Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday.
Is that it?
For five years I have felt no Despair. My therapist and psychiatrist helped me dial in a cocktail of medication that made sure of that, and last month the same team designed a way off that has taken three weeks to implement. Thursday is my first day without any meds.
What’s going to happen‽ Will the beast that took down my heroes Robin Williams and David Foster Wallace come to haunt me again? Will I once again need to build a magic fortress against Despair with tiny little pharmaceutical bricks?
I don’t know. I won’t know for a few weeks, maybe a few months. All I know is that my life is different now, and it’s time to run an experiment to test this falsifiable hypothesis.
I need meds to feel okay.
I wasn’t okay 5 years ago.
Anxiety had crept into my every day, sometimes 20 times in a day. Sure, I had reasons to feel anxious. My marriage was stagnant, my upstairs neighbors were creeps, and most the challenges I set for myself were so difficult that success had become a fleeting and rare experience. Disappointment was frequent enough that its nasty old buddy Discouragement loomed big behind it. “Why is everything so hard?” I’d ask myself and my therapist and my wife and my friends. I’d ask it a lot!
Sure, I had reasons to feel anxious, but most of the time Anxiety was free floating, the kind that started without a reason but begged my brain for one to justify its visit. I’d often feel random pangs of fear, but I had trained myself to let them slide through my body like whimsical weather patterns pass through San Francisco.
Anxiety was almost tolerable until my existential crisis when I gave up God for good. I didn’t even know I was hanging onto it, but when I realized nothing is guiding us crazy humans, nothing is listening to our prayers, we’re just making this shit up and most of us suck at it, that’s when the abyss of meaninglessness became impossible to ignore.
I knew how to invent meaning. I was writing a play. I was making art. I was nurturing deep relationships with friends and sometimes with nature, but the empty chasm was wide and deep, and the tiny figure that was me dangled above it.
Then late one night I had a distinctly Camusian experience. As I lay in bed next to my wife (we still held hands as we fell asleep), I listened to someone rattling through the recycling outside our window. I was irritated by the racket so I started to imagine a solution: a paring knife to the neck. Then I imagined the police asking questions. Then I wondered, fairly dispassionately, would I read a lot in prison?
It’s hard to describe the difference between a fantasy borne of deep frustration and this much more dangerous something else. Maybe it’s how close I was to acting on it. The burly bossy something was taking charge, blocking any instinct to care for life, and goading me to test its meaninglessness.
The something was Despair.
And what a fucking bully.
Why stop now?
Yes, my team put together a medicinal solution to rid me of Despair and most of my Anxiety for 5 years. It also sanded off my edges in other places. I no longer yearned to make art. I wasn’t quite as sharp in the brain. It was subtle, but my focus wasn’t quite as intense. My memory took a little hit. Plus, I sweat easily. I hardly sweat before. I twitched in the night. Sometimes I’d kick. Orgasms were less orgasmic, a little like squeezing the tail end of a half empty tube of toothpaste. Chorgasms someone called them. But I could go at it for hours. That was pretty awesome and always greatly appreciated. I slept like a log, but afternoon fatigue made me crave naps more than once a day. I could finally eat chocolate after 3 in the afternoon without risking insomnia and drink coffee without punishing jitters.
Psychopharmaceutical Apologists like to say, “It doesn’t change your personality; it just makes you more you.”
The meds changed my personality. I miss my full energy, my full passion, and my wide open connection to darkness and gritty sick truth and all the things that make art upsetting and revelatory and necessary.
I want to see if I can get some of that back. My life is quite different now. I have learned more about the nature of Love and Faith and the beauty of our absurd existence. My failed marriages have turned into wildly successful divorces. My work is much more rewarding too, and while I’m still a frequent Failer, I have chalked up experiences I consider great successes. I love life.
So it’s time to test this hypothesis, too: I’ll be okay without my meds.
But what if I’m not okay?
Yes. What if I’m not okay?
It’ll still be okay.
Drugs are a good thing, used well. I’ve used them well before, and I can use them well again. I have my team. Plus, I’m loved all over the place. The team has grown. Yes, it’ll be okay.
I write this because depression, anxiety, and pharmaceuticals are still stigmatized and so misunderstood. My hope is by illuminating another human’s experience wrestling with the plight of moods that go awry and thoughts that make too much sense in a world that is overwhelmingly complex and beautiful and cruel, I might also shine a light toward a passageway someone else might use to escape Despair.
So here is the answer: There is no answer.
There is only our existence. We make of it what we can, and the rest just happens, with or without us.
I, for one, am choosing— with.