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On Anti-Depressants–Part 1

I thought about calling this post “On Depression”; but then, how would I have the cute pun in the title?

I’ve been taking pills to even out my moods for about 3 years now. On my other blog, I tell a little tale of how that came to be–www.superdepressed.com–but the how doesn’t matter. The why, does.

It involves the brain, mostly, and the neurons within; and SO luckily for you, I’m doing a degree in psychology right now, so you get to read about what neurons actually are. In essence, they’re the cells that transmit information around your body. They work by, essentially, spraying chemicals across your synapses (the space between 2 neurons).

So the first neuron says to the second neuron, “Hey, how about some chemical goodness?” And if the second neuron responds, then it’s probably a non-damaged, functional neuron, of the same type as the previous neuron. Neurons work in a way that’s a bit like language; they only respond to certain chemicals, and if you spray them with a different one, they don’t respond at all, a bit like a Japanese tourist asking an English… no, scratch that, every Japanese tourist I ever met spoke at least 3 different languages. I’ll try again.

So, if the first neuron sprays the second neuron with a chemical it can’t accept, it’s like you walking up to Helen Keller and verbally asking her a question. It’s not that she’s ignoring you; she just can’t hear/see you, so, you know. How can she respond? That’s what generally happens, when a neuron gets hit by the wrong chemical–nothing.

If it’s the right chemical, though, it gets grabbed by the second neuron, which causes the neuron to get all excited (it’s called excitation, seriously, it is) and generate an electrical impulse. That electrical impulse moves down the neuron, all the way to the end, where it fires off a spray of, well, whatever chemical got it excited in the first place. This happens about eleventy-billion times a day, inside your body, and it’s how chemicals called neurotransmitters do a lot of things, a lot of which are related to mood. Dopamine, for example, is involved with pleasure; and if you snort cocaine, you’ll flood your synapses with dopamine, and for a while, they won’t reuptake the dopamine (remember that word, reuptake) and so the dopamine will just sit there, hanging around your synapses, exciting your pleasure neurons, and thereby exciting you.

It sounds like good fun, actually. The problem being, your neurons can’t *make* dopamine, etc, unless some of the chemical gets reuptaken (there’s that word again) so they can synthesize more. So eventually, you run out of ALL the dopamine, even the normal amounts, and then, instead of being high, you crash.

Ideally, keeping yourself on an even keel works best. No crazy highs, no bottomless lows, just normal variations within normal parameters.

But for some of us (me, my dad, one of my uncles, one of my cousins, one of my grandmothers, one of my brothers, etc) our brains don’t really work as they should. In our brains, when we make the chemical Serotonin, too much of it gets reuptaken (again, that word).

And the thing is, if a chemical gets reuptaken by the neuron that made it, nothing happens then, either. It’s like writing a letter and remembering you didn’t put a stamp on it, so you snatch it away from your neighbour who was gonna post it for you, you take it back home, and then leave it in a desk drawer (and then your best friend’s pissed off because you never sent her a birthday card, but that’s a story for another day).

The reuptake of chemicals is important; your neurons need to reuptake some of what they make, so they can make more; but if they reuptake too much… if you keep the cheque itself, as well as the stub, ain’t nobody’s water bill getting paid.

I think that’s enough analogies for today, and enough words in general. I’ll add more, hopefully tomorrow; but for now, I leave you with one of my favourite commercials ever. Behold: the Zoloft Egg. (Before things got so bad that I needed medication, I used to think of this little dude, and hope that, if worse came to worst, thoughts of him would make me feel better.)

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