Monday morning at 7:00AM:
I’m sitting down to write. I’ve read the news, stretched my body, done my part in getting my kids on their school bus, and made myself presentable for work. It’s been a productive morning.
Over the weekend, I seamlessly traded off between chores, exercise, reading, errands, volunteer work and spending time with my family.
Today, I’ll go to work and proactively snip items from my to-do-list. I’ll tackle problems as they emerge. I’ll interact with coworkers, customers and my boss.
If this elicits a yawn, then good—it’s supposed to. There’s nothing remarkable about me. I’m just a normal, middle-aged, suburban guy doing normal, middle-aged crap. But every day like this is a victory.
Six weeks ago, I woke up from a Rip Van Winkle sleep. I ended 2016 in crisis. Depressed. Unable to concentrate at work, non-productive at home. Sad all the time. Routine problems left me paralyzed with inaction. Larger problems sent me to bed—my escape. My deterioration was so complete, I scheduled a pair of emergency appointments. One with a therapist, one with a psychiatrist. Both saw me immediately. Both confirmed the obvious. The psychiatrist offered a solution.
I added Wellbutrin to my battery of pills: The Prozac reduces anxiety. The Risperidone suppresses my Tourettes tics. The Lorazepam I take at bedtime quells the internal voices that otherwise keep me awake all night. Now, the Wellbutrin lifts my depression.
I didn’t expect this. Years ago, still pill free, I worried that a small dose of Prozac would alter my personality. I worried that by removing my anxieties, I would become a different person. I would no longer be me. My doctor, noting that more than a fifth of American adults take psychiatric medications, found this concern to be a little bit quaint.
Now I see my pills as something of a cocktail. The proper mix leaves me feeling good, or at least normal. And until I added the Wellbutrin, I didn’t see how un-normal I was feeling.
If I can measure my mental state by mood and motivation, I’d have to say that I’ve been depressed for seven or eight years. Not crying in bed depressed, but a little spaced out; a little self-absorbed; a little unmotivated; not quite myself.
A few weeks into the Wellbutrin, I told Susan that I suddenly felt like the asshole she first met. Not a flattering self-description, but pretty accurate. Twenty years ago, medicated on a steady diet of alcohol, my confidence was unchecked. I knew all the answers, and I never hesitated to share my opinion. I was a high achiever, a big drinker and disdainful of anyone who couldn’t keep up. But along with these obnoxious traits, I enjoyed an unnameable buzz. There was a saunter in my step; a smile on my face; I embraced the present. I was cocky, certainly, but still likable. I brimmed with excitement.
That buzz is back. Maturity and some rough years have tempered my cockiness, but I’m beginning to feel the confidence again. I’ve become re-excited about living.
For the past couple of decades, I’ve been wary of drugs. During the eight years that comprised my young-adulthood, my drug use was unchecked and indiscriminate. If it was available, I’d take it. During this period, drug abuse affected my studies, my career, my relationships and my health. The effect of any taken drug was unimportant to me as long as I knew I could *expect* an effect. During college, my drug use was so encompassing, I once felt compelled to “give up the recreational use of prescription drugs” for Lent.
Now I’m taking four psychotropic drugs daily. Psychotropic medications are defined as any drug capable of affecting the mind, emotions, and behavior. Often used to treat anxiety and depression, they are mind-altering drugs. That is, they impact brain function and psychomotor abilities.
My history with substance abuse is long and complex. After eight fuzzy years, I tempered my use of narcotics and marijuana, but I continued to excessively abuse alcohol for another decade. Finally, my increasingly serious relationship with Susan prompted a dramatic reduction in alcohol consumption, and spurred me abstain from recreational drug use altogether.
Twenty years later, I’m surprised by the realization that a constant in-flow of drugs is required for me to live a productive life. In 1995, bicycling to work, I collided with a minivan. My injuries were so severe that I spent a week in the hospital on a morphine drip. Once home, I took Percocet for another two weeks to tolerate the pain. By the time I quit the opioids, they had lost all appeal—even as a pain reliever. Now they were simply a reminder of three hellish weeks. At the time, I vowed to never take mind-altering drugs again.
I keep expecting to wake up one morning and find myself returned to my normal sluggish state. I’m having trouble believing this change can last. My therapist suggested I spend some time writing about how I’m feeling since I started Wellbutrin. In the future, I’ll have a benchmark to check. Reading this will be the way I’ll know if I’ve become depressed again.