The Most Miserable Time Of The Year

With each passing year I am learning to dislike the holidays more and more. Hate is getting to be the right word to describe my feelings towards the holiday season. It wasn’t always this way. I have never been a huge fan of Christmas, but Thanksgiving had been a long time favorite. I enjoyed spending time with my family over a good meal, and the day just felt like it filled its purpose of taking timeout to be with those closest to you. Christmas I didn’t particularly dislike, but we never had any money when I was a kid so when I was very young it was always a disappointment as I watched my friends get the coolest new toys while I got very little. I wasn’t very old before I came to understand why Christmas in my house was different than so many others, and I never held any animosity towards my folks for it. I saw how hard they worked, and I knew there was no money, but how I hated going back to school and answering the inevitable “what did you get for Christmas?”

With marriage comes the integration of two family’s holiday traditions. In our case these means trying to keep three different households, not counting our own, happy. My wife’s parents are split and her dad is remarried to arguably the most obnoxious human being on the planet. Her mom never remarried and brings a sense of need into the holidays that is suffocating, and then there are my folks who are by no means perfect, but are probably the most pliable of the three households. Who knows maybe I am just biased towards my own family. Hard to tell really. Two years ago we brought a son into the mix which has further complicated the season.

My wife and I have been together in some way or another since we were teenagers. I met her when I was fourteen, and took her out for the first time when I was sixteen she was fifteen, over 18 year ago. We have a lot of history, most of it great, but some better forgotten. One such forgettable moment occurred when my mother gave my then girlfriend a book on how to make pies. I don’t recall exactly when this happened. It was early in the relationship, but far enough along that the occasional holiday had been shared and there had been what I thought to be innocent conversation about the merits of our mother’s respective apple pie recipes. My mom had no idea these conversations had occurred, and to be fair the method in the book wasn’t even the method she used, but my future wife took the gift as an insult. Whether it was intended that way or not, which it wasn’t, she didn’t care.

About a year and a half ago I took over the cooking duties around our house. I work in over the road sales, and this crappy economy was having me home earlier than usual. I had been getting home well before my wife for a couple months, and was pulling a real asshole move. I hated cooking so I would leave the chore to her, but I was getting home at three in the afternoon and she was not getting home until nearly six with our infant in tow. I would ask what was for dinner, she would ask what I took out, I would say nothing because I didn’t know what she wanted to make, etc, etc. Looking back I can’t believe I was being that big a dick, but I figured it out and took over cooking. With Thanksgiving coming I wanted to prepare the meal and show off my new talents. I have learned to actually enjoy cooking and baking so I was ready to go. One of the things I wanted to do was make my mom’s apple pie recipe including the from scratch pie crust. The night before Thanksgiving after the boy went to bed I retired to the kitchen to make the pie. Not having any idea about the dough drying out I started there as it seemed the hardest step. When I had the dough made it just didn’t seem enough so, concerned I may have to make it twice, once for each crust, I called my mother to ask if it was a single or double crust recipe. My bride heard the conversation and was pissed. I hadn’t asked her the question because she had never used my mom’s dough recipe before so I figured she didn’t know the answer, but to her it was an attack on her ability to bake a pie and I was informed that I didn’t need to ask my “mommy” for help making the pie. Poof. There went all the fun from the entire process of making the meal and I was ten minutes in. I had managed to fuck up the pie crust, it was too dry, and rather than take any more chances I used crust from a box and let my wife show me how to put together the filling. In the end we made my mother in laws pie recipe. My enthusiasm for the project was dead and throughout the next day, despite having made a huge deal out my cooking the holiday meal, I let her lead me through the process and we together made the meal for her mother and my parents. The food was good, but the day was not what I had wished for.

The pie story was something of a side rant, but the point of this little essay is that even the once mellow Thanksgiving as become much too complicated. Where will it be? Will everybody be invited if we do it there? Didn’t they do it last year? Well if she comes, he will be pissed and might pout in the corner. If She doesn’t come than my Wife’s father won’t be here. What if we go nowhere? And on and on and on. Its enough to make you want to move across the continent, or maybe to a different one all together.

