Saturday, 24 December 2011

Placebo Day Brain Wants To Say Thank You (And Merry Christmas)

So, I went to the doctor.  Thing is, I already had an appointment booked about something totally different. Part of me had been thinking 'you should just tell the doctor up what you really want help with' but I was pretty sure I was going to chicken out.  But then, but then I got so many thoughtful, kind, wise words from so many people in comments and emails I thought I'm going to ask for help. 

I should probably back up a little bit and say that, over here, we don't really have therapists like the US. Antidepressants are prescribed by GPs (family doctors) and they are also the people who refer to psychologists if necessary - as a totally separate thing. It's not a great system, because a GP's appointment is only ten minutes long and they are usually in a rush. It's not really enough time for - well, anything. What can I say. I love free healthcare, obviously, but there are lots of things about the NHS that aren't great. This is one of them. Anyway. 

I went to the doctor. And the sooner I forget about that appointment, the happier I will be. First of all - I cried. Immediately. As in, I opened my mouth to say 'I need to ask you for some help' and I bawled like a child. And then everything I said after that was sort of incoherent. He asked me about what was making life feel difficult, and I told him about the children, and stress at work, and the fact that I always struggle with Winter but this year I have felt like February came in October and won't leave. I've seen this guy a few times before and he's been really good, and I guess that maybe, if I heard myself say those things I would probably think that those actual things were the problem.  So, anyway, he said that I should go to 'talking therapies' and believe me, I am in favour of evidence-based psychological counselling, but the leaflet he gave me just looked like ... nothing. An advice service, sort of. I said I'm not sure that this is what I really need. And I said how will this service help me? and he said well, they might be able to give you tips for coping with stressful situations at work. And he also said well, I don't really like prescribing medication for depression. Medication won't make your problems go away.. 

And for a moment, I just sat there. My worst fear about seeing  a doctor was actually that I would screw up all my courage to do it, and then nothing would change. I feared that he would say you know what, Claudia, your life actually is pretty stressful and I guess you're just going to have to suck it up. And I couldn't believe that I was sitting there and that was actually happening.  Not in so many words, but I knew that I needed more help than just tips for coping with stressful situations at work. But I nearly just said okay and walked out, because, well, what else was I going to do? And then, I suddenly realised NO FREAKING WAY AM I LEAVING THIS BUILDING WITHOUT ANY DRUGS. 

It was odd, but it wasn't until that moment that I realised that was what I really wanted. I knew, deep down, that something wasn't functioning properly. I always get Seasonal Affective Disorder through Winter, so I'm familiar with that feeling of a chemical lowness that feels absolutely real until April suddenly comes and suddenly, everything looks different. And I knew it felt the same (but much worse), like my brain wasn't processing enough of something, or too much of something, and that it wasn't anything that I could really fix on my own. I should have realised earlier, but I didn't. 

So, empowered by all your support, and support from friends through email and a few conversations, I shook my head at him and said No. That's not the problem. I could quit my job tomorrow and I would still feel like this. It's not really the situations in my life that are the problem, it's that I'm not coping properly with those situations. Something is wrong in my head. And I decided that I was going to sit on that chair until he would either write me a prescription or at least agree to discuss it further.

He wrote me the prescription. 

It's a super-low dose of antidepressant, and who knows, it might not be The Answer for me, but I feel a hundred times better for having done something concrete to help myself, and not just accepting that I feel awful because I am awful. And also, at the risk of pre-empting myself, I have to admit that I already feel fantastic. I can't quite explain it. I can't quite describe it, except to say that about four hours after taking the first dose, I felt like the sun came out from behind a cloud.  I would think that I'm imagining it, except that a friend said that this particular drug helped her immediately, too. Most likely, it's just the placebo effect, but if that is the case I think everybody should be taking placebos All! The! Time! 

