the return of joy after a depressive episode
Earlier this year, my anti-depressants stopped working. My psychiatrist – a kind man who Skypes me during the Australian evening time, sipping his ninth coffee for the day – informed me that this just happens sometimes. The little white pills that often got stuck on my tongue in the morning, the tiny, oval-shaped things that gave my life some semblance of equilibrium, had simply decided to stop doing their one job. And so, of course, that inevitable numbness set it.
The tears began leaking down my face unbidden and emotions scurried away from me, out of reach. I felt painfully, achingly numb, unable to connect with any of the things I should be feeling, hollow and heavy and exhausted. I was struck with a lethargy so powerful it made it a gargantuan effort to get out of bed each morning, and sometimes it was too much. I wept in my therapist's armchair, knowing that a full-on depressive episode was creeping in.
I was right, of course. I’ve been dealing with depression, as part of my bipolar disorder, for most of my life and I’ve trained myself to recognise its arrival. This episode would last six months and would be particularly gnarly because it involved coming off one medication entirely, and trialling a new one. Stopping anti-depressants is like coming off any other drug: you can get hot, trembling withdrawal symptoms like sweating, fainting, night terrors and these little electric-feeling zaps in your brain. Going on a new medication isn’t much more fun, really, because you can get side-effects – in my case, bouts of very low blood pressure that kept causing me to keel over when I stood up. My new meds block an enzyme in my gut, meaning I can’t eat matured cheese, cured meats or soy sauce, so I must soldier on without cheddar, prosciutto or ramen – a cruel, if minimal, penance.
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