Christmas has gone from a manageable annoyance to a budget busting nightmare. My family had evolved the holiday into simple gifts and family time. My parents by virtue of working the same jobs for 30+ years are in a better place than they were when I was a kid, but they still spend comparatively little on the holiday. The other side of the family takes a completely different approach. It’s as if they feel they will be judged by both the quality and quantity of the gifts bought. If you spend $50 on one person for a single special gift and spend the same $50 on another for two or three gifts there is this sense that the person who only got one needs more so it will be equal. My wife and I will have five conversations about how much we are going to spend and what we are going to get, but it never works out the way we discuss. Extra things are bought here and there, and my opinion is continually asked for, like it is going to change as the money disappears, and ignored. Much like this years Thanksgiving dinner my life is easier if I don’t fight it so I don’t. Of course not fighting it has its traps too. My mom is admittedly bad at buying gifts in this system, and I have to hear her criticized for being cheap. She is a bargain bin shopper and rarely gets anybody anything they want or need, but I don’t want to hear about. This past summer I worked two jobs six or seven days a week, one of these jobs was physically punishing, trying to get our credit card paid off. I would have made it, but we needed a new bed this summer. That’s life, there is always something, but it kills me to watch the credit card balance grow during the holiday season and it is even more painful this year.

Christmas is another holiday where the frustration is compounded my son. We as family have made it clear we are not going anywhere for the holiday. If people want to see us they are welcome to stop by. The result of this has been the entire family rotating through my house over the course of the day, and a meal being prepared to feed everybody. In addition as if the gift buying wasn’t already out of control he wants for nothing. He gets more crap than he needs, and more crap than I can fit in this tiny house. Both grandmothers, and to an extent his own mother, contribute to this. No matter how we ask for them to tone it down has been obscene each year.

To me the holiday season is no longer a time of celebration, reflection, and family. It has simply become a matter of survival. I will enjoy Christmas morning with my son this year. He is two and knows something special is coming. He will be pleased with what Santa has in store for him. Christmas morning will also mark the end of the holiday nightmare which I am also looking forward to.

Anger Management

Over the short history of this blog I have repeatedly commented on the difficulty I have writing about depression. In order to keep things making any sense I said I would pick a single piece and focus on that. In the past week I spent a great deal of time talking about loss. I even experienced a small, but significant, loss last week that though I didn’t write about it specifically, highlighted in my own mind a lot of what I was trying to say. In this blog post I want to talk about the day to day consequences of feeling that you have lost so much. There is the obvious sadness that comes along with all this, but I am talking about anger.

A lot of people that experience depression and a sense of loss carry that “angry at the world” attitude, and having been down this path myself I can see how that could easily be. My anger has never really been focused in that direction. I learned lessons about fairness at an early age, the take away point basically being that there is no such thing. I could write an entire commentary on what I consider to be the lack of truth in the world’s most dangerous four letter words, fair and free, but that is probably not a topic for a surviving depression blog. The point here is that I developed an understanding of how the world works long ago, and my life has repeatedly reinforced this model. I accept this with resignation not anger. There are specific circumstances that have left me angered, but to generically focus my anger at the world has never been part of my depression.

The anger that I fight with comes mostly from the fatigue of making it through the days, months, and years of trying to live moment by moment, breath by breath. The fatigue of living a life filled with depression and anxiety. I am short tempered, but passive. I know that sentence makes little sense, but I feel a lot more anger than I show. I swallow much of it. Occasionally it will show itself in an argument, but I carry most of it in my guts. If I am alone I may release it in a shout or tirade of yelling and cursing, but even that is rare. I often have the urge to throw things. In the moment it feels like if I could grab something and heave it across the room all the pain inside me would be released through my hand and be sent traveling away attached to whatever object had the misfortune of being within reach. When I was a kid I have memories of going into my back yard and throwing rocks at a tree when I was upset about something. As adult throwing things is not an option. This is not a grown up way to deal with problems, and cleaning up whatever mess get made isn’t going to help my mood at all so I exercise restraint, and despite the urge have never thrown anything in anger as an adult.

