BRAVE NEW WORLD
***Disclaimer: In the post below, you’ll discover the same confessional “navel-gaze” style of writing that I mocked in my last post. But I can pull it off because I do it better than those other guys. That said, if you want to skip this and view some real writing, visit here and here.
A month and a half ago, I hit my personal rock bottom one night after work.
That night resulted in a busted laptop and a few holes in my wall. I also entered a state of mild delusional paranoia.
I needed intervention, so I finally decided to cast aside my suspicion of medical professionals.
I’m writing today because I haven’t consumed alcohol in almost two months. For me, this is a huge deal. I usually drink on most weekends. We’re not talking about one or two servings – I usually slam 40 to 60 ounces of beer in the space of an hour. I’ve also occasionally done this on a weeknight when I had to work the next day.
In support of my effort to quit, I have a pill in my toolbox.
My doctor prescribed an antidepressant. It’s been surprisingly effective for both depression itself and the subsequent booze binges. During the first couple of weeks I had zero cravings for booze. Around week 4, the cravings crept back in.
It’s significantly easier to ignore cravings and pursue another activity with the help of this little pill.
The decision to follow through on the meds was tough. I remain skeptical for many reasons, but my primary concern is the message this treatment sends to an addict. As a doctor, when you prescribe an antidepressant to an alcoholic or addict, you’re sending a crystal-clear message:
“You’re f—ed. You’ll always have to consume a substance in order to get by.”
Yet, I couldn’t stay away from the bottle on my own. I have wanted and tried to break the habit on my own. The drug has provided superior help. Thus, I find myself in a hazy state of conflict.
I’ve read articles from supposedly trustworthy medical websites which claim that antidepressants do not make you high. I can’t speak to anyone’s experience but my own, but they do make me high.
If you read the comment section of any internet article on depression, you’ll find a host of skeptical commenters stating, with absolute certainty, that the effect of antidepressants on folks with “moderate depression” is simply a placebo effect.
Because, you see, those commenters read clinical trial reports and academic journals thoroughly. They obviously compare data and think critically about this issue. They don’t simply gain this “aha” moment from a BuzzFeed article during an armchair science session.
My experience is anecdotal, of course, but I can attest that this isn’t a placebo effect. I have a lot of experience with drugs, and I have a lot of experience being sober. This anti-depressant is effective precisely because it gets me a little high.
I often feel like I ripped a tiny bong hit and have a threshold buzz. At other times that high moves into the background and is barely noticeable. I can work, write, think, and engage in productive activity, but if I relax and pay attention, the little buzz is there.
Yesterday I was drawn deeply into music that is outside my normal listening habits. I sat and listened to The Flaming Lips. Now, I love the album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. It’s a phenomenal album. However, this is not music that I would typically just sit around and absorb. Unless I was high, of course.
I’m active and I listen to music while walking long distance, so I usually listen to upbeat hard rock. Yesterday I sat there not only listening, but fully experiencing Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
I also found myself marveling at my amazing music collection. I mean, I do have good taste (this is a fact), but it’s important to understand that I marveled.
The urge to write also jumped out. Black Sabbath played and I scribbled a note about barrels of fire under a bridge, muddy banks, kids smoking cigarettes. It called me. The same thing happened with Tori Amos. I scribbled a note about floating over crystal caves.
My muse flew through the window and sat on my desk, staring at me. “Write!” she said. But I resisted, because I knew it would be a 20-hour affair for both posts. She flew back out the window all sad. Don’t worry darling, you can visit another time.
What are the other effects besides feeling inspired and a little high?
I don’t ruminate on regrets and disappointments for very long. I’m more resilient to stress, and I can usually find my way back to a positive outlook with effort even when I feel moody. Because I do still feel moody at times. The difference is that it’s not dragging me down into an immobile place. I have less of an attention span for negativity.
I feel closer to achieving some of my goals, although I accept that it’s going to take some time. My circumstances are the same; I’m still trapped inside the corner of life in which I painted myself. But I don’t care nearly as much. This fascinates me.
