Monday, January 14, 2008

On drugs, herbs, antidepressants, addiction, mothers and other things...

We interrupt our ongoing South Carolina primary coverage to cover a recent controversy in Blogdonia over--DRUGS.

George Carlin used to joke about the signs once visible on city street corners, notably absent in the last decade or so. We now have Walgreens and CVS selling baby formula, hair goo and toilet paper, but once upon a time, the drug store was a drug store, just like Mr Gower's in It's a Wonderful Life. Maybe you could get a banana split while you waited for the druggist (as we called them) to fill your prescription. You could buy cokes and root beers and hang out. Lana Turner would be "discovered" in a Hollywood drug store, according to myth, which made the drug store cool.

And as George Carlin joked in the 70s, go into any self-proclaimed drug store, which prominently featured a huge DRUG sign, and ask (insert stoned voice) "Hey man, gotta any DRUGS?" and the proprietor would likely bark, "Not THOSE kind, go away!"

"Hey, it said DRUGS, okay?"

Indeed, it did. And so we learned: there are good drugs and bad drugs. (As Glinda memorably asked Dorothy, are you a Good Witch, or a Bad Witch?)

~*~

The line between the "good" and "bad" drugs was always very shaky for me. As a youngster, I witnessed progressive addiction in the members of my family. My grandmother became dependent on various and sundry pain meds, Valium, and Miltown, which she would periodically swear off, only to relapse. Such events were not called RELAPSE then; there was no such language available for addiction to prescription drugs. This is why Valley of the Dolls was regarded as such a scandalous, truth-telling book, almost as important as The Feminine Mystique, and certainly, out-selling that book by millions. No one had dared say it out loud in polite, middle-class company. And the word, DOLLS. We love our dolls, we play with our dolls, we dress up our dolls and display them. Calling drugs DOLLS laid the whole enterprise bare. ("Not THOSE kind, go away!") My mother had a seemingly bottomless Rx for Dexedrine 75 mg (gonna let that dosage sink in a minute: 75 mg), which I started pilfering regularly on test days in high school. And my mother never lost a pound, it seemed.

I caught on fast: Dexedrine didn't have shit to do with weight loss. This had to do with her day-job, hard work requiring intense concentration. And then her night-job, her true love, music. She was a singer and musician; amphetamines allowed her to sing late into the twilight after a hard day's work. Songs by Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Wanda Jackson, Tammy Wynette, and so many others...which seemed to go so well with the Dolls. (Maybe because several of these recording artists were also quite attached to the Dolls?) My mother's green eyes glittered, as John Lydon's, Keith Moon's, Natalie Cole's, Linda Ronstadt's and Elvis's used to twinkle and shine; an unmistakable chemically-glazed glitter that I can still spot anywhere. (Although, interestingly, I didn't seem to notice it when I looked in the mirror.)


My mother began dosing me with supplements and drugs at about the same time, further messing up my already-blurred natural/chemical boundary. She discovered Selenium, Vitamin E, Gotu Kola, and insisted I take these, which I dutifully did. And then, she tsk-tsked over my weight, my thighs, my ass. She took me to her diet-doctor to be properly dosed with the magic skinny-making concoction, the nectar of the gods, Dexedrine. And I took it, as I was told. I didn't need prodding.


My mother was born physically disabled, a fact that she blamed for not being able to become a Big Star. And I believe this has some basis in reality, since she was once asked to sing and play back-up at the Grand Ole Opry by some Nashville talent-scout; the request later withdrawn when her disability was discovered. (I also believe my mother's ferocious drive was partly DUE to her disability and attendant feelings of inferiority, a fact she often confessed to me in her more vulnerable, teary, alcoholic moments.) The Grand Ole Opry debacle plunged her into extreme self-hatred; she took more lovers, she piled her platinum hair even higher on her head, she lopped several alarming inches off of her already-short dresses. And, she decided, she needed to DO SOMETHING with ME: Goddammit, fix your hair, put on make-up, you can't go out like that. At our house, it was hillbilly vs. hippie couture, every day. Lacquered, sprayed, Clairol-bleached hair vs. untamed hair flying in the breeze. Miniskirts vs. jeans. Pointy-Laura-Petrie-bras vs. none at all. She was perpetually furious with me. She believed my hippie-fashion was a personal insult, directed at her, mocking her.


Similarly, my mother couldn't believe I did not want to go onstage, did not want to marry rich, did not want to do the things she believed she could have done if non-disabled: What's the matter with you? she would scream in her many alcohol/amphetamine-induced rages, Don't you understand you could have the whole fucking WORLD?

The whole world? Talk about delusion. I was a pretty average kid, I made average grades, I could sing in harmony if it wasn't too hard, but that's about it. I could write well enough, but you can't be a star doing that. ("Men can, but women can't," she told me.) I didn't realize until years later, how these rages were drug-induced. By then, of course, I was having them myself.

