Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"What the Light Teaches"

Walhydra is still hiding out. Her edges feel way too edgy to share right now.

This is mainly because her
SSRI experiment was rudely interrupted one month in by her employer's health insurance HMO.

[Remember way back in the earliest days of the so-called "Reagan Revolution," when HMOs were supposedly invented to make health care and health insurance cheaper and more accessible?]

As she had been warned, Walhydra's first twelve days on Lexapro were a tormenting ride, her neurotransmitter levels ricocheting between artificial panic and long hours of befogged despair.

Then, on the second Monday, Walhydra woke up, did her tai chi foundations, had breakfast, went to work—and suddenly exclaimed: "Hey! I feel normal. Um...at least normal for me."

That evening she bowled a blissful three games, 40 pins above her average. She didn't even curse and swear if she missed a spare, but sat smiling beatifically.

"Well...maybe that isn't normal for me. But I hadn't realized until now just how far off the emotional path I'd wandered over the past half year or so. Whew!"

So, Walhydra went in for her follow-up doctor's appointment and got the prescription for a full month of Lexapro...which her health insurance company promptly denied.

"They won't pay for it," said the pharmacist. "They want you to take Zoloft instead. It's cheaper."

"#$%&*#@! capitalist robber barons!!!"

"Yes, well, um.... Your doctor can recommend special authorization."

The pharmacist called the doctor's office. "They said they can give you a few weeks' worth of samples while the appeal is processed."

Two weeks later her doctor's staff called: "Sorry. They denied the appeal. You'll have to wean yourself off Lexapro over the next two weeks and then start on Zoloft."

"SO I HAVE TO BE OFF WHAT'S ALREADY WORKING AND DEAL WITH A NEW SET OF SIDE EFFECTS TWO WEEKS BEFORE MOM'S CHRISTMAS VISIT?? AAAAAAAAGH!!!"

Anyway....

Walhydra is now back on the tormenting ride again, just starting the second week of Zoloft—which is barely making a dent so far.

One of her best friends at work says, "Just keep breathing." Walhydra's response is to hyperventilate, until her friend gives her a sideways look.

In any event, it's not the sort of condition in which one feels like telling personal stories—especially not amusing ones.

But...this morning Walhydra got
zapped once again by poetry, sent her by one of her favorite "old souls."

Walhydra read the piece first thing this morning at work, and it shocked her completely out of her self-centered whining—and lifting her, just momentarily, into that transpersonal awareness which links us all.

The passage her friend quoted is the first part of a long poem by Anne Michaels.

What the Light Teaches

Countless times this river has been bruised by our bodies;
liquid fossils of light.
We shed our ghost skins in the current;
then climb the bank, heavy and human.

The river is a loose tongue,
a folk song. At night we go down to listen.
Stars like sparks from a bonfire.
We take off what we are,
and step into the moon.
And so it is.

Blessèd Be.

3 comments:

lyn said...

Yikes, how to be sane in an insane world... isn't it a good sign to be a little depressed during these weird political times? How DO we evaluate our mental health? Drugs can be good; drugs can be bad; assistance is good...
Hang in there.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I am sorry to hear that your HMO is being awful about your medication, but very glad that the first medication you tried did help. Zoloft is actually a bit better than Lexapro in terms of side effects, at least to judge by the anecdotes told me by clients over the years I was a counselor. And it is only the first of a number of well-established, pretty low-symptom medications that your HMO probably will pay for without flinching. You will find relief!

If Zoloft is not effective, you might ask your doctor about Wellbutrin--also well-established and inexpensive (so HMOs like it). It doesn't work for everyone, and there are side effects some find quite disconcerting, but it's a medication that begins to be helpful quickly for many users, and has the added benefit of having less of an impact on the libido than most... Again, based on experience here, though of course I'm not a prescriber and don't claim detailed knowledge.

