When she graduated from high school, Allison was a Cheerleader, as well as Valedictorian of the private girls school she attended. By the time I first came to know her, she had recently graduated from A.S.U. with a major in exercise physiology, and she looked like a Goddess She was almost six feet tall, with long sandy blond hair she pulled up in a twist with a pencil. Her body was graceful and shapely in a muscular sort of way. She had large brown eyes, with thick lashes, and spoke in an intelligent, articulate manner. So you can imagine my surprise when she told me her problem was that she didn’t have any friends.
She couldn’t talk to the girls she knew from her sorority, she couldn’t talk to the boys who would try to start conversations with her after class. Actually, she could hardly make it to her classes, she didn’t have the energy. She certainly had no energy left over to go out or make small talk. She wanted to do these things, she tried to force herself to do these things, but eventually the shear effort involved would become too much and she would have to return to the safety of her room, to the walls and the familiar surroundings that were her only friends.
And to make matters worse, now that she had graduated she needed to find a job. She couldn’t quite imagine how she was going to survive an interview, no less get up and go to work all day. Something in her brain was making the day to day experiences of living too much of a struggle to attain.
I was pretty sure that I could help Allison. I had worked with this type of depression many times in the past. I was looking for the trauma, however small, that would explain her incapacitating behavior. So we started at the beginning. Her parents were divorced, and she felt lonely when her father moved away and remarried. But both her parents were supportive, and talking about the divorce didn’t seem to make her feel better. That wasn’t it, so we kept looking. She had a younger sister who seemed to get a little more attention than she did. Could this be the culprit? After closer examination, no. We decided her sister was actually her best friend, and Allison herself was at no loss for attention.
After about three sessions of “looking for the trauma”, it became clear to both of us, there wasn’t one. Her medical history divulged however, an aunt who had been severely depressed, and come to think of it, her mother had been diagnosed with depression shortly after the divorce. I suggested that Allison meet with one of the doctors I work with to discuss the possibility of a chemical intervention. This meant medication, and to an exercise physiologist this was cheating somehow. There was no such thing as a “magic pill”. She wanted to keep talking, it made her feel better.
I believe that talking was helping Allison feel better, but in her case it wasn’t solving the problem. I concluded that based on her history, and her reactions to “talk therapy”, Allison was having trouble due to the chemistry of her brain.
The research in this area is exploding. Some studies are showing connections between right versus left hemispheres of the brain with regard to depression. Other studies show that increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and even adrenaline can relieve depression.
In the “old days” depression was often treated with tranquilizers that were addictive like Valium, so it makes sense that people like Allison would be reluctant to reach for the “magic pill”. The truth about the new antidepressants is much different however. If the medication is working, the client will feel normal. They don’t make people feel “high” like tranquilizers can. You know you are a good candidate for an antidepressant if you have a family history of depression (there is a strong genetic component), and the medication helps you feel normal again.
The down side to all of this is that it is often too easy to get antidepressants. I have clients who tell me scary stories about getting medications like Prozac from their friend who is a doctor, or their Gynecologist, or their Family Practitioner who has never checked back with them before renewing the prescription. Just because these antidepressants work so well doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken in conjunction with some talk therapy and occasional physician monitoring. (You might be pleased to know that I work with several doctors in Carefree who are all excellent about prescribing medication responsibly.)
I bet you can guess what happened with Allison, and you’re correct, the ending is almost miraculous. I convinced her to talk to one of the Physician I work with, and she started taking a medication called Zoloft. She noticed immediately that she felt less fearful, and had a greater sense of well being. At this point, the good things in life became available to her once again. She could talk to friends, go out on dates and apply for a job. I can’t guarantee that her life will always be perfect, but I know she will have a better chance for peace and happiness.
The case of Allison reminds me of something H. L. Mencken said;
“For every complex problem there is an easy answer, and it is wrong.”