California Rocket Fuel

After my unfortunate experience with the drug Emsam, (read My Sad, Stupid Emsam Story, April 2010) I swore off ALL drugs forever - even aspirin.

That lasted about 5 months.

During those 5 months I slowly began to realize that my state of "normalcy," when drugless, was teetering on the verge of tears. It angers me so much that a grown man can be brought to weep so easily. One can only endure this existence for so long. It has become clear and ever so sad for me to be resigned to using antidepressant medications for the rest of my life. The irony is they really don't do what they're supposed to do, at least for me. They do take the edge off my emotions which helps me to get through the day but that's where it begins and ends. There's never been a lifting of spirits or relief from the depression itself. Alternative treatments have proven to be disappointing, expensive and futile. I found myself going back down that same slippery slope that leads to the psychiatrist's office. This time with my tail tucked beneath my legs. The doctor put me back on an antidepressant that I had taken prior to my quitting them altogether because I tolerated its side effects quite well. This time she added Ritalin.

Ritalin I asked? I picture hyperactive children bumping off classroom walls when I hear that term. Why Ritalin? It will give me an energy boost I'm told. It's quite common to prescribe Ritalin with an antidepressant. At this point I don't really care anymore. I'll eat rocks if they'll pull me out of this hellhole. So Ritalin it is.

I go on my merry way with my new prescription wondering what I'm in store for now. Weeks go by and there's barely any detection of change. I am less weepy but ever so slightly which is better than nothing I suppose but falls miles short of the relief I desperately seek. I find that the Ritalin causes me to grind my teeth. I catch myself grinding my molars together which is unnerving.

It's been over 4 weeks now and I'm due back for another psych appointment. I tell the doctor there is really no change. She seems stumped and proceeds to ask questions like when was the last time I felt happy to which I responded around the age of 10. There was awkward silence as she jotted notes on her lap. I gazed at the floor reflecting on the words I had just uttered. It's true. I haven't felt joy or happiness since I was a child. What happened? She asks about my libido. I tell her it's definitely declined over the years and I attribute it to my age which she scoffs at. You're only 49 she says. She asks if I've had blood work done recently. I had my regular doctor send me to the lab a couple of years ago to see if there was anything off kilter but all tests came back normal. She thought it wouldn't hurt to try again so she requested a total of 14 blood tests to see if there's some medical indication that's been overlooked.

She decides to bring out the big guns now. A drug called Remeron is prescribed. I've never heard of it. It's a "tetracyclic" antidepressant — whatever that means. She wants to combine it with the Lexapro and Ritalin I'm already taking. Three drugs now. THREE. At the same time. I feel like a lab rat again. It's all trial and error in this world of psychotropic medications. What are the side effects? Vivid dreams, dry mouth, dizziness, grogginess, appetite stimulant, weight gain. She says I could use a few pounds anyway. Whatever.

I ask how long it will take for positive effects to which she responds 3 - 4 weeks. She then tells me about a phrase that was coined by some prominent psychotherapist — "California Rocket Fuel" referring to a combo of Effexor and Remeron which gives a double boost to the brain's neurotransmitters. She'd like to wean me off the Lexapro and pump me up with this potent drug cocktail but not right away. I took Effexor combined with some other drug a few years earlier without any success.

The appointment is over. I take the prescription slip, schedule another appointment, and make my way to the pharmacy. I want to start on the new stuff right away. One pill is 15 mg. Have to take one pill for three days at bedtime then TWO pills thereafter. About 45 minutes after taking the first pill the drowsiness hits me pretty hard. I'm out in no time which is fine by me because getting to sleep is always a chore. Unfortunately, it's a short lived sleep. The rest of the night is a restless slumber. Next two nights is the same story. Now the fourth night I have to double the dose. Again, I'm out like a light but this time I wake countless times in the night. I experience leg flinching, night sweats, crazy dreams, parched mouth, dizziness, grogginess, disorientation. The mornings on through the late afternoon are an unbearable surrealistic journey through my tedious daily routine. Concentration is difficult. Reading is difficult. Interacting with people is a nightmare but I somehow bulldoze my way through the first week thinking what a mistake it is to resort to these synthetic chemicals to feel "happy." What a joke. The side effects are kicking my ass and ruining one day after the next. Since I've run out of options, I have no choice but to ride this out in hopes that the side effects will subside and the med will eventually do what it's supposed to do.

Ten days later I can't bear it anymore. I put in a call to the doctor and leave a voice mail but she doesn't get back to me for whatever reason. I make the executive decision to immediately stop taking this stuff. The next day I'm much better and feel validated for my decision. I don't have a doctor appointment for another three weeks so I just continue with the other meds. Remeron was a dismal failure to add to the growing list of dismal failures. Each time a new med or treatment falls short it takes a piece of my hopes away.

There will be no "California rocket fuel" in my future. On to the next.