I'm not supposed to do this, but I do: every once in a while I take a vacation from the medicines I take to help stabilize my mental health. I don't think this is uncommon among those of us being treated for depression. Why would I do such a thing? The medicine I take works really well. I am much less irritable, profoundly less suspicious and paranoid, hardly neurotic at all, sleep more regularly, and live on a much more even keel when I take my medicine.
True. And, yet....the medicine renders me sexually impotent. When I take a vacation from the medicine, even though I don't have sex, I can feel potent for a few days. My groin stirs. It's a nice reminder of what used to be.
But, that's secondary. The two more important reasons I take medicine vacations have to do with my emotional life and with my dreams.
The downside of emotional evenness is emotional evenness. Often I'm not sure if I have a visceral response to life left in me. There are private parts of my life that really bother me when I'm not taking medicine. They don't bother me when I take medicine. Every once in a while I want to feel the anger or bitterness or outrage I feel unmediated. So, I go off my drugs for a week or so. Sometimes those negative feelings are there. Sometimes not.
If you take drugs for depression maybe you know what I mean when I say that I think it's very difficult to know what's real when taking such medicine. It's the metaphysics of depression. Is the madness of depression real? The feelings of self-loathing? The paranoia? The quick temper? The mood swings? When suffering from depression (or bi-polar disorder), free of medicine, I can stay out all night. A year ago I went to a late evening birthday party in Portland for a former student dying of cancer. Afterward, I drove to the Spirit Mountain Casino and played slot machines until about 4:30 a.m. While driving to the casino I was pulled over for speeding (and only given a warning). I didn't spend much money at the casino. I played low bets. But, I arrived home around 6:30 or so. The Deke was just getting up. She didn't know where I'd been. She found it eerie that I seemed normal, no signs of fatigue or sleep deprivation. I crashed for the day a little later. The Deke was very upset with me.
What was real that night? Where did the energy come from that gave me the strength to stay up all night? To drive safely home? To exercise financial restraint at the slot machines?
At that point I was only taking one medicine. This incident led to me being prescribed a second. The second medicine has settled me down, but I miss those occasional spins around the Indy Brickyard, living ecstatic, having that energy.
I don't mess with this manic part of my illness much. While I miss it, I know it's a dangerous indulgence and I leave it alone.
But, one thing I can count on when I take a medicine break is vivid dreams. It's amazing. I go off my medicines for a few days, or a week, and my dreams are long, they have plots, subplots, well-developed characters, and intriguing story lines. Often these dreams will take me back to places I wish I could be right now: England, for starters. But also Whitworth College. Two nights ago I dreamed of teaching at Whtworth again, working on the Core 150 team, teaching the Judeo Christian Tradition. It was amazing. We teachers on the Core 150 team had a luxury box we could rest and relax in while fellow teachers taught. I could have Snug, my English Springer Spaniel, with me. It felt wonderful being back at Whitworth, getting to know new faculty and working with some professors who were there when I taught there in 1982-84.
Last night I dreamed England was on the Oregon Coast. What a pleasure! I could drive an hour west and I was among lovely old structures, castles and cathedrals, and had tea houses and pubs nearby. The roads were narrow, hedge-lined; the distances between places was short. I played snooker, smoked cigarettes, enjoyed bacon, soft-boiled eggs, toast, and tea. I even defended the honor of my step-daughter, Molly. A drunken bloke was hitting on her and I picked him up and threw him out of the pub.
I took my medicine this morning. Dreams of basketball rematches with Coeur d'Alene, leaving the team at halftime, conducting seminars in Augustine, living within driving distance of England and other nighttime fancies will have to wait for another time.
I need to take my medicine for the good of our marriage and the good of my work. When I don't take my medicine, my long jags of sleeping and my mood swings cause confusion, especially at home. But, my Club Meds Vacation this past week was pretty good. I'll go back now to pedestrian dreams, emotional evenness, and behavioral predictability.
Then, in a couple months or so, I'll take another brief vacation and indulge a bit in being a psycho. It's like going home. I'm familiar with that guy.