I’m expecting a dollar from the imagination fairy

July 3, 2008 § 6 Comments

This week I started therapy to get my brain in shape.  In two weeks I’ll start physical therapy to try and get my back, legs, hips, stomach, arms and neck in shape.  No need to work on the small distance between neck and shoulder, that’s in the top 1 percentile.

Two minutes into my first session, my counselor had me pegged as a catastrophizing major depressive.  Now I’ve been insulted before, on a number of occasions.  A man at Soldier Field called me the C-word AND he said I was fat, but really, CATASTROPHIZING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE?  You take that back.  With his notebook propped on his knee he asked me why I thought I’d started catastrophizing things (don’t know).  He asked me what exactly trigged my depression (don’t know).  He asked me what started my chronic pain (ice) and finally, what started my dependence and addiction to pain medication (well, ice and Microsoft Word, I guess).

The first time I was prescribed Vicodin, I had slipped on the ice outside our apartment, and rather than let myself fall to the ground, I caught myself and jerked my spine back up into a standing position.  I can replay that moment like a FILMSTRIP, hoping, praying, that this time I’ll just fall down and spare myself the nightmare years that followed.  After taking two days off of work, unable to walk, my doctor called in a prescription for muscle relaxants and vicodin.  I took one of each and fell into a peaceful sleep, so happy to have some relief.  After two or three days, I began to feel better, and the pills sat untouched in my medicine chest for months.  But as we all know now, that was not the end of my back problems nor the end of my prescriptions.

The difference was that the next time I needed my vicodin I wasn’t tired.  I was wide awake and hurting.  And what happened was that I experienced the greatest night of writing that I ever had or ever will encounter in my life.  I sat, painfree, at my computer and my mind filled and spilled over with ideas; poetic phrases, literary allusions, plots and symbols, people, places and things.  My depression was non-existent, pushed far away somewhere, and after weeks and weeks of coming home from work, barely speaking and then going to bed, I found I had more energy than I could ever imagine.  But it wasn’t a wild, manic, racing energy.  I was peaceful, content, optimistic, brimming with creative energy.  Potential.  For the first time in a while I wasn’t thinking about my back, or how I could have cancer and not know it, or my infertility.  I was just writing.

Twenty three pages later I realized it was three o’clock in the morning and, smiling ear to ear at my accomplishment, I went to bed.  

As time went on my back got worse and my depression persisted – feeding on 9/11, infertility, losing my job, weight gain and constant, unrelenting pain. I turned noticeably pessimistic, my sister’s depression had come and gone, treated and released, while mine grew unchecked.  But my Vicodin put me at ease.  With two pills I could feel my favorite sensations: relief,peace,contentment,creativity.

I’ve never understood people who get “high” on painkillers, and I’ve been on ALL of them.  I’ve also been drunk.  I know the tipsy, giggly, loud, uninhibited behavior, the freedom, the invincibility.  I know what it is to be “loopy”.  To be “flying”.  I never felt that with Vicodin.  It was quite the opposite.  I was focused, ambitious and determined.  I felt the “passion” for art that I’d had when I was younger and that I’d lost track of somewhere late in the nineties.

Soon I realized that I was taking this medication every day and I was afraid of being without it.  Not only because I couldn’t even sit in a chair without wincing, but because I had fully convinced myself that I couldn’t write or scrapbook or devise a catering business or teach myself German without it.

My therapist nodded as I told him all these things, things that I hadn’t told other doctors for fear of being labeled a ‘drug seeker’.  He told me that it made perfect sense.  One of the functions of painkillers is to act as a sort of antidepressant, a mood elevator of sorts, and that some doctors even use them as such, depending on the kind of depression the patient was suffering.  While this cleared up a lot of questions for me, I felt a tremendous sadness, knowing that way back then I had essentially found the antidepressant that best worked for me, but I’d ended up abusing it as my tolerance grew and now it’s gone.

A few months ago I told my aunt that I was afraid of being without painkillers not only because of the pain, but because I was afraid I’d never feel that passion and creativity again. I would, in essence, lose my imagination.  And whether it’s self fulfilling prophecy or not, it’s true.  I have no desire to write anymore and I don’t make time for it.  I have no desire to return to pottery, to paint, to act, to scrapbook, to cook.  I don’t want to throw parties.  I no longer walk the streets pretending that my life is being filmed.  I no longer pretend to be interviewed by Stone Phillips when I walk the dog. I no longer converse out loud with my characters while I drive alone in the car.  When I go to bed, I fall asleep, exhausted, rather than lie awake imagining what my dream bathroom would look like or planning an imaginary trip to Europe.

Sure enough, I have no imagination.

I don’t try to invent better ice cream containers or write letters to the editor.  I don’t make greeting cards or develop new recipes to send to Better Homes and Gardens.

