I found myself reading this news story the other day and furiously nodding my head during the intro: “Nearly 80 percent of all prescriptions for antidepressants are written by non-psychiatrist providers.”

Me! That’s me; I got my first Paxil script from a general practitioner. I fall within that category. My Paxil prescription was part of that 80%.

And I didn’t really know what I was getting into — mentally, physically, OR financially.

Let’s go back to that fateful day.

I felt like a child with my short legs dangling as I sat on the doctor’s exam table.  It was 2005, I was no longer a child at 20 years old, and it’s worth noting that the thin carpeting on the exam room floor was obviously from the 1970’s.  I can’t remember the exact color, but it reminded me of “Vegetable Medley” — that wilted excuse for a side dish served in high school, college, and probably  even hospital cafeterias.  Peas and carrots with the occasional green bean.  A carpet of green and orange speckles.  It — the carpeting, that is — complemented the brown faux wood paneling on the walls.  I swung my legs around below me.

My doctor was pretty old, too.  Mid to upper-sixties, by my estimate.  I’d been seeing him for coughs, colds, and other garden-variety illnesses since I was 9 or 10.  And here I was, this time as an adult, complaining of an illness far more vague (but perhaps just as prevalent) as those simple childhood illnesses.

I was trying to explain my anxiety and my panic.  I was trying to explain that the Xanax wasn’t really working any longer and I wasn’t thrilled about having to take it every day.  And I was trying to explain everything quickly — Doc was always an in-and-out, get things done, man-of-efficiency type of professional.

“Is there anything else I can do?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, speaking slowly.  “I want you to try…”

He paused.  He paused for a strangely long amount of time, pulled out his thick prescription pad, looked up at the ceiling (was something written up there?), and then thoughtfully contemplated aloud.

“Hmm, Paxil or Celexa…Paxil or Celexa…”

He decided on Paxil (was it a mental coin toss?), a drug whose name I’d vaguely recalled from…television ads? Pop culture references? Did a friend of mine take this stuff?  I wasn’t sure.

Five minutes later, I left with four (unboxed) sample packets of Paxil CR — good for four weeks’ worth of selective serotonin reuptake inhibition — and a script to get me started a month later when the samples run out.  Four sample packets with seven yellow pills apiece.  Seven yellow pills held inside under foil blisters.

At the time, I was a college student.  I was making $6 per hour as a computer lab monitor.  (It’s an ideal college job. You sit at a computer in one of the campus computer labs, waiting for the printer to jam or for someone to ask a question about how to save their PowerPoint presentation to their H:\ drive.  And, basically, you have all the time in the world to get your homework and studying done.)

Sure, my expenses weren’t very high — but averaging about 10 hours per week and $180 per month (after taxes), I always felt a bit of a crunch.  Gas money, books, school supplies, and the occasional trip to the grocery store when I got sick of production-line cafeteria food (“Vegetable Medley” included).  Stamps, car insurance, and a cup of coffee (so I could study at the coffee shop for an hour or two without feeling like a loiterer).  The occasional clothing item.  The pay-per-load laundry fee.  It all adds up.

So, I was grateful for the samples — at least I didn’t have to pay anything.

Not yet, at least. (Stay tuned for part two.)

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