Tag Archives: depression

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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I Finally Get Radiohead


The new Lego movie has a funny moment (I should say, it has dozens if not hundreds of laugh-out-loud funny moments — seriously, if your kids want to go see it, do yourself a favor and take them — but this one in particular has lodged in my grey matter) at the end of the second act. It’s your classic all-is-lost moment, with the heroes (no spoilers) THROWN into a situation that seems ultimately beyond recovery. BOXed in. No way out.

Because it’s the Lego franchise, and the Lego franchise is nothing if not ridiculous and snarky and meta at every possible turn, with fourth-wall breaks and winks-and-nods to the audience on every page, the characters break into song at their plight. They negate the ubiquitous “Everything is Awesome” theme and lament that “Everything’s Not Awesome.” Of course, this is the turning point — “not awesome” is okay, they realize, everything can’t be awesome all the time, etc, etc. But during the song, before that turn, one of the characters claims that “I finally get Radiohead.” My wife, hearing that, turned to me with a chortle: I was, once upon a time, quite a big fan of Radiohead. (Back in the days of mixtapes and mix CDs, I made one for my wife on which half of the tracks were by Radiohead. I don’t remember her exact response — it was over a decade [help!] ago — but it was something along the lines of “I like it, it’s great, but … are you okay??”)

Flash back to my college days, when my good friend who introduced me to the band was doing so by explaining, “yeah, Radiohead is that weird kind of band that’s great to listen to when you’re feeling down. Somehow it can really make you feel better, but sometimes it makes you want to slit your wrists.” I mean, just look at this album art.

Yeah, I screenshotted the display on my phone rather than pull the real album art.

I haven’t actually listened to Radiohead in some time, but, of all things, The Lego Movie 2 has me wondering why. I’m cranking it right now as I reminisce a bit, and, damn. The emotions are high, and it ain’t just nostalgia. They’re a weird sound — more so the more recent the recording, it seems — but no matter the era, there’s a sort of delightful melancholy about their music and lyrics. Somehow, it is both uplifting and depressing at the same time. It’s the odd track from them that doesn’t juxtapose mood and tone — either the words are happy and hopeful against a somber melody, or the words are a march to the noose while the tune is jaunty. This is a band, after all, that stopped playing their biggest commercial hit, Creep, precisely because it was too poppy. And it’s a great song! Listen to the melody, and it belongs right there with the mindlessest upbeat pop songs of the 90s, but the lyrics tell another story:

I wish I were special 

but I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo

what the hell am I doing here

I don’t belong here.

Then there’s the flipside, one of my favorites, Pyramid Song, (pictured above!) which sounds as dire and dreadful as anything you could imagine, but centers on the delightful mantra:

There was nothing to fear, nothing dark.

And I used to listen to Radiohead all the time, just constantly. Walking to class, driving to work, while working, falling asleep … Radiohead was the soundtrack of that time in my life. All the same, I never (at the time) thought of the music as particularly depressing. I guess it just reflected what I was feeling at the time, which was the more or less typical disillusionment and disdain for all things of an introverted college kid. Now, of course, I view it differently. Sure, we go through phases in our lives, and our tastes change as we get older — I can’t tell you the last time I listened to Iron Maiden for example, which I’m sure brings my parents no shortage of joy, because that’s ALL I listened to from ages 15-18 — but I think it’s more than tastes. I’m listening to it now and digging it hard. Rather, I think it’s that Radiohead no longer feels like a reflection of me.

I think about the music I listen to these days and … well, basically all of it is devoid of much emotional content. It’s either airy and ethereal (for writing or reading) or intense and repetitive (for exercising) or poppy and vacuous (when I just want to turn my brain off). And I listen to music differently now, too, than I did in my Radiohead days — I focused on the music more, I internalized it, I identified with it. Now, mostly, I want to ignore it; just allowing it to set a mood. It’s a means to an end, setting the mood for something else I’m doing, rather than an end in itself. I usually steer away from lyrics because lyrics demand concentration. I don’t want to focus on my music, I want it in the background. Setting a mood. Not taking up mental real estate.

So, what? I don’t listen to emotionally charged music. What’s the issue?

