The "Black Dog," Part III

By the end of March, we decided to get engaged and work out our differences. (I’d move to Kentucky and he’d be open to not having biological kids.) In early July, I quit Lexapro cold turkey. (This, folks, is a NO-NO.) Two weeks later, I had a relapse and attempted to commit suicide. Bob freaked out and called the cops and I nearly lost my job at a prestigious magazine. It wasn’t Bob’s fault; it was mine for quitting a med cold turkey and it was Dr. X’s for not warning me about the potential for suicide attempts on the drug. Perhaps she didn’t know. After all, she kept doling out Lexapro samples to me via the drug rep. When I told her in August that Lexapro wasn’t working, she became skeptical, assumed that I was still being noncompliant and wrote out a prescription for Zoloft. By that point, I was tired of meds. I’d gained 40-50 lbs between Paxil and Lexapro (after being skinny all my life) and still had a difficult time functioning normally. I never filled my prescription.

I moved to Kentucky in September and started a new job in October. After things became a little hectic and overwhelming at work in December, I became suicidal once again. I never saw Bob during the day (I worked second shift into third shift sometimes) so he was able to be depressed during the night and hide it apart from me since I rarely saw him. Bob, fearful of a failing marriage and I’d make good on my promise to kill myself, made the decision for us to move back to his hometown in Pennsylvania in April 2006.

As of January 2006, I knew I needed to be hospitalized and talked about it frequently. However, I felt like I couldn’t: "My job needs me," I said. "We’re understaffed. My job needs me." Even the anxiety of handing in my resignation at a job I hadn’t been employed at for a year gripped me.

We began our job search in the metro Philly area in April and both landed jobs in May. He in the suburbs; I in Philadelphia. My suicidal attempts and thoughts remained with me, but began to increase in August. My sick days became frequent. After a honeymoon at the end of August, I came back in September to a hostile co-worker and a micromanaging, picky boss. Those factors – in addition to whatever I was already dealing with – contributed to taking a disability leave from my job and admitting myself to a psych hospital. I’d been unwilling to do it because I was so busy, but if not, my husband would have been forced to do it for me.

I stayed in the hospital for 7-8 days. The doctor who initially admitted me asked me what meds I’d been on. I said Lexapro and Paxil. I mentioned I didn’t like them. He suggested that I try Celexa in the meantime and that it wasn’t the same as those two. Before I began this blog, I had no idea that Lexapro (escitalopram) and Celexa (citalopram) are virtually the same thing. I passed on Celexa at med times, knowing that my case doctor would be switching me to something different. My case doctor, Dr. S, recommended Effexor XR after I told him that I’d had trouble with Lexapro and Paxil. He said, "Well, it’s an SNRI and functions differently than an SSRI. Let’s try you on that. We’ll start you off at 37.5 mg and get you up to 150 mg by the time you leave."

On the first day of Effexor, I developed severe somnolence that lasted an hour. Later that day and the next three days, I developed severe dry mouth. I’d never known what dry mouth was until then. So I chugged several Snapple Iced Teas a day since water wasn’t available through their vending machines. (Weird, I know.) When I began at my intensive outpatient treatment afterward, a nurse told me that drinking too much sugar can cause the liver to overproduce sugar – if I remember correctly – which can lead to diabetes. *sigh*

Because of a (somewhat) sexual assault incident at the hospital, my release was hastened and I left at 75 mg of Effexor. My psychiatrist at the outpatient clinic titrated me up to 150 mg, which according to him, "is standard. Some patients do better at 300 mg." (!) By the time my outpatient treatment was over, I was steady at 150 mg of Effexor.

In the meantime, my husband was overtaken by all the events that had been occuring since August. (You’d be freaked out too if you woke up to see your spouse trying to hang him/herself.)

In November, he finally admitted to me that he struggle with depression. He began crying all the time over nearly everything. As a computer programmer for seven years, he felt inadequate and insecure at his new job. He cried over my depression. He cried about worsening my depression with his depression. He became anxious over everything. He couldn’t sleep in the event that he’d wake up to see another suicide attempt. He became wracked with anxiety. After much provoking and nagging, he finally agreed to seek treatment in the evening at the outpatient clinic I’d been to. He found it somewhat helpful but admitted that it was difficult to act on what he’d learned.

November threw another curveball at us when my outpatient psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. That finally explained my hostile, irritable, and angry episodes (which normally occurred at night) in addition to my depression. Now, Bob became anxious over the next manic episode that might occur.

Just as he had involved my mother of my situation, I sat down with his parents and spoke with them about Bob’s. His parents seemed taken aback. The quiet, shy kid had all these problems that they’d never known about? His parents and I thought that Bob was freaking out over me and the recent events. Little did we all know that it was simply a trigger. Since I was around Bob all the time now, he wasn’t able to hide it from me any longer.

