Perfectly Human Imperfection
My doctor propped her elbow on the exam table and rubbed her temple with her thumb. “Life is hard,” she said. I was sitting in a chair across from her, elbows on the exam table, too. “Yeah,” I winced, “and I don’t know if the pills are helping.” We shared a silent moment, looking each other in the eyes. She’s a cancer survivor. A mother. My doctor for two years, and the first physician to ever treat me like a friend. “I’m cutting the prescription in half until the specialist gives you a diagnosis.”
The relief! I almost wept. She handed me a paper and we stood up. She paused. “You look good. It’s good to see you, even though, you know...” I interrupted her with a grin and appreciative gesture. We walked out of the room together. As I closed the exterior door behind me, I paused to take a deep breath...
...And pressed the “reset” button.
I made that doctor’s appointment because, after being on antidepressants for almost four years, I’d begun to doubt their ability to help me live the life I want. As I drove away with Charlie in Frau’s front seat, I turned onto a road with a different destination: Balance.
Now, everyone’s experience with antidepressants is different. I know many people who feel benefits from antidepressants; just because I question the pills’ value in my particular life journey doesn’t mean I question what they do for others. What I choose for myself is not an expression of judgement about what others choose for themselves.
Most of the time, antidepressants make me feel bright. Powerful. Decisive. And if the dosage is high enough, I feel invincible. Impulsive. Aggressive. But then there’s no middle ground. No calm. No empathy. No comfortable silence. In the months leading up to making that doctor’s appointment, panic attacks peppered my weeks, and every day I found it difficult to concentrate on my work. The more tightly wound I felt, the closer I’d move to the edge of a mental ravine. One misstep meant a fall... deep, deep down. Harder, faster, farther than I’d ever fallen before starting medication.
So, I wasn’t in control at all. I was the bob of a pendulum in perpetual motion, swinging between elation and despair. Distractions -- chores, booze, romance -- slowed the cycle, but the extreme highs and lows were inevitable. So I began to question: Is this my chemistry? A personality disorder? The pills? I didn’t know.
Then, one afternoon this spring, it washed over me like an ocean wave: Total happiness isn’t achievable. I’d strung myself up with the pendulum string of an impossible dream. And I needed to inventory my emotional and chemical assets, so I could decide what to do next. That’s when I started therapy and called my physician to re-evaluate my medication.
I’m through believing there’s something wrong with me - that my perfectly human imperfection is unacceptable. As I type this, I’m as perfect as I choose to be. I am the sum of my decisions. And I’m doing the best I can, even if I don’t always have the right answer, don’t always feel chipper, don’t always do what others expect of me, and don’t always win. Rather than fight with it, I choose to make sense of this fatty, jumbled ball of emotions and chemicals inside my head. And I choose to use it to its full potential when I feel so inclined, and guiltlessly give it a rest when I don’t.
Perhaps, after I receive a diagnosis from the specialist, I’ll still need antidepressants. Or maybe I’ll need something else entirely. Or nothing at all. I don’t know. Independent of what the doctors recommend, I’ve made a promise to myself: No matter how defeated I feel in the moment, I will always choose how to act in the next. In choice there is hope.