Anger and short temperedness actually seem to be family traits. Most of the men in my family are short tempered, and can be flat out mean. My Dad was that way when I was a kid, and I swore I would never be like that. I have seen what it can cost a family unit and I refuse to put my wife and child through what I went through. I spent a lot of time trying to find alternative ways to argue, and learned to put on a calm passive front even when I was boiling inside. Before my wife and I were married she would get upset when we argued because I appeared not to care. The angrier she got the calmer I became. It made her feel as if whatever we were fighting about wasn’t important to me which would cause her to become even more upset. I hate fighting with my wife. My “what if” brain takes me too scary places having to do with the end of our marriage, which gives her all the power in every argument. Every fight is a failure in my mind, and we don’t fight very well. There are ways to fight in a marriage that are not as destructive as others, but I have never felt that we have been very good at that. The result is I avoid arguments at almost any cost. Those that I cannot avoid I seek to end as quickly as possible. A harmonious domestic life is more important to me that being right. Of course this has the obvious downfall of leaving one feeling like their opinions and feelings are insignificant in the relationship, leading to further sense of loss. The cycle of depression is cruel.

Like Sadness and loss are my nearly constant companions so too is anger a frequent visitor to my world. Some is an understandable result of my circumstances and some is undoubtedly genetic. The way I deal with it, or don’t deal with for that matter, is all learned behavior.  It has become increasingly clear over the years, and even more so as I have tried to write this, that I don’t deal with it well. I need to find some way to vent this energy and these feelings in a constructive rather than destructive way. The challenge is I am not sure I can tell which is which. So I will pose the question to anybody who may be reading this. Can you relate to what I have written? How do you manage anger and arguments in your relationships? How do you manage any generalized anger you may have at your circumstances? For many carrying around too much anger can be dangerous, making dialogue on the subject important. My availability to moderate and respond to comments is somewhat limited, but I would love to hear what people have to say about this, and will try to get comments and responses up quickly.

Depression Foreshadowed

Yesterday I shared a piece of writing from back in college that was written before I was in an active battle with depression and anxiety. It showed that I was allowing my mind to spend time is some dark places back before depression was running my life, and that I have been struggling with making the “right” decision for years. Last night I was reading through a Word document in which I had brainstormed on “paper” before I wrote that essay. I was thinking that maybe I should post these raw thoughts when I came to the bottom of the screen and found a poem. Now to be clear I am no poet or even fan of poetry for that matter. I have stumbled across some that I enjoyed, Robert Frost The Road Not Taken comes directly to mind, but mostly I just don’t “get” poetry. This poem, and I use the term loosely, does give another window into where  my brain was as I approached graduation and the reality of what that would mean began to sink in.

 

Its strength is immeasurable growing stronger with

every puppet that falls in line.  It forces conformity

from all it can, and destroys all that it cannot.

 

It sucks the energy from everything around it

destroying what is unique with its unyielding power

forcing its will upon all.

 

What is its plan for me? Will it bury me with its

fantastic power? Can I be who I want to be? or

just another puppet on a string?

Decisions… Decisions…

In my last blog entry I spoke about living with an ever present feeling of loss. I struggle each day with having lost control of the direction of my life, and having lost my self. These feelings are of course a huge part of the depression I fight with. In one of my original entries I mentioned that it felt like the depression and anxiety came crashing down out of nowhere, but hindsight had shown me that it had been there bubbling under the surface.

