Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Pill Problem, Revisited


I’ve been on antidepressants for months now. At the time, shortly after I was prescribed Lexapro, I wrote about the experience, and especially about the odd and slightly disconcerting feeling of not being able to tell if my general good feeling was a genuine good feeling or whether it was the result of the pills. And while that problem hasn’t gone away, I can say it hasn’t really bothered me in the intervening months. (Of course, that, too, falls into the “is it for real or is it the pills” trap, but that’s sort of the point of all this, so…)

I’m going today for an appointment with my doctor because my prescription’s out, and since we’re dealing with mental illness here, it ain’t the kind of thing they want to give you just for calling on the phone. No, they want to see you face-to-face, ask you questions, make sure you’re not contemplating purchasing guns or rope or Herbalife or converting to Scientology or some such crazy crap. Not that I’m afraid or nervous about speaking to them about what’s going on with me. I haven’t had any of the terrible feelings that sent me to the doctor in the first place at all in the time since then. Which is awesome. Life is good.

And because life is good, I’m bullish on thinking that things in general are good. So when I told my wife that my pills were almost out and I had to schedule an appointment and that I was keen to start tapering off the meds toward a goal of getting off them entirely, she gave me the skeptical eyes. And the skeptical eyes from my wife are usually a sign that I need to pump the brakes and think a little harder about what I’m charging into.

“You’re talking about mental illness,” she told me, “and that’s not a thing you just stop taking medication for.”

Which is absolutely right, of course. Intellectually, I know this. Because mental illness is about chemicals, and more importantly, chemical imbalances, and as a result, medication for mental illness is about rectifying chemical imbalance by creating new balance. Taking meds out of the equation, then, is like taking your thumb off the scales — it throws things out of whack again.

But I was doing the classic “crazy person” thing (and I know that crazy is a term that shouldn’t be bandied about when talking about the mentally ill, I use it here only as shorthand) of thinking, “well, I’m fine, so I don’t need those pills anymore.” Like a true red-blooded ‘Murican, my thinking was:

  1. I have this malady.
  2. I took these pills.
  3. Malady appears to have passed.
  4. No need to keep taking the pills.

Because that’s how medication tends to work in any other arena. Got a headache? Take a few Tylenol and lay down for a bit. You don’t take Tylenol for the rest of your life. Just came through surgery? Here, take these pills for the pain until the pills run out.

You get sick or injured or otherwise out of whack, you go to the doctor, they straighten you out, end of story. Close the book on that chapter.

Which is very much how my brain wants to view this issue.

Because that’s the insidious nature of pills that mess with brain chemistry: you can’t really feel them working. You feel “better”, but you don’t know why. Put another way: you have a headache, you take Tylenol, the pain tends to evaporate within a few hours. You have a cut on your arm, you put some ointment and a bandage on it, and a few days later, the cut is gone. Empirical signs of the efficacy of your treatment. With anti-depressants you don’t have that, because the symptoms fade out gradually, like an 80s rock ballad that just repeats the chorus again and again until you change the station. There’s no healed cut to behold, no relief of throbbing pain to point to, just general dread and unease that don’t seem to be hanging over every little thing so much anymore. But could that really be the result of the meds you’re taking? Seems hard to believe. And were things really that bad before? Probably not. Do I really need these pills, then? I should be fine without them.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

The medication doesn’t make you feel differently, it makes you perceive differently, and when you alter your perception, you alter everything, including your ability to perceive that your perception has been altered.

In short, as is so often the case, I think my wife may be right, and I may be a bit overzealous about getting off the pills.

Here’s the heart of the struggle, though: I don’t want to need the pills. I sort of have this image of myself that’s, while certainly far from perfect, generally pretty solid. Reliable. Not broken, not malfunctioning, outside perhaps of a relatively benign proclivity for swearing and a running addiction. I shouldn’t, in other words, be the sort of person who has to gulp down a cocktail of pills, tablets, and capsules just to get through the day. I very specifically do not want to be that kind of person. Maybe it’s the tree-hugger I try to pretend doesn’t exist, or the anti-healthcare-monolith conspiracy theorist thinking I can’t quite put out of my head. But I don’t want to need these pills. I want to be normal without them. I should be normal without them.