When I first started feeling better, I had a pissed off moment connected to exactly that – how much better I feel after pursuing help. The reason I’ve avoided doing this for so long is because of the common view shared by both my family and society – that mental illness is a character flaw.
Suck it up, stop your bad habits, march forward. I now understand that my drinking is an effort to calm windy, chaotic storms. I try to drown the storms. If I could calm the storms on my own, I would have already done so. But the attitude is so deeply engrained, and so much a part of my conservative family culture that I could snap back into that viewpoint at the drop of a dime.
Despite feeling better, I have serious concerns. I’m concerned about the long-term effects of a drug for which the mechanism of action isn’t fully understood. They know the effect; they know exactly what it does in the brain, but they don’t know what makes it do that.
In the beginning, I didn’t care about this because I was in a state of desperation. Since it’s been a couple of months and I feel better, I find myself wanting to stop the medication.
I’ve read about cognitive behavioral therapy. My insurance isn’t so great, and I chose the worst health plan. CBT won’t happen any time soon.
But here’s an important question: Why wasn’t it offered? Why didn’t the doctor say, “Okay, let’s do this med for a little while, let’s also refer you to a mental health specialist to do this CBT thing, and then we’ll taper you off this drug (because you like drugs) sooner rather than later.”
Maybe it’s my responsibility and she expects me to pursue that on my own. Maybe that’s fair. I’m in my 30’s and I know how to put those shiny BIG GIRL panties on.
But what about other patients? What if the patient was someone younger, less experienced in life, less experienced in her own patterns, someone with zero idea what her issue is and no idea about non-drug tools that may help? When depression presents as excessive rage, a 21-year old isn’t necessarily going to understand what’s happening.
It has crossed my mind that since I feel high anyway, I could just quit the meds and pop a marijuana edible any time I feel the urge to drink.
I wouldn’t have to do it every day. That’s a bonus. It’s not natural to have a constant flood of neurotransmitters hanging out between receptor sites. If it was natural, I wouldn’t feel high.
I don’t think these meds “balance” anything, I think it’s a blanket. This blanket may be appropriate for a short period of time. I mean, sure, it feels great. It’s a doctor-approved hall pass straight into buzzville.
The recreational drug Ecstasy also works by manipulating Serotonin levels in the brain. Antidepressants are believed to be safe because they simply keep Serotonin that was already in the “pool” hanging out for a longer period, whereas Ecstasy dumps a huge new waterfall into the pool.
X is believed to harm the brain as a direct result of that Serotonin dump. It follows that if an antidepressant manipulates the same chemical, although in a different way, people should be cautious. It is my personal belief that these meds should be a last resort.
So that’s my confusion. I’ve found something that helps me, but I think I’m playing with fire.
Admittedly, there’s an element of voyeurism here. I’m watching in fascination, like any good psychonaut.
Obviously, since I’ve taken Ecstasy and LSD in the past, I’m not someone who is afraid to play with fire. I’m not terrified about the dangers of drugs. But I feel that doctors should be afraid to play with fire. At least with psychedelics, once you enter and exit you’re finished. You’re not taking them every day.
Since I’ve had lots of practice at not drinking, I’m hoping I’ve trained my brain not to go there. I’m hoping it’s something I can continue to practice without the aid of a prescription drug.
I’m hoping that the holes in my wall can serve as a visual reminder of why I don’t drink anymore. Last time I busted holes in the wall, I covered them up with a huge Smashing Pumpkins flag. This time around, I chose not to cover them. They stare me in the face every time I sit down to drink my morning coffee. I don’t feel shame anymore, I feel a desire to patch the holes and fix the issue that caused them.
Two roads are before me. I can do what the doctor wants and possibly relapse into an episode later anyway when I come off the drug, or I can take matters into my own hands, go organic, and resolve to try harder.
It’s like those choose-your-own-adventure books from the 80’s, only without the dragons and with a story that is simultaneously boring and super messed up.