Placebo Day Brain is a fantastic companion. I took her shopping, and she did a great job of finishing off my Christmas gifts. Then we played happily with the children. Then we bought a pair of running shoes (more on that, perhaps, another day). Then, after the children were in bed, we went and got Christmas groceries and we didn't get stressed or unhappy about any of it. When we got home at 10pm, rather than just unpacking as quickly as possible, the two of us saw the pantry and said 'who can stand having such a messy pantry? Let's clean this thing, stat!, and we did. 

And then the next day (today) I cooked two huge meals and was patient with the kids and I looked at all the twinkling lights and listened to some carols and thought oh, isn't this the most wonderful time of year? 

In short, Placebo Day Brain can kick Bad Day Brain's butt. 

I know it's Christmas eve. I should really be wrapping my presents (in the grey paper, heh) but I wanted to write this and say a huge, words-fail-me thank you for all the support that you gave me about this. (I haven't replied to emails yet, I will get to it, I promise!) I really hope that I won't be the only person who benefits from all the wisdom you left in the comments section- I can't tell you what a huge help it was to me. You made me feel like I wasn't crazy. You made me feel like I should reach out and ask for help, and if I hadn't read what everyone wrote, I think I would have just taken that stupid leaflet and spent most of Christmas crying. I don't think that the help I asked for is what everyone would need, but I know there are others of you who are feeling like I am and I want to tell you that it's possible, it's okay, it's worth it to do whatever you need to do to say HELP. Please. If you need it, do it. Go back and read what everyone else wrote and I hope it will give you courage like it did for me. 

And for the rest of you, I this time I actually want to say: 

Oh, and I just had another look at the wrapping paper, and I've decided it's fine. Grey? Meh, no. I'm pretty sure it's silver.


  1. I an thrilled for you and your placebo brain. Hoping it sticks around for a LONG time!
    Have an amazing day tomorrow.

  2. :-) Happy MERRY Christmas!!!!!

  3. you are brave AND beautiful. (your kids ain't too bad either.) ;) have a very very merry Christmas and a blessed 2012.

  4. ...and you know? Placebos are scientifically proven to work. So until the real thing kicks in enjoy the ride- but you won't know the difference because it's all going to meld into one really nice, comfy reality. Yup.

  5. Love this post. LOVE IT. Smiles across the miles, coming your way. Hooray for color!

  6. HAPPY Christmas to you and yours. Glad the days are shining brighter again.

  7. Oh! I am so glad that you talked to the doctor and that the sun came out for you :) I had wanted to respond to your previous post, but couldn't think of anything to say that hadn't already been said. I was going to say, what good is it worry about what will/won't happen tomorrow if you aren't happy (or at least content) today? And now you are.

    With regards to "the placebo effect", I go through short bits of the blues here and there and I find that, as soon as I start thinking that something might be truly wrong, I start to feel better. Not that medication isn't perfectly necessary (take it!), but I think there is huge power in acknowledging to yourself that things are "bad". I don't know if this is because the awareness comes from already feeling better or a little self-aknowledgement just helps to rid the "bad day brain", but whatever it is, I will take it.

    Wishing you a very sunny new year.

  8. How great that you did this. You should be proud. And if you think the placebo effect is good, just wait until the actual antidepressants kick in. Whee!

  9. I'm so glad you're feeling better!!! Merry Christmas to your lovely family.
    And if you're still feeling placebo brain next month, you could come organize MY pantry?!

  10. So, so, soooooo proud of you. You are a rock star. You really, truly are. Not many would take action so quickly. You. Are a rock star.

  11. Placebo...possibly. Empowered... Definitely! Enjoy the ride!!!

  12. Good for you Claudia.
    Amy x

  13. Gobez! Very impressed with how you stood your ground with the doctor... inspired even!

  14. Oh, my darling, I have tears in my eyes. that was an excellent Christmas gift. Thank you.

  15. Merry Christmas, lady. And congrats on taking this big step and braving that appointment. Once again, you are my hero. I have a VERY hard time speaking up with doctors and steering things in the direction I need.

    That sucks about talk-therapy not being as accessible. In the US, though, many health plans (assuming you are lucky enough to have insurance) don't necessarily provide good coverage for it. Our current health insurance plan lacks big-time in many things -- especially fertility treatment of course-- but has all-you-can-do free therapy. Yay for me!

