Tuesday, 22 January 2013

One Year on Antidepressants

This is the first time I’ve made this admission in a public arena: I have depression. This is unlikely to come as a great surprise to anyone who has followed the belligerent narcissism of this blog and my various self-pitying social media updates. It’s this that has made me realise that not talking about it is, well... dumb. I’ve been on antidepressants for around a year now, and this is a brief account of my experiences.

It's going to be a laugh riot

It’s actually my belief that I’ve had depression for a great many years. My fierce self-loathing began in adolescence, shortly followed by bouts of unexplained lugubriousness. I noticed my once extroverted personality slowly but surely turning in on itself. But for a number of reasons I refused to admit it. In part this was arrogance – I’ve grown up with people who have suffered tremendously from depression, and I wanted to believe that I was stronger than them. I also didn’t want to burden my mother. The last thing she needed was another child with depression.

My tactic for a number of years was to rationalise the problem by blaming it on being overweight, being single, being prone to locking myself out of the house at inopportune times. These (increasingly less rational) excuses were gradually whittled away. I lost weight, yet still baulked at my own reflection. I felt just as hopeless during my brief relationships as when I was alone. I even managed to remember my keys on a day-to-day basis. The depression didn’t disappear. Finally I had to admit to myself that there was no answer. It was an illness.

The doctor prescribed 20mg of Citalopram daily. For a second opinion I turned to Dr. Wikipedia for potential adverse effects. Citalopram can cause, amongst a rather startlingly long list of ailments, sleeplessness (and, conversely, extreme drowsiness), vivid dreaming, weight changes, emotional flattening, and loss of sex drive. After a year I can grudgingly confirm that I’ve experienced, in one way or another, every single one of these.  

Sometimes all at once

When I settle into bed it takes around 2 hours to get to sleep. Once I’m away I experience vivid nightmares that commonly involve all my teeth falling out or shitting myself in a public place (once, all my teeth fell out, and then I shat on them). I’ve written previously about my sustained state of emotional apathy, and, for a man of my age, my sex drive is equivalent to that of a gelded fruit fly.

Amongst all this fun it was difficult to discern any positive effect. I saw the doctor only once every few months for five minute appointments. Depression is determined by a short questionnaire, asking about your sleep patterns, propensity to slam your head under the toilet seat just to feel alive, etc. You assign a number to each based on your feelings and experiences. Your total reveals if you’re depressed. It’s frankly unsettling to have your mental state evaluated by the equivalent of a women’s glossy magazine’s compatibility test. I wasn’t sure if I was depressed or if I should marry a Virgo.

So I quit.

With typical masculine medicinal flippancy, I waved off any warnings about withdrawal symptoms. What could possibly go wrong when going cold turkey from prescription strength mood-altering drugs?

Within two days I was suffering severe headaches. I brushed them blindly aside, until shortly thereafter I started getting what aficionados refer to as ‘head whooshes’ – a dizzying lurching sensation in the brain, as if someone is desperately using a shepherd’s crook to try and evict you from the world stage.

I knew I was in trouble when I dropped a fish finger sandwich on the floor. I stared at it as barbecue sauce oozed onto the carpet. And I burst into tears.

Processed fish is all I live for.

I never cry. I didn’t cry when any of my grandparents died, when my father got cancer, or when Bambi’s mother got shot. Yet here I was weeping for my half-eaten fish fingers. They weren’t even Birdseye. Soon I found myself crying at Olympics highlight reels, when my electric razor ran out of power before I’d finished trimming my pubic hair, or just when I was sat quietly at my desk. When the withdrawal finally cleared after two weeks, I felt more depressed than ever.

So, after numerous sheepish apologies to my doctor, I am back on Citalopram. And, increasingly, I’m less embarrassed about it. It isn’t my intention to be preachy about depression. I’m very fortunate that my condition falls firmly into the category of ‘mild.’ Yet I do believe that it’s important for people to talk about and try to understand depression, as I didn’t for so many years. So if ever you see me wandering the streets in a haze of insomnia, gazing glassy-eyed and unstirred by a hypothetical parade of attractive women, or weeping uncontrollably over a fallen sandwich, feel free to tap me on the shoulder and ask the crucial question: what the fuck is wrong with you?

Monday, 7 January 2013

Terrifying Cleaners

As much as they proved in some ways to be the worst years of my life, 4 years in a pet shop has made for some entertaining stories. Disappointing for some (and delightful for others) these stories rarely involve skipping through a meadow with bunnies or dressing chinchillas in comically undersized top hats.

I'm totally pandering for a wider audience here

Instead they entail drowned hamsters, wayward testicles, and that time I fingered a rabbit. Well, the time has come to focus on some human inhabitants of the pet shop, namely the cleaners. While I hardly expected never-say-die professionalism or to meet a wife, I was shocked by how the cleaners repeatedly revealed themselves as the dregs of humanity.

There was Stu, who sported the unfortunate facial combination of perpetually startled eyes underscored by drooping bags that folded over themselves like foreskins; imagine an aging Tom Hanks after a botched facelift.

Or just imagine Tom Hanks

Over the number of months he worked with us he developed an obsession with my assistant manager, an 18 year old girl. He’d frequently corner her against the dog food to tell her how pretty she was, how much he admired her, how she reminded him of his own daughter. When he was fired, he waited outside the shop for 4 hours to give her chocolates. She had to be accompanied to work every day until he disappeared, hopefully into prison.

So followed Derek, an octogenarian with such severe smoker’s cough that we could have paved roads with his lungs’ dark ejaculate. By and large he was harmless, and his corpulent wheezing became a part of our morning soundtrack. That was until he regaled us one morning with the news that his son once tugged his scrotum so doggedly that it stretched, and nearby equipment had become misshapen. He was still undergoing surgery.

This picture is not at all relevant

Lastly arrived Crack Whore and her boyfriend. She was so dubbed due to her emaciated frame, ghostly pallor, rotten teeth, and the fact that she blatantly did crack. This early judgement caused us to overlook her boyfriend. He seemed innocuous enough, with clothes befitting the job and a bald head polished to a cheerful gleam. We even shared jokes as he encouraged me to romantically pursue my female colleagues. It was all in wholesome fun, until he took me aside one morning and coached me more specifically in how to attract women.

“Stuff them full of cocaine,” he told me. “Get enough in them and they’ll do anything you want.”

It’s a strange feeling to be surrounded by rabbits and frightened for your life at six in the morning.

Later I came across himself and Crack Whore admiring the dwarf hamsters in their freshly cleaned cages.

“These the ones we had, in’t they love?”

Crack Whore nodded. “Yeah.”

“Four of the buggers!” he said, turning to me. “They bite, din’t they?’

I confirmed that, indeed, such concentrated balls of furry evil did indeed have a tendency to bite.

“The thing is, mate, I’ve got a bit of a temper,” he said, beginning to smile. “When one of ours bit me I chucked it off the balcony.”

He mimed the action, pitching hamsters over-arm.

“Then she started having a go at me so I threw the rest off, one-by-one! Din’t I, love?”

“Yeah,” nodded Crack Whore. “Tenth floor.”

 Let's just tell ourselves they all landed in this cute position and were ok.

Here were my options: I could run for the door before I became a cocaine-addled corpse hidden in the mop cupboard; I could tackle him to the ground and insert a gerbil into his anus; or I could stand bemusedly and stare.

“Yeah,” he grinned. “We’re thinking about getting guinea pigs next.”