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That Jagged Little Pill

The first time I remember crying inexplicably was when I was twelve years old. I was down in the barn doing chores, feeding the cattle and filling up the water trough. I had my Walkman blaring a cassette tape and, suddenly without any foreshadowing, I burst into tears. Large, choking sobs that made me bend in half and feel pains in my stomach. I cried for an entire song and then abruptly stopped. I wiped the tears from my cheeks. I was fine.

Two years later I told my mother about this incident in the barn. It was getting more and more difficult to wake up in the mornings and doing homework was out of the question. All I could do was get to school, make it through the day, and then come home and fall into bed exhausted. I had been having more of these random crying jags at school and at night, alone in my room.

Teenage angst, my mom said. But my friends aren’t this way, I countered. She took me to a psychiatrist. He prescribed Paxil, but only after telling me I had nothing to be depressed about and making me feel like an idiot for wasting his time when there were real people out there suffering. I managed to swallow the pill for about two weeks before I kept forgetting to take it and eventually just stopped trying to remember. It hadn’t made me feel any different anyway.

High school was a blur of exhaustion, boyfriends, laughter, and the same t-shirt worn over and over again. I remember one of my friends commenting that I always wore the same shirt, my blond hair was always pulled back into a ponytail, and I always turned down invites to do anything after school. I shrugged. She was right but I didn’t really care. Finally, I graduated. Everybody was making this HUGE deal out of the last day of school. Pictures in the hallway were torture. Faking all those smiles and posing with people I never intended to keep in touch.

College. Yes! A chance to start over! No more depression. That girl with no style and fake smiles was gone. She was replaced with someone that ran away from demons as fast as she could. She ran, day after day, in pursuit of a body that would be too pretty to be depressed. A body that would naturally desire to be dressed up and flounced around the college bars. No time to lay in bed and contemplate suicide. There was a perfect body to aspire to. All my energy went into starving and bingeing and running. And writing. Because even though my black wave of despair was tampered down on the outside it raged loudly and angrily on the inside. It was jet fuel. I found a way to turn the black into words, found a way to spill them on to the pages and somehow landed myself a scholarship to Trinity University in Dublin, Ireland.

A chance to start over! Nothing to be depressed about now! I live in IRELAND! It’s beautiful and I don’t know a single soul. I was living authentically. If I wanted to wear something that Jen wouldn’t wear, I slipped it over my hips and strutted down the street feeling six feet tall and bullet proof. I DID wear hippie skirts and I DID have my nostrils pierced and my hair dyed a new color every other week. I was actually ME. For the first time in my life. Also, I wrote. I wrote for eight hours a day. I wrote so much that the letters started fading off the computer keys. I used reams of paper. I workshopped three days a week and critiqued others work and listened while they reviewed my material. It was amazing. I never wanted to go home.

Back at the University of Iowa. Something had fundamentally changed within me. I felt it but I couldn’t even begin to understand it. Something had been forever cosmically altered. I went to a party to meet up with Cindy. I met Justin there. That is another blog post entirely, but he was my first real love. That poor fellow. He had no idea that I was about to become seriously unglued. Ten months into our relationship. I had gained thirty pounds and had stretch marks around my belly. I was working a job I hated. I had dropped out of school. I lived in a shitty apartment on the outside of town. I was drowning. The black wave no longer nipped at my heels or splashed to my knees. The water was above my waist and climbing, making it hard to walk, to move, to think, to feel anything other than hopeless helpless worthless mess. I don’t blame him for leaving. I wanted to leave me, too.

My mother is the reason I am alive today. My friends are sick of hearing about it, how she saved my life a million times and didn’t even know. I wanted to die over and over again, a thousand deaths in a thousand different ways, but I could never bring myself to cause my body permanent harm. Because I was all my mother had. I was her life. I worked hard at being okay in front of her. She never saw the tears and after that one psychiatric appointment at the age of fourteen, she thought I was healed. I wasn’t going to disappoint her. I wasn’t going to let her see how broken I had become. Her only daughter, her only child. I would be well for her. No, wait. I would pretend I was well. I would keep breathing for her. Because as much as I fantasized about dying I couldn’t get past the images of my mom crying at my funeral. My mom crumbling when she heard the news. My mom making hellish groans as she fell to the floor in a mess of confusion and pain. She would never understand why I had done it and it would haunt her for the rest of her life. I would NEVER do that to her. If necessary, I would spend my life trying to side step cracks in the pavement in order to spare her pain.

