Alcoholics and addicts are supposed to go through 12 steps in the rehabilitation process to find honest sobriety. I'm not sure if there are equivalent "steps" that a depressive personality can or should take in conquest of honest sanity, but I would assume that the process may not be all that different. On the one hand, at least in my case, there was no substance abuse involved. On the other hand, I was shamelessly addicted to a drug called self-antipathy. Daily doses of "giving up" went down like shots of good, Kentucky bourbon. I could probably join AA and find a way to relate to every speaker at the meeting. I am certain that the frustrations of these same recovering, lost, and found souls would make perfect sense to me and my own demons, though we may be dressed in distinctly different styles.
I am still undergoing a lot of physical and mental changes as my newly medicated self. I have been forced to make my peace with certain things, forgive myself, ask others for forgiveness, admit my helplessness, and embrace my strengths. While one may not call it an exactly religious experience, it definitely is somewhat of a spiritual transition. As my brain chemistry re-works itself, I have gotten to know myself better, as well as the far reaches of my own mind. Life is more than I thought it was.
I would say that the first step in mental rehab, after admission and treatment of course, is just adjustment. In this case, the initial adjustment to the drugs took some time. I remember vividly the first week that I was on Effexor, then the following week when I bumped my dosage up from 1 to 2 pills per day. The first couple of days, I wouldn't go so far as to say that I felt "high," but I definitely had a nice buzz going. It was like the monotonous motions my body went through on a daily basis got a supercharge. I felt very much alive, very aware of my body, and even a little loopy.
I remember feeling as though everything looked a bit different. Objects became more invasive or obvious-- more three dimensional. It was like looking at life through a fish lens. I noticed the second or third day on the pills that my eyes were extremely dilated-- a minor reaction my body had to the current changes in my system, which may have explained the odd visual phenomenon. I also got the sensation on more than one occasion that I was walking underwater. My mood had definitely been acquiesced to a better place. Stress did not reach me as easily, in fact, it seemed not to touch me at all. If someone honked at me on the highway, I would wave back happily: his anger is something he has to live with, not me. If my job was overwhelming and all over the place, I would simply whistle (mentally) while I worked: no one is going to die if something gets finished a minute later than they want it.
Toward the end of that first week, I started to feel more "normal," but I went through the same series of emotions and reactions when the dosage was increased the second week. All in all, I would say that the first month of my new life was simply about acclimating to the meds, which I did rather quickly. The only symptoms that remained, aside from my now constant good mood, were insomnia and lack of appetite, both of which I still battle. Still, my head was no longer pulled to a dark place when one of my triggers surfaced. I was... happy. I couldn't believe it!
Naturally, the second month was sort of devoted to enjoying this new pleasure as the new me. I celebrated a milestone birthday, reconnected with old friends, made some new ones, saw my family, and embraced the wide open spaces that now laid before me. A newly eclosed social butterfly who was experiencing an optimism that I hadn't felt since my youth, I kicked the iron door of my self-resentment shack open, took a breath of fresh air, and started wandering into the curious world of civilization.
Thus began Step 2, which interestingly was adjustment all over again. I suppose this makes sense, as any type of human progress-- and life in general-- is little more than a series of survivals and the expected adjustments, adaptations, and evolutions that follow. In this case, after adapting to my medication and the effects it had on my mind and body, I had evolved into another being, and it was this girl that I now found myself trying to adjust to.
The "honeymoon" was essentially over. After any kind of big decision or leap, the "decision-maker" is left to realize that there is still work to be done. Making up your mind in an assertive fashion doesn't automatically instigate the effect you long for. You may have turned in a new direction, but you still have to walk, run, skip, what-have you, down the chosen road. Similarly, the "leaper" will simply dwindle in free-fall until he utilizes his Batman-like belt of gadgets (which the leaper always had but never realized) to magically latch onto the other side of the cliff. Otherwise, the Bat goes splat!
The unfamiliar new girl, with a clear head and open temperament, who I suddenly just was, thus went through a peculiar experience over the past few weeks. Emotions became more intense and justifiable, whereas before they were self-diluting and self-pitying. My incites into myself were much more discerning and all encompassing. There was no corner of myself that I could ignore nor choose to hide. The truth was there before me. My future too became a thing that I had to grapple with. Having given up on it before, I had also been able to let go of the pressures it induced. It didn't exist, and it couldn't hurt me. Well, it does exist. It's coming, and now I have to accept that again. This has been the most difficult fact for me to face.
On the one hand, these surprising, fresh, and beguiling observations are enlightening. They make me feel stronger, more self-resolved, and more self-possessed. I have been reborn and newly-Christened. My past has been washed clean, and I have forgiven myself. Yet, the hardness of life is still there. The hardness of life is never going to go away. So, while I forgive the past, I can still see it. I remember it. It will always be a part of me, and in certain ways, it will always haunt me. Whether I choose to continue taking that to a positive and well-adjusted place is entirely up to me.
