I apologize for the length in advance. I wrote it, because I think some can relate to it. Some will find it depressing, but others actually might be strangely encouraged.
This was written when I was particularly down, a couple years ago. And I’ve talked about this, on the air, at my last Christian radio job. I’m glad I did, too, save for some of the response: “Well, you don’t have enough faith, and…” “You’re not living in Victory, brother…” and “You are giving in to a Satanic attack, and…” and the equally legalistic “You’re just not doing the right kind of Positive Thinking, and…”
Well, thanks, there, partner. But there’s also the reaction of, “I’m so glad someone else understands. And God hasn’t given up on me.”
Also, since I wrote this, I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Since that diagnosis, I’ve read that taking a low dosage of an anti-depressant is not an uncommon way for adults with AS to battle the “haunting fear of failure”, as one doctor put it.
Truth is, our neurology is dynamic. It’s not a one-way street: Our decisions are shaped by our physiology, and our physiology is shaped by our experience. And — duh — we can’t control our past experience. You don’t know what I’ve been through, and I don’t know what you’ve been through. That realization, alone, has helped me become less judgmental.
My adult life was blessed before I started with the drugs. My marriage was outstanding, I was a good employee, had career “success”, and I believe God used me at times.
But the difference now? Now, I can rest. That’s all I know. Lord have mercy on me, and I hope you do, too. Mostly, please know, if you take Prozac or something — I understand you.
My name is Brant, and I’m on mind-altering drugs.
And that is both the best first line, ever, on this blog, and — distressingly –it’s also quite true.
Fluoxetine, to be exact. 20 mg a day. It’s for my brain, which isn’t normal. Or, perhaps it’s very normal, given the millions currently taking fluoxetine, or its name-brand equivalent, Prozac. I’ve been taking fluoxetine for the past year, and there hasn’t been a day I haven’t struggled with the fact that I’m messing with my brain. And there hasn’t been a day I’ve been as viciously angry at myself as I had been in my entire, conscious life. I suspect I was angry at myself when I was lying in a neo-natal unit. My guess: I heard the cries of other babies, and wondered why I was failing to help.
It’s been this way from the start. Evidence is immaterial. I’m a failure.
I remember sitting next a woman, and sobbing. My life had been wasted. I’d accomplished nothing, and the sorrow of it all was descending on me. The vanished years! I’ve done nothing! Where did the time go? Life is too fast, rushing by like a freight train, and I couldn’t get on it.
The woman comforted me, and tried to understand, and I think she did, if only because that’s the way moms are. But she may have wondered how a seven year-old could consider himself an abysmal failure.
I started taking drugs because of this blog. I posted about an odd day, when my self-esteem was downright okay, and how thrilled I was to be thinking more about others. Weeks later, a very good friend, and very wise doctor-friend at that, told me HE was taking anti-depressants, and I should look into it. So I did, and within a day – literally, after a pill! – my mindset was different.
I know it’s not supposed to happen that fast, and I can tell you I’m not given to the placebo-effect. But everything changed. I wasn’t angry. I was patient. I thought about myself less. I didn’t consider myself a failure. I was actually content with my station in life.
I could take naps, because I wasn’t roiling with regret. I couldn’t take naps before! I’d previously lie there and think about how I blew it on the air this morning; how I never should have quit talk radio; how I shouldn’t have said that one awkward thing five, 10, or 25 years ago; how I’d wasted whatever I’d been given; how I’d failed to provide a yard for my kids to play in; how the years were slipping by, and, though my wife said differently, I just knew I wasn’t doing enough as a dad or a husband or a child of God.
No, it’s not rational. But none of this is. And it was self-absorption, too, which gave me something else to feel failed about.
But I take a little pill, once a day, and wham — I can think about other people. I think I’m okay. I can sit and relax and fall asleep. I can be on the air, do something stupid, like I do daily, and move on. Happens to the best of ’em, you know? One little pill, and I’m a better person.
And that, friend, is the disturbing thing. As a Christian, I’m uncomfortable with purely mechanistic explanations for our behavior. Friends say, “What’s the struggle? Taking this pill is just like taking Tylenol for an ache.” But no. No, it’s not. I take this pill, and I’m morally better. I’m not kidding.
Think about it: They tell addicts about “HALT”. Watch out, they say, when you’re Hurt, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. That’s when you’ll be most apt to succumb to temptation, to be given to weakness, to engage in behavior and thoughts you know you don’t want to do or entertain. Look out when you’re Hurt. Angry. Lonely. Tired.
Imagine taking a pill and, suddenly, you’re not hurt, or angry, or lonely, or tired. You’ll be less likely to succumb to temptation. Your need to retreat into bad habits, addictions, and destructive behavior lessens dramatically. So you don’t — because of a pill. You’re more patient with people, more loving, more joyful, more peaceful; less likely to argue, less bitter, less angry, less selfish.
