Friday, November 10, 2006

Club Meds: A Vacation

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.


Student of Life said...

Have you read Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wertzel? It's been 10 or 15 years since I've read it, but at the time, I thought it was an interesting exploration into the world of psych drugs and how they alter the spirit. As I remember, she explores the good and bad about being on meds, mostly the bad. I do think, we as people need to be masters of our own spirits. I think some doctors are overly eager to prescribe medications. In some cases, the drugs alter people's lives for the better, some even saving people's lives. In others, the drugs put an unnecessary damper on the spirit that makes people beautifully individual. You have to decide what works better for the life you want to lead. You only get one shot. Live it to its fullest medicated or not.

JBelle said...

yeah. You do need to medicate with fierce regularity. Right now. Right today. :) I work with a convicted felon in a volunteer capacity who suffers from depression. He is the first individual that I have shared intimacies with that suffers from depression. What an eye opener for me. I have such a better understanding of how people's lives can become sidetracked, trashed and abandoned. And I will tell you my brother, the key to better living is through chemistry. :)

I appreciated what you said about your sex life because I now realize why Felon A does not take his meds and why he won't tell me he chooses not to medicate. He is working furiously on abandonment and rejection at the hand of his wife and sexual impotence is not what he needs to combat the sunset of that relationship. Actually, it would speed the demise along and that would be a good, but acutely painful, thing for him. Thanks for the schooling.

Now. Finally. You left out one thing that might be key to medicating early, medicating often:
being emotionaly even with those to the left of you and those to the right of you. It's not just for the good of your marriage or your work, which you love. Your evenness makes those around you even and moves you both closer to wholeness. The sum of the parts? Those pink vitamins are where you want to be. So go there. yeah?

Anonymous said... I see it, the two major problems with depression are

1. It's not sadness, it's madness. Depression is often equated with being bummed out, but the symptoms are much more complex. Most of the behavior that results from depression is socially unacceptable. We can put up with sad people. It's the road rage (never my problem, thank God), quick snapping, paranoid, mood changing, difficult person in the office or the classroom people who suffer form depression that we have so much trouble dealing with.

2. Our culture worships choice and the power of the will. We don't want to believe that people behave badly for any other reason than choice and the will and I know I'm in a great minority when I argue that choice, deliberation is hardly ever what really precedes action. Depression and chemical imbalance, as you know, can trump "choice", and does, an awful lot of the time. And then that other nasty work: "excuse": it's just an excuse. No it's not.

I'm back on the meds. I'll stay faithful and rigorous and disciplined for a long time now. But, sometimes I'd just rather not be quite so sexually, imaginatively, emotionally, and psychically so neutral.

Sometimes I want to not take my medicine and just spend time with my dog, no people, and feel all the things I feel and the intensity of it all when I leave the neutralizers in the bottle.

I appreciate you reading and responding.

pert rigby

Anonymous said...

I was on Paxil following my divorce from 2000-2005. I quit it because of sexual dysfunction (never made me impotent but tuned me waaay down) and the withdrawal effects of dizziness when I'd miss a few days, and because I was tired of regressing towards the mean.

It was tough to kick. My kids think I was calmer then. I probably was. There are times I miss the warmth of the Serotonin blanket but mostly, at 48, I want to feel what is left for me on this earth - good or bad.

I've left the lukewarm for the hot and cold. It's a struggle but one, for me, I gotta fight.

By the way, your blog is incredibly well written. Ever considering publishing your memoirs?

JBelle said...


From my observations with Felon A,

#1: absolutely. it's coping. it's relationship refusal. it's a reticence, nay a determination, that living and working side by side together is just not a good thing. and of course, a reverse because that's exactly what we all realy want after all is said and done.

#2 absolutely mondotively. the stronger you are, the more likely are to prevail. Who can be a bad ass when they are mellow and amiable about everything and everyone? One of the many things I've learned about working with guests of the State of Washington is that choice, CHOICE, is probably the most non-threatening of all the variables.

