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One Month on the Happy Pills (Depression)

In early April, I went to talk to the doctor about depression, and walked out with a prescription for Zoloft.

It’s been an interesting month. One of the things that surprised me was how many people talked to me about their own experiences with depression, both on my blog post and in person. When I went to Penguicon, the depression post came up in conversation almost as frequently as my cover poses. Depression is far more common than I realized … which reinforced that I had made the right decision to blog about it.

Almost immediately after I left the doctor’s office last month, I started feeling a little better. Since it takes time for the meds to build up in your system, I ascribed that initial improvement to the fact that I was doing something about the problem instead of feeling stuck and hopeless.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from the pills. I wasn’t convinced the meds would help — I wasn’t even entirely convinced that I was really depressed as opposed to just feeling stressed out — and even if it was, I wasn’t sure the dosage I was on would be enough. But damn if I haven’t noticed an improvement. I’ve been able to take things in stride that would have been far more upsetting a month ago, from the suicidal raccoon that busted up my headlight to schedule snafus with my wife and kids to the Great Flea Invasion at home to assorted work stuff.

It’s not all happiness and rainbow-farting unicorns yet. The other day, something knocked me back into that ugly/hopeless/fugitall morass, and it took about two days to pull myself out. But overall, I’m doing better.

I feel more like me.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. Back in 1998 when my pancreas took early retirement, the diabetes seriously messed me up before I got diagnosed and brought my blood sugar under control. I was, to put it bluntly, a cranky, miserable asshole. And it had snuck up on me over weeks or months, so slowly I hadn’t even noticed. When I finally got on insulin, I was amazed at how much better I felt, how much I had missed me, if that makes sense.

It happened when I lived in Nevada, too. Elko did not agree with me, and looking back, I was seriously depressed by the end of it, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. I quit my job and moved back to where I had friends and family, and just like in ’98, I found me again.

I missed me. And I’m a little disturbed that I seem to make a habit of losing myself…

I’ve kept an almost paranoid eye out for side effects. I noticed a little bit of dry mouth early on, but that might have been psychosomatic. I’ve heard people talk about antidepressants making them mentally fuzzy, which was probably my biggest fear. I don’t think that’s happened, but I’m not completely sure. I’m struggling with the sequel to Libriomancer, but I was struggling before I started the meds too. I think it’s just a pain-in-the-ass first draft, not a consequence of extra mental sluggishness on my part.

The current plan is to stay on the Zoloft for six months to a year, then reevaluate where I’m at. I’ve also got a list of possible referrals for counseling that I’m planning to follow up on. (I’ve been procrastinating, partly due to lack of time, and partly due to the lingering shame of needing help.)

I really dislike the idea of being dependent on pharmaceuticals for my happiness and mental/emotional well-being. Insulin for a messed-up pancreas? No problem. Medication for a messed-up brain? That’s harder to accept. But I’m even more scared about the idea of going off the pills and sliding back into the space I was in earlier this year. I’m hoping the counseling will help with this and give me some longer-term solutions.

For the moment though, things are pretty good. I’ve been able to enjoy more of my life than I was before. The good parts actually feel good, and the bad parts, while still present — damn fleas! — aren’t as overwhelming.

Score one for the happy pills.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 71 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 16th, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC)
I really dislike the idea of being dependent on pharmaceuticals for my happiness and mental/emotional well-being. Insulin for a messed-up pancreas? No problem. Medication for a messed-up brain? That’s harder to accept.

Yes. So many people have this hang-up, both about themselves and in judgment of other people. I'm glad that you can stare straight at it and see it is another bias to overcome rather than a final end of the universe.

Good luck with the fleas! I totally know where you are with that issue. ARGH.
May. 16th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks, and yeah... We just found the fleas this weekend, and spent most of it bathing and treating the pets, then vacuuming ALL THE THINGS!
(no subject) - joycemocha - May. 16th, 2012 02:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 16th, 2012 01:42 pm (UTC)
First, Jim, congratulations on making a choice to take care of yourself in this way. I completely sympathize with the concern about losing yourself to the medication. I was terribly fearful of starting anti-depressants when I did, consumed with a sort of Twilight-Zone-borne fear of taking a pill and becoming someone else. But, like you, I discovered that taking the medication allowed me to be more myself, and allowed me to tackle things I'd just let sit for months, sometimes years. I'm so glad it's working for you.

