I started taking an antidepressant about two years ago, to get me through a rough patch. It was a means of survival and I am grateful that it did its job with such skill. I have not only gained balance in my life, but I have also done very well at maintaining it. True to my question-everything nature, I decided to see if I could maintain balance without the medication that gave me a new life.
With my doctor’s support, I have spent weeks tapering my dose. Cutting the dose in half and half again, and so on.
Fortunately, I did not experience many side effects with antidepressant medication. Sure, things were very strange for the first few months. After the initial strangeness, I was left with only two long term side effects: the inability to relax my lower jaw and the inability to cry.
The jaw thing has bothered me since day one. A couple of decades ago, I had a pretty intense addiction to cocaine. So strange to think back on my feelings about that nasty white powder. I can remember in my first years of college, friends of mine exposing me to cocaine in a party setting. Not only did I adamantly refuse to partake, but I also left in tears. My mom told me that the basketball player Len Bias did cocaine and his heart exploded, leaving him dead. I shared this information. I could not understand how anyone could knowingly convert their heart into a weapon against themselves. Turning my heart into a bomb was not on my list of enticing experiments. The fear that I had for my friends was overwhelming. I was a biology student, possibly pre-med, cocaine was not aligned with what I wanted for my life.
Fast forward five years. In that short amount of time, I went from most likely to succeed to Scarface’s girlfriend. What in the hell? Everyone was turning their hearts into bombs with regularity, and I couldn’t have been happier. I was called ride-or-die and was so proud of that tag line. This life is a very curious thing. Ego is a very dangerous thing. Ride or die, really?
Ok, back to my antidepressant experience, no need to go down that shard-filled memory lane.
Prozac reminded me of my days in the cocaine gutter. Most mornings, I would wake up with a tension headache. Sometimes I would be clenching my jaw so tightly it would wake me up out of my sleep. Back in the day, cocaine had the same effect on my lower jaw. This side effect was a stark daily reminder of my heart-attack evoking days of old.
Over the past week, every morning when I wake up, the clenching has become less and less. This morning, I could hardly notice. Not only am I using this as a measurement to know when the prescription is out of my system. It is also a moment for me to reflect on my past. I am grateful that I made it through those white powder days. I am grateful for the reminder so that I can see how far I have come.
One of the most common side effects of antidepressants is feeling-lessness. It is designed to mute feelings such as anger and frustration, depression. The problem is all feelings are fair game, not only the “bad” ones.
My grandmother was a precious soul. She passed away last year at the age of 90. I love to reflect on her stories of growing up in Charleston, SC during World War II. Her love of song and dance. The paper dolls she used to buy me so she could have a few minutes of child-free reading of the Enquirer. Her nurturing, healing nature.
My extended family was tough. We didn’t talk about deep nor important things. To be strong, we had to hold everything in. No one could risk being exposed as who they were. Human.
My grandmother was the exception. She showed me love and tenderness that I otherwise would have never known. I carry her name as my middle name with energetic pride. Rose, beautiful, right? She is a martyr to me, a fighter for love. She liked to remind me often that my goal in life as a young girl was to be president of the United States. Running against the current candidates would be the best chance I could imagine having of bringing that to fruition. I could win that! One ounce of normalcy is all that is required. But that is an all-together different blog post.
Although her life was one of service to her family, she had the fiery heart of a woman of great strength. Thank you for passing that on to me, granny.
So why, when she passed on, could I not muster a tear?
Because I was taking medication to curb my emotions. Although I still haven’t cried tears, I have spent the last few days reveling in this new emotional state. Now that I can feel, I have been reminiscing, thinking about Rose and her life. What she meant to me and the wisdom she bestowed. And I am now able to do so with a feeling of beautiful, satisfying sadness.
Every part of the human condition is the way it is for survival. Collectively, the goal of the human condition is to get your genes into the next generation. We are survival driven organisms.
Take fear for instance. You see something out of the corner of your eye and jump at something non-innocuous. Fight, flight, or freeze kicks in. Your adrenaline is hammering your heart against your chest wall. And you repeat this behavior over and over. Even when your rational brain knows that there is no danger lurking. Yet, the one time there is danger in that corner, the emotion of fear has saved your life. Fear gave humans support to get genes to the next generation.
When humans were hunters and gatherers, we were drawn to the sweetness of fruits. Our sweet tooth guided us towards survival. Well, I don’t think we need to have too much of a conversation about where that sweet tooth has taken us. One word, obesity. Now that we can manufacture all types of foods, being drawn to sweetness is killing us.
I am grateful to be supporting balance in my brain without man-made chemicals. I wasn’t sure I would ever be here again. Now that I can feel my emotions, I am analyzing them with skepticism. I’m not so sure that all emotions serve us the way they once did. I plan to sit with each emotion as it comes so that I can decide which one serves me. We don’t have to give in to every feeling that crosses our path. I do believe we need to sit with them, accept them, and move on. I used to believe that sadness was for the weak, that it was a “bad” emotion. I can now see that sadness is love. Love that we have for that which we have lost.
Everything in this life is fleeting. Nothing is permanent. There is such peace in this realization. We should all strive for the ability to set emotions that no longer serve us, free.
Thank you, Prozac, for saving my life. Thank you for helping me to see two sides of many a coin. Like everything else in life, my dependence upon you was impermanent. I am grateful for the journey.
Find the emotions that serve you. Find peace with the ones that do not. Say no to cocaine.
This is my prayer for us.