Deadening effect on anger by the long-term use of anti-depressants

Firstly, I’ve been on anti-depression medication on and off for four years. Before that I refused to countenance medical intervention. Secondly, I also have a history of anger management problems. So when I say I have noticed a difference then it’s from personal experience.

The longest I’ve been on meds for my illness is, at this moment, fifteen months. I take a daily dose of fluoxetine 20mg. In the past I’ve had some CBT as well as medication. I’m not sure which has helped the most because this time round I’ve been on the drugs a lot longer than before but I’ve had the benefit of knowledge acquired during that therapy to help as well.

I still have nasty episodes of depression and anxiety, which I have documented here as they happen in some cases; they are marginally less severe than before medical help. I can leave the house on most days etc. There is one change that I’ve noticed, it’s been gradually coming on: I don’t act on my anger any more. There’s been a few things that have overset me recently, things that in the past I’d have gone for the throat of the perpetrator for, but that haven’t caused an immediate reaction. Only after thinking about whatever has happened have I had a response. My first response is nothing, emptiness.

Even after thinking about events I don’t always have my usual violent urge to beat someone over the head with a brick and scream my irritation at the stupidity and malice of the world from the top of the nearest tower. I’d like to point out I have only once acted on my anger, nobody was hurt. Usually I settle with hurting myself rather than anyone else.

There’s two sides to this change in my response to anger, one good – helpful – and one not so much.
I shall demonstrate with reference to two incidents recently. Last month my sister’s in-laws started causing trouble. The offenders live across from me. In the past I’d have had to force myself not to walk over, hammer on the door and slap people. My bro-in-law actually said he was surprised I hadn’t. Instead I thought the situation through, discussed things with my sister. And took the moral high ground. There’s a nice view from up there. The in-laws were trying to provoke a reaction, so we don’t give them the satisfaction. Instead, staying calm and polite helped us get to the cause (jealousy and control issues) and allowed me to advise and support my sister and bro-in-law as they resolved the problem.

The flip side is that when I need my anger and need to react straight away I can’t anymore. Example, Friday I was mowing the front jungle and the neighbour walked by with his daughter’s dog. It’s a labradoodle, one of those crossbreeds that have become fashionable. As he walked by the neighbour said something about choosing the hottest day of the year to cut grass. I laughed, said ‘Well it has to be done’ and expected the interaction to end there, a polite neighbourly acknowledgement of each other’s existence. He’d walked past, almost at his own drive thirty yards away, and clearly had nothing else to say. But then he turned back, walked towards me, and then stopped a few feet away. I thought he must have something important he’d remembered he had to tell me, or a message for mum, since she fell over earlier in the week and has injured herself, but he only repeated himself about me choosing the hottest day etc etc. My dogs, not barking or growling, unlatched the gate and trotted up to say hello. My two stayed near the gate, mother’s bitch, Jessie, came up to the edge of our property and sniffed neighbours-daughter’s labradoodle. NDL sniffed back. It was all very polite, I had hopes they would finally be able to interact. Jessie stepped out of our property to sniff arse, I think, when NDL growled at her. Jessie growled back but stepped away. At this point it could have got bad. I called my three back in to the back garden. Unfortunately, the neighbour started shouting and screaming over the top of me, which agitated my pair; they acted as though we were being threatened and the smallest, Gyfa, ran forward to investigate/support Jessie/protect me. I don’t know what cognitive process was going on in there, NDL is three times her size. If she stood on Jessie’s back the pair of them might have the same height as NDL, but not nearly the same bodyweight. So I’m keeping calm and calling them down the drive, the neighbour is still stood at the end of our drive with his daughter’s dog yelling at us; my dogs are getting confused and agitated, wanting to defend me from a perceived threat (shouting human/growling dog in our territory) and at the same time habit makes them want to obey me, plus there’s probably a treat in it for them. So they did both. Gyfa ran up an down the drive, while Jessie and Ezzie went towards the gate. The neighbour finally decided to go away and I got those two in, but Gyfa went through the hedge to see the neighbour now that he’d stopped shouting, where upon he bellowed at NDL to “have a go at her”. Really? Gyfa is tiny, a yapping gangly thing and you want your dog, just a touch smaller than a Labrador, to attack her for being curious? Really?

