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.