The thin white line between me and misery is Prozac.
I remember exactly how I felt when the Prozac started working. It was stunning.
For the first time in my life, the voice in my head shut off. This wasn’t a Son of Sam type voice telling me I was God or his son; the voice was my inner critic. We all have inner critics, and I can’t speak for anyone else’s, but mine was a real asshole. Not only did he not have my best interests at heart, he wasn’t even on my side. All he cared about was that I didn’t think too highly of myself, because if I did, well, that might make other people feel threatened or uncomfortable.
Here’s an example. I’m presenting an idea for a new initiative to my boss. As my words are coming out, in my head, my inner critic fills me in on how he thinks I’m doing: Oh Jesus…He hates this idea. Look at him. He’s completely checked out. He thinks you’re an imbecile and he deeply regrets hiring you.
He was always there, judging me. What I watched. What I wore. What I said, thought and ate. Evaluating every glance, whether from a loved one or a passing stranger. When I dared think something positive, he’d immediately tell me why I shouldn’t have. She only agreed to go out with you because she felt sorry for you…Sure, he said he liked that one idea, but remember, he hated the ten that came before it…
That was my life. As you might have guessed, it wasn’t great.
But then Prozac silenced the voice. It felt, without exaggeration, like a miracle. I could sense the space, the quiet that greeted the sudden absence of the voice. It was like standing suddenly alone in a large room, after everyone at the party you didn’t want to be at finally went home.
Once I grew accustomed to the quiet, I had the space to start figuring out who I really was. That’s what I’ve been working on ever since. And recently, I got to a point where I’d never felt happier (The fact that this came during a global pandemic is something I’ll write about another time). By muting the voice of my critic, Prozac made space for my own voice to emerge.
As I went through my days feeling more present and calm, unfortunately Prozac couldn’t quiet all those voices outside my head, the articles and posts and opinions about the side effects of SSRIs and pharmaceuticals. Prozac is not for everyone. No drug is. But it helped me in a way nothing else did. Still, I let those other opinions convince me I should try to wean myself off this thing that had made so much else possible for me.
I gave it a lot of thought, then cut my dosage in half. As I had hoped, everything was fine and after six months, at my annual physical, I told my doctor I thought I could get off it entirely. He agreed, and told me to cut back another 50% for a month and then stop it completely. Now I was down to almost nothing. The only thing better than feeling this good would be doing it without the help of a drug. I was so close.
Before a week had gone by, the voice came back. And he was not happy with me. This time, he didn’t just criticize what I was doing, he took on everyone around me. Strangers, of course, but also the people I loved. Suddenly, everyone was an asshole. Suddenly, everything was a disaster.
At first I didn’t understand why all the happiness I’d worked so hard for now seemed like a foolish illusion. Less than a week after I’d lowered my dosage, I was ready to blow up my life. Every word my wife uttered grated on me. Suddenly this remarkably kind, intelligent woman I’ve been married to for 26 years was a persecuting nag with no interpersonal skills. My son, who’d had a rough start to online high school, but was doing his best, suddenly seemed totally inept and unequipped to deal with his life, meaning he’d never even be able to provide for himself or function independently. And oh, yes — all his shortcomings were my fault.
Leaving seemed like the solution. I needed to be with people who could solve all my problems for me. They were out there, somewhere. I was sure of it. Or was I? After all, the inner voice was also telling me I was too much of a coward to ever do anything to make myself happy, so I might as well get used to suffering this godawful status quo. I’d made my bed, so it was up to me to lie in it.
If this all sounds exhausting, it is. Luckily, while in the aforementioned bed, I woke up with a start and the memory that, This is what I felt like before Prozac. I don’t have to live like this.
I made an appointment with the psychiatrist who put me on anti-depressants all those years ago. I’m seeing him soon, but in the meantime I went back to the dosage that had been working for me since January. I already feel better. I feel like myself. I’m disappointed that I didn’t see this coming earlier, and that I put my hard-won happiness in jeopardy. I could beat myself up over this, but I don’t. Because when I’m on my meds, I remember two words my inner critic never said: nobody’s perfect.