It’s been a while. Seven years now I’ve been on some sort of behavioral modifying drug, mostly dealing with the reuptake of my serotonin. I’m rapidly approaching a point in my life when it’s time to make some major decisions, so I’m definitely taking a risk here, going back into the jungle like this. I have some good reasons for doing so, though, I think. Namely I don’t know if they were ever beneficial. I didn’t think they were particularly detrimental, but even from the beginning I wasn’t sure what effect they were having, if any.

When I was up in Virginia waiting on Alex to get his shit together, sometimes that whole process would be distracting and I would forget to take my pill for the day (at the time it was Effexor), and then I’d forget another day, and if I didn’t notice I’d forgotten for a few consecutive days by virtue of me having a regular bowel movement, it would come in the form of me feeling light-headed and tingly. Sort of like I could faint at any moment, like my normal painted thoughts were all dry-brushed and wispy and hard to interpret. My joints, particularly my shoulders and elbows, didn’t feel as strenuously attached as one might prefer of their extremities’ hinges, they felt more ephemeral, hypothetical, a theory of an elbow.

My current pill dispenser said I could come off the Cymbalta just fine no problem, as long as I weened myself off. So I’ve been doing that. Today I started to feel the familiar symptoms of withdrawal from the SNRI-class drug, of which Effexor is also one. It hasn’t been nearly as extreme, but I did slow my intake of the medicine before cutting myself off completely, and also it’s only Day One of official withdrawal, so. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Side note: I have still been taking the clonazepam, the Klonopin, as a sort of preemptive move in case of a sudden mood destabilization. While on Cymbalta, though, I didn’t know Klonopin from Xanax, which itself I didn’t know from breathing. So I still don’t know if that’s doing anything. Once the Cymbalta is out of my system, though, I’m curious if these drugs will actually have a more palpable effect. Actually I’m curious if the Adderall, too, would have a more positive reaction than it did previously. On Cymbalta, the Adderall turned on a faucet and filled my brain with gravy. I couldn’t make even simple decisions without being forced to discern the details all seemingly obscured by a semi-opaque, viscous gray. Every option could best be described as just that, an option, with no qualifiers attached that might guide me toward a preference. But hey, at least with the Adderall I could tell something was happening.

The most curious thing about the end of the antidepressant era is I’m feeling emotions returning. I’m being affected by things. I’m relating. Yesterday I watched Captain Marvel, a surprisingly decent movie, surprising because the only thing I knew about it beforehand was that Marvel was the name of the overall brand, the fourth wall label of this comic book universe, so how can naming an in-universe hero after an exterior marketing label be anything but cheesy to the max. And there was some cheese to it, but they had an explanation for it and didn’t officially break the fourth wall with that explanation, so I gave it a pass and suspended disbelief and enjoyed the film. Anyway. There were a couple moments in the movie that inspired me to feel things, to relate to the characters’ struggles, to experience art as art again, the profound in the artifice, the more-real-than-reality artificial connection that good fiction strives for. A couple moments, which I can’t even recall what they were (I said it was a decent movie, not a life-changing experience or anything; I’m still a student of the craft, thank you), but a couple times I felt touched, I felt moved, I felt

Given that I have to obey the whims of my insurance company, I seem to get assigned and reassigned to new doctors and specialists all the time, in this urgent, condensed journey to figure out the medication situation once and for all, now that I’m at a semi-stationary point, now that Alex is home and I have to be home with him and I find myself temporarily in between the big decisions of the past and those yet to come. (I had started this journey pretty soon after we found out about the pregnancy, because I thought I had better get these brain wrinkles ironed out before the baby arrived, but of course that window turned out to be a lot smaller than expected.) One question I’ve been getting a lot lately from new doctors and nurse practitioners and nurses who do the pre-interviews for the former two is, why did I start taking antidepressants in the first place?

I’m realizing now I don’t really remember.