I have had little time to read or write this week, but I have had time to again be faced with the concept of loss, and continually being forced to make decisions that are “right” even if they aren’t right for me. In seems my life has become a series of choosing the poison that is going to kill me the slowest (I mean this figuratively). Its like a presidential election where most of us hold our nose and vote for who we hope will do the least damage, except these decisions have a more direct effect on the direction of my life and my mood.

I was flipping through some writing I had managed to save from when I was in college. Below I have added a short reflection I wrote when I was a junior in college. It wasn’t an assignment it was simply designed to help me organize the chaos in my brain. I don’t think anybody has ever seen it. This was written before I was actively fighting depression though I was probably already well on my way down. Its theme is difficult decisions. It shows how I struggled with them even back then before I really had to make any. I knew this was coming…

The Power of The Sea

It can be interesting sometimes to consider the strength of the sea. The power of the ocean has carved beautiful coastlines and destroyed entire cities, but its power is not contained solely in its physical strength. The sea’s power can also be measured in its impact on a man’s soul. Its draw is undeniable and once a man feels the spray in his face and the taste of salt permeates his lips he will never again be the same. To the individual the psychological power of the sea far outweighs its physical strength.

The draw of the sea is like that of a magnet, once the polarities are aligned its power is unquestionable. A man with the sea in his veins cannot be happy forever on land. The motion of the sea becomes necessary for sleep and the smell of salt as important as air. A sailor kept from the sea will slowly die inside.

In contrast with the sailors yearning for the freedom of the ocean lie the shackles of land. Life on the ocean and the taste of salt on ones lips does not readily mix with the expectations of those that have never been rocked to sleep by the gentle roll of a boats steady motion, and cannot be understood by those who have never felt the freedom born of the self reliance required to live far from the sight of land.

Striking a balance in this conflict is difficult. Responsibility once acquired is not easily shed, and it is after all the very chains of responsibility that while slowly killing the sailor’s spirit make any hope of journey on the sea possible.

The sailors lot is one of sacrifice. If the sailor is lucky his affair with his one true love will not cost him the love of those around him, but often he will be asked to choose and the choices are hard. Will he be standing on a rolling deck alone staring at the horizon thinking of loves lost while awaiting his next landfall, or will he be standing on the shore staring at the same sea thinking of another love lost and only dreaming about those same landfalls while he slowly dies inside?

Have You Seen My Life?

Depression is a complicated topic to write about. Its sources and symptoms are just too complex and too interrelated. You start describing one aspect of your struggle when you suddenly realize it makes no sense without explaining this other piece of the puzzle, and the next thing you know you have 2,500 words of rambling nonsense. I am going to try and write about the pieces of depression isolated from each other the best I can. I think the easiest place for me to start is to talk a little about the feeling that dominates my current day to day life. That feeling is loss; loss of opportunities due to depression, loss of control of my own life and its direction, and the loss of my identity.

To date depression has directly cost me two careers, and its effects have indirectly cost me two more. In my post about anxiety I described the loss of my flying career. I tried to work in aviation in a non-flying role, but that led directly to a cubicle which felt a lot like prison. The movie Office Space is funny for a reason, and after three years I plotted my escape and made a break for it.

Cover of "Office Space (Special Edition w...

Cover via Amazon

Somewhere along the line here I mentioned that I spent some time working on boats, and the new plan was to get out from under “the man” and start my own sailing charter business. To do this I figured I needed some more formal training so I decided to attend a maritime academy. While I was in school this second time I got married. When I finished I approached the bank with a business plan. The projection for this plan showed no profit in the business for five years. We would be living off my wife’s teacher salary while I tried to build up a business. The bank was prepared to give me the money, but I was troubled by forcing my wife to support us both. I was being offered jobs by various towing companies that paid good money, and in the end I chose to go to work for a large tugboat company that moved petroleum all over the East and Gulf Coasts. This work had me gone a lot. Depending on the boat I was on I was away 14 – 21 days and then home an equal amount of time. Of course I was working my ass off trying to get promoted so I often picked up extra days when the company needed somebody. Over the time frame that I worked there I averaged 210 – 215 days a year away from home.

