When I hear or see the word “Prozac,” I see Christina Ricci, photographed nude, lying on her stomach, looking hollow-socketed, sickly thin and disaffected on the cover of “Prozac Nation,” a movie I’ve never seen based on a book I’ve never read. I know the cover because I worked in a movie rental store for eleven years and feel like I’ve seen the cover for nearly every movie ever made up until 2008. Looking at it then, I felt the same as I do now, which is a mix of disgust and disinterest in a film about bored youth who are so catered to and live such soft, comfy lives that we can find nothing to get excited about, and medicate ourselves with the hope of feeling something, anything, apart from anxiety over procuring a good job, paying the bills without drowning in debt, and moving through the stiff structure of modern American life with something to show for it.
So why is there a prescription bottle of Fluoxetine, a generic form of Prozac, on my kitchen counter?
There it is, that ugly color of a rotted tangerine, with my name and address on it—so there’s no doubt it’s mine. I’ve scrawled, in black sharpie, “Prozac” on the label so as to erase all possibility of it getting mixed up with the Tramadol, an opioid pain-killer, the Meloxicam, a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug, and Baclofen, a muscle relaxer. I had to make doubly sure, because taking Prozac along with any of these medications could be potentially fatal. I was prescribed all of these at the same time because I suffered a severe nerve impingement in the right side of my neck, radiating intense pain down my right arm, back in May, around the same time my mood took a steep dive.
I’d been passed over for a life-changing promotion in my workplace and felt humiliated. It was the second time in a calendar year that I, as the internal candidate, was bolstered by the support and optimism of my co-workers, and believed I had secured a position change that would take my finances from struggle to security, my future from uncertain to solid. My son’s future too—that was the hardest part. Getting either of these promotions would have given me the stability to make the changes I felt necessary to bettering his life and therefore mine and my husband’s. When it didn’t happen, I felt crushed. Destroyed, betrayed, and most of all, embarrassed. I had stood, like a fool, in front of my colleagues, dressed up in a suit and nylons like a big girl, given a presentation with confidence, and begun to really believe in myself, only to be told that after eight years of experience and devotion to the place, I wasn’t good enough. Not once, but twice. The position didn’t “apply to my skill set.” I started to wonder, what is my skill set? Will it ever translate to a job that gives me security and stability? No, it won’t. I’m nice, and funny, and people like me, but I am no go-getter. I’m not a high-powered, ambitious, driven career woman. I’m a timid child trying to wear grown-up shoes, at the age of forty, I still wasn’t boss material, and I’d been playing the boss as an interim place-holder for seven months. I felt used.
I didn’t have a master’s degree. Why did I even try? As needlessly disparaging as all this sounds, it’s how I felt. I took almost a week off to work to cry and feel stupid. I could barely look people in eye.
At the same time, my right shoulder and arm were on fire.
I haven’t had a good relationship with my regular doctor. She always seemed annoyed with me, and had a habit of forgetting that I’d had a baby. One of the last times I was in her office, she pointed out a steep increase in my weight around 2013, expressing confusion. I had to remind her that I was eight months pregnant at the time.
Recently I’d seen a doctor on campus for a sinus infection, who’d looked into my eyes with genuine concern after I’d bled from the nostrils and vomited in her exam room (I had a sinus infection). I went back to her and told her I was in so much pain I couldn’t sleep at night, and that I’d been depressed for most of my life and had finally decided I should do something about it, at this point where I felt lower than I ever had before. What followed was a long foray into x-rays, medications, referrals, and finally physical therapy, which I am still doing to this day and which has helped to the point of me abandoning all my inflammation and pain meds. I haven’t taken a single prescription pill for around 3 weeks now.
And she also prescribed Prozac.
Which I couldn’t take while I was on everything else.
But like I said, I’ve been off everything else now for nearly a month. But there it sits.
Printed on a yellow flag that sticks out from the rest of the label:
Caution: call your doctor immediately if you have mental/mood changes like confusion, new/worsening feelings of sadness/fear, thoughts of suicide, or unusual behavior.
You know, because taking Prozac can apparently cause all the shit that you’d take Prozac in order NOT TO HAVE. Makes perfect sense. I’m not a chemist so I don’t understand why drugs manufactured to treat depression can cause worse depression. But I get that it happens, and it scares the shit out of me.
A few weeks ago I sat down with a troubled student worker of mine whose co-workers were nervous about her recent behavior. I knew she’d been on various meds for anxiety and depression, so I told her I could relate and that she needn’t worry about me judging her. She told me she was on Prozac, for one.