But then I think about what normal was for the months before I admitted something was amiss and went to the doctor, and here I go into a spin cycle again. Because I don’t want to be that either — going to tears while heading to work in the morning, fighting just to get out of bed in the morning, drifting away from the activities that I once enjoyed (and have been enjoying again since!).

And the choice between becoming that again or popping a tiny little pill every night? That’s not a choice at all. “Wants” and “shoulds” are generally useless — we have to deal with the world we’re presented with, not the world we wish we lived in.

So I’m heading to the doctor in a few hours. I’m going to ask about scaling back on my dosage, because I want to see if I can be okay with less pills before I try to jump back to having no pills at all. But if they think I need to stay where I am, I guess I need to be okay with that, too.

To do otherwise would be, well, crazy.

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A Re-Distribution of Fargos


I want to talk about my contributions here of late, partially to make excuses for myself, but also partially to justify myself. And I know, justifications are basically excuses, but I’m coming to understand that what I once thought of as excuses for myself are actually perfectly reasonable and acceptable justifications.

Here’s the critical worry in my mind over the last several months: I’m not writing enough. I’m not! For a guy who fancies himself a writer, I am decidedly not writing enough. A few years ago I was writing every day, bragging about it in more writing here on the blog, churning out short stories almost every weekend … I was capital-W WRITING. And then in the last several months here, not so much. My current novel project is stalled (I’ll circle back to that, but it’s totally mud-stuck and has been for a while), my blog posts have been rarer than Bigfoot sightings, and as for short stories, well, let’s just say I’ve come up short.

The obvious net result of all that is: I’m not writing enough. And I had something of a depressive episode several months ago — which I did write about — that I think must have been triggered, in part, by my feelings about not writing enough. It gets to me. It burns me up. Makes me question myself.

And I know I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Feelings of inadequacy, I wager to say, are rampant in the writing community, if not an understood part of the package. I wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking I’m special for going through it. But I did want to think that I might be special by dint of finding a way to overcome it. (Spoiler alert: I’m not over it yet.)

Which brings me back to those justifications.

I was at work the other day, taking a little break. We (my students and I) had just gotten finished hanging and focusing lights for our spring musical (I have an incredible group of students who always want to give up their time to come down to the theater and help out, and we were working during their lunch periods.) Hanging and focusing is tiresome and tedious work (up the ladder, down the ladder, forgot the wrench, find a burned-out bulb, up to the booth, up the ladder, remove the instrument, down the ladder, replace bulb, up the ladder, re-place instrument, focus, down the ladder, repeat). So they were on the stage listening to some music and I was parked on the backstage sofa just sort of watching and zoning out before heading up to write cues for the show.

This little kingdom ain’t much, but it’s mine.

And revelation struck, as revelation tends to do, while I was lying there not thinking too clearly or too intently about anything: that this is where my creative energy has been going.

I’m a fairly convinced believer in the school of “you only have so many Fargos to give in a day” (Fargos of course is a stand-in for another F-word I shouldn’t be using as a government employee paid to educate children), and I think that goes double for your Fargos related to creativity. Being creative is hard. At least, I should say, doing something with your creativity is hard (daydreaming is easy). Sitting down to write is hard! Laying down a blog post is hard. Working on a novel is hard. Editing a novel is … well, don’t start.

These things suck up all the creative Fargos. And, well, when I started this writing journey, I was an English teacher. There’s an element of creativity in that, but mostly my job then left my creative Fargos untouched, so I had a lot of them left over.

But my job now? Teaching theater? I’m tapping deep into my creative Fargos just to get through an ordinary day of class, let alone to do work on the musical, or help an actor find their motivation, or coax a design out of a scenic painter, or collaborate with my techs to find the right look for the lights, or work with my props crew to wrestle the bloody plant prop that we’ve fixed five times already but somehow, somehow keeps finding new ways to break. By the end of the day, my creative Fargos are tapped out — and I’m already overdrawn on tomorrow’s balance as well.

Which, here’s where I circle back (finally!) to the point of this post — leaves me utterly exhausted and unmotivated to write. Because I have no Fargos left.

And I was upset with myself about that. (Still am, actually, but I’m getting better.)

