A few months back I was in an intense place, and I was very intensely inhabiting that place. Trying to keep myself from “falling to pieces,” as Jonah and I like to say. And let’s be clear: this had very little to do with Jonah or autism or the escape artist Gabriel Keats. But let me be clear: this had everything to do with Jonah and autism and Gabriel Keats. Not to mention our two dogs, my loving and stretched-too-thin husband, and a work-from-home job that consistently gets put off until tomorrow in the ruckus that is the family and home and life I’ve been given.
I’ve never been a fan of drugs or the industry that manufactures them. There’s a certain prejudice on my part, no doubt. The way I tend to see it (which is to say, the way I tend to see myself), if I’ve come to a place where drugs are necessary—be they antivirals or antibiotics or sleeping pills or SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)—I had a hand in getting myself there. I have a habit of pushing past my own limitations. It’s a stubbornness. It’s pride. But.
We’re all dealt a particular hand, and there are chemicals involved. Mine have a tendency to be whacked out. My particular mix of hormones and sleep chemicals swing me to an emotional extreme—we’ll call it the dark side—a couple of times a month. [I’ll include a tangential Jonah quote here: “Where’s the dark side? It’s dark and you can’t see and you want to go home? When you walk, far away from your house, and the dark side gets in your head?”] My dark side means a tendency toward rage. An intense, deep and sloggy sadness that I feel may never end (though it seldom lasts more than a day or two). I cry easily anyway, but during these times the crying won’t stop. To put it in the simplest of terms: I feel mentally ill. No, I am mentally ill.
It’s a paradox I can’t quite get my mind wrapped around, though I’ve inhabited (there’s that word again) it for more than a decade. The fact that I slip in and out of this state, the fact that for most of the month I’m moderately well-adjusted and healthy and happy clouds my thinking on the matter. But I must concede that the word habitation has at its root habit, and this way of being definitely falls into a pattern. If I were able to bear it without habitually hurting the ones I love, that would be one thing. When I am not pressed by the needs of others, I can (usually) weather these storms. But not always. Just after John and I were married, he described these storms as “episodes” to a friend of ours, which is accurate. For me, the word episode brings to mind Sylvia Plath: “I simply cannot see where there is to get to” [from “The Moon and the Yew Tree”].
Some habits are for making, more for breaking. Once I realized, quite acutely, the pain I was inflicting upon others as a result of my infirmity, once I saw how the pattern of my behavior was extending beyond just those few days and becoming a habit of being, I finally said okay, I’ll try the drug. Fluoxetine, specifically (which the drug industry, amusingly, markets as Serafem to PMDD sufferers—my very own druggie angel). The brand name is Prozac, which is the word I got hung up on. There are a host of drugs out there to treat depression and all manner of mental illness, but Prozac was one of the first and may be the most well known. Honestly, I just didn’t want to be one of those people. Which is to say, one of the weak ones. Remember me mentioning prejudice? Yeah.
I’m not looking for a pill to fix me, because I don’t believe it can. But I am looking for some help to live in this world. Something that helps me get to a place where I can honestly, steadfastly, do the hard work I need to do in myself. I was expending so much energy trying to maintain a measure of emotional equilibrium that I had little energy or focus left for my work or my marriage. G and J weren’t so much of an issue because they demand my attention. They got pretty much all I had left to give. They also received a good portion of my frustration and rage.
There have been some minimal side effects, but on the whole, my little angel has provided an astonishing degree of relief. The rage is all but gone. I haven’t wept uncontrollably for several months, though I do still cry. The hole I periodically felt myself trapped inside of is more of a stumbling block, less of a bottomless pit.
I was most afraid that the drug would blank me out, would soften too many edges. I like my edges. I like my emotions. I have grown accustomed to their intensity, to my intensity. That great deep sadness I contain within me has not disappeared. Though I don’t feel it as acutely or consciously, it surfaces in my dreams. A few nights ago I underwent (not sure how else to put it) the sadness as I slept.
Some might say the sadness is something to be eradicated. I think it’s something I need to bear. For the time being, a little blue pill is helping me do that. It (meaning the sadness and the little blue pill) teaches me things…like compassion. In some instances it’s restrained me from judging others (though I’ve a ways to go in that arena) so that I can continue to love my family the best I can and do the work I feel I’m called to do with as much attention as I’m able. Which is a decent definition for habitation: dwelling as I’m able with what I’m given.
© Christopher Walton