And finally, the weed. My mother found the weed. The rage, the insanity, the screaming, the smashing of delicate objects, the gnashing of teeth, the threats and the reality of violence. I won't dwell on the details. But I confronted her at last: Excuse me, but you have been plying me with DRUGS, you realize? "This is a much less harmful drug than the ones you are taking every fucking day!"

Marijuana, I loudly, proudly and correctly informed her, is an HERB.

~*~

My years in the counterculture continued blurring the drug/herb boundary. I had one of the most profound, spiritual and mystical experiences of my life (and that is saying something) under the influence of a plant, peyote. I also puked my guts out and thought I was dying, which centers the mind amazingly. Consequently, I began to educate myself about the medicinal qualities of herbs, and began a job filling up bulk herbs at the local co-op. I visited communes, and talked about herbs with the back-to-the-land people. And all the while, I never stopped taking drugs. And my focus narrowed. My favorite drug of all? The legal one: alcohol. Which, you will remember, is made from plants, fruits, herbs.

Of course, you all know the story by now. Pretty typical Movie Of The Week stuff: it caught up with me. Down and out in various places... New York City, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Fort Myers, rural Indiana, urban Ohio... like the expression goes, wherever you go, you take yourself with you. Oh Mama, can this really be the end?

And so, like a convert, I went the other way, seemingly overnight. Straight edge. I was a zealot for recovery. I think this is often necessary for people in trouble, so I won't apologize for it, but I can see the humor in it now... engaging in major self-recriminations and existential angst over whether I should take a wayward antihistamine or single Tylenol. (Usually, I would end up refraining.) I even gave up coffee and tea, although it took me several years to stop smoking tobacco (but yes, I eventually did that, too). And during this time, I also refused all herbs, remembering that yes, marijuana is an herb. Herbs ARE drugs.

And that's the thing...many, many drugs come from herbs. I realized at this point that my boundaries were blurred for a reason. There is no boundary... there is no spoon.

You are ALTERING YOURSELF. With whatever substances you choose, be they "natural" or "unnatural"--and I was zealous in my recovery, in being UNALTERED.

~*~

Perhaps it's because one of my endocrine glands failed on me in my late 30s, and I then needed (deep breath) DRUGS, that I changed my mind. Possibly, just age. Also, a weariness of dogma, as I tried hard at one point to be a doctrinally correct Catholic, and failed at that too. Suddenly worried that I would have a baby in my 40s (not my idea of a good time), I went and got my tubes tied. And then I confessed, like a good Catholic.

"Why are you telling me this?" asked my very cool priest, shocking me. He was supposed to yawn, look at his watch, and wave me out of the confessional while simultaneously making the sign of the cross, like he usually did.

"Huh?" I asked, "Aren't I supposed to tell you?"

"You are supposed to be honest," he sounded tired. I could tell he was weary of parishioners deliberately doing stuff and then scurrying in to tell him about it.

Was he saying I was dishonest? I suddenly felt shame, and then I WAS honestly contrite.

Ashamed of what?--I thought later. And then I knew. Having my cake and eating it too. Having my tubal ligation and fancying myself a "good Catholic." Availing myself of medical science, and then bragging about being ALL NATURAL.

There is not one righteous, said the Apostle Paul, no, not one.

~*~

And so we get to the current ideological scuffle in Blogdonia. In this corner, we have Elaine Vigneault, holding forth on antidepressants. The argument started on FEMINISTE, where she stated:


My theory is that many people’s depression is anger turned inward. Anger is a powerful emotion that can be both destructive and constructive. Anger that is unjustly aimed inward becomes debilitating depression, but justified anger aimed outward towards things like injustice can be a powerful motivator. I think if more people embraced this view and used their anger as a motivator, we’ve have a revolution and possibly a better world.

There’s a saying, “if you’re not mad as hell, you’re not paying attention.” And another one “ignorance is bliss.” I think both are true. I think happy people are people who wear rose-colored glasses and don’t see reality clearly. That’s not to say happiness is ignorance; I’m saying that constant bliss can only be achieved through drugs, ignorance, or some other form of blurred reality. Occasional bliss is available for anyone willing to accept it: puppy pictures, flower bouquets, a compliment to or from a stranger, a familiar tune, a tickle, a love note, a memory… But constant bliss… that’s not real.
And in this corner, we have several people who believe she is behaving like a sanctimonious prig. Plain(s) Feminist writes:
Look - I am skeptical when it comes to the medical monster that is our health care and pharmacological system. I have had anti-depressants practically forced on me and refused them all the same. But I would never take my own experience and decide that it is universal and that everyone else is completely deluded, which is what Vigneault is doing here (to a commenter who says that anti-depressants helped them, she replies "I’d argue about whether they really did the trick or if you just believed they did..."
Life is never Either/Or, except when people make it that way. It doesn't have to be. We all expect to be able to have our tubes tied, our broken bones set, and our nasty tumors surgically excised. Expecting not to cry every minute or cower in the closet of a Motel-6, is a very basic matter of survival, on that level. And yet, we don't quite see it that way, do we? Our modern life causes these problems, Elaine (and many herbalists I have known) like to say. Well, stop the presses. The broken bones, the tumors, the cholesterol, my thyroid, are likely the same. Our environments shape us. Every day, I talk to old people who had their health destroyed in the textile mills; they have odd cancers, tumors, and mesothelioma. Fibers are forever lodged in their bodies. I suppose we might say our modern life, the need for clothing, has caused this, as it surely has. And Elaine is wearing clothes right now, too, as you are, as I am. Someone, somewhere, is paying for that. Their eyes squint and strain; they develop strange spots on their lips from licking dyed threads, every day. Do we deny them health care? Of course, many people would like to. But right now, the American policy seems to be, do it to Julia, don't do it to me. Destroy the health of the people in Mauritius, Mexico or China, do not destroy ours.

