Last night at dinner an attractive friend named Sasha told a story about a guy who she had been seeing for the past three months. He recently almost lost his job, starting acting strange and then broke up with her in a coldly written e-mail. In an even stranger twist, he blocked her from his Facebook page. She was flummoxed - everything had seemed fine between them.
"Did he have any vices?" I asked. "Gambling? Booze? Porn?" Clearly, I always like to keep things positive.
Sasha paused for a moment. "Nothing outside of a few prescriptions he took to calm him down."
Everyone at the table nodded. I think we had our answer.
We live in uncertain times. Qualified, talented people are losing their jobs and people who are employed are skittish. It seems all too easy just to reach for the prescription du jour in order to take the pain away, or at least make it seem manageable. But when the pills start affecting your life - or who you are as a person -- shouldn't they be given the pink slip?
Admittedly, I'm not pill person, although I understand that there are legitimate needs for them. I've had two forays with prescriptions: Lyrica for a slipped disc a few years ago and another prescription for a migraine medication. After a few months on the pills I realized there was nothing so dire and wrong with me that I couldn't handle it on my own. The pills had side effects, and these side effects made my life more complicated than I needed. Lyrica eased my back pain enough that I could do yoga build up the muscles to support, and ultimately fix, the slipped disc, but it gave me terrible upset stomach. The migraine meds made me gain weight, no matter how much I worked out. I stopped taking both, doubled up on exercise and yoga, made a few lifestyle adjustments, and I never looked back. Both my back pain and my headaches went away as well
From what I hear from people I know, it's these side effects that can strain relationships. A young man on anti-depressants has a decreased libido, and it takes another pill, Viagra, in order to get things going in the bedroom. Sex, the barometer of any relationship, is no longer spontaneous and fun. I have other friends who can not fall asleep with Ambien, and others who need a whole other pill just to stay awake. I've known folks in many sectors who are on Adderall and who are jittery and unable to concentrate when they're not on it.
The worst case I know of was a friend, a young woman, who watched helplessly as her long-term boyfriend washed down several legitimately prescribed painkillers a day with beer and liquor - often starting in the pre-dawn hours-- and then went off to his job in finance, where he oversaw a division. Their relationship ended badly, but not until after many nasty fights and weekends where he zoned her out and watched the same James Bond movie over and over again, like a mental patient.
In Dana Vachon's novel, Mergers And Acquisitions, there's a great line that says, "We ask too much of God and too little of ourselves." How morose could your life be that the only thing that makes it manageable is a pill that affects some other aspect of your existence? Even if something terrible has happened - death of a loved one, a break up, a chronic illness -- and a prescription gets you through it, they're not designed to take indefinitely. The chemicals build up in your system. I realize I may sound insensitive, but people got through rough times long before there was Prozac.
The next few months, if not years, are going to be a little bumpy for America. More jobs will be lost and more homes foreclosed on. In times of uncertainty, people need each other. Companionship is a primal need. It's what got the hunters and gatherers through both feasts and famines. But just like every other recession/depression, we'll pull through it thanks to gumption and innovation, not because a magic pill stabilized our mood, or conversely, altered our personalities that ultimately pushed people away.