My anti-depressant of choice was Zoloft, too. The only real side effect that I had to deal with was weight gain--not a lot, but enough for me to notice. It doesn't happen to everyone, but keep an eye on the scale, just in case. (I'm sure that with diabetes you do anyway, but don't be surprised if you see a change. It's a thing.)

I figure the weight gain was a small price to pay. After all, one can lose weight. My brief flirtation with Wellbutrin made me begin to lose my hair! It's a side effect that affects maybe 3% of those who take it. You can bet I quit that as fast as possible!
May. 16th, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to hear the Zoloft worked for you, too. And yeah, it's not so much about turning you into a zombie as helping you to regain some of the balance and equilibrium that the depression stole from you. At least, that's how I'm looking at it.

Somehow the hair-loss thing doesn't hold much fear for me anymore :-)

And heck, my wife tells me I could stand to gain a few pounds anyway...
May. 16th, 2012 01:48 pm (UTC)
First: glad to hear you're feeling better, it's very good news :)

Second: A body that needs chemicals to work properly is a body that needs chemicals to work properly, man. Period.

The brain/mental health stigma is socially manufactured bullshit. Take no nonsense from anyone, especially yourself (and I am adept at giving myself rations of unnecessary crap on a regular basis, so all sympathy).

< context for rant > I have a kid with a Thoroughly Not Right chromosome. It's resulted in a lot of symptoms to treat, including ADHD, ODD, OCD (and as a result I speak SpEd, too). The number of people who think I'm a bad person for actually giving my kid the chemicals she needs to function is extraordinary--and I tell them, for judging her, for judging me, for being an obtrusive ass I, in return, judge you... and find you wanting. < /context for rant >

I wouldn't refuse to treat diabetes, a broken limb, asthma... and I absolutely will not exclude brainstuff from that list. Never, ever.

So neither should you. Take care of you, it's the only you that you (and your family) have.

(I'm being irritatingly mothering, sorry... but really -- be nice to you, you deserve that.)
May. 16th, 2012 02:11 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, the whole "I'm going to judge you as a parent because I saw this article on the internet the other day and now I'm an expert" thing. Yeah.

I have no problem recognizing that depression is a legitimate disease and should be treated as such, not as a personal failing. At least, I have no problem recognizing that for everyone else. For me, I'm still working on it. Stupid brain and it's ridiculous double-standards :-P
May. 16th, 2012 01:57 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to hear that Zoloft is working for you, and that there don't seem to be side-effects. I've been on it for about a year, and the only side-effect I've really noticed is that I jitter a lot.

I hear you on the feeling like you again thing, too! That's been exactly my experience. After it kicked in, and I was diving back into hobbies and going out with friends again, I stopped one day as I realised the difference and was like "oh, there you are. I'd almost forgotten what you were like."

I hope this continues for you! Don't get too concerned if it starts not being as effective, it probably just means that you need to get your doctor to increase the dosage. And while I know society is messed up in how it views mental illness, keep reminding yourself that it's just exactly that - an illness, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking medication to treat it, just as you would with pretty much any other illness.

I also hope your counsellor is good and helps you work out strategies and mechanisms to put in place to deal with everything. That's just as important as the right medication.
May. 16th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
The doctor and I talked a bit about the possibility that we'd eventually have to up the dosage, and I'm keeping an eye on it. He suggested that the spring/summer weather might be helping too (more sun!), and that the Michigan fall/winter could also make things worse and require a higher dosage.

