Accidental Treatment for Depression
Ten years ago, during the height of the dot com boom, I worked in the advertising department of an online community. I was what they called a Traffic Coordinator, and was responsible for making sure that the ads for my group of advertisers ran on our website when and where they were supposed to. I also sent traffic reports to the advertisers that showed how successful (or unsuccessful) their ads had been in terms of how many people had clicked on them.
In this position, I reported not only to my immediate supervisor, but also to the sales manager who handled the accounts whose ads I implemented. When I interviewed for the job, my supervisor Sandy and her boss Will told me that the sales manager who I would be assigned to, a woman I'll call Anne, "could be difficult." They told me that if I felt after a while that Anne was more than I could deal with, I should tell them and I'd be re-assigned. Not an auspicious introduction to someone I would be working for, but I figured that I'd take them up on the offer if necessary, and after all, she wasn't going to be my direct supervisor.
I soon found out that "difficult" was (as you probably have already guessed) an understatement. Here's one example: about two months after I started the job, I had to have an ultrasound performed. I was having severe abdominal pain that turned out to be gallstones. The ultrasound was scheduled for Tuesday morning, which was when I was supposed to send traffic reports out to my advertisers. I got approval from my supervisor and Anne to have the appointment that morning, and assured them that the reports would be sent out as soon as I got into work. I even emailed all my advertisers to let them know that the report would be late.
When I got into work (at the same time that I had predicted I would), Anne stomped over to my desk and started screaming at me. She was furious that my reports were going to be late. I was flabbergasted, to say the least. She wasn't exactly a shrinking violet, so I assumed that she would have waved a big red flag when I told her about the appointment in the first place. I knew that I had done everything possible to prepare her and my advertisers, so I had no idea what to say, other than yelling back, "What should I have done? Not had the ultrasound? Just kept wondering why I was in such extreme pain?" She was making such a fuss that even her boss came out of his office to try to calm her down. But as always, there were no repercussions for her behavior. She brought in a lot of business, so the company wanted to keep her happy.
Even her advertisers were not protected from her wrath. I often sat open-mouthed in amazement when I heard her yelling at and berating an advertiser on the phone. I have no idea why she didn't lose all of her accounts, but at that time even big companies like AT&T and American Express were desperate to get their ads online.
As miserable as she made me, I could see that she was even more miserable. She never seemed happy, except perhaps on the night we all went out to celebrate the company's IPO. After a few drinks, another side of Anne's personality emerged. She complimented me fulsomely and told me that I did a great job. (Actually, I already knew that she thought so, although I hadn't heard it from her. I had finally asked my supervisor if I could be re-assigned, only to be told that Anne thought I was the only traffic coordinator who did the job according to her standards, so Sandy asked if I could hang in there.)
After the start of the new year, Anne decided it was time for her to quit smoking. All of us were appalled (and frightened) at the prospect of being around her. Most people get cranky when they're trying to quit smoking. We were prepared for every day being a living hell. Anne got a prescription for Zyban from her doctor (a thousand blessings on whoever suggested it to her). We were just hoping to survive the month, but we got a surprise.
After a few weeks, I started realizing that it had been a while since Anne completely lost her temper. When she got angry, which was less frequently, she no longer seemed to be out of control. She was more patient overall and tended to actually listen when you talked instead of cutting you off mid-sentence. In short, she was much more pleasant in a number of ways. She still could be abrasive and difficult, but something had changed.
Of course, I wasn't brave enough to say, "Hey, you seem to be an okay human being now - what happened?" Fortunately for the sake of my curiosity Anne, knowing about my experience with depression and my website, broached the subject. Apparently she had mentioned to her doctor that her outlook had improved, and her doctor made the connection to the Zyban. She had probably been depressed for years, but it had never been diagnosed. She said that she felt like she had found a new life.
Zyban, while it is marketed for smoking cessation, is simply the antidepressant Wellbutrin. Apparently, some smokers who were taking Wellbutrin for depression mentioned a lessening of their craving for cigarettes. So GlaxoSmithKline did some further testing and then re-packaged and marketed the drug as Zyban, with a new purpose.
I wonder how many other people have had their depression treated before it was even diagnosed, or how many will. I have a family member who took Meridia for weight loss, which targets the brain's appetite control center. According to Wikipedia, although Meridia works in a fashion similar to tricyclic antidepressants, it hasn't shown antidepressants qualities in animal studies. Anecdotally, however, I definitely did notice a difference in this person's mood when he was taking it.