A Tug Boat in New York Harbor

Image via Wikipedia

The end of my tug boating career was caused by a confluence of events that are hard to explain. First I was tired of being gone so damn much, and tired of being passed over for promotion to mate so I began planning for a way to work ashore. I heard that a local air traffic control facility was hiring and given my aviation background, and that this wasn’t considered a desirable location, I was a shoe in for one of the slots. There was a catch though. I would have to pass an FAA medical exam. The same exam the pills I take every morning would make me fail. I decided that I just would not tell the FAA about the pills. I actually knew a couple guys on SSRI’s who were working in aviation and keeping their mouths shut about it. The only hang up there was that I had been told the Klonopin would pop on a drug test. Of all the meds I have taken this one has always been the crutch, but it was going to have to go.

About the same time I made this decision the long awaited promotion to mate come through on the tug boats. The first step was to work as a trainee with a captain until he signed you off as competent. The training took place in very busy and very congested New York Harbor. I had worked with the captain I was assigned to as a trainee in the past. He was easy to get along with which was nice, but had had mixed success with his trainees. He and I were told that there was no rush for me, that we should take our time and be sure I was ready before I was cut loose as an actual mate. This sounded good to me, and during my first fourteen day stint I drove the tug around a little with no barges attached to it, but otherwise did little but observe and learn the geography.  This is also when I started tapering off the Klonopin. During the second tour I drove the boat a lot more and landed a couple barges in the easiest places in the harbor. When I arrived for my third tour I was told by the captain that they were looking for a mate trainee to push up and we had to buckle down and get me ready. I didn’t really take him seriously. I was on my third trip as a trainee and there were other trainees in the harbor on their seventh and eighth trips. Why would they promote me when they had these other guys, and there were a lot of difficult docks I hadn’t even tried yet? Well it turns out the captain was more interested in making himself look good than taking care of my career, and he told them I was ready to go. Two days into the trip I got up from a nap in my off watch and found the captain running the boat when the mate should have been. I asked where the mate was and was informed he was me.

I was shocked. I told the port captain I wasn’t ready, and he told me that the captain said I was so I just needed to build a little confidence. I told him about all the things I had yet to even attempt and was told they would take it easy on me in the beginning. Now I was responsible for operating the boat moving oil barges around the harbor, and to add to the stress the captain took the good deck hand for himself and left me with a new guy who still didn’t even know what he didn’t know. Great time to be tapering off the anxiety drugs. I finished that trip and did one more after. I got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping on the boats and when I stopped sleeping at home with five days to go before I was due to head back for my third trip as mate I called and quit. That phone call did not go over very well at all, and I was brow beat into returning for a final tour to give them time for a replacement. I lasted thirty-six hours. I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted and I told the captain what was going on. Then I told the HR director who accused me of misleading them all. I had taken a physical for pre-employment, and once a year after and never hid my conditions or my medications. I was a mess at this point and needed the medication to get myself back together which blew any hope I had of working for the FAA.

The several years since this event have been spent in a professional wasteland. The Coast Guard has changed their medical guidelines as a result of a couple high profile accidents, and my renewal is pending. It is looking more and more like they may not issue me a license because of my meds. I have a decent job in support of the marine trades, but the economy has been hard on the company and there is really no future in it. I have lost my ability to go commercial fishing and am essentially feeling around in the dark trying to find a path forward. How you spend a third or more of your life is no small decision and the wrong one will have a negative effect on my mood. I have made the wrong decisions repeatedly, and at this point I have no idea how to move forward professionally.

Making these decisions when I was in my twenties was not nearly so difficult. Being single and childless allows you to take chances that you just cant when you add a second personality, a mortgage, and a kid to your life. The weight of responsibility is a burden I don’t bear well. Before I went back to school the second time I had my life pretty much where I wanted it with the exception of my career. I love boats and was living aboard a small sailboat year-round, something I had wanted to do since I was eighteen. I was doing a lot of sailing in the summer, and dating my future wife. I had been working with a great therapist, and things in general seemed to be coming together. It seemed the worst was behind me.

