Everyone I know is depressed and medicated: Life in Caracas

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It started with a rapid heartbeat that woke me at dawn. The doctor said it wasn’t a heart attack, only a panic attack, due to “intense stress.”

Of course. I live in Venezuela.

He surprised me, though, when he told me not to worry about being able to find the alprazolam he recommended. Our country has been so short on meds that some people buy drugs made for pets. But this anti-anxiety potion had flooded the market. “Everyone’s taking it,” he said.

That wasn’t much of an exaggeration. If my friends aren’t anxious and on Valium or Xanax, they’re depressed and taking Zoloft or Prozac or some other uplifter, often—very often—no prescription required.

If you have the money or a generous acquaintance, you can pop the pill, which will have been made in the Dominican Republic or Bolivia and imported via private courier service. You might think we’re crazy to medicate without even the questionable level of regulation Venezuela can provide. True enough. But the more relevant thought is that we would be crazy not to be stressed out or depressed or both.

We talk about this all the time. Even men, in our macho culture, cop to feeling down. Nothing’s off limits. How many milligrams are you on? Can you afford to see a shrink? Have you tried meditation? Acupuncture? Does yoga help?

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