February 22, 2006

To pop the pill or not

I'm sipping some vodka sours tonight because the little toe on my left foot fucking kills. Half asleep the other morning I got out of bed and promptly mashed it against something hard and ungiving, and now its swelled up and turned an angry purple and the little nail is threatening to abdicate, which sucks because I just had a pedicure.

The question was raised the other day by a doctor I see quite regularly as to whether or not I should go on medication, the mood-altering kind, the happy drug. He was yawning into his hand when he said it and I can't tell if he was serious or not, maybe he was just bored and wanted to shake things up, keep himself from falling asleep, it was almost six pm. Anything to get me to talk about something else? (We had been discussing Annette Benning's character, Julia, in the film Being Julia, and her method of gaining control over her life through exerting control over the fictions of her art).

True, I've had some strange behaviors lately. Seeing someone win gold at the Winter Olympics usually makes me cry, even if I know nothing about them or the personal struggles that they have had to overcome to make it to Torino. Commercials also often make me cry, as do personal interest stories on The Today Show, which is why I avoid it in the mornings. Just now, I spent about five minutes staring out the window at the house next door, where a television is playing and flickering blue lights outside their window onto their porch. But hey, that's a Minnesotan in February, isn't it?

Aside from that. I keep looking ahead for some arbitrary moment which I hope will represent a radical break in my existence. The test results. The business trip. Getting a haircut. Moving into a new apartment. I look forward to all of these as though they have the potential to be my own personal Antietam. I'm wishing I was a snake and could shed all my skin at one go by rubbing against a log thereby becoming a new man. Or a chrysalis, a metamorphosis. I keep thinking that something is going to happen a few days or weeks from now and things will be different, I'll be on top of things. I've been reading biological treatises on cell regeneration, and wondering at what point my cells will have regenerated themselves enough that I can accurately call myself "a new person..." It's all so Middle Clahss.

I say that with a British accent on purpose, of course, because a lot of my opinions on medication were formed by close associations with British blokes at particularly pivotal moments. "Get a journal," they would say, rather than take some pills. I believe that antidepressants are generally useful, but perhaps just not for me. I think they can take the edge of your depression, help you get out of bed, put things in perspective, but it doesn't absolve you of the work you need to do to determine why it is you can't get out of bed in the first place, does it?

For me, thoughts on happiness and depression can be encapsulated in one of the final passages from a great book written by A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide, which is a literary exploration of suicide, beginning with the final days (and final poems) of Sylvia Plath and ending with the author's own failed attempt at suicide:

Months later I began to understand that I had had my answer, after all. The despair that had led me to try to kill myself had been pure and unadulterated, like the final, unanswerable despair a child feels, with no before or after. And childishly, I had expected death not merely to end it but also to explain it. Then, when death let me down, I gradually saw that I had been using the wrong language; I had translated the thing into Americanese. Too many, movies, too many novels, too many trips to the States had switched my understanding into a hopeful, alien tongue. I no longer thought of myself as unhappy; instead, I had 'problems.' Which is an optimistic way of putting it, since problems imply solutions, whereas unhappiness is merely a condition of life which you must live with, like the weather. Once I had accepted that there weren't ever going to be any answers, even in death, I found to my surprise that I didn't much care whether I was happy or unhappy; "problems" and "the problem of problems" no longer existed. And that in itself is already the beginning of happiness.
Alvarez is British, and if you look past his particular brand of condescension toward 'American' ways of doing things, there's a call to deal with who you are on unaltered terms. And that's how I kinda feel. I'm me, this is how my mind works, this is me in my skin. Part of me wants to interface with myself on my own terms. Maybe I'm just stubborn.

Posted by jason at February 22, 2006 03:44 AM


What you need is some fuckin sunshine and a beach. No problem with you except for the fact that you live in Witch's-tittyapolis. It's cold, dreary, and boring this time of year.

I think it sucks that we're made to feel that our depressive moods are somehow created by us...like they're a fiction that we've stupidly managed to twist ourselves into. It's your environment. The same conditions you are in now wouldn't seem so bad if it were June. Sure, they'd blow, but at least you could ride your bike to work in the morning, or go on a date to Lake Harriet or whatever the fuck the name of that big-ass lake is. What you need is the Rooster Sedaris "Fuck-It Bucket" and a 2-liter of Mountain Dew.

Posted by: mike at February 22, 2006 12:51 PM

Oh, Mike, I miss the short time you lived here and when I would come to you depressed you would draw deeply on your Parliament, pause, exhale, cock your head and tip your jaunty cap, and winking like a Rip Van Winkle, look me straight in the eye and say, "you know what you need? you need to start running with me at six in the morning." For you, a three mile run was the cure-all, and I think that's pretty sound advice, minus the six am part.

Posted by: jason at February 22, 2006 12:57 PM

I'm just sayin...

Posted by: mike at February 22, 2006 01:22 PM

at this time of year running for me entails forty minutes on a treadmill listening to a mix of Madonna songs, Kelly Clarkson, and Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In while staring at my own hollow reflection in the windows of the Y-Dub.

Posted by: jason at February 22, 2006 01:38 PM

You could try working at the Elk's Lodge in whatever town it was in as a dishwasher. Best $10 an hour they ever spent, they said.

Posted by: mike at February 22, 2006 05:34 PM

Not. Because unless "depression" is impeding your ability to be self-sufficient (I'll leave that definition for you) they're not really going to help. The only thing things that pharmaceuticals do is allow your body to begin reacting again (?) to the sensory stimulus of the out-side world.

Perhaps the February in Minnesota environment is affecting you, but in my experience the only thing that drugs do is enhance your capacity to be distracted by everyday life. And I always remind myself, when I get the wanderlust/cabin fever, is that no matter where I go there I am. You seem like a good egg and I'm sure that you'll muddle though.

Posted by: Karl Winthrop at February 22, 2006 09:10 PM

Isn't that what Michael Brady ala the Brady Bunch used to say to his kids? "Whereever you go, there you are."

Hey Jason, when you go to work tomorrow, you'll be at work.

Posted by: mike at February 22, 2006 09:40 PM
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