Since I was little, I prided myself in my ability to see. As in–I could find utter joy in ordinary things. With relative ease, I’d find myself swept away in some sort of emotion at the sight of the tiniest thing: a young man in a purple sweatshirt selling watermelons off of a cart, pigeons flocking toward scattered rice, prisms of light dancing atop freshly fallen snow, a father buying his daughter a turn at one those stuffed-animal-claw machines in a highway rest stop, still morning water reflecting a pale and sunless sky.
I will say now that since the summer of 2011, this ability was stifled, lost, and then finally almost forgotten. I will say that depression’s ability to sneak in and steal away life’s little joys is real. I will say that reading Lauren Slater’s “Prozac Diaries” in college made me terrified of taking any kind of anti-depressant. I will also say that the attitude toward mental health drugs in much of the yoga/meditation/wellness community made me feel like taking medication was cheating, was avoiding “the truth” in favor of chemically induced mood enhancement. It was the weaker option, it was less “mindful”.
So I will also take this moment to say that taking anti-depressants does NOT, in any way, enhance or alter my moods. I can still feel elated, and I can still touch the bottom in a pit of despair. So, on the “right” drug, I don’t suffer the same consequences that Lauren Slater did–I can still feel everything. In fact, I can feel more; being depressed and obsessively anxious was like living within a heavily insulated cocoon–my perceptive and emotional abilities were diminished, to say the least. I’m also more mindful because my mind isn’t racing out of control, isn’t focused on dark holes that lead nowhere but down. And I can see again, like I used to be able to see. All those little details I used to take in with joy? Depression and out-of-control anxiety robbed them from me. The world was not so beautiful. Writing was less satisfying. Drawing and painting were boring. Hiking and biking required too much energy and attention. What was the point… of anything? How was it that sunlight or fresh cookies had ever made me so happy?
You could say that I should have tried harder and meditated longer, then I could have gotten my life back without the assistance of medication. And perhaps that is true. But as my sister said to me when I was arguing against her suggestion I take anti-depressants, “You wouldn’t tell someone on dialysis to fix their kidneys without the help of modern medicine!” It was time for me to try something different. It was time for me to swallow my pride, and swallow a pill. Both my sister and my mother were on my case about trying medication, and both of them work in medicine, and both of them deplore how over-medicated everyone is these days. I’m glad I listened to them. And I’m glad I found a drug and a dose that work for me; I’d been spinning my wheels for over two years, and I was exhausted.
The world is beautiful again. Work is manageable. Drawing and painting are enjoyable over and over, years after I thought I’d lost them forever. Writing is less self-centered, and more world-centered. I am no happier, and no less emotional, the only differences for me are these: the heavy gauze that had fallen between myself and my life has been thinned, lifted, and my mind no longer moves at light speed. There are points to things again, because I can see, and because I can focus on something long enough to think it through, rather than looping it into some complex delusion rooted in irrational worry.
I don’t credit just the drugs; they were kind of like icing on a big cake I’d been baking for a long, long time. A new job (that does NOT entail daily abuse), good therapy, lots of journaling, walks, and yes, meditating (even if it’s just sitting and staring at a wall or out the window), reflection and solitude, good and loving people around me, and good books were all exceptionally helpful. I also don’t expect to be on medication forever–I think it’s different for everyone, and I think my brain goes through ups and downs with regard to its ability to regulate chemical balance. I think for now, I need a little extra help restoring harmony between synapses. And I’m trying to be OK with that.
That is actually why I’ve written this post. I don’t want any attention or sympathy for my struggles–they’re really quite ordinary, and that’s the problem. Many people struggle with mental illness, and various stigmas, whether they’re surrounding the idea of going to therapy, talking openly about your problems, or taking a pill, prevent people from getting the help and finding the acceptance required in order to heal. I agree that America is an over-medicated and often mindless society, promoting all kinds of behavior that seem to only help us lose touch with ourselves and our communities, but that does not negate the fact that some people need real help in healing from mental illness. Whether it’s through therapy, medication, or both, I think we could stand to be more open and less judgmental of what works for some people but not all of us. Years ago, my attitude toward depression had been “shake it off, get over it!” But that was before I’d ever been depressed. So here’s to being more open-minded about the mind; its depths, its darkness, its strange corners, and its delicate balance of chemical magic.
Below are some images taken over the last month of summer–a few months after starting medication–when I finally started to remember how beautiful everything is, all the time. There’s even a painting at the very bottom, nothing special nor original, but fun to do nonetheless.