I like to call it my rock bottom summer. My bank account was shut down (for being overdrawn too long,) my hot water was shut off, my credit card was maxed and I’d borrowed from friends and family one too many times. I’d lost my already meager-paying job while spending my nights at comedy clubs, coffee shops and dive bars –- trying to build my stand-up "career." And it’s easy to hide excessive drinking when your “career” requires you to be at a club.
I’m lucky that my rock bottom wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it wasn’t pretty. However, it does help explain why I signed up for a medical study for money.
Poring over Craigslist ads had become a daily ritual. The abundance of random/bizarre jobs listed was only less bizarre than how many applicants they received. I sent endless emails and resumes only to have my inbox remain constantly empty. While I steered clear of all the overtly sexual or strange ads with titles like “Looking for girls that like to drink” (even though it completely applied to me) or “Bikini waitresses” (which did not quite apply to me,) one day I stumbled upon the words “Participate in Clinical Research Study -- $750 (Beverly Hills).”
Sadly, the Beverly Hills address made me feel it was less sketchy than other ads. Any fan of the Peach Pit can sympathize, right?
The research was on depression. The Craigslist blurb was pretty minimal, but I emailed that I was interested. While I knew my life needed a serious turnaround and finishing a bottle of Pinot by myself doesn’t make for a cheerful next morning, I knew I wasn’t clinically depressed.
One of my first roommates in LA suffered from depression. My upbringing in Texas had been fairly whitebread and suburban. Texans aren’t big on sharing feelings or admitting to having any at all (is hungry a feeling?), so I’d never met anyone who talked openly about depression, therapy or medication.
But I’m glad he did. His open dialogue and ability to share his demons gave me a greater appreciation of my health, and a better awareness of the cruelty of depression.
My roommate was an incredibly smart, engaging, creative guy and I’ll never forget those months he decided to go off his medication. I watched as he slipped into a dark, sad shell of himself, and felt completely helpless. I was young, naïve and completely ignorant of what to do except listen. As he struggled trying to overcome and handle his disease, I was made more aware of what a horrible, beast depression really is. I don’t like even saying things like, “I’m just so depressed” because I recognize that I have no real concept of it’s true gravity.
Knowing all of that, I felt that being in a totally horrible place in my life meant I could reasonably pass for depressed. Also, maybe taking anti-depression medication would help me? Obviously I was trying to validate this decision. I fit the age and demographic they were seeking, had a fairly healthy medical history, no allergies or aversion to needles, so an interview was scheduled.
A commitment to take one tablet a day for six weeks, come in for blood work and discuss my mental health with the psychiatrist once a week, and I was in the study and guaranteed $750. I secretly prayed I was one of the women on the placebo drug.
Even though the doctor’s office was located in a very nice building in the heart of Beverly Hills, it was a little creepy. No one else was ever in the waiting room. Ever.
Each visit, I would go back into a lab type room and they would check my vitals and draw my blood. Then I would wait to see the psychiatrist. He reminded me of if Christopher Lloyd and the creepy ghost from Ghost (who taught Patrick Swayze how to move through walls) had a love-child. He oozed more mad-scientist than kind doctor.
I thought the best thing I could do was pretend to be depressed to get the study and then just be as honest as I could be, but with a slightly depressed slant. I acted probably more like a sullen teenager than an adult struggling with depression. But something weird happened. The more I started trying to make them believe I was depressed, the worse I felt about myself.
I’d walk out of each doctor’s visit feeling much worse about my life than when I entered. Results from the actual medication, well, I really didn’t notice much of a difference. I began to think I was on the placebo, or maybe the doctor’s discussions were the placebo effect. I was getting depressed trying to fake depression.
In actuality, my life was getting better. I got a job, had started dating a cool guy, and my standup career was getting a much-needed push. Yet, I would leave each visit hating myself (and the doctor) all over again. I knew I’d exaggerated to get into the study, but wouldn’t they want me to have some improvement during it? I couldn’t wait for those six weeks to end.
About three weeks after the study ended, I was in New York City doing standup with a group of friends and having one of the best weeks of my life. I was still poor, paying cash for everything because I still had yet to get a proper bank account, but I was happy -- even when the new, seemingly cool guy turned out to be a dick.
I regret doing the study. It saddens me that I got myself into a place where it was even an option. Who knows what drug I was on or what side effects there could have been? Today people are shocked and concerned when I tell them I did a medical study for money. I remind them that the director Robert Rodriguez did them to raise money to make his first film (am I the only one who read "Rebel Without a Crew"?).
Unfortunately, I don’t have a cool independent film to show for it. I did pay rent, and I did drag myself out of that rock bottom summer all by myself. Who knows, maybe those little pills helped after all?