Saturday, November 1, 2008

Medicating into Mediocrity

We cannot mature and be fully creative by burying or displacing anxiety, but only by moving through it.
~Soren Kierkegaard

If nightingale and linnet
Knew of my sadness and pain,

Their singing would have in it
A far more joyful strain.

~Heinrich Heine

The November issue of Elle features a strumpet-looking Nicole Kidman on the cover (who at forty-one years old looks younger and fresher than any seventeen year old) and one woman's take on the antidepressant debate. In her article, Club Med, Cathi Hanauer explains her own journey from anxiety ridden to Celexa dependent, and back to being drug free. She takes a detailed look at the world of SSRIs-- the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that increase the serotonin levels in synaptic gaps in the brain, thereby making people feel better.

The world of antidepressant and antianxiety medicines is fraught with controversy-- ranging from questions of why Americans seem to be more medicated for these illnesses than the rest of the world, to whether it's safe, what it does to our brain, and even the implications that one is a weak person if they can't beat their problems through diet, meditation, counseling, or exercise.
The article immediately caught my eye, as yes, I am one of the many who are being treated with these drugs. I take both Lexapro and Abilify, one drug which is prescribed for depression, and the other for anxiety. I started taking these medicines seven months ago after going through what was one of the toughest times I had ever been through.

I have always thought of myself as a melancholic (see the Four Temperaments)-- I'm an introvert who lives inside my own world, and while I can be quite social, I tend to feel unknown and misunderstood. I've always longed to be one of those joyful people-- the kind that are jovial and constantly beam from ear to ear. Gregarious, outgoing, yes, I would love to have those descriptors applied to me. Instead, I'm the girl who sits in a corner and reads a book, who enjoys crying, and has long claimed to love "movies, music, and men that make me cry." It's as if in this sadness, I feel real. It puts me in touch with an empathy that feels other's pain.

My sister said to me the other day that she always felt that her depression was a gift from God. She had gone through phases where she was so low that she could barely get out of bed, and yet, in her pain, she is still thankful for the emotions that the sadness evoked. Similarly, during my own periods of particular depression, I find that I am reflective of my relationships, appreciative of life's moments. As tears stream down my face, I remember those precious moments that otherwise I might not have known. There is a song by the singer-songwriter Patty Griffin that details Mary's days after her son, Jesus, has left. He kisses her on her cheek, and she "stays behind and starts cleaning up the place." The lyrics speak of a mother who is overcome by the loneliness of saying goodbye to her eldest son. It's a poignant song, but one that I did not appreciate until I was blue. And then, one night on the floor in the bathroom of my hotel room in Athens, Greece, far away from my family and friends, my eyes filled with tears as I reflected on what it must mean to be that woman torn apart from her son. It gave me a new found appreciation of that moment in history-- one that I might not have known had that pain been dulled by antidepressants.

And, yet, that is the world that I have now entered-- one where meds take away some of my stress and ease my pain, but also one where, regrettably, I miss the insights associated with my pain. Is it possible that I loved greater and more before I was medicated? Or was my sadness and anxiousness a real drag to those around me and myself?

I have a difficult decision ahead of me. I'm comfortable now, filled with a mentality of if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But perhaps it is time to go back-- back from whence I came. I don't know. All I do know is that I have some thinking to do.


bukirama said...

Hey Elise!
I had to comment on this and you know that I have gone through the same thing years ago so I know where you are coming from. You should definitely talk to your doctor about this but also know that there is always a time when people who are taking antidepressants feel like they are "cured" and can now be ok without it because really, who wants to think of having to take those pills every day for the rest of their life? There are some serious side effects to stopping them the wrong way, which I found out the hard way when I decided to wean myself off it on my own and trust me, you do not want to go down that road. Also, to go off of them too soon and in not the right way can be extremely counter-productive, causing you to go even further down into that hole that brought you to the pills in the first place and that is why you need to speak to your doctor about all of this.
You'll figure out what is best for you but if you are really concerned about not "feeling" enough, cutting back on your dosage could definitely help that, rather than stopping completely.
That's just my 2-cents though.
Any plans on coming to Miami this winter? I would love to see you and there will be a sweet little boy who would love to meet you sometime in January! I can't believe we only have 2 months to go! OK this is where I stop hijacking your comments!!

a.e. nee said...

Elise, you are such a remarkable writer and thinker, thanks for inviting me to your blog and letting all of us readers see you.