Sunday, September 16, 2007

On Is Better

I recently had a nice demonstration of the difference between being On an SSRI and being Off.

Some six years ago, while I was Off, TrophyHusband and I moved into our first house. It was 200 years old, but had just been completely renovated. Which is how I knew that the wee baby cockroach creeping across the floor toward me when I got up to pee in the middle of the night had been imported from our prior residence, a slum of an apartment building—actually, from the basement, where we had been storing our boxed wedding gifts next to the leaky pipes and bare wires.

Bugs—especially spiders and cockroaches—being one of my phobias, I felt a bit woozy, but I talked myself through the squishing and flushing of the little fellow. I felt a little worse when I spotted #2, but I handled it. As I did with #3, #4, #5, and #6. At this point I was sweating, nauseated, and lightheaded, but I was keeping it together. A few tiny cockroaches weren’t going to hurt me!

Then I turned around and saw—the mother. This one was the size of a small mouse. I could hear the noise her legs made as she moved. She was moving pretty slowly, too—almost as if she knew I was too phobic to be a threat. There was no way I could squish this one. This one would crunch, and she might put up a fight.

I tried. I got around her and made it to the vacuum cleaner. Genius! I wouldn’t have to touch or hear a thing! But as I neared, hose in hand, she perked up and … scooted under the door into our bedroom, where TH lay sleeping on the mattress, which was lying on the floor. Surrounded by heaps of half-emptied boxes.

I lost my mind. I flung open the door, turned on the lights, jumped onto the bed and started sobbing and yelling. Poor TH leapt up, naked and disoriented. Finally he understood what was going on.

“Don’t worry, I’ll kill it!” he said.

“You’ll never find it!” I wailed.

He banged around, shoving boxes this way and that, and finally uncovered it and beat it to death with a shoe.

I started crying harder.

“What’s wrong? I got it!” he said.

“But I know there are moooore,” I sobbed.

That night TH had to feed me sedatives to get me to go back to sleep. The next day I began feverish research into how to eliminate cockroaches. The two most important things: 1. You cannot starve cockroaches. Even if you could remove every speck of food in every crevice of your house, they can survive on soap and candles. But you can drive them away by cutting off any access to water. Fix any dripping faucets (we had one), then plug all the drains every night. Leave no open water around, such as glasses of water by the bed. (Aaagh!) 2. They adore corrugated cardboard. They slip into those little tunnels and stay there all cozy until the lights go off.

I have never unpacked so fast in my life. I also trained myself to sleep through the night for the first time ever. I fixed the problem, but I had the heebie-jeebies for months.

Last week, it became clear to me that one of our rowhouse neighbors had brought in an exterminator and driven their roaches west. I knew this because one morning I saw one cockroach on our kitchen floor, then another on the bathroom floor, and finally one clinging to the back of my son’s t-shirt. But now, I am On an SSRI. Now, I was able to dispatch them all while hardly breaking a sweat, and when I didn’t have time to get all the plugs I needed to seal off all of our drains that day, I was able to wait another couple of days without any particular mental distress. I didn’t like it when I went downstairs in the middle of the night and disturbed two black shiny Hummers of the roach world—seriously, they were so big, you could see under them when they walked; if they were SUVs, they’d have really bad rollover statistics—but I didn’t freak out. (Where do those really big ones hide out during the day, anyway? They can’t fit into any of the crevices I’m aware of.)

Don’t worry, we’re on top of it now. You can come over and nothing nasty will leap out at you, aside from BadCat, who has conjunctivitis in his right eye and looks like an extra from a horror movie. But that’s a story for another day. Anyway, On is definitely better.


Anonymous said...

As a seasoned roach murderer, I can confess that Castrol Degreaser spray in the purple bottle kills roaches fast.

And Banana Boat Tanning Oil sprayed judiciously where it won't get on something you can't wipe it off of, will kill any insect in less than 20 seconds. It suffocates their breathing holes. The Degreaser dissolves roaches.

Anonymous said...


This is very reminiscent of my childhood. It was very roach filled. You'd think that this would make me less horrified (desensitization and all) but no.

I'm glad the SSRIs help with the roaches. Winter will also. Just keep your house cold as much as you can. They'll go away.

A bit envious of the SSRIs as well--I can't spare the extra 30-50 lbs. and go on SSRIs anymore. The cure is (only a little bit) worse than the disease for me but there's a shortage of other cures.

Not on the topic exactly but I need a lightbox BADLY before it is too late. Where did you get yours? (I know you might have some secret medical source that I can't use but if not, do tell. And you can get anything on the internet these days.)

