And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

What Is Normal, Anyway?

Something upset me last night, and I started to cry. On Monday, too, I broke down in tears of frustration after visiting six daycare centers looking for a good place for Ian and being unsatisfied with every one of them. In contrast, a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that it had been a long, long time since I'd had a crying fit.

What changed? I decided to stop taking Zoloft, which I've been on for about 10 months now. Back around the beginning of the year, I was having a hard time controlling my temper. I was snapping at the kids, I was tired and frustrated, and I had no energy to do anything at all. Even on days when I thought I had everything under control and I was doing my "job" of mothering well, something would sneak up on me and I'd lose it. I went to my doctor to get a referral to a therapist, telling her that I believed the primary causes were hormones related to nursing/post-partum (though Ian was about a year old) and to my being sooooo tired because Ian was still waking up every 2-3 hours at night. She felt that talk therapy would be little help with the sleep issues, and she suggested Zoloft. I agreed, and I started a low dose.

Within two weeks, things got so much better. For a little while, I could still feel the temper tantrums in the back of my brain, but I was able to keep them from coming out of my mouth. Then they went away, and within 2-3 weeks, I felt almost normal again. When I looked into information on SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), things clicked into place. Your brain produces serotonin, a feel-good chemical, during REM sleep, and if I was waking up every 2-3 hours, you can bet I was probably producing very little serotonin. The SSRI made sure that what serotonin did get produced wasn't reabsorbed by my brain. Hence, I felt better.

For quite a while, I was nervous about what would happen if I went off Zoloft. I began to understand psychological drug dependency, as opposed to physical dependency, for the first time. I was so worried about going back to the way I felt before that I was johnny-on-the-spot with taking my pill on time.

But then a few months ago, Ian started sleeping through the night. I got more lax about taking the drug and sometimes skipped days. I finally decided I'd like to try to go off, to see how I was doing and to save the $20 copay each month. I did make a mistake, though, and quit cold turkey, which according to my new doctor, many people can do from the low dose I was on (50 mg). I, however, had some debilitating dizziness as a side effect. Oops. So I went to the new doctor and got a lower dose so I can wean myself off gradually, like you're supposed to.

So here's the thing: The reason I went cold turkey? My prescription from my old doc ran out of refills, and I was embarrassed to go to my new doc and ask for more. Being on Zoloft has run me smack into some of my own internal prejudices and mental hurdles. I've always been very encouraging of people to seek therapy or medical treatment for mental illness. I firmly believe in the physical origin of chemical depression. My grandmother, we all say, was probably chemically depressed for years and it was never treated until she became senile and was in a nursing home, which explains why she was such a harridan of a woman.

And yet it's been extremely difficult for me to say I was/am a victim of depression. Sure, I speak up about it to my friends and family. But when it came to things like filling out medical history forms with a new pharmacy, I couldn't bring myself to check that little box. I know that depression isn't something to be ashamed of -- in my head -- but apparently my heart feels differently. And I hate that. It's counter to all the progressive views I hold. But it's there, under the surface. No wonder we can't get past these prejudices in our society.

I try to be outspoken about how hard mothering is, in order to dispel the myth of facile motherhood. If only it was as easy for me to do the same with depression.

Anyway, so now I'm crying again. And cranky again. And hormonal again. But isn't that normal? Is it better to be on an even keel, possibly eliminating both highs and lows, or to feel things within normal limits. Zoloft never made me feel like a zombie, but the contrast between my musings of a few weeks ago and the rough couple of days I just went through really stands out, and I wonder which is the right path for me to choose now.

Fortunately, I have the support of a caring partner who can help me with reality checks. Of course, he may just blame it on PMS -- in which he may be justified. So I'll keep on this path of weaning for now, and see where it gets me. Hopefully, it will get me to normal -- whatever that is.

2 comment(s):

Oh, can I empathize with the whole depression issue. I've been moody for a long time, yet can't get myself to get meds. However, I'll drag a friend, to the doc to get the proper care s/he needs...

I'm sorry you've had such a rough time.


Jen (from MM99)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:40 AM  

I actually that a certain amount of depression comes with the territory. That said, have you been checked for straightforward Post Natal Depression rather than garden variety. In the UK the health visitors (nurses whose job is to make sure babies and children, and by extension, their primary carer, are well and healthy) do a screening check five months after the birth. Do they do that in the US?

Mothering is a tough job. The best book anyone ever gave me waas "How not to be the Perfect Mother" by Libby Purves. Don't know if it's available where you are. The basic underlying idea is that no-one can do better than their own best, and our children essentially have to take us as they find, with all our quirks and idiosyncracies. And they will- they're your children.

By Blogger e, at 5:33 PM  

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