Despite weekly counseling that we began in August, he still suffers from extreme anxiety. He still suffers from depression with passing suicidal thoughts. He still cries and gets angry over, well, insignificant things. But he’s been brave to admit that he struggles with depression. He’s taken a leap of faith to talk to his parents, his brother, and me about what he deals with and some of what he’s been thinking. Bob has a long way to go, but he’s finally taken the steps forward to recovery.

The "Black Dog," Part II

In February 2004, I tried to kill myself. I don’t remember how now. But he pleaded with me to go see a doctor and get some help. Since I was 21, I no longer qualified under my mother’s health insurance so I tried to avoid docs as much as I could. My pediatric (PCP) doctor continued to treat me despite my age. Dr. X diagnosed me with depression and said, "Since you don’t have medical insurance, I’ll give you some samples of Paxil that a drug rep gave me."

Welcome to the beginning of my first experience with psych drugs.

(Just an aside: Before this, I had never taken medication for depression. My parents wouldn’t let me growing up. In the psych hospital, I said no even though the psychiatrist there gave me a tough time about it.)

I remained on Paxil through July. I wasn’t accustomed to taking medication each day so I’d take it for a day or two on and off. But no more than that. If I didn’t take it for three days, I knew it was time to get back on it. I’d suffer from dizziness and "brain shivers." It was also the first time that I developed eyelid twitching.

I went back to Dr. X and told her that Paxil wasn’t working. She told me that she knew I wasn’t consistent in taking my meds. But she still switched me to another med.

Enter Lexapro in September.

A crucial year in college. I was attempting to graduate that semester, juggle responsibilities as a reporter and copy editor for the college paper, manage a long-distance relationship, and complete a 50+ page honors paper. After accidentally reporting incorrect data on an investigative piece that I thought I’d thoroughly researched, university directors came down HARD on me. The managing editor made it a bigger deal that it really was (according to my teacher and newspaper advisor), freaking me out and sending me into a tailspin. I adhered to my Lexapro regimen much more carefully, but my depression worsened. By the end of October, I’d quit my job at the paper and found myself unable to get out of bed except for late afternoon and night classes. In November, I had to cut back from 16-18 credits down to 12 – just enough to keep me a full-time student. Of course, I didn’t graduate that semester.

I’d went to a psychologist (recommended by my PCP) who gave me "tough love" advice for $75 per half-hour. The "tough love" approach wasn’t for me and actually made me feel worse about myself. I continued to worsen under his care. In February, I switched to a Christian-based counselor and dramatically improved. She listened to me for $75 an hour and at the end of the session, gave me helpful advice. The support of my counselor and boyfriend helped me to get through the trying time. Bob helped pull me through graduation the next semester despite occasional moments of relapsing (into bed).

Bob, not accustomed to the severe depression at first, immediately became frustrated and used the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality. After all, despite his depression, he was still going to work, still living. When he noticed that strategy wasn’t working, he did some research on depression and became a little more sympathetic.

However, our relationship began taking a turn for the worse: we began arguing about pretty important things – where we’d live and whether we’d have biological children. We took "breaks" on and off and after several attempts at discussing breaking up, we tried to do so. Of course, it didn’t last. His depression kept him from feeling confident in our relationship and his ability to handle my depression. He conveniently left out how he was worried that his depression would conflict with mine.

The "Black Dog," Part I

Men and depression. What a loaded topic. This may be a long entry so brace yourselves.

My husband suffers from depression. He reads this blog and may be embarrassed to some extent since his mother reads it too. But his story (intermingled with mine eventually) is worth sharing because it may help others understand some of the stigma men face. I don’t have the full picture, but I’ll tell you his experience from what I’ve gathered.

My husband, he comments as Bob, slowly began to suffer from depression early in his teen years. As a large boy – as in large, I do mean morbidly obese, unfortunately – he was picked on, teased to no end, and practically tortured. Getting beat up by his brother and cousin didn’t do much to help, either.

Bob, a quiet, shy kid, was able to hide his developing depression well. If he was happy, he had the same sullen face that remained when he was upset or sad. By his senior year of high school, he was the tallest guy in the class, which by that point, people stopped provoking him.

But the hurt and social ridicule remained with him. He went off to college, continuing to be insecure about his weight. He assumed that he wouldn’t make any friends since he didn’t have any after high school. At the end of his sophomore year, he finally opened himself up to friendships with roommates, suitemates, and those who lived within his hall. He’d tried two dates that never worked out. He remained quiet, shy, and girlfriendless. His face remained sullen, garnering the name, “Mr. Happy Face.”

Continue reading “The "Black Dog," Part I”