Friday, December 03, 2004

Drug `Em Up

It should surprise no one that I come from a family of tall, strong, crazy, hysterical, intelligent, passionate, big-hipped women.

Mostly, we've just been told we're crazy and hysterical. The rest, we had to figure out on our own.

I had a great-grandmother who was a smoking, drinking, philandering type who'd give money to bums who showed up on her doorstep. My other great-grandmother was Grande Dame and ruled by virtue of her mean wit and insatiable appetite. I've got a grandmother who survived occupied France during World War II and hopped over to America with a GI, expecting a Place of Plenty, and finding a heapload of disappoint that she used to channel all of her energy into raising five children on a shoe-string budget and throwing plates at her husband with things got particularly bad. I've got another grandmother who told her drinking, controlling husband to fuck off for several reasons - among them the fact that he wouldn't let her go back to school to become a teacher. She was named Woman of the Year in Vancouver a couple years ago, has swum the Columbia River, was part of a rowing team, and has worked for some ridiculous amount of non-profit agencies benefiting children. My mother's the one I heard about most of my feminist books from - even if they were only in sight while gathering dust on the bookshelf in the dining room. She got herself an MBA and a VP of HR position at a $40M company before she was 40.

There are more, many more ass-kicking women in my family. Mostly, of course, they've been told they're crazy. Mostly, unfortunately, by the men in their lives.

My dad and my sister loved to tease me in my teens, because I look so much like my mom. "Mom's crazy," they said, "you're going to be just like her."

It wasn't until I was 19 or so that I realized that, you know, really, being like my mom really wouldn't be all that bad.

But women trying to raise children and have high-powered jobs and live up to their full potential are generally just regarded as nuts. There's a reason for this, of course: as a woman, not only are you expected to raise perfect children and have a clean house and get everybody to soccer practice, but you're supposed to have a successful, money-gathering, fulfilling career, too. And if you don't find doing all of this totally fulfilling and happy all the time, there must be something wrong with you.

Better drug you up.

Women in particular have been drugged up to "cure" melancholy forever, particularly with the advent of the scientifically "diagnosed" case of hysteria.

Luckily, doctor types don't generally diagnose women with hysteria anymore. Instead, we're just really depressed.

According the latest numbers, 49% of women take at least one perscription drug. Unfortunately, there isn't a breakdown as to how many of these are anti-depressents. Since we live in a capitalist society, drugged-up men are rapidly coming up just behind women, at 39%. Again, no breakdown as to how many are anti-depressents and how many are heart medication/cholesterol medication, though I'd make a broad, educated guess that says most of the men's drugs are heart medication or viagra, and most of the women's are anti-depressents.

Cause if you ain't happy, there must be something wrong with you.

Now, I'm cool with people diagnosed with severe depression and particularly those diagnosed with being bipolar being on medication, if they so choose. Depression sucks.

But I view depression more often as a symptom, not a disease. Just like I think gastric bypass surgery is a stupid "cure" for obesity when in fact, many people put on weight for many different reasons, and gaining weight is often a symptom of something else, I think that depression should be met with alterations in your lifestyle before you drug it up.

I come from a family of crazy women, and it's crazy women like those in my family who are the first ones prescribed anti-depressents. Even my younger sister has gotten up onto this bandwagon. Cause if you're depressed, it's not your life that's screwed up, it's you.

It's the message smart women have been getting forever: there's not something wrong with the system. There's something wrong with you.

When half the female population has to be drugged up in order for the system to function, I don't call that a good system.

I've learned to deal with depression by examining what's going on in my life: what I'm eating, how much I'm exercising, first of all. Then how much I'm moving towards the goals I have: how much I'm writing, how well I'm spending my reading time, my social time. Do I feel like I'm spinning my wheels? Do I feel like I'm not living the right kind of life, that I'm not living up to my potential?

90% of the time, making alterations in one or more of those areas and taking control of my life instead of playing the victim ["Oh, I *have* to stay at this job I hate/have to stay with this person I hate/have to put up with this stuff I hate"]will get me back on track.

The other 10% of the time, I take a tylenol PM and go to bed.

