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I used to think that letting yourself feel the full range of emotions that exist in the world made you stronger, that it meant you were truly alive. The pinnacle of life, the juicy peach of what it means to be human. To me, people with a flat emotional range who walked through life with a dull and subdued response, were lacking in some vital process of living. Often I envied them, but mostly, I pitied them.
Now that it’s been seven full days that I’ve been back on antidepressants, I don’t really know if I’m feeling the fullest extent of my emotions. My dad called me earlier today, but I could only speak to him briefly, giving him very short responses. We’d had an argument a few days before I turned 29 (that dreaded age), and then he didn’t even wish me happy birthday.
That hurt me a lot. It still hurts me. It’s something I would never have expected from him. Mum, maybe, but Dad? He was the one who had always been so hard on me and my siblings about “being the better person”, dropping your pride and ego in order to save important relationships. And yet, I heard nothing from him on the 4th of September. Not even a shitty “thank you” response to my Father’s Day text telling him that I loved him.
So when he phoned me, I thought I would feel enraged or disappointed. Surprisingly, I didn’t. Or perhaps I did, but right now it feels as though my emotions have been stretched out, distilled into smaller doses which I can process, rather than bowling me over in strong surges of uncontrollable inclinations. I guess this is a good thing. I am still me, after all.
I am still me, despite the absence of intensity. It’s something that I – and everyone who knows me – would agree is one of my defining characteristics.
I still remember my friend, Sophie, looking at me with such aversion in her inability to understand. “You’re such an emotional person, Justine,” she said. “Sometimes you’re just too much.”
Her blue eyes widened and her hands clenched to accentuate the “too much.” I felt ashamed, but resented her for criticising me for my feelings and the way I expressed them. She is definitely one of the more subdued in terms of emotions, letting life hit her where it may and always reacting in the same, confined way. If my emotional range varied from 0 to 100, hers was 0 to 10.
Surprisingly, I don’t regret starting on medication again. I’m also less critical about the stigma and side-effects now than I was ten years ago when I first tried to manage my overshadowing depression. Back then, within twenty minutes of speaking to a GP I had never seen before, I was prescribed Effexor, an incredibly potent anti-depressant. I vividly recall the doctor endorsing the product, even opening her drawer and giving me a shiny, new packet to start on straight away.
My friend, Nicki, who studies Psychology, has bipolar, is a hypochondriac and self-thought expert on all things mental health and medication, told me shortly afterward that GPs at the time were awarded a bonus for prescribing the drug.
Within two weeks of taking Effexor, I rebelled against the sudden numbness and coupled with the shame of taking anti-depressants, immediately went cold turkey – a big no, no in the anti-depressant taking world. My strongest memory of that decision is driving my car with my older sister in the passenger seat calming talking me out of steering the wheel into oncoming traffic, tears streaming hot and persistent down my face. From then, I adamantly never looked back. Until now.
Seven days ago, I actually asked my doctor to prescribe me anti-depressants, something I had consciously chosen not to do, despite the occasional hiccups of overwhelming pessimism and stubborn foreboding. But two months into a breakup had seen me plummet into a dangerous pit of grief, anxiety, self-pity and debilitating distress with no foreseeable hope of clawing myself out. Already prone to depression and aware of an obvious trend in my family, I knew that medication would be my only chance to initiate a road to recovery I wasn’t prepared or resourced enough to make on my own.
I’m seeing the fruits of this leap of faith in pharmaceutical aid. A day before starting the medication, in the swirling cigarette smog of her living room, I quietly confessed to my friend, Melissa, that if anything were to happen to me, I wouldn’t care. It was only the thought of hurting my siblings that prevented me from acting on my darker thoughts.
In no way am I miraculously fixed. Meds or no, that kind of blind and blanketed optimism still swells a sea of rage in me. In no way am I painless, or joyful, or filled with resolve. But I am suffering less than I was seven days ago. My eyes have opened just enough to see a glimmer of light that hints at a future I could possibly be interested in. It doesn’t seem like much, but for this I am grateful.
Written by J. B. E.
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