My Dad is really, really, really sick. He's been in the ICU for at least 10 days now, in a half-catatonic state. One of his best friends came to see him and my Dad didn't even recognize him.
About a month ago, he started acting really weird. He was super anxious, paranoid, and kind of crazy. He stopped sleeping. He got so bad that he let my mom take him to a psychiatrist. My Dad is a Republican, Vietnam veteran, ex-football playing, Patton-loving, commie-hater. When we were kids, he would yell "front and center" to call us. He's practically an archetype. He's not the kind of man who goes to see a psychiatrist.
So the doctor diagnosed him as bipolar, in the midst of an "acute manic episode" and loaded him with drugs. Sleeping pills and some other stuff that's supposed to "level things off." He got worse and worse. At one point my brother and I thought he was faking because he was acting so absurd. I talked to him on the phone and he acted like someone who was very, very drunk and silly. He was concerned with how nicely the window of the car rolled up. I was pissed off.
Then he got worse. He started falling down, so they took him to the hospital and that's where he is now. They don't know what is wrong with him. They've done MRIs and tested him for everything except pregnancy. He's been looked at by a neurologist who told my mother he has no idea what is wrong with him. He told my Mom that maybe it was the drugs. My Mom said, "did they like fry his brain?" and the neurologist said "that's not the term we use."
Now I'm really pissed off. Most of my anger is blind and reactionary; I'm completely powerless and frustrated. But another chunk of it is directed at how doctors jack people full of drugs when they are mentally ill. I'm so fucking sick of it.
We all know that head drugs (and that should be their medical term) are helpful for a smidgen of the population. I have at least two friends who have been helped by them. I have countless other friends, however, who have been prescribed Prozac or Celexa or that other one because they were going through a normal, early-to-mid twenties existential crisis.
The Summer after I left the church I moved home and lived with my parents. I got into a funk, which is to be expected seeing as how I had just made a huge, life-altering decision. There were other factors, too, which I'm not going to go into, that contributed to me being depressed. I talked to my family doctor and she gave me a two month supply of Celexa samples she'd surely gotten from some pharmaceutical sales rep, a six-month prescription, and the name of a therapist. I never called the therapist and I never saw the doctor again.
I took it on and off for maybe two years. I don't know whether or not it helped; nobody ever really knows what works or doesn't. I do know that after two years, right after I finished school, I started feeling really, really, really fucked up. Crazy awful terrible bad. I really wanted to die, like every minute of every day for months. I went to New York for a weekend (tickets were cheap; it was November 2001) and sat for hours and watched these kids play soccer in Central Park and I couldn't understand how they could just laugh and be happy. I got to this point where I decided that if I were going to die, I would want to do it sober, so I stopped taking the medicine. And to my surprise, a fog lifted off of me. I remember sitting in my grandpa's living room and thinking about how much my family loves him and how valuable his life is to all of us and how that must also be true for me.
About six months after that, I was reading and expose of the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in Adbusters magazine. One of the side effects that the makers of Prozac (and other SSI inhibitors) have successfully played down is akathisia, or the sudden unexplained desire to die. This quote is from wikipedia:
Ironically antipsychotic drugs are many times prescribed as “mood stabilizers” but then have the opposite intended effect, which often leads to increased doses further escalating the symptoms when the intent was to ameliorate the symptoms.
Akathisia affects up to 10% of people who take Prozac (and presumably, other SSI inhibiting drugs). That's one in every ten. After reading this article, I realized that that was probably what had happened to me. It was healing to know that I was not innately crazy and fucked up, but it also pissed me off.
My Mom was given head drugs for a short period of time in the mid-80s. The doctor didn't tell her that they were addictive and she went through hellacious withdrawal symptoms. My mother's mother's personality changed completely when she started taking Lithium in the mid 60's. As a part of Kaiser's stop-smoking program, I took anti-anxiety head drugs a few years ago and also had a bad experience with them (mainly just a lot of crying).
I'm not crazy. My mother isn't crazy. My grandmother, both of them, aren't crazy. My friends aren't crazy (even the ones who think they are). None of us are fucking crazy. We're human beings who, as we move through life, experience inexplicable ups and downs. We are irrational, sensitive, quirky people who are artists and writers and musicians and cupcake bakers who have problems adapting to a world that wants us to iron and check our voice mail and have perky tits.
If someone lives in a cold damp house and smokes Marlboro Reds and doesn't wear a scarf
and eats frozen pizza and drinks too much and doesn't sleep, she is going to have a cold all the time. And if she goes the doctor, the doctor will give her antibiotics or tell her to get some Robitussin. And if she's really sick, she might really actually need antibiotics or Robitussin. But she also needs to take care of the situation that caused the cold in the first place.
So my Dad is really really sick, but I have no idea what he needs to get better. Obviously, drugs aren't the solution. This sucks.