Last night I took what I hope will be my last dose of my antidepressants, after three weeks of tapering off: nortriptyline, a tricyclic. These are the only family of antidepressants which I’ve been able to tolerate and which also seem to have any benefit. I tried four or five SSRIs (the most popular family, of which Prozac is the most famous member) when I was in my early twenties and they all either had unpleasant sexual side-effects or made me feel dangerously manic. I settled onto an MAOI back then but I think all that it really did was make me overeat.
I’ve been on nortriptyline for about two years. When I saw my psychiatrist a month ago about getting off it, he gave me the impression that it’s one of the big guns, which is not what I thought when he put me on it in 2017. But I was very depressed then, and his manner, I remember, was much more soothing. On my second visit I was far more businesslike and less desperate, and he responded in kind. It was all quite male and professional, as if I were meeting with a consultant to organise some financial endeavour, and I found myself stepping into the role of a customer or client, rather than a patient. This is the sort of realisation which would have alarmed or upset me when I was younger, but negotiating the weird ways in which class and the medical system intersect is a good skill to acquire.
Before the nortriptyline I had been on another tricyclic, amitriptyline, for about seven years, although the first few years of that were what one doctor had described as a “homeopathic” dose. I started taking them to get through a period of work-related stress, and somehow never felt ready to go off them, although I talked about it, and grumbled about the side-effects (sleepiness and constipation).
In 2016, I was in the middle of a family crisis. My son had come out to his family and close friends as trans a couple of years earlier. (To clear up any confusion: his assigned gender at birth was female: he presents as male now and has started physically transitioning.) He is also prone to depression, although I am now very cautious about the idea that he’s inherited my own. We have a lot in common, but the idea of depression as a sort of family curse is a trap, when you’re trying to care for the family member you suppose you’ve given it to. Moods resonate, whatever their genetic or biological basis, in the space of emotions and speech and family dynamics, and the ways in which we were reinforcing each others’ misery was really destructive.
His social anxiety about his gender presentation had stopped him being able to attend school, despite it being very welcoming for trans kids, with a protocol in place to tell teachers and students about new names and pronouns, a unisex bathroom, and so on. And I was desperate, feeling as though I’d failed him, and was also failing his twin sister, who was finishing her HSC in an environment interrupted by arguments and sorrow.
There are other serious aspects to his crisis which it’s not really my place to talk about. I’m trying to get back into the habit of personal blogging again, but writing this has made me realise that when I started blogging about being a single dad, my kids were toddlers, and one can’t write about teenagers or young adults in the same way.
On the other hand, this has made me realise that me going quiet hasn’t all been about my own withdrawal, or the mainstream internet becoming a much less enjoyable space, but about the natural course of a family. Kids grow up, and their problems become those of adults one is living with, and that’s different.
I’m trying to end this period of isolation, now that he and I are both doing a lot better, by talking more to friends and family about what’s been going on, and by starting to write about it here, despite the fact that blogging is not the same sort of activity now than it was when I started. I still think it’s worth doing. It’s become a commonplace, especially on less mainstream social media platforms like Mastodon, that Facebook and the other big players have eaten the web, but the old idiosyncratic web is still here. It’s the paths to virality which have been captured, not the space in which to write. I’ve written a lot of journal entries over the past three years, but writing for a readership is different, no matter the size. Just communicating with this blog’s regular readers or people who follow the link from Mastodon or Facebook is worth doing.
Once I felt that I was no longer in crisis, and that I no longer needed the help of antidepressants to keep things together enough to get to work, do the shopping and keep the house clean, the side-effects began to seem too annoying. I had never intended to be on them for a decade, but I am also now at the age when the idea of being on medication for the rest of my life doesn’t seem as upsetting as it did when I was twenty. But I’m looking forward to seeing what I’m like without them. I’m already feeling more myself, in various subtle ways. (Andrew Solomon, I think, describes antidepressants as mood-altering drugs which are boring enough that there’s no danger that people will use them recreationally.) There’s a sort of mild pleasure in experiencing the passage of time, of being in a day-to-day routine, which I’m puzzled to find had gone completely and which I’m very glad to have back.