Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Scandal of Paxil

I've taken a certain prescription drug everyday for the past 12 years, or at least, I've attempted to. Back in the day when I was first prescribed this drug, it cost $100 a month. I have spent more time without insurance than with, so this has been a consistent cost each month since 1997...that's about $13,000, which is astounding to me given that I can't function without it. Some medical professionals even say I am addicted to it, given the length of time I have been on it and my repeated failure in staying off of it.

This drug is an antidepressant; it goes by the brand name Paxil or Seroxat, or the generic name paroxetine. I take 40mg a day. Paxil is arguably the most controversial anti-depressant of our times, with scandals over supression of unfavorable clinical findings, consumer fraud and suicidal tendencies reported by teens and young adults on the drug (one clinical finding suggested teens were 6 times more likely to become suicidal after taking paroxetine). Paxil's biggest crime? Despite initial claims by GlaxoSmithKline that this drug was non-habit forming, it has the single worst withdrawal symptoms of any antidepressant on the market (as reported in 2001 by the BBC on behalf of the World Health Organization. This drug does BAD things to people who attempt to discontinue using it, even after just a couple of weeks of use. Withdrawal symptoms range from the minor (nausea, fatigue) to "shocks" and uncontrollable crying. (For those of you who have no idea what "shocks" are, it's best defined as a sensation of electricity in the body. It's truly awful.) I have experienced these withdrawal symptoms and more, as Paxil is expensive and I wasn't always able to stay on it continuously. There have been times when I simply ran out of the drug a week before I got paid, so there was nothing for it but to withdraw and wait. As a matter of fact, I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms as we speak because Walgreens has lost their ever loving minds.

I used to get all of my prescriptions filled at Walgreens, which I have discovered is a bit like buying a Timex watch at Prada prices. I say this, because WalMart (groan) has hundreds of generic drugs for only $4 per 30 day supply. Paroxetine is one of them. Assuming that Walgreens knew this, and would adjust their previously sky-high pricing accordingly, I tried to take a shortcut last night in getting my already overdue prescription filled.

I had been out for 3 days, and I was beginning to get some major withdrawal symptoms. Time to get it done.

WalMart has no drive through pharmacy; they are plagued with long lines and even longer wait times. WalMart, in general, makes me nuts. I get easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by large crowds and busy visual stimuli, so WalMart is the last thing I want to face when I've got the shocks and anxiety of Paxil withdrawal. Listening to NPR in the quiet, safe seclusion of my car, I pulled into the drive thru pharmacy at Walgreen's at 5:55pm last night. After waiting for 20 minutes, it was finally my turn. I forked over my prescription and driver's license and asked to get a price on the prescription from the clerk in navy scrubs behind the bullet proof glass.

"You have to come in to request a price. All I can do is take your prescription at the drive thru window." I turned Marketplace all the way down and stared at her, dubious. Steady.

"That's ridiculous. I've been waiting in this line for 20 minutes." I already have a bad temper, and when I'm tweaking with withdrawal, it's incredibly difficult for me to not rip people's arms out of their sockets for such minor indiscretions as, say, giving me root beer instead of Diet Coke at McDonald's.

"That's our policy. I'm sorry."

"OUR policy, or your policy? That's ludicrous. I'm supposed to get the same service here as your...:::restrain from using profanity:::...COUNTER inside. Fine. Run it. I'll pick it up at 7."

Two hours later, I return to pick up the prescription. Again, I'm safely restrained in my car. The bullet proof glass is essential to my staying out of jail, as this clerk, this glorified drug dealer, tells me that'll be $75, please.

Nuclear implosion ensues. As calmly as possible, I express my hot displeasure at such a rip off and my suspicion that Walgreens has been taken over by GSK's army of delusional dancing monkeys.

I'll be at WalMart as soon as I get off of work.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Online Evolution

I've been online since the 90s. It started with AOL's god awful reign of terror on a 28.8k external beast of a modem on a computer my grandmother had procured for our house, back when CAT5 cable wasn't even a twinkle in our nerdy civilian eyes. Modems screamed with digital handshakes, busy signals threatened to ruin the hour or so of online time you'd get before someone had to use the phone line. The feature you could select to block incoming calls seemed orgasmic, the option to be able to create a user name all your own...stressful and delicious. The web was this unformed frontier, abstract to the mind and eye...for the longest time, I thought AOL WAS the internet, which I'm sure was their aim.

