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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