[I wrote this one year ago; repeated by request]
There’s a place. It’s a closet of sorts, the kind of closet that appears in fantastical children’s books, a closet that opens up to a world that can’t possibly exist in those confines. It seems to reach out forever, to have no end. It is made of darkness, mystery, fear and nothingness. You don’t know what you’re going to see when you open the closet doors. And it’s not always a choice to open them. Sometimes they open on their own volition.
The closet looks neat and organized on first glance. Things are arranged concisely, in some kind of order. It’s when you push past that order, when you move the carefully created stacks of things and look behind the aligned rows when you realize there is more than meets the eye. You think there will be a backing, a wall of sorts. The thought of the wall being there is what makes you feel safe. It’s what keeps everything from spilling out of the closet. The appearance of order and the illusion of finiteness is what keeps you grounded.
As much as I know what my meds do for me, there are some days I don’t want to take them. I don’t want to hear that alarm go off, I don’t want to make the practiced walk over to the cabinet, I don’t want to take out the two bottles, shake a pill out of one, a half pill out of the other. I don’t want to wash them down and wait. Wait to feel normal.
I want to burn the prescriptions and empty the bottles down the drain because I don’t want it to have to be like this. What’s it like to not have to take some kind of medication to keep yourself from crying, sleeping, overreacting, becoming manic, being anxious, acting paranoid, feeling like the world is going to close in on you? What’s it like to not have to swallow pills in order to regulate your moods? What is it like?
I find the whole process exhausting. I hate thinking about it because when I think about it, I get overwhelmed at the concept of having to take these pills every single day for the rest of my life to just feel like a well functioning human being.
I’m grateful for what modern medication offers me. I’m grateful that my brain chemistry can be altered to the extent that I feel like a “normal” human being, that I can function and think clearly and be productive and happy. I am thankful there is this much. Every day I am thankful I have found a way to participate fully in the human race.
But some days it frustrates and saddens me that I can’t do it on my own. I feel flawed. I am flawed. I am reminded of that at 7:00 every morning.
Some days I eagerly swallow those pills, grateful for their company on my journey.
But some days I resent them.
The things that give me relief also give me pause.
I hate for this to become a medication journal, but I’m sure it’s just temporary. I’m hoping what I’m experiencing becomes my “normal” and I’ll stop being amazed by what I’m feeling. Or not feeling.
I’ve been through other medications. It was obvious they were not working or, in some cases, making things worse. That’s why I was just happy to pop a Xanax and not take anything else. Because I could handle this, right? This is who I am and I can deal with it.
No. No I could not deal with being bipolar. I could not deal with the manic phases. I could not deal with the low phases. I could not deal with hating myself for the way I was and the way I was making people around me feel. So I had to put aside my fear of bipolar/depression meds and tell myself that while past meds made me crazier, I had to give something else a chance or run the risk of getting worse, mentally.
It still amazes me when I look at this tiny pill I take every day that something so small can contain the ingredients needed to give someone like me a clear head and a strong mind. I don’t understand chemistry. Not chemistry of the brain, not chemistry of modern medicine. Then again if I could, back in the 70s, grasp the concept that a tiny microdot of mescaline could change my brain chemistry I should be able to undertand this. And yes, I have wondered if the drugs did something permanent to my brain. But then I remember most of my childhood was spent in a state of mild depression. I think my drug use was a reaction to my depression and anxiety rather than a cause of it.
So here I am today, trying to explain to you what my little dose of Abilify does for me.
Think of a tv that has no connection to cable, no antenna. You turn it on. It’s just static. Just all those shades of black and white and gray, little specks of information colliding with each other, making nothing more than visual noise. There’s something back there waiting to come into focus. It just needs something. A connection. A wire. All that static, all that fuzz and noise are thoughts and ideas, dreams and memories, fears and hopes, equations and shopping lists and song lyrics and important reminders and words waiting to be written. But the get in each other’s way and each one shouts to be heard above the other and you stop trying to make sense of any of it. There are days the static show takes over your brain and everything is a jumbled mess of noise and there are days you just can’t deal with the noise and turn the tv off so there’s just nothingness.
That has been my brain.
And suddenly, a picture forms. A wire gets uncrossed. A plug gets a connection. The static clears up and you can see the separate pieces of information pulling away from the mass, becoming their own, whole thoughts. There is color. There is defined movement. There is life.
My brain keeps smiling and saying, “We have clearance, Clarence.”
It’s my little inside joke with myself.
Now I’m able to compartmentalize. I’m able to prioritize. I can, for the most part, control my emotions because my emotions are no longer coming in manic waves. I can have a sustained thought process without it meandering off into seven thousand other thoughts, branching out to something unrecognizable from the original thing I was thinking about. I can concentrate on what’s important. I can do. I can be.
And there are other things. The desire to do. The desire to be. Where before they were half hearted and all my attempts to make something of my world and do something with my life were attempts I felt were destined to fail, thus keeping me from really putting my all into them, now I see everything as a possible triumph. It makes me want to do more. Be more.
Yes, there have been side effects. But I’m working my way through the insomnia (thank you, melatonin). And yes, I am still taking Xanax for now (I’ve worked my way down from 2 .5 doses a day to one .25, which I hope to be off of by the end of the month). But unlike the side effects of my previous medications, these are bearable. They are worth getting through considering the benefits I am getting out of the good effects.
I still marvel at how one little pill can change my life like this. How a bunch of chemicals put together by human beings can replicate the chemicals my brain has been missing. Science, right? Amazing stuff.
I feel like I’m on the verge of something big here. The Abilify has allowed me to take this giant leap I’ve been holding back on for so many years out of fear of where that leap would land me.
And that’s the big thing.
The fear is gone.
The fear of the future, the fear of the past, the fear of the unknown, the fear of everything from getting up in the morning to driving to work to going into a crowded subway to doing anything alone, those fears are gone, replaced by a strength that I have to believe was inside me all along, just waiting to be let loose from the noise and fuzz of the static that was keeping it from being seen.
This is a new life for me. A new way of being. And suddenly, instead of pretending I’m looking forward and excited about things, instead of going through the motions while waiting for the fear, anxiety, terror and depression to kick in, I’m really excited about what I can accomplish now.
Oh, yes. It’s all still there. I know there will still be days when it hits me. I know the anxiety is so acute it will always be lurking, waiting for the right moment to leap out out me. That’s why I’ll keep the Xanax prescription. That’s when the people I love will be there for me. That’s when I’ll feel the difference between letting it overtake me and taking charge of it. Because I feel like I can do that now.
There’s a specific kind of personal heartbreak that comes with the knowledge that you need a pill (or two or four) to help you become a better person, a mentally healthier person. It’s jarring. It makes you feel weak for a moment or two. And there are people who will try to make you feel even worse about it, whether they mean to or not, who will use words like “crutch” or “get over it” or “just stop being sad.”
I’ll just smile at them. They don’t know. They can’t know. And they don’t know how lucky they are to not know.
All I do know is that I’m better. I’m not cured. I’ve not banished the demons of mental illness. It’s all still there. But I’m able to now focus on being a functioning human being instead of focusing on being unwell.
That’s a victory.
We have clearance, Clarence.