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Let's Hear it for the Drugs! Wednesday May 7, 2014

No – I don't mean Cannabis or Ecstasy or Cocaine – we depressives should probably steer clear of those even more than most people; I'm talking about the good old fashioned Prozac, or Fluoxetine.

Like many people, for many years I was determined never to take any "happy pills": I didn't want to walk through life in a smiling daze or become a zombie. Of course, I conveniently chose to ignore the fact that the depression changes me into something resembling a miserable zombie in a daze anyway!

A couple of things changed my mind. The first was that motherhood meant I had more responsibilities: I couldn't just retreat back to bed for days at a time when I was ill because someone had to feed and look after the children while my husband was at work. The second was a conversation I had with my sister, who at the time was an industrial pharmacist working on drugs used to treat schizophrenia (she's now an organic farmer and much happier, by the way).

She told me not to be concerned, and that the fluoxetine would not make me falsely happy or mean that I shuffled through life in a trance. She explained that this drug works in harmony with your own natural serotonin. It gets it up in the morning, keeps it going during the day and doesn't let it go to sleep until a reasonable time. Basically, yes, it does increase your levels of serotonin – the "happy" chemical in your brain.

Anyone who's read any recent science blogs will know that her explanation is now considered to be naive at best or misleading at worst, but at the time we had the conversation that was what the pharmaceutical companies and doctors believed. Apparently they now say they don't know how it works, or indeed, why it takes ten days or so for the patient to feel the effects when the serotonin levels are increased within hours of first taking the pills. That's medical science for you.

So it's a mystery. But it is still a moderately effective mystery. Fluoxetine works for me, up to a point. I am still weak, shaky, easily tired and have to manage life very carefully. The Moodscope score is still hovering around the high teens instead of the mid-seventies, but there is some sunshine in the darkness, even if it is a wintery sunshine at best. The gloom has lightened.

Fluoxetine allows me to feel hope and to know that this depression will not last forever. I wish there was something better and I would take it as readily as antibiotics for an infection. Until there is I'll keep swallowing these "happy pills", not because they make me happy but because they make things just a little more bearable.

A Moodscope member.

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Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 7:31am

Thank you.
I recently 'gave up' the fight against taking anything. And so far so good.
At least I do get up and go to work now.
And plan to go out with friends
Life is getting better

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 8:14am

Good post Mary. Scientists never know for sure all the effects of medication. We are far too complex beings for that. I think even if the drugs are having a placebo effect, then great. Some people with other complaints take a handful of mess sometimes twice a day so we should keep on keeping on taking them. It sounds like your doing really well. Willing yourself out of bed and getting through the day when it's the last thing you want to do has a feel good feeling stronger than any drug can induce. Sounds like your doing really well Mary. Have a good day. Damian

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 8:31am

It's such a personal thing and I'm of the 'whatever gets you through' line of thought. I fight a battle with myself over happy pills. I have taken them a few times (when i felt i had no other option) and, for me, it wasn't a great experience. I do, however, leave that door open. Wide. My jury is out on this one and so I fear this may be pleasant but pointless natter from me today! :-D AAaargh, my fears come true!! Happy day everyone, power to your pills, biscuits, trash tv, walks or whatever gets you through your day. Love from the room above the garage.

G Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 8:32am

I believe this is what most of us went through: refuse to take medication and then the situation was getting so worse and we have no choice but to take it.

When I first got on the pills it was really sedative, so I abruptly stopped taking it after feeling 'normal' in 6 months time---only to fall back into a deeper depression hole. I have been taking the medication obediently and my serotonin level is stabilised now psychiatrist reduced my medication from daily to few times a week. I know I still have to be on medication for a longer period of time because of the continuous stress that I am facing. But I know I will eventually get better.

Angela Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 9:41am

I too fought hard for years to find a way to help myself sort out the depression and anxiety I'd suffered for years. I'd tried all kinds of therapies and self-help books and life changing programmes and alternative help. Despite friends nagging me to go to the doctor, it took a horrible few months of dark places for me to admit I needed help. Since November last year I spent 10 weeks on citalopram, which had me spaced out all the time, 8 weeks on sertraline, which had me constantly on edge and unable to settle, and I'm now back to citalopram which suits me better this time round, though I'm still spaced out for a while my focus is better. A member of the mental health team suggested the various side effects with the first round of citalopram weren't the meds' fault, but my mind having a break and beginning to heal ... Now, my mood is much better. I can see what I've been missing for most of my life. I have hope and optimism for myself now that things are going to get better.