~*~

Our modern life has messed us up, no question. But only a cruel philosophy denies comfort to those afflicted, for whatever reason. Yes, we must clean up the system; BigPharm is corrupt, money-grubbing, and lying. But I use it, too. As we all do.

As Dorothy Day said, I am here to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. And with all due respect, Elaine, as well as many other people in my own profession, have it very confused.

50 comments:

Deoridhe said...

I wanted to note, since sometimes cautious use is set up as the polar opposite of total abstanence, that there is no one saying everyone should take drugs. This is not a comparison of extremes; it is a comparison of one extreme and a middle-of-the-road.

This is less for you, Daisy, and more for Those Who May Come to Argue. ;)

I'm fascinated by the use of Dexatrine in the manner you describe. My own experience with drugs is very ...prosaic by comparison, so I find this image of you and your mothers lives very engaging. Thanks for sharing!

Bryce said...

D- amazing post of beauty & strength & wisdom. applause~kudos~all da rest

love,B.

Ravenmn said...

We're about the same age and a lot of this is familiar to me, although in my family, there was a slightly different slant. Both of my parents were scientists and my Mom, especially, had a deep faith in the scientific community. If a doctor said it, my Mom believed it. If a doctor prescribed it, my Mom took it.

In our house, when I was growing up, we didn't have a medicine cabinet, we had a kitchen cupboard full of my mom's prescribed medicines. All meds were available to the entire family. Got a little ache? Take some fiorinol! Can't sleep? Have some valium!

Of course, Mom never thought she was on drugs! She was on prescriptions. That's different!

When I got to college in the mid-70s, the student health services were the biggest drug dealers in town. We learned early how to procure:

1. Make an appointment. Cough. Get prescription-strength codeine.

2. Make an appointment. Say you can't sleep. Get Valium.

3. Make an appointment. Say you've got cramps. Get Darvon.

Then a bunch of people started dying. Most famously, Karen Anne Quinlan went into a vegetative state after mixing alcohol and valium after not eating for a couple of days. That news had a huge effect and scared the shit out of everyday casual drug users like myself.

Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with you here. Yes some drugs are bad and over-prescribed. But using that as an excuse to say taking any drugs that help is a bad thing is fundamentally cruel.

You quote Elaine as saying: "My theory is that many people’s depression is anger turned inward. Anger is a powerful emotion that can be both destructive and constructive."

I seriously question her familiarity with clinical depression. Anger is far too powerful an emotion to aspire to when you're depressed!

thene said...

see, this is why I love your blog. You share real experiences, while other people talk out of their asses about everyone but them. <3

Rootietoot said...

It took alot for you to say all that, thanks for it.

We take drugs to feel good, sometimes as an escape from feeling bad even when feeling bad is necessary, and sometimes when feeling bad is a symptom of something pathological. or something.

Anyway, I feel like I know you better, and thanks for that.

Rootietoot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elaine Vigneault said...

Just to clarify, the reason I said, "I’d argue about whether they really did the trick or if you just believed they did..." is because:

1. there is some evidence that placebos work just as well as antidepressants, and

2. there is also evidence that pharmaceutical companies deliberately skew or hide test results that show their drugs are less effective than they are.

I was never denying that people feel real pain and that they experience depression. I was saying I don't like the mental illness label for depression because:

1. So many smart, productive, creative people experience depression that it seems like part of the normal range of human thought and behavior, thus not an illness, and

2. the label allows some people to abuse their power by coercing or forcing those they deem mentally ill to do things they wouldn't freely choose.

This all started because I stood up for a guy I believed was unfairly called a "jerk." All he did was suggest alternatives to antidepressants and make the very real connection between illegal and legal psychotropic drugs.

People have read too much into our statements to infer things neither of us said or meant. Many, didn't even bother reading what we actually wrote and jumped on the hate bandwagon, assuming neither of us had ever experienced depression, that we'd never had negative experiences with antidepressants, and that we didn't even know what depression was.

I don't know that guy, but a small part of what draws me to feminist theory is an urge to stick up for the underdog. When I saw him being called a jerk and how everyone jumped on him to attack him, I felt compelled to share my similar opinion.

