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.

SAGE

“What do I do?” he asked, still confused.

“Perform with supreme confidence, without concern for an audience and a total focus on execution.” The old woman smiled, and for a moment he thought her blind eyes perceived him.

“Such a simple thing to say, Madame Benan.”

“An even more simple thing to do, young master. You must practice the art of releasing yourself from the tyranny of yourself. All fear, all hesitation, all doubt comes from within you. You are in sole control of what and who has power over you.”

He took the chipped teacup into his hands once more. It had grown cold, and he noticed the fire had dimmed along with the light from outside. The sun was nearly set. He’d been in the hut for hours. He took a sip of the tepid tea, letting its bitter grit wash over his teeth, then put the cup down and rose.

“You are leaving,” the old woman said.

“Not before stoking your fire, madame.”

“There’s a good lad. While you do that, let me relate to you one more tale from my youth. From a time where I was not much older than yourself, some four generations ago. Back in the time of devastation, where we were still wandering about, dazed and directionless, still too numb to rebuild.”

He found the poker and stabbed at the dying embers in the stone hearth. They gave a halfhearted gasp of sparks, and he placed a few dry sticks atop them.

“You perhaps cannot imagine a time such as that,” the old woman continued, “for all of your short life you have known nothing but plenty. The occasional poor harvest pales in comparison to the privation we faced. Where the fire you now tend had become a distant memory, and men fell upon other men to consume their flesh so that they might live another day.”

“I’ve heard the stories,” he said, then felt the rudeness of the words as they tripped out of his mouth. He blew a fierce breath over the kindling and watched as it flamed to life. “I’m sorry, I speak out of turn.”

The old woman laughed, a dry sound like a sheet of paper rattling in the wind. “I forgive you, young master. That is all those memories have become, just stories. Even now I have trouble knowing if those things truly happened, or are remnants of bad dreams I may have had as a child.”

“There is history,” he said.

“And what is history?” she asked. “A collection of stories that we agree are the truth? What matters isn’t the truthiness of them, simply our agreement. I have seen my own memories twisted by the words of our rulers more times than I care to say, and watched as new generations adopted those altered versions of what happened. I don’t hate them for it, because they don’t know any better, and are guided more by emotion than by thinking. It is the way of things.”

Satisfied with the flames licking over the kindling, he placed a fresh log over the fire and watched as its bark caught. Before long the hearth was radiating a healthy warmth. The sun had fully set. Somewhere, a wolf howled, a long and forlorn sound that seemed to fill the hut’s small interior with its echoing cry.

“You’d best stay, young master. The forest is no place for a lone traveler in the night. I will finish my story and you will tend to my fire, and in the morning you will set off. A little wiser, perhaps, and I so much the warmer for the company.”

ACCEPTANCE

In the end, she was right: I had fallen in love with an idealized version of her, and not her herself. Confused? Don’t be. This is one the most natural things around, and there’s every chance that you too are currently engaged in this kind of loving with someone or something.