Thank goodness the doctor explained to me that I needed a break from the symptoms and persuaded me in the nicest way to try ssri's.

I'm strong enough now that I'm able to look at returning to work in July. I'm looking forward to a mindfulness course with the mental health team sometime soon.

I know that anti-depressants aren't for everyone, but for me they really have been a good choice, though it's taken me the best part of a lifetime to get there.

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 9:59am

Welcome back, Mary, you superstar!

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 10:22am

HI Mary

very interesting read i too have struggled for years with depression and tried various tablets to help me but had to stop taking them due to side effects

in the last couple of years i have been trying self help as in meditation mindfullness and emotional freedom technique (or tapping) and have found a combination of all free very helpful i also saw a wellbeing coach afew times who helped with writing lists and keeping journals i have a postivie one i can write in any time i want through out the day and a negative one that i can only dwell on for 30 mins aday
with also the aid of finding Louise Hay and hay house radio you can download an app to your phone or play it through the computer it is free

oh i also have a gratitude list that i read or add to each day

anyway over the last 8 months or so i have found my dark deep moods not staying with me for as long and because i have learnt to observe my mood for the most part i am learning to refer to my positive list listen to one of the inspiring presenters on hay house radio

i am not even looking at the negative journal very often either and even though i still have down periods they dont last for as long as they used to

i really hope you find a way to help yourself to find inner peace without resorting to pill popping as at the end of the day its only you that can find that inner peace learning to love and accept you as you are and changing your mindset will help it doesnt work over night but i am testement to the fact that through self help and self love is the way to go to really find inner peace

i hope i havent said anything that has upset anyone as that isnt my intention

sending gentle hugs to all that suffer with mental health problems

cassy xxx

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 10:31am

Totally agree Mary-even if my little piece of fluoxetine were only a placebo just the thought of it makes me know I'm going to be ok!!!

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 10:39am

all good stuff .... but I offer my own experience ... I have been on and off anti-depressants for many years, had CBT done meditation ... all very good but nothing seemed to last ... now, 3 months ago, I have been diagnosed with underactive thyroid and am on levothyroxine .... I am at last understanding what I have felt for over 30 years ... I am convinced that the thyroid imbalance is 90% the cause for my emotional 'problems' and I urge anyone to look up the website 'thyroidmind' ... link from the NHS website .... and get tested .... good luck xx

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 11:21am

I've long felt my thyroid is questionable. My doctor tested and said it was fine but I still feel its involved. I have tiredness even though I sleep 7-8 hours regularly, I have dry skin, cold all the time. Interesting reading thanks.

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 12:18pm

The downsides can be somewhat alarming though as they are still not sure exactly how those drugs work, just that they do. Raising serotonin levels does not always get the hoped for result. I was talked into taking them and spent 4 days a shaking wreck and feeling my world had ended. The doctor took me off them immediately. I have taken others with various results but all worse than before I was taking them, so obviousy for me they are not the 'at least feel better' pill I hoped they would be. It is very frustrating watching people who had previously felt awful and not able to go out to being quite another person when they take a medication and them not working that way at all for me. I too have used mindfullness, autogenics with more effect and Barry Joe, Panic Away with even more success. I find hypnotherapy CD's quite useful and feel they give a good grounding for change. Al Anon is probably the most effective and free thing I have ever used and the changes can be very dynamic.

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 1:06pm

Really interested in the thyroid discussion. I've suffered with anxiety and depression for many years and been on SSRI's all that time but I still feel really ill most days. It feels like there's something else at work that I've not discovered. I'd like to look into other causes that would give me the depressive symptoms. Will the GP take me seriously if I ask to be tested? Is it a simple blood test? I feel like they are often very dismissive and not that helpful in general. Interested in your experiences.

heather Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 5:27pm

Being Bipolar I have been on just Lithium for over 30 years. I tried it a couple of times before I was able to settle on it. (I had various other horrible drugs when I was high and antidepressants when I was low and also ECT. Drugs are never ideal, and Lithium has played havoc with my thyroid but I am sure I would be dead if I hadn't had it and instead have had a happy life and worked for 10 years as a medical sec. to a Consultant Psychiatrist in the NHS. I still have ups and downs (and the downs are always horrid) but they are not unmanageable. Maybe I would be OK without Lithium now, but I am too frightened to try and my doctor tells me I am safe as long as I have regular bloodchecks for several things. There are. of course, many components to a happy life as well as drugs and one of them was learning to understand myself a little and not being in denial.
Mary, it was so sad reading your blog, it sounds as though you are never, ever, happy. I can't imagine how terrible that would be. Is that really true, or is it because you are feeling so low at the moment you think that ? (I know I tend to).

