It occurred to me, recently, that I can't remember when I first started anti-depressants. I can list all the ones I've tried, the sweat-inducing switches I have made to new generations of drugs that promised to make me even less depressed than I was before while still preserving my desire to have sex (and more importantly, my waistline).
I can tell you about how I lay shaking on the bathroom floor of my university apartment, making promises to the universe in exchange for mercy, as I withdrew from Zoloft to get onto Paxil. I can recall the nausea that forced me off the subway on my way to work one morning and had me balled up on the platform, apologizing to the commuters stepping over me, as I withdrew from Paxil to get onto Celexa. I'm not on Celexa anymore.
I know that Prozac was the first, but I can't remember when I first started taking it. Was I 13? Sixteen? I wade through my memory, try to remember landmarks in time, but I don't know when to stop walking. Was I on pills at my Bat-Mitzvah? Did I take one the morning of my Grade 10 biology exam? I don't know. I have been in a relationship with drugs for so long that I can no longer recall our first date.
This lapse in memory never really troubled me before. Drugs have always been a staple in my life that I never questioned. I never considered the efficacy of anti-depressants, whether they are overvalued or over-prescribed. This debate, to me, was an academic luxury of the non-mentally ill. I thought I had made peace with my biochemistry and its genetic need to be altered.
I leaned on the oft-quoted line of pharmacological drug users everywhere: if I had diabetes, surely I would take insulin. Well mental illness is just like that, but without the sugar highs; unless, of course, you're manic. There were times I was jealous of people who experienced mania because at least they get upswings. It's no difference though because we are all on drugs, the manics and me, hoping to be the best version of ourselves that we know we could be, but for our illnesses. Except, in not remembering when my love affair with drugs began, I don't even know any version of myself without them. I can't say for sure where I stop and the drugs begin.
Now, I am starting to question anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication. I am beginning to question them because I no longer have insurance. I was all for these medications when Great West Life was paying for them. "Gimme a D, Gimme an R, Gimme a U, Gimme a G," I would say, as I submitted my claim to Green Shield for reimbursement. What's that, doctor? You think I should be on a cocktail of two drugs to better address my depression and anxiety? Yes! I love cocktails! A prescription for Xanax just in case I have panic attacks, you say? Fill 'er up!
It turns out that these drugs are incredibly expensive. So expensive, in fact, that it's depressing. So depressing that it could push one into a panic attack just thinking about it.
"That will be $306.17," the pharmacist says.
"Sorry, come again?" I ask, "I thought I heard you say these cost $300."
"Will that be cash or credit?"
I look at my two tiny pill bottles. "Three hundred dollars and I didn't even get a good smelling cream, unnecessary hair products or a trashy magazine?"
"Are there other things you want to get? Did you want me to wait to ring you up?"
Of course there are other things I want to get! I want to get a new lipstick just for fun. I want to get an armful of books that I have been waiting to read. I want to fix my broken oven, take a much needed vacation. I want to get new shoes and some pretty, little sundresses for the summer. I want to get new glasses, a haircut, more itunes. I want to get a tax receipt from the next little high-schooler who comes to my door asking me to buy a newspaper to help her earn a scholarship to university. There are so many things I could be getting for the price of mental health. You gotta be rich to be crazy!
Looking at the bill I began to consider if drugs are really the answer to what ails me, if it's really a good idea to be on so much medication for so long. I'm reading all the studies now, wondering if it's better to take life on au naturale. I feel indignant, angry with my drugs, like a jilted lover who was wooed by the promise of intimacy and then dumped as soon as she took off her underwear. I feel self-conscious and exposed.
I shake the clear, blue bottles in my hands. What's so wrong with me, drugs? Hasn't it been as good for you as it has been for me? Don't you love me? I really thought we had something special here. I thought we were going to grow old together.
I wonder now if I should be breaking up with my drugs, if they have really been all that good to me. I start to think about the clammy skin, the dizziness, the shakiness, the never-ending nausea that comes with withdrawal. I think of myself lying on the bathroom floor, the sweat leaking out of my pores. I think about the worst symptom of all: the feeling of helplessness. Have I been on medication just because I can't bear to get off of it? I twist the caps off the bottles and pour two pills into my hand. I can't really say. I don't remember.