I wrote and published two books in two years which changed my life in ways I didn’t expect.
I was expecting creative fulfillment and I got that.
I wasn’t expecting to come to a realization about my own mental health.
Both my novels deal with PTSD and I’ve gotten so many emails from readers telling me their stories about depression and their journeys about anxiety. In listening to these people, most of them strangers, I felt a call to live the truth of who I am.
And who I am is largely dictated by how I feel.
And I feel way too much.
I take anti-depressants. And I will the rest of my life.
I’m forty-seven years old. I had my first panic attack in fourth grade. I didn’t get the proper help for my depression until I was in my late thirties. And then I spent another decade thinking that my depression was, first, post-partum. And then thinking it was post-traumatic. And then thinking it was just seasonal. And I would go on and off the meds as I deemed it was “necessary,” sometimes hand-in-hand with therapy, sometimes not.
Hey, usually I’m a fast learner. This wasn’t my usual learning curve. Years of personal observation and data collecting and denial but finally I realized that how I felt on the meds was a whole lot better than off them. Off them, I felt too much. And maybe some people think for an artist—of any ilk, visual, dancer, singer, musician, writer—there’s no such thing as feeling too much.
If there is no boundary between what is real and what is imagined, then yes, there is feeling too much. Extremism in any form is never a good thing.
I noticed that off the meds, I lived in extremes. I had a tendency to not want to leave my house, to get very anxious when driving new places or being in unfamiliar situations. I would stop eating for periods of time. I would avoid intense situations or conversations. Avoid movies and books and, especially, the news and the world. I avoided connecting because disconnecting made me anxious. And all the while I was trying to numb out, I’d just feel everything. Everything affected me. I was a permeable membrane. The most impressionable of impressionists.
And I knew I wasn’t alone in this.
You out there…nodding while you’re reading this. You know what I mean, right? Hold my hand. We know.
People like you and me, we have too many nerves and not enough skin. That’s the issue. Too many nerves. Not enough skin.
We feel things straight to our bones. We’re radar dishes.
We take in everything and we feel everything. We feel pain that doesn’t even belong to us. We are the animal shelter of feelings. We rescue everything. On the plus side, this makes us artists. On the minus side, it makes us anxious and often depressed because why? Too many nerves, not enough skin.
I came to a decision, or rather, a revelatory acceptance that I need to be on the meds. And I’m going to keep taking them because they make me better.
A better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better human.
And a better writer.
I say this with conviction. I wrote my first book off the meds. I wrote the second on them. I say with brutal self-honesty that both books pack the same emotional punch, but the second has the edge in clarity. It’s a better book. I was in a better place writing it. I want to stay in that place while I write more books. The meds slice off the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum where nothing good happens, and they give me some extra skin.
If I had diabetes, I’d take insulin. If I had asthma, I’d carry around an inhaler. If I were hearing impaired, I’d wear an aid. If I had rotten vision…wait a minute, I do have rotten vision. I’m blind as hell and I don’t go around suffering and squinting: I put my glasses on…
…Where are my glasses?
(They’re on my head)
It’s not about control. It’s not a contest to see who deals with it the best. It’s about feeling better.
Life is too short to not feel better. We—and I mean, you, me, anyone out there who knows where I’m coming from—we take the meds because we were born with (say it with me) too many nerves and not enough skin.
We have less than perfect emotional vision and the meds are our glasses.
End of story.
And beginning of a better one.
Assistant Editor: Kelly Chesney / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Carsten Schertzer/Flckr