It’s not a bitter pill. It’s tiny. A salmon pink color, dull. In a huge bottle for such a small gathering of powerful, receptor opening chemicals. One little thing to create big changes. To help my brain work again. Or to give me some false sense of hope or balance. The ability to return to the illusion that everything’s going to be okay. On a physiological level. We are part animal and we are part angel and we must attend to both. To both biology and belief. To both instinct and intuition. This little pill should help me stay alive, help me get to the grocery store, help me to accept that life just keeps going on.
I have never been on anti-depressants. This kind that allow the seratonin to hang out a little longer between synapsis. Beyond microscopic chemicals in spaces in the brain that just a touch larger. Mine aren’t functioning like they should anymore. There is a depletion. There has been a rewiring. The brain has adapted to accept the circumstances, believe the thoughts, allow the flood of chemicals that make up my emotions to do their dysfunctional dance. Somehow, through out a young life plagued with clinical depression and suicidal attempts and thoughts, a hospitalization and years of therapy, I escaped medication. Until now, I have escaped them for the last 22 months. The doctor seemed astonished that I was just now showing up for this help. She told me I was brave to have gone this long using holistic and alternative approaches to deal with all that has befallen me. She told me my brain is not working as it should. It has been physiologically altered by floods of cortisol and adrenaline and hormones. It has been structurally altered by shock and traumatic experiences so that, while a normal response to my circumstances, it is functioning abnormally. Through this drug which will, or a least should, support me through managing my now diagnosed major depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD, the phsysiology will be balanced or at least leveled out, the chemicals will begin to function approriately and I will, in the coming weeks, find that I can function on a more basic level. That getting three meals a day in while not feel like an accomplshment but just an afterthought. That I will begin to sleep and when I do, I will have normal cycles that will rest and rejuvinate my body and mind. I must also address the way that trauma has changed my brain, too. I will have therapy that is not about talking and thinking and managing emotions but that reaches deep into the brain where the trauma is stored, where it is hiding, where it’s unique effect on the brain can be accessed. It is not to be revisited and discussed in therapy. It is to be coaxed out. We will move around it’s edges through eye movements, imagery and tapping on the body to retrain the brain to not be afraid all of the time, to restore clear thinking, to be able to recall what happened yesterday and two days ago and last week without very much thought. The words that I have lost will begin to flow again. The physical and nutirtional information I used to know about the bodies of my clients will be accessible. The waiting for the next tragedy to arrive will disappear or at least feel less impending.
Is it true? Have the experiences that kept knocking me over in a year’s time changed my brain? Can I not think my way out? Or eat the right foods to find my way back? Or meditate or do yoga or write or dance or get massage and acupuncture? I have felt like I have a hidden disability since Harvey died. Like I just don’t function the way most people do. I can’t have too much stimulus around me, like I don’t listen to music anymore while driving or puttering around the house because it’s one more thing to process and it overwhelms me. Like I can’t be filling out a form while the well intentioned receptionist gives me instructions and be able to take in a word of what she is saying. Like every time I go to the doctor and part of my brain shuts off and I can hardly remember a word they said and certainly not in which order to do this or that that they instructed. Could it be true that all of this is not my inability to recover but my altered brain, on high alert for the next terrible thing to arrive so it must be vigilant, it must taken in only what is essentially important, only what is right in front of me, right now?
It’s not martydom, or at least, I’m not aware that it is. Especially now, I have exactly no judgement of other people who have taken these drugs in hte past, for decades, currently or in the future. It is a lovely thing to take a pill and feel better. The side effects may be worth the loss of the symptoms and often are. It’s that despite my struggle in early life and now in my mid-30s, these medicines have never seemed like they were right for me. I have a profound trust in the human body’s strong tendency towards homeostais, towards balance in all of it’s functions. When you learn about physiology, you learn that the body, at base, is trying to keep things in appropriate ratios. I have believed, more before than now but still now, that with my help and commitment to wellness, that my body will work with me. That it and I will eat, exercise, sleep and thikn our way to balance and proper function. But, the body will also kill itself to achieve this balance. It will sacrifice one part to save the other. If the body doesn’t have enough calcium from the diet to preform the plethora of tasks calcium is required for, it will start leeching it from our very bones. So that our muscles will contract efficiently or at all when we ask them two millions of times a day, it will begin to tear down the structure that hold those very muscles.
And my animal brain will do the same for my spirit. It will try to hold my spirit up, to keep me looking forward, to help me search for meaning and purpose and joy again against the stark and sure experiences that have removed them, at it’s own detriment. It will keep on trying to do what it is supposed to do with not enough of what it needs and too much of what it doesn’t. And all of those things, the stress hormones and the feel-good chemicals that send their signals to the brain to create an appropriate response, they are there because they are supposed to be. They are there to allow us to survive. We need the stress hormones to deal with the stress and we need the feel-good chemicals to make our lives worth living. But it is the imbalance, it is the excess and the lack, that will take us down as, all the while, the body fights to keep us up.
Have I been brave or have I been stupid? It’s a thin line, I can tell you that. As I learn more about how grief and trauma change the brain, I find it’s quite a bit of both. I spoke to my chosen brother this morning and said “So, I’m on the right path . . . or, I’m on a path. So that’s good. He then quoted to me from Sunday in the Park with George, as he is wont to do, that “The choice may have been mistaken, The choosing is not”. And isn’t that the truth? What if that is what I was guided by? To keep on choosing the best I can. My choices have led me to a lot of suffering in the past. They also have led me to a lot of love and ease and joy. So, the magic is in the choosing, not the choice. Not the mistake or the narrowly missed disaster or the best thing that ever happened resulting. It’s just in the choosing. And this old, riddled brain can still do that.
So, I sat on the edge of my bed this morning and looked across to the bottle sitting on the dresser. I took a deep breath and with great reverence and a sense of ritual, I pushed hard on the bottle’s top and I twisted it off. I took that tiny pill into my hand, into the kitchen and then into my body. As I will do every morning from now until I don’t anymore. And I will hope, that though it may not resonate with my spirit, it just might with the animal inside who is using all of her instint, all of her physiology, to stay alive.