There’s a kids book, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, in which all of society takes a pill, every day. It takes away all of their emotions, because it’s ‘safer’ not to have them. In the novel the protagonist, Jonas, realizes what he’s missing, and stops taking the pills, and things happen. If you want to know what happens, you’ll have to read the book.
I stopped taking the pills two months ago. Now, things are happening for me, and I’m not sure what I should do next. And though the answer should be obvious, as it has been before, I’m not sure it’s as simple as that, this time.
Here’s some background: I first realized I suffered from serious depression at around the age of 23. A friend, Penny, told me about her condition, and in describing her symptoms, she described my mind – the cacophony of unconnected thoughts aimlessly bouncing around in a head, unformed and unformable, all to an endless soundtrack of music and voices and doubt. This came as a shock; I had no idea that my thought-patterns, concerns, reactions and emotions weren’t ‘the norm’. How could I have? So a few months later, when I started seeing every fast-moving, on-coming bus as a way out, I knew what was going on, knew what to blame, and went to the doctor. I described the inside of my head, and he didn’t hesitate. Penny, wherever you are: THANK YOU.
The treatment must have worked, because after a six-month stint, I didn’t need help for another five years. Then, in Ecuador, for whatever reason, it all came thundering back. I sought counselling first, and that helped. But after a few sessions, my counsellor knew I needed more than just a talking cure, and took me a psychiatrist for chemical readjustment. Et voila.
Again, it helped, but not as much. And by the time I reached Malawi, even though I was still medicated, I was a ball of incandescent rage, smashing furniture, crying out once more. So I took myself of the meds, chilled my beans and that seemed to help. Having good people around me helped. Still though, there were tears, there was anger – I could swing in seconds from violent fury to pure joy and then back again, though, thankfully, rarely in public.
When it became too much (for me and for Lorena) a Canadian doctor put my on Fluoxetine, and I’ve been there ever since. For 18 months I haven’t raged, screamed, cried or shouted. It’s been very, very effective. I thought it was the answer. Then I discovered a side-effect, and I had to stop taking them. And now here I am. And so to my dilemma.
Yes, it’s true: for 18 months, the anger, the despair and hopelessness left me well alone, and that was wonderful. But I realize now that the rest of my emotions have also been absent. I haven’t felt true joy, excitement, pleasure, enthusiasm, happiness, not to any real or meaningful extent. I mean yes, I’ve had emotions, but only subtle ones, dulled and blunted.
In the last few weeks, I feel like I’ve come back to life. I feel an energy running through me, a life-energy that’s been lacking for so long. I’ve laughed, really laughed, for the first time in what feels like years. I’ve mean deeply moved, in a good way, by people, by events, by sights and sounds and experiences. I’ve wanted to play, to mess around, to dance, to go out and be out and do things and have fun. And I’ve felt genuinely passionate, and that has been so, so nice, to care about things when apathy had overwhelmed me for so long. But I’ve also been angry, furious, and times this rage is barely containable, slipping through the cracks, slapping into those around me. And I’ve also felt the all-consuming hopelessness, the logic-defying despair dropping down like a fog, ready to choke me.
And so, I’m at a crossroads, and at a loss. I want to feel. I want to be capable of feeling all the good things: the joy, the passion, the excitement. But I fear the darkness, for myself, and for Lorena, for the kids that I work with. I feel like the choice is between the safe road and the road worth travelling, but the latter risks car-crashes and casualties. The map for the former shows a few regularly spaced motorway service station and rest stops. The latter is written in blood and reads ‘hear be draguns’ (at which point, I wish I’d started with a sailing metaphor). So right now I’m just waiting to see if, perhaps, I’m a better driver this time around. Or maybe to see if someone else will drive? Or…can we get a bus? I don’t know. I can’t stretch this metaphor any further. But you get the gist.