When the plan changed from starting my own business to working on tugboats things began to slowly unravel again. We were in a place where the geography and lack of facilities made living on a boat impossible, and since I was going to be gone so much it didn’t make a lot of sense anyway so we bought a house. This major purchase was made within months of the housing market crash. When I married my wife she was well aware of two conditions. The first was I had no interest in owning a home. I have described what led to the change in that line of thought, but when we made the purchase I made it clear that if we found ourselves in financial circumstances that precluded owning both a house and a boat the house was going to go. My boat is currently for sale. The second condition was that there were going to be no children. My son is two. Having a child was my idea, and I really cannot explain what happened other than I really felt an urge to procreate. I have no regrets, but parenthood is not all sunshine and roses.

I was in a place prior to returning to school that had me pointed in a healthy direction, and I was in control of my life. Seven years later I am living the exact life I wished to avoid, and cant seem to find a way out. I defined myself as a sailor and I loved to SCUBA dive. My wife was also certified to dive, and while it was mostly my thing she participated willingly and had some fun with it. We have not been in the water together since she got pregnant, and I have not been in the water in well over a year. I have not been sailing in over a year now, and have not sailed for myself since before my wife was pregnant. All the sailing I have done has been as an instructor for pay. Not only have I stopped participating in these activities my wife has lost any interest she had in them, and I do not have the motivation to force the issue. The lack of energy and motivation is partly the depression and partly an acceptance of my new reality. This is a reality that feeds back into the depression.

Compass Study

The bottom line here is that through circumstances created by depression, and unintended consequences of well intended decisions I have lost everything a person uses to define their self. I have no professional direction, but worse I have no real direction or purpose for my life and don’t really feel like I have much say in it anyway. I have no idea who I am, and only a vague idea of who I might want to be. I live with a deep sense of loss, and am lost myself. Until I can find some direction I am not going to break out of this cycle, and will continue to wander through the fog trying not to fall into the darkness.

The Battle Is Lost… The War Rages On

I have had a shitty week. No other way to say it really. I am more and more a creature of habit, and this week I have been thrown out of my routine. I have more of the same to look forward to next week so I better get used to the idea. I have been holding up pretty well, but today I lost the battle. In the four days so far this week I have had diarrhea or nausea or both every day. I work in sales and spend the majority of my day driving about visiting people with very limited access to restrooms. Do you have any idea how hard it is to stand in front of people feeling that you are going to puke or fill your shorts at any second and keep a smile painted on your face. The nausea is unsettling and makes me a little panicky and the cramping is flat painful only adding to my worry. My boss would never know if I just didn’t bother with it making it take every ounce of my mental strength to get through the day.  It is exhausting and I am not going to lie about it some customers get skipped because I just cant stand that thought of getting out of my vehicle.

I am not proud of the impact this issue has on my job and I could pretty much make it stop if I just started taking those stupid pills again, but for reasons posted yesterday I am in no hurry to get back on medication. What really has me upset this evening is that I was supposed to go to a meeting tonight and I am not going. I am tired of being in front of the public all day feeling sick, and I don’t want to voluntarily subject myself to it any more today. The problem is I am already feeling awful about not attending. I feel like I have let myself down. I feel empty, hollow even, like a failure because I am letting my stomach make decisions for me. Like everything else it seems I am faced with a choice I am tired of making. I can go to the meeting and maybe feel like shit or maybe not it’s really a roll of the dice, or I can stay home and mope and feel sad, tired and useless which is pretty much a guaranteed result of staying home. The anxiety and uncertainty of leaving the house or the known misery of staying home and I pick the known misery. Seriously… Why the fuck would I do that? I have to find a way to get a handle on this.