And thanks!
(no subject) - silvergryphyn - May. 16th, 2012 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2012 02:00 pm (UTC)
I used to wake up with night sweats the first time I got on Zoloft, and those recurred on other occasions of going back on it after being off of it. On each occasion they went away after a while.
May. 16th, 2012 02:14 pm (UTC)
Thankfully, I haven't had that particular side effect yet. Night sweats can also be an effect of low blood sugar, and it would be most annoying if my various diseases started mimicking each other...
(Deleted comment)
May. 16th, 2012 02:17 pm (UTC)
This is a conversation you need to have with your doctor.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - saya22 - May. 16th, 2012 02:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - May. 16th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2012 02:15 pm (UTC)
I really dislike the idea of being dependent on pharmaceuticals for my happiness and mental/emotional well-being. Insulin for a messed-up pancreas? No problem. Medication for a messed-up brain? That’s harder to accept.

It's good that you're facing this bias head on. Reality is, depression is as much of a physical situation as your diabetes. Long-term prospects will require some cognitive behavioral techniques as well as meds (yes, I'm a strong believer in the combination of meds and strategies for issues involving brain chemistry, such as depression and ADHD) and the meds help put you in that mental space where you can effectively work with the techniques. They're a tool, nothing more.
May. 16th, 2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
Yep. The doctor and I had that conversation too. And it's annoying, because I know and recognize and believe this ... for anyone else. But with me, there's still that nagging double-standard that makes me think I should be able to just will my way through it. (Which is incredibly arrogant of me, if you think about it ... sigh.)
(no subject) - joycemocha - May. 16th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2012 02:15 pm (UTC)
The concept of medication to assist with depression can be frightening, but not getting help is worse.
May. 16th, 2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
Comparing where I'm at today vs. a month ago? No question.
(no subject) - mtlawson - May. 16th, 2012 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - May. 16th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2012 02:19 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you did it, and I'm glad they're working for you! I take herbal antidepressants (long story there) and they work for the most part except on my motivation and energy levels. Without them, I'm a mess. they work faster, but oh boy if I miss a dose, I feel it faster.

Zoloft is one of the better ones that you've got there. I had the usual gamut of side effects on it, or I'd still be using it.
(Deleted comment)
May. 16th, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
Huh ... I haven't noticed the sleepiness, but I've been taking the pills at dinnertime. Now that I think about it, I have been sleeping a little better. It hadn't been a major problem, but yeah.

Right now, the thing that frightens me most is the idea of backsliding. But I'm hoping that, having finally identified what's going on, I'll be in a better position to do something sooner if that happens in the future.
(Deleted comment)
May. 16th, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
Oddly enough, it was my mom using diabetes and insulin as a metaphor that finally got me to stop feeling ashamed of taking medication for anxiety disorder. (I also hear you on double standards. Heh.)

These days, as I am Somewhat Worldly, I think of it slightly differently: it's like being at a party. I know who I am; I know that I want to chill with friends and dance and maybe drink a little; and some asshat in my serotonin receptors has spiked the punch. Feeling those effects doesn't mean anything about me as a person, but it does mean that I should get some air and have some water, which translates to medication and therapy in this instance.

Basically: this is not me, this is something that's being done *to* me, and various forms of assistance are my way to fight back.
May. 16th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
Jim, I'm so glad to hear you're feeling better. Depression sucks. Kick its ass.
May. 16th, 2012 02:44 pm (UTC)
Glad it's working well for you. Unlike most posters, I'm on Lexapro as I had a bit of generalized anxiety as well, and it's supposed to work for both things.

I'm not sure how Zoloft works or how long you're supposed to stay on the meds, but I wasn't allowed to decrease a dose until I'd been on them for 2 years (might be a Canadian thing). I'm not sure about the reasoning, nor have I read it anywhere (it was what my doc told me, and some friends who have taken anti-depressants have confirmed) , though it makes me wonder if knowledge of this makes people more hesitant to see a doctor and get a prescription if they need one.
May. 16th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
I was told six months would be the earliest he'd want to look at weaning me off the meds. I know some of the concern is that it has to be done gradually. The brain adjusts to the new equilibrium with the medicine, and cutting that off too abruptly could cause problems. Beyond that, I don't really know...
May. 16th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
Glad to hear you're feeling better. Keep track of your head and it will keep track of you.

