Tag Archives: Writing

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!

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Productivity Porn Pays Off Sometimes


I made the mistake of listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast this morning.

I say mistake because, as is often the case when I read or listen to something by Tim it tends to take over my brain, the way the moon drifting in front of the sun turns day into night for a few minutes. The difference is instead of lasting for minutes, the effect tends to last for days or weeks.

The problem with listening to Mr. Ferriss, or with any so-called “productivity porn”, is that it tends to create a feedback loop, a sort-of hyped up fugue state. You read this thing and you think “HELL YES, this thing is going to change my life” and your brain drowns in the dopamine flood caused by the visions of success, and while you’re high on that you notice that the thing you just read references this other thing and hey, you’ve got a few minutes before you have to get back to real life, so why not check that out while you’re at it, and wouldn’t you know it the new thing hits you with the “HELL YES” effect again and the cycle repeats. (Full disclosure: when I started writing this post I visited Tim’s site — for the first time in months, I might add, because I know what happens when I do it — and fell victim to the same cycle. I also signed up for his new newsletter. And may or may not have copy/pasted some material onto my desktop. Stop judging me.) Point is, you have to be judicious with this sort of thing, which is why I’m probably not going to dip my toes into Tim Ferriss land for several months again. Still, this morning, I think, was beneficial.

The material in question was a recent episode called Tea Time with Tim, which covers a lot of ground but left me with a couple of things clanking around in the ol’ noggin: something he calls “fear-setting” and a few quotes from ancient Greece.

First, fear-setting. You’ve heard of goal-setting, where you set down your goals, enumerate the steps to the achievement of said goals, and more or less plan your vision for success. Well and good, but for us anxious types, who dwell on fears perhaps more than we should, there’s a tendency to let those fears paralyze us to the point of inaction. (See for example my writing productivity over the past several months.) Fear-setting is designed to take the positive visualization of goal-setting and turn the full artillery of that framework on the anti-action fear center of the brain. In a (woefully inadequate) nutshell, fear-setting entails writing down all the things that could go wrong and enumerating the opportunity cost if all those things did go wrong, then weighing those costs against a (harshly conservative) estimation of the possible benefits if the things don’t go wrong. For the anxious sort like me, it seems like a good way to short-circuit the “thing is scary so maybe just pretend it doesn’t exist and it’ll go away” paralysis I tend to fall into over stuff.

Then, quotes from Greek guys. First, this one:

Which is one I’m going to share with my classes today, because my students tend to be sick with the germ of “well I want this thing really badly, and things tend to work out for me, so on performance day it’ll all just come together”. You and I, of course, know that kind of thinking is what makes starving artists waiting tables for their whole lives, or worse, a phalanx of creatives who never took up the dream at all because a single performance didn’t live up to the hype in their head. So I’m going to remind them, today, that their training, today, matters for the performance a month down the road, and, well, for most of ’em it’ll bounce right off but at least I’ll have done my part for the day.

It applies for me personally, too, of course. Suffice it to say I’m not particularly well trained-up at the moment in a number of domains, and, well, that needs some attention.

Then, this:

And, yeah, Seneca was Roman, not Greek, but the Romans were basically Greeks with better tech, so let’s not get too hung up on the details. I’ve actually seen the quote more often with the first clause as “we are often more frightened than hurt,” but I prefer this one with fears and dangers. The important part, at any rate, is the second part. The thing we’re afraid of is always worse in our minds and the reality is almost never as bad as we build it up to be. For evidence I offer the example from Louis C.K. (and yeah, quoting Louis C.K. is problematic these days but his personal faults don’t change the poignancy of his words) of the average description of a trip by airplane. The person is likely to complain about the length of delays or the slowness of service or the lack of wi-fi and less likely to dwell on the fact that they literally FLEW THROUGH THE AIR and crossed the country in a matter of hours. We make things out, in other words, a bit worse than they really are in the scheme of things.

So, yeah, my brain is basically on fire this morning.

I hope it doesn’t burn out.


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.


Best of 2018


A disclaimer: Glen over at the Scenic Writer’s Shack wrote this up for AI a solid month ago, and due to some truly epic foolery and lameness on my part, well, it sat in the posting queue for all the intervening time. So while it’s a little bit late for a year-in-review post and we should be on to the bigger, better things 2019 is sure to bring, the fault here is entirely mine. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t do to have a voice singing my praises go unheard, so — here’s Glen!

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It’s time again to unfurl the star-spangled fan-flag and heap praise where it’s due.

I’ve always believed every five-star, Michelin rated blogger deserves their own personal cheerleader. From 14 000 km’s away I just happen to be Pav’s. The U.S / Australian alliance has been going strong since at least as far back as World War II and there’s every reason to think that a list such as this one can only further bolster those relations.

Matt, the Atlanta-based chief notions officer and gifted scribe behind ACCIDENTALLY INSPIRED, and I have never met. It’s also unlikely we ever will meet. But that hasn’t stopped me two years running now (read last year’s honour roll list HERE) from honouring him and his Halydron Collider of Ideas superblog with a pick of what I consider his twenty finest posts during the year.

Ready?

Time to enter Matt’s hallowed sandpit.

Let the countdown begin… 

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1.  (Sorta) Safe landings, or Hell Week in the Theatre (April)

In the kind of truly majestic extended metaphor only Pav himself could conceive, we are treated to a white-knuckle cockpit view of the staging of a High School theatre production – complete with all manner of organised chaos including actor’s laryngitis, sprained ankles and ill-fitting costumes. Trying to land a rickity Cessna light aircraft during a violent thunderstorm seems a walk in the park by comparison.

