Nachos and SSRIs

by F.

I had dinner recently with the psychiatrist who more or less saved my life. I say “saved my life” because he made my life worth living. It sounds like childish hyperbole, I know. But I think it’s true.

Twelve years ago, I went to him after a guy at USC told me I was schizophrenic, which didn’t seem like the right diagnosis. I mean, I knew there was something wrong, but I wasn’t getting messages from the CIA via my TV, the Twinkies in the cupboard weren’t talking to me, and I was pretty sure that I wore my tin-foil hat merely as a fashion accessory, not as a way to prevent mind-control by the US military.

Anyway, last week we’re sitting in a mexican restaurant, drinking Corona and eating nachos, and I asked him whether he would diagnose me today the same way he did back then. I asked this because treatments and diagnoses change over time, as do the theories that drive them.

“Well,” he said, crunching a chip. “I actually misdiagnosed you at first.”

He wasn’t supposed to say that.

“I thought you had depression,” he said.
“And I didn’t?”
“No. When you told me that story about how you needed to check that your wallet was still in your pocket thirty times in succession, I thought it might be something else. OCD or anxiety.”

Fortunately, I got a shotgun remedy: an SSRI. Pretty much like the penicillin of the psychiatry world. Can fix depression, OCD, and anxiety. Within about a week, I felt dramatically better. Like, better than I ever had during my highest high. Within two weeks, I felt even better than that. It was amazing.

I came in one day for an appointment.

“So?” my psychiatrist said.
“I feel like fucking superman.”
“Why would you want to fuck Superman?”
“No—I mean, I feel as if I were Superman.”

And I did. I felt like I could do anything. There were no more intrusive thoughts, which I conceptualized as “mental lightning.” There were no more looping, recursive thoughts—almost always negative, too. There was no more biting my nails and checking my wallet.

My psychiatrist and I adopted a Super Hero Scale for measuring my mood and how the treatment was going, something like this:

1. Superman (best)
2. Batman
3. Green Lantern
4. Flash
5. Robin
6. The Wonder Twins
7. Gleek (worst)

This scale worked really well. I highly recommend it for use with your psychiatrist.

“So who are you today?” he would ask.
“Green Lantern.”
“Which is still pretty good, right?”
“Shit yeah. He has the power ring. Remember?”
“I grew up in Israel.”
“Trust me. It’s cool.”

I never even got down to The Wonder Twins or Gleek, and even being Gleek would be OK. I mean, he was a pretty happy monkey.

There are two periods in my life, sort of like B.C. and A.D. There’s B.P. and A.P.—before Prozac and after. Waking up in A.P. was like waking up in someone else’s life. How did I get here? What had I been thinking? I had a completely different brain.

And I didn’t really know how to use it.