But the revelation I had, lying on that couch backstage, had another revelation hidden within it, like the gooey center of a Cadbury’s egg (the caramel kind, not the gross frosting kind, you monsters).

And that revelation is: It’s okay that my creative Fargos are going into my job. In fact, it’s good that I have a job where I get to use my creativity. That’s an enviable spot to be in.

After all, I get to work with young minds, helping them tap into their creativity, helping them find ways to express themselves, giving them the freedom and the safe spaces to explore who they are and how they experience and create art. And that’s pretty Fargoing awesome. And not to take anything away from how awesome that is, but I think it would be selfish of me if I continued to be uptight about spending my creative Fargos in that way.

So I think I have to be okay with maybe not writing as much as I was. Which is not to say that it won’t upset me — it surely will, as critiquing myself is one of my favorite pastimes. But I’ve now got what I feel is a perfectly legitimate excuse — no, a perfect justification for my slackitude, which isn’t slackitude at all.

It’s just a re-distribution of Fargos.

But here’s the other delicious secret: making this realization? Shedding light on this re-distrubition of Fargos? It’s a little like hacking the Matrix.

Because as soon as I made the connection that this is where my creative Fargos has been going, I started finding myself, shockingly, with more creative Fargos. I’m filled with desire to work on my current novel again, whereas for months I dreaded the prospect. I’ve been writing in the mornings again for the last two weeks, pages at a time — writing not fit for human consumption, mind you, but writing nonetheless. And that’s creating even more Fargos.

Overcoming and accepting my hangup with my own productivity has actually opened the gate to more productivity.

Or, viewed from another angle, the roadblock to my creativity was mostly just me thinking there was a roadblock.

The problem, as they say, seems to have been located almost entirely between the ears.

Luckily, that’s a space I seem to have plenty of access to.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Can’t remember the last time I did one of those, but here we are. Thanks Linda!


Boycott With Your Brain


Did you know Nike is under boycott?

I only recently learned! Or only recently re-learned, maybe. I feel like it’s the sort of thing I heard about and immediately dismissed because, well, it struck my ear as being a little bit ridiculous. Or maybe a lot ridiculous. I mean, I get it. It’s the age of protest and all. Wasn’t it last year that Time magazine named “the protester” its person of the year? (Bit of a cop out, actually, that. Hard to pick one really stand-out individual so let’s put a faceless mob on the cover and call it a day.) (Also, I’ve looked it up, and it turns out 2011 was when “the protester” was person of the year, which, well, I mistook 2011 for happening a year ago, and can you blame me?) (Also also, 2011 wasn’t the only time they copped. Last year it was “the guardians” and in 2017 it was “the silence breakers” and in 2006 it was — ugh — “you”. Which is not to take anything away from their reasons for the choices, but collectives like that aren’t really a “person” are they? Rabbit-hole dive over)

But that sort of thing always feels a little far away. Those people over there are making a big stink about it, but these people over here in my circle? Nah, they’re clever, they wouldn’t go in for that sort of nonsense. Sure, people are on YouTube and even, sometimes, the news (because the news is a nonstop trash fire these days), shooting up their coolers with automatic rifles or whatever. (Why shoot up a perfectly functional cooler, by the way? The company already has your money. What message are you sending, and to whom?)

Except, well, sometimes those people over there? They’re actually over here.

And, look, I get it. We all have opinions, and it’s the age of protest and power to the people and to the individual and let your money talk and blah, blah, blah. If you feel strongly about a thing, by all means boycott, protest, stage a walkout, whatever. That’s your right, whether you’re right or not.

Image result for boycott everything

But here’s a modest proposal to anybody protesting or boycotting or walking-out. Don’t do it because your favorite talk show host or YouTuber or social media guru told you to. Do it because you’ve studied the issue, analyzed the point-of-view of the victim of your civil action, and disagreed with it on legitimate grounds.

This is called arguing in good faith, and it’s not hard to do, though it might be inconvenient.

In the Nike example, the reason to boycott (as I understand it generally) is this: Colin Kaepernick disrespected veterans when he refused to stand for the national anthem. Nike then hired him as a spokesperson. Therefore Nike is disrespecting veterans, therefore boycott Nike.