Better Living Through Chemistry

I think the time has come for me to discuss my relationship with psychotropic medications. In my last post I wrote in some detail about the spiral I found myself in with anxiety and depression compounding one another until I reached a point where I simply could not pull myself together. I credit medication for ending this spiral, but that does not mean I believe these pills are the magic bullet for curing depression.

I fought the use of medications for a long time. I was a pilot and taking these drugs meant the end of a career that was just getting started. I had spent four extremely difficult years in college working towards the goal, and spent well over one hundred thousand of someone else’s dollars to complete my degree. The idea of throwing it all away was more than I could bear. It took consecutive events in airplanes to convince me it was time.

I was well trained and qualified to fly in bad weather. I actually really enjoyed flying when I couldn’t see. It required a level of precision that the perfectionist in me got a great deal of satisfaction from. I was training to teach others these skills when I lost control of an airplane in the clouds. I am not sure I actually physically lost control of the airplane, but my mind convinced me there was a problem and the instructor had to take control of the plane from me. The experience scared me, and the next day I went flying in good weather alone to try and shake it off, but I was terrified from the moment the wheels left the ground until touchdown. I knew something bad was going to happen if I continued so I parked the plane walked into the Director of Flight Operations office and told him I needed to be taken off the schedule because I was medically unfit to fly. I stood in front of a man who had over 600 hours of combat flying experience in Vietnam and worked as a test pilot on the F-16 program and told him that I was afraid to fly. I had tears in my eyes and have never felt as small as I did that day.

I followed this good butt painful decision with a poor one, but one that I sure many others have made. I went to my primary care physician rather than getting a psychiatrist recommendation from my therapist. I am sure my doctor meant well, but she had no business messing around with these drugs. I don’t even recall the names of the first few she tried, but they are not names most would recognize. I do remember I got no benefit and a pile of side effects. I recall one drug made me horribly dizzy and made my vision weird. I went into the bathroom looked in the mirror and could watch my pupils change size from larger to smaller and back again. Other side effects included fatigue and feeling mentally sluggish. I was dismayed that I had lost my career to experience this.

Finally she landed on the SSRI Celexa. No freaky side effects were immediately apparent and after a week or so I noticed an unbelievable improvement in every area of my life. I truly thought I had found the silver bullet. The catch was soon to be discovered. When I started these pills my future mother-in-law was staying with us. She and my future wife were going to Florida together, and she had arrived a few days early. The size of our apartment and the presence of “mom” precluded any activity of a physical nature between my girlfriend and I. When they left and I had the place to myself I settled in to let off some of the pent up energy. I was more than a little disturbed to discover that something was terribly wrong. I felt aroused, I could get hard, but orgasm was another matter. At this time I was probably about 23 years old and had not had sex for a week. I should have been able to masturbate to orgasm in minutes if not seconds. It took over thirty minutes, required aggressive stimulation, and the end result while technically being and orgasm was less than satisfying. It was my first experience with what I came to call the pleasureless orgasm. The physical response could be made to happen with a great deal of effort, but sometimes I felt almost nothing.

Having my life back was enough for me to accept the side effect, and life moved on. My future wife was extremely understanding about the side effect even after it became clear that I would never be able to orgasm through intercourse. She always did whatever I needed to get over the top. There were times when this would go on for forty-five minutes or more after we gave up on intercourse.

The initial experience with medications had led me to make an appointment with a psychiatrist, and even though the Celexa seemed to be doing the trick I kept the appointment. He kept me on the Celexa and added Klonopin. The Klonopin was for the anxiety, and made it nearly impossible to have a panic attack. In the rare events that the panic did break through I could take another pill and in twenty minutes or so things would settle down. This drug can be habit forming and I was told would show up on drug tests making any thoughts I may have been having about lying to the FAA about my condition and flying anyway mute. I stayed on this combination of drugs for a long time.

