March 10, 2009

Considering a New Normal.

Posted in Adventures in brain chemistry at 10:05 pm by the Green-Eyed Siren

I picked up my new meds today. It was a simple enough thing to do. Walk into the drugstore, name, address, credit card swipe, sign on the dotted line, “Do you have any questions?”

“No. None.” Done.

Except that I have a great many questions. But since I don’t think that the pharmacist is prepared to deal with major existential issues of what it means to be human, and what makes up a personality, and at what point in medication do we alter ourselves past recognition, I didn’t ask.

I’m not ready to start this yet.

That’s OK. The doc wanted me to wait until the weekend to try the Ambien anyway, since there’s no telling how hard it will hit me and it would not do for me to be driving the kids to school in a comatose state. He also urged caution with the seratonin thing: best to take in the morning, for habit, but it could make me sleepy, so keep an eye on it. The antianxiety med is to be used “as needed” to get me through the next month while the other one works its way into my brain, but right now I feel calmer than I have in a couple of months. I think. Honestly, it’s very hard to distinguish true calm from tension so tight I’m simply immobilized.

A brief—but telling—aside: I’m not using names here for the two brain drugs not because I am being cautious about internet searches. It’s because I don’t actually know what they are. And somehow I cannot bring myself to go open the bag and look inside. Not yet.

But back to the point. I will not be starting this regimen for a few more days. I would consider trying the Ambien on Friday night followed by the Miracle Brain Fixer on Saturday morning, except that at 9 am Saturday I will be at Alice Millar Chapel on Northwestern’s campus with my tiny church choir group doing a recording of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. We sang it this past Christmas, but there was a recording equipment malfunction that prevented us from having a memento of the effort we put in to pull it off, so we’re heading over to that nice, boomy acoustic and putting it down as something for us to remember it by. While we’re there, I will be recording the solo version of Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium with the conductor accompanying me (he is a marvelous accompanist, and it’s a gorgeous piece that wallops me in the gut). I hope to be in good voice, because if I am, I think it’s my best shot of having a recording that will remind me, when the voice starts to wobble and I am filled with the regret of roads not traveled, of what I was capable of doing when I was at my strongest. There is absolutely no purpose to making this recording; no one will be the slightest bit interested in it. The Lauridsen is for no one but me. I am not usually so good at choosing selfishness, but in this case I will make an exception.

Thus, there will be no drugging for a few more days. I will take advantage of this time to sort through why this is really necessary (and attempt not to talk myself out of it). And to think hard about how I define myself, and what are my fears. And to wonder: what does normal feel like? Will I like it? Will the people who love me now still love me when I’m different? What is it to experience a truly good day? Does this mean the balance will change—from mostly being aware of all that is wrong, but with occasional ups that take me away from that awareness, to mostly being aware of all that is as it should be, with occasional downs that intrude on that sensation?

I’ll need to confront my worries about the scary unknowns. How will it change my singing? I was recently told to forgive myself for falling apart at the end of my Wondrous Love solo a week ago; that the transparent emotional connection I forge with the music is part of my gift, such as it is. Is that going to go away? How about my sense of humor? Life won’t be worth a bucket of warm spit if I can’t be acerbically funny when the occasion merits. ‘Cause the occasion merits quite often.

I realize that many people report only good results from taking this kind of action. I appreciate the perspective that says I have nothing to lose and only wonderful things to gain. But, you see, it’s my brain, and I have developed something of a fierce loyalty to it. Great affection, even. Willingly messing around with it freaks me out even more than having a tonsillectomy at age 19 freaked me out when I thought about doctors going anywhere near my instrument with knives. I won’t be comfortable with this until I can evaluate my own experience.

There are little things that will make it hard for me to stick with the plan. I don’t like being on meds. I do a piss-poor job of getting prescriptions refilled. I am freaked by the sticker shock of having to pay so much goddamn money for this thing that feels very optional. I will probably be a very unaccommodating patient.

But fear not. Take them I shall, if only out of a sense of obligation to 1) my family, who really do prefer it when I’m genuinely smiling, and 2) my doctor, who probably ignored three different patients to talk with me yesterday. I am nothing if not burdened by the desire to fully embrace my obligations. At least for now. Once I get started on the Road to Happiness, who knows? All hell could break loose as I decide that the state of our laundry is in no way my responsibility. Actually, that’s kind of a nice fantasy, now that I mention it. Maybe I should go open that bag right about now.



  1. harri3tspy said,

    Remember that if you don’t like it, you can stop taking it. No one will force you to take the whole bottle. If it’s not working or if it’s not worth it, stop. Also, I’d love to hear the recording. I bet you sound fabulous on the Lauridson. And I’d still love to hear the recording of the other one, the one for which my CD was blank.

  2. Deena C. said,

    Dear Siren,
    I think a lot of your fears about how the drug will affect your personality are reasonable, but that you will find that the drug effects your feelings, not your basic personaility. You can talk to I. about it–she’s been taking the stuff for years. She feels much better, but is not basically changed in any way. Also my friend W., who is as squirrelly as he ever was but feels better. Also keep in mind that if the first one you try doesn’t suit you for some reason you should try another one.
    My hope is that it would allow you now and then to do things the easy way.

  3. Florinda said,

    Deena is right – the meds shouldn’t change your personality at all. (My sense of humor retains its dark streak, for example.) But with time – and they do take time to work into your system; the change is not instantaneous – they seem to help make life easier to manage.

    I tried to talk myself out of them, too, and I resisted them until after I’d been in therapy for a couple of months, but I think it was the right call. Hopefully it will be for you, too.

  4. chel said,

    You don’t need a magic day to begin taking everything at once. A small step towards change you CAN direct may be to step back from perfectionism for a minute and try them one at a time. The SSRI won’t start to work instantly and won’t change who you are. What it will do is give your body the hormones it needs to find balance. There will still be happies and sads. Because it isn’t instant you don’t need a backup because it won’t cause you to oversleep, feel weird, or impair your driving.
    You may even find that with the edge off the depression anxiety becomes easier to manage. You deserve to be happy… not a forced smile or something that isn’t you but rather to be able to take in the world as it is and enjoy it sometimes.

    You may also find that some lifestyle changes could help. Regular date nights would help you find who you used to be by reconnecting with the husband who knew you when….. and still finds you wonderful. When ours were younger we traded off with another couple once a month. Frequently we went to the hardware store followed by a Starbucks in the same strip mall. It wasn’t fancy or formal but it was couple time and a piece of sanity.
    At some point the two school plan may also deserve evaluation. I chose our younger pair’s elementary school based upon the special needs of my middle daughter. My youngest is adaptable and could thrive anywhere and I know I’m capable of supplementing those pieces the environment is weak in for him. That gift to myself cut down on trips to schools, multiple calendars, overlapping end times, duplicate fundraisers, and lots of chaos.
    I’m thrilled you are recording this weekend. Music has been your passion as long as I’ve known you. If you are willing to share I’d love to hear it. Many many years ago in a costume workshop far far away during a soaring rendition of “Mack the Knife” a promise of comps to the Lyric was made, if you ever ended up there. This would be a thrilling substitute.

    I’m cheering for you

  5. bb said,

    proud of you.
    you’ll not lose your humor and it won’t turn you stupid, either.

  6. Pickle Horwitz said,

    I just now read your last two posts. All I can offer you is my love and support. Do what is good for you. Do what is good for your family. And try as you might to block out the noise of the outside world. It is the only way to really hear yourself.

    And for what it is worth, you are one brave mama.


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