There used to be a jive-ass writer of self-help books named Peter McWilliams. He’s dead now. His books were always printed with large type and often a whole page would be taken up by a single joke, or an affirmation, or suchlike in huge font, stretching 20 pages of text out to 100. He sold millions of books, all of them the ramblings of a charlatan. Why do I care? I care because he had the nerve to entitle one of his books How to Heal Depression.
As a lifelong depression sufferer, I take severe offense at that title. The gall to cobble jokes, aphorisms, and four-line poems into a selection of big-text paperback pages and call it How to Heal Depression, when the respected core of the psychiatric community hasn’t figured out how to do this yet, is breathtaking. It breaks my heart to consider how many desperate people — people who cry every day and haven’t the energy or the optimism to fight for their own lives — paid good money for this crap believing that it would help “heal” them. Why not write a book called How to Heal Cancer or How to Heal Autism? Go all out!
Depression can’t be cured. It can be managed like diabetes, or rendered dormant with medication, exercise, and cognitive therapy, but a sufferer will never be “healed.” Depression will always be there, waiting to pounce. Even with treatment, it can come back, again and again and again. Victims must always be looking over their shoulders, ever mindful they are saddled with brains that lie to them, telling them they’re weak, worthless, or just plain bad.
And now I turn my ranting lens to two other matters: sufferers who give up too soon, and the failings of Big Pharma.
Reaching out to depressed people is kind of my ministry. At the end of my weekly “Monday Morning Cup of Coffee” video blog, I show a banner that reads “Depressed? Write me. firstname.lastname@example.org. I WILL answer.” And I do. And I wish I had a dollar for every person I’ve engaged with who tried one med that didn’t work, or they didn’t like how it made them feel, and never tried a second med. This is tragic. It can take years to find the right med regimen. It took me 20 years, but I found what works. For me it’s a combination of meds working together. And so long as I take them faithfully, and avoid such depressants as alcohol, I’m as close to fine as I’m ever going to get.
Now to the dark side of the meds, and Big Pharma’s contribution to it. Pharmaceutical salespeople are, by definition, drug dealers, and they are as unconcerned with ethics as their street corner counterparts. Television is spilling over with commercials for drugs — marketing them directly to consumers, which doesn’t happen in other countries and used to not happen here. The ads are rife with obligatory warnings about all the side effects, usually including death. A lot of them — in my opinion — should not even be on the market, and one I’m sure of is Effexor.
Doctors prescribe many different antidepressants, and they know slightly more than jack shit about them. They’re just throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks. Prozac stuck, Zoloft stuck, and unfortunately, Effexor stuck too.
Like our distinguished editor-in-chief, I have my own story about Effexor. In 2003, I started on it after Prozac just didn’t seem to be doing the trick anymore. For a week I felt little to no relief as the med began to build up in my system. The second week, I felt great, better than I had in a long time. The third week, it stopped. I became so depressed I remember my five-year-old son trying to play basketball with me, and the ball just bounced off my chest when he threw it at me. I needed to try something else, but I couldn’t until the Effexor was out of my system. It effectively held me hostage. The withdrawal from it is hellish. You’re nervous, feel unhealthy, and you get the “zaps,” little flashes pulsing through your nervous system and the feeling that when you turn to the right, all the blood in your body surges to the left. It took a long time to get over that stuff. I’ve since heard many stories like mine. The stuff should not be on the market for any purpose whatsoever.
A final few words from my shrink. Pushups. Walking. Swimming. As he told me once, until you get some air moving through your bloodstream, all the Prozac in the world won’t help you. So, lace up your sneakers and learn a better way to live. And don’t read anything by Peter McWilliams. How to Heal Depression? — As Bill Hicks would have said, “Jesus! What balls!”
Tommy Womack is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter and author. His new book, dust bunnies: a memoir is available around town and at tommywomack.com. His 7” single “We’ll Get Through This Too”/ “Feel Beautiful” will be released in early 2019.