I write this with the disclaimer that it is purely my experience. It’s not a rant about pharmaceuticals or a comment on what anyone else needs or should do.
I went to my doctor in August, 2013. My mum had been diagnosed a few weeks earlier with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, although I knew it well before the words were said. I was told I had a 50% chance of it happening to me. I was breaking apart. My mum was my anchor to stability and with the loss of her guidance and protection I felt untethered from my roots. I have never been a bird. Always a tree, needing something to ground me. I was crying a lot. Worrying. Letting the loss of her, and the potential future loss of me, steal the simple joy of every day. I would stand with the other mothers beside a frosty soccer field watching our children and feel so removed, so apart. I was grieving. It was too much. My doctor suggested an antidepressant (citalopram, to be precise). I grabbed at this chance to feel better like a drowning person to a life raft.
What followed was a time of my life I have trouble believing even happened, although it did happen, and is well-documented in my diary. Yes, I stopped crying. Yes, I found it easier to get out of bed in the morning. Yes, I survived.
I also stopped sleeping. My pattern of falling into blissful sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow was replaced with constant insomnia and daytime naps most days. I felt even further removed than I had before. I would stand in the midst of conversations and wonder what on earth was going on. I was at once frantic and lethargic – unable to sit still and write or meditate or read or sleep; yet struggling to pull together the energy to get the washing in or cook dinner. I would drink, and drink, and drink, and still feel unsatisfied. For the first time in my life I was unable to stop drinking for anything, or anyone. I stopped feeling the love of people around me. Instead of being immersed in it, present in it, it was like watching a sunrise through frosted glass. I wanted so much to feel something that I went to extremes, did things out of character and woke up ashamed and aching, yet still oddly numb. It wasn’t just my drinking off switch that was broken. My every off switch was broken. The only time I have ever thought in a logical and determined way about suicide has been while on that medication.
I am a force to be reckoned with, normally. A wildly determined creature, wanting to prove things and make waves and be noticed and remembered. I wasn’t like that, in the past year or so. I became focused on gritting my teeth and surviving. Nothing felt painful, yet nothing felt pleasurable.
On a whim, I stopped taking the medication. The first week and a half was misery. I had trouble eating and sleeping and was so dizzy I had to literally kneel with my forehead on the floor several times a day to let it pass. My mood swung between anger and misery.
A month later, a week or so ago, I sat with my mum and talked with her about how she was feeling. We laughed and then we held each other and cried and cried and cried. I went away for a week and came home to my kids and held them and it was like being showered in joy. I went for a run yesterday and was so overwhelmed by how gorgeous the sky was that I had to lie on the grass and smile at it. I had to send a friend a message tonight to tell her how much I love her, just because.
This is what feeling is. It is delightful. I’ve missed it so much. I’ve no desire to mess with it again, no matter how painful life gets.
I was grieving, and still am. I’m allowed to do that and still feel joy and everything in between. I’m so happy to be here.