I can’t help but wonder. It was while listening to that particular soundtrack during that particular part of my life that I had the first creative ideas that really caught fire for me. Radiohead — and other artists less, what, ignorable, like my current fare? — were the background music as I wrote the play that would later become a novel, and dozens of sketches that, okay, are currently collecting dust, but were arguably part of my current trajectory (minus the last couple fallow months, that is).

It seems, then, not unreasonable to think that an infusion of the same kind of soundtrack might turn the creative screws again, in much the same way as it did once upon a time.

The question, though, is one of time. Hours in the day are fixed, and listening to music like Radiohead isn’t quite as mindless as what I like lately. Do I have the time to engage in active listening like that at the expense of other things I could be doing? And/or, by indulging in such music, do I encourage myself to sink into a depression (because that’s what I now recognize that part of my life as, even if I didn’t know it at the time)?

Well, there I go spinning myself in circles again. I’ll end this with another lyric that seems fitting given the spiral Radiohead has put me into:

Hey man, slow down. Idiot, slow down.

I dunno. I think I owe it to myself to give Radiohead and bands like them a chance again, as an experiment in creativity if nothing else.


The Pill Problem


So.

It’s been a little while, no?

And I see that, in my sabbatical, WordPress has gone and added some fancy new features to its editor. But I’m not here to mess with that, yet. And I’m also not here to kvetch about my time away. I’m just going to point out the current quandary, which is this:

Pills are a problem.

I want to disclaim, first of all, that I can’t officially speak as a member of a “community” or anything like that. I wouldn’t feel right doing so. I don’t have a diagnosis, I’m not in treatment. What I have is a touch of something like depression or anxiety or ennui or just a particular flavor of something like a mid-life crisis. But I don’t think I have capital-D Depression. That being said, I did go and see a doctor. And that doctor gave me pills.

And, I have mixed feelings about pills, because I’m a skeptic about a lot of things, and a cynic about even more things. On the one hand, here in America at least, I know we over-hype the focus on pills. There’s a pill for everything, and then there are pills for the side effects of the first pills, and then there are pills to level you out from the side effects of those pills. Something like 50% of the population is on some sort of medication all the time, which seems bonkers to me. We can’t possibly be that broken. So when the doctor reached for her prescription pad, I felt a certain resignation. I don’t want to be broken.

On the other hand, I also know that full-on, capital-D Depression is a real thing caused by real chemical imbalances and the way to correct chemical imbalances, in many cases, is simply to medicate. So: cynical about our society’s obsession with pills, and not happy to become part of that subset, but also willing to trust the doctor and attempt a chemical solution to what could be a chemical problem.

TL;DR, I started taking Lexapro, and have been on it for basically the length of my unintended hiatus, which is at — what — something like a month now? Maybe a little longer.

And here’s the headline. I feel better! Since I’ve been on the meds, I’ve had not a single “can barely force myself out of bed in the morning” morning,  zero “inexplicably breaking into tears when asked what’s wrong” moments, and a significant decrease in the sense of general existential dread (though I imagine I’ll never get rid of all of that because a) I’m still a self-doubting writer and b) just look at the world). Life, in short, looks brighter than it did, for whatever reason, a few months ago. In fact, things seem to have turned on a dime once I owned up and admitted that something was wrong, opened up about it a little bit, and sought out some treatment. I daresay that, today, and for the past week or two, I’ve felt darn near normal.

But here’s the thing: the medication is supposed to take time before it takes effect. Again, I’m hardly expert in such things, but I was told to expect as much as 4-6 weeks before I should expect to see results. But I was feeling quantifiably better the very next day after taking my first pill. Of course, I’m a good skeptic. The simple act of taking action may have been enough to create a placebo effect; moving towards a solution may itself have been the first part of a needed solution. But now I’m a month in, and wondering whether it’s the pills that have me feeling better, or just the fact that I got it off my chest and have managed to relax a little somehow. Or some combination of the two.

Or, who knows? Maybe my funk was just a passing funk that was never going to affect me for longer than a month or so in the first place.

The end result is, now I’m on medication and feeling mostly fine again, which has me thinking maybe I don’t need the medication anymore. Of course, going off the medication could screw up my biology regardless of any underlying issues I might be having. So I both desperately want to not be on medication any more at all because I think I may not actually need it, and desperately want to keep taking it lest I relapse.

This is the pill problem.

And it’s unfortunately a problem without a visible solution in the short term. Because as much as I want to not be on the meds, I’m not enough of an egomaniac to think that I’ll be the exception, and be just fine if I go off the stuff.