You did say you got a lightbox, right? Or am I losing it completely?

I hope things are less crazy for you at work these days also.

Sarah said...

"Really bad rollover statistics"... BWAHAHAHA.

Word has it that years ago when they closed the dump in the next town over, a couple weeks later all the rats bailed out like rats off a... anyway... and swam across the creek where they briefly terrorized my town.

Of course, I didn't live there yet. I miss all the good stuff.

Anonymous said...

Umm, I still have flashbacks to my little walk-up apartment downtown whenever I even talk about cockroaches.

Hats off to you. You did well.

Orange said...

Jaysus, that's horrifying! I have enough trouble with the occasional centipede, and those are shyer creatures. And easy to squish if they don't scurry away too fast. Although when squished, usually a few legs keep waving in the air like they just don't care.

We have been super, super lucky: 16 years in the big city and no sign of roaches, not in the apartment and not in the condo building. Both 80-year-old buildings, too--what are the odds?

A friend of mine's cats didn't manage to kill all the roaches at her apartment. One night, she woke up to find the cat batting a paw at her hair because there was a roach in it. Ack! Sleep would never return for me if that happened to me.

I am glad you were able to kill the fucker who was on your son's t-shirt. I hope he wasn't wearing it at the time!

Anonymous said...

My sistah! I have the same phobia--I can't believe it can be medicated away. My first year at college, I woke up to see the wall moving near the sink. When I realized I wasn't drunk, I turned on a nightlight and saw wave after wave of roaches crawling up the wall by the foot of my bed. I made so much noise getting out of the room that I woke my roommate, half the floor and the RA, who wrote me up.

In Florida the palmetto bugs look like roaches but they can FLY. And they're BLIND. And they look like fixed-wing aircraft when they're coming at you. I would sooner starve than give up my exterminator, who understands my phobias and will come at an hour's notice (literally) if I see even one moving thing. He drinks my iced tea, I listen to stories about his mother. It's a wonderful relationship.

electriclady said...

Ohhhh....I feel a little ill now. We live in a 80 year old apartment building in the big city, so roaches are inevitable. (Hell, roaches were inevitable in my old building, which was less than 10 years old.) The exterminator comes to the building once a month but basically he just chases the roaches from apartment to apartment.

When my daughter was two weeks old we had a major infestation. I had nightmares about roaches crawling all over her bottle nipples (I draped the drying rack with paper towels in a futile attempt to keep them out) or, god forbid, ON MY BABY. My husband finally found a nest INSIDE THE DISHWASHER DOOR. I took the baby for a walk while he dismantled the dishwasher and sprayed like crazy. He couldn't get the queen out of the crevice where she was lurking so her dead body is still there. Shudder.

Anonymous said...

Holy shit....I loved being on SSRI's! I stopped taking it when I became pregnant, but man that was a fantastic ride for 2 months! I am a nurse and work on an inpatient surgical floor. I knew it was time to medicate myself when taking care of a patient with cancer, all I could do was cry like a baby. In front of everyone. Crazy! The medication made me feel so balanced, I could deal with everything, no matter how tragic. I wasn't a robot, just in control.

As far as the buggy-bugs go, I grew up in Texas, where the cock roach is MOFO BIG and bad to the bone. Up here in central upstate NY, we don't have any roaches, but loads of centipedes, their wiggle-waggle legs make me wanna puke, and earwigs...diamateous earth works great sprinkled around the perimeter of your house.

I haven't had the need to return to using an SSRI, but I am grateful just knowing it's out there if I need it.

Anastasia L said...

Hilarious - my bug phobia was one of the things that got me on Prozac in the first place, if you can believe it. (I lived in the south at the time - not a good place to have hysterics over the tiniest cockroach).

And I know exactly what you mean. When I'm medicated, things bother me, but I can deal. Unmedicated? Oh man - the teeniest emotional upset, or surprise cockroach on the floor, and you'd think my whole world was ending.

I agree. On is way, way, way better. For me, but especially for anyone who has to live with me! :)

Katie said...

My skin is now crawling. I'm so glad I live in the Uk, here the worst we have to deal with are non-poisonous house spiders, and at least they eat the flies, even if they scare the hell out of me!

Anonymous said...

I ♥ my Zoloft! Just as a couple of previous posters mentioned, things still bother me when I am medicated, they just bother me a whole lot less. For example: I only have one lint remover in the house to rid my children of errant dog hairs. Pre-medication I would have had one in every room, as well as a few more tucked away between couch cushions. Oh, and the dog would be bald.

Love your blog! I started reading awhile ago and am happy to finally be commenting!