Sleeping lets my brain mull over what it is I'm chewing on, and I can get up the next day and go, "OK, here's what I'm feeling, here's what I'm thinking, here's what I'd like to do."

And then you do it.

I have a deep fear that when women go to their doctors and say, "I'm depressed. I love my husband and I love my children, but I just feel really unfilled in my life," the doctors respond by writing up a perscription for a happy pill, no questions asked.

Nobody says, "What would you really like to be doing? Do you feel guilty sometimes that you'd rather be doing that than doing your husband's laundry? Can he do it himself while you take a class in International Politics at the community college? Can your kids make their own lunch in the morning so you can teach yourself Arabic before work?"

I worry that we turn to drugs too quickly. I worry that complacency is stifling our potential.

7 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

"I think that depression should be met with alterations in your lifestyle before you drug it up"

I absolutely agree with this, and having fought my way unmedicated through some ugly depression I can testify to the truth of it.

But, flip side. In my case, I was lucky enough to have an amazing support system to help me through on all levels and afford me the ability to take my time and make those changes. For a lot of people, that kind of support isn't there, and true depression- whatever its causes- often saps so much energy that it's nigh on impossible to find the wherewithal to survive and change and grow all at once. In fact, one of the leading theories on how depression causes suicide is that as people come out of depression their energy level rises independant of their mood, allowing action that otherwise seemed impossibly difficult. I basically agree with everything you say about systemic issues (managed care for psychological issues is crap, crap, crap, and women get the absolute worst of societal expectations), but all the same the drugs can be an invaluable tool in helping people find the energy to make the changes in their lives that will correct the basic problems.

Anyway, psych major hat off. Great post! 

Posted by Brendan

Anonymous said...

Yea, I think we're on the same page here. I'm always careful about the issue of depression drugs because I'm well aware that there are, indeed, many many instances of people who've been helped by said drugs, or who do need them in order to get out of their initial rut.

But ultiminately, I'd like to see drugs perscribed as a last resort... and yes, having/forming a great social network is a big factor, I think, in getting back up on one's feet. Definately. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

I'd worry more about the rise in prescription drug use in the under 18 crowd, though some of that may be caused by the increase in diabetes etc, being seen in that population.

The higher rate of females on medication would worry me more, except that women are definately on heart/cholesterol medications more often now thanks to better medical knowledge, and the fact that many female birth control products are prescription medications. I'm not sure from the CNN article if bc was included or not. Hmm, I'll have to go look up the study now. Thanks! 

Posted by Rebecca

Anonymous said...

and the fact that many female birth control products are prescription medications.Ack. I didn't even think of that... I'd bet they're not including birth control, though: the numbers for women would have been way higher.  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

I come from a long line of ass-kicking women too, and a lot of depressed women - coincidence? I'm not sure if the depression I have struggled with is a genetic or environmental inheritance, or a reaction to societal pressures or a lovely combination of all of the above.

I've been on anti-depressants now for four years, but I think I've been depressed for a lot longer than that. Though lately, what with the creative renewal that's going on in my life, I feel like maybe I might be able to just say no the next time my prescription for Prozac comes up to be refilled.

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for writing it. 

Posted by bluesmama

Anonymous said...

Having dated someone who was depressed (and suicidal, at times), I definitely agree with your viewpoint. I think a lot of it is just circumstance and not so much an actual chemical imbalance. And I think some people just enjoy being miserable.

I know a lot of depressed people are going to take that the wrong way, but I really think a lot of people are just lazy. We live in an instant gratification society and people would rather pop a bill and bitch about how that isn't "helping" instead of actually doing something to change the aspect of their life that's bringing them down. Most of the time, I think, it's because for the people who are "severely" depressed, that would require some major changes and that's just too much work--for both them and their therapist.

I really enjoyed read your post because a lot of your comments resonate with my experiences.  

Posted by Anna

Anonymous said...

I would say that for every person who expects a pill to change their life, there are two people who have the same symptoms but are ashamed that they can't fix themselves without resorting to a crutch of a pill or therapy, and thus forgo potentially useful treatment. I suspect that men "self-medicate" with alcohol abuse to a higher degree, accounting for some of the gender difference in antidepressant use. 

Posted by NancyP