As to the idea that a little depression is a good thing... ah, how to put into words the difference between a depressed mood and the physical weight of clinical depression? No drug takes away our sadness and perception of tragedy. But when the physical momentum of depression takes hold, it's a struggle to do even ordinary things, to go out into the world and act, or to see what is hopeful out there. Or to enjoy a poem or a solstice sunrise.

It's not the case, as many fear, that antidepressants numb people to the pain of the world. Anti-depressants don't take away empathy or compassion or even yearning. But they give us enough of ourselves back that we can act, and do something to engage the sometimes sad and terrible world.

Sorry. Long and preachy--I don't mean to be. Suffice it to say, my heart is with you. And thank you for the poem--it is a very speaking one.

Blessed be.

Walhydra said...

Thanks to both Lyn and Cat for their encouraging words.

Cat's comment definitely speaks to why I decided to start on SSRIs:

"Anti-depressants don't take away empathy or compassion or even yearning. But they give us enough of ourselves back that we can act, and do something to engage the sometimes sad and terrible world."

Walhydra might not want to admit it, but I recognize that I am dealing with this bout of clinical depression in a much more mature way than I did the times in my 20s and 30s.

Back then, it was all about the “awful” circumstances the world was dealing me. I stalled, I whined, I blamed. I dragged my feet for months on end. In my 20s I self-medicated on pot. I tried the “geographic cure.”

Eventually someone who loved me convinced me to go to a counselor. The first time this happened, my “presenting complaint” was that I was stuck at home at 27 and out of work. The counselor said, “I’m sure I can help you Mike, but first I want you to get a job, so that you can pay for your own counseling while your family houses and feeds you.”

“But that’s the PROBLEM!”

“I understand…but I need you to be paying for your own counseling before I can do anything for you.”

I went away angry, but within a week I had taken the first clerical job my Dad found out about, working back office for a stockbroker. (It actually turned out to be very interesting and eventually led to a job overseas in Saudi Arabia.)

The year of counseling was very helpful, but that first session made all the difference: he made me act.

Thirty years and a fifteen-year career as a clinical counselor later, depression is all about the disproportionate, disabling scale of my emotional responses to circumstances.

I’ve known that—like it or not—I have to provide for my Mom’s needs, sell her house, do my library job, as well as dealing with all the very real global sadness and worry around me. Six months after we moved Mom to live with my sister, I realized that neurochemical imbalances in my brain were making me to emotionally distressed to act—even when rationally I knew what I needed to do.

Now—as in my 20s and 30s—my sadness and the difficulty of my challenges are real. But now I want the capacity to act, not rescue from having to act.

[“Though that would be nice, too,” Walhydra hints.]

Experiencing this “chemistry experiment” from the inside is a weird new journey, one of the three-steps-forward-two-steps-back sort.

Some days are like those described by the Scottish author, poet and lecturer George MacDonald in Unspoken Sermons (Series One):

Troubled soul, thou art not bound to feel, but thou art bound to arise.

God loves thee whether thou feelest or not. Thou canst not love when thou wilt, but thou art bound to fight the hatred in thee to the last. Try not to feel good when thou art not good, but cry to Him who is good.

He changes not because thou changest. Nay, he has an especial tenderness of love towards thee for that thou art in the dark and hast no light, and his heart is glad when thou dost arise and say, "I will go to my Father."

For he sees thee through all the gloom through which thou canst not see him. Will thou his will. Say to him: "My God, I am very dull and low and hard; but thou art wise and high and tender, and thou art my God. I am thy child. Forsake me not."

Then fold the arms of thy faith, and wait in quietness until light goes up in thy darkness.

Fold the arms of thy Faith I say, but not of thy Action: bethink thee of something that thou oughtest to do, and go and do it, if it be but the sweeping of a room, or the preparing of a meal, or a visit to a friend.

Heed not thy feelings: Do thy work.


I am grateful that in my late 50s the neurochemical help is available to let me get up and sweep a room.

Or more.

And so it is.

Blessèd Be.