catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 4 :: 2007.02.23 — 2007.03.09


Prozac, Paxil, Nortriptyline--Go Noyeses!

We are a family of six. As families go, we are normal. We love and we bicker.

But four of us are on medication for anxiety and depression. We never imagined that being an apothecary would be our story, but it is. We do not believe life can be solved by a pill nor do we shield ourselves or our children from life or its disappointments. There are unavoidable anxieties and lows in living life.

Yet four out of six Noyeses are medicated.

If we heard about such a family, we would wonder if something distorted was up. We would wonder, are they drugging their kids to make them behave? Do they put too much stock in modern medicine and the new psychiatric drugs? Are they trying to numb themselves from life? Are they dysfunctional?

Terry and her siblings joke that their father has an undiagnosed anxiety disorder which manifested itself 50 years before drugs. He probably does have an anxiety problem. The man is always on the move. At 77, he volunteers for four different organizations, picks up some money working at a funeral home, walks an hour to an hour and half every day, and he accomplishes everything on his ever-present to-do list. The man cannot sit still unless he is sleeping. He gets things done. And he likes getting things done.

Terry's brother is similar to her father, but he is more polished and has language for his behavior. He understands his own "coping mechanisms." He runs and works out daily because he must.

Terry's oldest sister is diagnosed with depression and is medicated, as is Terry. The remaining sibling, a sister, is the most contented person one could ever hope to meet.

All of her life, Terry believed that she was different. There was a persistent heaviness buried under her engaging personality. Her thoughts fixated on darkness and despair. As she explains it, it was like living an out-of-body experience, where she was watching someone else do her life.

In college, she spiraled into depression two different times. The first time, she sought help from a Christian psych professor at her Christian college and was told that she was schizophrenic. During her senior year, her depression was especially acute. She underwent counseling, but it did not “fix” her.

She joined the CCO, a Christian campus ministry organization, and two months into her position, she took a leave of absence. Everything became overwhelming. Soon after her leave of absence ended, Terry and I were engaged to be married. I got the stomach flu, and Terry asked me why I would waste my future with her. Thankfully, I wasn't the rescuing type. I refused to mediate her life for her or make her decisions.

We married, we quibbled, we made up and we grew closer. Patterns evolved which showed (in retrospect) that what was normal for most people were big deals for her. I mean really big deals. Going home for Christmas, planning and leading a program, making dinner for more than five people, and so on. But Terry did life and she did it well—but she did not enjoy it. Life was a chore, like treading water in a swamp. Apart from myself, no one knew about her inner turmoil.

When our son, Ian, was 10 months old, a major onslaught of insomnia crippled Terry during Advent—we're talking one or two hours of sleep a night for almost six weeks. It—the un-nameable force—became unbearable. The doctor gave her "sleeping pills." They worked. When Terry returned for a follow-up visit, the doctor informed her that the sleeping pills were really anti-depressants, and then he handed her information about clinical depression.

We were duped into a new world. We learned all about clinical depression. It has nothing to do with feeling sad or down. And anxiety can be a by-product of depression. This was how it manifested itself in Terry during our married life. We also learned that depression can be episodic, triggered by a loved one dying or a divorce, or it can be a long-term chemical imbalance, like with Terry.

The anti-depressants worked quickly and, in time, behaviors changed. She still thought with the same patterns, but instead of getting stuck in them, the pill helped her become unstuck.

Ian is now 11 years old and Terry will never go off her daily pill. It has given her life. She is now an evangelist for medication. Why should taking medicine for a chemical imbalance in the brain be stigmatized? If someone is a diabetic and needs insulin because their pancreas doesn't produce it, they take insulin, so if someone is lacking serotonin, why shouldn't they take a pill to boost it?

When Jessica, our oldest and most extroverted child, grew older, we started noticing patterns. Nothing over the top, just consistent. I remember when she was four, she kept telling me that she couldn't stop thinking that she wanted to run her fingernail on our table. I told her matter-of-factly to quit thinking about it. How could I know that this was just the beginning of her fixations and fears? One of these was an overwhelming fear of thunderstorms that she developed when she was seven or eight. She would freak if she saw any clouds—not just storm clouds.

Jessica also became fixated on other irrational fears, to the point where we as her parents would become exasperated and throw up our hands. She always had great tools for self-understanding, but they stopped at the boundary of rationality. When she was around nine or ten, we wondered if, since anxiety and depression are hereditary, she might benefit from seeing a psychologist. She did benefit and was diagnosed in minutes with Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (OCD) by a highly recommended child psychologist who prescribed Prozac.

Jessica no longer gets stuck on such “obsessive” thoughts.

A couple of years later, we wondered if Ian might also benefit from the same psychologist. At the time, he was home-schooled and often became overwhelmed with his work. He wanted to do all of his work for the next day at night so it could be done and he could be at peace. He became frustrated over his daily assignment list for home school, which caused many episodes of him crying and Terry (his mom and his teacher) getting angry.

