Take Two Prozac and Call Me In the Morning (six weeks from now)

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I did keep my appointment at the Tuscaloosa County Mental Health Clinic and soon found myself sitting in the simply but tastefully decorated office of a pretty young woman named Deloris. She had curly black hair and a pleasant disposition. She did her best to help me not feel ashamed about how messy things had gotten and also to feel proud that I had reached out for help. “It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help,” she said. That was the first of 3,427 (and counting) times that I have heard that.

After I gave Deloris a little synopsis of what had been going on in my life and and spent a few minutes on my family history, she had some questions of her own. They were exactly the same questions that I would answer ever time I ever came in contact with a mental healthcare professional which by now has to be in the hundreds. Not really but hyperbole is not uncommon among the unstable. After I’d answered her litany of questions, she sat the clipboard aside, politely smiled and informed me that in her opinion I was depressed. I’m sure my mouth must have opened a little bit and if she was worth her salt at all as a therapists she must have been able to read “no shit sister” on my facial expression and body language. I thought to myself “You must be a goddamn genius to figure out that the man sitting in front of you with bandaged wrists  might be depressed! Thank God that masters degree is working for you!” But I didn’t say any of this. I wanted desperately to get better and I really did appreciate what I perceived as Dolores’ honest desire to help.

Deloris explained to me that some people have what’s called a chemical imbalance in the brain and that she suspected that was what was going on with me. I told her that I hope she was right and that I was willing to take the blood test. “Oh there’s no blood test!” she informed me so I asked her how they were going to find out if I had this “chemical imbalance.” Deloris explained to me that since there was no real way to test my dopamine or serotonin levels they would basically be giving me some drugs and just waiting to see if they work. That basically sounded like the pharmacological version of throwing pasta at the wall to see if it’s cooked. I was pretty sure I was permanently al dente. “There’s something that’s be working really well with a lot of people,” she told me, “It’s call Prozac. We’ll give you a ‘starter dose’ and wait about six weeks before deciding whether or not it’s working for you.”

When you’re hurting bad enough to hack your wrists open with razor blades, having someone tell you that you “might” start filling better in six weeks is about like telling a drowning man he might get thrown a lifesaver in a six weeks and leaving him wondering if you mean the floating foam ring or the candy. But I didn’t have a lot of options at this point and I was ready to try anything. She sent me down the hall to see a psychiatrist who was scribbling prescriptions about as fast as Beatle signing autographs. I stood in line with the other broken toys and waited my turn to see the Candy Man.

Deloris stopped me in the hall on the way out. “Hey Jeff, there’s one thing I wanted to make sure I mentioned. Since alcohol is a depressant drug and depression seems to be the problem we’re dealing with, the antidepressant medication won’t work if you drink. I know you mentioned you take a drink now and then.” I was taken aback a little by this revelation since for me alcohol had been such a necessity for a good long while by now although I had clearly underrepresented my consumption levels to Deloris. I looked back down at the little square of paper that was to be the replacement for my friend the bottle, looked  back up at her and said with all the seriousness in my heart, “If this shit works, I won’t need to drink.” And I left the clinic and headed to the pharmacy to begin my journey with pharmaceutical solutions.

I lasted two weeks taking the little green-and-white pills without drinking and paying close and hopeful attention for any improvements in my mood. Of course there was a fair amount of shaking going on but I was used to that from any other time I’d tried to go without alcohol in (at least) the year leading up to that time.

Andrea and I were at a gay bar in Birmingham one night. I knew beyond the shadow of any doubt I could go without drinking because Deloris had told me the Prozac wouldn’t work if I did drink and I really wanted the Prozac to work. I went to the bar to order a Diet Coke. (Preeminent Magic City drag queen) Zee Jones was onstage performing Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”  which she did with such practiced proficiency it was hard to believe she wasn’t producing those sustained and impassioned whole notes. There was a big, black plastic witch’s cauldron onstage and when Zee got the part where the lyrics say “living in a power keg and givin’ off sparks” she pointed at the cauldron and fired the imaginary pistol she’d made with her hand. A small explosion of pyrotechnics erupted from the pot and the congregants leapt to their feet like it was the Fourth of July fireworks display on the Hudson! I was so enraptured myself that when the hot shirtless barkeep said, “What’ll you have, Baby?” my brain might have been thinking Diet Coke but my mouth said, “Gin and Tonic.” And I was off to the races again.

See y’all tomorrow.

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