I am taking an antidepressant. I am chemically altered right now. I think about the serotonin messages flooding into my brain, visualize the lift, the easing of pain. I console myself with the light dose. I won’t need it forever; it will not become part of who I am. But I fear it.
I fear it might become inextricably part of me.
I fear that whatever ability I have to write will be compromised.
I fear my memories will be diluted, my pain will mean less.
If my reality is shaped by my perception, what does it mean to mess with my brain chemistry, even a little? What makes me, me?
I recognize that those fears are not totally rational (or are they?). The humiliation I feel in succumbing to the need to take an antidepressant goes against what I believe about medication, mental illness, hurt. I know this intellectually but moving past the sludge of self-judgment is messy and nearly impossible. And even now I want to cry out: I am not mentally ill! But I was suffering – still suffer – and I was afraid I might be losing part of myself in the process, that my eyes were getting too used to the darkness.
Joie de vivre, a capacity to LIVE in capital letters -- I have been told this helps define me. I don’t know if that was ever true, but I do know my love of life had been diluted into a weak broth. And I need to be present, not just in the pain, but in the living beauty of the moment, with those who love me, those who depend upon me, and even those who dislike me.
So I have been taking half a little pill every night before I move into that often comfortless world of sleep.
And either it is a placebo effect, or the medication is working, or it is God, or it is time, or it is the comfort of love, or all of that and other dimly lit things I can barely perceive. And lately I have been seeing vibrant colors again, terrible beauty in details, and feeling aching impulses of joy. But to lose myself in it, to catapult head first, over the realm of reason and into the deep echoing spaces of mystery has often hurt too much, and I hold myself back on the edge.
Lately I have been gathering courage again. This weekend, hiking through the snow in a wind that sounded like distant thunder, I could feel the sublime healing power of some thing – perhaps God. Thankful, my footfalls crunched into the ground. Thankful, my breath beat out of my lungs in ragged rhythm. And I was thankful for companions in the mist, with me presently and those who are ghosts.
I was alone on the trail and suddenly came to a tunnel of rhododendrons and bowed trees, leaves and bare branches strewn with snow and I allowed myself to fall into that space of mystery, love of creation, of life, of God. God, with whom I have been coldly angry. And in the bitter cold life was sweet.
How much does the lightening of my atmosphere come from the antidepressant? I do not know. But whatever it is, this shift in pressure is a gift. Do I not feel sad? Ha, a laughable thought. Am I reconciled to God, to fate? No, there is a hard stone still there in my core. But it means something is different. I am different.
As Frederick Buechner says, “once a moment has come into being, its having-beenness is beyond any power in heaven or earth, in life or in death, to touch.” There is a comfort in that, but also a horror. I have been living in a doubling, holding opposing sentiments in harmony, like the paradox of doubt constituting faith and vice versa, the certainty of death and the miracle of life. I think I will continue to live in hard spaces, antidepressant or not.
We cannot go back to whom we once were. I can only go forward. Lately I have been repeating to myself, “impulse towards joy,” which is an action command. But it would be better to say, “beat towards joy.” Beat as the wings of a bird in a cage towards the sun.
Over the years close friends have told me I am strong. Lately I have been wondering what that means to them and to me. If being strong means dealing with the world unmedicated, then the shoe doesn’t fit. If being strong means being able to stare into darkness and still squint towards light, then maybe.