Then Ian started laying on the couch and crying, “It is all dark, and how can we be sure God is true? “ Big questions for an elementary-aged child. My suggestion that he see the psychologist hit directly where Terry lived. It was like a letter bomb, shattering her value as a mother. She wondered, am I an inadequate mother if I have two kids on medication? Ian was also diagnosed with OCD.

And me? I have never been depressed. I am very content, but usually abrupt and seemingly caffeinated, even without coffee. I am simmering intensity. I was a normal kid who didn't have many fears other than of bees after I stepped on a hive and of dogs when I was cornered once. I did drink a lot in high school and college, and I sunk into a funk during my sophomore year at Allegheny.

In my 20s, panic attacks and anxieties slowly started manifesting themselves. I thought about death a lot. During my last year on CCO staff, while Terry and I were preparing to visit a seminary, I experienced a near-crippling panic attack. My heart raced. I couldn't imagine going. Heaviness and dread blanketed me. I only went because Terry went with me. I knew my fear was irrational, but I could not shake it.

Over time, such episodes only increased. I feared flying, and I never enjoyed other people driving me; I became skillful in offering my driving services. I was always the first responder if one of our children fell or if I thought they were in a dangerous situation. I seemed to automatically imagine more danger than Terry. I couldn't help it—I was Captain Safety. I was extremely vigilant. And edgy.

Terry and I fought a lot over these "parenting issues,“ largely because of my anxiety.

I hated going on vacation with our friends. I didn't want to do what the group wanted to do because of my anxiety over lack of control. But I became very skillful in coping. I would always offer to stay behind when our kids were younger and parent them so they could take a nap. I preferred this to the unknown day trip.

I couldn't go into certain restaurants if I thought I might feel closed in, so I would suggest places that were comfortable for me. I built my life on what would not give me stress or feed my fears. When I moved to Beaver Falls, I couldn't even go into my bank because of my fear that it would be robbed. I always banked by drive-through.

During my last winter in Follansbee, I was unable to join our family and Terry's extended family for Thanksgiving on the Gateway Clipper. Partly I was stressed, having recently decided to leave our West Virginia post because the ministry was stagnant and there was increasing friction over my refusal to jump on the post 9/11 bandwagon of singing patriotic songs in worship or giving God-bless-America sermons. But really, I couldn't go because of my dread. Images of the boat sinking haunted me. So I stayed home and worked on my church résumé.

Terry agreed to support me in this decision only if I agreed to seek counseling. I agreed. My counselor, however, simply tried to convince me not to be a pacifist. He was older, retired, working two days a week. He thought my convictions were abnormal and so I stopped going.

I was supposed to attend the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in April 2004. I couldn't go. I had signed up within minutes of the 6:00 a.m. opening online registration back in October. I was strung out from Holy Week, from coaching, from watching a friend and parishioner die. I froze up and bailed out.

I decided I couldn't go to the writing conference because of fear. I was convinced that the only way I could feel better was to bag it. My heart was racing. I knew it was crazy, but I couldn't overcome it. So I didn't go to the conference, an event which I had been eagerly anticipating for months.

Friends thought I didn't go because I was stressed, but I knew better. I stayed home to feel better, to keep from panicking. Immediately, I did feel better. I was also highly disappointed with myself for being a wuss.

The following Monday, I made an appointment with my family doctor. I explained my history and my fears, and he agreed with my self-diagnosis and put me on an anti-depressant used to treat anxiety disorders.

Terry noticed a change, as did I. I'm calmer now, more even. The passion still exists. My personality is the same. But my voice does not get strained when I'm stressed. I stopped talking high and fast. I'm more patient with the kids.

As I look back, it is no surprise that I'm on meds. Anxiety runs in my family, too. My brother and I joke that my parents go into hibernation when the snow flies. They once canceled a spring visit from Oil City to Beaver Falls because of the possibility of an inch of snow. They missed out on seeing their grandchildren, who they see infrequently. When they do visit us, they arrive early and leave by three o'clock, no matter what is going on. Their lives are very ordered to minimize stress.

I went to the doctor because I was becoming like my parents, imprisoned by irrational fears. I did not want to live that way.

I have been on Paxil for almost six months. Stupid thoughts still try to hijack my thinking, but my brain lets go of them quickly and I do not panic. I can now do my banking inside the bank.

The deck has been stacked against the Noyes family. We acknowledge that, in our society, drugs are prescribed liberally. But they have radically changed our lives for the better. We are living more freely, without layers of coping mechanisms. The pills have made us more of who we are rather than less. They have not changed our essence or numbed our beings; they have only enhanced our responses.

So we cheer, “Prozac, Paxil, Noritriptyline, go Noyeses!”

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