    I LOVE what you wrote here:
    "...but I feel a hundred times better for having done something concrete to help myself, and not just accepting that I feel awful because I am awful. "

    Oh man. I never realized this is something I tell myself quite often until I saw you put it into words like that. Wow.

    I think I may consider dusting off the bottle of Zoloft I abandoned a couple months back. In retrospect, starting up on SSRIs at the exact same time I was jumping back into IVF was not the best idea. I say the start of 2012 is a nice time to take a pause, re-group and take care of mama...

    Merry Christmas to you and your family! Silver wrapping paper is awesome, by the way.

  16. Oh wow, you move quickly!

    I read your previous post and waited for a good time to go and comment (properly instead of quickly) and, well, it didn't come.

    And then you took matters into your hands and stood up for yourself - I LOVE IT! I love it even more that you're feeling better because you are not bad and the world is quite wonderful :)

    Mind you, my friends in Ireland always tell me the reason I love grey skies so much is because I live in Africa where it's sunny (properly) about 360 days of the year. True.

    Wishing you lots of beautiful blue skies...:)

  17. SO glad you got what you need. Merry Christmas, Claudia.

  18. So proud of you! You rock!
    Merry christmas!

  19. I'm so proud of you! I would have shrunken into my chair and backed down and then been angry at myself for months. So glad you did what you thought was best for you!!!!! Have an amazing Christmas!!!!

  20. I'm so glad you were able to advocate for what you needed and got some well deserved relief. *fingers crossed* Placebo Day Brain beats off Bad Day Brain for good. Merry Christmas. :)

  21. I read your first post and wanted to comment then, but I was 'relaxing' somewhere without wifi. I'm so glad you that you a) wrote the post and published it in the first place, b) got plenty of support from others (who clearly were not relying on 3G alone) and c) you've got yourself along to the doctor and put your foot down. A girlfriend of mine had a very similar experience to you. Her daughter was over the age of 1 year, so they couldn't put it down to post partum depression, but she walked into her doctors and burst into tears after struggling along for a long while. She was/is also on a low dose and it was/is just what she needed.

    Anyhoo, thanks for being brave and always contributing amazing to the interwebz. Merry Christmas.


  22. Wow, great job staying in the chair and not walking out. So hard to do.

  23. Wonderful! I am so glad that you were able to ask for help and I'm glad that the medication is helping, placebo effect or note!

  24.'re a brave soul, bravo! Second, my partner has been on a low dose SSRI for some 15 odd years. She attempts periodically to get off it because she feels that she shouldn't "need" to be on drugs forever. Thing is, it is a chemical imbalance. Within a couple of days of stopping it, she's quiet, withdrawn, then weepy and indecisive about everything. (She's even gone off it without telling me, and on about day 3 I say "did you run out of paxil?" because depression alters who she is, fundamentally). Within days of starting it again, she is her usual, rose-coloured-glasses, glass-half-full, up-for-anything self. I know her and I know that paxil doesn't alter her. Rather, it allows her to be herself. Herself minus a nice full complement of serotonin is not herself, it's a gray, depressed, unhappy person, and that's not who she is.

    Good on you for sticking to your guns and advocating for yourself (which is hard enough to do when you're not depressed and feeling like shite).

  25. Well done you!!!! And a Happy Christmas to you.

  26. It took so much courage to stand up to that doctor and I am soooooo proud of you for doing that. We all deserve to be heard. We all deserve to be understood, especially by our doctors. Good for you for making him listen.

    I cannot properly express how relieved and happy I am that you are getting the help you needed. Mostly I am happy that you have understood that it was not YOUR FAULT. This was not a failure on your part. You were so brave and strong to understand you needed something and then in the face of a professional telling you NO you stood up and said YES I DO.

    I am so proud of you Claudia. So, so proud. Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.

  27. Awww, that is great that you have gotten the boost you need. Enjoy the season!


Over to you!