Eventually after having felt relatively normal long enough the sexual side effects of the SSRI became annoying enough that I asked what could be done about it. The first attempt the psychiatrist made was to give me a coupe sample packs of Viagra. Other than erections so hard I could have chiseled marble I got no benefit from the little blue pills at all.

The next attempt was to switch me over to a newer drug called Lexapro. This was supposed to be a purer form of the Celexa and have fewer incidents of unwanted sexual side effects. That too had no effect. Next they added Wellbutrin which acts on norepineperine and dopamine rather than the serotonin targeted by the Lexapro. I was told that adding Wellbutrin to regimes of SSRI’s had helped with the side effects. Again I got zero benefit from this combination. Over time my body adjusted to the SSRI a little and post intercourse hand jobs that had been lasting forty-five minutes or more got down to twenty minutes or so. Adding pornography to the equation would speed things up further, sometimes I could even come through intercourse with porn in the background, but we only did this rarely. I did not want to become dependent on pornography.

For years this was as good as it got. I took Lexapro and Klonopin, and dealt with the side effects. After I had been married about four years the side effects really started to bother me again. By this time I was in a different state so I sought out a different psychiatrist who decided to try adding Wellbutrin again, and again I got nowhere. The next step was to build up to a maximum dose of the Wellbutrin and wean off the Lexapro. This led to my first experience with serotonin withdrawal. The symptoms of dizziness, headaches, and confusion were unpleaseant, but were plenty tolerable and only lasted a few days. The upside was that within a week of being completely of the SSRI my sexual function was completely back to normal.

For awhile life was good. We conceived out first child during this time, and things were generally normal. I don’t recall exactly how long I was off the Lexapro, but in time symptoms returned mostly in the form of constant stomach upset. I put up with the stomach aches and the building depression for a long time, but eventually I felt I was getting too close to dropping into a deep funk, and I started the Lexapro again. Within two days of taking the first pill, well before I felt any benefit, I was again suffering from anorgasmia.  The doctor decided to add Abilify to the drugs I was taking to see if that would help both my mood and the sexual dysfunction. I got no benefit either way, but I did experience the unsettling side effect of feeling like my skin was alive. It gave the term “my skin is crawling” a whole new meaning. It was an awful side effect that didn’t seem to be getting better so I dropped the drug.

I stayed on the Lexapro for a year or so when a growing difference in sex drive between my wife and I led us to seek out some help. During conversations about this it came out that the marathons were wearing thin and adding to her lack of interest. I decided to try dropping the Lexapro again, and this time the withdrawal syndrome was awful. I suffered from dizziness, vertigo, confusion, and these awful feelings like electric shocks in my brain. I little research on my part turned up what they call “Brain Zaps” as a withdrawal side effect. These effects lasted three weeks before finally passing.

Today I am on Wellbutrin and Klonopin only. I have tried to drop the Klonopin in the past, but the results were not good. Over time tolerance builds to Klonopin and I have found the frequency with which I add a second pill to my regular dosage increasing. I have been off the Lexapro for about six months and I am again feeling the steady creep of depression and increased anxiety. The stomach discomfort has been back for several months already. This is the cruel reality of using medications for the long term treatment of depression. I have to choose between two significant quality of life issues. I either take the pills and destroy an already strained sex life, the effect of which will add to my depressive mood, or I don’t take the drugs deal with the symptoms of depression and anxiety to make the most of my sex life. The jury is still out this time around. This blog is one effort to keep from having to take the drugs again. If I go back on them I don’t know what will happen to my sex life, and the thought of facing the withdrawal syndrome again to come off them is more than I can bear.

To those that are in a real bad place the benefit of these drugs is undeniable, and they can be great for giving you a chance to reset, and for many who don’t experience these side effects they may be the ultimate solution. For the rest of us the decisions we make are going to be deeply personal and extremely difficult. Ironically the cruelty of having to make this decision feeds into my depressive mood as there is a significant feeling of loss with either decision. There is no right or wrong here and what works for a person may change over time as the circumstances of life evolve.