In this week’s series of the podcast, we are sharing more of the stories featured in Tana Amen’s upcoming memoir, “The Reluctant Courage of a Scared Child”. In the previous episode, Tana reflected on what it felt like to shut everything in her life down when she was diagnosed with cancer. In this episode, she and Dr. Amen discuss the depression that followed that awful diagnosis, and why one of the most important lessons she learned during that time was that doctors can make mistakes, and if you don’t do your own research, the effects can be devastating.
For info on Tana Amen’s upcoming free live virtual event, visit tanaamen.com/event
Daniel Amen, MD:
Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
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Welcome back. So you can totally see why I married her.
Feeling a little exposed at the moment.
She’s smart and beautiful, adventurous. But a sufferer.
Yeah. No, I went into a wicked depression after that. So now, I think in the last episode we talked, we left off with the second treatment for thyroid cancer. And I went into just a wicked depression.
And that your mom had to have brain surgery.
My mom had brain surgery. So now, not only do I not have a support system, but my fear over losing my mom, like that fear when I was a child, came back. It was almost like the panic attacks came back. And I just felt crippled with anxiety and depression and I couldn’t get out of bed. And I just, I started wanting to die, and it was pretty crazy.
How else did it impact you?
Depression is not like anything else. And I don’t want to minimize cancer for people, because I know people who suffer horrifically with cancer. My cancer was a little different than most people’s. I knew I wasn’t going to die from it. I just wanted to die from it, because I felt so miserable. So for some people … It’s really terrible.
For me, depression was worse. It was the one thing I can actually say was worse than finding out I had cancer, was the depression. I just could not get away from the feeling. I couldn’t crawl out of my skin. The world was black. There was no hope. I was just completely hopeless. I quit my job, quit school. My mom had brain surgery. Couldn’t pay my medical bills. Lost whatever hope I had for this future, getting a little bit of money to get ahead. And I ended up filing for bankruptcy.
And it was like, why am I on the planet? Why am I breathing? It didn’t make sense. And I didn’t have any spiritual connections in my life at the time, really. I was kind of bankrupt in that department. So I didn’t have a bigger sense of meaning and purpose.
And so whose idea was it for you to see a psychiatrist?
Mine, actually. My mom was … And that was the other thing. Please don’t do this to people who are depressed. Please, please, please. If you are listening to this, don’t do this to people who are depressed. But my mom didn’t really understand what I was going through. She was so relieved that I wasn’t going to die, she was so relieved that she didn’t die from what she had to go through with her brain surgery, that she didn’t understand why I wasn’t grateful. And she was getting annoyed with me for not snapping out of it.
And so she’s like, I’m tired of you laying around. She sort of kicked my butt. You’re getting out of the house today. She was getting annoyed with me. So she drags me along to go shopping, and I see this book, Listening to Prozac or something like that. And it was at a second hand bookstore, and it said something about depression on the title, or on the subtitle. And I’m like, what? Maybe there is hope. I’d never … I didn’t think there was any hope.
I didn’t know that there was a medication for depression at the time. I didn’t know anything about … I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. But when I saw that title, all of a sudden … I read something about darkness, coming out of the darkness. And I’m like, oh my gosh. So I read this and I instantly knew I needed Prozac. I knew I needed Prozac. Self-diagnosis, I was sure of it. No one was going to talk me out of it.
So I call to make an appointment with a psychiatrist and it was pretty expensive and I didn’t have insurance. I had filed for bankruptcy. So I start calling around and I find, basically, a resident psychiatrist who would see me. And I get in and I am not even letting him talk. Which you guys, I mean, look at you. You just sort of like, listen anyways. So I tell him, I’m not going to sit here for years and bang my head up against a wall. I know what’s wrong with me. I know what I need. I need a prescription for Prozac.
I was very clear. And he wasn’t budging. He wasn’t saying anything, he just kept staring at me. So I start word vomiting everything going on in my life because I realize he’s not going to give me a prescription unless I sound screwed up enough. So I made it sound screw up enough, which wasn’t very hard to do.
No, not hard. So he gives me this prescription for Prozac. And within a few days, I’m like, oh, I don’t want to die. This is good. It’s progress. I don’t want to die. So this is good. But all of a sudden I start to … I don’t even know the feeling, because there wasn’t much healing. Like over time, I don’t want to die, but I don’t really care about much. I just didn’t really care about much.