You don't have to agree with that opinion. And I'm sorry if you don't like the way I said it; I'm sorry if my words have caused anyone any pain.

I've never said I think there should be complete abstinence from antidepressants. I've said MANY times that I think it's fine for people to use whatever medicines they want (in safe situations). I'd even go further and include illegal drugs in that statement. So...

I'm not about to deny "comfort to the afflicted".

Inferring that my discussion has been all about taking away your drugs is arguing in bad faith.

Daisy said...

Elaine, FTW, I am not personally taking antidepressants. I do use herbs, though. All kinds.

And thanks you guys! :) I got nice friends. (((kisses))

Renegade Evolution said...

Daisy:

You Freakin' Rule.

Shit, I thought I was the only person who ended up terrified in the Motel 6....

You know, I'm not big on "drugs"...I'm also a huge freakin' hypocrite because without nicotine and caffeine I become downright violent.

Mnemosyne said...

So many smart, productive, creative people experience depression that it seems like part of the normal range of human thought and behavior, thus not an illness.

I see you've bought into the Hemingway/Cobain propaganda: the only way to be a REAL artist is to be constantly depressed.

Myself, I'm more in the William Styron continuum: I cannot be productive while I'm depressed. It's an effort just to get out of bed, much less put pencil to paper. Once I get out of the trough, I can actually get things done ... until the next time the wave comes.

I am far, far more productive and creative on anti-depressants than I ever am off them. And I'm supposed to not take them because it will help you maintain your myth that Art Requires Suffering, even if not taking them means I can't create?

Sorry, no deal.

Hugo Schwyzer said...

Came here from Feministe.

This is a good and valuable discussion, one for which I am grateful.

I was on various anti-depressant and psychotropic medication from 1987-1998; I started on Elavil and went from there. (And don't get me started on the genius doc who prescribed benzoadiazepines to me; that launched me on a multi-year addictive spree).

I haven't needed meds in nearly a decade. But thank God they were there for me. In the end, therapy, faith, and the 12 steps did it for me; but you know, only medication quieted my brain long enough to make me available for those blessings. I cast no judgment on those who continue to find meds necessary, though I cast a wary eye at Big Pharma...

Mister Nice Guy 1960 said...

My attitude towards mood-altering drugs has always been summed up by (my interpretation of) Manfred Mann's "Spirits in the Night": maybe they aren't the best answer in the world, but thank God they're there when you need them.
Also worth a mention here is a reminder that when Karl Marx called religion "the opiate of the people", he meant that it was a blessed relief from a life of otherwise intolerable pain (why he also called it "the heart of a heartless world".
There's just an awful lot of pain in the world, isn't there?

Meredith said...

As far as Elaine and her ilk go:

As someone with bipolar disorder who actually needs drugs to function properly (no, therapy doesn't work, no, herbs don't work, no, talking myself out of it doesn't work, thanks for playing!) I get extremely offended at the notion that depression is normal. It is not normal to be completely non-functional. It is also not normal to work furiously in a manic state. The toll that those things take on your life... that's not normal. That's like saying that cancer is normal. Yes, it's probably caused by the environment, and yes, a lot of people have it at one point or another, but why on earth would you keep it around? Mental illness kills like any other illness, whether through suicide or lack of self-care or drug abuse or stupid manic acts. That is not normal and in my opinion is not something to be desired.

Sara E Anderson said...

Elaine, I'd suggest checking out the book Against Depression by Peter Kramer. It does a good job of sorting out the difference between sadness and depression, and arguing for the complete eradication of the mental illness that is depression.

Nick Kiddle said...

I seriously question her familiarity with clinical depression. Anger is far too powerful an emotion to aspire to when you're depressed!

I'm not so sure: I've got a diagnosis of clinical depression and I dutifully pop my daily lofepramine (my family keep saying it's making a difference, but all I can see is I get very tired if I forget one) and I feel a hell of a lot of anger.

Maybe the word anger has a bunch of different meanings. There's the passionate, change-seeking anger (which I have lost and very much miss) and there's the bitter, impotent anger that ends with feeling I'd be better off dead than mired in this shit.

I want to write something about depressions that are more situational versus depressions that are more neurochemical, but the task of trying to sort out all those ideas and put them into coherent form is defeating me, unfortunately.

--Bamboo Blitz-- said...

I really appreciate your candor in this post! It spoke to me on so many levels....

Lisa Harney said...

Great post, Daisy.

I think that saying that depression is something that naturally happens to people should not also exclude it from being labeled a disorder or an illness. For example, arthritis, cancer, and tooth decay also naturally happen to people, and there's not really any resistance to pathologizing those.

The thing is, it doesn't really matter if it naturally happens to people or is imposed on people: the end result is the same, depressed people deal with problems that people who are not depressed don't have to deal with. It doesn't matter how pretty, witty, or bright you may be, depression drags you down.

It's frustrating enough when my family and friends don't believe me when I describe my depression, or they tell me that I could just will myself out of it, or blame me for being depressed in the first place. Seeing commentary to the effect that it's just anger, or that any medication is just foolishness doesn't help at all.

