Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Drug me up

When I was young I acquired a deep hatred of mood altering substances.  I mostly attribute this to watching my classmates in grade 6 sneak booze through school to go to parties with much older people; I was ostracized by these people and came to associate booze, cigarettes and drugs with 'people I hate and who hate me'.  That uninformed attitude hung on for a long time though admittedly I still have no patience whatsoever with smoking.  I like to think my feelings on these issues have become more informed by facts and practicality than tween angst these days but it is clear I still have some old prejudices left behind.  I read a comic today on that very topic which basically said that there is no particular reason to think that using drugs is somehow 'losing control of your feelings' since your feelings are chemical reactions in your brain over which you normally have only nominal control anyhow.  By using specific drugs to change my mental state I am actually taking control of my emotions rather than simply letting them fly.  I sat and thought about that for a bit.  It is clear to me that there is still something irrational buried deep in my brain that wants to be free of such chemical manipulation.

Some people can just let their emotions be a lot more comfortably than others.  Today Penelope Trunk wrote about the various medications she has tried for her collection of mental conditions (Asperger's, borderline personality disorder) and was very open about the effects these different drugs have had on her life.  Penelope has extreme issues with normal life and can be a lot more functional when on the correct drugs and I think it is really excellent to have someone so influential write honestly and openly about their mental health issues and potential solutions.  Depression and other mental disorders are so often erroneously linked to moral failing that it is a very hard thing to admit in public; much of the worst part of depression is how difficult it is to admit to and talk about.  People have a hard enough time speaking about getting cancer or other such diseases where personal fault is rarely implied and when people admit to depression personal weakness is often blamed, adding to the troubles of the sufferer.

I have been depressed in the past but never took drugs for it.  Like many or most people in that situation I didn't really realize the situation I was in until long afterwards.  Whether or not I could have benefited from medical assistance back then I will never know.  Thankfully I don't have that problem now and I don't see it returning; it likely wasn't depression in the clinical sense so much as a lasting sadness creating by my specific circumstances.  Wendy has suffered from depression throughout much of her life and in particular had postpartum depression after Elli was born.  We had some really difficult discussions and tried everything else we could think of before Wendy decided she needed to try anti depressants to deal with the problem.  It hasn't been perfect or easy but things have notably improved and I think Wendy is a good example of someone who can really have a better life when drugs are used to help take the edge off of her depression.

It should be noted that I don't particularly trust drug companies.  There are success stories of various medications for mental disorders and there are horror stories too.  I certainly didn't want Wendy to try antidepressants until we had given everything else a try first; those things just didn't work well enough.  Some people are not particularly benefited by drugs, some people are made worse.  That said, I now keep a really open mind about what we can and should try to help people deal with mental disorders and I have no problem with alcohol or soft drugs when used responsibly.  There are plenty of good things that can come from changing our brain chemistry when it is done right.  Of course we have the responsibility to take our cues from pretty much anybody but the marketing department of Big Pharma, that goes without saying.

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