Monday, 8 February 2016


As a child and a teenager poetry and prose tumbled into my head. I wrote un-selfconsciously. They flowed from me almost as if I were merely the catcher of the stories of the people and their lives that I wrote about. Poems appeared with a rush of adrenaline at sudden moments, urgent in my mind until I materialized them onto a piece of paper where they could rest in permanency.

At age 17 I began taking an SSRI, a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. I took it to help control the anxiety triggered by a serious but then undiagnosed genetic disorder. Within weeks of beginning the medication I had a sense that a part of me had gone to sleep. It felt like, in a subtle way, I was no longer fully present, or that I was watching my life from a slight distance.

But the medication helped to control my anxiety. Perhaps the sacrifice of that little third eye that had closed was necessary; perhaps that little part of who I am was inextricably necessary for the formation of terrible fears. I was able to leave home, attend college, and learn to speak to other people without terror. There is unavoidable gratitude for that.

It seems that that spark, though, that part of me now dormant, now watching sleepily from far away, was also in some way one of the nourishing sources of my creativity. For, in many ways that, too, went to sleep. Writing for me now is clunky. It feels less natural, more pained and forced. I must think and sometimes agonize over each word and sentence rather than feeling them flow from me. I cannot remember the last time I wrote a poem but it has been years.

On several occasions I have taken breaks from my medication for a few months. Most of these times were triggered by a sense that I had grown strong enough on my own that the drug was unnecessary. Once or twice I quit because, after reading articles questioning the efficacy of SSRIs at all, I angrily felt as if I and my mind had been callously bought some pharmaceutical company (for what it's worth, studies that find that SSRIs may not be helpful for mild to moderate symptoms have shown time and again that they are for severe anxiety and depression).

When I did, as the effects of the medication rinsed away, poems and stories and visions began to appear again in my mind. A poem would suddenly arise nearly fully formed as I showered, or gazed at the sky, or drove, and it would be accompanied by a mild euphoria. My mind was colorful again, alive, inhabited by beautiful characters and creativity. The colors in the universe within me became vibrant again, and twinkled with the joy of imagination.

Each time also ended in the return of unbelievably anxiety. I have never found words to describe the unimaginable level of fear that can inhabit me. It swelled to fill my life, and the peaks of catastrophic adrenaline would triggered the symptoms of my chronic illness. I have hypokalemic periodic paralysis, a neuromuscular disorder with several triggers, one of which is adrenaline and stress. I would eventually be caught in a sickening, debilitating circle of unrelenting fear, terrible weakness, nausea and arrhythmias that pulsed through me day and night for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. It was necessary that I came to consider treatment of my anxiety to be a necessary aspect of the treatment of my disease.

Thus after several of these disastrously failed experiments I became a weary convert. My SSRI helps to maintain a life that is livable, and peace must be made with its likely permanent place in my story, my body and in my mind.

Most days I do not think about the pill I take, but sometimes I am reminded with grief of the sacrifice I will have to make for all my life. I have had to put a vital, beautiful part of myself to sleep, and it is a part I deeply cherish. I will always feel as if I am not quite fully here. And I grieve not only over the products of that spark of light - the poems and stories and essays that I would write - but also for the joyful experience of having a rich inner life.

I am certain that I am not alone. There must be many of us here, now, who are contending with these trade-offs - some merely inconvenient and others tragic. Squelching, perhaps, the painful artist's temperament and its fruits in exchange for the ability to bear living at all.

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