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The Chemistry Experiment -- The Cure

I saw a movie in 1995, The Cure. It was about two boys, eleven year old Dexter and Eric, a little older. When Eric learns that Dexter has AIDS, he decides to find a cure. People find cures all the time in unexpected places. Since Dexter is not allowed to eat candy, Eric thinks that might be why he has AIDS. Keeping track of Dexter's temperature in a notebook, the boys try a lot of candy. After the first trial results were in, finding low efficacy and an unwanted side effect of stomach ache, they switch to plants down by the river, making a series of infusions (tea). This time a stomach ache leads to a hospitalization. When Dexter's mother ends the experiment and Eric's mother tries to end the relationship, the boys head south on a raft to New Orleans, where there will be new plants.

The Chemistry Experiment was something like The Cure, only my doctors didn't monitor as closely as Eric, nor respond as quickly to my side effects. Part way through it, I drew this picture of The Chemistry Experiment. The bottles crossed off were of Prozac, Celexa, Remeron, and Nortriptyline. Cymbalta is the one being added to the test tube, which was my body. I was willing to try no more than three per series, insisting that I wash out the test tube between. I also changed psychiatrists after three, and quit entirely for a while after Effexor.

I saved all my unfinished scrips.
The pills fascinated me. They were the evidence of the violence to my body with which I was collaborating. My therapist really wanted me to throw them away. Eventually I did. But now I wish I still had them. Not to take all at once, that's not my plan. Just for evidence.

It seems that I am not the only one with this fascination. Tom Varco took this series:

.......prozac................... lexapro.................. pristiq.......

Now, I don't know the photographer. I don't know how he chose his subjects, nor
how he obtained them. But what I see here is the impulse to manage the unmanageable through art, to impose a meaning on one's experience. The series makes me wonder if he found more beauty in the meds than I did. I was just fascinated. And awed.

I would be more inclined to put mine in a pile and photograph them all at once, because I don't know how to add pictures to my post easily, and the multiple photos in this post are a real bite.

(The pink ovals here look like Celexa. And the light and dark blue capsules look familiar, but I can't come up with a name. The photo
is in the public domain.)

Here is another example by Lukas Bombach. I get most of my images, by the way, from, where many photos and other media are in the public domain, and others grant use under certain conditions. I can use Tom's photos if I attribute him, and Lukas' if I tell you that it is his and that This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5. Lukas adds to his photo of seroquel (which is used for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder -- and who knows what else off-label) that the source of this photo is "self-made, yes I'm schizo ;) "

I don't know Lukas either, but I like him.

These little packets of chemicals, we put them in our bodies and hope for the best. My second psychiatrist didn't like it when I called it The Chemistry Experiment. A few minutes later when I asked whether Effexor would work, she said, "We don't know until you try it." It was very expensive and very traumatic to find out that the answer to my question was "no." Jerod says that people who have to quit Effexor also quit their psychiatrists.

The FDA weighs certain factors when it decides whether to allow the general public to participate in the chemistry experiment. Is the medication in question more effective than a placebo? And how much harm does it do along the way? It turns out that in clinical trials of antidepressants, placebos perform very well indeed. The antidepressants now available perform better, but frankly, not by much. The longer the trial the more effective the placebo is, 28% success and up, narrowing the gap, because even untreated, depression does go away. The other thing about placebos, while the people who get the placebos are bothered by side effects, too, they are not bothered nearly so much as those who take the chemicals.

So what I want to know, as I contemplate the next round of the chemistry experiment, why can't I get the placebo?!!!???


  1. Just great. Thanks to John McManamy I now have ANOTHER blog I have to read. ;-)

  2. Thanks, Katherine! And thanks for leaving a comment. The comments really do give me the energy and passion to keep writing. This particular post comes out of my passion for the topic. Part Two comes next week.

  3. I am new to your blog and so glad to have been lead here. I can relate to much of your writing! I have read a few older posts so far and bringing up the issue of shame, I have gained much insight from Brene Brown's work on the topic. So I thought I might share...
    www(dot)ordinarycourage(dot)com -- her book is "I Thought It Was Just Me" You can link from her website, but her blog, etc is also very awesome. Maybe you are already familiar, but if not, definitley check it out. I would love to say that I know her, well, but I don't. So I just know her work and it's superb!

  4. Thanks for the reference, Nicole. On first glance, it is quite beautiful. I'll be watching the videos. And I am glad to make the connection with you.


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