Sanity

Immediate apology: this is not about going crazy.  It’s about getting sane.  I know that’s less interesting.

But: some people like to read about how sanity can return.  Especially the currently insane.  If you’re not insane, and think you could never be, or that no tough, clever person could ever go crazy, then you can stop here.  And if you think insanity is sexy and exciting, like Van Gogh was sexy and exciting, you should go read some poetry by some dude on acid.  Or try cutting off your ear.  Enjoy.

After several months of antidepressants,  my panic attacks and anxiety have settled down.  I dropped back to worrying, only occasionally, that I might get crazy-anxious.   Normal-anxious is like oh, I’m worried about these bills.  Crazy-anxious is like, oh, God, the walls are pressing in.  It’s definitely hard to understand if you’re not, you know, insane.  Six months ago, I never would have believed it.

It comforted me to refer to myself as insane, as sick.  It suggested that I could get sane, and well.   I have.  (Knock on wood.)

I told an old friend, “If I had done drugs with you back in the day, this wouldn’t seem so scary to me.  I would be used to having my head messed with.  It wouldn’t scare me so much.”  He agreed that this was a great loss.  My previous experiences with mind-altering substances weren’t good preparation for psychiatric drugs.  Because I am a ninny.

The first drugs that messed with my mind were actually for migraines.  One induced my first official panic attack.  Then, with another, I had that oft-mentioned “thoughts of suicide” thing.  Yeah, that’s unpleasant.  At least the tone of these thoughts didn’t sound like me (even crazier, right?).  So I felt sure that it was a side effect, and not something I’d brought to the party.

After such unpleasant experiences, I had to be in a lot of discomfort to try another drug.  It took months of wrestling crazy-variety anxiety for me to voluntarily add the anxiety of ingesting new chemicals.  I thought taking antidepressants would mean I was weak and crazy.  Well, I was weak and crazy.  Before and after I took the pills, I obsessively read about them.  I realized, to my chagrin and to my amusement, that you can’t really believe any of those drug reviews because they’re all written by crazy people.  Especially the reviews of anxiety drugs!  If leaving the house could scare me silly, how do you think I felt about pills from a bottle covered with stern official medical warnings?

(Aside: I love the website crazymeds.com , which is irreverent to the point of crudeness.  It’s the only place I found descriptions and explanations on this topic that left me wry rather than depressed.  Sample text: “If you’re in shock about or trying to understand the whole overwhelming deal of medications and being classified as some flavor of mentally interesting / mentally ill / batshit crazy, or want to know what this site is all about, just keep reading.  I know, the meds suck donkey dong.)

“The worst thing in the world would be to know that you were losing your mind,” someone told me.  “Not really,” I said.  “Been there.  Done that.”  Accepting you’re sick in the head, getting brave enough to be labeled as sick, and take scary pills.  Ugly clouds.  Two small silver linings: I have huge new empathy for the mentally ill (many of them are way worse off than me), and I’m no longer afraid of losing my mind.  Been there.  Done that.

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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?