I told her I’d just been prescribed Prozac.
“Don’t take Prozac,” she said, looking with glazed eyes into a space just beyond my face.
I know meds affect everyone in different ways. I wouldn’t NOT take Prozac because one person I know thought it was the devil, any more than I would willingly take it without pause after learning that one of my very best friends had recently started taking it with tremendously positive effects. It’s not like I’m a weary old soul who’s been through the wringer of anti-depressants. This is my first rodeo; apart from a brief, ineffectual stint with Zoloft in the mid-nineties, I was new to the world of mood-meds and was only meaning to dip a toe in the water and see what happened. To some, the water is too cold, to others, too hot or made of treacle or acid or what have you. I was perfectly willing to toss it if it made me worse, and try something else. I wasn’t married to Prozac.
As of yet, we haven’t even gone on a date. We haven’t even met or talked about our favorite books and movies.
The green-and-yellow capsules sit quietly at the bottom of the bottle, each printed with the legend E-91. I open the bottle, smell them, recap it. That’s all I’ve done so far is smell it.
I’m not ready. I thought I was. Maybe I am. I don’t know. For right now, it remains untouched.
The hiring committee chose a very nice, down-to-earth young woman to run our department. I get along with her well; she enjoys my sense of humor and swapping funny family stories. She is doing good things for us and I’m proving myself worthy of giving her counsel. She and her boss are advocating a promotion of sorts for me—a higher tier of pay and responsibility among my peers that isn’t guaranteed but is possible, and, coupled with my excellent benefits and comfort in my current position is enough to make me stay until I’m sure the next move needs to be made. I often find myself being asked for an opinion on major changes and projects, and willingly give them with a bit of a smirk that says, “I’m so glad this isn’t my problem anymore. Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
We’re buckled down for the time being, just trying to enjoy the little things. Our house, our son, our meals together, the snuggling after bath-time, our ritual nightly viewing of Survivor and sometimes Twin Peaks or Ghost Adventures or Catfish or whatever. A couple cold beers or a glass of wine, a bowl of popcorn or a plate of nachos. I like my life and I’m happy. Yes, I am still depressed. I still, like I have since the age of about eleven, feel a black cloud occasionally settle over my head, oppressive and heavy and awful, and it rains on me for no fucking reason whatsoever, making everything feel damp and ugly and hopeless and futile and stupid, and crazy, but it eventually moves on. I still have anxiety over the stupidest things; grime on the floor, what I eat or drink or don’t eat and drink, the constant worry about whether my son is OK—will he choke on the grapes I just gave him, will he suddenly decline in his speech or motor functions, will he be lonely and sad on the school-bus, am I wasting time, growing old every minute, will my husband get into an accident on the way home from work, will my parents be in good enough health to see their grandson graduate high school, college, get married? Am I too old for this–this hair color, this outfit, this job, this lifestyle choice, these ideas? I don’t know.
If there’s one thing I wish I could magically change about myself, it would be the way I handle being pushed out of my comfort zone. For so long, I’ve championed the idea that being forcibly popped out of one’s bubble is what makes one strong, interesting, distinct and ultimately a happy person.
But I bitch about bottle-neck traffic. I’m annoyed when my lunch is delayed an hour. I get pissed when Target is out of gluten-free soy-sauce.
I’m working on this. On all of it. What I do know for sure is that the Prozac is there, if I need it, but as every un-medicated day passes by, I don’t think I do.
I won’t downplay the severity of my depression; some days I feel like I could cry all day long. I feel like the things I want and need will never be mine and that I’m a fool for even courting hope.
But as I get older, even as my hair goes gray and my body gets more doughy and sleepy by the day, I think these days are getting fewer and farther in between. My son has a lot to do with that. Not only do I know I have to stay calm and connected for his sake, but I get such joy from the little things he does and says, and just from his existence and watching him grow and the love he brings to my life in general. Often, my husband and I revel in how we went from a couple to a family, and how fulfilling that is. And it’ll only continue.
I’m so lucky. I have a good relationship with a man who’s my best friend. A house and a car and a job and a baby boy. And we’re only just getting started.
I’ll let the Prozac sit there a little longer…maybe forever. We’ll see. I know there’s no shame in taking it. But for now, its presence, still capped and untouched, serves as a reminder that I’m doing it—going it alone and it’s going OK. That doesn’t mean I think that works for everyone. If you take meds for anxiety or depression, I hear you. I get you. Believe me…because I do too…just, not yet. Some day, I might. And that’s OK too.
For now, the only orange bottle I want to open is this one.