When I was depressed 20 years ago, the (then) new antidepressant drug Prozac sorted it easily. It took six weeks for it to lift me up and I stopped taking it after four months. I experienced no side effects and lived happily ever after, believing that the episode was a one-off. Marvellous. Back in January, just before my 60th birthday, the black dog came back and I was again in front of a doctor, depressed but phlegmatic, confidant that a few months worth of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors would get me back on the dance floor with all my comfortable illusions restored. A friend had recommended I ask for Venlafaxine which, he said, worked more quickly than Prozac. So I suggested she write me a prescription for that, and she cheerfully agreed. I took it straight to the chemist and came out with a box of 30.
Venlafaxine is more commonly known by the brand name Effexor. When I got home I googled it, clicking on an Effexor chat room, and read the comments. Big mistake. ‘Electrifying brain shocks that made me fall over. Hives. Lactating right breast. Can’t remember the last two years of my life,’ said one, nevertheless awarding the drug four stars out of a possible five. ‘Effexor made it impossible to orgasm,’ said another. ‘Gained 50 pounds in weight in six months. On a reduced dose, orgasm was still difficult (but not impossible).’ A respondent who had recently started taking the drug said he suddenly felt so unmotivated that ‘vermin could have taken over the house and I would have cared not one whit. I am convinced this drug is cultivated from the brimstone-lined pits of Satan’s deepest hell. Spent three days curled up on the sofa praying for death.’