Natasha Yar-Routh said...

Elaine there is depression which everyone feels from time to time and then there is clinical depression which can completely destroy you. My multi-year long clinical depression cost me one job, nearly cost me a second one and nearly wrecked my marriage. I was lucky in that while I needed help to get it to go in remission I have not needed meds so far. I am on drugs though to keep my stomach from digesting my esophagus. I did try herbs but they just didn't cut it. So while many drugs are over prescribed, thank science they are there when you need them.

Mnemosyne said...

I want to write something about depressions that are more situational versus depressions that are more neurochemical, but the task of trying to sort out all those ideas and put them into coherent form is defeating me, unfortunately.

It's hard to differentiate it when you're in the middle of it, but, to me, the difference is that if you remove yourself from the situation that's making you depressed (in my case, a job with a hellish, abusive boss, major dental problems, and a dying cat) and you're still depressed several months after those situations are resolved, that's something that can't be cured by Happy Thoughts. You're going to need some intervention, whether that's herbs or therapy or even the dreaded drugs.

I could spend days being angry as my asshole ex-boss, and I spent a lot of days doing that. Then I got back on Wellbutrin and was able to move forward with my life.

Because, for me, that's what anti-depressants do: they give me the ability to do the things I want to do but don't have the energy or the concentration to do while I'm depressed.

Drakyn said...

Thank you Daisy for sharing.

"I seriously question her familiarity with clinical depression. Anger is far too powerful an emotion to aspire to when you're depressed!"

Ain't that the truth. Given that I also suppressed my emotions in middle school, I honestly thought that I couldn't feel any strong emotions by the time I entered high school.
I'm still working on learning to consistently notice and identify my emotions. You have no idea what I felt when I first realized I could actually love someone; that wasn't until my freshman year of college. I thank the Gods constantly that i relearned it before meeting my boyfriend and that I managed to notice and identify the emotion relatively soon into out relationship. (had I been able to notice and identify the emotion earlier, I think it would have been love at first sight on my part at least)
As it is, I live for him; he, not eating vegetarian or positive thinking, has been what has kept me surviving for a year.


Elaine, that guy said that anti-depressants are like cocaine (or was it crack?) and you said they were like crutches and lobotomies. You said that anti-depressants caused brain damage which caused the happy feelings.
Please don't try to rewrite history; it's in plain black and white.


The drugs I take? Tylenol, IbProfen, and Midol; tylonal when I get a headache (which is relatively rare) and midol or ibprofen for one week per month. I also drink alcohol every so often, never have I been really drunk and the few times I've reached 'drunk' at all it quickly went away (fast metabolism and I stopped drinking when I had too much).
I really, really, really, want to start testosterone injections and if that doesn't help my depression I want anti-depressants.
Because, you know, I don't want to kill myself or do nothing with my life (which are the two outcomes for my depression).
And I really don't trust bigpharma; unfortunately, for many of us it is a necessary evil. As someone who will be dependent on hormone therapy for the rest of my life I realize that. Unless they find a way to transplant testicles or to create a gland that produces hormones (and I can afford it, ha!) I will be sticking myself in the ass my whole life.

Drakyn said...

Oh yeah, I also take ginko every so often and I try to take st. johns wort regularly, but I always forget.

Deoridhe said...

Drakyn: be a bit careful with the St. John's Wort. I've heard tell that there can be complications if you take it regularly for too many months. I think it effects serotonin, and that's a tricky neurotransmitter to futz with.

Not that anyone will TEST these things because you can't patent them... -_-

Drakyn said...

I don't take it nearly regularly to worry about that. I tend to take it once a day for a few days then stop for a few; I'm very bad at remembering to take something daily.

Natalia said...

Thank you for this post, Daisy.

kactus said...

thanks for this post Daisy.

I'm almost a month into prozac--fluoxetine (?)--and not noticing any difference. Not a one. At least nothing positive yet. Everyone says it takes aobut 5 weeks or so.

I haven't been on antidepressants in years, so I don't know what to expect. I just want to feel better and not lie awake all night feeling like a failure. I just don't want to be scared all the time.

Deoridhe said...

Drakyn: Fair enough. I knee-jerked a little 'cause there's this mode of thought I've run into a lot which can be paraphrased as: "But foxglove is ALL NATURAL; what do you mean I should tell my heart doctor I take it every day". It makes me fret, likely unnecessarily, in unrelated places.

risa said...

Thank you, Daisy.

Drakyn said...

People take foxglove!?
My grandma loved the plant and had all sorts of varieties in her garden, so that was one of the first plants I learned not to eat/mess with. Even now, when I see it I think "pretty foxglove; don't eat".

Deoridhe said...

