Prozac takes four to six weeks to reach optimum effectiveness.
Where are we going, Mommy?” my oldest son Johnny asked me this past Friday morning. We had already dropped Johnny’s three older sisters — Rebecca, Angela, and Lucy — at school. We had driven home. I had drunk my morning cup of coffee and cleaned up the kitchen while Johnny and his younger brother Ben played with toy cars in the family room.
When I loaded Johnny and Ben back into our minivan a little after ten, Johnny asked, “Where are we going, Mommy?”
“To the doctor,” I answered.
“For Ben again?” Johnny asked.
We had taken Ben to the pediatrician the day before for his two-year well check. “No,” I said. “For Mommy.”
“Are you sick?”
Nope. Mommies just need to go to the doctor sometimes.”
The Saturday before, I had called my sister on the phone. The house was quiet. My husband Jack had taken the four older kids with him to the small Catholic academy where we send our girls. The kids would play while Jack volunteered time with some other dads putting up new playground equipment. When I sat down on the living room couch and dialed Anita’s number, Ben ran over and climbed into my lap.
“What’s up, sweetie?” Anita asked after I’d said, “Hello.”
“I’m really struggling with depression lately,” I told her. I had planned a calm conversation. Instead, I wept all over the phone. “I was having a hard time this summer,” I confessed. “I thought it was just because everyone was on summer vacation and I had all five kids all day, every day. I thought things would get better when school started up again.” I stopped to sob. “But it hasn’t. I feel so overwhelmed. I have no perspective. I have no energy. Just getting through the day feels like trying to swim through wet cement. I cry all the time. Every now and then, I’ll have a day that’s okay, and I’ll think, ‘I’m fine.’ And then the next day, I wake up, and I’m staring into the abyss. I almost feel like my depression is a person. He’s always lurking. Even on the days when I can’t see him, he’s somewhere just out of sight waiting to come back.”
“Go to the doctor,” Anita told me. “Go to the doctor now and get some antidepressants.” “I’ve been thinking about that,” I told her. “I keep thinking I’ll go back and see Dr. G.” Dr. G. is a psychologist Jack and I saw for a few years when we were having a rough time in our marriage. “But I keep going around in circles thinking we can’t afford more therapy, and I can’t get a babysitter to watch the boys while I go see him.”
“Stop thinking and just make an appointment to see your family doctor,” Anita said. “He can prescribe antidepressants. I waited way too long to get them, but they’ve really helped. You won’t feel better right away. They won’t make all your problems go away. But they’ll keep you from slipping into the black hole. You’ll have enough perspective to see when you’re overreacting or being unrealistic.”
I made the appointment. Which is how I found myself sitting in Dr. S.’s office late Friday morning. Jack and I recently switched insurance coverage, so I had never seen Dr. S. before. He smiled and shook my hand when he came into the examining room. “I see you’ve got some helpers with you today,” Dr. S. smiled at Johnny and Ben.
“I’m already four years old,” Johnny told Dr. S. “And this is my brother Ben. He’s two.”
Dr. S. pulled a bright blue plastic ball out of the pocket of his white jacket. He tossed it to Johnny. “I bet you and Ben could play with this,” he said.
Johnny smiled and scooped up the ball. While Johnny and Ben chased the ball around the room, Dr. S. spent half an hour going over my health history and asking me about my depression.
“I have to ask these questions,” he told me.
“No. No psychosis. Just depression.”
“Any manic episodes?” “No.” “Any suicidal ideation or plans?”
“No.” I looked at Johnny and Ben.
The furthest I’ve gone is to think I should just go away.
We talked about my sister’s depression and my mother, who was hospitalized in her mid-30s with clinical depression.
“How many depressed episodes would you say you’ve had during your lifetime, and when did the first one occur?”
I had to think for a minute. “Probably six. And the first one was when I was 16.”
“How have you resolved them before?”
“I’ve gone to therapy. Or I just pull myself out. This time, I can’t seem to get on top of it.”
At the end of the appointment, Dr. S. shook Johnny’s hand and gave me a prescription for Prozac. “I’m going to send you for a blood screening,” he said, “just to rule out any physiological cause. But given your family history and your health history, I’m guessing it’s depression.” He explained how Prozac works and how the dosage would increase gradually. “It’ll probably take four to six weeks to reach optimum effectiveness. I’ll see you again in a month. Call me if you have any questions or problems.
I walked out the door with my prescription and, for the first time in a long time, a little bit of hope.