THE BLOG
12/15/2010 10:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Better Living Through Chemistry

A few weeks after my ex-husband left (and moved in with his personal trainer), I signed-on with a therapist and she promptly set me up with a psychopharmacologist. I was a shaking, babbling, wreck. My body knew how to walk, which was good, because the rest of me was largely non-functional. I was a heart-broken, glassy-eyed shell. I remember being thrilled at the concept of antidepressants because I couldn't imagine digging myself out of my unhappiness alone, but I was concerned that I would lose something. My sense of humor? (I wasn't feeling very funny at the time). My whip-quick cognitive function? (It had slowed to the speed of a slug). I remember the psychopharm saying, "The Paxil won't change you. It will simply allow for some gray areas in how you're feeling, a place in between the current extremes of black and white. You'll have some calm within the storm."

Bring it on, I thought. Better living through chemistry. And for me it was.

"When you're going through a divorce you need all the support you can get, from whatever quarter you can reach," says Katherine Manners, a marriage and family therapist for the past 15 years. "It's just another way to support somebody going through a loss, through grief. So why not use whatever resources are available when going through something as devastating and life changing as divorce?"

Hear, hear! Three cheers for antidepressants. Hooray for Atavan.

Depression is a diagnosable condition. Temporary, hopefully, but legitimate and diagnosable. Nobody would question a diabetic's need for insulin, but antidepressants are still perceived in some corners as a cop-out, an unnecessary crutch. "I don't suggest that people go on medication for a long period of time," says Manners. "But that 'Year of Firsts' - first anniversary alone, first Christmas, first Thanksgiving as a single person - can be very difficult. There's a lot of relief that comes after that year is over and for most people who try medication during that first year, they're successful in weaning from the medication when it's over."

In other words, if you start taking antidepressants, you are not signing up for a chemically-dependant life sentence (although there's nothing wrong with needing medication for the long-haul, either). I took Paxil for two years and then happily moved on. From the Paxil, the ex-husband and his personal trainer, my old job. If you think there's something wrong with you for wanting/needing/taking medication, think again. According to USA Today the number of Americans taking antidepressants doubled between 1996-2005 (the most recent numbers available). That's 10% of Americans, or 27 million people. The numbers are likely even higher today. And - reinforcing the foolish notion that antidepressants are for sissies - many people won't admit they take antidepressants for depression, instead reporting they take them to control pain or insomnia. Hmmm... then why not take painkillers or sleeping pills? Or admit that the pain or insomnia have caused depression (or vice versa), the same way that divorces can cause depression?

Basic guidelines:

1. Don't take drugs without supervision; i.e.: don't act like you're in high school and get a handful of old pills from a friend or get a doctor buddy to write a prescription for what he or she (or you) think will work. See a psychiatrist or a psychopharmacologist, or get a referral from a therapist.
2. Don't expect medication to work overnight. You might not notice it working at all, until you realize you're feeling better. But eventually you'll realize that you're not alternating between the behavior of a crack addict and a zombie.
3. If the medication really doesn't seem to be working (and you've been taking it as directed), get an adjustment or a new prescription. Just like the candy store, there's plenty to choose from.

We have a responsibility to help ourselves and those who depend upon us. Stay afloat. By whatever means necessary. If keeping your head above water means a life preserver shaped like Prozac, so be it. Grab it and hold on until you reach shore.