I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle. Some days—good days—the difference feels negligible to me, too: I don’t feel any better or worse than I did six or eight weeks earlier; my energy level feels the same, as does my ability to sleep, to eat, to concentrate normally. But other days, I the this-feels-eerily-like-PMS days, I feel the stirring of that fog: a dark feeling, a heaviness, and an attendant terror that I’m hurtling back toward an old, familiar abyss. Contrary to persistent popular misconception, Prozac is not a mild-altering drug, like alcohol or Valium. At its best, it makes you feel the absence of something — despair, hopelessness — rather than the presence of something new, like euphoria or a giddy high. It’s the absence of that absence that scares me: when I first started taking Prozac, seven years ago, I started having dreams about being submerged in water and then breaking through the surface into air. That’s how it felt, like I’d been moving underwater for a long, long time and had finally come up for air, emerging in a lighter, cleaner place where I could breathe. On the bad days today, I get that same underwater feeling, as though the simplest tasks—paying a bill, washing a dish, mobilizing myself to exercise—are too overwhelming to contemplate. I woke up this morning, a Monday in February, and honestly wasn’t sure I could get out of bed, a feeling I haven’t had in years. Lying in bed, my eyes welled up for no identifiable reason: I felt full of self-doubt and sadness and anxiety and I thought, This is how I used to feel all the time.
Yet as odd as that may sound, it’s precisely the return of those feelings — the old heaviness and dread, the sense of hopelessness — that keeps me off Prozac right now, instead of lunging for the telephone to call in a new prescription. I decided to quit the medication in December, after talking to a post-Prozac acquaintance, one of the people who hadn’t noticed any dramatic difference. “I may be little more temperamental than I was before,” she said, “but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. If there’s any real change, it’s that I cry more. I don’t think I could really cry on Prozac.”
That rang a bell with me. When I’ve talked over the years about Prozac — and written in defense of it — I’ve tended to focus on the way it keeps the bottom of a depression from getting to deep. I don’t think it keeps feelings of sadness or despair at bay (at least it hasn’t in my experience), but it buffers them to an extent, keeps them from becoming truly incapacitating, and, ideally, frees you up enough to address the stuff that either contributes to a depression or keeps you mired in one: painful feelings, self-sabotaging behaviors, lousy circumstances.