SADNESS, COLD TURKEY

Alden Chadwick's "Depression"
Alden Chadwick’s “Depression”

Note: Your mileage may vary. The following paragraphs may, at times, seem like I’m either downplaying or dismissing the seriousness of mental illness and depression. This is not my intent. I’m only chronicling this tiny slice of my own personal experience, and in no way am I trying to cast an all-encompassing blanket over what is a very personal and variegated condition. I shouldn’t have to make this disclaimer, and I hope it doesn’t insult your intelligence, but in this day and age of public backlash to “words on the Internet”, it’s better to be safe than sorry.


It’s been more than 3 months since I took my last dose of antidepressant. I was on Fluoxetine, which is a generic Prozac, swallowing two hefty green and white pills every night an hour before bed. I’d found that the drugs made me dopey and lethargic (even more so than my natural dazed and lazy state), so munching the capsules prior to sleeping seemed to lessen the haze they threw over the day.

I’m not writing this to talk about taking the pills so much as to explain what’s happened by not taking them, but a little context is required, so please bear with me.

I’d always worried about going off the meds, maybe more so than I worried about first going on them. There was a fair deal of nervous fear involved in deciding to medicate for depression, because it meant physically acknowledging that there was a mental illness present, and with so much societal stigma my ego naturally rebelled against tarnishing any outward appearance of normalcy. Fortunately, those fears proved to be unfounded. Following my diagnosis I didn’t suddenly become persecuted for admitting that I needed mental help, and in fact the result was quite the opposite: anyone who I happened to discuss my condition with responded with nothing but love and support. The people in my social circles (at that time mostly other sad indie game developers) just seemed to “get it”. So going on and being on the meds was fine, and for a time it actually felt fine. Then, as with all drugs, I needed higher and higher doses to replicate the effects. I wasn’t taking massive amounts by the time I got off of them, but there was a continuous upward trend that seemed to have no ceiling. Even my doctor told me, when I asked her how and when I should be weaning myself off, that most patients “took antidepressants for the rest of their lives” just to maintain their emotional balances. That got me worried, and rather angry. For my entire adult life I’d been aware of the oily dark side of the pharmaceutical industry, and its propensity toward managing affliction rather than curing it, but this was the first time that I’d felt like I was being directly victimized.

That visit with the doctor planted the seed for my eventual rebellion, and it would be a few months later when visiting an old friend that I simply stopped taking the pills. No gradual reduction in dose, no consultation with any so-called medical professionals, just cold turkey quit taking ’em.

Prior to the fateful day of that decision (December 22, 2016, forever marked in my mental calendar as THE DAY JACK STOPPED MEDICATING), I’d been sleeping late and long, slipping away for extended siestas at any and all times of the day, and performing as little physical activity as I could. Despite taking medication that was supposed to be helping me deal with reality, it seemed that I was only getting better at escaping from it. I hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in a year, and where I used to run 10Ks on the regular I now had difficulty walking up a flight of stairs without getting winded. I was in terrible shape.

Going off the medication did seem to make me a little manic. I started having sudden bursts of energy, followed by deep lows where I’d go lie down for a few hours, but that only lasted about a week. A couple of weeks of mood swings followed, where I’d spin on a dime from calm to almost weepy, but those passed too.

One morning a week after the most intense of the mood swings stopped, I woke up early. This hadn’t happened in forever, but there I was, eyes wide open at 5 AM with no alarm. I got up, put on some clothes, and went for a long walk, just breathing and thinking. This was a huge improvement, something the medication had never done for me. A little while after that eventful day I was back in the gym, and I’ve been back, 6 days a week, every week, ever since.

I’ve also been talking with people, not just the trusted ones but strangers. I’ve made more new contacts in the last 3 months than I had in the previous 3 years, and some of these have even blossomed into genuine friendships.

My overall motivation and enthusiasm is back to what I’d consider an “acceptable level”: I give a damn about the important things and let the trivial stuff slide, which is a far sight better than what it was when I was medicated, where I didn’t really give a damn about anything or anyone.

I’ve even thought about making games and writing books again.

tl;dr: I quit antidepressants cold turkey and survived the darkest season without them, and now I’m feeling immeasurably better, more excited about where life’s going, and more than a little concerned that maybe the supposedly helpful drugs I’d been taking had more to do with the death of my creative career than anything else.

Thanks for reading. I’m not trying to say that treatment for depression is worse than living with the blues, but that it’s possible. For more than 20 years I’ve held the belief that a person’s sadness is directly related to how aware they are, both of themselves and the world around them, and that since both places are extremely messed up it’s only natural to be at least a little depressed. I think it might be more important to embrace those blues, and make them a part of who we are, rather than trying to suffocate them with chemicals. Jury’s still out, though. It’s only been a season. Check back with me in a year and we’ll see how it’s going.

TODAY

There’s a small window open, here. I fill it with words, in the hope that I can remind myself of what it was like to do this on a regular basis. Still, I’m distracted.
My attentions floats from this to that, and whatever that is isn’t important at all, but it gives me a distant feeling of pleasure, and that’s enough to keep me attached. I dream of simplicity, and minimalism, and a place in the sun that’s still cold enough to make me shiver.
An eraser of love.
I’m trying, though. It feels strange, to try. I think that the medication did a lot to diminish the need to attempt things. She tells me that the pills took some of the edge off. Now I sit and pray that it wasn’t the loss of the edge that murdered my creative career.
I wonder how much is enough? It seems that this is, for now.

SCENT

It’s hard to describe the smell as anything other than green. It’s not for lack of vocabulary, or fear of being unclear. It’s because that smell there in the corridor between the bog and the stand of trees is green.

Pine-scented? No. Mould? No. Growing grass? No. Green, goddamnit, green.

The green of that early spring morning in 1987, in the backyard of the old house, kneeling in the dewy lawn and staring at the stark contrast between the newness of the big plastic toy Millenium Falcon and the outside world. You ever notice that? When you take some brand-new, clean artifical thing into the outdoors and look at it, how alien it seems? How it stands out? That contrast, once more overwhelming my still-developing 12 year-old senses. And the smell. The smell of green.

A cold shadow draped the backyard that morning, cast by the seperate garage where my parents parked their Ranchero. That was a beautiful vehicle, even if the seats could burn the backs of your naked thighs in high summer, and woe unto you if a white-hot steel seatbelt clasp made contact with that sensitive flesh. It only seated 3 on its single bench seat, and whenever possible my brother rode bitch. It wasn’t because he was one, he just liked sitting in the middle. One rainy night a few years later we’d get rear-ended by a drunk driver. If we’d been hit with just a little more force we’d have been pushed into the busy intersection we were stopped at, likely causing serious injury or death. I remember mom shooting her arm across the two of us, an extra meat-belt that would’ve provided zero protection, but it was something she did on instinct. The Ranchero’d been a write-off, and I mourned that fact much later in life when I knew more about cars; the dead truck had been only a year away from becoming officially “classic”.

My bike tires crunch the gravel on the corridor floor and I’m through the cold air and into warmer, brighter atmosphere. The smell is gone, taking with it the vivid memories of an age long past, leaving me to focus on the overwhelming pressure of the present. I take a deep breath, and ride on.