Speaking of AIM, with the dawn of email and personal websites, instant messaging wasn't far behind it. I remember the first time I wandered into my usual AOL chat room ("Ask A Lesbian," which I frequented for years before I was out of the closet) and got IMd by some random stranger. I don't remember what was said, because I kept shutting the chat window, horrified at what I was certain was one of those "viruses" we were starting to hear about. Finally, the stranger asked me in the chat room why I didn't want to "chat".

"I am chatting..." was roughly my response. This seemed self evident. I was in an effing chat room, yes? Yes. Then he explained. He warned me that the window was coming this time, and I remember little else besides a huge smile on my face as I witnessed this technological marvel. I had heard of it before from my nerdy new online friends who used ICQ, but that was over my young teen head at the time.

I've gone by many names since the American online revolution took over my life in the 90s. At first, it was expected that you would retain your anonymnity while online. I was known only as KlydeFrog (Froggy) to all but my 3 closest online friends for YEARS while on AOL. There was something liberating and glorious about having an entirely new identity that no one could question. You could speak with shocking candor about everything...your family experiences, your frustrations, your joys and concerns. Victims of violence or rape found a safe voice and friends who were struggling, too. As for people like me, it gave queer folks the courage and support to embrace their identity; Ask A Lesbian and the wonderful women I befriended there saved my life. It was my lifeline to a world I couldn't touch yet, and as supportive as these women were, many were in similar situations and found solace in the anonymous companionship the faceless internet offered. Eventually, you could even create your own private chat room, complete with custom name and private invitations you could hand out via IM. Slowly, though, the rules began to change.

One day, I noticed that when I clicked on someone's screen name, I didn't just get info like their age and location on their previously rudimentary profile. This was a very intimate profile, full of details like where they worked, what school they graduated even had a PICTURE of them. I was shocked, nearly horrified. I opened the email from AOL I had earlier ignored when I first signed on, and it explained that you could now "upload" a personal picture to attach to your profile. How? How did that person get a picture of themselves on the internet? This predated the popularity and affordability of digital cameras; even on AOL's mainscreens that they ran themselves, it was 95% text....there were VERY few pictures, even in their news articles. There was no Google, no Ask.Com, no Wikipedia to answer such mindboggling questions...again, my nerdier online friends explained this new abomination as best they could.

It was the beginning of social networking, where you were encouraged to be your IRL (in real life) self and not just a screen name persona. I resisted for a while, as did my online friends, until the lure of filling out such a self-centered profile for public view got the better of us. No one had ever asked us what our favorite movies were, or our favorite quote. As AOL's era of internet monopoly ended, you no longer needed a username and password to get online. Suddenly, all you needed was the newest modem and something called a "browser" called Internet Explorer, and BAM, you were on the web. AOL's increasingly high membership fees plummetted as people realized AOL was NOT, in fact, the internet. Online communities like Ask A Lesbian slowly died away, or else turned into online gaming communes (think WoW or EverQuest).

I kept the free AIM chat client, though, until my AOL friends slowly drifted away into the increasingly isolated, murky waters of the internet. I remember finding it useless to install AIM on a new computer of mine at some point, and how surprised I was to feel so sad at the loss of my online community. Years would go by before I discovered MySpace, and more still before Facebook lured me in. But now, it's something different...something a little more dangerous than the innocent, faceless days of AOL, because now it's no longer:

"KlydeFrog wants to chat. Accept?"

It's now:

"Thea Mars is in your extended network."

My co-workers and former high school friends can find me online and know all of this crazy crap about me. While you can maintain some anonmnity, it's more and more frowned upon. People who use fake names are considered shady or even elitist.

Sometimes, I miss just being KlydeFrog.