And it’s time to realize that these things may never return.  I may never get that creative contentment back.  This is what I must come to terms with. Perhaps, like baby teeth, we are only granted our imaginations for a while, to steer us forward as we grow.  In the end, normal is to find satisfaction in your job, in your family, in reading a good book instead of day dreaming that you wrote it.  Normal is not talking to yourself in the car, or pretending your three speed bike is a prize racehorse as you coast down the “big hill” in your subdivision.

But I am not UNhappy.  I smile uncontrollably at my daughter; I feel safe and content in the arms of my husband.  My dog makes me laugh EVERY day. I have fun on vacation.  I sleep well.  My leg isn’t tingling with pain all the time.  I no longer have to worry about running out of pills, or getting my refill, or ruining my liver.

Through therapy I will train myself to believe that this is enough.  If euphoria can only be achieved chemically, then I suppose we were never meant to have it at all.


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§ 6 Responses to I’m expecting a dollar from the imagination fairy

  • allison says:

    you will always be creative j- it’s part of you, you didn’t outgrow it. i’m sure you will always have fond memories of talking with stone phillips, but there’s a change in your voice lately, it’s more upbeat. I recognize this voice from a long time ago. it’s not natural to be able to make yourself feel, calm, peaceful, inspired and imaginitive whenever you feel like it- now that feeling might only come once in a while, when you’re not expecting it- enjoy it while it’s there. Those are genuine moments.

  • Kathy says:

    I love you so much Jessica. I should tell you that more often. What I just read isn’t creative? HOGWASH! I went through a long period of just staying sober. I went to an AA meeting then to work and home to sleep. I still have a hard time being peppy after 10 months. They (the people who have been through what we are going through) tell me this will pass. I choose to believe them. What other choice do I have than to try to make a go of participating in my life. I try not to complain all the time about poor me. If I need something to be different to be content then I try to change it. Today I have the chance to make choices for myself. That , in itself, is exciting. Most people aren’t successful at kicking a habit like booze or pills. You aren’t most people, Jessica. I am going to stay off the booze and I think with honest commitment on your part, you will find the peace of mind you seek without pills. We all see the creativity in you everyday. You are going to realize, slowly, that there is alot to love about Jessica McCartney. Then you will see what we have been seeing all along. I love you Jessica.

  • Ann says:

    J – your creativity does not come from your ability to do things, it is who you are. It was a natural gift. The pills didn’t make the gift come alive, it stole the gift. It made you think you are nothing creatively without them. Not true, my friend, not true.
    I was going to bring up Brett Favre here, but I think you would reach thru the computer screen and choke me to death, so I will use another analogy. He is, of course, a Viking, so forgive. Tommy Kramer used booze to numb the pain. He was a fearless quarterback on booze. And I remember people commenting that after he got sober he wasn’t as good. He lost that edge. That wasn’t it. He was always a good quarterback – but every gift that God has granted to us we need to exericise and work at it. The Vicodin gave you a false gift. Just like the booze allowed Mr. Kramer to make crazy throws and take horrendous hits without pain (which would keep him drinking). You have a gift. Otherwise there wouldn’t be this blog, the one liners that come so naturally to you, the humor you infuse. Not just as a protective devise, but because you are funny. You just haven’t exercised your natural gift. Perhaps Vicodin was your steroid for writing. It made you a little stronger in a more immediate way. But you will get there naturally because you have that gift. It just may take a little more time. I love you my friend. And it is normal for you to have interviews with Stone Philips. Forget normal for everyone else – find what is your normal (not what you read and what others tell you) and embrace it. You are fantastic and, as my grandfather always said “I am glad I know ya!”

  • Ali says:

    The irony here is that you just wrote a KILLER blog that only a talented creative writer could pull off. So, I guess that makes you a talented, creative writer! Maybe your imagination is just coming from a different place now– a more grounded place. As you find your sea legs, I imagine that you and your inner child will reconnect on a much more meaningful level than the connection you made with your drug induced PERCIEVED inner child. In other news I feel as though I have not been there for you, J. I had no idea what you were going through all those years. But, that is no excuse. I want to say thanks for letting me in to your healing process. I am so proud to be your friend. I always have been.

  • Meredith says:

    Well what can I say that hasn’t already been said? You have really smart friends, and the company you keep says a lot about yourself. I know you’re creativity Jess, it’s always there, it’s an organ of your body. Detoxing from the pills didn’t remove your creative organ, it’s just adjusting to the new lifestyle. You may not be writing up a storm right now, but the blog is a new way that your creativity is expressing itself. And so are the ways you live your life. Just get through the day to day and continue to heal, the creativity will always come in spurts and waves. It’s always there, beating with your heart. It may sleep a little more often than it used to, but it will awaken again. I promise you this.

    I know that it’s still there, it speaks to me pretty often. Your creative whims have inspired me more in the last few months than in the last year alone.

    When the healed Jessica is strong and in control, you’ll realize that you like being her a whole lot better than the afraid and medicated one. And we’ll love her just as much.

  • Sheila says:

    Hi Jessica,
    just happened upon your blog. So many people have so much pain and joy in life and I believe it is so normal. I think you are so brave and really enjoyed your blog. Well done.

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