Everyone who knows me always assumed I was bi, just not polar. But two years ago I took the plunge, cruised over the crazy divider and hit a Mack truck filled with a severe suicidal depression that has only recently let up. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, between 5 and 12 per cent of men and 10 to 25 per cent of women will suffer a major depressive disorder in their lifetime.
If sales stats are anything to go by (sales of antidepressants like Effexor and Celexa have almost doubled in recent years), people are gobbling up antidepressants and anti-psychotics in alarming and steadily growing numbers. Our society is twigged to the quick fix these expensive pills seem to offer. A gross example of the pill-popping habit is Ozzy Osbourne, the bloated, staggering and zombified patriarch of the hit "reality" program.
Those tuning in just assumed that Ozzy's mucked-up state was the result of living a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. It's only recently been revealed that the man viewers are pissing themselves laughing at each week has in fact been in the throes of mental illness and over-prescription. On an average day, he'd take eight doses of amphetamines, nine of tranquilizers, 16 different barbiturates, two anti-seizure tablets, two anticonvulsants, two painkillers and three sleeping pills.
Ozzy was taking more medications than me, my schizophrenic gal pal Audrey Golightly and my delusional buddy Vic Vinyl combined. We take seven anti-psychotics, 10 antidepressants, eight tranquilizers, the occasional shot of Demerol, three painkillers and four anti-inflammatories.
Audrey is cute and candid, rhyming off everything she's supposed to take: "Zyprexa, Mogadon for sleeping, Lectopam for nerves, Paxil for depression, bowel pills and a psycho shot."
Me: "What's the psycho shot?"
Audrey: "Oh, I don't know."
Me: "What do you mean you don't know?"
Audrey: "They don't tell me what it is, but I signed some waiver that said I couldn't sue them if I died."
For three, four, sometimes five days after getting the psycho shot, Audrey is curled up in the fetal position on her Value Village couch watching CTV or PBS. The emotional cushion that surrounds her is akin to a knight's shining armour. She responds to conversation every half-hour. Unlike Ozzy, who craved his $500 shot, Audrey despises the psycho shot and often flees the doctor before he can administer it.
The doctor-patient relationship is key to surviving mental illness. Unfortunately, the lack of doctors in my community, Niagara Falls-- we're under-funded by about 75 - forces Audrey to go to someone she not only doesn't trust, but refers to with deep-seated hatred. Fortunately, I have an amazing relationship with my doctor.
At the heart of Ozzy's, Audrey's and my mental illness cocktail is a powerful anti-psychotic called Zyprexa. When I first began taking the drug, it was like an emotional hockey helmet. All negative and positive emotions eased off. I had an expressionless gaze and dulled thought patterns, and I lost all basic motor control.
When it was introduced in 1996 by Eli Lilly, it was intended only for schizophrenia. Ozzy, Audrey and I all suffered horrid side effects from taking it. Ozzy's physician attacked the rocker's adverse reaction to Zyprexa by piling med on top of med on top of med on top of med. Many people get caught up in the same vicious circle.
Instead of chasing these symptoms with other harmful medications, I rode it out, using Vic's bachelor pad as a makeshift hospice. I lumbered about, enduring daily vomiting, dizziness, slurred speech, confused thought patterns and a general haziness that lasted not weeks but many months, verging on a year. I was so ill I didn't have time to worry about being depressed. Walking any distance became a major chore, and there were nights when I had to crawl to the bathroom, my muscles were so rigid.
At first I was only concerned about the immediate side effects. But now the longterm ones are worrying me. I spoke to my family doctor about my fears of diabetes and uncontrollable twitching and he immediately ordered blood work. Talking to Audrey about side effects, she screams, "There's a twitch in my face that wasn't there before. You've seen it. I'm really self-conscious about it.'
Ozzy has now ditched his prescription cocktail and returned to his old neurotic self. But coming off Zyprexa frightens me immensely. Not only is it managing my emotional well-being, it has so saturated my system that my body depends on it. Putting off a dose for several hours causes vomiting and muscles to seize up. A burning sensation that I refer to as the "karmic burn" comes over me. For now, I'm a slave to Zyprexa.