REMEMBER IT HERE

2.  Bend One Over For Me (August)

The pro’s and cons of library book enrichment – the practice of marking pages by folding over the top corners or even inscribing words in the margins – are uproariously unpacked in this classic post. Matt admits his librarian wife may not share his enthusiasm for what he terms “marking the trail for others.”

REMEMBER IT HERE

3.  Canine Curling (April)

Because Pav’s dog follows him from room to room in their house she gets labelled an Attention Whore Dog. When the neighbours have a yard sale complete with all the accompanying noises of cars coming and going, doors slamming and muffled voices from the driveway – noises his dog associates with Matt and his wife coming home from work – the results are high-grade comedy.

REMEMBER IT HERE

4.  Word of Mouth (July)

Vampire flash fiction you can really sink your teeth into. Any story that includes a character named ‘Thierry’ is welcome by me.

REMEMBER IT HERE

5.  A Buffet on Cheat Day (August)

Our Matt finally sees the light does a glorious tango with the joys of non-fiction reading. In the process he rolls out perhaps his best analogy of the year – something about a salad bar, leafy greens and piles of mashed potatoes.

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6.  A Foolproof Method for Decluttering Your Home (July)

Self-confessed clutter expert Pav details a nine-point plan to home-treat your inner hoarder. This post came with a picture of our budding pro-author’s bedside table playing host to nine books, a pack of highlighters, his keys, a tape measure, a pair of socks, two notebooks, a pair of socks and several headphones. Expert indeed.

REMEMBER IT HERE

 7.  Hammer Time (A Scientific Study in How Dumb You Can Be) (March)

While trying to drive in a nail he bangs his hand with a hammer. Accidentally. In front of a student. We shouldn’t laugh. But we do. A lot.

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8.  I am Not The Target Audience (June)

Our Acccidentally Inspired ‘host with the most’ applys his considerable film critiquing abilities to that classic of children’s cinema The Little Mermaid (1989) but concludes he probably shouldn’t examine kid’s movies so forensically. He freely admits to messing with his son’s head when called upon to answer questions from him relating to the movie.

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 9.   Honk if You… (August)

Pav gets honked at while he’s out jogging by an early morning motorist intent on delivering an unprovoked ‘thrill beep’ designed to unsettle and unnerve.

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10.  Lots of Time, Not Enough Time (June)

Different surroundings and routines while on vacation play havoc with Matt’s writing process. Top shelf analogies come flying thick and fast including the restaurant reservation one, the swanky gym on the opposite side of town one and the behind bulletproof plexiglass one.

REMEMBER IT HERE

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Channeling his very finest Star Wars ‘Jawa’ chic, dress-up Matt posted this photo of himself early in the year. It’s mysterious, quirky and ‘awkward-author-ish’ enough to easily earn my Pic of the Year Award.

11.   It’s Still There (August)

Matt liken’s the feeling of getting back to work on writing the novel he hasn’t touched in a while to turning on a cobweb-covered tap around back of an old abandoned farmhouse and finding, to one’s relief, twisting the faucet still produces cool, fresh water.

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12.   It’s Begins (Again) (August)

Eight years in the job allows Matt to reflect that teaching is an occupation with a built-in automatic renewal system called ‘Summer Break’ that allows employees to annually ‘degunk’ themselves.

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13.   Just One More Page (August)

Our doyen of the priceless quip acknowledges some books are more sleep-inducing than others before going on to concede Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME (1988), though intellectually stimulating in the extreme, is, excitement-wise,  definitely no edge-of-your-seat, white-knuckle thriller.

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14.   Kids with Guns (March)

Eight year old with a toy gun on the loose in a public playground. “BANG BANG YOU’RE DEAD.” Scarey. Not Funny. Real.

REMEMBER IT HERE

15. Things not to Say to an Atheist (January)

Continuing to mine the more serious vein of ACCIDENTALLY INSPIRED, this post impressed for its sheer degree of restraint in the face of one-eyed religious zealousy. Matt receives an intelligence-accosting comment on his post from a god-fearing church-goer who claims to pity him for his lack of bible-centred faith. Logic and a cool head win over flapdoodle every time. Praise be the Pav!

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16. The Spell is Broken (March)

Pav slaps his own wrist for overusing the phrase – ‘The Spell is Broken’ in his novel. Bad Pav will need twelve umbrella drinks and a good lie down to get over his own chastisement.

REMEMBER IT HERE

17. Caveat Pre-Emptor (Or, Why it’s Okay to Brag a Little) (February)

Never one to toot his own horn, Pavman does the hard stuff, invents a way to claim significance for just about anything and cites one of his literary heroes Douglas Adams in the process. And as a finale worth reading to the end for, unceremoniously boos off stage so they never want to come back disclaimers, self-sabotage, false modesty and the pimple-faced rat that is the wholly wretched practice of knocking yourself down before you’ve properly gotten up. Empowerment came gift wrapped and placed neatly outside our doors in this grand post.

REMEMBER IT HERE

18.  It’s Like This (November)

A spot on a favourite jacket. A conspicuous spot on a favourite jacket. Into the corner it goes. Fhthump!

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19. An American’s Guide to Canadian Food (May)

Fresh back from a vacation in Canada, self-confessed non-foodie Pav concludes the stuff to eat there is weird. Beware: this post comes with a harrowing account of what ‘Dulce’ is.

REMEMBER IT HERE

20. The Trooth Fairy (September)

Reading this post was like pulling teeth. A LOT like pulling teeth. Includes the completely glamorous use of the word ‘unmoored’. Because he can.

REMEMBER IT HERE

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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.


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