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Multiple Sclerosis and Depression: Welcome to My Prozac Nation

Posted Dec 04 2012 12:30am

The best medicine I’ve ever taken for my MS has been Prozac.

In the spring of last year, I was a disaster. I was reeling from the demise of my short but high-profile and deeply embarrassing debacle of an engagement to my ex-boyfriend. In addition to that, I was still actively mourning the sudden death of my mother to cancer the year prior. And then, I contracted strep throat from my daughter, which kicked off six weeks of double vision, during which time I continued to drive my daughter to and from school and to the grocery store with one eye clenched closed, so that I could see the lines in the road.

If depression were a material, it would be quicksand. One minute you’re walking on solid ground, the next you’re suffocating, and you don’t know when or how it happened. Which I suppose is why I needed my ex-husband to repeatedly tell me that it was not normal to cry nine times a day. Nor was it normal, he said, to continually suggest suicide as a viable option to my current circumstances. “You’re suffering from depression,” he said. “You need medicine.”

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that I’ve always been one for the natural route. Surely this was nothing a little St. John’s Wort and a bubble bath couldn’t cure, right? Or perhaps if I ate enough kale…

But to quote something I read on a blog this morning, “No amount of willpower can overcome your biochemistry.” My positive attitude was not enough to fix this (partially because I was so depressed I no longer had one). I couldn’t just look on the bright side because there was no bright side. There was only doom and gloom, and more doom and more gloom, because, like I said, I was seeing everything double.

So I went and saw a psychiatrist. He said I was severely depressed. I asked him if he thought that tricking my brain into thinking it was happy would help convince my body to stop attacking itself and thus, relieve me of my double vision and potentially catapult me out of the two-year sickness cycle I’d been trapped in. He said yes.

He suggested that given the circumstances of the last two years of my life – the severe flare-up I had had in 2010 and the ongoing physical and emotional struggles I’d endured since then – that this could be the thing to turn it all around. I consulted with my naturopath, and when she agreed with his reasoning, I decided to go for it.

Two weeks later I was a different person. The crying stopped. The suicidal thoughts stopped. The fear of sitting at my computer and doing anything stopped. Suddenly I was motivated again. I wanted to write blog posts. I wanted to start projects. New ideas were surging forward. New, more positive, more optimistic thoughts were sneaking in. None of my problems had been resolved, but I just felt…better. Hopeful.

It was sort of like when you’re sunbathing and a cluster of clouds floats over and covers the sun. It seems so solid and – for that moment – permanent. But then you space out for a second and suddenly you notice the heat soaking into your skin again and that solid mass of clouds that was there – it simply dissipated, right in front of you, unnoticed. And now there’s so much more light.

The profound and lasting benefits that I’ve experienced since I began the Prozac in April have been amazing. It’s been nine months and despite some situational stress and frustration, I continue to feel generally good.

Life is hard no matter who you are. But life with chronic illness comes with a unique and intense set of challenges that often increase the likelihood of depression. Whether it’s a symptom of MS or side effect of it is not clear, but it’s a statistical fact that there is a higher incidence of depression among those with MS (and probably all chronic illness).

What I learned from my recent experience is that despite my blog, despite my positive attitude about healing, I could not think myself out of my depression. I needed a pharmacological life raft, and I’m not embarrassed to say that.

In fact, I’m writing this for those of you who may be in a physical and mental rut at this very moment that you can’t seem to find your way out of. It’s a vicious cycle and one that’s not easy to escape – symptoms cause depression, depression causes symptoms, and suddenly we’re at the bottom of a well.

Sometimes, a chemical kick start is precisely what’s needed to remind your mind to chillax. And if what it takes are some chemically induced feelings of well-being to get your body feeling well, to convince it to take it easy, to take a break from all the autoimmune activity…well…I say that’s worth it.

Just remember – I purposely stayed away from the medical deets here because I’m not a doctor. Discuss your various options (there are many!) and the potential side effects with your doc. There are plenty of people and articles that will say antidepressants don’t work or are harmful. There are also many people for whom it has been a lifesaver.

I’m not an extremist. While I believe very strongly in the benefits of diet and natural approaches to healing, I believe, more than anything, that healing comes in various forms, through various modalities, and that sometimes, what we need at any given moment to get us to the next level is what we least expect.

So stay open to ALL possibilities. Perhaps this could help your overall health, both mental and physical. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Every body is different. For me, it was the best decision I ever made, and so I hope if you decide to try an antidepressant, the same proves true for you.

What do you think? Leave a comment and share your thoughts about MS, depression, and antidepressants.

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