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My very own little GNA strands have finally proven what I’ve known all along: SSRI’s will not work for me.

About a month ago, I saw my psychiatrist, who asked me if I’d yet taken my pill.  No, I said, not surprisingly.  I want to, but no.  She then suggested a new test:  a DNA saliva test that would tell me what liver enzymes I had, and what genetic markers I might have, which would in turn tell the doctor what medications would work for me, and which would not.  Something about metabolism and how fast my body would metabolize certain drugs.  I did the test there in the office and was told I’d need to come back to discuss the results with the doctor.

Today, I finally got my results.

Let me refresh your memory on how I feel about prescription drugs and the pharmaceutical industry in general:  I hate them.  I loathe them.  I think pills in general (SSRI’s in specific) are evil and I am reluctant, to put it mildly, to take them.  When I took the GNA test, I hoped that it would show some reason for my aversion.  And I was not disappointed.

In regards to serotonin transmitters, I have a gene that causes ultra-rapid metabolism.  In plain terms, this means that any SSRI’s I take will go straight through my system, not staying long enough to produce positive effects, but long enough to cause nasty side effects.  Basically, all these years, doctors have been throwing SSRI’s at me (the new and improved treatment for depression/anxiety!) promising me that they would work, they would help.  Wrong.

Second, there is an indication that I have impaired folic acid metabolism.  Folic acid is turned into methylfolate in the body; methylfolate is a precursor to neurotransmitter synthesis (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine).  I was given a prescription for a ‘prescription food’ pill (more like a supplement).  I was given some pamphlets to peruse.

So what does all of this mean?  That for years– nay, decades– doctors have been winging it.  They’ve thrown pills at every problem and hoped for the best.  They’ve gambled to see what pill would work for each person, not having the slightest indication if that particular version or brand would work, what side effects might be, what other complications would arise.  It’s been a complete and total guessing game.  Trial and error performed on humans.  But with this new testing, the age of ‘personalized medicine’ has been born.

Another important implication from all of this is that what was recommended for me isn’t an actual drug.  It’s more like a supplement, which isn’t a far cry from an actual supplement… or from food.  The next step for me may well just be upping my nutritional game and investing in good organic foods that can be used medicinally.

Personalized medicine will be huge, I think.  But with results such as mine, will doctors start leaning more towards natural and nutritional based remedies over chemical ones?  Let’s hope so.

I’ve had a life-long aversion to pills; I’ve written about it, I’ve talked about it, I’ve cried about it.  I’ve never, ever trusted man-made chemicals, and this is mostly based on my sensitivity to any of them.  I’ve long sought out herbal or natural remedies over pills, and most of the time, this has worked.

A visit to the psychiatrist this week (who has been pushing SSRI’s on me for the last eighteen months, none of which I’ve taken) surprised me this week with a new test.  DNA testing can now determine what liver enzymes you have, which will tell you what drugs you can/can’t metabolize, and how fast you will metabolize a drug. It can predict whether or not you will have side effects.  INSANE.

There are many implications for this kind of science.  The consumer, for one, might be much better served and find a more tailored treatment for their specific problems.  Instead of throwing random pills at a problem, doctors might actually be able to find the right drug sooner.  I also wonder how this will affect Big Pharma.

I gave the nurse a saliva sample and should get results back in ten days. Will I ever conquer the pill?  We shall see.  The likely answer is that I will continue seeking out herbal or natural remedies.  But knowing how my body will respond to certain medications– efficacy, side effects, etc– is kind of exciting.  Science is just crazy pants some days, but in a good way.

I’ve written about this so many times that it feels like a broken record.

Pills: tiny, mostly white, totally innocuous in appearance. Normal, even. Pills are the answer to everything, if you believe Big Pharma. But for me, pills are still one formidable foe, one I haven’t been able to defeat entirely in eighteen years.

Why eighteen years? In 1996, I was an undergrad at UT Knoxville, living alone, isolating, yelling at my cat. I was miserable and had no idea why. It was one of the hottest falls I can recall, and walking to school each day, I felt the heat. I had headaches for hours on end, for months, yet each time I made the trip down to the local drugstore (many, many trips), I stood in the pain reliever aisle and stared. And moved bottles around. And obsessed. And walked away. I could not even purchase a pain reliever, much less get one down. So I suffered until the headaches went away.

This was just me in the very early stages of what would become a very serious journey into OCD. Not only could I not make a decision on taking a much-needed pain reliever, I couldn’t make decisions about anything.

Indecision seems like such a small thing. For me, it’s a sign that things are not quite right. It means that I may not be able to do the things I should do, the adult things, the things most people find easy. It might mean that I am wearing out already thin grooves in my brain. Those obsessive thoughts are easy to resurrect, happy to torment me once more.

It’s time to take stock: it’s been 18 years since I was diagnosed with OCD, and how far have I come? What have I accomplished since then? That’s not fair to myself, really, seeing as there’s no cure for OCD and I have done remarkably well for extended periods. I’ve worked, finished grad school. Finished a book, even. And yet, pills.
Pills still haunt me. Pills still have the ability to ruin an entire day.

OCD makes my life much more challenging. If I’m having a bad day, whether due to obsessions and anxiety or whatever else, meaningless, habitual tasks become mountains.