I pesonally crave the edge; I LOVE the edge. sigh. I know the edge is not where I can be if I want to live the life I really want to live. what a paradox. if it feels good, it's probably really bad for you. :) what a load of crap that noone around here sees how hott the edge is and how cool it'd be to live there. ;) sigh again.

Anonymous said...

As a bipolar manic depressive I know all about the "edge" myself, I spent most of my life swaying on the edge, never quite knowing if I was going to tip over and fall deep into myself. I hear voices when I am too alone and I have made some extremely bad choices and decisions which may not have been made with my little time capsules (Effexor XR). I have no regrets but I know who I really am, I am an angry person full of self hate and dangerous to myself at times, but I am also an artist and poet. When I am in one of my all impressive highs or lows I used to draw and paint the most beautiful pictures and write the most lyrical pieces of poetry, I don't do that on my meds. Everything is soooo even and disgustingly smooth that I take vacation med to just feel something other than normal. It feels good to have dreams that I remember and to get a little angry and to cry.....I rarely cry. I write and draw and those are things I can NOT do when I am in Effexor land. It feels good if only for a moment to feel that manic that sadness, I always go back to taking them. It isn't as though if I continuosly took them they would heal me. There is something in my brain that doesn't connect and no amount of any med is going to change it. So, why can't I decide when I want to take a vacation. To some going to Disney land or the Bahamas is a vacation, to the rest of us not taking those little pills is the best place to vacation in the world.

Anonymous said...

Woot! What a terrific comment on my blog. It's so helpful to have other psychos (inside joke..term used affectionately...stay away PC cops) read my Club Meds piece and chime in. I really appreciate what you said.

green libertarian said...

Not to dismiss the importance of the subject at hand, and I too have have faced depression from time to time, however, humor is what generally saves me. On that note, I recently picked up an old computer mouse at a garage sale, for 50 cents. It's a promo from the Paxil people. It has an encapsulated part with water in it, and a person on a kayak. How odd is that?

Peace be with you.

Anonymous said...

Pretty damn odd. I'd like to see it. If you ever feel so moved to toss some humor my way in relation to depression and mental illness, please do. Personally, I would never regard humor about a serious subject as dismissing its seriousness...
thanks for telling me about the Paxil mouse and taking the time to write a comment.

Anonymous said...

You ponder the reality of your feelings when medicated vs. non-medicated implying that your medicated persona is a false version of your true self. Yet you speak longingly of missing the vivid dreams that the meds steal from you. I find this contradictory.

By the way, driving manically down the highway and endangering yourself and others on your way to playing slots like a lab rat in some shithole casino is a pitiful excuse for living on the edge. I mean, you really miss doing that?

You seem like a nice guy, very intelligent and deep. But for Christ's sake, give it a freaking rest will you?

Good luck, I really enjoy your blog. Think of this as unsolicited advice from a mate sitting next to you in a cozy English pub over a few pints.


raymond pert said...

Cheers to you, too! It is contradictory. I know that. The casino story had less to do with the casino and more to do with the energy that kept me up all night. Good advice regarding the slots. I'll follow that advice about 28 days out of the month! I think the officer didn't arrest me that night because he could tell in our conversation that I wasn't speeding on purpose. And he was right. I'm a frustration to most drivers on the road because I don't driver faster. thanks again for your comment and take care...rp

Anonymous said...

As a fellow anti-dipression user, I have to say that I am confused only because when I imagine how I used to be before I began taking my medication, I almost feel physically ill. I was so miserable. The people around me were miserable at my misery. My moods and behaviors were so distressful for not only me, but everyone who cared about me but didn't know what to do about it. I wouldn't want to go back to that if you paid me. I'm willing to sacrifice certain depths of emotion or crazy experiences to assure the well-being of the people who I love. Including myself.