I couldn’t sleep last night because of my anxiety. Even though I’d laid off the caffeine and sugar, I still vibrated like a freshly-struck tuning fork, feeling that hollow flutter in my chest.
I kept going down the list of everything that could be going wrong, ticking them off to reassure myself: Gini told me she loves me, and she gave me the Entenmann’s voice. The comic’s finally out. My article at StarCityGames.com was well-received. The business dispute I had this weekend where I was an ass was as ironed out as best as I could make it. I had called all my relatives this weekend; if they died suddenly, I’d be clean, so there was nothing to worry about there.
Yet that tremor persisted. I kept clicking random pages over and over again, visiting the same old sites because I was too panicky for new, too terrified to go to bed lest I be consumed by my fears the moment I ceased to distract myself.
This has been going on for about a week now, and as usual I wonder if it’s medicating time.
I come from a family that loves pills. My uncle was a hemophiliac with crippling arthritis – I mean, wheelchair-style crippling arthritis – and he popped painkillers like they were going out of style. My mother had a brief-but-entertaining affair with Valium in the 1970s. And for years, my father believed that depression was like the flu – if you threw enough medications at it, eventually it would go away. He juggled his meds for two decades, continually urging me to read Listening to Prozac so I’d know how modern drugs were miracles, Billy, miracles yet never seeming one whit happier himself.
So I’m wary. My first reaction in any situation is to avoid pills at all cost. It’s not that I’m opposed, but rather between my dad and my uncle, I’ve seen what happens when you can’t function in life without the pills, and it’s not pretty. I want to save my pills like power-ups in a videogame, using them only to beat the biggest end bosses.
(Not coincidentally, I almost invariably finish videogames with a full backpack full of unused power-ups. I like to think it makes me stronger.)
Usually, it works. I struggle through my depression, pounding myself on the head and repeating, This is your body betraying you. It is lying. And in the end, I usually emerge from my troubles a little drained, but feeling better.
At the same time, there are times when you just can’t face it. I can’t be down on the whole psychotropic trip because going on Paxil saved my marriage. I was too needy and too panicky, and my six-month trip into medville kept me married to the best woman I’ve ever met.
Then again, I remember my doctor’s advice. I went back for a refill and a checkup, and he said, “So. The Paxil working out for you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Things are a lot better. My wife and I are really working things out.”
“Well,” my doctor said, nodding cheerfully, “That’s good. But let me ask you a question: Do you want to be on that stuff forty years from now?”
I frowned. “No,” I said slowly, thinking of me at seventy, still popping the little pinkness every day and giving up any hope of my sex life returning at all. “I don’t think I do.”
“Then you’d better start thinking about transitioning off,” he said calmly, checking something off on his clipboard and walking away.
I knew what he meant; I could use the Paxil as a way of drowning out the very real concerns in my life, or I could try to find a way to function without. Some people can’t function without the drugs, and there’s no shame in that, but there is a shame in never attempting to see whether your depression is bad chemistry or just the results of bad life choices. So I went off, and though it was rocky I managed to steer myself back on track.
And when the panic strikes me, I wonder: is this feeling so bad that I need to rearrange my whole chemical structure in order to combat it? I go down the checklist, trying to figure out whether this quavering feeling is the canary in my psychological coalmine, my subconscious attempting to alert me that there’s something I’m ignoring that needs to be handled. Or it could just be that my nerves are misfiring, and they need the steady hand of some multi-syllable drug ending in “-pam” to quiet them… And I know if I went to a doctor or a psychiatrist, he’d cheerfully prescribe me any anti-depressant I wanted, because I’ve never been to a doctor who wouldn’t give you something if you asked.
So as always, it’s my choice.
I don’t think I’m going to go on them. I think it’s just a level of misfiring I can live with, though I’ll be constantly analyzing my choices until it goes away.
But it’s hard, when you don’t believe in the inherent superiority of either method. You want to choose the right one at the right time, when you’re in the wrong mind. That’s harder than you’d think.