The ‘Happy Pill’ Diaries, Part Five: Finding That Happiness “Sweet Spot” Is All About Perspective
Finally, after months of struggling, Beaumanis is feeling back to her old self — thanks to her meds and a new, healthier outlook on life. Photo: Saul Herrera/Getty Images
The fifth in a droll five-part series in which journalist Viia Beaumanis — 52 and a long-time shunner of antidepressants — charts her journey to emotional well-being via mood-enhancing pharmaceuticals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this instalment, Beaumanis is back to her old self — reading, boosting her diet and learning to adjust her outlook on life . And to top it all off, she gets an uplifting call from her friend in France.
(Read Part One , Part Two , Part Three , Part Four and Part Five )
Having painted half my apartment, rejoined the workforce and planted an herb garden, the positive effects of antidepressants are still in gear — though have levelled off. I’m no longer overcome by the urge to reorganize all my closets. Just to keep the kitchen tidy. I’m also reading more, which is great.
One of the first things I’d cast aside when the melancholy overwhelmed me was books. I just couldn’t concentrate. I’d get to the bottom of the page and realize I hadn’t absorbed any of the words. Binging movies, trawling the Daily Mail or playing 100 games of online Scrabble in a row was more effectively distracting. Staring endlessly at a screen, I’d feared for my intellect, my attention span, my ability to focus. Next episode, swipe left, play again; nothing required much imagination or critical thinking.
Happily back into books (A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and Tara Westover’s Educated — both highly recommended), as the weather got nicer, winter into spring, my walks got longer. A stroll in woods ranking among the Top Ten of natural mood enhancers. I also started boosting my diet.
Much has been written recently about the link between gut bacteria, known as the “microbiome,” and mood/depression. You can learn more about that here.
I’d been aware of this, but not that a fulsome 90 per cent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive system; produced from tryptophan, the chemical in turkey that leaves you feeling dozy and content after Thanksgiving dinner. This is an essential amino acid of which you can increase the levels via supplements and diet. Easy enough, as high tryptophan foods — eggs, tofu, salmon, spinach, nuts, chicken — are all things I already love to eat. I just eat them more often. Happily, lobster is also high in tryptophan. And oysters. And peanut butter. The root of serotonin, tryptophan also alleviates anxiety and improves sleep. Some people take it as a sleep aid, like melatonin.
When I was feeling depressed, all I wanted to do was lie in bed with a box of cookies. Once I started feeling better, thanks to the medication, I was able to do things that enhanced that sense of well-being. Longer walks, more time outdoors, an emphasis on mood-improving foods.
Mainly, I’d regained the ability to be emotionally objective. I was capable of separating an “Obviously Crap Situation” from the idea that “I Was Obviously Crap.” There was the situation, and then there was me. These things were connected and, yet, also distinct.
In my experience, depression is simply perceiving everything from the worst possible vantage point and then becoming overwhelmed by the view. Regarding yourself too grandly is just as much of an illusion, the pendulum having swung too far the other way.
Somewhere between obnoxious narcissist and self-loathing loser is that sweet centre where the assessment is as fair and impartial as it’s possible to be when evaluating yourself. I was happy to have it back.
I had my flaws and foibles, as everyone does, and they weren’t any worse than anyone else’s. Things weren’t perfect, but when are they? I was content. Given the scenario, I was actually rather lucky. I had great friends, a lovely place to live, a fantastic mother, the world’s best dog, men who found me attractive. I had my health, if not great wealth. I hadn’t gained weight. I looked younger than my years. I didn’t have to worry about being evicted, feeding myself or losing my business. I hadn’t lost anyone to the pandemic. In fact, I didn’t even know anyone who’d been ill.
Given the COVID chaos all around me, I was doing just fine. This was not an outlook I could muster up a few months ago. The situation was the same, but my view of it had shifted. Perspective is everything.
My friend Kate Facetimes me to relay that she’d been able to score a prescription for Wellbutrin.
“Are you having crazy dreams?” she asks. I am. Highly involved, narrative dreams are definitely a thing on Wellbutrin.
Kate is in her study. Her husband pops in and waves at the screen, grinning. He looks happy. I’m surprised. It all seems very happy and cosy. A complete 180 from when she was sobbing in her fur, having fled to an “escape” house just three months ago.
“Wow. Things have really improved on your end?” I ask after her husband leaves the room. Kate thanks me profusely for insisting that she switch meds. The Zoloft had regulated her attitude and mood, which had improved the interaction with her husband. The Wellbutrin did that and reinstated her sex drive. Less slagging, more shagging — a simple but highly effective formula for marital health. Also, she’d lost a few pounds.
“I feel like a better, leaner, more focused version of myself who wants to have sex,” she concludes with a smile.
And, well, there you have it.
In Part Two, Beaumanis recalls the roller coaster of side-effects she endured while taking her first Zoloft prescription.
In Part Three, she finally gets the Wellbutrin prescription she wanted — but quickly discovers there’s not much of any effect from the drug.
In Part Four, Beaumanis is feeling the positive effects of her increased Wellbutrin prescription, but recognizes the struggles that others in her life are suffering through — including a dear friend in France.