Monday, May 12, 2008

i jump from every rooftop

I'm breaking with all the serious posting and we're going to play a game.

Let's play make believe. You're a doctor. Maybe you really are a doctor, in which case, this will require no effort on your part. You run a general practice in an old neighbourhood. You have clients who have been coming to you for the length of their lives. One client in particular. You don't see her more than a couple of times a year for checkups as she's barely sick. You have 26 years of her medical history in your records.

When she asks you about alternatives to prescription anti-depressants, do not look at her like she's just asked you if grafting a live walrus to her face will increase her chances of getting laid.

Just because you have made her cough and say 'aaah', taken her blood and shoved steel umbrellas up her twat does not mean you have any, any idea of what is going on in her head. Reacting as though she's being silly, possibly attention-seeking and overly dramatic, and telling her that she doesn't need any such medication because, well, she's not depressed, is going to do several months of damage.

I was asking for help.

Regardless, I went on St John's Wort which smells funky and comes in tablets the size of my head. Couldn't hurt to try. It's a slow accumulating drug, and it was some weeks before I noticed any effects. As far as I could tell, the only thing the pills did was take away my desire. All desire, for anything, everything, small immediately desires and material desires and long term dreamy desires. I did not become content with my lot, I simply had no urge to change gain move anything. It didn't feel like apathy. It wasn't numbness. I found that, instead of forcing myself to be a not terribly brooding mopey person around other people, I was forcing myself to want things.

If you don't desire things, if you don't have desire driving you through your life, pushing you to act, making you change the world around you, then what is the point of anything? Desire makes us go. Without desire, any desire, nothing I did had any meaning.

None of this actually stopped my head from being a noxious place to be. None of this made me feel any better, or made every day life anything less than a tooth and nail ordeal. The pills stole my sleep dreams, which did not impress me in the least. And when it came down to it, the act of taking these pills every morning made me feel like a faker, a poser, and a failure.

One night, one particularly bad night, I stood in the dark and threw the pills, one by one, out the window.

Most satisfying thing I've done in a long time.

St John's Wort is prescribed instead of Prozac in Germany, and has been in use for so long I don't doubt it helps a lot of people. But the effects I felt weren't helping me, they were scaring me. They took away some of the tools I use to keep going.

So what if night after night I dream of the end of the world, and when I wake up I'm nothing but thwarted desires? These things make me me. These things give me meaning.

Maybe I am being entirely irrational, making up any excuse to return to the devil I know. These certainly don't seem like rational or sensible decisions. But, I'm not scaring myself anymore, and while I haven't yet decided if this is a good or bad thing, it's justification enough for me.

You can stop playing make believe now.


  1. I had a similar problem with Zoloft. It helped with the anxiety - a little bit - but it made me feel like I was wearing a June Beaver mask. Everything that made me *me* got smothered in the process.

    But - and I've had this conversation a million times with my aunt, who's a therapist of stellar reputation - depression (and anxiety, for that matter) is a *chemical* issue. (yes, I know you know this, just bear with me.) The trouble is coming up with the right cocktail to get things firing properly again. In my case, she said she would have prescribed Paxil instead of Zoloft - but that's what happens when you're seen by a primary care physician that takes care of a multitude of problems and isn't specialized in any one thing. My suggestion would then be to seek out a qualified therapist, talk about your issues, and see if they can come up with a more appropriate course of action.

    And that all said, the black hole in your head may also be the price you have to pay for such insane creativity, because pretty much everyone I've known or known of who can take it to the same levels that you do have ALL had a screw loose. It almost seems like one fuels the other.

    But you shouldn't have to suffer like this, and I've been fretting over you about it for years.

  2. I started taking Celexa several years ago for OCD, and it's made all the difference in the world. I'm a completely different person than I used to be, and I mean this in the most positive sense. I'm just as creative, but now I don't have the agonizing anxiety and depression to go along with it. If you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it.
    Email me if you want to talk.

  3. That St John's Wort sounds like Buddhism. My mother said that the only thing which ever really helped her depression was lithium.
    You could try melatonin. It should be sold OTC as a jet lag remedy. Melatonin is related to seratonin and seems to compensate for a lack of the latter. I tried it and thought it did some good. However, the stuff is pretty new, so no one knows the long term side effects.
    I also found doing Tai Chi several times a week helpful. Yoga ditto - real yoga, not the gym kind. I also have to say learning to scuba dive had an amazingly beneficial effect. I have no idea why. It might have been the sun and the womb-like floaty feeling, or it might have been mortal terror of drowning putting all other anxieties in their place.

    Depression can be related to hormones and weather. If you think hormones might be involved, talk to a doctor as a first step. I agree with Jaime about seeing a therapist. If the root of the problem is psychological, they may help you identify it.

    Re the effect of the St John's wort, detaching from desires shouldn't mean jettisoning them completely, if you want to live a real life in the real world. As I see it, the ideal is to keep the desire in your mind and work towards satisfying it, but stop your emotions hovering over it like black helicopters.

  4. This is a couragous post, Tessa. I wish you the best as you keep looking to strike a balance (my wife swears by acupuncture). And I think it takes a lot of introspection and a lot of confidence to toss that medication because you *see* that it diminishes certain aspects of *you*.

    I also wanted to touch base and say that after looking through many of your previous posts, this blog is killing me (in a good way--hilarity abounds)! I love the fascination with enormous shellfish, in particular...

    I'll keep an eye out for your work, and I hope things settle into that balance zone between creative productivity and your sense of self and comfort.

  5. I have no idea what a June Beaver mask is, google is only half way helpful. Scary lady? Yes.

    St John's Wort does sound Buddhist, except that the loss of desire didn't come as a fulfillment, but an utter void. I suspect it depends on what angle you come at it from. Who knows, it might actually be enlightenment in a pill for the right mindset.

    Thanks for your comments, guys. I have more thinkings I want to get down, so I'll do a more thorough post later. (And Jaime, you have no right to fret over me: -I- don't live with a cat who tries to gas you.)

  6. Looking at me like I've just asked you to graft a live walrus to my face will increase my chances of getting laid is something I'm also afraid of getting. Probably why I haven't brought it up yet.

  7. Yeah...I have to admit, that incident happened back in January, and only now I can bring it up. I'm not in a rush to repeat the experience.

    But I have a doctor who prescribes exercise for migraines, so don't assume you'll get the same reaction. Some people are more understanding than others. When you're okayish, with a bit of a buffer, take that risk. You never know.