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OutLoud: Who’s Happy Now?

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Sally learns that a caregiver may need an unexpected boost.

The trouble with antidepressants, besides their obscene contribution to Big Pharma’s bloated bottom line, is that they work. Prescription happy pills can lift even the gloomiest sad sack out of the pits. That’s my gripe.

Last year my best friend, Darlene, slipped into a serious funk. The deeper she sank, the more I stepped up. Suddenly I had a purpose in life besides my usual smash-the-patriarchy, liberty-and-justice-for-all, save-the-world quest. Darlene’s blues became my new calling.

Her money worries, academic pressure, and single-parent stress were real enough, but Darlene’s doom and gloom did not seem commensurate with her situation—especially during our annual summer vacation. Can you imagine anyone staying negative for a whole week in a spacious beach house with five chosen-family dykes, four happy little girls, and an unlimited supply of fresh seafood? Darlene did.

Despite our nightly fish frys under the stars, daily surf romps, and bocce ball games, Darlene didn’t snap out of it. Even after the kids were fed, bathed, and snoozing in their bunks and we grown-ups broke out the poker chips and fine chocolates, my pal could not get festive.

The D-word hadn’t been mentioned, but her depression was obvious. On our last day, Darlene and I took a beach walk. Under a clear sky with the ocean mist pluming off the waves and sand pipers hopping along the sparkling shoreline, I prodded my buddy.

“You get that you’re depressed, right?” A flock of seagulls flapped down for a landing.

“I suppose so.” She turned to face the ocean, weeping. “It runs in my family.”

“Promise me you’ll talk to your doc when you get home.” Wow, did I feel wise.

“OK.” She wiped her tears. “If I don’t drive off a cliff first.” So Eeyore.

Over the next few months, while she submitted to experimental dosages and combinations of various antidepressants, we talked every day. She was overwhelmed by her unfolded laundry, overdue homework, and unpaid bills. She worried she might slit her wrists or try heroin. She was convinced things would never improve.

I listened. I was there for her.

“You sure you’re not sick of me?” she’d ask.

“Things will be better soon.” With me as her champion we could get through anything. Rosie the Riveter We can do it! to the rescue. “You’ll get this thing under control.”

“If I don’t have a stroke first.”

Finally, Darlene got on the right meds, enrolled in a gym, and cut the comfort food. She felt better and called less. Last week she phoned, giggling, to tell me she had a crush on her math instructor and they’d made a date.

For my pal, finally out from under that terrible dark cloud, antidepressants are a lifesaver. But what about me! How do antidepressants help you when you’re the friend who hung in through the tears and melancholy and suicide ideation? Suddenly you’ve lost your gig. Like your job’s been outsourced to another country—your services are no longer needed.

Now what? Don’t tell me there’s a pill to help me cope with happiness.

Sally Sheklow received both first- and second-place honors in the magazine column category in the 2005 Houston Press Club Lone Star Awards. She contributes a regular segment, “That Time of the Month,” to the Air America radio affiliate in Eugene, Oregon.

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