And I became … I had always been very anxious. So even though I didn’t make always good decisions … I didn’t always make good decisions, I made some not necessarily smart decisions. But I was anxious about making decisions. I was cautious. Now, I was wildly impulsive. Like, I was dangerously impulsive. I just suddenly became dangerously impulsive.
You want to share?
Well, I mean, it’s in the book. It was a pretty wild ride for a few months. It was like, six to eight months of pretty wild ride.
And then you actually go back to the doctor. And you go ..
I told him, something’s not right. I don’t think this is working. I don’t feel right. I don’t feel like myself. I’m not cautious about making decisions. I don’t care about anything. He actually told me that I needed to increase my dose. He said, well, you don’t want to die and that’s a good sign. I think we need to increase your dose. He doubled my dose. And then he doubled it again.
And I sort of argued with him, but then I’m thinking, well, what do I know? I should have listened to myself, but I didn’t listen to myself. And I thought, well, he’s the doctor. Like some Doogie Howser … I should have listened to myself and gotten a second opinion. But I didn’t. And so I-
So on the medication, which was not right for your brain, then you end up in Costa Rica.
On a dare.
It’s a whole story people can read about in the book. But …
Yeah, I dated some crazy people. I mean, I was crazy. I was acting crazy.
And what we’ve learned, if you have no thyroid … So from a psychiatric standpoint, you have a family history of depression. You grow up in stress, chaos, unpredictability, and you have no thyroid. So I mean, trauma, trauma, trauma on a genetic foundation of vulnerability to depression.
And you assume, depression’s one thing. So I need Prozac, which is a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, which increases the availability of serotonin.
At the time, it was a very popular drug.
Yes. Listening to Prozac was a monster bestseller by Peter Kramer. But what Prozac does, is it calms down the circuits in your brain.
It wasn’t until … After I finally took myself off the drug, I had been telling people for years, that Prozac made me act crazy. Not like myself. It changed my personality. No one really acknowledged that.
It wasn’t until I met you and saw my scan. And you said to me, did you ever take an anti-depressant? And I told you yes. And you said, well, I hope it wasn’t Prozac. I was like, why? You were like, because that’s not what I would have prescribed for you because you have sleepy frontal lobes. And I was like, ding, ding, ding, ding, just explained my whole life.
Yeah. But Wellbutrin, which stimulates your frontal lobes, has been incredibly helpful for you. So it’s not a bad idea to look at your brain before you go about changing it. And that’s what we try to do at Amen Clinics. And I think after we met and you got scanned, you’re like, oh. Well, this sort of makes sense. Because you’re bright. You’re logical.
Well, I’m a neurosurgical ICU nurse, so technology makes sense to me.
So why wouldn’t you learn?
And so that’s why I often say, first of all, don’t do what I did. Don’t go off of it cold turkey. Please, don’t do that. Get help and go off of it with the help of a trained, skilled professional. But it’s really important. We are not anti-medicine. We are just against the indiscriminate use of it. That’s why I often say that. That’s why I’m such an advocate for people understanding what medicine does. Being on the right medicine. Because it can literally affect your life in ways you don’t want to be affected. My life was literally like some crazy cross between Carrie and nine and a half weeks. It was insane when I was on Prozac. So you don’t want to find yourself in that position, and you don’t have to if you have the right help.
So I think part of getting well for you is you got connected to Chrissy. So, a mentor.
A huge part of it. A lot of things happened-
And then you started going to church.
So the really exciting thing is, just like the negative stressors can stack, well, positive stressors … Not stressors. Positive …
Events can stack as well. And so all of a sudden, I mean, I really started praying, like something’s got to happen. And I didn’t really know if I believed in God, because I’m like, if there’s a God, he doesn’t love me. When I was depressed I was like, I’m not on the top of his list. So I sort of had disconnected, also because of my dad. My struggles with my dad led me to sort of disconnect from faith.
But all of a sudden, one positive thing happened, it attracted another positive thing, and then these positive events began to stack. And life changed really fast. It wasn’t slow, it happened fast. So it wasn’t overnight, but all of a sudden, good things began happening really quickly. And it, of course, was with the help of someone very special in my life. A mentor, a guide.
Mentors are so important.
But I reconnected with my spirituality. So you can find Relentless Courage of a Scared Child at relentlesscourage.com. So I’m feeling a little exposed, but if it helps anybody to understand you are not alone.
Well, compared to Playboy, this is like nothing.
You just had to go there. You just had to go there.
We also have an event December 12, Overcoming anxiety, depression, trauma, and grief. You can sign up, it’s free, at tanaamen.com/event. Stay with us.
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