Thursday, 20 June 2019

Dimmer Switch

It's a rainy evening here in Hamilton. The skies are grey and dark, but night has yet to properly fall. Generally, I'm the type of person that goes around the house and turns off the lights in every room I enter -- but tonight, the house is lit from within and I'm sitting warm and comfortable under a blanket on the sofa.

It's natural for everyone to feel a little gloomier on overcast days. When the air is heavy, thought itself feels weighted. Bones react, migraines are experienced more often, and everyone seeks the comfort and shelter of indoor worlds. When the sun is out, so are the people. Our bodies and minds respond automatically to the cues of nature.

I'm just about two weeks into my Cipralex prescription. Tomorrow afternoon I return to my psychiatrist for a follow-up, and I'll tell you what I plan to tell him.

So far, I have experienced none of the risked side effects of the drug (primarily nausea and increased headaches are reported), and the medication seems to be having a measurable positive effect. Ben says I've had more energy (evidenced by the yard work and basement cleaning I've accomplished this week). I see that is true, but I have felt changes beyond simple stamina -- it feels like somebody has turned up the brightness.

When I was cleaning the basement, I came across the pile of puzzles that Ben and I have collected over the last few years. All are Springbok puzzles (because we have standards), and all of them are second hand (because we don't have all the money). Most of them have all of their pieces, and all of them are challenging. If you've ever plugged away at a puzzle, you'll know it can take hours and hours to finish a good one, and it's not uncommon to work into the evening. At some point, you lose the light -- but it's not something you always notice right away. Light fades, after all; the sun does not simply disappear, it dims. Eventually, someone will flick on a lamp and everyone around the table will say something like, "Oh! That's WAY better!" marvelling at the wonders of electricity before returning to the now-much-easier task at hand.

My anxiety dimmed the lights in my internal world. Slowly, gradually, in a way that I didn't notice. Every task was a frustration, my ability inhibited by the lack of metaphorical light. Things that should have been simple and stressless made me so angry. I raged at what I felt was my own impotence and failure. But I just couldn't see. The whole world was gloomy and dim all the time, and every little task was a strain.

I'm only two weeks into Cipralex, but a lamp has been turned on. The whole sky of my mind is lighter and brighter. The puzzles are still a challenge, but I can see what I'm doing. Taking care of a baby is hard, but I don't hate it this week; making a meal still takes time but it doesn't sap all of my energy; running errands is just one part of a day, not the single job I can manage without a long nap. The pieces are so much easier to fit when you can see them, and I haven't seen them clearly in a really long time.

It's only been two weeks, but I am very hopeful -- even on this dark and rainy night.

Thursday, 6 June 2019


In the world of cinema, dynamite is set off with a nice long fuse. Be it a trail of gunpowder that gets shot during an action scene (The Mask of Zorro), or a rope / cable made of something flammable set to light by a match (in the manner of Wile E. Coyote), there is generally sufficient time for the audience to sort out what the problem is before everything gets blown to high heaven.

Before I had a baby, I had that kind of fuse. It wasn't an especially long one, but it smouldered in a helpfully cartoonish way so that people within range of the impending explosion could set about the work of either diffusing the situation or running away to safety.

My fuse has changed. I'm on a hair trigger now, with a system that easily and silently overloads, more like the electrical system in an old house than a package of TNT. Ask for just one volt more than I can give and there's a violent bang before everything is plunged into darkness. I blow up and shut down, becoming completely uncooperative and unhelpful, leaving others to struggle in the chaos. My company now comes with a risk of emotional electrocution -- the burning sting of expressed but uncensored thought.

I hate reacting like this to the world, and to the people who share my world. Ben gets the worst of it, as is tragically the case with those we love most of all. My brain is definitely the messiest part of our marriage, and while we've been coping passably until recently, things are getting worse.

So, I'm getting help.

My team of family doctors is keeping an eye on my body and blood, my professional counsellor is walking me through some of my internal drama, and as of yesterday, I also have a psychiatrist who has suggested I introduce medication to treat what he has confirmed is a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). When my doctor suggested this diagnosis two years ago, she used the phrase "a mild case." No such wording was applied during my two-hour consultation yesterday.

When my baby wakes up from his nap, I'm going to take a long walk down to my local pharmacy and fill a prescription for a drug called Cipralex. In colloquial terms, I was told that it should feel "like a warm blanket for your soul. It will help you move from ready-fire-aim to ready-aim-fire, emotionally." I so need that. I need my fuse back, and I (and those around me) need a bit more warning before the shrapnel starts flying. I hope this is a positive change for all of us.

And I hope that saying so openly will help you to be gracious with me -- and with others around you who seem irrationally / erratically irritable. Maybe they have more going on inside their heads than they can handle; maybe they are fighting down their anger and trying to spare you from harm; maybe it's just been one hell of a day. Lead with mercy, love your people.

And yeah, if you need them? Take your meds.