So what did I accomplish today? I got out of bed.

Lately, I take offense to the word (and idea of) consumer. Is that all I am, a consumer? Companies in the US are so focused on getting us “consumers” to buy products that the products themselves suffer. I give you two examples.

I have issues with gluten and so have two choices when it comes to bread: bake it myself using expensive flours, or buy an expensive loaf. You’d think rice flour breads would be cheaper. Anyway, a few weeks ago I decided to be adventurous and try some new versions. One loaf I bought turned out to have gluten in it, though the package was a bit misleading. The second loaf turned out to be $13.99, a fact I did not realize until I was home. $13.99 for a loaf of frozen bread.

My first thought was the price was incorrect. A phone call to Whole Foods actually confirmed the price was actually correct. It had to have been mismarked on the shelf, because there is no way–NO WAY– I would have purchased it at that price. However, I was told I could return it for a full refund, even if opened. Ok, fine, I will. But I am still wondering who they expect to pay this price for sandwich bread? (Also, I tasted it. Bland.)

The same weekend, the boyfriend and I took a trip to Pet Smart. This was an even worse purchase. We have a large plastic container with a lid to keep the cat food fresh. No need this time: not long after I’d emptied the bag into the container and closed the lid, I noticed maggots crawling all over the inside of the lid. Disgusting!!! I took a loss on the cat food and threw it out, container and all. I did some research after that, and it turns out that Friskies/Purina are pretty much the worst cat foods out there. I’ll not be buying their food again, ever.

I know that I’ve been guilty of not doing my research in the past and not paying as close attention as should be paid to what I eat or buy, or what I feed my cats. That is definitely going to change.

Marketing and profits are taking up much of corporate budgets it seems. I have no stats on this at present, but I have read reputable sources who have not been shy in making public the fact that corporations have not only recovered from the recession but are profitable already. Who cares about expensive allergy-friendly bread or rotten cat food when you are rolling in profits?

Recovery from any physical or mental trauma takes many forms. Sometimes, the road to recovery can surprise you. Mine was in the form of 100 steps.

The Hill, located on UT Knoxville’s campus, is a place of legend and mystery. Haunted by the ghosts of Civil War soldiers, and possibly a wolf, the Hill stands as the oldest part of the university. Walking up the Hill, from any side, was a veritable hike up a mountain. If you were unfortunate enough to have classes on The Hill, as many engineering/science/psychology majors do, then you were whipped into shape, and quick.
On the far side of The Hill, looking towards downtown Knoxville, you had a perfect view of the giant golden phallus, or as it is properly named, the Sunsphere. I was privy to this view several times a week for one or two semesters. I also had the best ass of my life, from climbing the 100 steps that rose up that side of The Hill.
For two semesters, I rented an apartment right on the river, close to downtown. This meant I had to walk down the main street towards campus; The Hill is the first building you come to from that side. Once you got to that side, you either had to bite the bullet and climb the steps, or you had to walk several blocks further and walk up another easier set of steps.
Steps are steps, right? Not in this case. The steps that faced the Student Center on the other side of The Hill were wide, with rails, and large landings between flights, so students carrying their weight in books could rest.
The steps on the downtown-facing side of The Hill were small, narrow steps, with few landings. They were steeper steps, inclining at an angle that was nearly straight up. By the time I reached the top of this flight, I was panting hard and my heart was beating nearly out of my small ribcage. But I did it every day and, with practice, and the help of two home-made cinnamon rolls from the Student Center bakery, I finally was able to climb those steps with ease. This was much more important than just climbing a mountain, this was saving my life.
How did the 100 steps save my life? Here’s how: exercise increases appetite, which forces one to eat more, which causes one to gain weight. And I needed to gain weight.
When I moved to Knoxville (for the second time) in 1998, I weighed in at 75 pounds. When I left in May of 1999, I had gained up to 95 pounds. And I owe it to two things: persistence of will, and that Hill.
I had an 8 o’clock class at least three days per week, and I would walk from my apartment to the Student Center most mornings, if I had time, and get two large cinnamon rolls. Then I would gather my courage and my books and walk up that Hill. I had to stop for breaks often, but I never quit. I even tried to drive to classes on the Hill on occasion, but there is a small circle of parking and with nearly 30,000 students on campus, chances of getting a space on the Hill were slim, almost nil. So I sucked it up and walked up the Hill.
On mornings when I didn’t go to get breakfast first, I had to walk up the less traveled back side of the Hill, the narrow steps. I met other students occasionally, but there was much less traffic. And when I left classes, I would catch a view of downtown and the Sunsphere, as I made my way back down the Hill.
During Christmas break, I came back to Nashville to visit with my family. They were so shocked to see how much weight I had gained that they took pictures. An aunt or cousin actually took a photo of my ass. I still have that photo, a happy reminder of what I had overcome. A happy reminder that even if you are down, you can pick yourself back up again. You can conquer whatever it is that has attacked your mind and body. You can do anything you set your mind to. Anything.

I’m eternally grateful for that Hill, though I cursed it during those long treks up. When I was finally able to go and purchase new jeans, I was thrilled with the muscles in my legs, and in my butt. I was proud. I had reason to be. I had gained twenty pounds, and it was because I had the courage to walk up that Hill every single day.

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