But the truth is, Kaepernick never said a cross word about veterans, did he? Or took any action which led to harm for a veteran? Did he actually do anything to harm somebody who wasn’t out looking for a reason to be harmed? (Here’s a newsflash — if you go out shopping for offense, you’ll have no trouble finding it, and you don’t have to watch an NFL game either.)

To argue for a boycott of Nike in good faith is to first ask yourself: what did Kaepernick actually do? Well, he knelt during the national anthem. That action in and of itself is harmless even if it’s unexpected or shocking to the sensibilities. In the absence of physical or emotional harm, then, the next question which must be asked is, why did he do it? The lazy answer is to disrespect veterans because that’s what a lot of other people interpreted the action to mean, but to answer in good faith is to take the reason he gave, which is: he was upset about the apparent murders of black children by police and the lack of justice for the officers involved. Why kneel during the anthem? Because as a professional NFL player, it was a unique platform afforded to him that most other people who felt as he did were not entitled to. He used that platform to bring visibility to the issue. You can choose to change the channel when news of another unarmed black person being killed floats across the screen, can’t you? Or not watch news at all? (Not a bad idea of late if you ask me.) But when you turn on the TV for the game on the weekend and you see the quarterback taking a knee, you have to ask yourself “what’s going on there?”

So, he used a unique platform afforded to him to bring visibility to a racial issue. His actions got him fired, effectively, but Nike saw that, figured it was a campaign worth giving voice to, and hired him on.

To boycott Nike, in other words, is to boycott the hiring of a man who used his platform to bring attention to a racial issue that was negatively affecting the country.

Now, you’re entitled to think that’s a bad thing, and if you do think that’s a bad thing, then by all means, never spend another dime on anything Nike in your life. Set fire to your sneakers, toss your jumpsuits in the ocean. (No, don’t do that, the ocean has it hard enough.)

Here’s the point, the phrasing of which I’ve basically stolen from Sam Harris in more than one of his debates: if you can’t summarize the other person’s point of view in a way that they would agree with, then you haven’t understood them — and you definitely shouldn’t be taking action based on that flawed misunderstanding. And it’s my sneaking suspicion that most of the Nike boycotters — or boycotters of most other things in recent history — couldn’t articulate their reasons in this way.

In other words, think critically. Spend, or refuse to spend, your dollars mindfully, based on the reality we live in, not on the basis of an imaginary world that you’ve heard about somewhere.

In even simpler terms: brain harder.


Past baggage


We’re out of town and away from computers this week, but I can’t not share this, so I’m posting from my phone, of all things. Blasphemy! My typing speed is hamstrung, but that’s a testament to my shookenness.

I picked up a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living on the recommendation of Tim Ferriss (thanks to my previous post) and 5 pages in I can already tell this one is a keeper. I’m sharing with you, then, an excerpt from the opening pages.

A few months before he spoke at Yale, Sir William Osler had crossed the Atlantic on a great ocean liner where the captain, standing on the bridge, could press a button and -presto! – there was a clanging of machinery and various parts of the ship were immediately shut off from one another – shut off into watertight compartments.

“Now each one of you,” Dr. Osler said to those Yale students, “is a much more marvelous organization than the great liner, and bound on a longer voyage. What I urge is that you so learn to control the machinery as to live with day-tight compartments as the most certain way to ensure safety on the voyage. Get on the bridge, and see that at least the great bulkheads are in working order. Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting on the Past – the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future – the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe – safe for today! Shut off the past! Let the past bury its dead … shut out the yesterdays which have lighted fools the way to dusty death … the load of tomorrow, added to that of yesterday, carried today, makes the strongest falter. Shut off the future as tightly as the past … the future is today … there is no tomorrow. The day of man’s salvation is now.

Waste of energy, mental distress, nervous worries dog the steps of a man who is anxious about the future … shut close, then, the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of a life of ‘day-tight compartments’.”

We – and by we I mean I – carry so much of the weight of yesterday and tomorrow that it gets in the way of today. But the fact is, yesterday is over – whatever will come of it is out of my hands. And tomorrow will come, or it won’t – and very little of that is within my compass either.

Worry over the past or the future, therefore, is worry picked up for its own sake. Maybe think twice before picking up all that baggage.

Put another way…


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