Toronto
3 min

The cost of living

I am delving into the  world of antianxiety/anti-depression medications.

Someone once taught  me this drama game where you say a sentence over and over with the emphasis on a different word each time. The emphasis today is on the “I.” I never thought I would be taking drugs for anxiety/depression. But here I am. There are lots of things I never thought I would do that I’ve done. How depressing.

My first trial was a brief stint on Paxil, during which  I could not have an orgasm to save my life. That was one side effect I was not willing to accept. I would rather have a lifetime of anxious/depressed orgasms than one of even-keeled celibacy. Apparently if I was a man I could have taken Viagra, but the only sex-enhancing drug my doctor could offer tends to cancel out the antianxiety effects of Paxil. That sounded stupid to me.  Off Paxil.

I had a day and a half on Clonazepam, during which I could not have raised my voice to save my life. Fascinating as that felt I would rather have played a psycho than a zombie in all of my school plays. Off Clonazepam.

Third try: I am into my fourth week on a drug optimistically referred to as Effexor. Effexor is in  a newer class of medications called SNRIs — serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Without being too scientific, serotonin and nor-epinephrine are chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters (they carry messages between cells and affect your mood). When their levels are unbalanced you feel depressed. Effexor balances them so (hopefully) you don’t feel depressed.  It can take up to eight weeks to feel the effects. So I’m waiting.

As I wait I am questioning my decision to treat my depression now, in this way, after spending  years thinking all I needed to “get over it” was a little more will-power, a little more exercise, maybe a little more electrolysis….

Saying there is no shame in taking a mood-altering medication is like saying there is no shame in being queer. Of course there isn’t — we all know that — but feeling shame-free is a different story. I am fearful that I may be encouraging myself to believe there is something wrong with me, which, as someone with a history of internalized homophobia and self-hatred, is a dangerous game. Not only is there something wrong with me but it’s something I can’t fix on my own. I can’t, Effexor can.

How Western of me. How 2008 of me. How un-Julia of me. I have been in and out of depressions my whole life — mild, nondebilitating depressions. A day or two off work here and there, scratching my skin with sharp objects, deliberately aggravating injuries, long walks in the middle of the night. Nothing to write home about. Lately it’s been worse, escalated to hair pulling, not eating, bruising my wrists, bruising my thighs, weeks instead of days off work. Cause for concern, sure. But I’m not dying. I am still, basically, okay.

I’m in therapy too, which as they say, costs an arm and a leg.  For curiosity’s sake  I looked that up.  In terms of insurance it’s about $50,000 each, a million or more if you’re a celebrity. In terms of prosthetics it’s between $10,000 and $50,000. So therapy isn’t actually costing me an arm and a leg but it is costing me a lot. A lot of money that I could be saving for daycare, Gracie’s first bicycle, the college fund.

People are starving all over the world, forced to leave their houses, leave their families, witnesses unspeakable atrocities. What right do I have to think I’m depressed? Why should I have the luxury of paying someone to hear me talk about myself when I am here — physically healthy, loved, housed, employed, safe?

I feel guilty for working on my “issues” with medication and with money, especially as a queer woman wishing so hard to have internalized the giddy dyke-pride messages of “Love yourself — just the way you are! Be loud! Be proud! Damn the man!”

I know the world of science pathologized our sexuality. Trust me, it is the last world I would like to inhabit. But the things I was doing on my own to manage my anxiety/depression stopped working. I felt like I was out of options and I feel completely terrified of the place I’m in now because if this doesn’t work, then what?

If this doesn’t work, it could be because I have not fully committed to making it work. I need to let go of the guilt and shame around medication and therapy that is presently hindering my ability to take advantage of such opportunities to work on the real reasons I constantly feel guilt and shame. Yes, I am taking medication. Yes, I am in therapy. No, these are not selfish choices — these are proactive, responsible choices for myself and my family at this time in my life.

Perhaps if I read those lines over and over, with the emphasis on a different word each time, I will actually start to believe them.