For example, I can rationally deduce that the person I have become by the age of thirty, both good and bad, is the result of two equal contributing factors: 50% me / 50% my disease. Therefore, if I subtract from my timeline the years I lost due to my depression, I am actually only half as mature as I think I am. I am, as it turns out, only fifteen. Accepting this, particularly for someone who was so resolute and unshakable in her life decisions and her "rightness" about everything-- a protective cloak I warmed myself in before the armistice-- was painful. The realization that I am not nearly as intelligent nor well-put-together as I thought I was has been both numbing and astounding. Again, my battle as a now sober thinker-- ironically drug-induced-- is to not let this break me nor send me spiraling into the same depths from which I have just emerged.
I am fifteen. I am a child with still so much left to learn, and I must embrace that. I must seek out knowledge to make a better person of myself and to accrue genuine and not feigned wisdom. It is as if, prior to my treatment, I was split in half. The strangely solidified shadow of Me led the way and performed the major actions of my life, while my Essence, or in a more spiritual sense my Soul, followed behind-- leaving just enough distance to be removed from my being, but staying close enough to let me know that it was somewhere back there, hiding in the dark that I cast behind me.
Over the initial weeks of therapy and medication, those two halves came together in an accelerating rush until they were one. I felt this as an event that really happened-- one of those out-of-body tales you hear about and sometimes vaguely tap into but are never trusting enough to truly journey on. I saw myself suddenly from all corners: inside, outside, above, below, as is, was, could be, should be... It was profound, and moving, and terrifying.
I am now working with the entire machine, you see. I have this whole contraption to grapple with, and while it makes me twice as strong, there are twice as many wheels and gears to shift, crank, turn, etc. There is no choice but to learn to manage everything. I must both keep my engine operating and simultaneously try to steer it away from and not toward disaster. The new intensity of the life experience, as if waking from a coffin as a supernatural being with heightened sensitivities, has shaken me to my core.
It is about my future that I feel, as ever, the most stress. The past is the past. I am powerless to change anything about it. All I can do is live with it. The present too is just happening. I can only deal with moments and emotions as they come and do my best to make the correct decisions. Yet, all these minor alterations and actions happening now, now, now, now, are all leading toward and building my tomorrows.
The only thing scarier than the future being a black hole is the future not being a black hole but a living and breathing organism, growing and shaping in the distance. It is my child, the product of me, that I have not yet born. I know now that I will never have a clear picture of it, for the future will always remain by definition unreachable. Looking at it, I can make out an indecipherable ultrasound with a heartbeat, but there is no face, just as there is no plan that is fool-proof. There is no image that will appear exactly as imagined. You will never sit back and say, "I made it," only, "This is what I have so far, and so far I did pretty well." But the painful steps of progress, the growing pains of maturation and adult "success," are still fearful things. Who do I want to be when I grow up? Should my passion be my work or my mode of escape? Do I want children? Will I ever find someone who believes in me enough to think that I am even capable of being a mother? How do I find him!? And what about me? What is it that I can do for myself that will allow me to say the words: "So far, I have done pretty well?"
After years of silence, adjusting to the rushing flood of noise and chaos that now plays in my brain and follows into the excitement and activity of my daily life has been much harder than I ever could have bargained for. Because of this, I have-- over the past couple of weeks-- cried for the first time since I began this voyage. I have cried a great deal. My humanity has been returning to me. The benefit of these tears is that they are not withering but cathartic. I am crying by choice. I am crying because I have the power over my life, and not because I feel powerless beneath it. The series of questions and decisions I now must face... It is a lot deal with. It is the heftiest pill to swallow. Like Alice, I feel that it at times makes me bigger, at times smaller. I feel myself mutating, altering, succumbing, overcoming, and figuring out the big "It" of life and the big question of myself at an awkward and fumbling pace.
For others, this is how life is, because that is how it always was. For me, this is new. Phase 2 of Adjustment is, therefore, a downpour. Phase 3 will hopefully be a mild sprinkle, Phase 4 a light rain in the daylight (or the Devil's Wedding Day, as my Dad used to say)... Phase 5, or whatever number of phases it will take me to get to the equilibrium of [as much as anyone can expect from] life, will therefore be fair weather with the occasional and unavoidable storm.
Then again, if I have learned anything, it is that you can never trust a forecast. For all I know, it could be hailing tomorrow in Los Angeles. The point is that I am now aware that the elements can and will throw whatever they want at me. It's nature not a conspiracy, and I can't let such things knock me off balance. Adjusting to life is knowing that you will never be adjusted, never ready, never prepared. All one can do is be brave. Make the decision, take the leap, land, and start again.
I can't control the enormity of this thing-- this thing being life, existence, the world, the universe... But on a good day, I can control myself and my actions. At best, I can be malleable. Those are the creatures that survive natural selection, after all.