All kinds of things get taken with herbal remedies - some quite helpful. I remember reading/seeing somethign about a community doctor who worked with a population with a culture that included an herbal doctor, and how he needed to make sure to be in contact with the other doctor (doctor used in the sense of "gives advice on health" not "has an MD or Ph.D. btw) and the patients he had to make sure his treatments didn't conflict with/exacerbate the treatments they were already getting. Foxglove was the one he specifically mentioned. Digitalis is a standard treatment for heart problems in small doses, apparently, but the gods help you if you double the dose!

Nick Kiddle said...

It's hard to differentiate it when you're in the middle of it, but, to me, the difference is that if you remove yourself from the situation that's making you depressed (in my case, a job with a hellish, abusive boss, major dental problems, and a dying cat) and you're still depressed several months after those situations are resolved, that's something that can't be cured by Happy Thoughts.

I certainly understand that, but I have days of suspecting that my situation is the exact opposite: that I'm stuck in this sucking situation with no viable means of escape and although the pills might sometimes be taking the edge off the symptoms, they're not bringing me any closer to daylight.

It doesn't help that my GP has the attitude that all I need to do is keep swallowing the pills (been on them for over a year now) and I'll see an improvement Any Day Now. And sometimes I feel like the pills are supposed to fix my "broken" brain so I lower my standards and stop minding the fact that I will never have the career I want, which I'm still not convinced is the thing in need of fixing here.

Cara said...

Too many smart, productive, creative people experience depression that it seems like part of the normal range of human thought and behavior, thus not an illness

. . . I'm not a fan of twisting words around, so I will say what this really sounds a hell of a lot like, and Elaine can choose to respond or not with what she really meant. What I get from this is that if large numbers of intelligent and creative people have a mental illness, it's not a mental illness. Firstly, this makes no sense. Just because people who have a medical condition also happen to share creative and intellectual skills doesn't mean that the medical condition does not exist. And, by extension, people who have what you would deem to be actual medical illnesses are not lacking in intelligence and creativity. Neither are people who don't face the mental illness of depression. That's what this sounds like; people with mental illnesses cannot be intelligent, productive and creative, and therefore depression is not a mental illness. And that's pretty damn insulting to pretty much everyone.

Also, I don't buy the anti-depressants as placebo thing. Why? Because most people don't find relief with the first drug they try. It usually takes at least two or three. I remember reading a study recently, too, that many patients give up after three tries, but those who give it another attempt have hugely successful rates of that fourth drug being the right one. I can say from experience that, whether universal or not, the fourth time can indeed be the charm.

That's not how placebos work. In fact, I would imagine that if the placebo effect doesn't get you the first time around, it's probably less and less likely to occur with each subsequent drug as you lose hope that the drugs will work.

Octogalore said...

Daisy, way to tie all these threads together. I like what you say about "unaltered" and how hypocritical it is to elevate this as a clear preference. Notice any similarities to the lipstick/heels/boobjobs discussions that take place in bloglandia?

And I like your distinction among addictions, drug use imposed by others, and drugs that safely help us be better able to be ourselves

Ravenmn said...

Nick, I appreciate your comments on different kinds of anger. You're right, there's a form of anger that is not active and sucks big time.

Daisy, I can't do a link back, but I wrote a bit more about this at my blog and juxtaposed it with a blog battle on a completely different subject here.

As a damned busy activist who is also on depression medication, I'm not to pleased with Elaine's idea that medicating is a tool big pharma uses to distract us from the real issues.

Elaine Vigneault said...

Wow, there are a ton of people talking to me here instead of actually talking to me.

If you have a question or statement for me, make it on my blog or on your own blog. Don't use Daisy's space to vent your anger towards me.

Daisy: re. "use all herbs." Great. Glad it works for you. I know many people who find relief from Mary Jane and other herbs.

I think all drugs, herbs and whatnot should be legal and people should freely use whatever they want to use. I'm not anti-drug or anti-herb, whatever anyone tells you.

Drakyn said...

No Elaine, you just said that depression isn't real and that anti-depressants don't do anything beneficial, "I give a shit about dangerous drugs prescribed for phantom diseases. (Small is the new big, green is the new black, and depression is the new hysteria.) I hate anti-depressants for various reasons, including that a) THEY DON’T FUCKING WORK and b) they have unbearable side-effects."

shadocat said...

Girrrl, this was one of your best posts ever! I remember vividly my mother and what she called her "happy pills" (valium) that knocked her out every evening after dinner. Also remember her taking Darvon. And they say we're the overmedicated generation?

One difference between then and now, is that I believe health care professionals are doing a little better at listening to the problems of the patients and prescribing (or not) medication according to the patient's need...In my mom's day, I have distinct memories of her doctor just trying to shut her up as opposed to really trying to help her...

Ravenmn said...

shadocat, doctors are getting better at listening to patients. Also, patients are getting better at demanding decent health care from doctors.

That's one of the reasons why I value the discussion kactus started at feministe. People had a place to talk about their treatment, discuss what worked and what didn't, encourage each other to not accept side-effects when there are other choices.

Nick, please consider getting a new doctor. A year without any significant effect is way too long to wait.