Re fleas: The last (only) time I had to deal with that was back before the modern meds that allow you to treat your pet internally (basically, making their blood poison to the bugs). But I tell you, the only way to solve that is to go to freaking WAR with the critters. Here's what I did:

1. Doused the cats in dip every four weeks, like clockwork, for six months, using heavy-duty dip from the vet, not the pet store.
2. Doused every soft surface in the house--including the carpets--with poison I got from the vet, not the pet store. Again, every four weeks for six months.

Probably there are better poisons now that also target eggs and larvae. Back in the day I had to follow the above strategy because breaking the life cycle was near impossible.

This is why no animal comes into my home now without getting thoroughly de-flea'ed first, including humans. If I visit someone's home who has fleas, my luggage goes into the laundry at a laundromat before I go home.

No cat of mine will ever be an outside cat (I take Random out to look around, but his paws never touch the ground). With dogs it's harder because they have to go outside, but I expect regular anti-flea treatments could help there.

Fleas suck. I hate 'em and I never want to have to deal with them again, ever.

Edited at 2012-05-16 03:01 pm (UTC)
May. 16th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC)
We've got some pretty good flea stuff we've used on all the animals. (Except the guinea pigs. I'm really hoping they've escaped uninfested...) My mother works for a vet, so she was able to hook us up with some good treatments to use for the next few months.

My guess is either the dogs picked something up from the back yard (probably) or else the new kitten brought them along (less likely, given the timing, but also possible).

As I understand it, the eggs are still hard to kill, which is why you have to keep treating for a while to make sure the next generation dies too.
May. 16th, 2012 03:11 pm (UTC)

Your fault. Sorry, but it is.

This wasn't the post I planned to write today, but the hallmark of a good blog entry is that it sends ripples out into the universe.


Wishing you luck as you continue your journey.

May. 16th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
I just finished reading that, actually. And I will happily accept some blame for such a courageous post.
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - May. 16th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matociquala - May. 16th, 2012 04:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - May. 16th, 2012 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matociquala - May. 16th, 2012 04:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - May. 16th, 2012 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2012 03:36 pm (UTC)
Depression is unbelievably widespread, we just don't talk about it. My father had it bad... and refused to get any help for it, largely due to the resistance to meds you just described. I'm grateful to you for having the courage to push through that, AND for being an example to others struggling with the same thing.

And I'm also delighted it's starting to lift, and you're feeling more yourself now. That's HUGE.

Edited at 2012-05-16 03:43 pm (UTC)
May. 16th, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
Just want to add my voice to those supporting your openness about the depression. Doing something positive about it definitely adds to the feeling that things can be better. Judging yourself about needing help is to be expected. On that front, may I recommend (if you haven't already) looking into CBT or DBT? I did DBT for 6 months and learned a whole boat-load of skills for dealing with the thoughts and emotions that go hand-in-hand with depression/anxiety. One of the skills helps you deal with, of all things, judgement--of others and of yourself. It's different from lying on a couch, talking about your childhood, although it may start that way. But it felt great to do it because, like going to the doc and asking for help and meds, it feels more like *doing* than just waiting for the universe to straighten out.

Good luck, and thanks for sharing this with us!
May. 16th, 2012 04:19 pm (UTC)
FWIW, I manage my bipolar with cognitive tactics, diet, and exercise. Because the drugs for bipolar really fucking suck.

But that requires a hell of a learning curve, and it took me about thirty years to nail it. On the other hand, if I had started it with more developed learning skills, it might not have taken as long.

Also, *loff*
May. 16th, 2012 04:23 pm (UTC)
My diet and exercise are decent, all things considered, but I'm hoping counseling will help with some of those cognitive tactics...
(no subject) - matociquala - May. 16th, 2012 04:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - matociquala - May. 16th, 2012 04:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - matociquala - May. 17th, 2012 03:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 16th, 2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
Glad you're feeling better. Good luck with the fleas.
May. 16th, 2012 04:47 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to hear the meds are helping you.

