    I went through a long depressive episode years ago. I was lucky enough to drag myself out of there, but I never considered the really important implications of taking medicine to get well if I needed to. I know I was difficult to deal with, and that I hurt many people that don’t speak to me to this day.

    • If there are any others that share this fear (I know it was a big one for me for a long time) I’d suggest at least trying medication to see how it makes you feel. Maybe you might find you feel too different, but maybe not. It’s not as if you’re locked in for the rest of your life with this stuff, so if it doesn’t work the way you want it to you don’t have to renew your prescription. And I’m not suggesting this is the answer for everybody. But it’s certainly helped me, and I think it’s a least worth a try.

  3. Way to advocate. Also, you’re pretty darn lucky that the first medication you tried worked so well. Usually, folks have to try several to find one that fits.

  4. A friend of mine in the medical field told me once that she thought they needed to add Prozac to the public water supply – I’m all for it. How bad could it be to have happier people walking around? I’m not making light either – I’ve been there 🙂

    • It’s not like I’ve been off-the-charts happy, but I noticed that after about a week of taking the stuff my cheeks started to hurt because I was smiling again and my facial muscles weren’t used to it.
      I’m not sure about adding it to the water supply, but I do wish people could find a way to get over their prejudice against chemical solutions to mental problems. They’re not all perfect and it isn’t the right solution for everyone, but it seems like there’s such a stigma our culture has against people who need antidepressants. If your back hurts and you take aspirin that’s all fine and dandy, but if your mind hurts and you take Prozac suddenly you’re seen as “weak”. It’s really stupid.

  5. Glad you’re working toward a better quality of life. 🙂

  6. There comes a point in depression when your body is simply unable to produce serotonin and it becomes impossible to fight your way out of a depression. I was there before. My body needed medication in order for the therapy to be useful to my mind. I stayed on it for 5 years, which was far too long. I started to notice that I was different and I didn’t like the person I was. I went off the medication and I’ve been 13 years off of it. Lesson I learned? I desperately needed the medication to battle my depression but I didn’t need it for the full 5 years. It served it’s purpose but I was afraid to let it go and be on my own.

    Good for you that you finally talked to your doctor. Sorry he was a bit of a tool. I’m glad you’re back to writing 🙂

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