Dear, Daisy, thank you so much for posting this

belledame222 said...

Life is never Either/Or, except when people make it that way. It doesn't have to be.

Wouldn't you think? Wouldn't you hope?...sigh.

anyway, great post.

belledame222 said...

and yeah, somehow, being "discovered" in, like, a Rite Aid, it just doesn't have the same ring...

belledame222 said...

I see you've bought into the Hemingway/Cobain propaganda: the only way to be a REAL artist is to be constantly depressed.

Myself, I'm more in the William Styron continuum: I cannot be productive while I'm depressed. It's an effort just to get out of bed, much less put pencil to paper. Once I get out of the trough, I can actually get things done ... until the next time the wave comes.

I am far, far more productive and creative on anti-depressants than I ever am off them. And I'm supposed to not take them because it will help you maintain your myth that Art Requires Suffering, even if not taking them means I can't create?

Sorry, no deal.


amen to that.

belledame222 said...

NK: yeah, also, you say, it's your GP who's been prescribing the pills? is there any way you can get hir to refer you to a specialist, or is this one of those insurance things?

belledame222 said...

Also worth a mention here is a reminder that when Karl Marx called religion "the opiate of the people", he meant that it was a blessed relief from a life of otherwise intolerable pain (why he also called it "the heart of a heartless world".

thank you.

Deoridhe said...

depression is the new hysteria

OMG, I either missed this before or blocked it.

Hysteria was REAL when it was happening. It can easily be argued that the changes in women's positions in Europe and the US (where the disease primarily manifested) and the beginning of awareness that women (and girls and men - some of the people with this disorder were quite young and others were not female) were sexually abused by family members began.

PLus, it still exists, we just call it psycho-somatic paralysis now instead of connecting it (inaccurately) with the womb.

Hysteria GOT the attention it did because it was observable and there was no known cure. The cure for it was part of what spurred Freudian psychology.

Don't insult the people who suffered form psychosomatic paralysis by implying their disease was a fucking FAD. While there are diseases that become the new black and may be overdiagnosed, some of that phenomena is people who have had problems for years FINALLY getting a name for what's wrong that comes with some possibly helpful treatment and then the media blowing it out of preportion.

Drakyn said...

You might have missed it because she said it on her blog; in the post titled "The New Hysteria".
And I didn't know that hysteria was actually psychosomatic paralysis, that's really interesting.

Deoridhe said...

Psychosomatic paralysis where there are inverefiable memories of sexual abuse. 8/ I mean, given what we know about memory now, Freud may have run into a couple who were legitimately abused then implanted it into more, but they had presenting symptoms to get to him, and all evidence points toward the 1800s and early 1900s being FUCKED in terms of sex (and psychoanalysis no different, mind; the calls come from within the house, too).

...and I've utterly derailed. Sorry, Daisy.

To bring this back around, one of the flaws within psychiatry is that the floor it stands on isn't completely sound all of the time because of the sexism, racism, homophobiaism, and ablism on the part of the people who built it. Plus our understanding of how cultures shape thinking and how thinking shapes being is really in its infancy.

In the mean time, we still want to help people, so there's a lot of trial and error, but sometimes it harms more than helps, and being anything other than white an respectably put together can lead to piss poor treatment.

Daisy said...

**Welcome** everyone still coming over from FEMINISTE; I am still overwhelmed!

Mr Nice Guy: My attitude towards mood-altering drugs has always been summed up by (my interpretation of) Manfred Mann's "Spirits in the Night": maybe they aren't the best answer in the world, but thank God they're there when you need them.

Actually, Bruce Springsteen wrote that song. ;) (I do like both versions, tbh.)

Deoridhe and Drakyn, no derail, as far as I am concerned. I love your comments and input; you know I love you both. :)

Elaine Vigneault said...

Alright, I'll address a few criticisms here for those who aren't willing to talk to me directly.

Hysteria: I wasn't denying the actual symptoms depressed people have; I was denying the label "depression" and "disorder/disease".

Hysteria was a label attached to varied symptoms and the causes were wrongly attributed to the uterus.

However, one treatment for hysteria was vulvular massage aka masturbation. In fact, the vibrator was basically developed as a treatment for hysteria. ( http://www.slate.com/id/2121835/ )

That treatment is FUCKING GREAT. But alas, it doesn't have anything to do with a real disease of the uterus.

Likewise, depression is the label for a set of symptoms and the causes have been wrongly attributed to a "chemical imbalance". This theory, though useful for marketing drugs, is seriously flawed and doubted by many scientists in the field of neurology. ( http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020392&ct=1&SESSID=821757f4b5bbfc6b428042957f1c690a )

And also likewise, antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs can be GREAT. Some people really love them, just like some people love chocolate or cocaine or running or other inducers of euphoric feelings/ increases of serotonin.

(It's worth noting that there's still a disease in the DSM 4 called "Histrionic personality disorder." It mimics many of the same symptoms earlier associated with hysteria.)