That ain’t Tylenol, folks. That’s messing with who you are.
Ironically, in my euphoria about being, at last, “released from myself” – I felt like my head had cooled off, my mind had stopped over-heating after all these years – I was a bit angry about one thing: I was wondering, “So — is THIS how it’s been for everyone else? ‘Normal’ people feel this way? They don’t constantly berate themselves? They can simply enjoy a sunny day?”
I began to understand simple contentment, simple delight, simple patience, and I’m telling you, it’s not fair. All my life I had to put up with that melancholia? And other people could be happy? No fair. This is how other people see the world?
And it’s easier now, for me to be a moral, other-centered person, content to listen to someone else without worrying about my failed self? This is how other people have it?
How does God judge people? Did He judge me differently, because of my brain chemistry, so easily altered?* If I had more seratonin, like other people, I would’ve been happier, more content, less apt to “sin”. The debate over mind/body interaction, the physical and the spiritual, is an ancient one.
But now I go to CVS, stand in line for a moment, and I’m handed the whole of the issue in a little brown bottle.
This ain’t Tylenol.
I’m anti-drugs, by the way. I think we’re way over-prescribed, as a culture. So yeah, I’m generally anti-drugs. I just use them.
Believe me, a fair-minded person cannot easily dismiss marijuana use while popping 20 mg of fluoxetine every day. It’s just not a simple issue. Yes, one’s legal, the other’s not, but that rather begs a question, doesn’t it? I’m not pro-legalization. I’ve argued with those groups before on the radio. I still would, for a number of reasons. But let’s just say I know how I’d argue with me now.
My new sticker idea would cover the whole bumper: “Just say no, and yes, but mostly no, but kind of yes, for me.”
Ever read Flowers for Algernon? I did, and I’ve been thinking about that little mouse a lot, lately. For some reason, I’ve been growing depressed these last days. I’ve wondered about the efficacy of the pills, and sure enough, for a third of users, Prozac wears off in a year or so. As I say, it’s been a year or so.
I don’t want to go back. As you can tell, I struggle with this. I struggle with treating a melancholy, critical personality as though it were aberrant, and as though the shiny, happy, faces were the ideal. I struggle with wondering if I won’t produce that something, that I-don’t-know-what, that I would have were I not medicated. (I’m no Mozart, but would W.A.M. have been placed on meds, were the opportunity there? Certainly so, and then what would he have given us?)
I struggle, but please — I don’t want to go back. It may not be me, but I like the new guy better, the one with the normal seratonin. He thinks of other people more, has more time for them, and can enjoy the sun and the sand, and, while his brain is atrophying on the beach, he at least isn’t angry about it.
I don’t want to go back.
Is Jesus enough?
Of course He is.
Of course He is, and I also have some other things.
I have Jesus, Who is enough, and I have what, apparently, pretty much everyone wants: A beautiful, smart, funny wife, and beautiful, smart, funny kids. And good health — I can run for many miles. And hair. And I have Jesus.
I’m a ridiculously privileged white male in the richest area of the most materially-successful culture in man’s history. I have a family-friendly job with a great boss. I don’t ever shave. I have a loving, adventurous church community, loaded with friends. I have a well-behaved, if poorly-balanced, three-legged beagle. I have a Taylor and a Martin. And I have Jesus, too.
I talk gooder than most. I get to travel the world. I get to help children in poverty-stricken nations. I live next door to the spring training stadium of my most beloved sports team, and occasionally even do P.A. for them. I even get to sign autographs for sweet little kids. Oh — and I have Jesus, too.
I’ve got peace in my home. So much so, in fact, that I rarely discuss it, for fear of making people gag reactively. I’ve got good credit, and no debt. How about that? I’ve got that, along with Jesus.
He’s my “All in All”, and “all I want”, and “all I need”, and “everything I ever wanted”, and in case I should forget, I sing the words frequently. Jesus is all I need.
Except, apparently, for these little pills.
Welcome to the planet, as it now is.
Tie that one into a bow.
*A note: As I say, I wrote that a few years ago. I’m still on fluoxetine, and still thankful for it.
One thing that HAS changed: My appreciation for the Gospel. I asked the question, “How does God judge us?” Well, now… I think I get it. He knows our brain chemistry, our upbringing, our experiences, better than we even know ourselves. Yes, some have it easier than others. But all are sinners. So how does He judge us? If we’re in Christ, we’re fine, because Jesus met the standard. We’re given credit for what HE did. He is, in the most wonderful and profound and final sense, “enough”.
Yes, life is unfair, and I’ll take it.