Anonymous said...

Heh. I used to live in Houston, a subtropical climate where it is impossible to fight roaches effectively. Not infrequently one would open interior doors, dislodging a roach that had been resting on the top of the door and would flutter/fly down through the air right at one's face. Sometimes I would use a towel after a shower, then look down and find a roach (that had been nestled in the towel) plastered to my wet belly. Once as a teen I was lying on the living room sofa, looking at a black spot on the ceiling that suddenly started spreading. It was an egg that had just hatched millions of baby roaches. There's not enough Zoloft in the world to tempt me back to Houston.

Lisa said...

I am also scared of bugs. My husband does not get it. He has asked me what the bug deal is and what it is that I think they will do to me. My response is TOUCH me. I hate them. Hairspray works although I have a friend that likes windshield de-icer.

winecat said...

Oh, I agree on is MUCH better than off!

Anonymous said...

Holy moley Anonymous you just reminded me why maybe my dream of life in the tropics is just not going to come off.

The black spot. OH, MY.

Anonymous said...


No psychotropic medication in the whole world could equip me to deal with cockroaches. I've lived in Florida, North Africa, and (briefly) Brooklyn--all cockroach havens. I have never seen one in Chicago or New England. I HATE HATE HATE them. I don't consider it a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear, like fear of gum or clowns.

DoctorMama said...

ozma—my childhood was flea-filled. Funny how that doesn’t seem as bad, even though fleas actually injure you.

Yes, I have a lightbox—I got this one. It’s expensive and gigantic, but it did make me feel better last year. I’ll be firing it up soon.

Caustic Cupcake—rats are some bad mofos. But I have no phobias about them, or about mice. Once when I was out running I felt something “pop” under my foot, and when I went back to investigate, I discovered I had just crushed a mouse to death … I have no idea where I’m going with that anecdote.

Gaelicgrl—sorry to get you flashing.

Orange—of course he was wearing the t-shirt at the time! Yes, it was pretty hideous. I wish our cats went after the roaches. They are becoming lazy. Or maybe it would be much worse without them …

Anonymous—guess what? Palmetto bugs ARE just roaches with a pretty name. Funny how that helps, doesn’t it? The word cockroach is just disgusting.

electriclady—ok, even on SSRIs, that dishwasher door story skeeved me out.

dara—really? No roaches in central upstate NY? I find that hard to believe—aren’t they ubiquitous? (I just checked, and yes, they are.)

Anastasia L—yeah, my husband would have a much harder life if I were to go off.

Katie W—Spiders may be all you’ve seen, but there are definitely cockroaches in the UK. Hope that doesn’t creep you out to know.

Driving With the Brakes On—the dog would be bald! Ha!

Anonymous—like ozma, that black dot is now haunting me.

L.B.—I’m not just afraid they’ll touch me—I’m afraid they will crawl down my shirt and get trapped there, and—and—something, I don’t know!

Denise—fear of clowns is irrational?

Anonymous said...

Doctor Mama,
I'm searching for you guide to 'how to study', and I can't find it. Did you take it down? Would you email it to me? I'm studyign for my a licensing exam, and somehow your post was nice and firm and clear, and I need that kind of guidance to get over my sorry self.
Thank you,
Sarah Liebman CA

DoctorMama said...

Sarah, it's here. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Dear DM,
I'm nearly impossible to gross out or give the heebie jeebies to. My Mom is a very expressive, articulate nurse who likes to share her experiences. I've worked in vet clinics, and I've seen eyeballs popped out and blood spurting. But you officially creeped me out. I cannot re-read this post. Good job!
perhaps I need more SSRIs ... or sleep.

Anonymous said...

Yep, Celexa is my boyfriend. I wouldn't be able to tolerate much of anything at this point in my life, without it. I had an undiagnosed anxiety/obsessive thinking disorder for most of my life, but almost all of it is gone with a small dose of the Celexa. Thank god. I'm glad you're being able to deal with the roaches. I lived in the South my whole life, and Palmetto bugs are disgusting. Particularly when they FLY AT YOU. Shudder. Squick.

Anonymous said...

my question is -- if you leave no water out, what do you do with the cat bowls? one cat prefers to drink out of the sink so I guess I could just bring her there every once in a while to drink....but the kitten will only lap out of a low, shallow bowl (which now that I think about it sounds like a total roach attractor).

Anonymous said...

On is better as far as my emetophobia goes too (though a year of CBT has improved it some). do you ON people cope with the sexual side effects? If you can suggest a pill which leaves the aaaaaahhhhh factor untouched, I'm going to get me some!