I’ve opened up, a bit, about some of the emotional struggles I’ve faced. What I’m not sure I’ve opened up about yet — and what actually has bearing on what happened here at the end of October — is the fact that I take medication.
Which makes me crazy. Right? I mean, I’m not in pain. I don’t have cancer. Is it fair of me to just pop a pill and gloss over the hard times when everybody else has to deal with their problems like an adult?
These are the kinds of things people assume. They must. Otherwise people like myself would be a lot more open about the fact that we take the medication we do. Somebody can mention openly that they take Percocet — a very addictive and frequently abused painkiller — because they sustained a physical injury. Very few people would begrudge them this escape from their pain. In fact, they’d be likely to make allowances for fluctuations in that person’s behavior. They are, after all, on drugs.
Mention that you take an antidepressant, however, and you get a very different response. Anything from a skeptical “You don’t seem depressed…” to an openly dismissive eyeroll. Every so often, yes, you’ll get a response of understanding and support. These responses tend to come from people who have taken them as well, or have close friends or family members who have. That is to say, they’ve learned that it’s nothing to be afraid of.
Why, exactly, is this something that needs to be learned? Isn’t the fact that somebody is taking medication to help them through their problems a good thing? Wouldn’t the far scarier situation be that somebody with psychological issues refuses to treat them?
When this site went down, I was in Chicago. I’ve never been there before. I didn’t get to see much of the city. One reason for that is that I was there on business, and though I wasn’t in the office, eight hours’ of work still needed to be done each day.
The other, much more serious, reason is that I was suffering withdrawals.
I take a pretty minor dose of Zoloft. Not because it’s a magical pill that makes the bad things in life go away. That doesn’t exist.
What does exist is medicine that helps to regulate the chemicals in my brain. And that’s what I need. Before I started taking it, I had issues with anxiety and with depression. Now I still have those issues, but in ways that are far easier to deal with, and to understand. Anxiety is no longer crippling, for instance. It still exists, but the way I experience it now — thanks to medication — is closer to the “normal” experience of anxiety. Depression isn’t as deep anymore, nor does it linger anywhere near as long.
I’ll be honest with you: medication doen’t unfairly circumvent the problem. What it does is give me the help that I need to face it head-on, and learn to deal with it in a way that will not kill me.
It’s not evasive action. It’s not retreat. It’s the opportunity fight in the battles that I used to lose outright.
I say it’s a minor dose because that’s important. It’s so minor that I’ve missed taking it for days, and haven’t had any problem. In Chicago, however, far from my pharmacy, with my forgotten plastic bottle an insurmountable distance away, it happened. I went through withdrawals. When I realized I’d left my medication at home, I didn’t worry. It’s never been a problem before.
But now, all at once, it was. And so when the site went down…well, no offense to anyone, but that was the least of my worries. Sure, I probably could have called my hosting company and handled it that way…but…
I couldn’t do anything. Because my body was rebelling. My mind was rebelling. They got used to medication that they wanted, badly. And it was mutiny.
That’s the best way I can describe it. I was barely able to force myself out of bed and for much of the trip unable to force myself to eat. My body was having none of it; it wanted Zoloft. Which I didn’t have. And which I could not have. It wasn’t pleasant.
Years ago, before I left New Jersey, I took Lexapro. I was sold on the idea because it wasn’t habit forming, and only had to be taken temporarily. Apparently the medication was designed to “teach” your brain the appropriate chemical levels it would need to operate normally. So you’d take it for a while, and when you stopped your brain would remember how much of what chemicals it needed to produce. Sounded great.
In Florida, I went off Lexapro.
It was habit forming. It didn’t teach my brain anything. And I entered what was probably the worst three or four weeks of my life.
The withdrawals were severe and debilitating. I wasn’t me. So much of that time is a blur, and a dark one. What I remember about it I remember second hand, from friends who were there for me, listened to how I felt, and can remind me now what it was like.
Otherwise I’m left only with scattered details. Mornings that I’d wake up on the floor, unaware of how I got there. Times at work that my brain would seem to shut down and reboot…sensations of sight and sound coming back only gradually. Phantom shadows that belonged to nothing. And a day that I was driving in my car and heard Neil Young singing “Harvest Moon” on the radio. It’s a sweet song, one I quite like, and not sad at all. But hearing it, in that state, I had to pull over, because I was breaking down. Weeping hard. Some emotion had been triggered by it. One I still can’t place. This wasn’t me.
In Chicago, the withdrawal wasn’t as bad as that. It was bad enough that I wasn’t in any kind of shape to do…well, anything apart from the work I was sent there to do. I brought a book, and couldn’t read it. I brought my 3DS, and couldn’t focus enough to play. I had friends near there…but I didn’t want them to see me in that state. That wasn’t me, either.
I meant to say all of this in my last post…but was still recovering. I didn’t have clarity of mind. And I wanted to make sure I got one point across better than I could have at the time:
People taking medication for emotional problems just need a little bit of help. That’s all it is.
It’s nothing to be afraid of, and — as I hope the above makes clear enough — not at all an easy way out. People who take that medication are necessarily working harder than those who don’t need it. For most people, brain chemistry and emotional stability just happen. Like breath. Or a beating heart. You don’t need to focus on it. Sometimes something may interrupt it, but it doesn’t take much to get it back on track again.
For me, and for folks dealing with things so much more difficult than I am, that’s not the case.
Getting things back on track takes labor. It takes time. It takes focus and attention. It’s hard work, because the track may have to be built again from scratch.
Just understand. That’s all.
When you find out that a friend or a colleague or a family member of yours takes some kind of antidepressant, antianxiety, or even an antipsychotic medication, you know the best thing to say?
Because that’s not them. The medication is a tool, and a necessary one. Otherwise — I can promise you confidently — they wouldn’t put themselves through what’s involved with taking it.
Don’t draw attention to it. It will just make them feel uneasy, even if you think the attention you’re giving it is positive.
If you must say something, let them know you’re there for them, and leave it at that. If you’re not there for them, or you aren’t able to leave it at that, don’t say anything.
Mental health issues are scary precisely because we know so little about them. Limitations in the field of medicine — both logistical and ethical — make it very easy for doctors and scientists to study the physical healing process, and almost impossible for them to study the mental healing process.
We’re making progress. We’re learning. But we’re in dark, scary waters, fighting an enemy we know nothing about.
Don’t be afraid of the people who need help. By definition, they’re weaker than you are. If anything, they’ll be afraid of you.
Help them. Or don’t.
But never hinder them. And be aware that you’ll never know what that person is going through on the inside. They’re suffering wounds so deep nobody — that person included — can see them.
You might think their medication is frivolous. And you’re welcome to think that.
But if so? Keep your mouth shut. And have the decency, at least, not to trip them up as they seek the safety you take for granted.