Richard Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 6:10pm

Dear Mary,
If they allow you to feel hope, you are wise to continue with them.
After years of putting it off, I've tried listening to Radio 4. The spoken word is surprisingly refreshing.
Keep in touch.
Warmest regards,
Richard x

Mary Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 8:22pm

Hello Heather, Oh dear, I didn't intend to sound as if I am never happy. I'm also Bipolar, with a two and a half year cycle. For 18 months or more of that cycle I am happy, upbeat, optimistic and cheerful: the last person you would ever expect to get depression. For a few weeks/months I go hyper (well, technically speaking - hypo manic - which is like being myself but at wharp speed) and then I crash into depression for anything from two to nine months. I'm still genuinely happy underneath it all - but at the moment I'm five weeks into the down and it's not much fun. My next blog will have to be about being happy in spite of the depression (assumes mournful face) "It's just a deep, deep, inner joy...." I'm hoping that this time it's a short period of down, not a long one. Today was a good day - so I'm hopeful. Wishing you peace and thanking you for your kind words, Mary

Mary Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 8:33pm

Hello Cassy, I am also a great fan of tapping and TAT and yes, they help enormously. I have come to realise that my form of bipolar/depression is completely physical and chemical in nature, so I'm happy to use a combination of therapy, mindfulness, meditation, tapping and, yes, anti-depressants. I think they all have their place in the management of our condition. Some things work better for some people than others, and nothing works for everyone all the time. Thank you for your hug; very gratefully received and just as gently returned. Mary

heather Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 9:40pm

Sorry Mary, I remember your earlier blog now. What a relief. By the way I was always told that Prozac (and similar) were not suitable for Bipolar folk, but that may have changed. (I have never had to take an antidepressant since I've been on a leveller). Glad you have had a good day. Sending wishes for a speedy rise to recovery.

Anonymous Wed, May 7th 2014 @ 9:41pm

Mary, you mentioned bipolar being physical and mental. Could you explain that more.
I have heard that a gluten free diet helps. Anyone know more of this?
I go up and down multiple times throughout the day. It is driving me nuts. I want it to stop and be 'normal'

Julia Thu, May 8th 2014 @ 9:17am

Hi Richard. I listen to Radio 4 too and have always found it to be very relaxing background talk as well as to actually listen to. I do wish I could find the time to listen to more music though. Good music, which I enjoy listening too, is far more uplifting than any talk on the radio, but I neglect it. You'll soon be an Archers fan! Hope you are getting on well.

Shirin Thu, May 8th 2014 @ 5:02pm

I´ve been taking anti depressants for years with more or less effect. With the help of a good psychiatrist over the last 5 years I have changed medications until finding one that works for me which happens to be Duloxetine (Cymbalta). I believe in trial and error with most things. Try it, if it doesn´t help, try something else, if it helps, keep doing /taking it. I now see depression as a chronic illness which can be managed and controlled and which will be be better or worse depending on our external life circumstances and our reactions to them as well as our medication and therapy.

Richard Thu, May 8th 2014 @ 5:47pm

Thankyou, Julia.
I'm doing okay.

Anonymous Sun, May 11th 2014 @ 8:01pm

I have discovered a completely natural way of dealing with my depression,from the health food shop. early days yet, but it seems to be having a calming effect and the termoil in my head seems somewhat diminished and less prominent.its called experimenting and taking it along side evening primrose oil to see if it makes any difference..I am startingwith 1 50mg tablet daily first and im finding that is enough.Unlike anti depressants it is absorbed thru the stomach to the brain and allows it to make more seritonin, rather than trap what little levels there not experiencing that "zombie
" like state that leaves you detached from the world and there appears to be no nasty side effects, I have been looking on you tube and the internet with further evidence on how 5-htp works.better taken before bed or with a meal, not on an empty is also good for weight loss.please look this up, it seems to be working for me..anybody else heard of this?

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