Prop 8...The Good In the Bad

On May 26th, 2009, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling to uphold Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that won the majority vote in California to effectively bar same sex couples from receiving marriage licenses. The majority, by the way, was slight...52% over 47%, due to several factors. Loads of money from churches and religious organizations played a large part in the passage of Prop 8, many of whom have laws stating they are not to donate money or even moral support to political causes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints donated at least $189,000, which doesn't include individual donations from members of their church to make up the additional millions poured into the "Yes on Prop 8" campaign. According to this article, nearly $3 million came from the state of Utah alone.

Regardless, I come here to discuss Prop 8, not just to lament its blatant violation of campaign finance laws. I live in Louisiana; I know there are some folks wondering why I care what happens in California. I care, because the sooner larger, more progressive states (whoa...Iowa?) take the step towards recognizing gay marriage, the closer my bass-ackwards, deep south home will be in turn. Such decisions in other states affect the entire queer community.

Feverishly drowning in my own despair after the ruling was announced, I began scouring for information online. A local protest, a petition...something. Some glimmer of hope, some action I could take; all I wanted was to put my anger and outrage somewhere. A co-worker of mine sent me an article via Facebook from a conservative political blogger, who happens to believe same sex marriage is a solid, conservative cause to back. I was hesitant to take ANYTHING from anyone who dares to identify themselves as conservative, but I took away some hope from his brief observations...that this was actually a victory for same sex marriage, not the dismal failure we were taking it for.

As I started reading the actual 180+ page opinion issued by the California Supreme Court, something occurred to me. That it is, in fact, a victory for gay marriage, albeit an obscured one.
Essentially, Prop 8 accomplished just two things, both of which effectively cancel the other out, if you are ruled by logic:

1.) Only heterosexual couples can be legally considered "married".
2.) 18,000 same sex couples can stay legally "married" because they got married before 11/4/08 when Prop 8 passed.

Great moons of Neptune...the conservative fuck was right. In retaining the legality of the 18,000 same sex marriages that occurred in California before November 4th, the court has offered the California queer community an opportunity.

It seems to me that in Massachusetts, and other states that have legalized same sex marriage, the most effective way to calm a nervous heterosexual public over the existence of same sex marriage is to let them witness it casually. Not in angry courthouse battles, outrageous gay pride parades or in heated protests; while these occurrances are vital and necessary to our civil rights movement, they are not effective at calming the heteronormative society that finds same sex marriage unnerving. I can hear my understandably upset queer brethren groaning..."Why calm the first class citizens? Why bother to care what they think?"

Because, like it or not, our civil rights are up for popular vote...and they will be, over and over, until the United States of America grants state and federal recognition to same sex marriage, or banishes every queer person to Barbados because they get sick of us fighting for it. California's queer community lost their marital rights by a 5% margin. Of over 13 million votes, they lost the right to state marital recognition by a mere 599, 602 popular votes. I believe that demonstrations, pride parades and legal battles are necessary. However, I think there is much merit to those who are focused on being families, not dancing down the streets of San Francisco in assless chaps, in the war for the country's sympathies and votes. When the battle for same sex marriage comes to Louisiana again, and it will, it will be up to our families, friends and neighbors to decide whether or not same sex marriage is a good idea. I don't like it any more than the next member of the queer community, but it's true: we are at the mercy of the majority. We're at the mercy of a majority to grant rights and protections to a minority...and people wonder why I drink.

My burgeoning alchoholism aside, I am holding onto hope. Those same sex couples who have obtained the right to marry and have managed to retain that right are our best chance at a victory in California next time, and let me reassure you, there WILL be a next time. Marriage strengthens communities and builds strong families, and it is up to those of you who managed to get hitched prior to November 4th, 2008 to prove that same sex families have the same merit as heterosexual families do. Eventually, California will succeed in this great endeavor. No civil rights movement in America's history has failed....this one won't, either. It simply can't.

Until then, I will be waiting and watching, rallying and protesting, until its our turn. Until Louisiana gives all of its sons and daughters equal rights. And when it's all said and done, when all of the states have voted to permit state-level equality, the federal government will grant us every right and responsibility bestowed upon our heterosexual counterparts.

If I live to see that day, I will be grateful. Profoundly and righteously angry, but eternally grateful.

For the complete lowdown on Prop 8, visit Wikipedia, the bastion of all things truthful and educational.