Think; Are

I could tell you that your thoughts are just electrical and chemical activity. I could say that your thoughts make your personality, at least in part.  This would mean that tweaks to your electrical and chemical stew would change your personality.  In theory, you can handle that.

You might say, the real me is me when I’m sober.  I don’t have a brain tumor, or Alzheimer’s, or any other kind of dementia.  And before I drink those three mimosas, I am me in the morning.

Maybe.  We have Descartes to blame.  You think, you are?  How do you know?

My grandmother has started losing details and sequence.  At a family wedding, she asked over and over again, What were we doing next? The rehearsal dinner.  What’s a rehearsal dinner? Some of the time she seems perfectly with it.  Then her brain is all blurry in the “rehearsal dinner” section.  Sometimes her confusion makes her more irritable, sometimes it makes her more grateful.  Is she really a more grateful person, or a grouchier one?  Or do all these years at the end not “count”?

Once  a minister at our church had a heart attack.  He came back from the hospital a different person: grouchy, unable to remember anyone’s names.  Which person was he?  Before or after?

After three months of recurring panic attacks, I started taking antidepressants.  I’ve always hated the idea of psychiatric medication.  I’ve exercised hard and meditated and taken supplements and talked my neuroses out, begged and bargained with God and doctors, but I was still a mess.  Unable to stop a normal train of thought like, “What if I need to get out of here?” or “What if I freak out again?”  Normal brains just rattle on past those kinds of detours.  Mine required full effort to resist them.  It was exhausting.

Nine days into the antidepressants, I noticed that when I started to worry, I couldn’t worry with the same gusto.  I could worry for the normal minute,  I just couldn’t get myself inspired to follow the same detour.  I kind of wanted to, I had the instinct to, because my brain has gotten used to doing that.  I couldn’t, though, any more than I can cry on cue.

Emotions are electrical and chemical reactions. Thoughts are electrical and chemical events.  Me as cool customer and me as sick with anxiety are different personalities, different people, even.  I thought the former was normal me.  I think on the medication I feel like myself again.  But what do I know?

South Seas

The neurology PA is not much of a negotiator.  “No coffee, dairy, or alcohol,” she says.

“All my life I have worried that some doctor, somewhere, was going to tell me I couldn’t drink coffee or red wine, and this is that time,” I said.  My third round of weeklong headache.

“There are all kinds of fabulous teas out there,” she said.

Tea is for sissies.  And I am a writer.  I’m already not an alcoholic, so how can I compete with say, Ernest Hemingway?  Not with tea!

“And would you mind a B-12 injection?”

I would not.  After paying a $50 copay, I feel a little let down if they don’t stick me.  Let’s go.

Afterwards, I went to Whole Foods and bought an outrageously expensive vat of something that is supposed to make me feel better by putting it in the healthy smoothies that I don’t want to make.  This vat, with its somber, copious scrawlings, practically screams, “Cures mysterious illness!”

It was the product intended for every shopper at Whole Foods with mysterious symptoms or diagnoses.  It was something you could buy to make yourself feel better.  You could buy.  You could consume.  You would be okay.  Glug glug.

“Ooh, how many carbs are in that?” a woman behind me in line asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  And I didn’t care.  I might be being scammed, but then again, I didn’t really mind.  When a crazy drunk in a bar tells me a great story, which is probably a terrific lie,  I’m happy because it was so entertaining.  I don’t give a damn if it’s true.  Likewise,  if the protein powder made me feel like I was fixing myself, then I guess it was worth as much as a very nice bottle of wine.  Truth is in value, in the moment, not literalism.

The world of migraine is a world of fear.  My morning juice is too sugary!  My coffee is poison, further polluted with half and half!  My house could be crawling with mold!  Walking around the grocery store, everything looked delicious and forbidden.  Glorious, thick cow’s milk!  Aisles of red wine, each bottle’s heart beating fondly for me!  I popped a cute champagne-blonde cheese sample in my mouth, even though I’m not so fond of cheese, just to show my doctor who was boss.

No, not fear: adventure.  I spent 33 years in the dull realm of ibuprofin and Excedrin, and near-perfect health, but now my body is an exotic pharmacological playground.  It’s like I’ve moved from Kansas to the Caribbean.  Wild new sensations, vocabulary, landscapes, characters.  I may have moved there permanently– hard to say– so await further dispatches.  There is a giant whale of occasional head pain that swims by, and I am attempting to kill or capture it.  With greater success, I hope, than the protagonist of my dear hero, Mr. Melville, but with all that vim and vigor, and enthusiastic wordplay.