I have changed my mind about antidepressants. I know that it may be not a knock-down discovery, but for me it was a major change in my way of thinking. Coming from the humanities, I used to think of depression as something oscillating between the highest possible existential experience – a fundemental insight on human condition that connected in my mind such different readings as the Ecclesiastes, Shakespeare, Auden, Virgina Wolf and Tolstoj – and a sort of mourning state, as Freud describes it: a longing for something lost. I was quite persuaded by Freud’s interpretation of depression as a mourning over loss of libido. And I was persuaded that the only way to recover from depression was to undertake a long psycholanalitic therapy in order to understand what past experience was responsible of that feeling of libidinal loss.
Then, last year I went through months in which I was in a (mild) depressive mood, and, after a while, I decided that the benefits of my therapy were too slow and that I needed another solution in order to get back to work and enjoy life as before. So I went to my doctor and asked for the first time of my life a chemical help to overcome my situation. She prescribed to me Paroxetine, a molecule that belongs to the class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). Three weeks later I was a new person. My brain had started to work as before: I felt much stronger, motivated to work and yet able to keep my emotions alive.
For me it was quite a choc: the idea that my periodical encounters with the Divine were reduced to a bad functioning of a neurotransmitter between my synapses was hard to swallow at first. But the benefits were so great that I humbly accepted this sort of “disenchantement” of my psychical life and came back to Earth with much more energy and determination than ever.
Had the writer of the Bible, or Shakespeare, or Virginia Woolf, taken antidepressants, would the history of our litterature be much different? I don’t know. Probably there will always be ways of accessing deep human experiences and profound insights, but maybe without all the suffering that has usually accompanied them.
My skeptical friend Diego Gambetta, the brightest sociologist I’ve ever met, told me last week that probably Paroxetine has just changed my mood enough to change my mind about antidepressants. May be he’s right; still for me it has been a major change of mind that helped me to accept that even the highest emotional and intellectual experiences are deeply rooted in our brain and flesh. That’s what make us humans.