The Drug That Taught Me About Depression

Posted on August 20, 2014

Since the death of Robin Williams, there has been a lot of discussion by experts on how drugs can affect our brains.   There are treatment drugs for Parkinson’s Disease and while many work well for people, there are some that come with a dark side that can be dangerous to the people taking them for help in controlling their disease.  One woman on the news tonight, another expert in Parkinson’s treatment drugs,  made the statement that even if the drugs did cause depression, it could be managed by taking other drugs to help the depression.  Listening to all of this has brought back to me a time in my life when I became depressed and I didn’t even know I was suffering from depression.  It was caused by a drug that was given to me to take so that I could have an improvement in an acid reflux event.  The drug was Reglan [metoclopramide].  I think I started taking it back in the Summer of 1992.  I was told to take a dose of the medicine 30 minutes before eating.  By taking the medicine, it would help me to not have as much trouble with acid reflux.

The pharmacist who filled the prescription for me, listed what the common side affects could be.  No where in his discussion was any information about depression or any mood altering properties the drug might have.  Actually, my only problem was with the fact that I had to take the medicine 30 minutes before each meal.  When you are dealing with a brain injury-based short term memory loss problem, that 30 minutes number was a booger for me.   I did my best, although sometimes I was taking it right before I ate or as I ate.  Oh well,  I thought, maybe it would work okay anyway.  Taking my Zantac was easy for me as I took it in the morning and in the evening.  I wasn’t having any GERD problems so I thought everything was okay.  What I didn’t know was that things really weren’t okay.  While I thought the Reglan that I was taking was just a digestion drug, little did I know what it was doing to the emotional and rational thinking part of me.   This drug Reglan almost cost me my life.  The worst thing about it was that the rare side affect developed so gradually that I never saw it coming.  To this day, it is still scary to me as to how close I came to being able to take my life and no one, including myself, would have ever understood why it would have happened.

Mark had been busy working quite a bit out of town, so when I came home, usually I would fix something to eat, fuss about forgetting the 30 minute rule about the Reglan and have to wait to eat.  I had been on the Reglan for about two months.  I don’t know how to explain when the depression set in and started to slowly take over my thinking processes.  When I was out around people, I didn’t have a problem in talking and being with them.  I could laugh and talk and act like everything was fine.  It was when I would get home that it started to affect the way I thought about things I had been doing.   I would catch myself thinking about how I had done in things like decorating our home.  I even started doubting how I had made a good decision in picking our home out.  I would sit on the end of the couch and pull my legs up and hug my arms around them and put my head against my knees.  I was so sad and disappointed in how I seemed to not be able to do anything right.  I spent many hours sitting and second guessing decisions I had made about even the smallest tasks.  The sadness I felt was deep and I felt useless and not needed.  Mark had no idea that any of this was going on.  I made sure that I did my best to not let him see me doubt myself.

By the end of October that year, it was awful for me.  I came in the house, sat on the couch and felt like I was waiting to die.  Being alone was a comfort because I didn’t have to pop up and be Miss Sunshine and fake what I didn’t feel.  It had finally gotten bad enough that I couldn’t hide it from Mark.  He would try to say good things about stuff I had done and I would come back with all the things I thought I had done wrong or hadn’t done well enough.   It was a dark, dark time for me.  To top it off, Thanksgiving was coming and usually that meant everyone coming in for family time and fun.   Now, instead of looking forward to the fun and all the cooking I liked to do, I was dreading the holiday time coming.   To top it off, I had finally reached the end of my rope with having to take those damned pills [Reglan] 30 minutes before I was supposed to eat.  In a fit of anger I tossed them in the trash and said the hell with them.  I couldn’t remember to take them like I was supposed to and it was another stone around my neck trying to get 3 of them taken everyday.

I cannot exactly recall when I started to feel better.  It was a slow recovery.  No going to bed one day and getting up the next day feeling like I was queen of the world.   By the time Thanksgiving arrived, I was doing my cooking and not making excuses to stay away from my friends.  Mark said I had started to joke with him again and I was spending less time sitting and more time being active.  Thanksgiving was a good time and it seemed that as things got better  it was more of business as usual.  Instead of sitting on the couch and thinking sad thoughts, I was watching television and making plans for Christmas.  It was like that dark time had gone away.  I had never had that deep blue, ton of weight sitting on your heart kind of thing happen before and really had no clue as to any whys, what’s or how’s to it happening to me.  For whatever reason, it was gone and I was glad to be back to my old self.  I was happy it was gone and I didn’t want  it to come back.

Christmas was great that year.  Everything was going as normal as it could.  One of my favorite things that I have loved and continue to love is reading my morning paper and having my coffee.  Back then, the Sunday paper always had lots of news and favorite columns, one of which was the “The People’s Pharmacy”, written by Joe and Terry Graedon. [website link ]  Mark was reading the comics and I had just started reading “The People’s Pharmacy”.  The horror of what I was reading brought chills.  I sat my coffee down.  I again read the letter that a reader had sent in about a loved one’s experience with Reglan.   The person had written in her letter that their family had suffered a tragic loss due to a suicide of a loved one.  The person who died by his own hand had been taking Reglan for a digestive disorder.  No history of mental problems, family so stunned by the death and left with questions as to why it had happened.  The writer of the letter had discovered the rare link between major depression and the taking of Reglan.  Her sending the letter to Joe and Terry Graedon was to let them know what had happened and to alert others that this drug could bring on what had happened to their family member.

It’s been over twenty years since I read that letter.  As I am writing to you now about it, I had to stop to take a few moments to handle the raw recall of that time in my life.  That letter let me know that the deep dark sad feeling that I had experienced while taking Reglan was depression, a major depression, something so foreign to me that I could not recognize it for what it was.  Mark was as shaken by the letter as I was.  He said that he knew something was wrong but since neither of us had any experience with depression, we were unaware of how serious what had happened to me was.  I truly believe that having my short term memory loss, a consequence of my 1985 brain injury,  actually saved my life.  In a fit of anger over not being able to remember to take the drug 30 minutes before I ate, I said to hell with it and threw it in the trash!   For weeks afterward, learning the reason for my experiencing the depression I had suffered caused attacks of the “What If’s” .  What if I had not stopped the drug?  What if I had decided to kill myself because living with that deep dark sorrow was awful?  What would have happened to my family?  What if my family had thought I hadn’t loved them enough to keep on living?

I don’t know what Robin Williams was feeling, thinking or experiencing when he made the decision to end his life.  I only know that there are drugs out there that can make people lose control of their thought processes.  Besides living through the drug-induced depression,  the best take-away from my experience was that I stopped parroting the lines often said to people suffering from depression.  You don’t “snap” out of it.  You cannot just make it go away.  Thinking something happy doesn’t work.  Prayer didn’t lift the depression because it was being caused by a medically prescribed substance I was putting into my body.  I do know that I was fortunate to have something in me that kept me from dying during that time.  Whether it was the lifeline of having Mark’s love or a lifeline from God, I don’t know.  I’m just glad that whatever I was holding onto didn’t break.  For that I will always be thankful.

I will end with what I hope is a take-away for many people.  If you have someone in your family suffering with depression, make sure that they are getting quality medical care AND check the side effects and affects of any of the drugs they are taking.  Make sure all drugs being taken by that person “play well with others”.   I’m wise enough to know that no one can guarantee that suicide can always be prevented.   I’m humble enough in my human weakness to know that in all things, I will strive to do my best.  I am God’s Child, just as Robin Williams was God’s Child.  When I die, it will He alone who will tell me whether or not I did a good job.

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