I remember what I said, when I got the first doctor to prescribe me something. I said I was slow to emotion, that I didn’t feel things immediately the way I thought they ought to hit me. Happy or sad. I believed it when I said it, but I don’t know if that was the actuality of the situation. This was 2012, and I was fairly often despondent and not especially encouraged by my future prospects. I was always a bit dark and moody in high school, and on into my undergraduate career, too. There are more than several occasions cemented in my memory where I’d be in class in high school or college where I felt buried beneath the weight of loathing, not necessarily self-loathing, just, loathing. I hated all existence equally, not just myself, but everything. I don’t think these darknesses lasted more than a day or two, typically, but they were undeniable. They happened. At the same time I had a lot of really, really fun times with some really close friends. My humor was often on the dark side but still plentiful, still recognizable as humor. 

It was after my undergraduate experience that things really started to turn more steadily bleak. Failures seemed to stack up on each other, and I didn’t know failure that well, I was unfamiliar. I was used to either achieving the goals I sought to achieve or coming within spitting distance at least, but I did not get into any of the MFA programs I applied to the year after I got out, not even waitlisted. I was working the same hotel customer service job I’d been working all the while I’d been at Ohio State and didn’t see any better career opportunities available to me, nor did I want them, I wanted to go back to school, damn it, I wanted to keep writing, and not just keep writing but learn to do it better. I’d failed at my first serious relationship and felt entirely responsible for it, and for about four years I didn’t come remotely close to starting another. The people I wanted to love didn’t want to love me, and vice versa. I was lonely. I was hella, mega, super lonely. When I did get into a few colleges the following year, none of them were top-tier, and the one I ended up choosing was the one I had sworn I’d never go to, which I had only applied to as a back-up to my other back-ups, not because Miami was a bad school, but they didn’t offer the degree I was actually looking for, and what’s more, both of my sisters had gone there. It was their territory. They’d conquered it, in my eyes. There was nothing more for me to accomplish there, another Fortkamp in Oxford, Ohio, la-de-da, who cares. I had taken the first opportunity to avoid going to the same high school they had gone to and similarly conquered, why would I put myself through going to the same college? But it turned out to be my best option, because fuck the barren tundra of Bowling Green, and American University was offering exactly zero dollars in the way of funding. 

So that’s my twenties, from a personal perspective. I kept throwing handfuls of darts at the board but when the time to make a decision came, when I was all out of darts, I kept having to walk up to that board and accept the much lower score than I’d grown accustomed to achieving.

And then there was Ben. Ben is now gone, but I bet if I’d been able to put my experience at the time into these words and expressed these frustrations to him, he would’ve said to me something like, well yeah, no shit. That’s adulthood. That’s life. He was a brilliant, brilliant man. He didn’t succeed at every single thing he sought for, either, but somehow he never seemed to run out of darts. He just kept firing away, kept adding up his scores. On some level I knew this about him, that he was someone to emulate, for this very reason. I craved his acceptance. He couldn’t carry a tune but when we went out to karaoke he sang anyway. He didn’t like to dance, at all, as far as I know, but for his and my sister’s wedding he took lessons and they choreographed their first dance as a married couple and it wasn’t like he suddenly turned into Fred Astaire out there on the dance floor but he did it, he took on a fucking challenge because it would make someone he loved happy and he fucking did it, and found a way to enjoy it himself. It wasn’t a bullseye but you could just feel, with this decision he made to do this dance and with a lot of his other life choices, you could just sense his score getting tallied up a little higher, a little higher still.

So yeah, I think Ben’s ALS was a factor in me wanting to try antidepressants.

But this option didn’t occur to me right away. Not right after his diagnosis, not even after my first lonely year of grad school. Perhaps if my second year of grad school had come and gone in the same fashion, I might have tried them then. Instead I met someone I wanted to love who said she wanted to love me back, and so I went all in on her. I didn’t even look at my cards, I just put all of my chips down on the table and said take them if you want them, they’re yours.

She did exactly that.

I’m fearing I’m starting to mix my game metaphors up a bit too much, which means it’s probably getting late and I should go to bed. Point being, after she left me, I felt I had failed perhaps one time too many. Darkness was closing in. I sought pharmaceutical solutions, and I’ve been playing that game now for seven years, and I don’t know how much of a difference they made in getting me from there to here, but regardless, I got here, and I’m ready to take the training wheels off again. 

One last metaphor for you, there, I guess. But look, though. Look at me. I’m writing long-winded journal entries filled with metaphors again. I used to do this all the time, like a religion, it was. I’m trying to get that part of me back.

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