I'm not interested in taking away anyone's pills (or vibrators). I'm not interested in discounting anyone's real experiences. I'm not interested in taking away useful labels for sets of symptoms.

I AM interested in banning false, misleading marketing. I AM interested in promoting better research. I AM interested in providing opportunities for people who've been labeled "mentally ill" to make their own decisions regarding their treatments. I AM interested is stopping the forceful and coercive medication of children and other people deemed incapable of making their own decisions. I AM interested in uncovering the negative effects of pharmacological treatments on some people. I AM interested in attacking the social causes of depressive symptoms.

Deoridhe said...

Elaine: Alright, I'll address a few criticisms here for those who aren't willing to talk to me directly.

I really didn't feel like digging through the many posts you did to find that quote. Besides, you seem to do what you did in this post - say you're addressing critiques, address one, then say a bunch of stuff which contradicts what you said before. I find that REALLY dull, personally.

Hysteria: I wasn't denying the actual symptoms depressed people have; I was denying the label "depression" and "disorder/disease".

Yes, and that would be part of the problem people have with yout.

The disorder, depression, is not "being really sad". The disorder, depression, is flatness of affect which affects (hee hee, mutiple similar words are phun!) an individual's ability to function. When you treat the disorder, depression, as if it is "being really sad" or "being really angry but unable to say so" instead of honoring the experiences of people other than yourself with the disorder, depression, then you have missed the boat by, like, days.

But alas, it doesn't have anything to do with a real disease of the uterus.

Um, yeah. People kinda threw that theory out REALLY early except for the more non-scientific, sexist ones. Okay, there were lots of those, but it's not like everyone when "Uh huy huy, yeah, it's the UUUUUUUterus". Hel, Jung called Freud on that one when he wanted to treat men with "hysteria". History is phun.

Can you tell I've been doing my Jung reading? Jung is <3. Except for the whole sexist thing. We're working on that. Well, I'm more preocupied with the whole colonialist racist thing, personally, but I take on the sexist thing when it comes up.

Likewise, depression is the label for a set of symptoms and the causes have been wrongly attributed to a "chemical imbalance".

Ur, you appear to be out of the loop.

PSYCHIATRISTS have been pigeonholed into prescribing only drugs, and thus if you see one they will push their main product, yes. That would be why I'm going to be a psychologist / psychoanalyst, yes. Depression, however, is not treated solely with drugs, and often the trewatement is solely therapy. Mine was. Drugs weren't even considered.

I'm not sure where you got this idea that drugs are the only treatment offered for depression. Do you actually speak with psychologists?

And what do you think depression is, exactly? You do know the statement "depression is anger turned inward" is descriptive, not proscriptive, right? And that therapeutic theories should be taken descriptively not proscriptively, right?

In any case, we're fairly certain at this point that the brain is largely chemically and electronically based, so it's fairly easy to say just about anything is a chemical disorder, but I've only run into one person who wanted to go to the "give a pill to fix every problem". If you look into psychology, you'll see there's some fairly serious discussiona round all of this that is quite nuanced above and beyond what the media is capable of representing.

That an advertizing driven capitalistic system isn't good for anyone's help is far broader than psychiatry, of course.

I AM interested in banning false, misleading marketing. I AM interested in promoting better research. I AM interested in providing opportunities for people who've been labeled "mentally ill" to make their own decisions regarding their treatments. I AM interested is stopping the forceful and coercive medication of children and other people deemed incapable of making their own decisions. I AM interested in uncovering the negative effects of pharmacological treatments on some people. I AM interested in attacking the social causes of depressive symptoms.

Good on you.

So, were you actually planning on rethinking this whole "I hate anti-depressants for various reasons, including that a) THEY DON’T FUCKING WORK and b) they have unbearable side-effects." in light of your new acceptance of psychotropics as helpful to some people, or what?

Or addressing that you implied via presenting them in the same structure, in the same sentance that depression being diagnosed is on the same level as lots of people wearing green?

Drakyn said...

Keep up that doublethink Elaine; we all totally believe you.

"I hate anti-depressants for various reasons, including that a) THEY DON’T FUCKING WORK and b) they have unbearable side-effects."
"I am fervently against antidepressant use for the general population. I view discussions of of them where people say they’re so great and wonderful the same way I’d view pro-meth or pro-heroin discussions."
"My theory is that many people’s depression is anger turned inward. Anger is a powerful emotion that can be both destructive and constructive. Anger that is unjustly aimed inward becomes debilitating depression, but justified anger aimed outward towards things like injustice can be a powerful motivator. I think if more people embraced this view and used their anger as a motivator, we’ve have a revolution and possibly a better world."
"So, anyway, I just think we should be really, really careful about medicating the depressives, because they could be future revolutionaries and powerful dissidents who we need to lead the changes to our social world."
"Suffering is the human condition. I choose not to medicate."


Why don't you try explaining away these statements?
They show a profound lack of understanding of depression; perhaps even a bit of the special snowflake syndrome mixed with the martyr syndrome.

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