December 2000. I’ve been in talk therapy for three months now. My psychiatrist is amazing as far as mental health professionals go. She agrees to leave her prescription pad in the desk drawer and simply talk. No pills, I said in our first meeting. I’ve tried this with other doctors and they refuse to treat me. I won’t get better without a pill, they say. I don’t want to go on a pill. Julie simply says that she will let me dictate my own treatment. She feels, however, that my caliber of depression isn’t some low level sorrow and that   need a quick pick-me-up and I’ll be back on my feet. She feels that my history with this thing, this monster, dictates a future on medication. She feels that if I don’t go on medication I will eventually suicide. She damn near guarantees it. I listen and I respect her opinion. She has won me over by deciding to let me be in charge of my treatments. She isn’t a drug pusher. I’m comfortable with her. I believe her when she tells me that I will spiral down down down until eventually I hit bottom. I assure her that IF this happens (which I am certain it will not) I will consider a pill.

I can’t figure out what my issue is with psych meds. Being dependent on a pill in order to enjoy life sounds creepy to me. Sounds fake. False. Not authentically me. I know the arguments people have with this. I have never judged people that need these medicines, on the contrary, I am their biggest fan. Because they are stronger than me and admit that they need help. I’m stubborn and illogical. I can’t get around the fact that antidepressants are the most overly prescribed medicine in our country today. I’m not even sure what the current statistics are but when I’m in a vehicle and three of the four people with me are on a mood stabilizer, I start to think something is horribly wrong…not with them but with the system in which we live.

Where was I? Oh, right. December 2000. After a brief respite from the doubt and dread that filled my days the black wave comes back completely unannounced and blatantly uninvited. There is an amazing book called Prozac Nation written by an even more amazing writer, Elizabeth Wurtzel. She says that her depression happened gradually and then suddenly. That’s how it felt with me. I was working hard for okay and then there was a blast so loud that it deafened my defenses and a flash so bright that everything went white.

The mental fallout was gradual and then sudden. So sudden and sharp that I called Julie and said write me out a formula to make this stop. Celexa, 20 then 40 then 60 milligrams.

It was like a light had been turned on. I couldn’t believe that people had been living like this the entire time I was crying and hiding in bathrooms. Still, it was hard to swallow that tablet every morning.

Years went by and I never got used to it. I always felt a stab of self-hatred when I’d pour out the bottle and swallow, always quickly and without thinking and then get back to my real life. Taking that pill was a fictional part of my morning that didn’t have anything to do with who I was. I pretended it didn’t exist. Those thirty seconds of every day didn’t exist for me. When the Celexa stopped working I was switched to Zoloft. 100 then 150 then 200 milligrams. And there I’ve sat for the last five years.

Seventeen years since the first crying jag I can remember. Fifteen years since my first visit to a shrink. Nine years I’ve been dependent on a pill.

It has now been ten days since I stopped taking the Zoloft. I tapered down my dosages gradually over the last two months. I’ve been talking to doctors I work with and monitoring any changes and looking for the signs that I should get right back on the regimen of the jagged little pill. I did it safely. DON’T EVER DO IT ANY OTHER WAY. I tried to go cold turkey a few times and the physical side effects damn near killed me. Not to mention the mental effects.

Today I feel great. In fact, I don’t feel any different now than I did before I started tapering. I feel as if I’d been taking a placebo because aside from some minor physical withdrawal symptoms, I’m the same. Until there is a test that will measure brain chemicals and determine serotonin and dopamine and norepinephrine levels and then come up with a “therapeutic range” for such things…only then will I be convinced that pills are necessary.

When doctors would try to persuade me to take the drugs, free samples!, they would use the diabetes argument. Well, if you had low blood sugar or high blood sugar you’d take the medicine to control it, right? Of course I would. Because blood glucose is MEASURABLE. It isn’t perceived. It is hard science. It isn’t open to interpretation.

Is my happy the same as your happy?

Am I going to need the drug in the future? I can’t know that. I can only fear that. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Much like before when I called Julie on that cold day in December and crossed over the black water. Now I’m on the bank, back where I started. It’s tempting to just blow up the damn bridge. In the meantime, I will enjoy knowing that maybe I defeated those demons. Maybe I’ve developed some coping skills that I just couldn’t grow when I was younger. Or maybe I never needed the medicine in the first place. I’ll never know. But I do know this:

I am proud. I don’t have to swallow a drug today and those thirty seconds make all the difference.

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6 Responses

  1. I love this entry – as someone who has had struggles with depression and anxiety I just want to say thank you and you’re not alone in the blogosphere.

  2. What an amazing journey you have been on! I hope if not now, one day soon, you can recognize the importance of everything you have gone thorugh and while it I’m sure has been painful, can find the purpose.

    • Hey Jen! I know I’ve learned so much from my past struggles and I’m sure there are more lessons to glean from the experiences.

  3. I know that this post is deep & introspective and all that… I get it. I am happy that you are here now. Iluvayew!!! but mostly this makes me feel old. 😦 🙂 hehehe
    all the 15 years 12 years 9 years…i knew you then.

    so yeah “…I’m like 80% happy for you and only 20% sad for my elderlyness…”

    miss you

  4. […] that this morning I had to sit down with myself and question if I was getting bitten again by my former angry demons.  When I told Dawn about my fear of The Crazy coming back, she assured me that I had made a […]

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