When I first discovered that depression was pretty much the source of most of my troubles, the reason I hadn’t been able to build the life I wanted, and sought professional help, my MD referred me to a beautiful lady shrink at Emory (let’s call her Susan Silverman, for those in the know, because she would have been perfect). I met with her a couple of times, and she explored my history then referred me to another shrink in the program she thought would work well with me.
One thing she told me before I started working with the other doctor has always stuck with me.
I was talking about anti-depressants, and expressing concerns about side effects I’d read about (like their notorious sexual side effects). I mentioned reading about people complaining about their meds because they not only helped them avoid the really horrible downs, but they flattened out their ups as well. And they missed feeling so good, being so productive, and often went off the drugs to have those states again, even if it meant a return to the worst parts of their suffering. (And sometimes wound up killing themselves.)
I said I was worried about losing my own highs. She smiled (and man, did I tell you she was beautiful?), and said she didn’t think that was a concern because in talking with me, it sounded to her like I hardly ever reached the baseline of a “normal” mood, much less had any actual unusual highs. And when I thought about it, I realized she was probably right.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’ve felt happy. I’ve enjoyed a great deal of pleasure. I’ve experienced pure joy in being a father over the years. And I had a pretty good time when I was younger, before the disease got worse and worse. But even then, I had the downs, and they hurt relationships and shattered dreams year after year after year.
I’m kind of having a down right now. And it feels great.
Well, okay, maybe not great. I’m unfocused, moody, lacking in motivation, and still feeling some sadness from recent hurts. Not necessarily the stuff dreams are made on. Except, at the moment, it kind of is.
As you may know, I recently underwent a ten session course of ECT, electroconvulsive therapy, good ol’ fashioned shock treatments, where they knock you out and shoot bursts of electricity through your brain. (I’ve written about it pretty extensively here on the blog, if you’re interested). And afterwards I was doing great, except I was sort of freaking out emotionally. The intensity of my feelings seemed way higher than normal and my mood was flipping from sunshine to apocalypse in a heartbeat, often because of some little thing of hardly any actual importance.
I told my son about it, and expressed a hope my emotions would settle down soon, and he asked why, pointing out that feeling things intensely was a good thing, right? And he was right. The more muted emotions I was no longer experiencing were the feelings of a depressed brain. The ECT had somehow cleared the synapses, opened up the channels, revved my psychological engine…something. Now it wasn’t a matter of regaining that lost depressive state, but a matter of adjusting to the heightened, more passionate state I was in.
I didn’t need to hit the mute button, I needed to learn how to use the controls.
So far, time has proven my incredibly smart ‘n’ wise spawn correct. My feelings haven’t diminished, even though my moods are fluctuating naturally and I’m having off days like we all do. My feelings, and my senses, and my thoughts…hell, I think even my physical rate of motion, are all still turned up.
But I’ve gained control of myself. Disappointments, even major disappointments, don’t devastate me, don’t crush my ability to do what I plan to do, don’t turn me into a neurotic lump of unpredictable protoplasm. They disappoint. They may make me sad. But I can process the feelings and turn my focus onto other things. This, my friends, is not just an improvement over how I was just after the ECT, it’s an improvement over the way I’ve been for at least a couple of decades.
There used to be this thing that would happen, where I’d wake up all revved up and ready for the day, plans in my head for the things I was going to do, sure I was finally going to get my life in order…and my (then) wife would say or do something that killed my mood, made me angry or sad, and all that life force and focus would just disperse into darkness. She could never understand how I’d let one little thing fuck up my entire day. My shrink eventually told me it’s actually a neurological event. In the depressive mind, chemical reactions that spur us to action simply cease when hit with a negative stimulus and it becomes nearly impossible to take the desired action. It’s like a biochemical pulling of a plug, and suddenly the depressed person is like a computer without charge. They ain’t doin’ anything.
That’s not happening to me now. The past couple of weeks I’ve kept control of myself, regardless of outside stimuli, regardless of present emotional state, and I’ve gotten everything done, every day, that I planned to do. I’ve written nearly seven thousand words on my current novel, written my pulp column for Inveterate Media Junkies, and done some blogging too. I’ve exercised every day, biking and walking and swimming, and following the 100 Pushups plan I’ve gone from doing 44 pushups on Day 1 to 71 on Day 5. I’ve even meditated every day.
I feel like me fifteen years ago, if I’d actually been on the ball. I’m vital and able and in control. A couple of people who’ve known me for decades tell me I look better than I have in years. I’m in shape and getting more fit every day. And I’m getting a lot of positive attention, and having more social contact, than I have in a long time.
So the past few days, when my mood has fluctuated down somewhat, and I haven’t felt all revved up and on task, I’ve still felt pretty damn good because I’ve still done what I wanted to do. If you’re used to that, to pushing through the crappy days and doing your daily grind anyway, that may seem a pretty feeble victory to crow about.
But to me, it’s epic.