My SO is switching from Zoloft to Prozac (OT: Wow... Firefox doesn't recognize "meds" as a word, but it does know Zoloft and Prozac... anyway...) and she's noticed a change for the better. Finding the right med can be tough. I've been through a half dozen with nothing helping, a few making things far worse, and one giving me a really bizarre behavioral side effect.

Hope things continue to improve!
May. 16th, 2012 05:32 pm (UTC)
I've had severe depression since at least 1980. I've been medicated off and on for it over the years — when I need it, I *need* it. (There's a trick there — often when I do need it, I don't realize it, so I depend on those around me to see the warning signs.) I used to tell people who were resisting meds “A diabetic needs insulin — this is no different.” Of course, now I'm a diabetic too ;) But it's no different, really. Your body chemistry is f'ed up, and it needs fixing.

BTW, the bit where you felt better just because you DID something? It's chemically valid — it probably gave your serotonin levels a boost!
May. 16th, 2012 05:35 pm (UTC)
I'll just note that taking two days to pull yourself out of a funk is way different, and way better, than not being able to pull yourself out of the funk at all, or not being able to do it without a lot more direct psychiatric intervention than anyone wants. (I've had the same experience with medicated v. unmedicated funks.)

So good for you, and I hope the improvement continues.
May. 16th, 2012 06:28 pm (UTC)
This is a very good point.
May. 16th, 2012 06:37 pm (UTC)
The brain is an organ just like the pancreas is an organ. If an organ needs help, and help is available, there's no shame in availing yourself of it. (The shame would be in failing to give your body what it needs because of perceived societal judgement.)

You're doing great, Jim -- good for you! :-)
May. 16th, 2012 08:30 pm (UTC)
Glad it's working for you, Jim, and I'll add my voice to those thanking you for being open about this.

If someone hasn't already mentioned it, you might look into full-spectrum lights to help during fall and winter. It helps me.

I have suffered from depression for a long time, and started on Prozac years ago, to good effect initially. Over time, due to side effects, I transitioned to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbal remedies in consultation with an acupuncturist, which I've used for years now to good effect. The formula changes as I change.

Here's how the journey felt to me:

Untreated depression: the slightest setback would put me on the elevator to Hell and cut the cable.

Depression with SSRI: Prozac installed a trampoline at the 25th floor. Setbacks still put me into freefall, but I bounced well before hitting bottom.

Depression with TCM: Setback comes, the elevator door opens, and I can more often refuse to step in.

I've also found that controlling my diet is critical for me (look up neuro-enterology for some interesting insights): FODMAPS turned out to be what worked (in progress). I also regularly undergo a particular form of physical therapy (Integrative Manual Therapy), and the spiritual/therapeutic use of entheogens about once a year under the supervision of a therapist.

It's a lifelong journey. Sounds like you've reached a good milestone on yours.
May. 16th, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
First time commenter, but a subject that's especially close to home. Good on you for taking the plunge.

I was on Prozac for a year in the early '00s, and I remember hitting the one-month mark really clearly. It was a Friday, and I had the radio on low in my cubicle at work during the afternoon, and found myself cheerfully singing along. I mentioned this to a friend when we spoke on the weekend and she was like, 'Yeah, that's normal - most people enjoy the end of the work week'. It was a bit of a jolt to realise she was right!

I haven't been on meds again since, but I've sent myself back to therapy a couple of times when I've gotten wobbly, as I tend to think of it. I found that after re-setting my brain from the initial deep depression with the meds, taking the 'doses' of therapy when I recognise the start of a proper wobble has been enough to deal with things thus far.

About the dry mouth - that was the one side effect I had, and it did improve after I stopped the meds but still ended up being permanent, which has had some knock-on effects for dental care (since saliva has protective properties). From the reaction of my dentist at the time, this seems to be pretty common. Just something to be aware of. :-)
May. 17th, 2012 11:53 am (UTC)
Thanks - one of the things that's been helpful has been the number of people sharing their own stories in response. It's nice to get the reminder that I'm not alone, you know?

I'm hoping that in the future, I'll be in a better space to recognize and intervene (through therapy, meds, or both as needed) before those wobbly times get as bad as they have in the past.
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