Thursday, December 1, 2011

Treatment, Part Two

I was almost 27 the first time I saw a psychiatrist. I had been in talk therapy for a year, which I wrote about in my last post, and I had gained a lot of understanding about how my thought patterns and my reactions to the things I had experienced in life were affecting the quality of my life.
But I was still deeply depressed, and my sense of hopelessness and the almost continuous OCD rituals I performed made me decide many times that I didn’t want to live anymore.
Some sense of hope kept me going, some belief that help was available somewhere.
My talk therapist referred me to a psychiatrist and I went to see her with some trepidation.
At our first session, she asked me a lot of questions. Some were hard to answer, because I had never said aloud some of the things that I told her: the obsessions I had that no one else seemed to have and the compulsions I acted out that I figured she must think were ridiculous.
She didn’t seem surprised by anything I said. After I had answered all her questions, she told me I was clinically depressed and had obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I can’t say I was surprised. I knew I was depressed, and I had known for years that I had OCD. But hearing her words, her diagnosis, made it real.
The doctor told me about a drug that had received final approval from the FDA just the month before. It was Anafranil, the first medication that could be prescribed specifically for OCD. It was a tricyclic antidepressant.
She had seen the drug at work during clinical trials, and she believed it would help both of my problems.
But Anafranil wasn’t yet available in pharmacies. So she started me on Prozac, saying it would help with the depression and possibly the OCD.
At home, before I took the first pill, I sat down on my couch with the medicine bottle in my hand and cried. I felt ashamed that I had to rely on a pill to make me feel better. I felt like I now carried a label that no one else I knew carried.
It was a new road to walk on, and I was afraid. But I took the pill.
My next appointment with the psychiatrist was two or three weeks later. I had a vague sense that I was feeling better, but I didn’t feel as much hope about the Prozac as I did about the Anafranil. Since that medication was meant to treat OCD, I thought it would be my better chance at getting better.
My doctor didn’t think it would be in pharmacies yet, but she picked up her phone and called the pharmacy I used. It had Anafranil in stock. She wrote me a prescription.
I was the first person for whom she prescribed Anafranil, she told me.
I stopped the Prozac and started the Anafranil. About three months went by. I continued to see the psychiatrist and my talk therapist. I experienced some relief from my OCD symptoms, but the difference the medication was making became crystal clear one spring day.
I was out on my little patio outside my apartment.
Picture a woman with OCD, with intense issues about germs and dirt, putting her hands in soil and on a plant, putting the plant into a non-sterile flowerpot to then take into the apartment.
And the woman is humming.
That’s what I was doing. When I realized that I was focused on my task, not worrying about anything, feeling content, I knew the medication was helping me.
Please know that I am in no way saying that Anafranil and Prozac are suitable or not suitable for anyone else. I don’t take either drug now.
But at that time, Anafranil helped me more than I could have ever imagined a medication could.
A lot of years with a lot of treatment plans have gone by since then. As time goes on, I will write more about that.
How did you feel the first time you received treatment of any kind for your OCD and/or depression?


  1. Hi Tina. So funny. I just realized we both started our blogs within 1 day of each other! First got treated for GAD in my early 20's. At age 28 my life fell apart from OCD. I went for talk therapy (was too afraid of CBT). I became seriously depressed after being officially diagnosed with OCD. I'm now 43, been doing CBT for 2 years, and feel like I'm getting some control for the first time in many years. I'm glad you've had some success with treatment.

  2. Thanks for posting, 71 & Sunny! That's cool that we decided to take the OCD blog leap at about the same time.
    What do you do in CBT?

  3. Hi Tina, I just read all of your posts on this page. They are so well written and interesting. I do not have OCD, but I've worked with a lot of young people who do and I have an employee who does. I am a learning specialist and have had the opportunity to work with people who have a variety of issues including ADHD, agoraphobia, and clinical depression.

    I am aware that, at times in my present work as an Innkeeper, I find myself becoming obsessive and or compulsive about certain tasks and it's not a bad thing. In fact, it helps me get things done.

    I admire your courage for putting it all out there. This may be the beginning of a very insightful memoir.

  4. Nancy, Thank you so much for your kind words!

  5. Hi, Tina,

    I think it's great that you're sharing your experience on this blog! It will help a lot of people.

    In 2003 I was diagnosed with GAD after years of struggling and not knowing what the problem was. I entered a 20-week cognitive program called TERRAP that was life-changing. While I still have anxiety and always will, it no longer runs my life. It's wonderful!

    I think it's sad that people feel shame when they need meds. Yes, I know some people get meds when they really don't need them, but I have seen with family members that meds can stabilize us until other therapies kick in. We don't feel shame if we need antibiotics or insulin, but somehow we see the brain differently. I would love to see this stigma removed, and your honest posts can help do that. Great job!

  6. Nadine, Thank you for posting! I have GAD too. Anxiety can really interfere with life. I'm glad your therapy helped you so much.
    I agree that there is still so much stigma about mental health issues and medications. Some people think the meds are "happy pills," but for people who really need them, they can be life-saving.

  7. Hello again Tina. I'll usually talk about the struggles I had from the previous week with my therapist. Then she will show me how I can attack those items through ERP. We also discuss cognitive distortions, and boy do I have a whole lot of them. When it comes to the ERPs, my doctor is really good at being able to break them down into little pieces if I am overwhelmed and can't figure out how to do them. I am now working on something at the very top of my hierarchy and it is pretty brutal. I'll have to write about that soon. Not quite ready to deal with that yet!

  8. Beautiful post.

    I felt a vague sense of freedom when my first medication combination began to work. Just a very vague sense of freedom but enough to make me want to work hard to obtain even that very vague sense of freedom.

  9. thanks for posting about your experience with medications. unfortunately, i haven't had such a successful experience. after i was diagnosed with ocd, my doctor put me on celexa. after several increases in dosages, the drug still had no effect in lessening my symptoms. so, my doctor put me on an antipsychotic (olanzapine) and continued with the celexa. after a few increases in dosages for the olanzapine, i was gradually able to start driving again (prior to that, i had given up driving for about 2 years) although i still had to go back to check that i hadn't caused an accident and the checking of electrical outlets/stove was not as bad. however, for me, the side effects of the olanzapine far outweighed the somewhat beneficial effects. i became SEVERELY depressed and very suicidal. i lived like that for my last year of university, with the plan that once i finished my law degree, i would relieve myself from my extreme depression and frustrating obessions/compulsions by ending my life (as odd as it was, in my depressed state, i felt that i needed to finish my degree before... well, you know). anyway, after i graduated in june, i decided to stop the medication. within 1 month, i felt infinitely better. i am no longer depressed, but unfortunately the ocd is back full force- so i am left trying to figure out another way of dealing with my ocd...

  10. Nat, I am so glad you are no longer suffering from the side effects of the medicine. That must have been terrible. I have been on several meds that have helped with the OCD. And there are treatments--cognitive behaviorial therapy and exposure response prevetion therapy--that I've read and heard good things about. Hang in there! There is help out there.

  11. Yes there is stigma abt medication. Society is not very evolved in India. Even if my family says you can continue with medication with Their clear heart..I doubt.
    and my 5 years of experience with medication wasn't productive in my education, so now I feel waste taking those. But I was happy mostly, my brain wasn't puzzled like right now, As I stopped it. And After reading your posts, I am finding it very helpful for my future tactics.. ;-)

    1. Thank you. I am glad if these posts can be of any help to you.


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