I called Gyfa back, since obviously the neighbour had decided to be unpleasant and had assumed Gyfa was dangerous (Hahaha – excuse me while I laugh at the ridiculous idea. Anyone who’s ever got to know my dogs knows they are high energy bundles of affection.) and shut the gate, locking it this time. The neighbour then decided to carry on talking as though nothing had happened, but he really didn’t have anything to say. Seriously, he just repeated the same thing he’d said when he’d first walked past!  He went in doors and I got my mowing finished.

I left off thinking about it until I was out walking Ezzie and Gyfa later in the afternoon. As I don’t feel much at the minute, it took a few hours to percolate through. I was angry and agitated by the time we returned. I had questions. Why did he feel the need to walk back and forth in front of our house when he had nothing to say? Why did he start screaming and shouting over me while I was trying to get the dogs settled and back in to the back garden? Why did he instruct his dog to attack mine? Why did he continue to talk to me even though he clearly had nothing to say? Some of these struck me as they were happening, I could have confronted the neighbour as he played for time at the front door, and demanded to know why he thought it was necessary to act in a threatening manner, from my dogs perspective. His actions, in walking a strange dog back and forth across their territory, allowing it to growl at Jessie and then not leaving straight away if he felt there was a possibility of a dog fight, and then increasing the tension by shouting and confusing the dogs were completely provocative. I felt it then but didn’t feel the anger which would have compelled me to speak.

As we returned from our walk it struck me that the neighbour had deliberately provoked a reaction from the dogs. Knowing how protective they are he acted aggressively to provoke them, and when they obeyed me he tried to confuse them. It worked. Torn between protection and obedience they became confused and I had to push harder for obedience. Unfortunately for the neighbour, who’s actions suggest he was looking for a fight so he could claim the dogs are a dangerous nuisance (he’s tried to claim that before and it hasn’t worked because it’s idiotic nonsense), I was numb enough that I didn’t get angry or panic, which would have fed the dog’s confusion, and my dogs eventually retired without much more than a couple of barks and growls the whole time.

Once my babies were safely away from our dangerous neighbour I should have let him have it with both barrels. It was only several hours later that I felt angered, but it was too late to confront the man. All I could do was explain what had happened to my mother and present my evidence that the neighbour had deliberately tried to provoke the dogs. Mother agreed that there was something odd about the neighbour’s actions.

There was nothing I could do. I spent the rest of the night and a good bit of yesterday fretting about it all. Delayed anger made me unhappy.

It won’t last long, no feeling does, especially on my medication. I feel quite calm, blank, today. I’m going to eat and then take the dogs out in their new harnesses to get some exercise.

I need my anger, it helps me fight, it pushed me to academic excellence, and it kept me alive in the face if bullying and misery, but it’s also destructive if I lose control. Admittedly, it’s usually me who gets hurt because I try to avoid hurting others, but I have broken things, tried to get revenge and made rash threats while angry. The numbing medicine I take has damped down the more aggressive parts of my anger. The useful side effect is that I can rationally consider events then act accordingly, taking the moral high ground, advising and using my linguistic eloquence to make my arguments. The not so useful side: I can’t get angry when provoked, nor defend myself straight away. This leads to delayed reaction, rumination and insomnia. That’s not a good thing for the clinically depressed.

Antidepression medicine is useful but it hasn’t changed in thirty years. Most is designed to increase serotonin levels. The drugs were developed when the understanding of depression was that it was caused by a lack of this neurotransmitter. Since then, neuroscience has moved on, there is a greater understanding of the complexity of depression, and serotonin is not the only hormone involved. Unfortunately, drug’s manufacturers haven’t bothered to develop new medicines based on more recent knowledge of brain function and neuroscience; it wouldn’t make them enough money. There are therapies available, CBT for example or Mindfulness Therapy, but they are not always easy to access on the NHS or with private health insurance because the sessions required to help change thought patterns can take months, and that’s expensive. Oh look, money again. Clearly pennies are more important than functioning members of society. This is just wrong!

And yet I am not angry because the drugs I’m on don’t let me feel the nuances of emotion. I should be angry about that too…

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has found similar emotional numbing has developed after taking depression medicine long term.

Also, if anyone has any dog training tips for slightly nervous but mature dogs, that would be helpful too.
Thanks for reading, I appreciate people reading my rambling nonsense.
Time to go, I really do need to eat now, maybe even nap. Enjoy the rest of you weekend and the lovely weather.



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