I’ll keep popping my little pill at 9 pm, even though I feel a little silly for doing so. Because I’m supposed to. And because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t.


It’s Like This


It’s like this.

I have this jacket.

It’s a lovely jacket. Feels good on me, looks good on. Dapper, sharp, all the good things. I feel comfortable in it. More myself, maybe. I try it on and I like it so much I start wearing it all the time.

Til it happens; I get this spot on the jacket. Not sure what the spot is. It’s orangish, brownish, reddish, blackish. Just a spot, but one I can’t ignore. Given all the things I’m into, it could be poop. Or dirt. Or blood. Or just a slimy speck of something that may once have been, but is definitely no longer, food.

And well, it’s in this really conspicuous spot. Very, very obvious to anybody looking in my general direction. Like a tiny martian on my sleeve singing Glory Hallelujah at the top of its little green lungs.And I don’t have a way to clean it. I first try to fold up my arms just so, which works to cover it, but I can’t keep my arms crossed forever, not to mention I look like a standoffish SOB. And I assure myself (because it’s true, and this I know inwardly even if I have to convince my lizard brain) that nobody will actually notice it if I do uncross my arms, it being tiny and inconsequential and all.

So I uncross, and nope, it’s there, and there’s absolutely no denying it’s there. I rub and pick at it in a futile attempt to clean it, but it’s well and truly sunk into the fiber like blood into a shag carpet. Also I’m drawing even more attention to it with all the rubbing and picking, so it’s time to take it off. Into the corner it goes, fhthump.

Except now, see, there’s a new problem, because the whole outfit I created? This entire look, entire ensemble? It doesn’t work without the jacket. I mean, shirt, pants, shoes, belt — it’s all doing a job, but the jacket was central. And now it’s not only stained, it’s also crumpled up and hoovering dust off the floor. And worse than that, now I feel like a heel because what was a simple stain is compounding thanks to my neglect and frustration. And worse than that, this is all just ridiculous. This is all because of a stain. A tiny one. A pinprick of an imperfection. A rounding error compared to the jacket as a whole. Honestly, it’s probably not even visible if you didn’t already know it was there.

But there’s the rub, innit? I see the speck. And the wrinkles. And now, the dust. And how long has that speck been there, anyway? For that matter, is the color of this jacket really as bright as I thought it was to begin with? Does it even tie the outfit together like I thought? Maybe the thing looked terrible all around and I didn’t know it. Chroist, probably it’s just as well the jacket got ruined. Now it looks outwardly like crap, to go with the fact that it was always crap from the get-go.

I should probably just chuck it. It’s ruined now anyway. Can’t believe I ever thought I looked good in it, to be honest.

All that?

That’s what my particular flavor of depression looks like … or anxiety or malaise or seasonal affective disorder or whatever the hell it is that’s going on with me. Except substitute for the jacket my job, my role within the family, my creativity, my entire sense of self.

So… um.

I’m taking Lexapro now, so there’s that. Have been for about two weeks.

And I know I’m being a little bit silly. Even a lot silly. And I know that the jacket can be cleaned. And even if it can’t, there are other jackets.

But that stain is still pretty large in my vision right now.


Apparently I’m Great


It’s no great secret that I’ve been in a funk lately.

Take the general lack of confidence, the pervasive self-doubt, and the overall bewilderment that’s sort of the stock-and-trade of this entire website and multiply it out a few dozen times and you get the idea.

Still, there are rays of light in the dark.

For example, when I got to work this morning, I found this:

20181102_070911.jpg

One of my students (I’ve no idea which one) just sunlight-bombed me out of nowhere.

And as a guy who, even in my ninth year (help!) of teaching, still feels pretty strongly that A) I have no idea what I’m doing and B) I’m probably screwing it up more often than not? This was the kick in the pants I needed this morning.

Momentum matters. Good vibes beget more good vibes. I wanted desperately to stay in bed this morning and skip my run — the skipping, I knew, would leave me feeling like an overturned dumpster all day, but I still wanted it, wanted the sweet oblivion of one more hour of sleep. In a weird way, I was almost craving the garbage feeling. But I forced myself up, and I’m glad I did.

And now this.

It’s Friday, and even though it’s dreary outside, there’s a little bit of sunlight in my soul.


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