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Prozac Diary

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Break your own rules, suffer the consequences.

One of my rules has always been: Don't take drugs you don't have to take. But Prozac gets such great press. Read the feature stories. It's a virtual panacea. It wipes out depression. It cures PMS. It clears up obsessive behavior. Most of all it gives people a sunny outlook on life. We all want to be happy.

I was mildly depressed. I was majorly stressed. I got mad a lot: yelled at the kids, did flame wars on-line, pissed off an important (and vindictive) editor, with bad results. Why not try a quick fix? Why not try Prozac?

I talked to the doctor. Doctor said, "How about counseling?" I talked about seeing a shrink when I was depressed in college who said that when I accepted my womanly role, found a hubby, and settled down to be a housewife I wouldn't be depressed. I decided he was nuttier than I was.

So the doctor said OK. Wrote out a prescription. "Give it a try. Give it 30 days to take full effect. Come back in six weeks."

Why not?

My husband said, "Why? You're fine the way you are." Why? I want to be better.

Day 0: Go to the pharmacy. This stuff is expensive--60 bucks for a 30-day supply. What price happiness? I've gone this far. Go the rest of the way.

Day 1: Label says to take in the morning, same time every day. At 7:15 AM I gulp one down, swig a big glass of water. That afternoon I suffer from gas, big time. Gas and happiness are definitely not compatible.

That night I want a glass of wine. I want it desperately, physically, viscerally. Alcohol is out when you do Prozac, so I tell myself no. But I'm not a heavy drinker. I can't remember a time when I ever wanted a drink that badly. This is not starting out well. I'm sleepy early. I go to bed at ten.

Day 2: Gas gone. Appetite depressed. That's OK. I could stand to lose five pounds. The longing for wine--beer, brandy, bourbon, Sterno--passes.

Day 5: My biggest kid is a brat today, refusing to do homework, room cleaning, anything. I start to yell. Catch the kid's eye and start to giggle. The kid laughs too. I still send the kid upstairs, but the rage is stillborn. The Prozac must be working!

Day 8: No appetite, but I'm not losing weight. Maybe it takes time. Some on-line moron flames me. Instead of flaming back I ignore him. The Prozac? Probably. I'm tired. I go to bed at nine but have trouble sleeping.

Day 15: I sleep in. My period catches me by surprise. I didn't get bitchy the day before as I usually do. Another plus for Prozac!

Day 16: I notice I'm making a lot of typing mistakes. I catch myself using the wrong words. I probably need more sleep. I go to bed at 8:30, but wake up frequently during the night.

Day 19: I wake up feeling hung over. Which is ridiculous, because I haven't had a drink in more than two weeks. In the afternoon it evolves into a crushing headache. I take aspirin and go to bed.

Day 20: Still headachy: those drums, those damned drums. Call the doctor. "Could it be the Prozac?" "I strongly doubt it," says the doctor. Ibuprofen doesn't work. Doctor prescribes Tylenol. I take a nap.

Days 21-31: The headache ebbs and flows but never goes away. Tylenol doesn't work either. My face is tender. Call the doctor. Doctor says: "It could be a really severe sinus infection." Doctor prescribes monster antibiotics. Now I have a metallic taste in my mouth to go with the headache. I go to bed at eight. I have trouble getting up in the morning. By early afternoon I'm wiped out. I don't sleep well. I don't have enough energy to do the laundry. I barely have enough energy to take a shower.

Day 32: The headache roils inside my head. The back of my head throbs. So does my right eye. I'm exhausted. I go to bed at seven but can't sleep. When I do sleep I have nightmares. Colorful nightmares. Explicit nightmares: I have a brain tumor. I die on the operating table. My children weep. Maudlin stuff. I wake up, and I weep too, silently, uncontrollably from the pain, for the rest of the night.

Day 33: Back to the doctor. Doctor isn't happy with parts of my neurological exam. Doctor gets grim when I talk about coming up with the wrong words when speaking, making too many typos. "Let's take you off the Prozac. If there's no improvement in two weeks we'll have to send you for a brain scan."

I go home and flush the Prozac. Expensive sewage.

Still exhausted and in pain. I let my husband put the kids to bed and turn in at 6:45. I still have trouble sleeping. Again I have strange technicolor dreams when I do sleep. They are complex. They follow a plot line. They have nothing to do with my life, except that my kids are mentioned. It is like being stuck in a bad TV melodrama. At least I don't die this time.

Day 34: I wake up late. No pills to take. I decided I don't need the antibiotics either. My head still throbs. In the afternoon I'm dizzy and yawning and queasy and uneasy. I have trouble concentrating. Withdrawal? Is anything happening to me now that isn't linked to Prozac? "My life as a drug user."

Day 35: The jungle drums in my skull are receding, but still there. My husband offers me a beer. It tastes revolting. The costs of Prozac continue to mount.

The moral of the story (pick one): There's no such thing as a free lunch. We make our own happiness. Forget about better living through chemistry. Don't believe everything you read, especially in feature stories.

I still have the headache, dammit.

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